Math that matters (Part II)

Everyone now knows (or denies) that CO2 has been increasing in the atmosphere for the past couple hundred years and this increase is largely responsible for the climate changes that have occurred over that time. And 400 ppm (parts per million) is a number that more and more people are familiar with as well; it represents the average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere (up from 280 ppm when the Industrial Revolution commenced, ~1750). Well, there are a few other very interesting/compelling numbers that we can determine based on this information alone, including:

(1) What is the average annual growth rate of the CO2 over this period (1750-2017)?
(2) What is 400 ppm in percentage terms?
(3) How many molecules of CO2 are there in a regular sized balloon?
(4) Considering CO2 changes alone, by what percentage has the composition of the atmosphere changed since Industrialization?

Let’s do some calculations:

(1) What is the average annual growth rate of the CO2 over this period (1750-2017)?

Atmospheric CO2 concentration has risen exponentially so we use an exponential growth equation to model it:

(a) Cf = Ci x e^(rt),
where, Cf = final concentration, Ci = initial concentration, e = 2.718 (Euler’s number), r = annual rate of growth, and t = duration of time (^ is used as an exponential symbol)

The variable we want is r (as we have all the other numbers). Solving for r requires using a little “Algebra II”:

First move Ci over by dividing both sides of (a) by Ci and flipping the equation around; this leaves:
e^rt = Cf/Ci

Now, if we take the log of both sides (here the natural log, ln) and use the fact that ln(e) = 1, we get:
ln(e^rt) = ln(Cf/Ci)  rt x ln(e) = ln(Cf/Ci)  rt = ln(Cf/Ci)

Now, if we divide both sides by t, we get an equation solved for r, the desired variable:
r = ln(Cf/Ci)/t

Inputting the values of the three known variables (Cf = 400 ppm, Ci = 280 ppm, and t = 2017-1750 = 267 years) yields the annual growth rate:
r = ln(400/280)/267 = 0.00134 (or 0.134% per year)

If we just look at the growth of CO2 concentration since 1950 (when industrialization became global; CO2’s concentration in 1950 was ~310 ppm), we can once again use the exponential equation above to determine the growth rate in more recent times:
r = ln(400/310)/67 = 0.0038 (or 0.38% per year)

In either case, notice that humans are increasing CO2’s concentration only very slightly each year. (Over the past 267 years, CO2’s concentration has gone up 43%.) However, what may appear “slight” is definitely not slight in terms of its current and future impacts.

(2) What is 400 ppm in percentage terms?

Answering this merely requires us to understand what ppm (parts per million) means. Unlike some words in English, ppm means literally what it says. If the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is 400 ppm then for every million parts (or molecules) of atmospheric gas, CO2 will be 400 of them. With this understanding we can compute a percentage by expressing the amount of CO2 (relative to everything in the atmosphere) as a ratio:
% of CO2 in atmosphere = ppm of CO2/1,000,000 parts of atm = 400/1,000,000 = 0.0004 (or 0.04%)

Again, this is a very, very small amount but as we know this small amount of CO2 is responsible for a significant amount (~30-40%) of the Natural Greenhouse Effect (NGE) and the bulk (~50-60%) of the Anthropogenic Greenhouse Effect (AGE), associated with “global warming” and “climate change.”

(3) How many molecules of CO2 are there in a regular sized balloon?

While (2) tells us what proportion of gases in the atmosphere are CO2 it doesn’t really tell us how much CO2 is a particular volume. If we take a typical balloon (1 foot in diameter; let’s assume it is a sphere), we can find the volume of the balloon using this formula:
V = 4/3 x pi x r^3,
where V = volume, pi = 3.14159, and r is the radius of the balloon. Plugging in the numbers leads to:

V = 4/3 x 3.14159 x (0.5)^3 = 0.52 cubic feet

Since 1 liter = 0.0353147 cubic feet, the volume of the balloon is:
V = 0.52 cubic feet x (1 liter/0.0353147 cubic feet) = 14.7 liters

This seems quite high when one considers a two liter bottle of soda but rest assured this is the correct value.

Now that we have the volume, we’ll need to determine how much CO2 is in such a volume. Here we have to use some chemistry laws; here the most well-known of them all, the Ideal Gas Law:

(c) PV = nRT, which can be rewritten as, n = PV/RT,
where P = pressure, V = volume, n = number of moles of gas, R = the Ideal Gas Constant = 0.082 L-atm/mole-K) and T = temperature in Kelvin degrees.

Assuming that we have a standard atmospheric pressure of 1 atmosphere and we are at room temperature of 27 deg Celsius (equivalent to 81 degrees Fahrenheit or 300 K), we can plug the numbers into equation (c):
n = (1 atm)(14.7 L)/((0.082 L-atm/mole-k)*(300 K)) = 0.60 moles

So what is a mole? Chemists define one mole as 6.02 x 10^23 molecules (or 602,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules).

Notice that our use of the Ideal Gas Law was for all the molecules of gas, not just CO2.

