When I was just a wee lad seven decades ago, Sundays were
different than any other day of the week. For many Americans, Sundays were a
day for Church or Temple; we were not a religious family, however, and Sunday
services played no major part in my upbringing. What made Sundays different was
I find myself feeling grateful to have such a large library of
books. In these times of no toilet paper, I’ve got months of dual-purpose
reading material, and it’s comforting to know that if the toilet paper shortage
continues, we’ve got it covered.
When we speak of domesticating animals, we’re referring to a
guided transition from wild animal to one that tolerates, and even seeks out,
people. The word “domestication” shares linguistic roots with the word
“domicile,” meaning home. Thus domesticated animals… Read the rest
What’s to be done when those we love and care about become the potential agents of our own demise? This pandemic presently presents us with an entirely foreign situation in America, where we have been largely spared the horror and pathos of war and the intimate experience of death surrounding … Read the rest
I grew up watching television, and have had a TV in my home for
my entire life. My childhood was filled with cartoons, bloodless westerns and
Walter Cronkite soberly delivering the CBS Evening News. Everything about television
has changed, of course; today TV is a globalized content delivery system… Read the rest
We can peer into the farthest reaches of space and identify
objects and forces of such massive proportion that they’re virtually
inconceivable. In the other direction, we can dive into the quantum world, an
unfathomable, infinitesimal realm that contains the very building blocks of
matter. Science… Read the rest
Well, here you have it. This is how slowing consumerism and
seriously reducing greenhouse gas emissions looks and feels: empty terminals,
slowed shopping and quiet streets. It’s a lousy way to get there, but
ironically the world-wide pandemic is changing habits of consumption in ways a
purely… Read the rest
We live in two worlds, the world of the large and the world of
the small. The large world includes those things we can see without any
instruments, and the small world includes those things we can see only by using
instruments like electron microscopes… Read the rest
Abstract: Self-consciousness is the sustained delusion of
self and other, the capacity for objectifying both thoughts and objects as if
they exist in states of separation. While animals in general have the capacity
to identify features of and interact with their environment, it does not appear
that… Read the rest
Super Tuesday appears to have provided the likely answer to the question of who will be the Democratic Party’s candidate for President this November, and it ain’t Bernie Sanders. Despite his win in California, the combined votes for Biden and Bloomberg in this … Read the rest
Life on planet earth is a complex, adaptive system programmed for
growth. Thus despite periodic major extinctions over its long history, earth
continues to be populated by millions of species of plants and animals which
have variously adapted to a wide range of habitats and fill nearly every
ecological… Read the rest
As I see it, evil is the willful infliction of pain and suffering on others. It’s been with us for a very long time, and will continue to plague humanity into the future. Although people have wrestled with the problem of evil in various ways – mythologically, religiously, legalistically,… Read the rest
Sonoma County estimates 3,000 people are homeless in the county, and is struggling to respond to this human crisis. $11 million was recently allocated by the Board of Supervisors, this largely in response to a homeless camp now occupying the Joe Rodota trail in the West County, but the larger solutions… Read the rest
“We’ll make you big money by renting your backyard, and it won’t cost you a dime!” So advertise backyard lease, development, and property management companies in the process of aggregating an ADU portfolio. Promoted as a solution to California’s affordable housing… Read the rest
A recent article in The Atlantic about seabed mining points out that the metals targeted for collection include copper, manganese, nickel, and cobalt, all used in the production of batteries. The impetus for this sudden industrialization of the ocean bottom, in part, is carbon emissions,… Read the rest
1967 was one hell of a year. I’ll try to make it short. It broke open in February, six weeks into my second semester at Rhode Island School of Design; the art school administration, in an attempt to purge hippies, used rule 153.b. in the college handbook to… Read the rest
While enjoying my daily five-mile walk I found myself attending to each foot coming into contact with the ground, and reflecting on the nature of densely-packed space, as Buddhists refer to matter. That ancient Buddhists determined that solid-appearing matter is mostly space, albeit densely-packed,… Read the rest
History is written by the victor, and for the past 10,000 years that victor has been men. Accordingly, history (his story) concerns itself with power-based theories of patriarchal social order: styles of rulership, the role of warfare, and economic systems.
I’m referring to government-regulated affordable housing — deed restricted to keep it affordable for 55 years, rent controlled and appreciation-limited, subject to income verification. Large projects of regulated Affordable Housing are rarely built in Sonoma, and the reasons … Read the rest
If you feel like you’re going crazy, you’re not alone. Many of us feel our ship of state is floundering and that its rudder’s fallen off. It’s not just the antics of our dishonest and quarrelsome President that’s troubling, but that America appears to have lost its way… Read the rest
Our fixation with moving screen images is perhaps the most obvious example of our fascination with change, but whether fast or slow, change unfailingly captures our attention. Change is so constant and pervasive that it is at times overwhelming, but change itself is really the only constant in our … Read the rest
Each of us are born into The System, a social organization of rules and conventions developed and deployed by our fore bearers. Having been progressively adopted in the past, The System is always obsolete and in need of tinkering; the assumptions upon which The System was developed never quite match… Read the rest
It was recently announced that millennials now outnumber baby boomers in the United States, a milestone in the history of American demographics. For nearly all our roughly seventy-five years, baby boomers have dominated trends in fashion, economics, technology, science and environment, but this… Read the rest
As modern life progresses and introduces new cultural forms, our tendency leans to retrieving artifacts from the past. This process of retrieval softens the shock of obsolescence; through names, shapes or designs, outdated cultural artifacts lend their comfort and familiarity to newer, less familiar
In the brief time we spend on earth, each of us goes about our business in whatever particular way we do, placing one foot in front of the other as the days and years roll by. “Waxing philosophical,” as my late father used to say, is something else apart, the activity of ruminating on the “why”… Read the rest
Our pursuit of a machine that can think for itself — gather experience, learn and apply that learning to new situations — is long standing. The earliest computing machines, designed to calculate numbers, gave rise to fantasies of artificial intelligence through their faultless operation.… Read the rest
I’m not a dog owner. As I frequently quip when asked if I have a dog, “I don’t have a dog, I have grandchildren.” On my daily walk around town I do encounter many dog owners; in some cases, the dogs are so large and the owners so small that it appears the dogs are taking their owners… Read the rest
Sense of “self” is just one among a constellation of mental states, and the experience of “I” varies considerably. “I” is described by some neurologists as a stable form of hallucination, which is to say, a subjective experience of being “in here”… Read the rest
Despite the cultural arc of history of the past 500 years — the efforts toward emancipation and the relentless rise of science and technology — humanity appears terribly, one might even say, hopelessly, stuck. The habits and predispositions of our past — religious conflict, otherworldly… Read the rest
Whenever there is wealth and property, (and for the past 5,000 years when has there not been?), theft and corruption accompany it. Greek mythology prominently features Hermes’ theft of Apollo’s cattle, and virtually all major religions include prohibitions against theft. The Ten … Read the rest
Generally, we divide the history of human culture between the Paleolithic and Neolithic, “Paleolithic” meaning “Old Stone Age” and “Neolithic” meaning “New Stone Age.” The Old Stone Age included… Read the rest
Given what’s going on in the world, to simply classify people trying to cross our border as “migrants” or “illegal immigrants” is inaccurate. The reality is that many people, often entire families, are more properly refugees, desperately seeking to escape depredations… Read the rest
Witnessing the construction of Sonoma is easy, just take a stroll down West Spain Street and the homes rising on previously vacant parcels give ample testimony to the process of ongoing development, a process that’s been taking place more or less continuously since the building of the Mission.… Read the rest
You’re the director, the camera operator and play the lead. You’re the scriptwriter, too, and the costume designer, art director, gopher, finance director and critic. Everything about your movie is under your control, except the stuff that isn’t, which actually is quite a lot.… Read the rest
The word “freedom” implies “no limits,” the presumption that free will alone constrains human action; but of course, we all know that with freedom comes limitations. Though English philosopher Thomas Hobbes built an entire belief system on the premise of the autonomous… Read the rest
I recall my high school biology teacher, Mr. Ricci, explaining the phrase “Ontology Recapitulates Phylogeny”, as much because his long, snagged teeth made saying it nearly impossible for him to say, an amusing moment for us sophomores, as for the sheer poetry of its sound. It’s… Read the rest
Is the 2020 presidential election coming too soon or not soon enough? Still in the midst of recovering and adjusting to the realities of Trump, we now find ourselves already in the throes of an active primary season filling with Democratic candidates and murmurings of GOP challengers. Politics is a … Read the rest
The methods and strategies devised by ego to sustain itself are largely primitive and barbaric. They display themselves due to the ways we feel and imagine ourselves and others, and the behavior that flows from that. Ego does not conform well to others; a daemon in the cave of self-identity it purposefully… Read the rest
Put people together and you’re sure to find trouble. Families, husbands and wives, siblings, cousins, politicians; no matter how you find them, people always have trouble getting along. Human society reflects just how terribly difficult … Read the rest
People like to take care of living things, like plants or pets. Watching plants or animals grow and change stimulates physical and emotional reactions only possible between living things. A pet rock may be attractive and a cute idea, but little more.
