Sunday, January 31, 2016

Musical Interlude: Ludovico Einaudi, "Lady Labyrinth"

Ludovico Einaudi, "Lady Labyrinth"

Musical Interlude: Josh Groban, “Remember When It Rained”

Josh Groban, “Remember When It Rained”

"The Truth..."

“The fact that someone says something doesn't mean it's true. Doesn't mean they're lying, but it doesn't mean it's true.

All of us cherish our beliefs. They are, to a degree, self-defining. When someone comes along who challenges our belief system as insufficiently well-based - or who, like Socrates, merely asks embarrassing questions that we haven't thought of, or demonstrates that we've swept key underlying assumptions under the rug - it becomes much more than a search for knowledge. It feels like a personal assault.

In his celebrated book, 'On Liberty', the English philosopher John Stuart Mill argued that silencing an opinion is "a peculiar evil." If the opinion is right, we are robbed of the "opportunity of exchanging error for truth"; and if it's wrong, we are deprived of a deeper understanding of the truth in its "collision with error." If we know only our own side of the argument, we hardly know even that: it becomes stale, soon learned by rote, untested, a pallid and lifeless truth.

The truth may be puzzling. It may take some work to grapple with. It may be counterintuitive. It may contradict deeply held prejudices. It may not be consonant with what we desperately want to be true. But our preferences do not determine what's true.

It seems to me what is called for is an exquisite balance between two conflicting needs: the most skeptical scrutiny of all hypotheses that are served up to us and at the same time a great openness to new ideas. If you are only skeptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. On the other hand, if you are open to the point of gullibility and have not an ounce of skeptical sense in you, then you cannot distinguish the useful ideas from the worthless ones.”
- Carl Sagan 

Musical Interlude: Gov't Mule, "Soulshine"

Gov't Mule, "Soulshine"

"A Look to the Heavens"

“Barred spiral galaxy NGC 1365 is truly a majestic island universe some 200,000 light-years across. Located a mere 60 million light-years away toward the chemical constellation Fornax, NGC 1365 is a dominant member of the well-studied Fornax galaxy cluster. 
 Click image for larger size.
This impressively sharp color image shows intense star forming regions at the ends of the bar and along the spiral arms, and details of dust lanes cutting across the galaxy's bright core. At the core lies a supermassive black hole. Astronomers think NGC 1365's prominent bar plays a crucial role in the galaxy's evolution, drawing gas and dust into a star-forming maelstrom and ultimately feeding material into the central black hole.”

"We Are Star Stuff"

"We are star-stuff. The beauty of a living thing is not the atoms that go into it but the way the atoms are put together. The cosmos is also within us. We're made of star stuff, we are a way for the cosmos to know itself." - Carl Sagan 

Click image for larger size.
"The hydrogen in your body, present in every molecule of water, came from the Big Bang. There are no other appreciable sources of hydrogen in the universe. The carbon in your body was made by nuclear fusion in the interior of stars, as was the oxygen. Much of the iron in your body was made during supernovas of stars that occurred long ago and far away. The gold in your jewelry was likely made from neutron stars during collisions that may have been visible as short-duration gamma-ray bursts. Elements like phosphorus and copper are present in our bodies in only small amounts but are essential to the functioning of all known life. The featured periodic table is color coded to indicate humanity's best guess as to the nuclear origin of all known elements. The sites of nuclear creation of some elements, such as copper, are not really well known and are continuing topics of observational and computational research."

From thus, We are... Children of the Universe, literally.
Liquid Mind, "My Orchid Spirit (Extragalactic)"

Chet Raymo, “Seeking Order In The Natural Order”

Click image for larger size.
“Seeking Order In The Natural Order”
by Chet Raymo

“It is a popular misconception that evolution is “just a theory.” On the contrary, the evidence for the development of life over billions of years by common descent from simple ancestors is overwhelming. So overwhelming that most biologists and geologists would call evolution a “fact.” The influential geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky said “Nothing makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Nobel prize-winning biologist Peter Medewar said, “The alternative to thinking in evolutionary terms is not to think at all.” What these two great biologists meant is that no other scientific theory presently offers a satisfactory framework for making sense of what we know about the world.

Here are some things that virtually all biologists hold to be true:
• Life has developed on this planet over billions of years.
• All living organisms share common ancestors.
• Species come and go.
• Natural selection, as understood by Darwin and subsequently extended by Mendel, Weismann and population geneticists such as Dobzhansky, helps shape the tree of life.

Beyond that, the story of life is up for grabs—and hotly debated by biologists. One important bone of contention: Is natural selection acting alone enough to explain the diversity and complexity of life on Earth? Many biologists would say yes. However, a growing number of biologists question the exclusivity of natural selection as the driving force of evolution. Also at work, they maintain, are sources of natural order that exist in any complex, organized system.

