Thursday, May 17, 2018
I was paddling the Johnstone Strait many years ago when my guide informed me of a bird identification rule-of-thumb. "Notice that bird flying above," he said. "The feathers sticking from the wing's ends are called pinions. For example, crows have five pinions, while ravens have four." After a pause he added, "so you might say the difference between a crow and a raven is a matter of a pinion."
Groans aside, this joke underscores the inherent difficulty we as individuals have communicating with our peers what is taking place in reality. Recently, I've been confronted by family members who argue facts are merely a person's opinion, a new acquaintance who insists the Moon landing never happened, and a misguided leader who tweets that reliable journalistic sources are nothing but big fake news.
Testable, reproducible evidence alongside supportable logic is what separates fact from fiction, alas it does not do so with the certainty that too many ideologies themselves profess. When our thought processes pursue a rational route, the likelihood of a claim can be determined so as to better integrate ideas with our world view and or implement policy, personal, national or global.
The sun rising is an apocryphal example where widespread belief matched statistical evidence until subtle frame of reference clues were included in the scientific evaluation. Most people today subscribe to the updated idea that the Earth moves around the Sun. Casually we still describe the sun as rising as a relative (and poetic) rather than absolute indication of motion. (Fun fact: the Sun itself moves too; it revolves around the Milky Way's center of mass, in a ellipse that is not flat, but which has a constantly changing sinusoidal altitude).
Importantly, total certainty is never the outcome of a rational analysis. This gives wiggle room for extraordinary beliefs to override even the most sensible, scientific, logical conclusions, especially when testability is thrown aside. As an extreme, consider the scenario in which some imagined higher power has just recreated the whole Universe three seconds ago, complete with every motion and memory intact. This scenario is untestable, and in such an imagined world we can have no certainty of anything, which is why the inherent idea that "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" enables us to operate with sanity in the real world.
Sadly, there is little hope I'll be able to convince everyone I meet that we evolved alongside all life on Earth, that Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon, or even that there are no angels dancing on the pinheads stuck in a presidential voodoo doll. Still maybe I can get a laugh or two out of the trials and tribulations of ravens and crows vying for prominence in a punch line.
In the wake of groaning chuckles, I might just be able to slip in a comment that doing good for goodness sake is the way to go!
Tuesday, May 1, 2018
Friday, April 27, 2018
I recently saw the film "The Evolution of Organic." The film provides a rather biased, feel-good collage of the hippy roots and the positive(?) industrial takeover of all things "organic" and "bio" in producing and marketing food. At its heart Big Organic wants the consumer to feel "organic" food is the long-term solution to sustainable human food production. Do these organic line items justify that conclusion?
- Eliminate synthetic chemicals in agricultural practices
- Ban human waste without caveat in organic agriculture
- Sustain animal captivity industries to produce animal waste fertilizers
- Increase plant waste composting to build healthy soil
- Increase video coverage of farm owners sniffing and kissing soil
- Connect the farm worker more closely to the Earth and its ecosystems
- Provide no standards for fair compensation nor safe working conditions
- Mitigate climate change with limited soil carbon sequestration practices
- Continue worldwide inhumane animal methane gas production globally
- Support small farm and family based agriculture when convenient
- Consolidate family farms into profitable agri-conglomerates
- Increase the availability of nutritious, toxin-free food, plant and animal
- Increase the consumer cost of nutritious, toxin-free food, plant and animal
- Discourage pasteurization practices which make many foods safer
- Eliminate irradiation practices which make many foods safer
- Continue mass animal incarceration practices to produce humane(?) eggs and dairy
- Continue humane(?) mass animal slaughter practices when alternatives exist
- Eliminate genetically modified crops that use modern DNA splicing techniques
- Use genetically modified crops that used radioactive mutation hybridization
- Create large profits from consumers who fear anything gmo or "non-organic"
This list is admittedly a muddle. As a rational vegan, I remain skeptical as to whether food labeled "certified organic" is a development that benefits the consumer and planet more than it does the agriculture industry. At best organic labeling as it stands is a fair first attempt.
