Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Beach Buddha

The man standing close to me on the sand was wrapped in burgundy cloth gathered over his left shoulder. If he was real, I could have reached out and touched him.  But before I could do anything, we were startled by that one wave that flows higher on the beach. With his back to the ocean, the wave washed over the tops of his ankle-high shoes and he started high stepping beside me as I backpedaled, watching him go past me. 

His friends were laughing so loud, for what seemed like a long time - two couples and a little boy.  There was nothing remarkable about their clothes or behavior.  They weren’t speaking English, but maybe one would speak to me.  I didn’t know what to say to him, so I didn’t speak.

“Are you the Buddha?” I wondered.

Not his skin color, but the color of his cloth robe told me his country of origin.  Only Theravada monks wrap themselves in burgundy cloth.  Theravada Buddhism is strongest in Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos and Burma (Myanmar). What was a Theravada Buddhist monk doing on an Oregon beach?

I doubt that he knew the rule about never turning your back on the Pacific Ocean.  We were complacent, standing in the sun on a warm October day with little or no wind.  What a strange situation and coincidence that brought us together here at this place, at this time. 

On the right beach, on the right day, at the right time, under the right conditions, you may find — just for a while — that the seventh wave washes up higher on the beach.  Or you might stand there counting waves, you lose track of time and who is near you.  In that moment, your mind wanders, you stop counting, then realize you have stopped counting and have to start over again.

If this man was not the Buddha, then maybe we were there to share that moment without talking. Each breath we took had a moist ocean smell. I turned and glanced behind me to see him reach down and pull up his wet socks.  Looking along the beach the people appeared to be stationary ghosts in a translucent fog.  Sunlight and ocean mist painted watercolor ghosts standing on the sand. 

If the ghosts standing on the beach, in the warm October sunlight, didn’t appear to move, then they might not be real.  As the tide was going out, waves broke farther out, exposing more sand on the beach.  Sea gulls stood with certainty in the shallow water waiting for the next wave to bring food.

Remember what the moment felt like when that one wave, unannounced, pushing a front edge of foam across the sand, washed over the top of his ankle high boots? Watching him and the foam edge, engaging my motor skills to run backwards; that all happened in a second.  Now, I am uncertain that not talking to him was the best way to react.  Maybe I should have taken a stand, to stand absolutely firm in my intention to engage with him.

Standing Man

The man standing alone on June 17, 2013 was Erdem Gunduz, Turkey's "Standing Man," who became a symbol of peaceful protest in Taksim Square, inspiring a movement.  All he did to earn this status was to stand completely still.

Hope means believing that society and laypeople have the ability to undertake actions to make a difference.  Gunduz stood from 6pm until about 2am.  Police searched his clothes and bag while he was standing still.  They tried to talk to him.  Then slowly other people came and stood nearby, not moving.  There were live broadcasts and videos shared over the internet of Gunduz and the others standing still.

We remain forever in doubt of where we come from before we are born and where we go after we die.  Between those two events, we choose hope.  We choose to stand for something: for principles, values, ethics, insight, mindfulness and many other positive experiences.

I used the “Standing Man” technique once at a public event with someone who’s behavior I had finally determined was not going to change no matter what I said or did.  I tried many times to understand why they behaved the way they did.  Finally, at a scheduled event, instead of engaging with them or confronting them, I decided ahead of time I was going to simply stand there and not react or engage but simply look them in the eye.

I gave them nothing to criticize. They were totally flustered and walked away.  That person has never spoken to me since, except via email communication that remains cold and calculating. I doubt that I will ever get over the lies, misinformation, manipulation and criticism that they flung my way without any justification.  All for the purpose of putting me down to temporarily inflate their own ego.

When my mind wanders into the past, the uncertainty of relationships informs the ghosts in my mind. They remind me of the watercolor ghosts standing on the sand that day I saw the Theravada monk at Cannon Beach.  

In Theravada Buddhism, a very strong relationship exists between monks and lay people.  In the present, that bond would not exist without interaction by way of mutual support - lay people supply food, medicine, and cloth for robes, and monks give spiritual support, blessings, and teachings.  But this is not a tit for tat situation. Monks are not allowed to request anything from lay people; and lay people cannot demand anything from the monks.  The way of Theravada, in the spirit of open-hearted giving, stands for values that support community.