As living beings we naturally gravitate to other animate things, like plants and pets that become companions in our homes and lives. The feelings we have for inanimate objects can become strong as well; possessions gain value–sentimental, economic, historic–and… Read the rest
There seems to be a persistent impression that the City of Sonoma has run out of land for new housing. If we’re talking about tens of acres of undeveloped land for tract housing, that’s correct, but Sonoma decades-ago rejected construction of large-scale tract-housing development on… Read the rest
It’s come to this; shopping, food preparation and cooking are so burdensome that corporate America has concluded a smart profit’s to be made from a niche target market, namely, those adults who are unwilling to eat frozen dinners or have Grub Hub deliver restaurant take-out but are too… Read the rest
Much is being made at present about the effects of screen time, particularly on children. Screen time, of course, refers to the time spent engaged with one’s smart phone, iPad or laptop, which by all accounts has skyrocketed to epidemic proportions. Issues of attention deficits and addictive… Read the rest
Now that the election is over, we can attend to other matters of gravity. Literally. Gravity is so ever-present in our lives we rarely think about it, except perhaps, when we slip and fall. The effects of gravity are well understood, beginnings with… Read the rest
With the discovery that micro-plastics have been found in human stool samples we can now confirm that the scourge of plastic has thoroughly permeated the world’s food chain. It’s unknown if the plastic discovered… Read the rest
I left the City Council candidate’s forum at Andrews Hall last week feeling uncomfortable. It’s not that the candidates did not conduct themselves well or acted inappropriately; to the contrary, as a group they were polite, friendly, good-natured, well-spoken and heartfelt. Yet, … Read the rest
Sonoma’s Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) is performing exactly the way it was intended. Agricultural land and open space beyond the city’s borders have been preserved, but preventing sprawl was always the simplest and most obvious intent. The less obvious intent now manifesting is creatively-designed,… Read the rest
Justice relies upon blame, and blame relies upon declaring effective cause. Effective cause is one of four types of causation, according to Plato, the others being material cause, formal cause and total cause. When to comes to matters of human affairs, effective cause is the type that draws a line between… Read the rest
The soaring melody of a mockingbird’s song, the terrible cries of a small child being separated from parents seeking asylum; is it possible to reconcile experiences of such beauty and horror? Openness to and awareness of the world that surrounds us simultaneously exhilarates and wounds; to… Read the rest
Strangely, it seems as if the very forces that could bring us together are tearing us apart. Internationally, the ability to communicate globally and establish common ground is giving way to fragmentation and isolationist policies. Nationally, the values of liberty and equality are giving way to… Read the rest
Many people feel that politics is a bore and during most days, such people don’t think about politics at all; it’s just not that important to them. They get up and go to work to pay the bills for food, clothing and shelter, and as time permits, seek entertainment. Except as presented to them… Read the rest
Seeking ecstasy in everyday life fuels consumption of drugs, alcohol and food, prompts gambling, high-risk behavior, and sexual adventure. All these things excite and stimulate, prompting the release of endorphins, hormones which lessen pain and produce pleasurable sensations. Yet, even pain… Read the rest
Why do people seek ecstasy, those moments of “getting out” of ourselves–getting high? Biochemically, ecstasy can be explained; receptor sites on brain cells connect to natural and man-made substances which reduce pain, and produce sensations and feelings we … Read the rest
For as long as science can tell, humanity has always liked to get high. Between naturally occurring endorphins which stimulate pleasure centers in the brain and substances found in nature (and now chemistry) which act upon those same pleasure centers, getting high is inextricably… Read the rest
With a nod to the opening paragraph of Charles Dickens’ 1859 novel “A Tale of Two Cities” I find myself contemplating the ways in which life has never been better and never been worse. It’s a matter of perspective, of course.
The 1978 film “The Dead Zone,” an adaptation of a Stephen King novel, stars a young Christopher Walken in the role of an accident victim who awakens from a year’s long coma with powers of clairvoyance. Physical contact with another… Read the rest
The defining youthful event of my generation was the war in Vietnam. For those of us who objected to that war, the horror of guns and bombs and pointless death became a cause celebré, a rallying point that captured the vitality of being eighteen and combined it with political activism and various forms… Read the rest
When I gaze up into the trees from my backyard I’m always struck by the ways they grow into and towards the light. A very large red-barked Eucalyptus over nine-stories tall in my neighbor’s yard dominates the sky from down below, its silver-colored leaves shimmering in the sunlight. In … Read the rest
My sister recently visited from New York, and was excited to see what an outlet for recreational marijuana looked like. Finding ourselves in San Francisco, we decided to drop in at Harvest, a pot shop on Geary Street near 11th Avenue.
To be honest, I’ve never set foot in a dispensary or recreational… Read the rest
I’m struck by how many people feel badly about themselves: thinking they’re failures for not “doing enough,” faulting themselves for not having accomplished anything, walking around feeling guilty. Feeling self-critical is not necessarily unhealthy, but like any … Read the rest
A modern, widely-held assumption is that human consciousness has evolved for the better. When we examine the past and find patterns of belief and behavior we call “primitive”, we feel self-satisfied and consider ourselves and our present culture as having progressed in comparison.… Read the rest
The 60s changed my life, or more correctly, the 60s changed my mind. I am a member of the “love generation”, that cohort of baby boomers who discovered that a sacred presence permeates all things, that words can never do it justice and that one of its manifestations is life.
For almost the entirety of human history governmental systems have not been democratic. Though we in America like to think of Ancient Greece as the birthplace of democracy well over 2,500 years ago, even that’s more fiction than fact; the Greek city-state of Athens, with its remarkable stable… Read the rest
“Many consider the elevation of Voice of America (VoA) to the status of the official domestic news organ of the United States as emblematic of when authoritarianism became fully established in America. Quietly, and without much notice, the Trump administration had been actively recruiting… Read the rest
What-Has-Been opposes Things-to-Come, while at the same time What-Has-Been creates Things-to-Come. Things-to-Come makes What-Has-Been obsolete, yet Things-to-Come mirrors What-Has-Been. The relationship between What-Has-Been… Read the rest
Women have been putting up with piggish men for a long time; do you recall the cartoon showing a helpless woman being dragged by the hair while a caveman says to his friend, “I love these pre-holiday sales!”? For a very long time, the meme of gender relations has been: man is the boss and woman… Read the rest
Speculation and conspiracy theories naturally flow from horrific massacres such as occurred in Las Vegas: Steven Paddock was trying to sell guns, was killed to make it look like a suicide; he was a hit man with a specific target among… Read the rest
Are we doomed to suffer? There seems to be widespread belief that suffering is the nature of human experience; (a) we are all born sinners afflicted with original sin; (b) we are bound within the circle of Samsara where our attachments breed suffering;… Read the rest
My wife and I moved to Sonoma in April of 1990 after purchasing a six-room bed and breakfast inn on West Spain Street. It was later in that year, in November, when we first encountered what we used to call “the slow season.” By December, reservations dramatically slowed down, and in January,… Read the rest
The color of Mars, the color of blood, the color of sunlight through a sky filled with smoke, red on the Cal Fire map means the land is burning. Buddhist paintings depicting wrathful deities often show the figures surrounded by red flames. Though deities like… Read the rest
For all the attempts to cast humanity in the brightest way possible — religious positivism, new-age soul-making, liberal visions of the evolution of virtue, and fairy-tales with happy endings — the dark side keeps casting a shadow across history. Is this simply, as some believe, the … Read the rest
Documenting our lives through photographs went mainstream with the introduction of Kodak’s “Brownie” camera, introduced in 1900 at the price of $1; the “snapshot” was born, and with it arrived a new sense of self.
I recently returned from a five-day convention of the Cactus and Succulent Society of America, held in Tempe, Arizona. That’s right, I’m a cactus and succulent nerd. For the past forty years I’ve been growing and collecting cactus and succulents, and some of the very first plants… Read the rest
Things move so quickly in digital technology that yesterday’s fad is old hat before it’s even reached maturity. Such is the case with Virtual Reality (VR), the technology that promised us the god-like chance to step into worlds of our own making so exciting that taking off our visors would… Read the rest
The mystic teacher G.I. Gurdjieff wrote of “three-brained beings” and their difficulties. Though his teachings were given during the early part of the 20th Century, the wisdom tradition in which he was steeped – Sufism and Middle Eastern mystic teachings –… Read the rest
The world has been in trouble before. Every century has had its share of discord, warfare, violence and mayhem, punctuated by periods of creative flowering, knowledge growth and cultural insight. That we find ourselves once again riven by conflict, feelings of instability and worries about the future… Read the rest
I once wondered how a modern, 20th century country like Germany morphed into an amoral, industrial-style genocide factory during Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich. At the time, conditions in Europe were politically unstable; the aftermath of World War One left economies in shambles, and politics… Read the rest
Amoebas, as you likely know, are one-celled animals you can only see with a microscope. Tiny enough to swim freely in a drop of water, amoebas animate themselves using pseudopods, projections of its cell wall into lobes that move. They surround and absorb the living tissue of even tinier life forms, … Read the rest
He looked at his legs, still outstretched and beginning to glisten in the daylight. It had been a cool night, and his body would take a few minutes to warm up enough to get up and walk. Taking a deep breath, he smelled the dew evaporating from the ground and as shadows… Read the rest
As we witness the clown-like leadership circus happening in Washington D.C. it’s worthwhile to reflect on the leadership of our own locally elected officials and how well, or not, they are behaving and serving the public interest.
