Eventorum – Warning Sirens…

Thinking on the anomalous weather across North America this past December, capped by a tragic, drought-fueled, out of season wildfire in CO…

Nature is sounding the alarm; her civil defense sirens are blaring.

Humanities’ response is to design better hearing protection.

Photo of the Marshall Fire, Boulder County, CO on December 30th, 2021: by J.S.

Copyright ©️ 2022 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved

Eventorum – Of Unstable Idiots

The events of January 6th, 2021 and the preceding four years will live on as indelible black marks in the history of the United States of America.

All of this vividly and undeniably belies the notion of American Exceptionalism, and is in fact vivid proof of the converse (think, ‘welcome to the Banana Republic’). January 6th proves this point emphatically. Another case in point, our very own self-proclaimed “very stable genius”, has in fact proven himself to be a very unstable idiot. As for his followers and enablers… you are the fake news you consume and inhabit a fictive world.

Suffice it to say that anyone who issues self-proclamations of greatness is suffering from a form of “little man syndrome.” For example, the bigger the pickup truck the smaller the occupant. Or how about the guys with the fragile egos who have large metal bull testicles hanging from their trailer hitches.

In this blog I try to avoid labels and the politicization of issues. It’s not helpful as a rule. However watching events slide over the past many years (and especially the last few months), I had to comment.

For all of that, let’s embrace a better future. Listen, love, heal. We do not have to hate each other, we can be reasonable and we can reason, let science and fact help to guide us. The only thing we should not tolerate is intolerance.

Copyright ©️ 2021 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved

Provocations #18 – A Little Less Pressure

Silver linings…

I was doodling one day recently, and came up with this image. I can usually feel the pressure of humanity, sense it’s painful impact on the planet. In these days of “Stay at Home” orders, a forced pause in our normal frenetic routines, there is just a little less pressure on the planet. And it is nice. It reveals itself on the trails, which are full of people experiencing nature and health, parents are out in their yards playing with their children, there is less noise, less pollution, less traffic. It is more pleasant. If only we could institutionalize this and return to a new normal; albeit one without runs on toilet paper and libraries and coffee shops open for business.

Copyright ©️ 2020 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved

Provocations #17 – What’s in a Name? A Pair of Scissors

Image from the Wikimedia Creative Commons 2.5 Generic license.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2scissors-clean.jpg

While I usually occupy myself with heavy topics in this blog, or so they seem so to me, I have a light question to pose instead: Why do we refer to scissors, which is to say the things we cut with, “a pair of scissors?”

A wise friend said it is because there are two blades.  There is a logic to that I admit, and it is the correct answer (read on). 

I must say however, that I don’t like this explanation.  Scissors entered the English lexicon in the 15th century. Merriam Webster defines scissors (noun) as “a cutting instrument having two blades whose cutting edges slide past each other.”    In a sense, the name “scissors” is defined by its action; it can only operate as intended if there are two blades.  You can no more cut with a scissor-like motion with one blade, than you can clap with one hand.   

Delightfully, Meriam Webster has a web page, “What’s the Singular of ‘Scissors’?”, devoted to this question. It turns out that scissors “is an example of a plurale tantum,” which is a word that uses a plural form to represent a singular object.  In explaining the origins of the phrase a pair of scissors, the article asks rhetorically, how does one distinguish between one scissors and a whole pile of them?  It turns out that the precedent was set a century before by reference to a pair of shears, and this is now the standard for all plurale tantum (glasses, pants, etc.). Thus my friends explanation is correct according to an authoritative source.

I’m glad I asked, but the contrarian in me likes standing on the wrong side of history, and I’ll continue to take exception to referring to a “pair of scissors” (even if I slip up occasionally and use this long engrained expression).

It seems self evident at this point, but interestingly, the use of the noun scissors predates the use of the verb scissor; as in ‘she scissor kicked the ball in mid air’.

Copyright ©️ 2020 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved

Provocations #16 – A Year of Unconditional Compassion

Image from NPR story The Science of Compassion (The Hidden Brain, 20 October 2015).