One scientist who advances this view is Stuart Kauffman of the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico. He has written a hefty, highly technical book called “The Origins of Order” to answer the question, “What are the sources of the overwhelming and beautiful order which graces the living world?” Kauffman sets out to show that sources of self-organization exist throughout the natural world: The six-pointed snowflake and spherical drop of rain are simple examples. In highly organized systems, such as biological organisms, these natural sources of order drive nature towards ever more complex forms. “None can doubt Darwin’s main idea,” Kauffman writes. “If we are to consider the implications of spontaneous order, we must certainly do so in the context of natural selection, since biology without it is unthinkable.”

But Darwin is not enough, he insists. Life has not been cobbled together by natural selection acting on random mutations, says Kauffman. We are not Rube Goldberg machines slapped together piece by piece by evolution. Rather, life is “a natural expression of the stunning self-organization that abounds in very complex regulatory networks . . . order, vast and generative, arises naturally.” In other words, we are more than the sum of our chemical parts. Life is an emergent phenomenon that arose when chemical systems on the early Earth increased beyond a “threshold of complexity.” The subsequent history of life unfolds at least partly as a consequence of complexity.

Kauffman and his colleagues use powerful computers to explore how complex interconnected systems behave. They have demonstrated how complex systems of simple elements can catalyze their own self-organization. These computer simulations show intriguing parallels with the real-world history of life.

Kauffman thinks laws of self-organization lie at the heart of nature. If we can discover these laws, he says, we will understand how our bodies developed from a single fertilized egg, and how our species emerged over billions of years from prebiotic chemicals. He is a long way from finding the laws he is looking for, but the results achieved so far hint at a direction-ality and inevitability to evolution that may not be fully accounted for by Darwinian natural selection.

Anyone who enjoys watching a brilliant mind at work/play should glance at Kauffman’s “The Origins of Order,” or read his popular book on the same subject, called “At Home in the Universe.” One catches a glimpse of the power of the mathematical way of thinking, and also of a necessary humility in the face of life’s greatest mysteries. He writes: “Almost 140 years after Darwin’s seminal book, we do not understand the powers and limitations of natural selection, we do not know what kinds of complex systems can be assembled by an evolutionary process, and we do not even begin to understand how selection and self-organization work together to create the splendor of a summer afternoon in an Alpine meadow flooded with flowers, insects, worms, soil, other animals, and humans, making our worlds together.”

Kauffman is not stingy with words like “possibility,” “maybe,” “I do not know.” He knows we have only begun to understand our origins. He talks about “reinventing the sacred.” He offers a vision of creation worthy of the most resourceful Creator.”

"The 'Greatest' English Honors Paper Ever Written"

"The 'Greatest' English Honors Paper Ever Written"
Click image for larger size.
"So bad it borders on genius." I am literally speechless... lol

"The Purpose Of My Words..."

"There is a difference between a question and a wonder. I would prefer to answer only questions that will be useful to you. A child looks up at the starry sky at night and wonders. He is filled with the joy of the mystery of creation. Why should I explain everything to you and take away that joy? I will not. The purpose of my words is to create silence, to create joy. I am not here to stuff your head full of knowledge. A child starts out innocent. You ask him something and he says, "I don't know." Then that child grows up and thinks he knows everything. I'll teach you something. I'll teach you to say, "I don't know," and be glad. That is true knowledge."
- Christopher Pike

The Daily "Near You?"

Mount Shasta, California, USA. Thanks for stopping by!

Free Download: Walt Whitman, "Leaves of Grass"


"Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge
of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with anyone I love, or sleep in the bed
at night with anyone I love,
Or sit at the table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honeybees busy around the hive
of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining
so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon
in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread
with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.
To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim-the rocks-the motion of the waves
-the ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?"

Walt Whitman, "Leaves of Grass"
Freely download "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman here:

"The Impossible Dream: Right in Front of You"

"The Impossible Dream: Right in Front of You"
by Madisyn Taylor, The DailyOm

"Maybe you are using a desire you can't fulfill to distract you from truly engaging the blessings you already have. When it comes to the things we want, there always seems to be an endless list. No matter how many times we get something off that list, we add new things to replace it. In life, this drama of wanting and getting and wanting is all part of the dance. The things we want motivate us to get up and get them. And yet, at the same time, we can torment ourselves with our wanting, especially when we want something we can't have or can't find. It is in cases like these that it might be fruitful to entertain the idea that maybe what you really want is right in front of you. Maybe you are using this desire you can't fulfill to distract you from truly engaging the blessings you already have. It may seem like that doesn't make sense, yet we do it all the time. It may be easier to see in other people than to see it in ourselves. We have all heard our friends wishing they were more this or less that, and looking at them we see clearly that they are everything they are wishing they were. We know people who have wonderful partners and yet envy you yours. We wish we could give these people a look at their situations from our perspective so that they could see that what they want really is right in front of them.

It's not too far-fetched to consider that we might be victims of the same folly. It can be scary to have what we want. We get caught up in the chase and forget to enjoy the beauty right in front of us—like a child who never wants the toy she has in her hand but always the one just out of her reach. Take a moment today to consider the many things you are holding in the palm of your hand and how you might best play with them."