Thus, if the 14.7 L (of a balloon) contains 0.60 moles of gas, we calculate the number of molecules of gas in the balloon as such:

# of molecules of gas (in balloon) = 0.60 moles x (6.02 x 10^23 molecules/mole) = 3.61×10^23 molecules

Now to determine how many of these molecules are CO2 we use the information determined in the previous question thusly:

# molecules of CO2 in a balloon = 3.61 x 10^23 molecules of gas x (0.0004) = 1.4 x 10^20 molecules of CO2

There we have it. There are 140,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules of CO2 in every balloon (assuming it isn’t filled with helium 😊).

Now, while this balloon’s gas is very light, it certainly is filled with a lot of molecules of CO2. This might lead one to wonder how much does all the CO2 in the atmosphere weigh. Well, this calculation is a bit trickier. According to web references, the entire atmosphere weighs approximately 1.1 x 10^19 pounds (or 5.5 quadrillion tons). We might want to just multiply this by the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere in order to determine the total weight of CO2 in the atmosphere but we would be wrong to do so; though it wouldn’t be a terribly bad approximation (if we did so we get 4×10^15 pounds). The different molecules of gas have different weights. Thus, we would have to do a calculation that would include all of these different gases and their weights. This is a bit more complicated than I choose to get right now, so suffice it to say that all the CO2 in the atmosphere weighs approximately six thousand times more than all the humans on the Earth combined (which is approximately 7×10^11 pounds).

(4) Considering CO2 changes alone, by what percentage has the composition of the atmosphere changed since Industrialization?

Calculation (1) clarified how small CO2’s concentration is the larger scheme of things, while (2) and (3) suggested how much CO2 there is. Notice, it all depends on how we look at things, as do most things.

The question asked here aims to provide a sense of how much change has occurred in our atmosphere since industrialization.
We know that the atmosphere’s CO2 concentration has gone from 280 ppm to 400 ppm (a 43% increase). And we calculated that CO2 comprises 0.04% of the atmosphere. Thus, to determine how big a change in the atmospheric composition has been caused by Industrialization, we need only to multiply these two percentages together, as such:

Change in Atmospheric Composition since industrialization = % Change in CO2 concentration x % of atm. that is CO2.

Putting numbers in yields,

Change in Atmospheric Composition since industrialization = 43% x 0.04% = 0.017%

Since most don’t work with percentages this small, what does this amount of change mean. Well, if you had 5,814 molecules of atmospheric gas–represented by 5,812 red polka dots (each representing a molecule of gas other than CO2) and 2 blue polka dots (each representing a molecule of CO2)—over the 267 years of Industrialization, one more molecule of CO2 has been added to the atmosphere (or one more blue polka dot). Another way to look at it: If you had 5,814 fans sitting in a gymnasium, 267 years later, one more fan would join the fray. Would you notice a change of this amount? Most definitely not (unless of course the fan was decked out in the rival’s colors 😊). But we can thank modern science for building equipment that can measure such small (yet powerful) changes in the atmosphere. Perhaps the most salient question is: have we built a political/social apparatus to respond to the future/predictions that this information clarifies?

Math that matters (Part I)

If we want kids/adults to learn math, we might as well make it relevant. Here are a few relevant calculations (that employ nothing more than algebra) which I find very relevant to our future. Imagine these calculations being taught to an 8th grade algebra class! Here is the first installment:

Missing women

Most people are not aware that females were systematically removed from the population during the 20th Century and it is a practice that continues today. How do we know? Well, as Nobel Prize winning economist, Amartya Sen, noted back in the 1990s, if we look at sex ratios of nations, we find several that have ratios that are far from 1:1. Pakistan and China have ratios of 0.94:1 and India has a ratio of 0.93:1 (in 2016) (these numbers are pretty much the same as they were in 1990, though Pakistan has improved slightly from 0.91:1). Given that women live longer than men, nations should have sex ratios above 1–most European nations are above 1.03:1. Given these “small” differences among nations, one might just dismiss the low ratios as “normal” variation. Unfortunately, this would be a huge mistake. Here is the math to determine what a ratio of 0.93:1 means, in comparison to a 1.03:1.

First, let’s define the variables needed:
F = number of females in a population
M= number of males in a population
T = total population = F + M
R = sex ratio = F/M

So the above two equations have 4 variables (F, M, T, & R)…if you know two (and you do, T and R, from Internet sources), you should be able to use simple algebra to compute the other two, F and M.

Again, the equations are: (1) T = F + M and (2) R = F/M

Here is how you solve these two equations:
Solving (2) for M yields (3) M = F/R, substituting (3) into (1) yields, F + F/R = T; this can be rewritten as: F(1+(1/R)) = T
which can be rewritten as
(4) F = T/(1 + 1/R)

So, you can determine how many females are in a population using this equation. This can be considered the Actual Females (Fact).