We have four major publicly elected boards or councils in our… Read the rest
Men’s war on women did not begin with Donald Trump, far from it. Its roots are Biblical and mythological, bound up with creation stories tying women to the introduction of sin and evil into the world; so deeply embedded in our collective psyches… Read the rest
Since its beginnings, Sonoma has been a small town. It once was the county seat, long ago, but that role fell to Santa Rosa and, well, thank goodness for that. From then on Sonoma’s destiny seemed to be an indelible Bear Flag moment of history combined… Read the rest
When an idea, an object, a substance or an emotion preoccupies consciousness to the near exclusion of anything else, we call it an obsession. And when an obsession becomes a compulsion so powerful as to assume the driving force of consciousness – even when harmful to oneself or others – … Read the rest
When President Dwight Eisenhower famously warned Americans about the Military-Industrial Complex he added a new metaphor into our cultural frame of reference, namely the emergence of collusion between government and industry systemically embedded within and affecting everyday lives. His prophetic… Read the rest
Our human experience is fundamentally emotional, and emotions are fundamentally confusing. The stuff of imagination and subconscious life, emotions are primordial, which means not subject to the whims of logic or reason. From the standpoint of brain development, logic and reason are newcomers… Read the rest
The earliest Greek myths recount the emergence of the cosmos through a violent act of separation. The unity of all things was broken when at the urging of his mother, Gaea, her son Kronos forever divided his parents by cutting off the generative organs of his smothering and possessive father, Ouranos.… Read the rest
Our experience of the continuity of self, the sense of personal autonomy with which we awaken each day, is very persuasive. “I” is a persistent experience, persistent enough that each of us can treat it as real and thereby treat others as real, too. Indeed, the richness and history of persona,… Read the rest
At our human scale it’s easy believe in straight lines. High School geometry made things worse; Euclid’s imaginary geometric forms served to reinforce our illusion that Point A, Point B and Point C can be connected by a straight lines, like when we point a finger at the moon
One of the dilemmas of modern times is effectively coming to grips with morality. The word itself is derived from Latin, meaning “proper behavior” but has become loaded with other connotations, religious and social. Our humanitarian, modern sensibilities incline us to disfavor moral… Read the rest
Retailing has never been an easy business. Changing tastes, new technologies, capricious landlords and finding loyal employees alone are enough to create conditions of failure. Add in the Internet, and today’s retailer faces incredible odds.
When a major new commercial building project is proposed in Sonoma, its appearance is scrutinized, poked, prodded, and otherwise worked-over by committees until it is declared suitably “Sonoma-Style”. Thus we see “Sonoma-Style Farmhouse” and “Sonoma-Style… Read the rest
The City of Sonoma has always had oligarchs, powerful people of great wealth and the inclination to use it. First among these was General Mariano Vallejo, the Mexican General who owned much of Northern California, including the town of Sonoma. He laid out the city, subdivided the land and was, by all … Read the rest
America was founded from within a state of paranoia, the persecution experience of the Puritans and other Christian sects in England. Coming to the shores of North America was envisioned by them as their refuge from paranoia, but instead of escaping it, they brought it with them, where it was variously… Read the rest
Along with Sigmund Freud’s “Civilization and Its Discontents”, Carl Jung’s “Modern Man in Search of a Soul” formed the foundation for the new field of human psychology at the beginning of the 20th Century. All at once, the human mind itself was revealed to be… Read the rest
The hallmarks of civilization are order and bureaucracy, the institutionalization of humanity into concrete rule-bound systems, balanced budgets, statistics, financial analysis, and the businesslike conversion of human beings into calculable units. The governing rationale of civilization… Read the rest
Your dreams are sending you information, and it’s all about you. Your mother might appear in dreams, but it’s not really her, it’s your imaginary her, or rather, the mother-archetype your mother represents. And you are in your … Read the rest
What we call communication – the words and symbols we employ both orally and in written form – strikes me as too primitive to be trusted. Our connections with each other one-on-one or in small groups can include physical contact, but once we get beyond that intimate level, we must rely upon… Read the rest
Sonoma Valley’s close proximity to eight-million people is a physical reality. That our valley happens to be exceptionally beautiful, contains historic and charming villages, and offers some of the finest agricultural land and growing conditions in the world is also true. Yet, combine these… Read the rest
The Trump administration’s dissing of opponents reminds me of comments made by Richard Nixon’s Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, who criticizing the opposition, condemned the “effete corps of impudent snobs.” Agnew, forced to resign due to evidence of bribery and corruption,… Read the rest
Authoritarian regimes use threats of force, coercion and intimidation to cow the populace and force it into submission to that regime’s imperatives. Enlisting the aid of those who wield weapons – military and police forces with the power to arrest and incarcerate – regimes bent… Read the rest
The Statue of Liberty famously beckons “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, certainly one of the kindest welcoming messages any country has employed. And yet, I’ve been wondering why America can be so mean.
America’s political flirtation with a temperamental, impulsive, emotionally undeveloped political leader has blossomed into a full-blown crisis of faith in our systems of government and democracy itself, and comparisons between America in 2017 and George Orwell’s… Read the rest
I live amid an urban oasis, a collection of very tall trees, timber bamboo and Japanese maples. Some of the trees are quite old, and know this tiny piece of Gaia’s garden far better than I. In a rainy year like this, the tree’s root-hairs – roots are the tree’s sensory system through… Read the rest
When the Greek city states of Athens and Sparta found themselves allied against the massive armies of the Persian king Darius and his son Xerxes (Circa 460 BC), they established a narrative about the “Barbarian” people threatening Greek society. Later, the very same narrative was adopted… Read the rest
Living with uncertainty is our natural human condition. Moment to moment we don’t really know what’s coming next. For many of us uncertainty causes worry. We compensate for this by establishing patterns and making “plans”… Read the rest
Like many, I find myself thinking about how best to resist the powerful emergence of reactionary, right-wing politics in America, and I’ve decided to go with the Our Gang School of Political Resistance. It’s an approach that worked wonders… Read the rest
I’m enjoying my life. I didn’t ask to be here but now I don’t want to leave; seems to be my particular version of the human condition. Think about it; two microscopic gametes meet and decide to live together as one for a lifetime. If it sounds like marriage, well, it wasn’t my idea.… Read the rest
Leaked documents detailing urine-play in a hotel in Russia are spattering the reputation of Donald Trump. It’s been a while since “night water” has been in the news, but historically the… Read the rest
I like quiet. I don’t mean the complete silence of no sound whatsoever, but the quiet of the natural world. I find the sound of leaves rustling in the wind comforting. The same is true of water running in a creek, or birdsong. My wife and I once stayed in a cabin on the shore of Tomales Bay and at night … Read the rest
The Industrial Revolution is often mistakenly cited as the cause of the loss of human labor, but to the contrary, the engine of global capitalism fueled by the Industrial Revolution would never have developed without the hands of human labor.
Efficient and highly productive machine technology required… Read the rest
In 1895, Alfred Jarry’s play entitled Ubu Roi (The King Ubu) was performed in Paris for its first, and until very much later, its last time. Public reaction to the farce was so extreme that a riot ensued. Jarry, who never wrote another play, had no idea that a century-and-a-quarter later his theatrical… Read the rest
A great deal of attention has been paid to the workings of mind, that curiously self-conscious and often self-absorbed entity we take to be who we are in the world. The widely-held presumption is that mind is an emergent function of brain, and therefore, mind is located solely within the confines of our… Read the rest
By the measuring stick of capitalism, Donald Trump has won the game. He has attained the pinnacle of American business success, namely power; his finger on the nuclear button, Donald Trump is now the most fearsome businessman in the world. He has vanquished all enemies and proven his top-predator status;… Read the rest
An Environmental Impact Report (EIR) responds to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), legislation intended to asses and address the environmental impacts of large developments, such as air-quality, construction debris and dust, noise and other factors. It takes only a few minutes… Read the rest
Morphology, the study and comparison of form, is one method used by scientists and naturalists to classify plants and animals into Genus and Species. By determining physical structures as unique to a particular organism, one species of organism can be differentiated from other members of its family.… Read the rest
Much is being made of the angry white men of America, men who have lost jobs, lost wives, and have lost hope. That lost hope has been replaced with anger – anger at women, at minorities, at immigrants and politicians. It’s a troubling and complicated situation, and a dangerous one as well;… Read the rest
The Trump campaign unleashed a torrent of news stories about sexual harassment and abuse of women by men. As Rebecca Solnit points out in her book of essays on the topic, “Men Explain Things to Me,” male aggression against women is a long-standing feature of global culture, and in the United… Read the rest
I recently went back east to attend my 50th high school reunion. I’ve attended other reunions; the 20th and the 40th, so I’ve had contact with some classmates over the years. This time, however, quite a few former students showed up who have never attended a reunion before. Accordingly,… Read the rest
When I was eight both of my grandfathers were sixty, which in 1956 actually was old. They were already stoop-shouldered and mostly liked to sit shirtless in lawn chairs in the hot sun for hours, smeared with sun tan oil. They wore suspenders and their pant-waists rose almost to their chests. Sometimes… Read the rest
One reason I sometimes feel dissatisfied with life is that my expectations are too high. In fact, this is the primary reason. I expect, for example, that candidates for President of the United States will have been taught good manners like politeness and not interrupting… Read the rest
Donald Trump recently justified his gutter-talk about women by calling it “locker-room” banter, and added that he’s heard much worse from Bill Clinton while playing golf. To his avid male supporters, Donnie’s potty-mouth probably sounds good; there are millions of men… Read the rest
For many people, there’s something about the present that’s just not good enough, the nagging feeling that what’s happening now needs to better, is in some way insufficient and unsatisfying. Out there, tomorrow, in the future, things will be better.
