Friday, February 15, 2019

States of Change: Chapter 20: Magnolia


States of Change is an ongoing work of serial fiction.
The speculative story-line seeks to inspire thought on ethics, culture and our planet's future.

The year is 2076, decades after Oosa's defederalization. 
Fifty independent States have forged their societies from revolutionary technology and ideology.
Prominently, The Augment, a real-time, virtual overlay of sensory data 
has become widely available for personal use throughout many of the post-fed nation-states.

Mississippi's State Flage (reinstated 2038)


"You may enter the realm beyond if you can answer my riddle. What runs on two legs during the day, two wheels in the evening and two exabytes in the night time?" asked the Special Hybrid Intelligent Nexus.



Oeddie rolls his eyes at the guardian cyborg. Then in sing-song tones, he answers, "Per-son-hood, well duhh."




--exerpt from SpHINx and Oeddie Go To Market



Solitude. That is where I am going, thought Lance.

"Welcome everyone to my funeral." A chuckle snuck into the greeting. "I understand you all have your doubts about me ending my life, which is why I've invoked the Magnolia Protocol."

"But Lance..." his mom faltered for words.

"Mother." Lance managed a smile. "Please sit. The point of this gathering is to address your questions and to deal with the feelings involved. The death with dignity process is designed to help us through this moment."

Victoria Benjamin lowered her head with a grimace, then she lowered her torso to the cushioned chair. As if the gesture were magic, the buzz of whispers softened between family members and friends, fading like a gentle breeze finding its way through a field of amber sorghum.

"Thank you. Again I welcome you all to this discussion. Celebrant Gold is here in the circle to serve as witness for the state of Mississippi, and I also like to count her as a friend. If you have any questions about the legal nature of exercising of my rights, she can address them. Ms. Cody, if you could bring this funeral session officially to order."

"Yes, Mr. Benjamin. Per Mississippi Civil Code Article Five, each citizen of the state has the right to call for a dignified end to his life. Mr. Lance Ryan Benjamin's request as such has been approved after assessment by the appropriate state authorities. The living funeral here today provides an opportunity to assuage those close to the citizen and to affirm positively the cycle of life. Per Section 3 a funeral must occur on the final day of..."

The circle of eighteen was more than I expected to attend. My mother, two sisters and a few close friends who had been patient companions over the last two years of treatments, that's all I expected. The array of estranged friends, in-laws, nephews, nieces, an ex-girlfriend from twenty-years ago and even a couple childhood friends was enough of a surprise to be unsettling.

The Celebrant finished the required statement. She had given the official rhetoric a touch of warmth as Lance had hoped. 

"All parties are encouraged to voice their feelings' however, please recognize Mr. Benjamin's election is his own. I personally have known Lance prior to the collapse of Oosa. As fellow non-theists we share the belief that life is of natural origin, is finite and is both amazing and painful in part for those facts. That our very being will indeed perish is scary, still with courage the transition to not being has value if only to celebrate the mortal life lived prior to returning to the nowhere place we occupied prior to birth. With joy and compassion as your state representative, I wish you well Lance."

"Thank you Martha. Let me add that this life has indeed been amazing, albeit one filled with moments of sadness and of joy and many moments of neutral qualities that I am unable to recount. A long time ago I believed in an afterlife. I am proud that I found my way to a more secular path, but mostly I am glad I spent my during-life connecting with all of you here and many not here, as well as with the world and the many experiences it has had on offer."

Lance sighed. "Okay, great, I've said my piece. Please share as you will."

"This is so very Quaker of you, dear brother," interjected his older sister and professional mid-wife Friday. "I thought you had disavowed your Christianity entirely. Most atheists would just off themselves without any call to family and friends. For that, I thank you; a quick exit would have brought more pain to those who love you. I do support your choice, though it pains me. I know your rollercoaster ride with Lyme IX was not pleasant and I would not wish anyone to take a path they do not want."

Friday walked to Lance and gave him a warm hug.

"Thanks sis. Yeah, I guess this has a Quaker circle up aspect to it, but hey I may deny any evidence for gods and goddesses, but not for the loving meaningfulness of community."

"Oh Lance," his mother's voice quavered, "the doctors continue to recommend at least another six weeks of treatment are needed to be sure of your long term mental acuity. I know that the transition after your brain death has been more challenging than most, but trust me, if the final upload takes, your quality of life will soar. Son, I love you and I know that's affecting my judgment, but bring your logic to bear Lance, continuing with the neural network therapy is a path worth pursuing."

"Ma, I understand your frustration. Sure I believe this life is all there is, still the upload path is not for me. I gave the past six months to the upload path, and it's just not gelling. Eighty percent of uploads after neurological trauma experience critical degradation eventually requiring termination. All the signs are I am headed that way. I'm choosing to end it before I turn into a similar statistic. Sure there is something scary, but also something beautiful about death. I've reached a point of melancholy where I feel good about letting go, It's like grandpa used to say. It's time the next generation's turn, and I find I have little to add to the world after upload. Just know I thank you for your encouragement, and I appreciate all the joy and persnickety love you've given me along the way."