So, with a population of 1 billion (1,000,000,000; which is smaller than both India’s and China’s current population) and a sex ratio of R=0.94, we use equation (4) to solve for Fact as such:

Fact = 1,000,000,000/(1 + 1/0.94) = 485 million
So, Mact = 1 billion – 485 million = 515 million

Now to determine the Expected Females (Fexp) in a “healthy” society, with F/M = 1.03, we use equation (4) again with this new R value.
Fexp = 1,000,000,000/(1 + 1/1.03)) = 507 million
So, Mexp = 493 million

Now you can determine the “missing females” (Fmiss) using this simple formula:
Missing Females = Fmiss = Expected Females – Actual Females = Fexp – Fact

In our example above (the hypothetical nation of 1 billion people), we find:

Fmiss = 507 million – 485 million = 22 million

Is this a large number? Well, when one considers that between 50-60 million people died in World War II, I’d say it is! Also, this is only for one country (say China or India). If you were to add up all the nations in the world with “missing women,” it comes to close to 100 million! Now that is an abominable figure, isn’t it? Yet, how many of you have heard of this figure before? If you are wondering why women are missing, do some research. It isn’t a pretty story. (I wrote about this issue over 10 years ago and got it published in a local paper’s front page. Sadly, as I recall, it hardly drew any attention.)

Just to put these numbers in perspective it is sometimes valuable to imagine what a sex ratio looks like when you bring it down to a scale that we can see. Let’s say, if you had a party of 100 people and a sex ratio of 0.94, you would have 52 men and 48 women. This would hardly be noticeable, would it? Hence, now we see why we need to do the large-scale calculations to expose something very sinister.

We will, yes we will!

[This journal was inspired by the 68 students who just finished their first week of classes with me. Their blogs, journals and in-class comments provoked me to reexamine the prospects for humanity.]

Things don’t look too promising right now. Super hurricanes have just pummeled two regions of the U.S. and forest fires continue to burn millions of acres of land in another. These are just the most recent calamities that pervade our consciousness. Bees, birds, bats, butterflies, and bears (nearly everything beginning with a “b”) seem to be suffering greatly. Pick another letter and you will find some of the same depressing trends (how about “I”, ice sheets, icebergs, infectious diseases, islands, invasive species, etc.). However, these trends can be reversed and humanity can bring about peace within their own species and across the entire biosphere.

How in the face of all this disaster can I say something optimistic? Well, you definitely cannot claim the opposite of what I’ve said. Saying that you know that humans are incapable of reversing these trends requires a degree of self-righteousness (and clairvoyance) unimaginable. And if you can’t argue the opposite, then you are left with only two options. You can assert that you don’t know or you can, as I just did, assert that humanity can resolve these matters. Saying you don’t know if humans are able to (or will) reverse these ominous trends, while inherently true (we actually can know nothing of the future with certainty), is equivalent to being ambivalent (or “pleading ignorance”), and we frankly have no time for this; to claim ignorance is a cop out of the worst kind. Humanity must do something to reverse these trends and the time is now to do so. Logically, then, we are left asserting that humans can (and will) do this!

But there is more than mere logic that forces us to accept that we can. Consider two additional insights. First, the world we live in is so different from the worlds that humanity has lived in the past. In no time in the past has a human being in Venezuela been able to visually see and talk to a human being living in Indonesia (the exact opposite side of the planet; if you want to see what is directly on the other side from you, check out this website, link). In no time in the past have foods/materials been able to move from one place on the planet to any other place on the planet in less than 24 hours. Never in past worlds have all humans had the capacity to find out almost any known information at the click of the mouse. These three incredible “technologies” permit possibilities that are just as unlimited as they are unimaginable.

Second, consider how much we have learned about the world in the past 100 years, e.g., penicillin was discovered in 1928 and DNA’s helical structure became known in 1953. If we consider how few humans have been involved in this type of discovery, particularly with the existing underclass that pervades almost every modern nation, we should anticipate that unlimited insights from new knowledge await us. Furthermore, despite all that we currently know about how to reverse the “trends” (through research in the fields of environmental studies, ecology, biomimicry, engineering, medicine, horticulture, communication, renewable energy, sociology, computer science, atmospheric science, etc.), consider how few of us are actually engaging directly with this knowledge in practice, whether it be researching phenomena, disseminating/teaching findings, or implementing solutions. There is so much that could be shared and accomplished.

So, for all the above reasons, I look at the future with a confidence that humans will reverse these trends. I didn’t say it will be easy. However, I can promise you this. It will be incredibly satisfying and uplifting for those who were involved in doing so! And if you are wondering where to start, you are exactly where you need to be! Check out your local scene. There are probably many people already at work on reversing trends–whether they are doing urban farming, enhancing biodiversity, teaching/mentoring, engaging in grassroots politics, building social capital, et cetera. They would love more support and camaraderie and if more of us work together we can succeed in reversing the trends and building a sustainable society.

The Illusion of Poverty: The Age of Sharing Awaits Us

Huge caveat: The author fortunately has not suffered directly from impoverishment during his life. (We all suffer from it indirectly.) Thus, he contributes this piece, not as an expert on the “topic,” but as attempt to generate productive exchange.