Remind me, Dear One, to Tell you the fable about the Atom that hungered to be a Molecule.
Most of us believe that what elevates a person in society is intelligence and talent, but this is not entirely true. Intelligence and talent are not insignificant; to the contrary, people with… Read the rest
There have always been competitive ones among us; from brute physical aggression to sophisticated strategic thinking, the ambitious make waves in the fabric of society. For much of human history, competition ended in death, and it ends in death sometimes even today. In… Read the rest
I know it sounds like the name of some aggressive law firm, but Mean and Hurtful is the way we sometimes treat each other. Exposure to the news is most often how I witness Mean and Hurtful, but the other evening I unexpectedly found myself on the direct receiving end of such behavior.
In the end, the skein of civilization turned out to be thinner and less substantial than most anyone had expected. Collapse of modern society took only a matter of weeks, not months. Once the electricity stopped the whole of industrial and mechanized society came crashing to a halt. Assumptions about… Read the rest
I recently read a Facebook post by a fellow who, just having had an RIFD chip implanted under his skin, described himself as “trans-human.” For those of you unaware exactly what an RIFD chip is, you’ll find one in the latest version of credit cards being issued by Banks. RIFD chips … Read the rest
While I was having lunch with “the guys” I began talking about “how we know what we know.” One friend interjected that what I was saying was “too abstract” to be of interest. This has happened to me before, and in such social situations switching topics … Read the rest
I’m old enough to have been right in the middle of the cultural, political and social turmoil of the nineteen sixties, and amidst the world’s current upheavals I sometimes feel as if history is repeating itself.
It’s not difficult to make comparisons about then and now; racial and… Read the rest
I think that if we are going to alter human genetics, we should get going on it right away and concentrate on giving human beings the gift of photosynthesis. As you most likely know, through photosynthesis plants feed themselves with sunlight.
Much is being made of current research indicating that the Glyphosate in Monsanto’s herbicide RoundUp is a likely carcinogen. A laboratory-made, liquid life-killing poison that turns dandelions to brown, withered husks in a day; that it probably causes cancer should surprise no one.
For most of the past 5,000 years, the period of human history when monetary systems arose and spread across the globe, wealth has been measured by the accumulation of assets. Land, precious metal, slaves, tulip bulbs or any combinations thereof – all of which at one time or another have served … Read the rest
We live in complex, trying times. We know more about what’s happening in the world than any people who have ever lived before; much of it is disturbing, and about which we can often do little or mostly nothing.
Closer to home, the emotions being stirred up in this election year are alarming. Whatever… Read the rest
I love to read books; pencil in hand I underline points and passages that strike me as important, add margin notes, and often return to read significant portions over again. I do some reading online, but for me it’s no substitute for resting a book on my lap for hours.
Those who dissent or speak out are often dismissed derisively as members of “a vocal minority.” This happened during the 2013 Measure B election to limit the size of new hotels in Sonoma, even though that measure lost by less than one-percent. Now I’m hearing the same complaint about… Read the rest
I’ve been looking for a kids’ book that’s about eating animals. There are plenty of books about eating vegetables and fruits, and books about why they are good for us, but I cannot find even one book for toddlers that explains the whys and wherefores, let alone positives, about raising… Read the rest
It was recently announced that a mega-wealthy, former bank CEO and his wife have donated $185 million to UCSF for the creation of a new institute of neuroscience, not surprisingly to be named after them. Their gift represents a new high for UCSF “philanthropy”, and follows on the… Read the rest
Population pressure plus expanding tourism is quickly pushing Sonoma Valley beyond its carrying capacity. This happened in the Napa Valley years ago, as anyone who has navigated Hwy. 29 in June or July has discovered.
For those who commute to work in San Francisco or Oakland, exceeding carrying capacity… Read the rest
Of all pursuits, mathematics may be the most remarkable. I’m not talking about the simple mathematics of calculating the tip on a restaurant tab; that type of calculation is the simple arithmetic of utility. I’m talking about the mathematics of theoretical physics, a realm… Read the rest
At a recent Planning Commission meeting, a proponent of a development project under review dismissively referred to project opponents as a “vocal minority.” Another said that the proposed project’s neighbors were only selfishly interested in “their own backyards”… Read the rest
The decision by a community to commit itself to historic preservation is a commitment to enforcing rules. Unless rules are created that define what contributes to historic preservation and what does not, the entire effort becomes impossible.
My eight-year-old granddaughter and I stopped by Nathanson Creek at the Second Street East bridge yesterday to catch a look after the heavy rains. The water was rushing quickly, having filled the channel halfway up the height of the tunnel under the road.
The metaphors of battle, conflict and fighting are tightly woven into our American narrative, beginning with “Don’t Tread on Me” in 1776. This effectively defiant message was developed well before any modern forms of propaganda, and yet effectively framed colonist attitudes… Read the rest
It’s been said life is like an illusion; a drop of dew, a flash of lightning, a phantom, a dream. Such contemplations have endured for thousands of years, fueling philosophers, Mystics, poets, and even scientists. But what if life is not a dream at all? What if life is a video game?
According to Buddhists, intention is important, but it is also the actions of thought and deed, which govern the nature of the future; in Buddhist terminology, such action is called Karma. The accumulations of Karma, both personal and collective, turn the so-called “Wheel of Samsara,”… Read the rest
Illness is one of life’s inevitable events; it happens to all of us eventually, unless sudden accidental death erases the possibility. Like most other complex living things, the human body is naturally resilient and capable of self-repair, but only up to a point. Nature, in her steadfast and… Read the rest
Maybe it’s just a symptom of the times, but I’m seeing an unfortunate trend to make everything, even City Government, all about money. Admittedly, there are those who have long advocated that the road to Utopia is best paved by running government like a business. That very case was made … Read the rest
There’s so much in a name. I’ve written before about the ways names evolved alongside manners or occupations, resulting in families of Tanners, Archers, Barbers, Fowlers and the like. In what may be one of the most amusing current surnames on everyone’s lips is, sorry to say, Trump.… Read the rest
I honestly cannot recall a time in my 67-year-old life when America seemed more disjointed. Sure, the Vietnam era was one heckava mess, and the civil rights era was pretty messy too. But from the standpoint of governance, there was the presumption that politics was the art of compromise, and that the … Read the rest
In a cringe-worthy 4-1 decision (Susan Gorin dissenting) rejecting 14 months of public input and recommendations of the County Planning Commission, Sonoma County’s Board of Supervisors has betrayed the public it serves in favor of chump change from tourists looking for a place to party on … Read the rest
We live in wondrous, terrible times. In every field of human endeavor we are exceeding ourselves, almost daily. Our tallest buildings are getting taller, our fastest computers are getting faster; gas-powered autos are giving way to electric vehicles, natural evolution is being supplanted by gene-editing.… Read the rest
Human experience is primarily regional. We are members of a family within a community located regionally first and foremost, and only secondarily are we members of a nation. The rise of nationalism as we know it today is a fairly recent social development, and truly came of age only during the last two… Read the rest
Alcohol causes more deaths than those caused by painkillers and heroin, combined. The Center’s for Disease Control reports that in 2014, 30,722 people died due to alcohol poisoning and cirrhosis of the liver, as compared with 28,647 deaths due to overdoses from opiates. If drunk driving, accidents… Read the rest
We praise democracy, but we don’t seem to like it very much. Voting rates in America are terrible, and voters seem to prefer established families or Reality TV stars to experienced politicians. Most people agree that our democratic electoral system has been corrupted by money, but there doesn’t… Read the rest
H.G. Wells’ classic “War of the Worlds” is a tale about how some of the smallest creatures on Earth ultimately destroyed Martian invaders wielding technology powerful enough to wipe out humanity. His idea was not entirely fanciful; as global warming lifts the average… Read the rest
The most uncomfortable truth of human experience is that life feeds on other life, and each of us depends upon the death of other living things for our continued existence. In early societies, this truth infused creation mythology and manifested in rituals during which life-from-death was reenacted… Read the rest
When I was growing up in the 50s, I loved the New Yorker cartoonist Chas Addams and his quirky but insightful brand of dark humor; at one point I had the wall next to my bed plastered with his cartoons, a mini-gallery of Chas Addams of my very own. One I particularly liked featured a smiling suburban couple… Read the rest
Living in fear is a terrible thing; it produces thoughts and feelings we would otherwise reject, but in fear, accept. Fear clouds judgment; it breeds suspicion and provides fertile ground for bigotry, intolerance, scapegoating and violence. Fear makes people more easily manipulated, more accepting… Read the rest
The world is embroiled in controversy over gender identity. Modern industrialized countries are slowly aligning laws and policies to reflect changing cultural attitudes; what once was hidden and forbidden is now openly visible and allowed. Traditional, less industrialized societies remain … Read the rest
Columbus was no tourist. Neither was Cortez or for that matter Admiral Perry. These world travelers were all about conquest, fame, riches and glory, and by-and-large, they achieved it. Before air travel and luxury ocean liners, expeditions to distant places were a risky and uncertain endeavor, often… Read the rest
Having now passed the 50th anniversary of the publication of ‘Silent Spring’ by Rachel Carson it’s tempting to feel the ecology movement she fostered has made a difference. However, in comparing its successes to its failures, I’d argue the ecology movement has been a colossal… Read the rest
We relate to life primarily in two ways: experience and memory. Our experience is subject to the type attention we offer at a given moment; if our attention wanders we lose track of a particular experience. For example, at a baseball game we might find ourselves distracted by a hot dog vender and lose track… Read the rest
Accumulating wealth and personal assets used to be a major cultural preoccupation. Savings accounts once were popular and dutifully depositing a portion of each week’s paycheck in the bank was a common practice. The power of compounding interest would over time, it was believed, provide… Read the rest
Anybody else struck by the symbolic convergence of bats and leaf blowers this October? Men swinging big sticks is nothing new, of course, but I find myself both embarrassed and amused by such displays of male aggression. Throw guns into the symbolic mix and the situation suddenly gets serious, deadly… Read the rest
I’m a confessed plant lover, what my late friend Keith Cahoon called a “Hortisexual.” This passion does not include sex, but has led to what I’ve called the infidelity of “Multiple Simultaneous Relationships with Plants.” Though I’ve never cheated… Read the rest
Getting people out of cars and into mass transit is good for air quality, may reduce road congestion, and encourages public transportation. These are all good effects, but systems like SMART also affect growth and development patterns. Unless extreme care is taken in the planning and approval process… Read the rest
Only in America could an arrogant businessman who inherited substantial wealth from his father become elevated to celebrity status and then leverage that fatuous fame to run for President of the United States and lead the polls in the Republican primary race.