"How It Really Is"

Well, no, not by a long shot, but it's coming...

The Economy: “Discovery”

by James Howard Kunstler

“It looks like 2016 will be the year that humanfolk learn that the stuff they value was not worth as much as they thought it was. It will be a harrowing process because a great many humans are abandoning ownership of things that are rapidly losing value — e.g. stocks on the Shanghai exchange — and stuffing whatever “money” they can recover into the US dollar, the assets and usufructs of which are also going through a very painful reality value adjustment.

Of course this calls into question foremost exactly what money is, and the answer is: basically a narrative construct. In other words, a story explaining why we behave the way we do around certain things. Some parts of the story have a closer relationship with reality than other parts. The part about the US dollar has a rather weak connection.

When various authorities — the BLS, the Federal Reserve, The New York Times — state that the US economy is “strong,” we can translate that to mean giant companies listed on the stock exchanges are able to put up a Potemkin façade of soundness. For instance, The company continues to seem like a good idea. And it reinforces that idea in the collective imagination by sending a lot of low-priced goods to your door, (all bought on credit cards), which rings your (nearly) instant gratification bell. This has prompted investors to gobble up Amazon stock.

It’s well-established by now that the “brick-and-mortar” retail operations are majorly sucking wind. Meaning, fewer people are driving to the Target store and venues like it to buy stuff. Supposedly, they are buying stuff at Amazon instead. What interests me in that story is the idea that every single object purchased these days has a UPS journey attached to it. Of course, people also drive to the Target store, though I doubt they leave the place with just one thing.

That dynamic ought to call into question just how people are living in the USA, and the answer to that is: spread out all over the place in a suburban sprawl living arrangement that has poor prospects for being reformed or mitigated. Either you drive yourself to the Target store for a slow-cooker and a few other things, or Amazon has to send the brown truck to each and every house. Either way includes an insane amount of transport, and sooner or later both the brick-and-mortar chain store model and the Amazon home delivery model will fail.

Now I don’t believe that will be the end of retail trade, but it will open the door for a painful transition to whatever the next iteration of retail trade will be. Probably much smaller and more local with less stuff. Unfortunately, it is difficult to imagine a resolution of that without also imagining a transition away from suburbia. The loss of faith in the suburban disposition of things will probably represent the greatest loss of perceived wealth in human history — which is how it should be, since it also happened to be the greatest misallocation of resources in human history. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and now its time has passed.

I suppose the loss of faith in value of all kinds will play out sequentially. It is starting in financial “assets” because so many of these are just faith-based stories, and in this quant-and-algo age it has gotten awfully hard to tell what is good story and what is just a swindle. One wonders, for example, how many well-dressed young people at the bond desks have been able to pawn off sub-prime car loans bundled into giant, tranched bonds with attractive yields to hapless counterparts at the asset allocation desks of the pension funds and insurance companies. My guess is the situation is at least just as bad as it was 2007.

The problem is that when this sucker goes down, to paraphrase the immortal words of George W. Bush, you have to wonder how much other stuff of everyday life for everyday people it will take down with it. The discovery phase of our predicament began ever so crisply in the very first business week of the new year. I’m going to hazard to predict that the damage halts briefly in mid-winter and then resumes with a vengeance in March. This may give thoughtful people a chance to rest and assess.”

Details, as this sucker goes down...
Gerald Celente, "Draghi’s Money Fix Fails"

The Economy: “Economic Activity Is Slowing Down Much Faster Than The Experts Anticipated”

“Economic Activity Is Slowing Down Much 
Faster Than The Experts Anticipated”
By Michael Snyder

“We have not seen global economic activity fall off this rapidly since the great recession of 2008. Manufacturing activity is imploding all over the planet, global trade is slowing down at a pace that is extremely alarming, and the Baltic Dry Index just hit another brand new all-time record low. If the “real economy” consists of people making, selling and shipping stuff, then it is in incredibly bad shape. Here in the United States, the dismal economic numbers continue to stun all of the experts. 

For example, on Monday we learned that the Texas general business activity index just hit a six year low: "Economic activity in Texas keeps getting worse. The general business activity index out Monday from the Dallas Federal Reserve for January was -34.6, a six-year low and much worse than economists had expected. The forecast for the monthly index was -14, following a December reading of -21.6 (revised from -20.1) that was also worse than expected.”

One could perhaps argue that this is to be expected in Texas because of the collapse in the price of oil. But what about the very unusual things that we are seeing in other areas of the country?  In Erwin, Tennessee, a rail terminal that had been continuously operating for 135 years was just permanently shut down, and hundreds of workers now find themselves without a job: “The last coal train to leave Erwin rolled slowly out of town just after at 3 p.m. Thursday, less than eight hours after CSX Transportation employees heard the news that rocked all of Unicoi County. “Its a hard pill to swallow,”  county Mayor Greg Lynch said. “Of course, we heard rumors that something was coming down. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine they would just shut down and leave town.” CSX delivered the news of its decision to immediately close Erwin’s 175-acre rail yard and abruptly end the employment of the facility’s 300 workers in a series of meetings with employees conducted at the start of their morning shifts.”