People in the world, in fact most people in the world, suffer greatly because they are economically poor. (Many are spiritually and culturally rich and this should give many unfulfilled “Northerners” pause regarding the “civilized” nature of our lifestyle.) They go without food, water, housing, health care, education, etc., because they cannot purchase these necessities. Why? It is because these items, despite being core basic necessities for a fully actualized life, have all been commodified. (All resources are commodified, even air–you don’t pay a monthly fee for air yet but you suffer, and pay for medical treatment, from the reckless polluting of the atmosphere.) Commodification in our capitalist world dictates that these (all) resources are provided (or not) so as to maximize profits for the few. This is a terribly inhumane situation and one that will continue to bring great suffering to the world if not ultimately trigger the elimination of our species.

But hold on. There is something incredibly simple about this terrible situation. It is completely an artificial construction! It isn’t like we don’t have enough food, land, water, or shelter to provide every human sufficient resources to self-actualize. We do! Yet we don’t make this grand aim a priority and most of us are not yet willing to share. But we could change this, couldn’t we?

What is holding us back? I think three things are key. One, we accept inequality and selfishness as reasonable/normal and a natural outcome of human society. I see this point of view as a cop out/rationale which can be tackled by intentional efforts to share and redistribute resources so that every person is a “have” and no one is a “have not”. Two, we must change the economy from a profit-based one to an equity-based one. We need progressive taxes (not more regressive ones) and shared resources. One need look no further than the difference between health outcomes in the USA (where more and more hospitals are becoming privatized and costs are skyrocketing) and those in Europe (where socialized medicine reigns)–U.S.’s health system is ranked #37 by the WHO while 17 of the top 20 ranked are European (link) Similar benefits would come by making sure that all of us have true access to the best education possible, clean water, healthful food and safe housing. (Recent efforts to privatize these resources has resulted in worse conditions, not better.) Three, we should have more free time to give to our families, children, friendships, & communities; some European countries are moving in this direction. Capitalism has demanded more of our time (men and women) and not made us any happier or fulfilled. It is also destroying the planet due to its “rational” short-sightedness that dictates that an old-growth forest is worth more as a ream of paper now than a flourishing ecosystem for perpetuity.

So, some big changes in consciousness and structures are necessary, but we are closer than we think. Recall it was just 150 years ago that many thought slavery was necessary to deliver a good life. Some still do, but most do not and we are part of that most and we can make a better future for ourselves and the future.

seeds

Joe and his wife Alice were poor. Times were very tough and autumn had just begun. Things were so bad that families began rationing food. The stores were bare and all that one had to eat was what they had saved up. And much of that was spoiling by the day. Alice counted 400 portions left (assuming no spoilage) and since she had two children, this meant that there would only be enough food for 100 days. Things looked very bleak. Neither Joe nor Alice, nor any of their neighbors, saw a way out. Economic crashes on this scale had not be seen for several generations and memories of how their ancestors had survived hard times in the past were deeply faded. Understandably, psychological depression set in. The family ate enough each day to stay alive but that was about all.

Until.

Mary, the daughter, was looking out a window and noticed that a flock of birds had descended on to this group of weeds that had grown alongside their small abode. They all seemed to be delighting in the eating of the seeds that this plant produced. She wondered, would those seeds nourish humans too? Then, looking more closely, she noticed a grasshopper chewing on the plant’s leaves. It looked like a very healthy grasshopper. Could it be that the leaves would be edible for humans too?

Daniel, the son, simultaneously sitting on the other side of the house, peering out a different window, noticed a squirrel chomping on a green covered tennis ball-sized spherical object. He looked up and saw more of these objects hanging from a tree. Another squirrel appeared to be digging a hole with a sphere nearby. He wasn’t sure why those spheres existed but the squirrels seemed to know something he didn’t. Curious, Dan asked his dad to come check out the scene. Upon arrival at the window, Dan asked his dad, “What’s going on? Why is the squirrel eating the ball? What are those balls for anyway?” Joe wasn’t sure but he vaguely remembered his grandfather talking about how trees come to be and how these balls, if put into the ground, grow into new trees. Daniel, somewhat shocked, wondered if other plants did the same thing.

At dinner that night, the Jamesons were having the norm—a stew of beans with garlic and herbs. Looking down into his bowl, Daniel noticed that the beans looked like diminutive spheres, albeit a bit oblong. He asked his mom, “where did you get these beans?” Alice responded, “oh, they came in a big sack at the Big Box store, 20 lbs for $5. They were one of the last bags they had.” Mary, followed up, asking her dinner mates, “Aren’t they seeds?” Alice responded, “Yes, I guess you are right.” Daniel, followed with, “What are seeds?” Alice said, “Seeds, if planted, result in new plants.” Daniel, flummoxed a bit, “What do you mean? If we put these in the ground, we will get new plants and more seeds?” Joe spoke up, “Sure son. You didn’t know that?” Daniel responded, “Maybe. I guess I just hadn’t thought about it for a while.” Dinner continued, all feeling like the conversation was good despite the monotony of the taste. Ninety-nine more days, Alice thought. Times were tough.