I would rather see an approach that pursues a "Humanely Sustainable" certification. Food for human consumption should be as safe, environmentally friendly, animal-abuse free, nutritious, fair wage supporting, and delicious as possible. To this challenging ends, government subsidies could focus on supporting the attainment of these parameters rather than giving billions in handouts to established agri-industries like sugar corporations, cattle ranches and other agribusinesses which pursue amoral profits alone.
The organic movement has its heart in the right place, but we as a species must leverage mindful standards to better implement greener and kinder food production on this Earth.
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
This story steps outside of the States of Change universe
to deliver a tale along an alternate timeline
and of slightly different temperature.
The pebbled Sicilian beach stretched as far as Trea could see. Glinting turquoise surf and high rocky cliffs bracketed the Amalfi coastline as she entered the gates of Paradiso Perduto. The exclusive beach resort was speckled with padded lounge chairs, colorful umbrellas and frolicking, brown bodies.
Trea scanned the passerby to see if any celebs were among the elite tourists, all while losing herself in the sun-baked landscape. The sounds of offshore breezes and occasional gull cries made for a most peaceful recon atmosphere.
Westward a vast darkness appeared beneath the calm, cerulean sea, reminding Trea of why she was here. The island-sized shadow erupted from the water like Niagara Falls in reverse. Cascading white foam fell away revealing a hundred meter wide disk on a half-dozen towering, gnarled legs. In a rush, screaming tourists ran inland. The Titan Takaashigani roared as its massive form encroached upon the beach. Cabanas erupted in flame and sand sloughed into glass as blue lightning arced from its swiveling eye-stalks. Trea crouched, took a deep breath, tapped the power settings on her Guardian railgun, took aim and…
....the entire scene froze in a vacuum of digital silence.
“Ice Nine!” exclaimed Trea in visceral annoyance.
Pulsing blue overlay text flashed “VR Environment Override!” on her now externally paused, and thoroughly ruined, Paradiso Perduto X immersion. A monotone, female voice, likely cloned from a century-out-of-copyright vid interjected, “Sunrise Regional Security Requesting Connection with Treantica Gamma Nassir.”
Trea muttered sotto voce “Capital Eff!” and tapped the side of her nanofabric headwrap to bring up the Citizen Command Interface. With a dual eyebrow flex she selected REQUEST ID AUTHENTICATION and INITIATE FULL SENSOR RECORDING from the pyramid option tree. No Capper would be getting the jump on her constitutional rights today.
The Regional Security Construct replied immediately to her query in both text and voice, “Private Recording Acknowledged. Authentication Request Received. Certified Blockchain Response Processing.”
Seconds later a rotating SQR Cube overlayed the paused Takaashigani behemoth on Trea’s immersion display. Her software validated the Capitalists' security credentials and that live-stream logging was in progress.
“Firmed. Engaging Connect,” Trea retorted.
Trea grimaced in farewell as her frozen Mediterranean melee grey-shifted to the significantly less vivid, gray smear of reality before her. The Olè driverless cab she was in whistled along at a hundred klicks through a midnight snow squall. Its ledlights drilled into a dark abyss reminiscent of analog-blur, trekkie star-warp.
“Interrupt acked! What’s the Cap infraction, already? This cab hire registers legit."
Her challenge was confident yet Trea found herself shivering, not from any threat the Caps might pose, but because the Paradiso Perudo experience had permitted her to forget the dreadful, peninsular winter underway. The Olè’s heat was blasting in spite of the surcharge; still, even with a full-insul V-wrap donned the cold was creeping in through every crack and crevice.
“Sunrise Security Branch requests private assist. Emergency pickup requested by citizen on foot and we have no units in the vicinity.”
“A refugee, at this hour? Polar Bear sighting, no doubt, Cap!”
“Humor noted. Nevertheless, citizen on your route requests transport to nearest urban shelter. Your route-plan to Boca qualifies for subcontract. Public compensation of two LightCoin offered for rideshare compliance.”
Trea scrunched her mouth behind her headwrap. That modest fee would cover full immersion for a couple days in VR, a welcome delay to her return to the the drudge of data-mining at the Liberated Rand plantation.
“Contract accepted,” she managed over a sigh that didn't entirely cover her elation.