The spirit of the Theravada tradition emerges from their scripture, first passed on verbally and then written down based on the original teachings of Buddha.  Unlike Zen, that is based on verbal teaching from a Zen Master, Theravada requires reading the scriptures and verbal instruction.

Maybe someday I could adopt a Theravada monk and ask him if he is the Buddha. Or simply live with my watercolor ghosts, my wandering mind, my relationships.  Maybe there is a way for me to join a community.

Impossible Dilemmas

The Beach Buddha and the Standing Man create in our mind impossible dilemmas.  They engage our emotions so that we feel doubt.  The greater the doubt, the greater the insight.  But insight into what?  And just how do we do this?  And why subject myself to this emotional disorientation?

Zen Koans are an ancient example of verbal dilemmas that encourage uncertainty and doubt. Encouraging fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) also became a common tactic in negative marketing campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s in the software industry.

FUD might be a personal strength.  The poet John Keats (1795-1821) argued that the secret to being an artist was to cultivate a mindset he called Negative Capability: “capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”  As an artistic practice, Negative Capability becomes learning all sides of a question as a critical thinker. Maybe an artist and intellectual’s ability increases when they hold in their mind, at the same time, negative capability and personal beliefs.  


When you really stop believing your thoughts, insight happens.  In psychology, positive thinking reigns supreme and an infinite number of self-help books describe how to stop negative thinking.  If I practice holding duality in my mind, then negative capability and positive personal beliefs, life and death, the sound of one hand clapping, and many other impossible dilemmas remain peacefully unresolved in my mind.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Do You Believe In Air?

One human said to another: “This thing called air; do you believe in it?”  Immersed in air from our first breath to our last; we’re oblivious to air like a fish swims in water.

Still here, the Greek gods of the sea, underground and sky were wakened by humans in the 20th Century.  The god of oceans and rising sea levels, Poseidon fuels hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons.  The god of the dark underground world of geology, marshes and methane hydrates, Hades fuels methane burping and throws a major tantrum when awakened.  The god of sky, cloud and thunder, Zeus has a fever and seems increasingly pissed off.

The gods have exaggerated personalities and are plagued with personal flaws and negative emotions despite their immortality and superhero-like powers.  However, humans interfered with the air by increasing the CO2 in the atmosphere.  This awakened the sleeping giant gods from below and above, and they started acting wildly and uncontrollably. The home of the gods has a temperature hotter than at any time for three million years.

American Christians have no power over the gods of sea, underground and sky. Americans believe that we are the dominant nation on the planet, that we wield the power and that we are entitled to exploit other humans and species.  This arrogance, presumed rational control, and technology give us the illusion of mastery over the earth.

Living on the earth with each other for hundreds of thousands of years, the recent deaths of forests, animals and humans progressed until the gods were awakened to the ecocide.  WWII caused the genocide of over 6 million humans.  Ecocide will reduce the global population by one billion humans and risk generations of harm to billions more in the future.

This thing called air; do you believe in it?


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

External Costs of Fossil Fuels


The production of goods and services, that use energy from burning fossil fuels, does not include the costs of the increased risk of premature deaths and ongoing healthcare for pollution related illnesses.  Economists refer to these costs as external costs.(1)

The cost to consumers for goods and services with external costs are effectively being subsidized by society-at-large.  For example, fossil fuel companies receive subsidies through tax breaks. External costs also include polluted water, land and air both locally and on a global scale. The external costs in burning fossil fuels (negative externality) mean the social cost will be greater than the private cost. The existence of external costs defines a market failure. This is because the American economic market ignores the existence of external costs.(2)

The benefits to consumers from decreased pollution are not included in the cost of renewable energy from wind and solar that decreases the risk of premature deaths and decreases healthcare costs for everyone.  These external benefits are being received by society-at-large.  The cost of renewable energy to consumers would be lower if the benefits to the overall economy were included.

