Friday, July 29, 2011

On Being, Friends, and Happiness

I'd just like to say that I've been blessed. Not many people get an opportunity to meet so many brilliant, thoughtful, kind, and wonderful people as I have, primarily through my association with Kirby's.

Though my part in the bar ended in 1993, it still is a touchstone for me and, I believe, one of the birthplaces of a flowering of artistic and intellectual fervor that burst forth and continues throughout the city. Every day I see people who were touched by Kirby's, and I marvel at its impact. Their continued success and engagement in, and earnest appreciation of life cheers me on, makes me see the beauty around us. I will never be able to repay that community for the many engaging hours of conversation, laughter, drunken revelry, poker, spades, amazing bands (thanks to Jake Euker), and bizarre activities that will someday fill a book.

Today, I will sign books at Kirby's. I will be terrifically happy if only a few purchase a book, but that is not necessary for my real happiness. Just getting to see the people who I've known these many years is wonderful.

I would like to thank everyone who posted their best wishes. You have made this a life worth living for me and others.

Thank You.

Thank you so much for being.

Richard Davies

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Rabbit Hole in the Desert

In a pair of recent posts, "Galactic Scale Energy" and "Can Economic Growth Last?," physicist Tom Murphy asserts that, on a finite planet, unconstrained growth, whether it be growth in energy use or economics, is a doomed proposition. Because it comes from the standpoint of physics, his thinking is not subject to the fuzzy thinking of politics or imaginary sciences like economics, it is rooted in precisely what can be done and for how long before the realities of our physical world destroy our fanciful dreams.

With that in mind, follow me down the rabbit hole as I examine the plain as day facts that will inevitably inform our futures. First, we know with dead certainty that the route we are now taking is suicidal, given Tom's analysis. There are really only two questions: Do we fight this insanity with every option available, or do we wait for it to sort itself out?

Each of these can be broken down into smaller subsets. The first requires one to agree as to what we are fighting for. Ideally, we would be fighting for the most sustainable outcome. If we are merely substituting slow growth, and hence planetary destruction, then we are obviously still on the unwanted path. So, given entropy and the gradual dissipation of all metals upon which industrial civilization is based, it would seem that following a path of "sustainable" industrial civilization is a non-starter. The next lower level of "civilization" would be pre-industrial agricultural civilization. As Jared Diamond has shown, this level of civilization is as damaging as industrial civilization, with the dubious distinction of taking longer to destroy its environs. Look at the Middle East; where forests once grew, we see desert. Listen to Plato, who laments that the forests of Greece were disappearing rapidly due to population growth. Do we want to turn every corner of the earth into desert? That leaves pre-agricultural "civilization." I reluctantly use that term because, like Jensen, I adhere to the definition of civilization as an entity that must import resources to survive. Pre-agricultural societies did not import resources. They lived in the environment.

So, we need to return to a pre-agricultural society. Is it possible? Well, should we fail to try, the only question is will there be any of the human species left to return to that level of existence. In other words, we essentially can let things play out from whatever starting point we choose.

We can let it play out from here and simply not try, and that will lead to spectacular human tragedy in the form of privation, starvation, war, disease, and planetary destruction.

We could consciously go back to an agricultural civilization and slowly suck the life out of the planet, creating deserts as we go, going through famine after famine, until we are again herding goats in a hardpan desert beneath a scorching sun.

Or, we could consciously shoot for a pre-agricultural society based on planetary and other species' needs using what little cheap energy we have left to build and train that society based on local conditions and projected climate change patterns, with an eye toward maximum adaptability, redundancy, and fairness. This route by no means suggests that we are out to save everyone. That will not be possible. It means that we are out to save the biome known as planet earth where many thousands and millions of species are at our mercy.

We will end up at a point where all the extraction based technology is gone. That is certain. The only question is, "do we want to do this the easy way, or the hard way?"

Monday, July 25, 2011

Out in Paperback!!

Holy cats! The book is out in paperback and I can hardly restrain myself. The photo represents what I expect everyone to be doing at the book signing after a few beers and other adult beverages. You must bring your own anti-gravity boots.

The book is available at for 14.95 cash dollah. A mere pittance for what you get: a vastly entertaining read, a colorful cover with a special puzzle hidden in the obscure symbols, a fan for summer heat, fuel for winter chills, a weapon against your foe, a shield against the rude, a sunshade for any six by nine area of your person, and a massive coaster that will handle mega-steins of frosty beer. Yes, all that and there is probably more, limited only by your imagination.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Marching Like Mad

About three years ago, in a college class, I had a run-in with cultural illiteracy that I will never forget. It taught me a lesson, but one I only realized recently.

To set the stage, imagine an English 102 class at a medium-sized mid-western university. I'm attempting to make some sort of pointless point about some opaque essay the students were forced to read when I asked the students to name a dictator from the twentieth century.
Crickets. No eye contact. Maybe a bit of drool.