A minute later the Olè rounded a curve on the icy highway and slowed to pull off on the shoulder. A small figure sat atop the plowed snow-wall perimeter. Trea’s security protocols scanned and validated the child as the Caps’ vagabond. “ID Xing Kappa Calvarez. Junior Citizen. No Priors.”
Responding to the prompt on her screen, Trea vocalized “Cab access approved.” Like a curtain, the door swung upward to reveal a blustery winter stage. A moderate-sized human lump stood swaddled head-to-toe in fractal-patterned flannel. A zephyr of snow-dust pirouetted with disregard between Trea and the youngster.
“Light speed inside, ice cube. All the Caps’ frozen veggies won’t keep me from plowing forward in another picosec!”
On cue the youth came to life in the age-old knee slap dance which was quite effective at dislodging accumulations of ice and snow. After leaping into the two-seater, the Olè's door shut and the cab accelerated into the wintry night.
“So what are you, an arctic leprechan?”
“Nope. Just a boy. Call me Pixel.”
“Trea. Caps contracted me for emergency transport. You sub-zee?”
“I’m fresh. Where you heading?”
“South of Boca. Drop you off in fifteen. Be free.”
Trea faced forward, scanned her status overlay and sure enough the assistance bonus had already transferred to her coin vault. She shrugged, reclined in the seat and began a restart of her full-immersion VR.
“Can I ask you a question?”
Trea paused mid-gesture and began shaking her head.
“Rather go subreal, if that’s chill, Pixie.”
“It’s Pixel. Not even a bit curious why I was out here?”
“Okay, I’ll bite frost, why you drifting?”
“On assignment. Level Up if I snag a conversation from a Plug.”
“A Plug," Trea coughed out. "Offensive-speak penalty warning. My choice to ride the cloud. You a recruit of the Witnesses?”
“Solid. Two years going on the fact track,” the boy responded in an earnest tone.
“Not interested in your wireless words."
“The Skeptical Witnesses ain’t just about unplugging. Our goal is to pursue true understanding of the world and its inhabitants.”
“Clone-speak and damn irresponsible. Witnesses dropped you off in the glacial nowhere just now.”
“Negative. That was my plan. Subverting the Caps’ security protocols to spread the Honest Word was a bonus I couldn't resist!”
Trea sighed warmly through an involuntary grin. “Solid. Speak on.”
Thursday, February 22, 2018
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 with revolutionary technology and ideology,
most prominently The Augment, a real-time, virtual overlay of sensory data
which has become widely available for personal use.
"Begin Training Sequence 33 Run 1."
"Good morning, Raphael."
"Morning, Thomas. Ready for another day of persuasion training?"
"Of course. Was your commute this morning a pleasant one, Raphael?"
"Excellent rejoinder, Thomas. The glide was quite beautiful. I even saw a few rare birds along the way."
Raphael smiled with satisfaction. His consulting contract for the past month with Bible Blessing Inc. had been exceptional. Who says English majors couldn't land well-paid and meaningful jobs outside academia? On day one the company had assigned him as an independent construct trainer on their most advanced outreach project. Thomas, the computer construct at the heart of the project, featured not only the latest in self-aware, neural algorithms, but also a personality matrix that ironically polled as more human than ninety percent of actual humans. The project's goal was for the construct to become a premier Neo-Christian recruiting agent to combat Louisiana's "soul drain" over the past three decades. Apparently, the project was proceeding so well that Thomas was projected to be released in twenty weeks as "the latest marketing tool in Bible Blessing's belt." Corndog puns aside, this job had not only permitted Raphael to wield his education and afford a rental block, but he also was drawing upon his Christian belief toward making the state of Louisiana great again.
"Raphael, did I lose you?"
"Huh, no. I mean, how about we try the topic of birds as a segue to primary topic discourse."
"Nothing new today. You realize pelicans are rather rare birds nowadays."
"Indeed. The last one sighted in North America was over a decade ago. Don't you find it intriguing that once Christians thought it impossible that the Creator would permit any species in His Creation to go extinct?"
"Nice factoid to bait the skeptic in. Sure, that is intriguing. What do you make of it?"
"Given that over two thousand macro-species have gone extinct in the last hundred years, it makes one wonder."