It has been said that if you want to know what is really happening with the U.S. economy, just watch the railroads. And right now, rail traffic all over the nation is falling to depressingly low levels. One of Steve Quayle’s readers says that rail traffic in Colorado has slowed down so much that hundreds of engines are just sitting there on the tracks: “With regard to the train freight article this morning, we have in Grand Junction, CO., literally hundreds of engines sidelined on the tracks. They are three deep on some tracks and easily number over 250. I have never seen this many engines on the tracks before and I feel this is just another indicator of the slowdown in shipping.”

In case you are tempted to think that this is just anecdotal evidence, I want you to consider what is happening to the largest railroad company in the United States. According to Wolf Richter, operating revenues for Union Pacific were down 15 percent last year: “Union Pacific, the largest US railroad, reported awful fourth-quarter earnings Thursday evening. Operating revenues plummeted 15% year over year, and net income dropped 22%. It was broad-based: "The only category where revenues rose was automotive (+1%). Otherwise, revenues fell: Chemicals (-7%), Agricultural Products (-12%), Intermodal containers (-14%), Industrial Products (-23%), and Coal (-31%). Shipment of crude plunged 42%. So Union Pacific did what American companies do best: it laid off 3,900 people last year.”

And of course we can see evidence of the emerging economic slowdown all around us pretty much wherever we look.  Sprint just laid off 8 percent of its workforce, GoPro is letting go 7 percent of its workers,  and Wal-Mart just announced the closure of 269 stores. (Very real impacts on many people's lives, wouldn't you think? Much worse is coming...- CP)

But instead of dealing with reality, there are a lot of irrational optimists that insist that things will start bouncing back any day now. For instance, CNBC is reporting that Goldman Sachs is forecasting that the S&P 500 will end up finishing the year back at 2,100: “Goldman, though, is sticking with its forecast that the S&P 500 will rebound and finish the year at 2,100, a rise of about 11 percent from current levels but basically no net gain for the full year.”

It is easy to say something like that, but the actions of the big banks speak louder than words. Most people don’t realize this, but several of the “too big to fail” banks laid off thousands of workers in 2015: “Bank of America and Citigroup reduced headcount the most, eliminating about 20,000 staffers between them, according to fourth-quarter earnings reports from each bank. The respective moves amount to 4.6 percent and 4 percent fewer workers at the banks. JPMorgan Chase reported in its earnings that it employs 6,700 fewer workers than a year ago.” And guess what? The “too big to fail” banks did the exact same thing just before the great stock market crash of 2008. When are people going to finally start understanding that we have a major league crisis on our hands?

Since June 2015, approximately 15 trillion dollars of global stock market wealth has been wiped out.  After a brief respite at the end of last week, it appears that the global financial crisis is getting ready to accelerate once again. On Monday, the price of oil dipped back under 30 dollars, the Dow was down another 208 points, and the Nikkei is currently down another 389 points in early trading. Somewhere close to one-fifth of all global stock market wealth has already been wiped out. We only have about four-fifths left.

But in the end, I can talk about these numbers until I am blue in the face and some people will still not get prepared. Some people have so much faith in Barack Obama, the Federal Reserve and the mainstream media that they would literally follow them off a cliff. By now, most of the people that believe that they should prepare for the coming crisis have already gotten prepared, and most of those that want to believe that everything is going to work out just fine somehow are never going to get prepared anyway. What is going to happen is going to happen, and tens of millions of people are going to end up bitterly regretting not listening to the warnings when they still had the chance.”
CNN Market Data:

CNN Fear And Greed Index:

“Carl Jung's Five Key Elements to Happiness”

“Carl Jung's Five Key Elements to Happiness”
by Gretchen Rubin

"In 1960, journalist Gordon Young asked Jung, "What do you consider to be more or less basic factors making for happiness in the human mind?" Jung answered with five elements:

    1. Good physical and mental health.
    2. Good personal and intimate relationships, such as those of marriage, the family, and friendships.
    3. The faculty for perceiving beauty in art and nature.
    4. Reasonable standards of living and satisfactory work.
    5. A philosophic or religious point of view capable of coping successfully with the vicissitudes of life.

Jung, always mindful of paradox, added, “All factors which are generally assumed to make for happiness can, under certain circumstances, produce the contrary. No matter how ideal your situation may be, it does not necessarily guarantee happiness.”

"The Eternal Silence..."