I gave a hint. "Ummm...think World War Two."

Shifting asses, thoughtful upward glances by the brown-nosers but still no answer ventured.
I lifted my index finger to my upper lip, raised my arm in the Nazi salute, and goose-stepped stupidly back and forth in front of the chalkboard.

Bewildered glances, reddened faces, little mouth Os, and wide eyes. Desks scraped back fractionally.


"Really?" I pleaded. "Really? Hitler. You've not heard of Hitler?"

When this initially happened, like many people teaching at this level, I was outraged. "How the hell can they not know about Hitler? Who do I call? What senseless teach-to-the-test moron in the "No Child Left Behind" gulag decided that Hitler should be dropped as a point of historical interest?"

I've told the story again and again, garnering support and nods of approval followed by similar stories of ignorance from my fellow instructors.

Then, I had an epiphany, one blistering Kansas day, when I'd begun the story for the umpteenth time and in mid-telling faltered as I realized that this bit of information, like a word repeated aloud rapidly for a minute or so, had become meaningless. Or, simply--common.
The truth is, we live not only in an era of dictators, both the sugar and shit-coated variety, but are at the end of a long chain of dictators running back to the beginning of agriculture. Looking at our horrific history, we can't swing a dead cat without hitting a psychopath in a suit (of armor).

What has "civilization" been other than a long chain of dictators stretching back to the first agriculturalists who arose from the welter of tribes in the fertile crescent some eight to ten thousand years ago to march across the planet killing the indigenous and the complexity of nature in the pursuit of ever more Lebensraum for the ultimate Reich.
Look at history and you will see a long list of dictators, conquerors, and tyrants: Thutmose III of Egypt; Cyrus and Darius the Great of the Persian empire; Philip II of Macedon; Alexander the Great; Hannibal of Carthage; Scipio Africanus; Pompey the Great; Julius Caesar; Attila the Hun; Otto I, Holy Roman Emperor; William the Conqueror; Ghengis Khan; the Crusades; Tamerlane the Great; the Spanish Conquerors; the English invasion of the Americas; Napoleon; Andrew Jackson, with his Indian genocide; James K. Polk, Mexican American War; William McKinley, the Spanish-American War and on and on. We need not note the big names of the twentieth century. I presume my good readers are familiar with that history.
My point in that woefully inadequate list is that all of "civilized" history has been nothing more than a series of brutal military adventures designed to take away either the lands of the indigenous or to take away the lands of someone who had already taken away those indigenous lands. Once the relative peace of the hunter gatherer era was broken, a free for all began where "civilization" immersed itself in blood while writing its own history, lauding its adventures as a series of just wars which were by no means merely land and resource grabs. Even now, we toil away at war in the Middle East claiming all manner of absurd reasons for our mayhem, from TERROR--to women are treated badly--to TERROR!! when we know that oil is the only reason we are really there.

So, can I blame my feckless class for not remembering a truly cruel dictator? When one realizes that these students are immersed in a world full of so many other cruel dictators who are not only treated as okay, such as the King of Saudi Arabia, but marvelous, like George W. Bush, it seems reasonable in a warped way that they couldn't identify a dictator if they bit them on the ass, locked them up for life, or gave them a lap dance.

The problem is, for the indigenous, their sustainable way of life that had lasted for tens of thousands, if not millions of years, has been crushed by the moral equivalent of Hitler, if he had been an ever-spreading evil that continues to kill and destroy up to this day, an eight thousand year old conqueror who has seen the Arawak Indians skinned alive, the Germanic tribes enslaved, the Cherokee force-marched to reservations, and the indigenous of the Amazon dying for oil.

They barely notice their shackles, let alone notice their world.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Immediate Results

Before civilization began its march out of the fertile crescent on its one-way mission of planetary destruction, humans lived seeking immediate satisfaction: food to eat, security of life, and social contact of the moment. Depending upon who you ask, that pre-civilization period lasted anywhere from 2.5 million years to 250,000 years--a very long period in any event. Whereas, agricultural/industrial civilization is a pinprick on the hide of history.

We still seek the immediate, but it is often the irrelevant, non-real side of life. That impulse to simply do what is available, no matter future consequences, is hard wired into our thinking, even if that means hurting the planet and thus ourselves.

But, hard-wired or no, we need to short-circuit that brain pattern, or we are in for a very short but hard trip to collapse. Some argue that it is inevitable, and others believe that the techno-fairy will tap its magic wand on our monstrous, pointy-headed society, magically taking us to that "NEXT BIG THING."

Oh, foolish people.

That "next big thing" is a pipe dream and a recipe for further destruction. Let's say we invent that mother of all techno-masturbatory dreams--fusion. What then? If we listen to the techno-philes, it is "Game over, we win." According to them, it means we get to keep going with business as usual.