Or were they?

lessons learned in 2016

[Note: some of these lessons were mere reminders but even so they were still noteworthy if only that]

We don’t live in a democracy. Despite our repeated boasts about how we live in the “greatest democracy” of all-time, we must come to terms with the fact that we don’t. Evidence? While too abundant to mention exhaustively in a BLOG, here are a few of the most compelling to me: the Electoral College (ref 1), extensive voter suppression (before election day, on election day, and after election day) (ref 2a, 2b), inability to have a full recount (in several states) (ref 3a, 3b), extensive use of “no paper trail” electronic voting machines (ref 4a, 4b, 4c), exclusive “two-party” Presidential debates (ref 5a, 5b, 5c), and dominant media forms that fail to hold candidates accountable (ref 6a, 6b, 6c).

No country is above electing a racist, sexist, xenophobic, egomaniacal person. Largely because of our failures in democracy, a person with horrific human qualities was given a chance to win/steal a presidential election. According to the Democratic Party’s leadership, a Russian computer hacking or a FBI director’s questionable action had the most to do with Clinton’s loss. However, this take wrongly deflects us from the more significant reasons, many mentioned earlier; this misfocus by a major party isn’t surprising given the little attention they have paid to the other factors (factors, sadly, they seem to accept as “normal”). Add to these, significant miscalculations in strategy (including, saying that many people were “deplorables” and claiming that things are going quite well (as if neoliberalism is good), when they aren’t (and it isn’t)).

Too many continue to spend 90%+ of their political energy focused entirely on the presidential race. This is probably the most vexing to me. I see it in my own community. If only a couple of handfuls of citizens would dedicate themselves to the local political process signficant &*#$ could happen. Hopefully, now that folks see how discombobulated the national election scene is, more will look to act locally.

Misogyny is alive and well! When I first read that White women actually voted more for Drumf than HC, I was shocked (source). I didn’t believe it. When I heard some women easily discounting the blatantly misogynistic statements revealed by Drumf recordings, disregarding it as mere “boy” or “locker room” talk, I was sickened. How could this be? It is clear that the extreme attack on Hillary, one that has lasted more than a decade, has worked. She was built as the devil and enough people came to believe this. (She may not be an ideal candidate but she is no devil.) Also, this attitude is consistent with our generally condoning of violence (physically as well as economic) against women (and people of color) for hundreds of years, examples which have become more easily revealed to us by cell phone videos and texts. Clearly, we all must be more vigilant to expose and censure sexist and racist actions/statements. They are reprehensible and no person who revels in them should ever have the opportunity to be our commander-in-chief. I thought we had made more progress but recent events suggest we still have a long way to go.

Cancer is as debilitating mentally as it is physically. I’ve come toe-to-toe with this disease. It is something that many of us still don’t openly discuss (out of fear?) and yet it affects more and more of us every day. I applaud those that provide care to those who are sick. The doctors, nurses, social workers, and other care givers, often who work exhaustive hours even on holidays, deserve a lot of admiration.

Despite all the fear, hatred, irrationality, and hopelessness that we are fed every day, many good things continue to happen. Every day people are growing TONS of food in Detroit and elsewhere (ref 7), renewable energy is booming almost everywhere (such as the Philippines, ref 8), and volunteerism continues to thrive as well (ref 9). So, as we begin 2017, remember what the great Frederick Douglass said 160 years ago: “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” (full speech here: ref 10).

Friday is “BND.” Celebrate it!

Based on the increased energy coming from commercials, this Friday purports to be a day of great significance. Every retailer is having a sale and what else is there to do on a Friday but shop. It seems only natural that we would buy (another) large TV or computer, or take advantage of the “incredible” discounts available at most stores. Sadly, there is something quite disturbing about this situation.

Just as we can be lured into pro-war sentiment—remember post-9/11 and the ubiquitous flags—apparently we can be persuaded quite easily to buy more stuff, particularly if we feel we are getting it for a “steal”. So, what could be wrong with this? We are going to buy new things after all, aren’t we? Why does it matter when we do it? And, definitely, we should try to get the most for our dollar, shouldn’t we?

First off, the compulsion to buy things (which we do to make us feel better, notice that the ads make consumers look cool and savvy) is an addiction. Identified by scholars as affluenza (see PBS program on topic, link), this illness is perhaps the greatest challenge we face as a humanity. Overconsumption causes tremendous problems. For every pound of waste that we “see” (for example that old working TV that is going to be put curbside because the new TV is bigger and has better graphics), it is estimated that ~80 pounds are produced upstream (see Annie Leonard’s The Story of Electronics, ref 1). And much of this upstream electronic waste is highly toxic. So, our addiction has grave consequences for the planet.

Second, our addiction is a false solution. Overconsumption doesn’t bring long term happiness. Psychological research has established that the more materialistic one is, the more unhappy he/she/they tends to be (here is a short video that clarify this, link). In this way, buying something for a pick me up is similar to taking an “upper.” At the end of the day, one feels less happy and has more stress caused by financial difficulties driven by spending money one doesn’t have; actually, substance abuse also tends to be higher for materialist people. Ultimately, we must all find more productive ways to deal with our anxieties and unhappiness. According to experts, more social interaction is highly recommended.