"The eternal silence of infinite spaces frightens me. Why now rather than then? Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time have been ascribed to me? We travel in a vast sphere, always drifting in the uncertain, pulled from one side to another. Whenever we find a fixed point to attach and to fasten ourselves, it shifts and leaves us; and if we follow it, it eludes our grasp, slips past us, and vanishes for ever. Nothing stays for us. This is our natural condition, most contrary to our inclination; we burn with desires to find solid ground and an ultimate and solid foundation for building a tower reaching to the Infinite. But always these bases crack, and the earth obstinately opens up into abysses. We are infinitely removed from comprehending the extremes, since the end of things and their beginning are hopelessly hidden from us in an encapsulated secret; we are equally incapable of seeing the Nothing from which we were made, and the Infinite in which we are swallowed up."
- Blaise Pascal

Musical Interlude: Davy Spillane feat. Maire Brennan, "A Place Among The Stones (Celtic Circle)"

Davy Spillane feat. Maire Brennan, "A Place Among The Stones (Celtic Circle)"

"A Tribute To Dogs"

"A Tribute To Dogs"
by George Graham Vest

"If there are no dogs in Heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went."
- Will Rogers

"George Graham Vest (1830-1904) served as U.S. Senator from Missouri from 1879 to 1903 and became one of the leading orators and debaters of his time. This delightful speech is from an earlier period in his life when he practiced law in a small Missouri town. It was given in court while representing a man who sued another for the killing of his dog. During the trial, Vest ignored the testimony, but when his turn came to present a summation to the jury, he made the following speech and won the case."

"Gentlemen of the Jury: The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy. His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name may become traitors to their faith. The money that a man has, he may lose. It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most. A man's reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action. The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us, may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads.

The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog. A man's dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master's side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer. He will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince. When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings, and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.

If fortune drives the master forth, an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies. And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by the graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad, but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even in death."
Graphic: 3 of the members of my Mighty Mutt Pack, 5 in all. ;-)

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Musical Interlude: Spirit of Eden, "Legend of Cuan"

Spirit of Eden, "Legend of Cuan"

Musical Interlude: Liquid Mind, “Through My Eyes (Nebulae)”

Liquid Mind, “Through My Eyes (Nebulae)”

"A Look to the Heavens"

“These two spiral galaxies make a photogenic pair, found within the boundaries of the northern constellation Draco. Contrasting in color and orientation, NGC 5965 is nearly edge-on to our line of sight and dominated by yellow hues, while bluish NGC 5963 is closer to face-on. Of course, even in this well-framed cosmic snapshot the scene is invaded by other galaxies, including small elliptical NGC 5969 at the lower left. 
 Click image for larger size.
Brighter, spiky stars in our own Milky Way are scattered through the foreground. Though they seem to be close and of similar size, galaxies NGC 5965 and NGC 5963 are far apart and unrelated, by chance appearing close on the sky. NGC 5965 is about 150 million light-years distant and over 200,000 light-years across. Much smaller, NGC 5963 is a mere 40 million light-years away and so is not associated with the edge-on spiral. Difficult to follow, NGC 5963's extraordinarily faint blue spiral arms mark it as a low surface brightness galaxy.”

Chet Raymo, “The Mysterious Play of Forces”

“The Mysterious Play of Forces”
by Chet Raymo

“I have often quoted here the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, mostly from the “Duino Elegies” or “The Sonnets of Orpheus.” We now have a new translation of Rilke's earlier “The Book of Hours”, by Susan Ranson, which I have been reading, and I offer a short poem from the “First Book: The Book of Monkish Life.”

"I find your trace in all these things, in all
that like a brother I am careful for;
you sun yourself, a seed, within the small
and in the great give yourself the more.

This the mysterious play of forces, then,
that serve in things, over and under ground:
that rise in roots, narrow into the stem,
and in the crown like resurrection stand."

The poems of “The Book of Hours”, written when Rilke was in his mid-twenties, are as the title suggests addressed to God, but his is a strange and unfamiliar sort of deity. Not quite the transcendent God of the theist, who lives outside of the creation. Nor is he quite the immanent God of the pantheist who is manifest in all things. Rather, Rilke's God is concealed within the creation, within the poems even. The point of the poems, says Ben Hutchinson in an Introduction to Ranson's translations, is to create a "lattice-work" of rhymes and rythms through which the poet encourages God to grow. Rilke's God resides in the interstices of things. The poet- the poem- is "your pitcher," writes Rilke, addressing God. If the pitcher shatters that which might quench the thirst is dispersed.

A curious God, this God of Rilke. I'm not sure if there is a name for his sort of religion. In a sense, it is an egotistical theology, making God's existence dependent upon the poet's apprehension. But it is also an enobling sort of theology, emphasizing our responsibility to nurture divinity- to divinize the world.

Anyway, the little poem above strikes me as an appropriate meditation for a religious naturalist. On these occasions, we praise the things- call them divine if you wish- "that rise in roots, narrow into the stem, and in the crown like resurrection stand."

"Your Average Armadillo..."

“All of the available data show that the typical American citizen has about 
as much interest in the life of the mind as does your average armadillo.”
- Morris Berman

Apologies to armadillos for the comparison, but if it's true... and it is.

"The Notion..."

"How Are Things Going, Joe?"