Yesterday, the first of December, I saw a women and her children standing in a snowbank asking for help. Her sign said that her husband has been detained (presumably by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE). I found myself asking how could we, a nation of immigrants, reduce ourselves to breaking up families that are simply seeking a better life? Yes, I recognize that this is a complex issue, but in real human terms that is the essence of it.

On a Personal Level

As I thought about this family’s circumstances and all that is implied and implicated by it, I realized how often I have failed to show compassion. I thought about the people who work for ICE that must do the detaining. This must trouble their souls. I thought about the people who live in fear of strangers and those who are different. And even the simple and mundane things that frustrate me, such as the guy going 10 miles under the speed limit in the left lane.

I came to the conclusion the that only possible response is universal and unconditional compassion for all. So I am dedicating myself, beginning with that moment yesterday, to try to see and respond to all things through a filter of compassion.

Copyright ©️ 2019 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved

Provocations #11 – On the Wisdom of Self Storage

Lately I have been thinking about “stuff.”   That is to say, how much stuff we have, which really boils down to how much we consume and waste. This is putting it kindly because most of it is, to be honest, worthless and needless crap.  And it comes with massive environmental and societal costs in the form of extraction, production, distribution, and disposal (everything in our culture is ultimately dumped into the environment), with cascading impacts on resources, ecological diversity, pollution, and so on.  There’s lots of debate about these issues, which in social discourse always ends up being about jobs versus the environment; ignoring the hidden truth that the corporate elite walk away with the vast majority of the benefits and the rest of us, and the environment, pay all of the costs: the profits are privatized and the risks are socialized.

Rather than heading down this well trodden theme, I’d like to ask you: have you thought about the personal costs of your love affair with stuff? 

The personal costs of stuff are substantial and begin with having to pay for it, and for many this also means going into debt.  Why are you enslaved “to the man?”  Because of stuff!  But there is also an emotional toll that stuff takes on us.  Think about this for a moment… we actually have to manage the stuff.  Daily.  By the hour, by the minute even. That miracle fitness gadget sitting in the corner of the basement?  Well, we now need that space for the latest, must-have widget. So we move the miracle to the garage.  And when the garage fills, then we turn to the ultimate modern contrivance, self storage.  It’s a kind of deferred disposal; a bizarre form of landfill (landfills are themselves a bizarre concept if you think about it).

How do I know this?  Well, it’s common sense really. But one only needs to stroll through any suburban neighborhood with one’s eyes open.  The first tell tale sign is that the cars not in the garage.   Confirmation comes when you finally pass an open garage and you see that there is so much junk in there that there’s barely room for a human to walk about, let alone to park a car in it.  Frankly I’d be too embarrassed to open my garage door if that were me.  But I digress.

Another telltale sign?  Again, just move through the world with your eyes open and look.  You will notice that we are gobbling up open land to build evermore Self Storage Units.  I’ve been noticing over the past few years that more and more are going up, and less and less of the local open space remains.  Putting this working hypothesis to the test, I did a little digging.  The evidence (data found here) is presented in the figure above, which shows self storage construction in billions of US dollars by year through October 2018, adjusted for inflation to 2018 dollars by the consumer price index.  This figure confirms my suspicion that there is pronounced increase in the rate of growth of construction of self storage facilities, beginning about four or five years ago.

I’ll let “The Minimalists” help you with your stuff problem.  Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus are great: they’re wise, witty, helpful, and most importantly, non-judgmental.  But for me the take home is that this is yet another example of the lack of wisdom of humanity (Provocations #2 – Whither Wisdom?).  We do not think through the consequences of our daily decisions and actions.  To wit, we’re willing to spend $100 a month, or more, to store the stuff we will never use again.  Seriously, who’s going to drive to some remote storage facility to dig out the miracle fitness thingy that they never used in the first place, and haul it home to use it?

So I admit that the title of this blog entry was a bit misleading; a bit of the old bait and switch.  I should really have called this ‘On the Lack of Wisdom of Self Storage.”

Copyright ©️ 2018 T. Schneider, All Rights Reserved

Eventorum – Didn’t See This Coming…

Image:  Excerpted from Washington Post article cited herein.

The law of unintended consequences strikes again:  changing population demographics unbalances the representativeness of our representative system of government has described in this Washington Post article on July 12th, 2018: “In about 20 years, half the population will live in eight states.

Eventorum explained.