The CEO of Cambrian, a biotechnology company, wants to upgrade the human race. His plan to is to make genetic engineering available to everyday people in a process he calls “democratizing genetics.” In homage to his namesake, Austen Heinz of Cambrian might someday appear in 57 varieties!… Read the rest
Oliver Sacks, the best-selling author/neurologist, has died. In his inimitable style he wrote about his impending death from metastatic cancer in articles in the NY Times, and as it true of all his writing, his keen observation and fondness for humanity jumps right off the page.
I’m dreaming about my great-great-great granddaughter. “Shame,” she says, “How could you?” Of course she’s talking about the ruination of the world, and I know that. “What can I tell you,” I say gently, “The unnatural world moves too quickly.”… Read the rest
At last night’s Sonoma City Council meeting my appeal of the Planning Commission’s approval for a use permit allowing Williams-Sonoma to hold 15 events with as many as 80 guests in the garden at their retail location was upheld. This decision has an effect on Williams-Sonoma, of… Read the rest
The recent GOP debate made me want to vomit. That the state of American politics has fallen so deeply into a trench of ignorance is appalling, and leaves me feeling embarrassed and ashamed. Outright lies, intentional deception, bloated arrogance, false piety; all these and more were on display, along… Read the rest
Airbnb has ignited a firestorm of opinion pro-and-con regarding its facilitation of rentals of residential property for commercial purposes, even when that property is zoned for residential use only. The overnight or short-term rental of virtually anything is a commercial activity; money changes… Read the rest
It seems as if human beings are on the brink of knowing everything. Ours is the history of accumulated knowledge, beginning with fire and now extending to exoplanets circling suns many thousands of light-years distant. We’ve jumped from one understanding to the next, each built on the one before;… Read the rest
The State Water Resources Board has told the City of Sonoma to cut its use by 28%; the Valley of the Moon water District by 24%. Given the current drought, these target cutbacks make sense; there’s only so much water and it must be conserved. But here’s the rub: both the City of Sonoma Water … Read the rest
I was sitting around talking with two friends when one of them asked me this question. He was talking about the ridiculously low minimum wage, cost of housing, unavailability of rentals, wealth inequality, biased tax code, dissolving social safety net, billions spent on our war machine, and the general… Read the rest
The current crisis in Greece, the role of Germany in imposing austerity programs, and endless ongoing conflict in the middle east reveals how deeply the western world suffers from a case of mass-obsessive-compulsive disorder. Generation after generation these regions have been the focus of attention… Read the rest
We no longer sacrifice human beings in ritual killings for the sake of a good harvest, though given their effects on human health we could view the use of agricultural poisons and pesticides from that perspective. Capital punishment in America, however, which objectively is unnecessary to protect… Read the rest
My granddaughter, aged seven, and I were watching an animated movie about a curious fairy who is told by her Fairy Master not tamper with Pixie Dust. She does, of course, and an accident caused by one of her experiments wreaks havoc with the Fairy Village.
Part of being human is being categorical. This means putting ourselves and things into endless categories, assigning names and establishing hierarchies. Our penchant for fragmenting the nameless whole into named parts and then using these named parts to construct a newly-named whole is deceptively… Read the rest
By the time things get “trendy” they’ve become clichéd, and as we all know the hallmark of a cliché is its loss of authenticity and meaning. Having become a mere trope of its former self, a craze quickly wears itself out and fades away, destined to return at a future date in the sentimental… Read the rest
The largest single demographic generation in the history of America, the 75-million strong baby-boom population is now entering it’s final 20-year run. Avid consumers, boomers have fueled our economy at each stage of its varied history; as post-world-war-two children we prompted an elementary… Read the rest
Our fixed-city way-of-life has created a problematic situation: homelessness. Those who cannot afford to own or rent a home are left to wander the highways, alleys and shelters of our urban environments in search of safe spots in which to rest and sleep. The reasons for their poverty vary: personal … Read the rest
We all know times have changed; our world has simultaneously gotten smaller and our communications infrastructure has gotten larger. Communities are no longer restricted to physical proximity but to affinities of interest.
For all that, however, there is much to be said about getting to know one’s… Read the rest
Certain memes – persistent thematic constructs which achieve near ubiquity – emerge from the noisy background of culture and assume prominence for a long while, decades or even centuries. Democracy is one such meme, and it’s been spreading through social contagion for several… Read the rest
Preserving Sonoma’s town character is a challenge. Describing that character generates a wide range of opinion; our world is complex and changeable, and Sonoma is not immune from the tidal forces of cultural and social transformation taking place around us.… Read the rest
The current discussions surrounding the topic of sustainability generally revolve around systems analysis and a scientific approach which evaluates resources, utilization rates, waste production, economies and other quantifiable and measurable elements. As far as this goes it’s useful… Read the rest
Last night’s City Council consideration of a proposal to remove Broadway’s oak trees was notable less for its action than the conduct of the City Council. Though only four could participate, Gary Edwards having stepped-down due to the proximity of property he owns to the subject trees, each … Read the rest
In spite of or possibly in reaction to California’s worst drought in 120 years, I suddenly find myself surrounded by neighbors building swimming pools. Five homes within 200 feet already have pools and two more even closer have completed the construction phase and have moved into pumps, pipes,… Read the rest
It’s easy to dismiss much of modern culture as crass, insensitive, dull or even stupid. Set aside the fact that a TV commercial featuring Mathew McConaughey for the new Lincoln MKC is a 60-second full-fledged Hollywood production costing millions to create; it’s… Read the rest
One of the common experiences of contemporary politics is feeling like what you are being told is so stupid and nonsensical that the person saying it knows it is stupid and nonsensical too. Denial of climate change, evolution and established historical fact certainly provide such moments, and often… Read the rest
I’ve always wondered if it’s a matter of translation; namely did the the tablets brought down Mt. Sinai by Moses prohibit killing or murder? From what I can tell, most people think “Thou shalt not kill” fully covers the topic, generating reams of argument about – what… Read the rest
Before movies there were dreams, the experience of being simultaneously involved while impassively observing events and emotions displayed on mind’s internal “screen.” In many ancient cultures dreams played a pivotal role in individual and social life. For Australian Aboriginal… Read the rest
Although the human impulse towards religious experience is undeniable many people today do not consider themselves as religious or spiritual. Writer Richard Dawkins or television pundit Bill Maher take great pains to paint religious belief as nonsense – destructive mumbo-jumbo unsuited… Read the rest
Ok so it’s 2040 and I’m 92 years old – too old if you ask me, which of course you didn’t – but that’s not the point. The point is I’m pissed-off. Sure, you say, of course you’re pissed-off – you’re old – and being old and pissed-off… Read the rest
When I was growing up a fella named Charles Atlas adorned the back pages of cheap magazines, displaying a body we’d today call “buff” but back then “muscle-bound.” The proverbial answer to being a skinny wimp at the beach and having sand kicked-in-your-face… Read the rest
There is a decidedly anti-intellectual strain in contemporary American society, this despite a high rate of literacy and a historical legacy of higher education. Though books are still written, dissertations, doctorates and advanced degrees awarded, the present level of public discourse can … Read the rest
Among the plants in my greenhouse are many in the Gasteria family, a type sometimes called “Cow’s Tongue” due to their thick stems, lack of leaves and dappled surface coloration. Many Gasterias display varying patterns of white spots on green backgrounds, which vary from species… Read the rest
To uncivilized people the whims of nature surely seemed capricious; their search for meaning behind devastating winds or a great flood gave rise to tales of gods, magic and otherworldly realms beyond the powers of direct human observation. Seasonal cycles, animal migrations, phases of the moon, … Read the rest
Recent polls indicate that America’s favorite sport is now football instead of baseball. It’s not hard to see a connection between this trend and the changed nature of American life in the 21st century.
