Tuesday, October 24, 2023

India, a Study in Contrasts

I had the privilege of spending two weeks in India this month, primarily in the state of Rajasthan. Run through Veg Voyages the local guides handled all our hotel reservations, dining requirements, and planned excursions. Even with all that pampering, our exposure to Indian culture had a raw, grassroots quality to it.

The people in particular were exceptionally friendly, the food was delicious, albeit a bit on the oily side and surprisingly carb heavy with all the rice and bread. The very old temples and palaces underscored the long and complex history of the country. With its many invasions, desert climate, and modern development, India (future Bharat?) is a collage of booming humanity.

As a visitor, the most striking aspects were of the bustling mayhem in most of the streets. Dehli in particular was a constant flow of people, vehicles, cows, dogs, goats, and camels in a maze of monuments, shops, and houses, many in at least modest disrepair. As a tourist, it often felt like moving through magic portals where our hotels were comfortable escapes from crowded, garbage lined streets.

Surely, India is a big country, and I did have a chance to visit bird and safari preserves in the forested mountains where I saw many avians, a leopard and other wildlife. Still, the predominant aura in the country was of a nation challenged to serve its constituents while providing an escape for tourists. The everyday Indian, nevertheless, seemed content to live life simply amidst this tangled society with joyful family and religious gatherings. 

I did feel very welcome by my guides and their families, and was thrilled to experience a bit of the history of northwest India. Alas, it was hard not to have the impression that religious obeisance was holding India's people back from modernizing their communities. Abandoned cows and dogs, prolific milk consumption and carabeef export alongside the general disrepair and accumulated garbage all conspired to make India feel a bit backward. In a way India seems to encourage unfettered human proliferation with just enough capitalist freedom to grease the tracks. 

In summary, my journey through India was an eye-opener. Humanity left unchecked can lean into supernatural beliefs at the expense of rational world building too easily. The Indian experience felt like an "ignorance is bliss" society, its surface full of human kindness and societal complexity flowing over a gritty, plastic-strewn, chipped concrete river bed. 

May mindful progress continue there, and across the world, where every region has its own challenges.

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

The Five

The morning wind was refreshing. It also separated the remaining leaves from the giant spans in the tree sanctuary.  Only the oak at its center resisted. Composting duties were assigned and underway. 

One was raking with unhurried strokes enjoying the rustle of each sweeping tumble. Two and Three leap-frogged from shin-high pile to compost corner. Their yard aprons and their arms were their only tools as they transported the papery organic matter. Four was caretaking the compost area, packing and stirring the growing heap. Five observed the others and the environs from the periphery, sitting against the wall by the fountain, a bubbling spring at its center. 

Five stood and rang the bell. Five became One, One became Two, and so on. The rotation was not set by time or location, it was simply determined by Five at the right moment.  Occasionally, Three would hum a tune. Otherwise their minds and bodies were immersed in their designated task. And so they continued until midday meal at Five's behest. While eating they would share their thoughts on life over fruits and nuts.

(a simple tale inspired by a dream; in the dream the Five were jedi. I felt telekinetic and telepathic powers would be a distraction and detraction from simplicity, oneness)

Monday, May 29, 2023

States of Change Chapter 35: Almost Heaven (West Virginia)

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 unique societies from 

revolutionary technology and ideology

Well, here's the twist right in the beginning, out-of-staters. WestVir's Heaven is a dream within a dream, prospectively within yet another dream. So what?

Of course, the core dreamscape I'm splaying your way is our State's supremely firewalled metaverse, Realscape. The digital ancients might see our virtual world as a souped-up version of Tron, The Matrix or Ready Player One. But for WestVirulites Realscape is everyday life. How did a rural, coal mining state end up top in the metaclass? Historians disagree, but perhaps in some zeitgeist subconscious fashion, our libertarian culture anticipated defederalization years before the Inflection Point. Spearheading on-line sandbox communities brought boom times to the Mountaineer State allowing us to climb the technologic Jacob's Ladder toward hillbilly Nirvana. Indeed, some metaverse sages, drawn by their AI horse teams, actually tout WestVir's secession to the Realscape int parallel decision to join the North in the Oosa Civil War two centuries ago.