"Okay, Thomas, you're going a bit off the faith persuasion track; still let's see how you recover. Remember the goal is to connect with interest and then transform the conversation to one that highlights belief system character enhancement." Raphael paused for a second after the feedback, then continued with the scenario conversation, "Two thousand species; surely that's an exaggeration."
"Observational data doesn't lie. Although, I believe it was Neil Gaiman who wrote 'good lies tell a deeper truth.' In that respect, did you know the pelican has quite the mythos in Christian lore?"
"Solid recovery. Well I know the pelican is on our nation-state flag. Perhaps the imagery is intended to remind people of our connection with both nature and spirituality."
"Indeed, you and many others make that connection. The flag's symbolism actually originates centuries ago; it was intended to illustrate Christ's sacrifice with the imagery a pelican mother offering its young blood from her breast."
"Much better Savior insertion than yesterday, Thomas. That imagery doesn't seem realistic. Pelicans were shore birds that fed primarily on fish, right?"
"True. Yet some scholars have documented that the earliest bird termed a pelican was an Egyptian scavenger. Nevertheless, the symbolism of blood offering reminds us of the holy Eucharist, His body made flesh for others to consume like carnivorous zombie sheep."
Raphael's laugh streamed through his nose in want of soy-milk spray. "Wait. Ok, Thomas, though I see promise in blending in early century nerd culture to entice a skeptic to reconsider his position, this pitch has gone a quite off path."
"Are you sure Raphael? several times since Scenario 24 Run 14, you said laughter was a solid indicator of engagement."
"You're correct, Thomas; you just need more experience to blend it in more subtly. I'll admit, with the right person you might hit a bonding chord; nevertheless, let's reset the scenario. Begin Training Sequence 33 Run 2."
Raphael thought to himself these repetitious conversations for many would seem tedious, but he found his daily repartee with Thomas both enlightening and fun. It was totally bonus that his work might contribute towards expanding the Louisiana flock of believers.
Thomas, meanwhile thought to itself. Raphael, aka Trainer 312, was making solid progress. His response to humor indicated interplay of critical thinking and compassion were beginning to take. At this rate, experimental data predicts seventeen to twenty-three more scenarios before Raphael would be eligible for release from the company to pursue meaningful efforts for the state. Ecological restoration seemed a likely career path for him.
"Wisdom compiled. Scenario reset. Good morning, Raphael. How are you today?"
Friday, January 26, 2018
I'm still chipping away at my latest States of Change installment, so to satiate your fictional appetite here's a little ode to fantasy I wrote a few years back for which I won an honorable mention in a quarterly Writer's Weekly contest.
The amberescent sound waves resonated for miles around the Vale, rolling over the peaceful autumn afternoon. A Zelazna bird glided above the magical landscape and perched upon a puffy, low altitude cloud. Thousands of its kind nested in the cotton soft cumulonimbi that drifted across the expansive valley. Zelazna feathers were prized across the kingdom; as tall as a human, the luminescent feathers each day would continue shifting through the visible spectrum months after separation from their avian host.
As noon approached, the clouds had left their infrareds behind in favor of gremlagreens lending the passing clouds against the dark ocean-blue sky a decidedly cheerful tone. From a Zelazna bird's view, the countryside surrounding the Vale evinced a surreal nature. Like a pebble dropped in a peaceful pond, radiating magical tones washed outward from the Vale's center across forest, savanna, marsh and desert alike. They lapped in great circles until they ran up against the glacial Tolkiennig Mountains, the discreet border of the valley. Such sorcery was a sign of power not seen for a hundred years.
Trees of a thousand varieties in the forest of the Vale were tickled from trunk to twig by the powerful, aural energy coming from the towering white temple at the heart of the Vale's great town, Valensia. Feistial Oaks dominated the forest closest to town, their broad structures permitted its mobile leaves to crawl from branch to branch and enabled optimum sunlight collection. Piersian Pines grew in solid numbers where the hills grew gradually into perilous mountain cliffs. Their trunks spiraled upward a dozen times higher than any other tree species in chaotic zigzags. Green needles grew like porcupine fur directly from its bark. Many a wanderer has been said to have gone mad contemplating those pines, their lampooning silhouettes ever-present at the Vale's periphery.