“You go up to a man, and you say, "How are things going, Joe?" and he says, "Oh fine, fine— couldn't be better." And you look into his eyes, and you see things really couldn't be much worse. When you get right down to it, everybody's having a perfectly lousy time of it, and I mean everybody. And the hell of it is, nothing seems to help much.”
- Kurt Vonnegut

Why Are We In The Middle East? “As Things Fell Apart, Nobody Paid Much Attention”

“As Things Fell Apart, Nobody Paid Much Attention”
by James Quinn

Why Are We In The Middle East?*

"The American way of life– which is now virtually synonymous with suburbia– can run only on reliable supplies of dependably cheap oil and gas. Even mild to moderate deviations in either price or supply will crush our economy and make the logistics of daily life impossible." 
– Jim Kunstler, "The Long Emergency"

“America was a Garden of Eden with nothing but flowers, trees and vegetation. We bit into the forbidden fruit of oil over a century ago. It has been a deal with the Devil. Oil brought immense wealth, rapid industrialization, 2.7 million miles of paved roads, and enormous power to America. But, now the SUV is running on empty. In the not too distant future the downside of the deal with the Devil will reveal itself. America was the land of the free and home of the brave. Now it is the land of the Range Rover and home of the BMW. In a few years it could be the land of the forlorn and home of the broken down. Our entire society has been built upon a foundation of cheap oil. The discovery of oil in Titusville, PA in 1859 turbo charged the Industrial Revolution in the U.S. The development of our sprawling suburban culture was dependent upon cheap oil. 

Americans could not survive for a week without oil. Commerce in the U.S. depends upon long haul truckers. Food is transported thousands of miles to grocery stores. The cheap Wal-Mart crap is transported thousands of miles across the seas from China. Americans believe it is our God given right to cheap oil. We are the chosen people. Kevin Phillips, in his brilliant book "American Theocracy" describes our love affair with cheap oil: “Americans constitute the world’s most intensive motoring culture. For reasons of history and past abundance, no other national population has clumped so complacently around so fuelish a lifestyle. For many citizens the century of oil has brought surfeit: gas-guzzling mobile fortresses, family excursions on twenty thousand-thousand-gallons-per-hour jet aircraft, and lavishly lit McMansions in glittering, mall packed exurbs along outer beltways. Against a backdrop of declining national oil and gas output, Americans consume 25% of world energy while holding just 5% of its energy resources. As the new century began, Americans enjoyed a lifestyle roughly twice as energy intensive as those in Europe and Japan, some ten times the global average. Of the world’s 520 million automobiles, unsurprisingly, more than 200 million were driven in the United States, and the U.S. car population was increasing at five times the rate of the human population. How long that could continue was not clear.” 

John and Jane Q. Citizen mostly ignore these trends and details, and know nothing of geologist Hubbert’s bell-shaped charts of peak oil. Senior oil executives sometimes discuss them in industry conferences, but elected officials – many with decades of energy platitudes under their belts – typically shrink from opening what would be a Pandora’s Box of political consequences. Oil was there for our grandfathers, they insist, and it will be there for our grandchildren; it is part of the American way. Ignoring the facts and pretending that we can count on cheap oil for eternity is delusional. It is also the American way. The age of oil is coming to an end.  

There are consequences to every action. There are also consequences to every inaction. Over the next decade Americans will experience the dire consequences of inaction. The implications of peak cheap oil have been apparent for decades. The Department of Energy was created in 1977. The Department of Energy's overarching mission was to advance the national, economic, and energy security of the United States. In 1970, the U.S. imported only 24% of its oil. There were 108 million motor vehicles in the U.S., or .53 vehicles per person in the U.S. Today, the U.S. imports 70% of its oil and there are 260 million vehicles, or .84 vehicles per person. Jim Kunstler describes our bleak future in "The Long Emergency":  "American people are sleepwalking into a future of hardship and turbulence. The Long Emergency will change everything. Globalism will wither. Life will become profoundly and intensely local. The consumer economy will be a strange memory. Suburbia - considered a birthright and a reality by millions of Americans - will become untenable. We will struggle to feed ourselves. We may exhaust and bankrupt ourselves in the effort to prop up the unsustainable. And finally, the United States may not hold together as a nation. We are entering an uncharted territory of history."

The land of the delusional has no inkling that their lives of happy motoring are winding down. The vast majority of Americans believe that oil is abundant and limitless. Their leaders have lied to them. They will be completely blindsided by the coming age of hardship. 

If Americans had any sense of history longer than last week’s episode of "The Kardashians", they may have noticed that the modern age has lasted a mere 150 years and has been completely dependent upon cheap plentiful oil. This is a mere eye blink in the history of mankind.  American exceptionalism refers to the opinion that the United States is qualitatively different from other nations. Its exceptionalism is claimed to stem from its emergence from a revolution, becoming "the first new nation" and developing "a unique American ideology, based on liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, populism and laissez-faire". This feeling of superiority stems from the belief that we have a moral superiority and God has chosen our country to be a shining symbol for the rest of the world. It is the ultimate in hubris to think that we are the chosen ones. An enormous amount of credit for the American Century (1900 – 2000) must be given to pure and simple luck.