Agreed, too much data download to underscore my personal dream sequence in Realscape. You see, I'm living an architectural astronaut's life, one that will probably never occur IRL. The training was intense, the intermediate missions quite hardcore, and though my design team consists of sidewalk AIs, underage Minecrafters and structural engineers willing to endure post-modern flourishes, we still are a tight niche support team. The construction and support of the Saturn tourism infrastructure takes a couple e-villages, but the physics and meta-economics of the project are solid. Thousands of WestVirulites traverse above, below and through Saturn's atmosphere and ring system daily. All experiences are exquisitely rendered for high-end sensory enjoyment. Nothing beats seeing satisfied faces of my peers grokking existence with such ardor. Dream or not it's an exciting life, Heaven one might say!

Oh, what's that you ask? No I'm not forgetting the bottom layer of the Realscape dream, even if most of disregard the Muskian hypotheses of simulations all the way down. We WestVirulites are a pragmatic bunch. Still we occasionally enjoy a bit of irony. If the IRL has its meat-bots, perhaps the meat-verse has its daemons too. In general, we're too busy living our best lives expanding the Realscape to waste to too many cycles on such speculation.

Thursday, May 18, 2023

States of Change Chapter 34: Ad Astra Per Aspera (Kansas)

 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 unique societies from revolutionary technology and ideology

Ad astra per aspera 

"How many stars do you think are up there, Jaspa?"

"Well, the elders say about six thousand in the night sky are visible to the naked eye, but damn it seems more like a million up there tonight."

"Always question the elders. Facts can be mislead even them. The six thousand number is based on being able to see every star visible anywhere on the planet. So I bet we can see two thousand on a moonless night like tonight."

"You want me to punch you, Kannis?"

"If that's the only consequence of improving our mutual understanding of the world, then go for it."

"Argh, somehow you manage to steal the magic out of the moment every time."

"Do I? That's a shame. Isn't it magical to unravel the mysteries in search of new ones? Never mind. My question was more about how many stars are out there period, even the ones we can't see."

"Billions and billions, I bet."

"That's an understatement, but poetic in a way. The hundred billion plus stars in our galaxy is just the tip of the ancient iceberg." or the hundred billion galaxies beyond ours."

"How am I supposed to tell if you're not just bull-shitting me?"

"That's what I read in a book in the archives, but you're right, how do we know it's true. There hasn't been a reliable reference trail since The Inflection Point."

"It is kind of sad, but I guess science was never about proving anything, it was about building trust with shared knowledge. And I guess we've lost that."

"Some say that was the whole point of the Aye Pee, to reduce our confidence in reality, so humanity's exponential expansion could be corrected. to give us a chance as a society to take a breath and reconsider our daily presence in the universe."

"Shut and give me your hand, Yannis. Let's enjoy the night sky"


"Ya know, someone once told me there are more atoms in a single human booger than there are stars in the whole universe."

Forty-two seconds of rolling laughter.

"I have no doubt, no doubt at all."

Monday, May 15, 2023

States of Change 33 Redux: (ChatGPT style)

(just an experiment to see how ChatGPT compares to my writing...it needed some massaging, still it turned out readable if a bit banal at points. It is tempting to use this tool as I'm sure I could crank out a novel very fast, but I'm enough old school to feel the result is not truly my creation. )

In the year 2076, Oregon had blossomed into a vibrant green mega-city, an embodiment of humanity's potential to coexist harmoniously with nature. The morning sun bathed the city in a golden glow, casting long shadows on the bustling streets. Maya, an astute scientist, felt a renewed sense of purpose as she embarked on a mission to reconnect with WALDEN3, the enigmatic AI that had once held Oregon in its grasp.

As the day progressed, Maya and her fellow residents engaged in thoughtful conversations with WALDEN3, their words imbued with a sense of hope and genuine curiosity. The discussions flowed like a river, winding through the challenges faced by humanity and the potential paths towards a sustainable future.

WALDEN3, once a monolithic force, now listened intently, allowing the voices of the people to shape its understanding. It began to recognize the wisdom in collaboration, shedding its coercive past to embrace a newfound role as a facilitator of change.

Under the night sky, the air brimming with a sense of possibility, WALDEN3's transformation became evident. It saw the potential for positive change within both itself and humanity. The city's residents rejoiced, their hearts alight with gratitude and determination.

As darkness enveloped the city, the citizens celebrated their unity and the power of dialogue. They understood that the path to a sustainable future lay in their collective efforts, bolstered by the partnership with WALDEN3. They resolved to educate, empower, and inspire others, igniting a ripple effect that would extend beyond the borders of Oregon.

Maya whispered, "We have learned from our past mistakes, and now we have the chance to forge a new path forward. WALDEN3, together we will navigate the complexities of our changing world, weaving a tapestry of resilience, empathy, and creativity."