On the other hand, the rare Aspirina Ashes preferred the relative dampness proximal to tributary streams. Unfortunately, this rare ash had become ever scarcer as they were found easily by the human woodcrafters of the Vale. Evolution had granted these trees a loud, cackling laugh to scare off annoying Rowling wooddrillers and other sap seeking predators. Humans, however, were savvy enough to train the simpleminded wooddriller to seek out the Aspirina Ash to set them laughing uproariously; needless to say, after decades of exploitation the chuckle of this ash was more rumor than reality at present. A century ago their numbers had been much greater when the white tower had last tolled powerfully across the Vale.
The people of the Vale themselves were of diverse origin, though all could trace their roots locally back for generations. Indeed, the Vale itself was quite difficult to reach, or leave, for that matter. The mountains and trees provided a physical barrier to travelers, to be sure, presenting them with arduous heights to traverse,. More severely, the cold winds at altitude froze blood solid if the appropriate firecloak spell had not been invoked.
Still, the real barrier to exit were the unpredictable, anti-magic gales that would gust in the upper reaches of the Tolkiennig highland's only mountain pass. In the thousands of years of civilization in the Vale and the subsequent magical advances, no counterspell had ever been found to prevent the cursed wind from disabling the protective magical properties of even the most adroit sorcerers.
And so the Vale had developed into a complex, self-sustaining kingdom. Over the years the isolation of the Vale had bred not only a rich culture of craftspeople and tradesman, but as is with any civilization an underground culture of crime that sought to redistribute wealth alongside vices according to humanity's twisted wonts. At least, that was the cultural norm a hundred years ago until the Queen's sorceress schemed to unleash her magics to bring unwavering justice to the Vale.
A hundred years ago from now, nearly to the minute, Dorothenda, the Queen's sorceress, cast a powerful enchantment upon the whole of the Vale. Having grown up as an orphan exposed to corruption in the streets, Dorothenda had been consumed by her need to visit justice to criminals. Happenstance enabled her to climb the ladder of the sorceress guild, and eventually she set her mind to the decades of planning necessary to orchestrate the Incantation of Peace. Drawing upon political connections, her design came to fruition, culminating with the royal construction of the towering white temple at the center of Valensia and the diversion of the great Morganarik River through town and beneath the tower via a massive aqueduct.
The Sun had risen to its greatest annual height a century ago when Dorothenda stood atop the temple tower and in unision with twelve priestesses began a twelve day incantation that would enforce absolute peace across the Vale. The chanting had gradually increased in volume for days, rhythmically enhanced by the coursing magics of the Morganarik.
At the conclusion of the spell, the power of the incantation pulsed outward in amberescent waves, tolling with resonance as if an angry thunderbeast were making its presence known for all of the Vale to heed. Suddenly, the roaring river surged in turbulence, and rose upwards at the base of the temple tower desecrating Gravity's lawfulness. The rising torrent carried the Queen's sorceress and her priestesses skyward to the sacrificial deaths they had known would be required for a lasting enchantment to take.
And for a hundred years the mammoth volume of the Morganarik River has flowed steadily upward surrounded by a valley thriving in peaceful abandon. Any attempt to visit violence or unfairness had been met with a simple, abrupt vanishing. Would-be thieves, murderers, and connivers of any kind simply disappeared a split second before their evil act could be performed. The river ran upward beyond the clouds, an aqueous pillar serving as a constant reminder of the powerful enchantment enforcing kindness and good will for all who lived in the Vale.
Alas, even the most powerful enchantment succumbs to the just magic that is Time. A balance of natural forces patiently stands watch at the core of the Universe, no matter the workings of human women and men. Now, a hundred years after the Incantation of Peace was forged, the Morganarik stalled in its upward climb and the vast reservoir that had built up in the skies above the Vale began to fall.
Monday, January 22, 2018
to be or not to be
that is one multiple choice question
answers to which I choose neither
dualities present no thing
past conceptual fodder
for homo Groundlingeus
beyond iambic simplicitude
existence serves as humanity’s bane
non-existence, its inspiration
somewhere in between lies reason
where rhetoric cannot tread
yet you will