There are many resources for those that are looking to fight against consumerism.
Enough (link) is a group in England focused on this. Adbusters is a journal that has lots of material on the subject (link). Buy Nothing Day is this Friday, that sounds a lot better than “Black Friday,” doesn’t it? (link to Adbusters’ BND page!) So, join the anti-consumeristic movement this Friday and feel good about yourself in a way that is powerful, purposeful, and longer lasting. Let others know too, because that is how it will become the new norm. Have a great Thanksgiving everyone!

vote, but

As mentioned in my last blog, I do think that people should vote. This may come as a “no brainer” to most reading this but it’s not as simple as it looks and a more detailed inspection highlights valuable insights.

Many who argue that we are obligated to vote remind us of the thousands (if not millions) that fought and died for their/our right to vote. In fact, this is no understatement. Our nation’s history does contain innumerable examples of tremendous struggle tied to obtaining “right to vote.” Women didn’t get this fundamental right until 1920!; so much for the “Land of the Free.” Many, many women were threatened, beaten, arrested and/or worse in their struggle for suffrage. To think it took our “enlightened” nation almost 150 years of existence to provide half the population this fundamental human right is astounding; and the US took longer than most Western nations–New Zealand was the first country in the world in 1893 (if interested in other nations, visit link). While African-American men were granted the right to vote in 1870 (15th Amendment), in practical terms, most were forbidden to do so because of racist “grandfather clauses,” literacy tests, and poll taxes that existed until 1965 (see link for historical timeline); thus, a significant component of our population has only been able to vote for ~50 years. Felons and others “being watched” by state are often not able to vote. This represents unfair disenfranchisement as our criminal justice system is extremely discriminatory (see Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow”).

This is a strong argument for voting but it fails to consider exactly what voting means. Most elections are “majority rules” in our nation–to the winner goes all the spoils. This greatly disenfranchises minority groups. Sadly, even today, many voices of people overlooked and undervalued are ignored. The Native Americans struggling in the Dakotas (and elsewhere) are but one such example. Since these groups rarely have the ability to impact the outcome of an election, voting doesn’t help their cause(s). Other countries have governing bodies where representation is proportional. Then at least more voices are being heard (though, perhaps, not listened to).

Most of our elections (even many local ones) see two people vying to be the lone representative of “all.” So when one votes, one must decide between these two, and only these two, people. There are many shortcomings of this characteristic—-one true to the vast majority of our elections. First, typically the two people that reached the “top two” have been propelled there by corporate funded publicity, and, thus, have very pro-corporate mindsets. Let’s face it, it costs hundreds (if not thousands) of thousands of dollars to run even a statewide election. This severely limits candidates to those who are independently wealthy or “puppets” for those that have immense wealth. Second, the two people each typically represent one of the two major political parties. This is problematic because these two parties have become very pro-corporate and elitist; there are definitely exceptions to this but I am talking here about the vast majority of candidates representing these two parties. Third, having only “two” parties represented greatly limits the scope of what will be said/voiced and disseminated. We see how powerful this is in the current Presidential election. No “third party” representatives were invited to take part in the three debates (masquerades, might be a better word) that took place this year. If anyone watched the alternative debate organized by Jill Stein (it can be found online and at her Facebook page), you saw how significant having a third voice, particularly one not beholden to deep pockets and multinational corporations, can be. Interesting, there is sound evidence that the “two party” state was a natural outgrowth of the USA which was founded & organized by wealthy male landowners. These men understood the conservative nature of a “two party state,” one that gave them incredible power to control the policies and programs and any conversations held about them; see more on this in Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. The terrible lack of coverage of third parties by the mainstream media clarifies how culpable this potentially democratizing entity is in controlling/limiting the coverage. (As a side note, this is one major reason that the two parties spend so much of their campaigns discussing social issues (such as, abortion, drugs, crime, guns, etc.), as these issues don’t upset the apple cart of extreme economic inequality that continues to expand over the past 40+ years independent of what political party is in the White House or in control of either legislative chamber.) Fourth, having only two choices often means that there is no way to submit a protest vote (such as “None of the above”) or a “write-in” candidate. In my mind, there should always be both of these for every election. For these, and other reasons, some decide, “why vote if both candidates represent the ‘status quo’,” when real economic, environmental and health challenges only get worse.

All of this is to say, “yes, vote, but do a lot more!”; I focus on the “more” in many of my other blogs and I encourage commenters to speak their minds on this as well. I voted but I am under no illusion that by doing so I have somehow done my part to build a better world. It will take a lot of other contributions, today, tomorrow, and every day in the future; and not just by me, but by you as well. This, the illusion associated with voting, may be the greatest challenge we face. Whoever wins next month, we will have our plates full of things to do and ways to contribute. Why not start making those lists today. We definitely don’t want to be (nor do we have time to be) complacent.

proudly voted for Stein

[Note: I contribute this piece with the following caveat. The “media” has given 99% of the political coverage to the goings-on of only two presidential candidates. This is absurd in so many ways. The state in which I live is in very serious financial trouble and our media outlets should be spending at least as much time focusing on the many statewide races as they do on the national election. Also, all candidates and political parties should be given equal coverage in the media and in any debates that are held. To not do so greatly jeopardizes any sense of democracy that we supposedly have.]