Baseball, of course, is a 19th century game, developed during slower times of less … Read the rest
I remember a childhood cartoon in which the main character – it could have been Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny – found himself in the middle of a struggle between a little devil and a little angel version of himself, each of which sat on one of his shoulders. The little devil tempted him to indulge … Read the rest
I’ve come to hold synchronicity in high regard. Coincidence is too light a word for the ways in which waves of information sometimes pass through human culture: signaling a simultaneous, penetrating and all-pervasive coming together of cause and effect that verges on clairvoyance.
The number of life forms on earth is staggeringly huge; despite the discoveries of the past three hundred years there remains a vast, nearly uncountable number of unknown species of life forms. For perhaps a billion years, earth’s plants and then animals have filled every available environmental… Read the rest
An elderly man, feeling weak, enters the emergency room of a local hospital. After waiting, a doctor examines him and determines he is severely dehydrated. An IV is placed, and sterile saline solution (water and salt) soon help the man recover. He prepares to leave the hospital and is told to make sure… Read the rest
TV shows and Hollywood movies often portray elite government security teams as oafish incompetents around whom brilliantly evil criminals run rapid circles. The plots then center around a cat-and-mouse game played by the evil-doers and the one or two members of law enforcement who can see through… Read the rest
Sex Porn is a global multi-billion-dollar industry. Studies indicate that for many addicted to such material its sexual content is less significant than its feelings of overcoming powerlessness. The defining characteristic of porn is a sense of control through the objectification of self and other,… Read the rest
We place a great deal of faith in eyewitness testimony and its impact on criminal justice is enormous. Eyewitness accounts can vary widely, however, as has been the case in the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by a young police officer. Declining to bring charges, the Grand Jury … Read the rest
A Californian for nearly 50 years I’ve infrequently traveled by train but I grew up in the suburbs of New York and took the train to Manhattan from time-to-time. My earliest memory of a long train trip was when I was eight years old and my family took an overnight train to Florida.
It would be nice, I suppose, to believe that everything is just fine: the motivations of people are well-intended, science and technology always solve every problem, freedom and democracy are humanity’s natural state, the world can accommodate an unlimited number of people, and infectious… Read the rest
Setting aside the purely commercial aspects of harvest decorations and TV commercials featuring cute turkeys and cartoon characters in Puritan outfits, Thanksgiving’s acknowledgment of earth’s bounty and the value of kindness towards others is a welcome departure from our customary… Read the rest
In the world’s economy there are only three types of money, fast, slow and no.
Fast money is just that, credit which moves so quickly it requires the use of automated computer algorithms. At its extreme, fast money is circulating the globe, staying in sync with the international dateline, executing… Read the rest
Try as we may to be blasé – making it the subject of horror movies, detective dramas, novels and so forth – the mystery of death remains humanity’s primary conscious and unconscious preoccupation. The heart of philosophy and religion, not to mention Hollywood, “the great… Read the rest
Every new artifact of human culture generates a set of effects. The most predictable of these relate directly to the operation or impact of the artifact; for example, the invention of the automobile made the horse and buggy obsolete. Less obvious… Read the rest
Countries have used a variety of excuses to go to war. Some cite the need for protection of people who speak their language, like Vladimir Putin is doing in the Ukraine or Adolph Hitler did before annexing the “Low Countries” adjacent to Germany in the 1930’s. Others, like the United… Read the rest
It’s interesting how medical terminology has been applied to the digital realm; after all, computers are just machines, right? Machines don’t get sick and that’s what we’ve always loved about them and why they’ve effectively replaced human beings as a labor force.… Read the rest
Back in the hippie-dippy days of the 20th century two things were a Big Deal: Hair and Astrology. Long-haired men faded as an issue when pattern baldness and changing fashion inevitably reduced their impact to statistically ordinary, and astrology – replaced by ecology – quietly slid… Read the rest
It was recently reported that the world’s oceans now contain three times as much methyl mercury as they did before the industrial revolution. Oceanic mercury becomes highly toxic methyl mercury due to the chemical action of sea water, and methyl mercury causes cognitive impairment, sometimes… Read the rest
Our society is so permeated by commerce that business metaphors are regularly applied to non-business situations. Thus we “profit by experience,” “calculate our losses,” and “take stock in the situation.” Another common phrase concerns “the business… Read the rest
America is exceptional in many ways, not all of them so good. One way which falls into this “not so good” category is an inordinate pride in speaking and teaching one language only, namely English. Pride is often a good indicator of self-righteousness in individuals, and so it is culturally… Read the rest
The internet of things had not arrived when NYU professor Neil Postman wrote his 1985 critique of television and its effects on society. I suspect the concerns and predictions he made in “Amusing Ourselves to Death” would have not differed greatly had he seen what… Read the rest
Beginning with painting on rocks and writing code for binary computers, the records of what we know have variously been kept. Between these two extremes are found language, hieroglyphics, cuneiform markings in clay, pictograms, alphabets, printing… Read the rest
An unoccupied mind is a dangerous thing. Organic brain’s powerful processing capacity combined with limitless symbolic creativity of mind gives rise to the need for pursuing purpose and meaning. Lacking these, people veer into forms of madness; hyperactive states of violence against others, self-injury,… Read the rest
The idea of labor as a commodity, the creation of a class of people subject to competitive rates who can be bought and sold on the open market is inherently dehumanizing, but we live in a capitalist world addicted to consumption, increased productivity and shareholder profit.
Human sensibilities are in part a matter of scale, which is to say that as we interact with the world we move from the particular to the general and vice versa, oscillating between conceptions of reality in order to find our comfortable place among events.
Like Jack ferrying a donkey to market, trading it for magical beans and then escaping the confines of conventional society in ‘Jack and The Beanstalk’, the giant he disturbs is analogous to the giant gray-market behemoth suddenly disrupting our economy, stomping on established forms of commerce … Read the rest
I’ve spent considerable time with my granddaughter watching Sponge Bob Square Pants, the kids’ cartoon show featuring an ensemble of recurring characters living in the undersea fantasy town of Bikini Bottom. It’s wacky, weird and colorful, but also presents a coherent vision of moral character … Read the rest
Though it is supposed that rationality and logic comprise a monolithic structure apart from feelings and emotions, the truth is that our rationality sits upon emotional structure. This is most evident in attachment to scientific rationalism, and its reliance on empirical “fact-based” data. I put… Read the rest
Richard Wagner, the German musical genius of dubious personal behavior, wrote and produced some of the most stunning and memorable operas ever performed. Among others, “The Flying Dutchman” and his “Ring Cycle” of four operas, running a combined total of over 20 hours, contain soaring musical passages… Read the rest
We conventionally view causality moving from “Point A” to “Point B,” a straight line through which we can trace each step and assess responsibility. Even if we move from points “A” to “D” we still think in terms of lines of responsibility, which pass through points “B” and “C.” The framework of our legal… Read the rest
People love stories, particularly melodrama. Thus television programs like “Downton Abbey,” the mini-epic about changing manners and society set within a grand estate in the London countryside is less history than soap opera. Scriptwriters plot their dramas in terms of “narrative arc,” casting… Read the rest
The Chinese Taoist Yin-Yang symbol wordlessly conveys the deepest truth of each moment: that existence is not static but dynamic and the forces of creation and destruction carry the seeds of their opposite. The dynamic quality is represented by one black and one white teardrop-shaped intersecting… Read the rest
We’re all familiar with verbal clichés; they’re a dime-a-dozen and no big deal. We use them all the time as shorthand for the commonplace, experiences so everyday as to resonate with nearly everyone. The path from metaphor to cliché is particularly fast in our information-centric 24-hour news cycle,… Read the rest
Yet again we are confronted by the limits of human engineering and the dangers of nuclear technology, this time in the disclosure of two leaks at a federal nuclear storage facility near Carlsbad, New Mexico.
Huge tunnels carved into 2,150 foot deep Permian salt deposits were intended to provide a long… Read the rest
There’s a lot in a name, and potentially, even more in a nickname. Given names often reveal seemingly mysterious connections to the meaning of each life; Cutters who are surgeons, Woods who are carpenters and so forth. Nicknames, on the other hand, are bestowed later in life, and associated with physical… Read the rest
The creation of financial wealth in our capitalistic system requires speculation. In this case, speculation is defined as the act of risking money through investment in the hope of a future profit. The idea of risk is critical, as speculation always requires risk. Making money without risk is not speculation,… Read the rest
Our culture is obsessed with content, the words and pictures that form the narrative of most thought, conversation and daily life. Argument, rhetoric, reports, articles, columns, news, blogs, tweets and posts are all part of our obsession with content, an endless stream of abstracted opinion with… Read the rest
Sentimentality ruled the night at this week’s City Council meeting. During an agenda item to consider regulating wine tasting rooms, wine makers were cast as “friends who went to Alta Mira” who “provide jobs” and represent nothing more than “farm to table.” In a display of the most naive side of small… Read the rest
Boys like things that go “boom!” but it’s a far cry from the fireworks of July 4th to the destructive force of America’s most popular battlefield weapon, the Hellfire missile. Launched by helicopter, ship-based platforms, land-based installations and fixed-wing aircraft, the Hellfire is a $50,000… Read the rest
Before the last storm, we had barely over 2” of rain for the season as compared with 23” last year and a “normal” of 17.” Our risk of prolonged drought is real, but a study done recently that looked at the growth rings of old conifers that were submerged under cold water conditions for thousands of years (3,000)… Read the rest
Fine wine has always benefited from a goodly bit of snob appeal. The French certainly enjoyed being wine snobs and Americans, never to be outdone, have worked hard and long to catch up. Prestigious wine enjoys a particular cachet, equal parts snobbery, expense, rarity and point of origin. Long the target… Read the rest
Everybody’s talking “transparency” these days. I used to think that transparent meant nearly invisible, like glass is transparent, but its meaning seems to have morphed into exactly the opposite. So when we talk about transparency in government today, what we mean is making the operation of government… Read the rest
What are we to make of our obsession with zombies? If one considers mass media as a window into our collective human consciousness, then the mass-media outbreak of zombies represents the expression of a symbolic neurosis emerging from modern society as whole.