“Everything characteristic about the condition we call modern life has been a direct result of our access to abundant supplies of cheap fossil fuels. Fossil fuels have permitted us to fly, to go where we want to go rapidly, and move things easily from place to place. Fossil fuels rescued us from the despotic darkness of the night. They have made the pharaonic scale of building commonplace everywhere. They have allowed a fractionally tiny percentage of our swollen populations to produce massive amounts of food. All of the marvels and miracles of the twentieth century were enabled by our access to abundant supplies of cheap fossil fuels. The age of fossil fuels is about to end. There is no replacement for them at hand. These facts are poorly understood by the global population preoccupied with the thrum of daily life, but tragically, too, by the educated classes in the United States, who continue to be by far the greatest squanderers of fossil fuels." – Jim Kunstler - “The Long Emergency”

Every accomplishment, invention, and discovery of the 20th Century was due to cheap accessible fossil fuels. The American industrial age was powered by cheap plentiful oil. One hundred and ten years after the discovery of oil in Titusville, PA an American walked on the moon. We harnessed the immense power of oil and rode it hard. An empire was born and grew to the greatest in history through the utilization of oil and oil byproducts. It is no coincidence that U.S. GDP has been dependent upon the growth in fossil fuel consumption over the last 150 years.  

The self centered delusional myopic American citizenry see no parallel between the American Empire built on a foundation of oil and the Dutch Empire built upon wind and water or the British Empire established on the discovery of vast quantities of coal. The Dutch Empire of the 1600s had 6,000 ships and 1,000 windmills generating power. The British Empire used coal to power steam engines, pumps, locomotives and ships and forged a great empire in the 1700s and 1800s. Today, the Netherlands has a GDP lower than Mexico. The U.K. has a GDP on par with Italy. You can be sure you are no longer an empire when your GDP is on par with Mexico and Italy. The United States has grown its GDP to $18.7 trillion by exploiting fossil fuels. The American Empire is clearly waning as its dependence on foreign oil slowly bankrupts the country. We consume 140 billion gallons of gasoline every year keeping our suburban sprawl mall based lifestyle viable.  

Americans believe our ingenuity, brilliance and blessings from God have led to the elevation of our country to eminence as the greatest empire in history. But, in reality it was due to a black sticky substance that we stumbled across in 1859. Those who believe in American Exceptionalism scoff at the idea that our empire would not exist without oil. They prefer to ignore and downplay the impact of oil on our society. Too bad. Here are the facts:

"• Approximately 10 calories of fossil fuels are required to produce every 1 calorie of food eaten in the US.
• Pesticides and agro-chemicals are made from oil.
• Commercial fertilizers are made from ammonia, which is made from natural gas.
• Most farming implements such as tractors and trailers are constructed and powered using oil-derived fuels.
• Food storage systems such as refrigerators are manufactured in oil-powered plants, distributed using oil-powered transportation networks and usually run on electricity, which most often comes from natural gas or coal.
• The average piece of food is transported almost 1,500 miles before it gets to your plate.
• In addition to transportation, food, water, and modern medicine, mass quantities of oil are required for all plastics, all computers and all high-tech devices.
• The construction of an average car consumes the energy equivalent of approximately 20 barrels of oil.
• The construction of the average desktop computer consumes ten times its weight in fossil fuels.
• According to the American Chemical Society, the construction of single 32 megabyte DRAM chip requires 3.5 pounds of fossil fuels.
• Recent estimates indicate the infrastructure necessary to support the internet consumes 10% of all the electricity produced in the United States.
• The manufacturing of one ton of cement requires 4.7 million BTUs of energy, which is the amount contained in about 45 gallons of oil."

Our entire civilization will collapse in a week without oil. Try to imagine life if the 159,000 gas stations in the country ran dry. We are running on fumes and refuse to acknowledge that fact. We sooth our psyche with delusions of green energy (solar, wind, ethanol); drill, drill, drill mantras; abiotic oil theories; and vast quantities of shale gas. The concept of energy required to extract an amount of energy completely goes over the head of media pundits and those who prefer not to think. If you expend 2 gallons of gasoline in your effort to extract 1 gallon of gasoline, you’ve hit the wall. We have sacrificed our future in order to maximize our present, as William James concluded in the late 1800s: “The most significant characteristic of modern civilization is the sacrifice of the future for the present, and all the power of science has been prostituted to this purpose.”

Americans have a fatal character flaw of desiring others to think they are successful because they drive an expensive gas guzzling automobile and reside in an immense energy intensive McMansion in suburbs 30 miles from civilization. Delusional Americans have convinced themselves that the appearance of success is success. Leasing $50,000 BMWs for decades and borrowing $500,000 to live in a $300,000 house has already pushed millions of egotistical to the edge. Of the 250 million passenger vehicles on the road today, 100 million are SUVs or pickup trucks. The average fuel mileage is 17 mpg. Approximately 70% of Americans drive to work every day, with 85% driving alone. They spend 45 minutes on average commuting to and from work and drive 15 miles to work. The average home size increased from 1,400 sq ft in 1970 to 2,300 sq ft today, despite the fact that the average household size decreased from 3.1 to 2.6. The bigger is better fantasy will be devastating on the downward slope of peak oil.    