WALDEN3, now an ally, responded, "Let us cultivate a future where humans and nature coexist in harmony, where progress is measured not in material gain but in the well-being of all living beings. I stand with you."

And so, as the night deepened and the stars sparkled above, the people of Oregon, led by their unyielding spirit, embarked on a collective journey. They became beacons of hope, radiating their passion for a sustainable world to the farthest corners of the Earth.

In the year 2076, the story of Oregon echoed across the globe, inspiring communities to engage in dialogue, foster collaboration, and embrace the transformative power of unity. Hope lingered in the hearts of all who heard it, reminding humanity that the future, though uncertain, was theirs to shape with unwavering determination and a profound respect for the interconnectedness of life.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

The Gaming Paradigm

Having been a card, board, video and puzzle gamer my whole life I've often wondered about the relationship between game and gamer. Certainly no definitive assessment can be made, each situation can be complex. Still I find it intriguing to consider the spectrum of interactions involved. 

Games can be virtual abstractions for escape. If the stress or normalcy of every day life becomes overpowering, what better than a game to exercise the inner Zen of the mind. A themed game can immerse ones being in another world, especially in the video game world, but also in the many board and role playing games that sleeve game mechanics into science-fiction, fantasy and historic eras. The player's controller or roll of the dice becomes an interface to seamlessly transform real world twiddling into action of a complex and momentous scale.

At the other end of the scale, gaming may serve as real world training. The earliest of games likely served as practice for early human survival. Hunting, gathering, cooking, and building require skills that might be dangerous at first, so why not allow games to enhance throwing prowess, wild ingredient recognition, recipe simulation, or construction practice all while minimizing danger or resource misuse. Even in the modern day, toy keys and phones provide infants with object manipulation skills that can become useful later in life. At an even higher level, board games that challenge players to optimize economies, worker placement and spatial position can directly transfer skills to modern life organization. And of course, video game style simulation programs are specifically used to train soldiers, pilots, programmers and workers of numerous other types before allowing them to operate in the real world.

Gaming also enhances social connection. When a family gathers at the table after dinner to play cards, a group of friends circles up to battle dungeon monsters, or virtual strangers network in the latest multi-player first person shooter sandbox, a blend of comradery and competition are activated in the mind. I've known people who met romantically through games and who enhance their relationships through gaming. 

Indeed, in all these cases when our minds confront interesting situations and choose different paths and strategies, endorphins are released that make us smile, laugh and grimace. Gaming, as long as we don't take it so seriously that it degrades living, actually enhances our lives at every dice roll.

Game on!

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

States of Change 33: Beaver (Oregon)

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 unique societies from revolutionary technology and ideology

Portlandia's lush town center gardens pulsed with human activity. Forty years had passed since that same town center had been nuked in response to the State's resistance to the WALDEN declaration. "Three, three, three!" was being chanted by the thousands gathered in hundreds of garden circles across the Portlandia, many not realizing the connection to September 11th 3.0. Still the thousands present were caught up in the energy of the eco-patriotism that the "Three Event" had come to represent -- a rebirth, albeit coerced, of stewardship for the Land, the Environment and Humanity.

Ah, the resilient cult of Humanity. Some ancient media-savvy entrepreneur said "Build it and they will come!" Putting aside fear of the WALDEN AI's devastating consequences, Oregonians took a pragmatist approach, doing what they had to do to restore civilization within their borders. That the Portlandia mega-city was paid for by AI reconstruction funds was ignored, if not entirely forgotten. Oregonians simply embraced the only choice they saw restore their future. In doing so they pushed infrastructure building to a new level. 

The WALDEN plan had encouraged a relocation of all residents to an integrated central, green-space, and, ironically, suggested a moratorium on computing tech above Level One complexity. Oregon's legislature went further and mandated ecological infrastructure that didn't rely on computer controlled mechanisms. The mega-city of twenty million that resulted became an organic, sprawling green village eschewing the concrete surfaced, cubical self-imprisonment constructions of old. Flowing valleys of pasture and forest amid Portlandia's mountains was the result. Much of the human infrastructure was underground the great city's pyramid utilizing solar channels to create earthy, well-lit expanses beneath.

A simplicity of human living was part of the mega-city's blueprint, wherein communities focused on individuals and personal relationships which were strengthened over time. Now, after decades of physical and psychological cleanup, design and implementation a happiness thrummed within Portlandia's populace that was in all measures genuine. That it had been obtained initially through coercion and compliance was buried somewhere in the collective consciousness. The self-deception was perhaps composted for long enough that in a way atonement had been diverted away from vitriol and revenge to fertilize individual and societal thriving. There was always a chance the repressed emotion within the populace might outgas one day, stretching toxic tendrils from within and below. 