Hmm. So, that means we will continue to pave the planet, cut down the forests, destroy the topsoil, use up the fresh water resources, and rape the oceans, except we can do it really fast now that we have all that cheap energy. Energy, free or not, does not mean the planet suddenly becomes an infinite supplier of all other resources. The cupboard will run out. Meanwhile, the population continues to grow. When we hit that next great wall of crisis that is all the worse due to the business as usual viagra effect of fusion, the number of people who will die due to a collapse doubles, triples, or perhaps quadruples. Oh my. So, it seems that encouraging business as usual is tantamount to encouraging a larger die-off. Would that be a war crime in the war to save the planet? How even more monstrous would we have thought Hitler if it came to light that his plans included breeding more Jews, Gypsies, and other "undesirables" in order to kill even more of them? What if he kept those people in large camps, called "cities" where they would build the machinery of their own future destruction?


Immediate results. This is not a bad thing if framed correctly by a reality that comports with that outlook. In other words, we want the good kind of immediate result: the satisfaction of planting a crop correctly, knowing that later in the season food will be available; cleaning up the rivers, knowing that years, if not decades from now, everyone will be able to drink from that river; encouraging ecosystems not only for their ability to share with us, but their ability to share with all. The results we seek will accrue to the next generation, and the next, and the next, and even maybe to the current generation. The result does not have to be an immediate tangible payout. It can be a payout in pride and satisfaction knowing that your acts are contributing to the future, to the seventh generation.

Do not wait for someone to tell you to do this or that. Just take the future by the hand and do what's next. Plant that native nut or fruit tree. Find a neglected spot that will support your life addition and plant it. If we all did this once a day, a week, or month, the world would fill up with life that then goes onto to provide more habitat and life, and it all grows exponentially until we live on a planet where we don't grow food, food grows.

We need this. While it would be fun to kidnap some environmental terrorist from the corporate world and make them pay somehow for their depredations, that act would only eliminate one small cog soon to be replaced by another. Now, I am not saying we should not fight the corporations in all ways possible (see Endgame by Derrick Jensen), but along the way, please attempt to add to the world every chance possible.

The de-engineering of civilization is also important, and I'll cover that soon.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Shifting Lines of Survival

This spring, I went out on a limb and set up a tomato garden with plants from a high quality nursery in California. The outlay seems outrageous between buying plants, special fabric pots, cages, fertilizer, soil, and the absolutely necessary water meter, but I felt confident that these high producers would pay for the initial outlay over the course of five years. The plants are growing beautifully and now range from three to five feet tall. It is July first, and we have yet to get a tomato.

Now, admittedly, the nursery did not want to deliver until mid-May, and a good thing with the wacky weather, featuring wild temperature swings, massive downpours, and crazy winds, but the plants did go in and soon blooms were popping on nine of the ten plants. But, out of fifty or so blooms, only about eleven set fruit. I'd read that tomato plants were self-fertile, meaning that each flower contained male and female parts, but to my fascination required a very specific condition before fertilization takes place--good vibrations. It seems that bees provide an ideal buzz, a little tickle that resonates at the exact right frequency for maximal pollen release which then falls onto the bee's butt for convenient delivery to the next flower. Aha! That's why a friend suggested beating the plant with a broom! And, you know, I hadn't seen many bees out there. Armed with this knowledge, I wandered through the tomato grove (is that right? grove?) and gave the plants a good shake and occasionally flicked a flower with my finger.

No fruit set.

I read more about the good vibrations, including a delightful tidbit where tomato farmers ambled through the plants with a vibrator specially designed for tomato sex. As I pondered the age old question about a universal frequency for proper vibratory stimulation across species, I came upon an earth-shattering and eye-opening piece of information: tomato plants generally fertilize best when nighttime temperatures range between sixty and seventy degrees.


Daytime temperatures here have been consistently in the high nineties to mid-one hundreds for the past few weeks. That, of course, drags the nighttime ranges up as well. I checked the forecast. Nighttime temps would be in the mid-seventies for the foreseeable future.

This struck me hard when I realized that shifting temperatures and increasingly wild weather will make the chances of survival through one's garden all the more difficult. I could only do so much to mitigate for temperature at night. I could water frequently for the daytime temps, but I could not drag the air-conditioner out to the tomato patch. I did toss a four inch thick layer of straw onto the cement on which the pots rest--I figure that accumulated heat that was released at night by the cement would further thwart the appropriate temps. The straw is reflective and should work.

But now, I ask myself, will tomatoes become a fall crop? Will new varieties need to be developed to adapt to this late season regimen--early heat and late cool weather?

These are the sorts of questions that we will not have the luxury of centuries of slow change and learning by observation. We need to experiment on a massive scale. We need smart people who want to be the new "scientists" who are more concerned about dealing with aphids than apps and particle accelerators.