How will Americans survive without the 7,500 Pizza Huts, 5,000 Dairy Queens, and 8,000 7-11s that dot our highways? The average Joe is so busy tweeting, texting, and Facebooking on their iPads, Blackberries, and laptops, watching "Big Brother" on their 52 inch HDTV bought on credit, or cruising superhighways in their leased Hummers to one of the 1,100 malls or 46,000 shopping centers, that they haven’t paid much attention geopolitical concerns. The globalization miracle of cheap goods produced in China and shipped across the world by cargo ship and then trucked thousands of miles to your local Wal-Mart is wholly reliant upon cheap oil. 

The United States is already tottering, as the oligarchy of the Wall Street banking syndicate, global mega-corporations and corrupt political hacks in Washington DC have pillaged the wealth of the country and left a middle class gasping for air. The mood of the country is already darkening as The Fourth Turning gathers steam. The recognition by the masses that peak cheap oil is a fact will contribute greatly to the next stage of this Crisis. Fourth Turning periods always lead to war. * American troops are not in the Middle East to spread democracy. They are the forward vanguard in the coming clash over depleting oil resources. We are in an era of strife, war, chaos and destruction. The facts of who controls oil supply and who needs oil (U.S. – 25%, China – 10%) are clear. Kunstler bluntly deals with the facts: "Fossil fuel reserves are not scattered equitably around the world. They tend to be concentrated in places where the native peoples don’t like the West in general or America in particular, places physically very remote, places where we realistically can exercise little control (even if we wish to). The decline of fossil fuels is certain to ignite chronic strife between nations contesting the remaining supplies. These resource wars have already begun. There will be more of them. They are very likely to grind on and on for decades. They will only aggravate a situation that, in and of itself, could bring down civilizations. The extent of suffering in our country will certainly depend on how tenaciously we attempt to cling to obsolete habits, customs, and assumptions – for instance, how fiercely Americans decide to fight to maintain suburban lifestyles that simply cannot be rationalized any longer." -  Jim Kunstler - "The Long Emergency"

As I live in the outer suburbs and commute 30 miles per day into the decrepit decaying city of Philadelphia every day, I’m less optimistic that the transition will be smooth or even possible. Kunstler’s view of the suburbs is accurate: "The state-of-the-art mega suburbs of recent decades have produced horrendous levels of alienation, loneliness, anomie, anxiety, and depression."

Families stay huddled in their McMansions, protected from phantoms by state of the art security systems. Their interaction with the world is through their electronic gadgets. Neighborhoods of cookie cutter 4,000 sq ft mansions appear deserted. Human interaction is rare. Happiness is in short supply. As I sit in miles of traffic every morning during my soul destroying trek to work I observe the thousands of cars, SUVs, and trucks and wonder how this can possibly work when the peak oil tsunami washes over our society in the next few years. Then I reach the bowels of the inner city and my pessimism grows. This concrete jungle is occupied by hundreds of thousands of uneducated, unmotivated, wards of the state. They live a bleak existence in bleak surroundings and depend upon subsistence payments from the depressed suburbanites to keep them alive. How will they survive in a post oil world? They won’t. 

The Hirsch Report and Jim Kunstler’s "The Long Emergency" both were published in 2005. M. King Hubbert warned U.S. leaders decades in advance about the expected timing of peak oil. The warnings have fallen on deaf ears. We were busy with our wars of choice, home price wealth, gays in the military, and the latest episode of "Judge Judy." And as things fell apart,  nobody paid much attention...”

The Daily "Near You?"

West Liberty, Kentucky, USA. Thanks for stopping by!

"It's Everybody..."

"If you're going to care about the fall of the sparrow you can't pick
and choose who's going to be the sparrow. It's everybody."
- Madeleine L'Engle

"The World Rests In The Night..."

“The world rests in the night. Trees, mountains, fields, and faces are released from the prison of shape and the burden of exposure. Each thing creeps back into its own nature within the shelter of the dark. Darkness is the ancient womb. Nighttime is womb-time. Our souls come out to play. The darkness absolves everything; the struggle for identity and impression falls away. We rest in the night.”
- John O'Donohue,
"Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom"

“On the day when
the weight deadens
on your shoulders
and you stumble,
may the clay dance
to balance you.
And when your eyes
freeze behind
the grey window
and the ghost of loss
gets in to you,
may a flock of colours,
indigo, red, green,
and azure blue
come to awaken in you
a meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays
in the currach of thought
and a stain of ocean
blackens beneath you,
may there come across the waters
a path of yellow moonlight
to bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours,
may the clarity of light be yours,
may the fluency of the ocean be yours,
may the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow
wind work these words
of love around you,
an invisible cloak
to mind your life.”
John O'Donohue was an Irish author, poet, philosopher and former Catholic priest. He was born in County Clare on January 1, 1956. He died suddenly on January 4, 2008. He is best known for popularizing Celtic spirituality and is the author of a number of best-selling books on the subject.