The benefits to consumers from decreased pollution are not included in the cost of electric vehicle ownership.  The external benefits are being received by the global society.  The cost to consumers of electric transportation would be lower if the benefits to society-at-large were included.

The gap between the subsidized cost of fossil fuels and the high cost (due to externalized benefits) of renewables and electric transportation does not account for the economic impact of external costs and benefits.  Government policy to narrow the gap has Republicans focused on their ideology that requires individual rights to override any collective rights or social benefits.

Politics balances individual rights and collective rights.  Prior to 2017, individual rights to profit, wealth, choice and private property contributed to the low cost of fossil fuels by externalizing the costs to society.  America’s Constitution enshrines individual rights as the primary ideal.  Being an American requires believing in individual financial independence and individual rights defined in laws.  Republicans have embraced this ideology and their supporters identify with these ideals.

In the future, the collective rights to clean water, land and air will contribute to lowering the costs of renewable energy and electric transportation.  The cost of fossil fuels will increase to account for the pollution of water, land and air.  As of 2017, the market has failed for decades to account for either because of the focus on individual rights instead of valuing collective rights.

America needs a policy that internalizes the current external costs of fossil fuels and monetizes the benefits of renewables and electric transportation for consumers.

How do we solve the problem? In economics, there is a principle that applies generally to situations of market failure called the principle of the second best.  The best solution is to eliminate the externality.  However, that is not possible in this case.

The principle of the second best says that when you have a market failure, the best policy is the one that most precisely corrects for the original problem. Whatever policy the principle of the second best recommends will be the policy that most precisely offsets the original distortion. In this case, what’s the original problem?

The original problem is an externality that allows producers to pass costs on to someone else, who doesn’t have a say in the matter. To correct that problem, decision makers must internalize the externality through laws and changing the tax code.

Politicians will enact changes in laws, increase taxes and eliminate subsidizes. With changes will come a change in behavior.  Why would Republicans agree to this change?  They won’t.  Democrats, representing a majority of Americans, will need to pass legislation to enshrine into law (and maybe one or more Amendments to the Constitution) the ideology of collective rights as a balance to individual rights.

 Conclusion

The recommended action is simple. The actual implementation is not because Republicans will fight against increasing collective rights. To balance individual rights and collective rights, governments must use the tax code to stop subsidizing fossil fuels and increase subsidizes for renewable energy and EV transportation.


2.  Block, Fred L., and Margaret R. Somers. The Power of Market Fundamentalism: Karl Polanyi's Critique. Harvard University Press, April 2014.


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Four big reasons why deniers started believing in climate change

A recent article summarized "Four big reasons why deniers started believing in climate change”

The biggest reason was a slow acceptance of clear scientific evidence.

People tend to reject the validity of scientific evidence when it conflicts with their deeply held world-views. 

For conservative individuals, who doubted climate change, one example article was far more effective at convincing them that humans caused global warming because the science was presented in an existing pro-industry narrative.

The solutions proposed for climate change are pro-business, pro-military, pro-national security, pro-economy, and pro-jobs.

There are now more people working (over 100,000 & growing) in renewable energy jobs than in all the oil industry that is continuing to cut jobs and had a $67 Billion loss in 2015.


Friday, March 17, 2017

Draft Article 1 Impeachment

DRAFT:
By the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives, March 17, 2017

Article 1

RESOLVED, That Donald J. Trump, President of the United States, is impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors, and that the following articles of impeachment be exhibited to the Senate:

ARTICLES OF IMPEACHMENT EXHIBITED BY THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IN THE NAME OF ITSELF AND OF ALL OF THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, AGAINST DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, IN MAINTENANCE AND SUPPORT OF ITS IMPEACHMENT AGAINST HIM FOR HIGH CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS.

ARTICLE 1

In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, in violation of his constitutional oath to faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice, in that:

In 2016, and prior thereto, agents of the Donald J. Trump for President, Inc (campaign organization) conspired and colluded with agents of a foreign country to pay computer hackers to infiltrate the Democratic National Committee (DNC) computer network, leading to a data breach at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, District of Columbia, for the purpose of securing political intelligence.  The content of the stolen emails themselves was not nearly as important as how the 2016 election was disrupted by the Russian espionage.