His mother smiled and then bowed her head with a nod, the faint circuitry at her ear the only suggestion of the cyborg life extension she had undergone five years ago.

"Lance," my teenage buddy Jopha began, "I know we had a falling out many years ago over I don't even remember. In truth you were a jerk, but I suspect I was too. I'm sorry it took so many years for..."

And so the circle of sharing continued. I paid attention as well as I could, once analog memories floating in and out of view. In the end the therapy was like any funeral, meant for the living, and successfully uploaded. And in all honesty I just didn't have the spark in me anymore to even distantly care. Reason alone kept me in the circle for the good of my friends and family. And yes I could patiently wait for the upload patterns to fully fragment in their own time, but for my own good I was glad that I would close the door tonight on my own terms. 

Adios.








Thursday, February 7, 2019

A Schooling by Fishes

An Opossum Pipefish, one of many species on the decline in the Port St. Lucie Estuary
Cognitive dissonance is the invisible shark in the sea of humanity. This mental predator permits even the most intelligent among us to expound sympathetically on the aggregate evidence, yet still think and act in opposition to reality.

Recently I attended a lecture by a seasoned riparian scientist who presented the challenges of preserving numerous species in the St. Lucie estuary system, the opossum pipefish and bigmouth sleeper in particular. He delightfully highlighted several fishes he discovered and identified as unique species and the habitat loss their species are challenged with. His final appeal to the audience was to reduce fertilizer use on lawns as the best thing one could do to preserve the estuary biome toward saving these species.

And yet, he had no problem referencing throughout his presentation the continued killing of fish in the area for sport. (as humans do not require the flesh of fish to live healthily, all fish killing aka "fishing" is for sport). It is ironic to the point of insanity that a caring scientist who has championed endangered and threatened listings of native fishes for decades would condone the killing of fish when it is completely unnecessary.

The euphemism of "going fishing" has been implanted in our culture as an activity where a person can escape the travails of working to relax and connect with nature. In truth, these fisherpeople are zoning out to their barbarous actions. They will readily cite the long, treasured traditions of their ancestors killing in attempt to legitimize their deadly pastime. 

The better path is to contemplate the entirety of the evidence with integrity, especially when such evidence contradicts preconceptions that have accrued from past tradition. So, yes, stop spraying unneeded fertilizers on your lawns and consider more intelligent options such as turning ones lawn into a thriving biome using native plant species.

But if you are truly an advocate of restoring wildlife habitat and eliminating abuse of animals, please stop killing (directly and indirectly) all the fishes and other animals that simply want to live on the planet that belongs to them as much as it does to us.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Ocala National Forest Backpack (Scrub Jays, Spiders, and Bears, Oh My!!!)


Journey's Start: Outside Juniper Springs

In January a contingent of Florida Tropical Trekkers backpacked through Ocala National Forest along the Florida National Scenic Trail from Juniper Springs to Rodman’s Dam. With the deft planning and leadership of Jim Couillard, this small fellowship successfully completed their journey along nearly fifty miles of longleaf pine sandhills and peninsula inland scrub.


Banana Spider Four Inch Span


Along the way they encountered a variety of flora and fauna, including a charm of scrub jay frolicking trailside in stands of scrub oak. An occasional banana spider and a myriad of unique insects were spotted as well. 





Florida Trekkers Mid-trek

Although frequent and fresh black bear scat was found on the trail, all ursine tales remained second-hand or night-sky inspired.  



Mars and a waxing Moon heralded frigid temperatures on a few nights of the trek, chilling noses and toes. Nevertheless, dry weather, a backpacker’s best friend, permitted the trekkers to saunter (like a bale of turtles) to their destination. 


Ocala National Forest  Campout, Shutdown Notwithstanding
At journey’s end comradery, adventure, and the great outdoors were celebrated with steamy showers and a brick oven of pizzas.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Happy New Day Toward An Honorable New You

The world is what you and I make it.

As far as holidays go, New Year's Day seems to be the most frivolous. Sure, the end of a calendar year has no connection with holy rites, patriotic grandstanding, or compassionate activism. It is simply the flipping of a new annual number.

Still that number change is built into our civilization's time sense. January 1st is an arbitrary new beginning and a recognition time receding behind us. Of course, there is nothing like the present, if only because the present is the only inherent thing that exists, and each of us is surfing that wave as long as we can.

Many find the new year a fine time to put forward new resolutions. For me it is a time to renew my resolve to live an honorable life. Of late that transfers to living with a blend of compassion and rationality in general and modifying my thinking and actions toward inspiring a better world for all.

"All" is not only my family, my friends, and my species, but also a thriving environment, thinking creatures everywhere, and the creation of thoughtful immersive experiences with a peaceful positive activism. And so each day I attempt to look within and ask how can I do better, before going about imperfectly implementing that intention.

The only thing stopping our world from spinning horrifically out of control is each of us human beings, for no creature on the planet has wielded the skills to effect change inside and out. To that ends, with compassion and reason engaged, consider asking deeply of yourself each day the simple question "how can I do better?"

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Walkaway, A Patient Solution to Systemic Collusion?