Copyright ©️ 2018 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved

Provocations #9 – Liberal Thoughts

Image:  The seven liberal arts – Illustration from the Hortus deliciarum of Herrad of Landsberg, 12th century.  Source: Dnalor_01 from Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA 3.0).

Yes this is a provocative title, as I expect that many will immediately leap to the political connotations of the word “liberal”.  Liberal and conservative; left and right; right and wrong; etcetera.  Personally, I think that those words no longer have much meaning in modern political America.  These labels seem to be more about polls and elections, power and control, and less about what is best for the people and the planet on which we and all living things depend.

No, when I titled this Provocation I was reflecting upon my son’s recent graduation, and the context I had in mind is liberal education — as in the liberal arts. 

From the time I was young, through graduate school, I studied science.  And for me science is about seeking the truth.  As for ‘truth seeking’ I must confess that I think that many scientists do not seem to recognize this simple fact; though they would deny this lack of recognition on their part most strenuously if you put it to them in this way.  From my vantage point, it would seem that many scientists either miss, or ignore, or see only a part of the truth when they come across it.   An outcome of this (via the law of unintended consequences and other pathways), is that science and technology are at the root of our problems and challenges today.  That being said, it is likely that we will need science and technology, and more importantly new and ethical ways of using and applying them, to transition to a better state of affairs.  

How we use and apply science and technology takes us back to liberal education…  In a time when we seem to be engaging in “geek worship” and elevating Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education over the humanities, we actually need need the liberally educated more than ever. 

It is only when we recognize that our greatest and most important problems are sociological and environmental, that we can begin to make better decisions, set better policy, and take appropriate and helpful actions.  In an outcome-driven, bottom line-obsessed culture, this shift in thinking will not come from the sciences.  We can only achieve this new way of thinking and decision making by recognizing the shared humanity in our plight.  And this recognition must extend beyond human beings to include all things, both animate and inanimate.  Only then will we actually create the conditions for a hopeful future for all.

So this is the truth that I have found. We have the cart before the horse.  Science and technology are now driving society and this is backwards.  Ultimately and fundamentally, the solutions to our problems are not technical.  They are driven by sociological and environmental imperatives.  Thus we must lead from the humanities and let them guide and direct the scientific agenda and set our policies.  Therein lies our salvation.

Copyright ©️ 2018 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved

Eventorum – Trending Words

You can tell what’s on people’s minds (and is trending in the news), by the words people are looking up:  Merriam-Webster’s Latest Trends (Word lookups driven by news events, celebrities, sports, and more).

Here’s the top 5 list (screen grab) from 14 April 2018:

2018_04_14 MW Trending top 5 words-only

Eventorum explained.

Copyright ©️ 2018 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved

Provocations #8 – Plastic Patches

Image: An estimate of the mass concentration of plastic in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. (from theoceancleanup.com)

I was originally going to post this as an “eventorum“, but the post, while still short, grew a little too long for that.

I had read somewhere that the mass of plastic in the World’s oceans now exceeds that of plankton.  I have not checked that fact.  But I have confirmed that there are valid, scientifically sound estimates that predict the mass of plastic in the oceans will exceed that of all living things by mid-century.  I cannot fathom why people are not alarmed about this.  Many surfers seem to get it: “Great Pacific Garbage Patch is Now Three Times the Size of France“.  This appeared March 27th 2018 on the magicseaweed.com.

It’s time to ban plastic. It’s just that simple.  Obviously this is not a simple thing to do from a socio-economic perspective.

A public service announcement:  I will continue to return to this theme until we have achieved this goal of abolishing plastic.  Sadly, I expect I will be repeating this until I die.

Case in point: as I was researching the topic online, note the first item that resulted from a search for “remote sensing great pacific garbage patch” is thus:

GPGP Screen Grab see 1st link small.jpeg

This is beyond ironic.  It is tragicomic.

We Can Clean up the Oceans

If there is hope to be found, it is from the likes of Boyan Slat, the youthful and pragmatic founder and CEO of theoceancleanup.com.  They are making an attempt to do something about the problem of plastics in our oceans.  Check them out to learn more and support them if you feel so moved.

Copyright ©️ 2018 T. Schneider All Rights Reserved