Subsequent thereto, Donald J. Trump, using the powers of the Office of the President, engaged personally and through his close subordinates and agents, in a course of conduct or plan designed to delay, impede, and obstruct the investigation of such illegal data breach; to cover up, conceal and protect those responsible; and to conceal the existence and scope of other unlawful covert activities.

The means used to implement this course of conduct or plan included one or more of the following:
  1. making false or misleading statements to lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States about communications by his campaign staff with Russian citizens;
  2. withholding relevant and material evidence or information from lawfully authorized investigative officers and employees of the United States about communications by his campaign staff with Russian citizens;
  3. making or causing to be made false or misleading public statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States into believing that a thorough and complete investigation had been conducted with respect to allegations of misconduct on the part of personnel of the executive branch of the United States and personnel of the Donald J. Trump for President, Inc (campaign organization), and that there was no involvement of such personnel in such misconduct;
  4. when President Trump accused Obama in March 2017 of an act in 2016 that would have been impeachable and possibly criminal, and the FBI in 2017 states that is not true and there’s no evidence of this criminal act, that accusation is misconduct by the President.
In all of this, Donald J. Trump has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as President and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.

Wherefore Donald J. Trump, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office.

DRAFT:

By the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives, March 17, 2017

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Statement About Climate Change

February 23, 2017

Climate change is real and happening now.  The laws of physics are the truth.  Our belief comes from our personal observations and scientific reporting.  The justification is based on science, verified and validated evidence and experiments from the 1800s.  As a result of these three - truth, belief and justification - we create the knowledge that climate change is real and happening now.  Justified true belief creates knowledge.

Actions by local, city, county and state government, will be to plan how to adapt to high probability of a 5.4 degrees F (3 degrees C) increase in global average temperature.  Oh, wait, you can’t feel a global average temperature to know what that means.  Why should we take action based on a statistic?

The Arctic Sea will be ice free all summer.  Mexico will be a dust bowl.  Half of Florida will be covered by salt water every day, all day.  Wildfires will continue to reduce the forested land west of the Rocky Mountains.  A warmer atmosphere means the air will hold more water during storms, increasing flooding.  Unsustainable oceans means hundreds of millions of people will have food insecurity every day.  These are consequences in the future? Why should we worry about that now?

Oregon citizens are going to feel the consequences of climate change when refugees seek water, food and shelter after arriving from California, Central America, Mexico and Asia.  These people do not want to take our jobs.  These are people seeking safety and asylum.  They are simply trying to survive.

The second action will be to plan for mitigating risks specific to each region of Oregon.  For example, western Oregon will experience more rain, less snow, warmer winters and drier summers.  This will mean more invasive insects damaging crops, diseases spread by mosquitoes, and refugees.  Eastern and Southern Oregon will experience drought.

Oregon will experience wildfires, drought, floods and unsustainable ocean fishing.  In one state, Oregon has all of the different types of land, sea and air that are found in other places.  Oregon will be a small example of all the different consequences of climate change.

Humans everywhere experience weather.  Climate change and global warming are statistics.  Our brain does not understand statistics.  We do not feel motived to prepare for low probability events.  When the average global temperature increases by a fraction of a degree over 10 years, what am I suppose to do?

History of Science of Global Warming

In the early 1800s, Joseph Fourier asked “What determines the temperature of the surface of Earth?”  In the 1820s, Fourier calculated that an object the size of the Earth, and at its distance from the Sun, should be considerably colder than the planet actually is if warmed by only the effects of incoming solar radiation.  What was keeping the surface of the Earth warm enough for humans to survive?

In 1859 John Tyndall, a professor of natural philosophy at London’s Royal Institution and a keen mountaineer, decided to test whether gases in the atmosphere could trap heat. Unlike water vapor that cycles in and out of the atmosphere relatively quickly, by contrast carbon dioxide is not influenced by weather and persists in the atmosphere for centuries.  Increasing or decreasing CO2 changes Earth’s temperature, that effects the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere, thus effecting the temperature.

