Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Not Due to Climate Change: The Tammy Meyers Shooting

I rarely follow the latest media hyped (white) killing of the week, but I have found the shooting of  Tammy Meyers  to be a fascinating reflection of Americana.

First, it is a great example of something that really isn't what it appeared to be, and then it is an even better example of Thinking Fast, and not Slow. It seems that almost everyone involved did a lot of reacting and very little planning.  No one seemed to be thinking about probable outcomes.

Reality TV could not do a better job of highlighting the craziness in the current culture.  Guns and drugs in family life.

I have been doing a lot of reading about new discoveries which describe how our brains work. Our brains are marvelously complex products of evolution that can do amazing things. One of those things is the brain's ability to synthesize a huge amount of information very quickly.  However, it has been shown in many of these studies that in order to gain speed, the brain sacrifices accuracy.  We all do it, all the time.  In order to protect us, our brains rush to form an idea of what is going on, and based on that idea, we respond, usually quickly and emotionally. We have evolved to do that, so that we can catch food to eat, instead of being caught and eaten.

The downside of this, and I am paraphrasing one of the scientists, I think it was Dr. Michael Gazzaniga ( but maybe someone else) who said that humans are the only creature we know of who can make up a story, and then get themselves to believe it. But in many ways, that is what we all do, every day.  However, some people's stories offer a better picture of reality than others.

I fear that one of the stories that is common in the mind of some, certainly a minority, but still many, gun owners, is that guns really make them safer, and also that they are better shots than whomever their adversary may turn our to be.  

But in today's complex world, we don't need guns to catch food. They are only helpful in specific, structured situations, such as hunting seasons in the woods.  Taking a gun and going out to find the bad guys usually proves to be problematic. Adding drugs to the mix doesn't help either.  

The foolish, confusing, and truly tragic death of Tammy Meyers is an example of everyone involved getting caught up in their own story; stories that were believed too quickly; with no real consideration of what might happen next. And unlike the video game this resembles, there is no reset button.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Connect the dots: piles of snow and the ISIS killings.

            Today the sun came out for a few hours and the temperature rose to thirty-six degrees.  The snow around my house began to melt for the first time in weeks.  The seven-foot high piles are now only five feet high, the twenty-foot piles seem about the same.  The dripping off the icicles of mass destruction was constant.  Of course, now that the sun is setting, and the temperature is dropped, everything with freeze solid.

            As anyone who has paid any attention to any media knows, this has been an historic winter here in New England.  And it shows no sign of getting easier.  It will be very cold tomorrow, and more snow will come on Wednesday.
            Last winter did not have as much snow, but the cold came very early, before Thanksgiving and it stayed very cold until the middle of March.  This year seemed as if it was going to be an easy winter until the middle of January, but then everything changed.
            During this time there has been a group of religious zealots who say they are trying to bring about the end of the world.  Their stated goal is to incite a holy war between Muslim extremists, and the rest of the world, a war that will result in total destruction.  This kind of disruptive, oppositional thinking has attracted a following of people who seem to be either fed-up or frightened about things that are happening in the world today, including globalization, exploitation, multiculturalism, allowing women to think and mostly, worshiping the wrong God.
            For a while these were just two different things that upset me, and then I read the article in the February issue of Scientific American by Michael E. Webber that explains the interactive dependence of the availability of water, food and energy.  He shows clearly how the abundance of one of those can help create an abundance of all of them, and how a scarcity of any one of them can lead to the scarcity of the others.
            I also remember reading a few years ago (sorry, but I can’t cite the source right now) about how climate change has lead to the drought in Sudan and how that was large contributing factor in the civil war that broke out in that country.  It is also true that there has been a drought for the last few years in Syria, and that drought lead, as Dr. Webber ‘s thinking would predict, to a rise in food prices, which was a large part of why, after many years of being able to tolerate a repressive government in Syria, there was a revolt among the hungry and dissatisfied people. 
            That civil war has been going on for three years now, and has ruined the country.  Hundreds of thousands of people have died, and millions have been injured, displaced and traumatized.  That kind of chaos and instability easily spread to the neighboring counties that were already full of conflict and turmoil, and that allowed ISIS to rise and attract followers.
I believe that it is the same forces that has changed the climate and lead to a drought in Sudan and Syria that has lead to the long period of cold and heavy snows here in New England. There will not be a drought in New England this year; we will have too much water for a while, including some flooding.  But the states in the Western part of the U.S. are still in a continuing drought and there will be many struggles for water; water for crops, water for drinking, water for the fountains at the hotels in Las Vegas.
            This will lead to uncertainty, discontentment and anger.  I don’t think it will lead to a revolution.  But people will blame the government, the immigrants, and the corporations.