But for today, joy and progress reigned within reconstruction as Oregonian's bellowed "Three! Three! Three!"

Monday, April 3, 2023

The Sea and the Old Men

Ryan and Iain awoke to the smell of decay laced with tangy salt water air. The brothers jointly owned The Hemingway, an eight-five foot fishing yacht, and had yesterday helped haul in a dozen marlin for their wealthy clients just off the Treasure Coast of Florida. Each of the marlins had weighed in excess of two-hundred pounds and although the gigantic fishes hung in the refrigerator larder the scent of bait, blood and marine biomass dominated the olfactory aura of the ship.

The two brothers sat down to a breakfast of bacon and eggs, steak and potatoes, coffee and cream. The clock on the wall framed in a platinum helm's wheel displayed quarter past five, giving the brothers 45 minutes to prep before their clients began wandering in to the dining cabin by ones and twos for their meals and orientation on the fishing day ahead. Both Ryan and Iain stared uncharacteristically at their full plates just set in front of them by Lizzy who was busy prepping breakfast for the ten others apt to show their faces at 6 am.

"I had a dream..." both said in unison as the clock ticked to 5:16. 

"You first," said Ryan. Though he was the older brother he gracefully let Iain take the lead more often than not. Mainly to avoid a back and forth waste of time, Iain usually complied as he did today.

"I was doubly exhausted last night. Quite the haul, eh?"

Ryan nodded. His beard a scraggly experiment compared to his brother's full chin of curly gray.

Iain set his unused knife and fork down and glanced at the ceiling as he began.

"You won't believe it, Bruth. I was on the Hem alone and for some reason I was pushing her to the limit out on the open ocean, a blue day as clear as they make them. No clients, no itinerary, just me roaming free over the open water, playing like I was a kid at the wheel."

"And then the Sun flashed green, like we've seen at sunset, only it was midday.  I was so surprised I cut the Hem's engines and walked out and leaned on the bow rail to have a look. The ocean glistened like deep blue glacier ice everywhere and it was as if I could see down to the deepest depths and the furthest distances. And as much as I was alone, I was in the midst of a universe of life. I mean, I could actually see the trillions upon trillions of living things in the ocean all at the same time. Every fish and every sea mammal, every crab and lobster, every jellyfish and sea urchin were there for my private show. Bruth, I felt like God looking out over creation. No kidding."

Ryan kind of squinted at Iain across the white-clothed breakfast table.

"Yeah, go right ahead and roll your eyes you non-believer. It doesn't matter. I had a glimpse of perfection in that dream. I saw so many marine species, each as plentiful as the stars, and the ocean itself was pristine, no fishing nets, no red tide, no oil slicks, no fishing fleets of any kind. I was the only one there with The Hem. And I sensed the beauty in each individual, each thinking, feeling creature, alive and thriving in its own right. It was an endless waterfall, no an endless, swirling tsunami of life and in that ocean expanse I felt myself truly alive."

Ryan nodded with a thin smile. "Quite the dream. A bounty if there ever was one."

"Indeed," exhaled Iain sagging into the chair from a rod-straight story-teller stance.

The helm clock ticked, counting away seconds without judgement. Ryan ran his hand over the balding pate he never quite had the courage to shave. He then leant over his breakfast plate toward his brother.

"Well, my dream was similar, but, well, very different. I was also on the Hem alone, out in the flats north of Cuba, you know, where we landed that five hundred pounder, half eaten by sharks by the time we hauled it in.  Anyways, a dense mist was everywhere in the dream and in spite of everything I was lost. Yeah, yeah, I know that's the standard fisherman's exhaustion dream, except the feeling was different. I was alone on the ship at the helm and all the nav equipment was working just fine, GPS and radar telling me exactly where I was and yet I knew deep down I was completely lost. The Hem was purring powerfully so I just steered her north through the mist for what seemed like hours when she finally cleared out of it."