Given the extremely limited media coverage given to third parties, it is important for those that think “outside the box” to express why they feel justified going against the grain and voting for a third party in this election (and in other elections). Yesterday, I proudly cast my vote for Jill Stein (& Ajamu Baraka) for president (& vice president). As there are many independent thinkers out there who may still be contemplating whom to vote for in this year’s presidential election, let me express my rationale.

In order of relevance:

(1) Jill Stein is the best candidate, hands-down. She is the best educated. She is the most rational. She has dedicated years to understanding the complexities of issues and her positions and argumentation demonstrate that she truthfully listens to the people! She came through my town nearly five years ago and she met with and dialogued with ~15 everyday people in a coffee shop for 2 hours.

(2) Jill Stein has real solutions to the many challenges we face as a nation. Let’s face it, our ways are destroying the planet, causing enormous pain and suffering on people here and abroad, and the super rich continue to steal from everyone else. This has to change. Really, it has to change and soon. To do otherwise is to continue the plunder and suffering. Hillary’s positions on energy, sustainable agriculture, and the environment are much too tempered (by the elite mindset that she existentially represents). Please read Jill Stein’s plan, here, before dismissing it as unrealistic.

(3) Jill Stein is not beholden to multi-millionaires or multi-billionaires or corporations that largely own and operate most media outlets, TV networks and magazines. This is a HUGE deal. All other viable candidates (and virtually every currently elected senator and congressperson in the U.S.) have been on the doles of these very powerful interests since they first set foot into the “democratic” political process. We have to begin voting for real people, not stooges for special interests.

(4) Jill Stein understands race and poverty so much better than the other candidates. Watching the two mainstream presidential debates (primarily for their comedic value), one located just miles from Ferguson (MO), probably the most revealing thing was the absolute ignorance with which Hillary spoke about our current racial divide. Under her husband’s command, we put more people of color into prison than ever before. We led a “drug war” that did nothing but fill jails and further impoverish communities and displace children from their parents/guardians. This pattern continues. (Please read Michelle Alexander’s amazing book entitled, The New Jim Crow (link to website), to find out how pernicious our system is in this regard.) The lack of leadership at the top of our government on these matters should give anyone pause that Hillary will do anything different than what is being done today. We need a leader that is willing to get arrested to defend the rights of oppressed peoples, as Stein and Baraka were willing to do in the Dakotas (in protest of a “profit over people” pipeline).

(5) The Greens will get significant financial support if they get 5% of the vote (read the law here). Yes, there is a very practical reason to vote Green for President this year! Just think what the Greens could do with these resources to educate the public (using social media and alternative media) about the real options that exist. Think of what message would be sent to all voters if the Greens were to have a presence in the national discussions. To think that Mr. Johnson (Libertarian) will get these federal funds and not the Greens is very, very sad; apparently, libertarians have a stronger commitment to the positions which they hold than do progressive thinkers.

(6) Jill Stein is a woman. Yes, this is important. I’d love to have a woman running the White House, but I want a woman that will truly stand up for women’s rights and won’t be converted into a testosterone-laden man in order to prove how tough she can be. A “hawk” (regardless of sex) is definitely not what we need right now in this world. As Secretary of State, Hillary has failed to represent peaceful interests in places like Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, and Palestine. She certainly won’t do so as President of the US.

(7) Jill Stein chose a real crusader for human rights as her running mate. Ajamu Baraka has a long history of work in the arena of justice and peace; read about it here. Don’t we want a vice president that is a true advocate for such important causes, not some homophobe (i.e., Pence) or some centrist (to make the “pro-lifers” happy) (i.e., Kaine)? Dr. Stein shows her amazing insight and courage by selecting such a heroic and honorable person as her running mate!

(8) I live in a state that Hillary can’t lose. I don’t rank this as very high as I would vote for Jill in any state of the US but I can see how some people might feel uncomfortable if they live in Florida or Ohio or North Carolina. If you don’t live in one of these states, you have no excuse not to vote for Stein; if you live in one of these very few states, you must make a choice but given the collapse that Trump has begun, Hillary is probably very safe in your state as well.

(9) Lastly, I voted. I believe one should vote. It isn’t all one should do. In fact it is probably only 1/20 of what one should do, but it should be done. If there were no options but for Hillary or Trump (and no write-ins or “None of the Above”), then I think people should vote for Hillary but, again, this only represents 1/20 of the political and social work that each one of us should be doing in our communities.

Comments/reactions? As always, such input from others is very welcome!

Insanity continues

[This piece is being offered on “Columbus Day” on purpose. The fact that we still celebrate this barbaric man and validate the conquering of people is clearly insane…so it fits nicely. Twelve years ago, almost to the day, I wrote a similar full-page piece for The Zephyr—then an alternative local weekly newspaper—which I hear might be making a comeback! For those that want to read the old piece, click here.]