            How many people will realize that the world is now linked and interdependent in many complex ways?  Probably more than just me.
            But how many people are ready to make the significant changes?  Probably more than before, and hopefully enough to make a difference, but that remains to be seen. 
            When there is scarcity there is fear, and when there is fear most people worry most about themselves and their own families.  It’s hard to put it all in context when your livelihood is threatened.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine Snow

            I am back in New England.  It is a Saturday night.  It is Valentine’s Day.  For most restaurants this is a confluence that they experience once or twice in a decade.  At the most romantic spots reservations must have been made months in advance. Take you Valentine out for a romantic evening of a few drinks, a candle light meal and some slow dancing. What could be better?
            But as I look out my window I can see no one.  Almost nothing is moving at the moment, everyone and everything is waiting for what they have been told will come next and come soon.     
            Right now there is four inches of glistening new snow that has fallen through out the afternoon.  It has covered over the piles of older snow and ice that have blown up against buildings or has been pushed by plows and snow blowers to clear the roads and walkways. Those piles now stand higher than I do.  The roads through these canyons of ice and snow are very narrow; there is room for one car or three people.  But no one and nothing is out on the roads.
            It is twenty-eight degrees but, at the moment, there is no wind, so it does not feel cold.  However, very soon, perhaps an hour,  we have been told, over and over, for the past four days, that the wind will begin to blow.  On it’s back it will bring more snow.  Then the wind will blow harder and harder and the snow will fall faster and faster, swirling around in circles, going up as well as down, going across the street and back again.  I will not be able to see the house across the street that right now stands so clear and white .
            The wind will blow harder and the snow will fall and the temperature will drop to zero.  The snow will pile on top of the snow that has already fallen on top of the snow and ice that already sits in huge piles and drifts. A blizzard.
            There have been blizzards before, many here in New England, usually, one or two a year.  This will be the fourth, this month.

            This weather development has made the news, the world knows about what is happening here in New England.  It is right up on the attention screens, along with the people who got shot in the head, the people who had their heads cut off, the price of oil, the newsman who lied, the newsman who died, and ads for diamonds and perfume that will stop tomorrow, after Valentine’s Day passes,   Oh, yes, and the kitty-cats that  looked so cute, doing…what?…..I don’t understand.

            In a month the snow will melt.  Then this year’s tornadoes will begin, followed by the big fires, and the big droughts will continues, but hose are not so photogenic.  Last June two people were killed in a small town in Iowa.  They were the first fatalities from a tornado in Iowa in ten years.

 I wonder how that town is doing now.  Do you?

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Snow -- No Snow

We went away.
We slipped out just in time and headed south.
We arrived in Miami the day before it began to snow where we left.
Up there is snowed a lot.  Then it snowed again.
And again.

We missed the snow.
Well, really, the snow missed us, I didn't miss it at all.

It is dark out now, but I can see the lights on the causeway.
I can look to my right and see the city, to my left is the bay.

Miami is a very different culture than Boston.

Boston values intellect, tradition, hard work, and now, innovation
       (and football -- Go Pats!)
Miami is international, Latin, colorful, sensual, banking, big deals, big boats
Big parties

Bostonians can give you a knowing smile
In Miami they laugh out loud

Who is better?
Depends upon where you were raised, how old you are, what your temperament is, how much money you want to spend, where you come from, and how comfortable you are showing off your body.

Miami is warmer.
That's a big plus in January.  Not so great in July.