The world is a frustrating, wonderful place to be living in right now.

It is wonderful in the ways it has always been, though perhaps more so for the wealthy of the past. At present, a majority of humans has access to wondrous technologies, cutting-edge scientific understandings, and amazing opportunities to pursue adventurous, meaningful, and satisfying life experiences. 

It is, however, immensely frustrating to see global powers consumed by runaway tribalism, oligarchy and amoral infighting. The growth for growth's sake economic paradigm sends a message to its constituents that consumerism is the path to satisfaction. It is a message that implies putting compassion and reason behind monetary through-put.

Walkaway, Cory Doctorow's cyberpunk, post-scarcity novel, daringly looks forward past global frustration to the toppling of the ransack-the-world pyramid scheme. In his imagined future the world strides toward a networked, peer-assisted, relationship-intensive society. This anarchy of connected human presence perseveres gradually displacing the "zotta-empire." As a bonus, and a utopianish catalyst, human mind download and preservation further inspires individuals to face the militarized corporate status quo and dream bigger.

Although Doctorow's escapist plotline stirs the heart and mind, pragmatically it is unrealizable in my lifetime. And yet, there remains the opportunity to walk away.

In fact, a sizable minority in the world around me have already chosen to walk away (at least partially) from out near enslavement society.  Many options exist beyond the 9-5 "hate what you're doing," work-to-live, golden handcuff  scenario: minimalist early retirement, tiny home living, backpack journeying, couchsurfing, parent hosteling, virtual adventuring, and vegan/green/peacenik/commune culture seeking.

With mini nest eggs or hand-to-mouth subsistence methods in play, many are taking their lives into their own hands, loosening the chains of nationalist expectations. The current governing regimes continue to press their luck walking toward the false oasis of endless economic expansion.  Sooner or later, resource over-harvesting, pollution generation, and exponential human reproduction will cause modern society to falter.

Rising from the ashes may be our best long term hope for the planet. Nevertheless, putting goodness first in our daily lives, leveraging compassion and reason at a grassroots level serves a grand and humble purpose. To build a foundation for the phoenix to rise while doing good for goodness' own sake.

Yes indeed, we can walk away and journey down a trail of our own.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Turkey Day Unrap


Thanksgiving Vegan Quiche 

Thank you thank you
The season is here
Bird got some history
Bird out in the woods
Hunting down grubs
Hunted by cubs 
Flying up high to roost
Keeping watch on the woods
Gobble Galoot

Thank you thank you
Seasoning is here
Bird got itself caged
Bird got bred for abuse
Pale zombies imprisoned
Pails of poultry blood
Fly into the oven to roast
Keep plowing down the woods
Gobble groot

Thank you thank you
Seasons to come
Bird peeled from its brain
Bird meat sheets and no pain
Paleo flesh fricassee 
Paltry cultured cells
Fly back to the wild
Turkeys run free
Gobble salute


This Thanksgiving let us give thanks for the wild places and wildlife that we share our planet with. The last 40 years have continued to decimate wildlife numbers and habitat space. Let us do better in generations to come. 

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Skeptic's Dilemma



Being a skeptic means observing the world with integrity, allowing honest observation and science to build an honest world view. Although the world boasts more humans living better lives than ever, objectively our collective negative behavior is driving global changes for the worse.  Environmental degradation, animal abuse, cultural tribalism, political nationalism, religious myth and pseudo-scientific misinformation, to name but a handful, are prolific. 

As a whole it's understandable why a skeptic who responds with reason and compassion to effect change might become dispirited, depressed or even cynical. What one person can do to shift the balance is minimal. Recycling to conserve resources, bicycling to reduce emissions, going vegan to decrease environmental and animal impacts, are all well and good, but if only 1 person, let alone 1 billion of 7.5 billion make these changes, the global situation will shift very little.

And yet the prevailing credo remains "live and let live." Which for all intents an purposes implies let every human do what they like to the world as long as it doesn't directly hurt another human. With a societal mindset like that there is a lot of inertia to overcome.

Bringing the best science and focused resources available to confront these issues is our best bet to contend with the problems at hand. Alas we are emotional creatures as well, and merely educating oneself about the world's problems and acting alone is insufficient to building up a positive attitude. To accomplish that feat we need to employ a number of tricks to outsmart our evolutionary predispositions.

Indeed, encouraging the joyful skeptic inside is challenging. To be sure, it starts with doing the best we can do for ourselves and those immediately around us, but does not stop there. We must become active in our communities, not just for positive policy change but for the selfish joy of forging positive relationships. Our society has become uniquely segregated by the very social networking technology that has amplified our virtual connections at the cost of our real ones.

As skeptics adopting an attitude that sings "always look on the bright side of life" can be a dramatic pressure relief of bitterness at the personal level. Strategically, bringing to bear a sense of humor alongside our reason and compassion is another method to maintain sanity in an insane world. If we are to combat the world's problems, both daily and longterm, we must not only be good skeptics, but we must remains steadfast, healthy minded humans so as to live our lives with integrity and sell a hopeful message to the world effectively.

Indeed the dilemma is real, but we must rise to the challenge.