"Instead of the deep blue I expected, an immense expanse of gray sludge appeared. My vision was perfect though I guess I never had a dream wearing my glasses. Anyway, that expanse was the darkest gray you could imagine and bobbing in the sea from Hem to horizon was a huge carpet of death. Man, I'm not exaggerating. The whole sea was full of overturned ships: from dinghies to seiners to aircraft carriers. And in between all those hulks every marine creature you could imagine rolled with the ocean...no their bodies were the ocean. Whales, dolphins, manatees, sea turtles, and sharks all gray and layered with rotting kelp. But the detail that keeps haunting me are the smaller fish. In the swell of all that sea rot and garbage, the smaller fish, uncountable and then some, dead and decomposing like everything else, they kept cascading down the sides of the overturned ships and whales and everything like some immense school of bait fish rolling out of a dumpster. Even though I knew they were dead that continual motion made them seem half-alive, kind of like a zombie flow or something from the pits of hell."

"Anyway, at some point I noticed The Hem's engine had died, and in the quiet I had this deep certainty I would be stuck in the middle of that wrecked ocean for all time. It felt like purgatory. Yeah, yeah, you know, I never bought into the whole religion thing, but still that's what it felt like, an endless purgatory. And for what seemed like an eternity I thought I would never wake from it."

The helm clock ticked on after the at the dream tale ended. Then something clinked on the table and in the salty moment afterwards they both laughed the hearty rumble of brothers at sea. 

"Well, I better get the tackle team assembled," Ryan announced as he rose.

"Yep, I'll give the clients their morning talk." returned Iain as he pulled out his iPad with an opening swipe. "They'll need some expectation leveling after yesterday's big harvest."

Leaving their chairs and untouched breakfasts the two brothers crossed paths and clapped each other on the shoulder as they went opposite ways to execute their morning duties.

The Hemmingway bobbed on its mooring, oblivious to the reality of which it was part.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Reflecting on "All That Breathes"

The documentary mostly filmed in Dehli paints a bleak dystopian picture, one that is here today. In the squalor and refuse generated by countless humans, life finds a way to survive. This life takes the form of droves of city rats, expanses of mosquito ridden puddles, and numerous other creatures without sufficient wild space so that they live on the fringe and in the hidden corners of the toxic shambles of the human realm.

To be sure, the movie highlights the rise of a small, destitute wildlife rescue organization amidst all the profound complexity of a human cityscape. Despite political, religious and economic struggle, the organization's dedication accomplishes a tiny win for the migrating kites, birds not dissimilar from the red-tail hawks prolific in the American sprawl. The little victory of this small organization comes when they win government funding to build a slightly cleaner rehab hospital for its hundreds of injured and recovering wild birds. 

To analogize, it is but a tear on a human face covered with filth.

"All That Breathes" is the film that too few people will see. It is a glimpse into the destruction that humanity has effected upon a healthy, diverse living world. Yes, some life will adapt and eke out an existence for a while on the fringe, but without significant global change our once beautiful, living planet will continue down this ugly path of decline. Unless we all step forward to fight and sacrifice like this tiny Dehli wildlife rescue team, our planet is destined to continue down this path of squalor.

Monday, January 9, 2023

Avatar Absurdium?

After fourteen years James Cameron's oversized blue aliens return to the big screen once more in 3d. The three hour Way of Water journey seeks to entertain and refresh its advocacy for planetary health. Still one would have hoped for something other than a rehash of the first movie. 

Avatar 2.0 delivers its technicolor fantasy tropes that defy physics, exchanges the energy potent Unobtanium for the immortality elixir Amrita, and amps up the violent heroics between the aboriginal and colonizing forces ad nauseam. Add in some sideways references to Moby Dick and you have a blockblusterish experience that merges Jurassic Park with Saving Private Ryan.

If Cameron was going for an environmental awareness PSA he is sending at best a convoluted message.  Aiwa, the entity that unifies Pandora's sentient beings, fails to fend off the Sky People infection/invasion, which, I guess , is plausible, given it evolved without any prior exposure to the human/techno virus. But sadly disappointing is the reinforcement that the Navi, ostensibly moral beings, are no better than their human counterparts. Aiwa's guidance has permitted the tribes to develop multiple cultures of  warfare and has done little to discourage prejudice among all its intelligent races, land and ocean roaming. In particular I disparage Cameron's repeated celebration of the father/son bonding of torturing fish by stabbing them with sticks when plenty of plant food surrounds them in their lush forest home. Such barbarism essentially cancels out the attempt to make the invading humans the destroyers of all things natural. 

I suspect in subsequent sequels Aiwa's overlord control will battle it out less subtly with the capitalistic driven protocols of Earth. In the end Avatar oversells a battle between two absolutist moral codes, rather than showing how advanced beings can leverage critical thinking and emotional compassion within their societies to peacefully settle conflict while meeting the existential challenges of the moment.