Blame Grand Central Station. New York was once ready to tear the Grand Dame down and replace her with a glass-clad skyscraper. I was horrified by the idea, and still am. Penn Station had already suffered the ravages of the wrecking ball, and it seemed Grand Central was doomed to suffer the same fate. Jackie… Read the rest
Communication between people defines us as social beings; all our senses are employed in the act of establishing contact and sharing information with others. Ordinarily, our senses work in concert with each other, creating a synesthetic blend of information from which we continuously convey and… Read the rest
In a society of over 300 million people efficiencies are needed, and representative democracy is how we choose to provide efficiency in the development and administration of governmental public policy. Other societies are organized differently but all governmental systems, whether democracy,… Read the rest
Benjamin Braddock, the part played by Dustin Hoffman in director Mike Nichol’s acclaimed film “The Graduate,” is taken aside by a dinner guest at the graduation party thrown for him by his parents and quietly told the secret to his future success. “Plastics,” the guest sagely offers the non-plussed… Read the rest
Surveillance in the digital age is a universal reality at unprecedented scale, reaching into the intimate details of uncountable millions of individual lives. Now politely called “data-mining” to lessen it’s sense of violation, we used to call such activity espionage or spying and its “Peeping … Read the rest
It’s notable that so much of that which make us uniquely human remains hidden until we die. Metaphysical strands and threads invisibly connect us to each other, things and events in which we had a part, stretching through time and space often unacknowledged and unseen.
For most of human existence a nomadic way of life was life itself. Moving with the seasons alongside migrating animals while establishing temporary lodging lasted hundreds of thousands of years. The simple non-industrial hunter-gatherer style of life produced no garbage; everything used was natural… Read the rest
I like getting the newspaper every day. I like the ritual of looking for it in the darkend driveway, and plopping it down on the kitchen table. I read the the “funnies” last, holding off what for me is the most revealing part of the daily paper. That sense of anticipation doesn’t last long, though; I read … Read the rest
Human existence can be organized within two orders of experience. A first order experience is felt: unmediated sensory awareness responding moment to moment to the space around us. A second order experience includes image and thought, which arise due to the first order experience, and impels communication… Read the rest
I grew up with All-American images of clean-cut baseball heroes — Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and the like. Despite later revelations of alcohol problems, their images as wholesome, talented sportsmen resonated across the 1950s and contributed to the backdrop of conformist cultural… Read the rest
The human power of abstraction, our ability to imagine something and then build upon that imaginary idea distinguishes us from lower animals. Brain physiologists might say such abilities reside within our frontal lobes, that area of the brain held responsible for higher thought, but whatever the… Read the rest
Those opposed to the Hotel Limitation Measure – Measure B, are lavishing their criticism on the prospect of unintended consequences. In acts of pure speculation, they proffer a list of the unintended consequences, displaying an uncanny ability to forecast the future as they see it. Miraculously,… Read the rest
I recently refilled a prescription for a beta-blocker I’ve been taking daily for twenty-some odd years. The electrical system of my heart becomes unstable every once in a while, and Atenolol settles it down to a nice normal rhythm.
Atenolol was first produced by pharmaceutical maker AstraZeneca under… Read the rest
No, this is not the first line of a Henny Youngman joke (if you don’t know who he was, Google him, the King of the one-liners), it’s an honest question. You see my wife is descended on both sides of her family from Puritans, one of whom came on the Mayflower. She’s traveled even farther back in time, and viewed… Read the rest
A pervasive belief within Sonoma’s tourist serving businesses is that we must constantly compete for the attention of tourists. The recently formed Tourism Improvement District (TID) is spending $450,000/yr. on advertising of all sorts to “brand” Sonoma; placards on BART trains, billboards, … Read the rest
A cosmic self-referential paradox, our reckoning of time can be used to prove that it’s an illusion. Is this testament to our enduring capacity for self delusion or an example of humanity’s uncanny knack for cracking the underlying code of existence, or both?
We speak about Sonoma’s “sense of place” as if such an idea is obvious, that character and the meaning of “small town” are self-evident. The idea of “Sonoma,” if it occurs to one at all, necessarily resides in the imagination as an abstract totality, while simultaneously existing to the senses… Read the rest
When the economy collapsed in 2008 it was widely blamed on poor home loan lending practices. People who should have never received loans to purchase a house due to their inability to repay those loans once the introductory low-interest rate period ended were granted loans anyway.
One of the great things about baseball is the umpire. No ump and baseball would be a never-ending series of arguments and fist fights. As it is, the umpire is God, and his word and rule is absolute. To defy the ump is to risk being banned from the field. Even an eyebrow raised in his general direction is a challenge.… Read the rest
What would we do without statistics? Newspapers would actually have to report on events, sociologists would talk about feelings and baseball commentators would have almost nothing to say. Such is the state of the world.
Statistics are particularly appropriate to our digital age where every keystroke,… Read the rest
In his children’s story “The Lorax,” Dr. Seuss presents a parable about greed depleting the richness of nature and the enduring power of human longing. In his tale, beautiful Truffula trees cover the land and display a soft and colorful foliage which is exploited to extinction by a thoughtless industrial… Read the rest
By all accounts, particularly his own, poet Charles Bukowski was a miserable wretch. I attended one of his readings in my youth, and from the mini-fridge next to his stool on stage, he extracted beer after beer; as the evening progressed he ended up falling-down drunk and unable to continue.
He stroked his beard, leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes in thought. I’d known Ben Eleazar for many years, but never could predict how long such pauses would go on. I’d once waited two hours and twenty two minutes.
“Ok,” he said, “I’ll tell you.” It had only been four minutes. “But,” he added quickly,… Read the rest
Like water circling the bathtub drain, our consumer society expends a lot of energy but ultimately spirals down a bottomless hole, and unless more water is continuously added, nothing but an empty tub remains.
Of late, the “water” being added is money printed by the Federal Reserve Bank, in the form … Read the rest
“Ashes to ashes, shed to shed.” So go the notebooks of Von Meier. For over 40 years my friend Kurt von Meier kept a daily notebook. A compulsive documentarian, he stored his filled notebooks in file boxes, and as they accumulated, placed the boxes in a shed in his backyard. When he died in 2011 the thought… Read the rest
How is it that time after time governmental process and policy results in harm to the public? Hearings are held, reports commissioned, experts consulted, and yet decisions are constantly made that endanger health, despoil the environment, cause economic hardship and erode public confidence in … Read the rest
Males of many species mark their territorial boundaries. The other day my wife accused me of marking mine.
I will confess to feeling shocked by her comments at first. The shoes I leave under the coffee table in the living room, a pile of mail stacked on the dining table, my pants draped over the cedar chest… Read the rest
The wealthy and powerful expect to get what they pay for, and most often they do, spending billions on lobbying and campaign donations to guide the hand of government. Though lip-service is paid to the free market, tax rules, land-use law and public policy all favor “big money,” and for these reasons … Read the rest
The subject of two articles in today’s newspaper have been conflated in the title of this column. Article one involved the prospect that as the world’s population reaches 8 billion people, the need for a protein-rich food source will create an international diet of bugs. Bugs, the article points out,… Read the rest
For the North Bay wine country, including Sonoma, tourism has been a mixed blessing. Just one-hour’s drive from five million people looking for a weekend escape, the boom in tourism has both irrevocably altered the rural landscape with wineries, hotels and backed-up traffic and simultaneously filled… Read the rest
There is a yogic practice in Tibet that takes place in a charnel ground, or what we call a graveyard. Graveyards in Tibet, which is mostly rock, are not the neat and grassy parks we have here in America. Tibetan charnel grounds are bone-scattered yards where the dead are dismembered and their body parts… Read the rest
We think we live in a world of things: cars, dogs, trees, tables, salt shakers, cardboard boxes, underwear… the list is nearly inexhaustible. Every culture has its own words for each thing, and each thing has many sub-categories, right down to its molecular structure. So complete is the presentation… Read the rest
My father-in-law used to answer, “Fair to partly cloudy,” when I asked how he was. By this time he was in his late 70’s and not in the best of health, but I suspect he’d been a “fair to partly cloudy” guy his whole life.