Svante Arrhenius (19 February 1859 – 2 October 1927), one of Sweden’s preeminent chemists, thought that what humans were doing on an increasingly large scale just might make his native land a little warmer. In the mid-1890s, he set about completing the arduous calculations to prove his point.

In the 21st Century, Arrenhius’s idea that humans could make Sweden warmer seems like a prophecy. Today’s climate-change skeptics would have us believe that the whole notion of global warming is a relatively recent, half-baked idea dreamed up by a cabal of liberal scientists bent on destroying the U.S. economy. However, the roots of scientific thinking about Earth’s temperature are clear from reading the history of science in the late 1800s.












Monday, February 20, 2017

When Is The President Like A Bathtub?

Consider a bathtub.  First, start with a plug in the drain and turn on the faucet.  Before the tub overflows you turn off the inflow from the faucet.  Now, record the level and then pull the plug.  Every 10 seconds record the level of the water - the height from the drain to the level of the water in the bathtub.  Graph the data.  Describe the shape of the curve.

In a second experiment, take the plug out of the drain. Turn on the inflow faucet, change to different flow amounts for a few minutes each and record the level of the tub. Turn off the inflow faucet and let the water drain repeating the measurements above in the first experiment.

Graph the results of changes in level over time with different inflows.  Notice that the outflow drain was not changed in any way. 

In a third experiment, draw a stock and flow diagram of a bathtub. A stock represents the bathtub.  An inflow from a “cloud,” has an arrow into the stock.  An outflow (drain) connects to the stock and has an arrow pointing into a “cloud”.  

The physics is hidden from eyesight. The water pressure changes at the drain based on the height of the water column above the drain.  The stock and flow model shows this as a feedback loop from the stock (bathtub) to the outflow (drain).  As the water level changes, the outflow rate changes.

Our next experiments use the model on the computer.  First we change the names.  Stock is now “Self Esteem.”  Inflow is “Affirmations.”  Outflow is “Self Talk.”

School teachers in the 1980s were told to give students positive affirmations in order to increase student self esteem.  The scientific research showed that students with higher self esteem had higher test scores.

Teachers quickly discovered that the positive affirmations had a short term effect on improving self esteem.  Further research showed that everyone has a regulator in our mind that is often called “Self Talk” that maintains our self esteem at a “target” level.

Now we need to change our model to add “target” as a constant and connect this value with the outflow rate for Self Talk.  The equation calculates the difference between the level of the stock, the value of Self Esteem, and the target value, then multiplied by the rate of change due to the Self Talk. As the positive affirmations fluctuate, the calculated difference changes, and the rate of outflow changes.  Sometimes the Self Talk increases in value to bring the Self Esteem down faster as the difference between the target and actual Self Esteem increases.
I have never spoken to Trump and I am not qualified to diagnosis his behavior.  This model applies to all of us. As an example, let’s apply this model to a person that has low self esteem.

A person with a low “target” self esteem, might receive positive affirmations and have a short-lived boost in self esteem that quickly decreases back to the target value without a constant flow of positive affirmations.

In order to boost the self esteem of our example person, a constant inflow of positive affirmations are required to maintain a higher level of self esteem than the “target” level.  Our example person would seek out ways to find people who would give them constant positive affirmations.  If they have a lot of money, they could “buy” a constant flow of positive affirmations from the people around them.

Our example person, with low self esteem, could be like “The Emperor’s New Clothes” story about two weavers who promise an emperor a new suit of clothes that they say is invisible to those who are unfit for their positions, stupid, or incompetent.

The clothes represent an inflow of positive affirmations from the weavers.  The people around our example person are the weavers he is paying to give him a constant flow of positive affirmations.  If an adult or a child cries out, "But he isn't wearing anything at all!”, then they are fired or removed from access to our example person.

Any criticism of our example person, or facts that don’t agree with the world view of our example person, are quickly suppressed or discredited or not heard by the example person.  The example person learns to tell stories in public that are positive affirmations that boost their own self esteem when their audience agrees with them. In our example person, false information, conspiracy theories and blatant lies become a constant flow of positive affirmations believed by his audience.


A systems thinker understands that cause and effect are separate in time and space.  Our example person does not understand cause and effect as part of a system's perspective of the world.