Perception and reality are often far apart. Projection, here the perceptions that we project (i.e., our cultural stories), and reality are equally so. Worse yet, the few people that contemplate on these glaring inconsistencies are often dismissed as weirdos, greenies, or catastrophists. Hence the flawed stories and the complacency, dependency and hopelessness they breed continue.

So what is so insane about our world, or more specifically the Western civilization (that we’ve grown up in)? One not need look far. In fact, it is much easier to identify the “craziness” of our world than to find rationality. Let’s examine the two most fundamental aspects of any civilization: (1) human relationships with nature; and (2) human within species relationships. No rational civilization would consider itself successful if it didn’t function at a very harmonious level in these two areas.

So how are we treating the Earth and its other billions of inhabitants? On nearly all objective measures we are doing very poorly. The bees are down (ref 1), the bats are down (ref 2), the butterflies are suffering (ref 3), many bird populations are in steep decline (ref 4), and fisheries around the planet are collapsing (ref 5). Not a very good report card. And scarier still is the precipitous decline in ocean plankton (ref 6)—most concerning as these microorganisms are at the bottom of the food chain (and consequently will affect all life forms above them). I suspect many of you have heard of these things but given the grave nature of the news and the sources of their demise, most media sources steer clear of giving them too much attention. So not only are we seeing tremendous losses of other life forms but we’re all too busy to focus on this issue. Not surprisingly, I have heard no word on these matters coming from either major party during this year long campaign period.

I could go on and on about how much of the rainforest is razed each day (to grow more sugarcane or lifestock meat), how oceans are becoming inhospitable to large sea creatures because of sound waves emitted by military craft, or how many billions of pounds of new pesticides are being sprayed, etc. But no matter how many pages of scientifically-collected information I provide here, I realize that I am unlikely to raise much of an eyebrow. Reality tells us that humans are functioning in ways that are clearly in opposition to life and though an increasing number of “two-leggeds” are becoming aware of this, our civilization’s ways of “progress” beat on with little hope in sight.

Okay, so what about how humans are treating other humans? Clearly, an intelligent species would at least function to promote its own, right? Well, if the nightly news is any indication we are doing very poorly on that score as well. Murders, threats, conflict, and turmoil appears to be found everywhere one looks. But as I’ve warned in earlier blogs, we can merely trust the information emanating from our screens because of the monetary incentives involved in capturing our attention (and our fear). Looking at more objective statistical data provides some hopeful signs. Life expectancy (at birth) is way up. People are living to their 80s in the UK and to their mid-60s in India. Just one-hundred years ago these numbers were 54 (UK) and 25 years (India). Infant mortality is way down as well, from 122 (per thousand births) in 1960 to 32 in 2015. These trends certainly are signs of improvement. However, other statistics paint a different picture.

In the US, we put more people into prison than any other country and the proportion of our population in prison is nearly double that of Russia and nearly six times that of China! We subsidize corn (and a few other grains) that is largely turned into ethanol (driving up the cost of food worldwide) or fructose which does harm to our bodies in many ways. Much of the “cheap” food produced by large-scale corn and soy production is overconsumed by masses of our population who are overly stressed out economically and have limited options for fresh food in their neighborhoods. This has consequences in terms of child- or adult- onset diabetes; diabetes rates have grown from 1% of the US population in 1958 to 7% in 2014 (ref 7). Though we know that nutrition is key to health, very few doctors are taking nutritional courses in medical school and many of our schools are pumping “cheap” food into our children’s bodies (and minds) (especially given that most of it is now “freely” provided by the government, via these same subsidies, to the industries that make “cheap” food) and we are surprised that kids can’t concentrate. We are seeing significantly lower sperm counts among men (ref 8) and much faster sexual maturity rates among girls (ref 9), especially girls of color, and we hardly bat an eye at these very disturbing trends. And let’s not forget that nearly 100 million people were killed because of war in the 20th Century–and the 21st Century has gotten off to a similar start. These astonishing number aside, consider how we now have nearly all of our media outlets owned and operated by major corporations and yet most of us still go to them (e.g., CBS, NBC, MSNBC, CNN, etc.) for our news and so few of us boycott the “debates” when these corporate outfits refuse to allow third-party candidates (and their ideas) to be represented. This is equivalent to asking the foxes how the hen house is doing! I could go on but these insane realities of our civilization should be enough to give major pause.

Yet, despite all the insanity, there is hope. Yes, I know, it doesn’t seem possible given the insanity. But there is. Everywhere you look there are humans that are doing their part to make this world sane again. From those that dedicate their lives to growing food in humane ways to those who reject materialistic ways and work to spread love and peace instead. The precautionary principle has a lot to offer us in new ways of thinking (ref 10, ref 11). There are much more intelligent ways to activate a truly democratic country. But unless we firmly recognize how insane our ways are right now, we have very little hope of doing the work and making the sacrifices and changes that are needed to right our ship. Columbus and his ilk took us down a path of genocide and conquest, one we’ve continued on for the past 500+ years. It is time to alter our course and live in peace and sanity.