I certainly know people who spend a lot of time “Overcast,” a gray cloud hanging above their… Read the rest
Recent reports on the condition of the Fukushima nuclear power reactors in Japan indicate that highly radioactive water used in the makeshift reactor cooling system has been leaking from buried storage tanks damaged in a tsunami several… Read the rest
A recent report indicates that as many as one-in-five high-school-age boys have been diagnosed with ADHD and many of them are being treated with drugs like Adderall and Ritalin. Clearly, either there is a growing epidemic of ADHD of unknown causes, or diagnostic criteria and social standards… Read the rest
A tremendous amount of energy and attention is focused on providing a path to citizenship for America’s many immigrants, and appropriately so. Citizenship provides, first and foremost, the protections of the Bill of Rights and laws granting access to legal representation,… Read the rest
For nearly 10,000 years human beings have lived in a land of milk and honey. Milk and its derivatives are used ubiquitously as food, and the importance of cattle made them one of society’s first forms of money. Old African tribes like the Maasai still measure wealth by number of cattle and notably, the … Read the rest
All seemingly stable systems are subject to perturbations and disruptions; what we perceive as stability is only the temporary emergence of fixed patterns within a container of unfathomable complexity, or what we commonly call chaos. We begin to think we can control chaos by adapting ourselves to… Read the rest
In the insect world, drones are males suited for only two functions, mating and work. Actually, that sounds like many of the guys I know. Seriously though, male honey bees, ants and termites spend their entire lives working constantly at the behest of the queen of the hive, the matriarch who … Read the rest
If you’ve gone out to buy a coffee table or a dresser, you’ve most likely come across some with a “distressed” finish. Banged, scraped, rubbed, chipped, and worn, distressed furniture is new furniture intentionally made to look used and old. Setting aside the question “why not simply buy an old beat-up… Read the rest
Conventionally, time as we know it is a socially-constructed artifact of civilization. Subject to the application of widely differing schemes, intervals, periods, adjustments and methods of tracking, time has been variously rendered according to the seasons, phases of the moon, growth habits… Read the rest
What is small town character and how is it preserved? Small town character cannot be universally defined, but in the case of Sonoma it means slower not speedier, quieter not noisier, relaxed not hectic; safe not dangerous;… Read the rest
A powerful urge towards wholeness and unity drives human behavior, while at the same time an equally powerful urge towards independence and autonomy is also at play. In general terms, such forces may be categorized as the feminine and masculine principles.
Amid the debate about guns and violence little seems to be said about the true nature of guns. Some say “guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” and in some sense this is correct. People have killed each other for a long time, well before … Read the rest
Like scattered pieces of a jig-saw puzzle life often seems a jumble, its meaning unclear and divided into separate bits. Examining it, a few pieces here and there may fit together easily, forming portions of an overall picture, but often the complete whole eludes us, pieces missing, lost or not quite… Read the rest
It is told that very long before our current age, powerful gods ruled the world, feasted on its riches, brought forth their sons and daughters and showered them with gold, jewels and the instruments of domination. Only when the flush of Earth Mother Saha (“endurance”) filled the world with searing heat… Read the rest
The fermented fruit of the vine, grape juice, has been a big deal for a very long time – like 8,000 years long. This is true despite a lack of neolithic wine tasting rooms, and speaks to the role wine plays in human life. So strong is wine’s part in history that it’s inspired religious myth, tales of brilliance… Read the rest
Those with wealth and power are terribly confused. Having become Lords of Materialism, seduced by the lure of money and the influence it can buy, they naturally assume all others share their values. Accordingly, as the recent national election illustrates, advocates for the view that “the business… Read the rest
“I want the big half,” said Isabelle, flashing her joyful five-year-old grin. I was dividing an ice-cream sandwich to share. “Well,” I said, “both halves are the same size, but you can choose the one you want. Do you like to having the bigger piece?” “Yes,” she replied, choosing.
Popular culture seems to be satisfying a substantial public demand for violent, bloodthirsty immortals with large fangs seeking human victims. Strangely, it’s not like real life isn’t providing us with enough demons: the daily paper recounts shootings, stabbings, photos of suicide bombings, … Read the rest
Desire being the root of most human experience, finding ourselves attracted to things we see around us is entirely normal. Given widespread religious doctrines and legal prohibitions against theft, it would appear powerful temptations to satisfy desire are rather normal as well; those of us who’ve… Read the rest
What is self, and how will you know if you know it? are unanswered questions that have been the subject of endless discussion, from esoteric religious thought to reductionist scientific rationalism. Who is looking, and who is found? Even asking such paradoxical questions seems to require multiple… Read the rest
If you’re wondering why modern life seems dominated by discussion of fiscal cliffs, taxes and money, look no further than the origins of Western civilization. For roughly 10,000 years, civilization … Read the rest
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” So reads the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights, one complete sentence expressing a complete thought. Despite grammar and punctuation which clearly… Read the rest
Time can be visualized as a branched structure of causes and outcomes, beginning with interactions between the simplest subatomic particles all the way up to the current composition of the cosmos. All that exists and has ever existed is interconnected by this vast array of branched history. A limited… Read the rest
Because we are imaginative and creative, people naturally idealize situations, others and ideas. When we idealize, we elevate something and imbue it with a sense of perfection. When we idealize love, virtue, compassion, truth, beauty… Read the rest
Buddhists believe that within the circle of Samsara into which we are born there are six realms, one of which is the god realm. Classically, the god realm is one in which bodiless beings experience total satisfaction for 1,000 years, only then to run out of merit and find themselves… Read the rest
When a natural event like Superstorm Sandy wreaks havoc and destruction it provides an opportunity to reflect on our preoccupations and priorities and how out of whack they so often are. Disaster strikes and suddenly we realize what’s truly precious; it’s not American Idol, the latest iPad … Read the rest
All objects are devoid of inherent meaning, which is to say for example, a chair is not a chair except in the mind of the perceiver. To a squirrel, a chair is simply something namelessly convenient upon which to settle while cracking a black walnut; it has… Read the rest
As income inequality continues to grow in America, with millionaires and billionaires increasing their record-setting ownership of the nation’s wealth, the sharp divide between haves and have-nots played-out in the reelection of Barack Obama. Despite record-setting expenditures, the haves… Read the rest
Charles Darwin introduced the concept of natural selection to describe the mechanism of evolution and the ways in which life on earth reflects a continuum of time and change. His theory challenged generations of belief in an absolute, immutable order of existence, and in his own way,… Read the rest
Sitting in the hot tub watching the afternoon wind whip a flag flying atop a 40-foot bamboo pole in my garden, I thought about waves. Flags wave in the wind, a convergence of weight, length, wind speed, and air turbulence. If the right… Read the rest
Roughly 500 years ago, Johannes Gutenberg introduced moveable type and the modern book was born. Gutenberg hoped that his invention would make the Bible more available and help sustain and enlarge the Catholic faith, but ironically… Read the rest
Both Presidential candidates are convinced that getting people back to work is the most essential ingredient in improving the American economy. This is, of course, true; more people working means more money consumption, more taxes to be collected, and more profits to be earned. The folly in this, … Read the rest
Industrialization is grinding the planet to dust, pollution radically changing our climate, population increasing to unsustainable levels, disease and poverty continue to spread and politicians worldwide bicker foolishly over non-issues; … Read the rest
While on vacation recently my wife and I were in no mood to search high and low for the best restaurant in Chicago and decided to eat as close to our hotel as possible. The day had been long and the temperature hot…one sign I read said 102 degrees. We’d spent the day visiting a 160-year-old farm that … Read the rest
Package labeling has become the art of deception, the intentional use of language to confuse and deceive the consumer. This is particularly obvious as food companies seek to exploit the organic food movement, currently the fastest-growing segment of the food industry, but the cosmetic and pharmaceutical… Read the rest
I remember sitting in our family living room as my father turned and folded pages, snapping and creasing the newsprint as he made his way through every section. Meanwhile, my mother would work across and down, completing the crossword puzzle with a pen. Growing up with … Read the rest
I was sitting on the couch with granddaughter Isabelle listening to her talk about numbers the other day – how ten is a bigger number than one, that one-hundred is even bigger, and that a million is even bigger than that. Suddenly she blurted out “infinity!” My mind stopped for an instant;… Read the rest
The presidential race is ramping up quickly, both sides having moved assertively into attack mode. Politics in America has degraded to the point that the billions spent on advertising are all about trash talk. It’s hard not to feel like one must choose the lesser of two evils when so much time and money… Read the rest
Among the channels proliferating via Dish Network I’ve recently taken to watching reruns of old network TV westerns. I watched many of these episodes when I was 10 or twelve years old, black and white westerns about good guys and bad guys and the women attracted to … Read the rest
This past month marks what looks like the confirmation of the Higgs Particle, or what has been called “The God Particle.” Like most things quantum, the Higgs Particle is simultaneously the Higgs Field, and its confirmation is a big deal.
The tragedy in Aurora, Colorado this past week reminds me of the killings by Charles Whitman in Texas during 1966. Whitman was the son of a middle class family, a former marine who climbed to the top of a tower at the University of Texas in Austin and shot 46 people with a high-powered rifle; fourteen people… Read the rest
Before our universe began, things were simple. All-and-everything, including time, space and matter, was compressed into an infinitesimal, dimensionless singularity of virtual probability. Then something happened; depending upon what you choose to believe either God initiated the big bang… Read the rest
An economy in shambles with persistently high unemployment; wide income inequality; increasingly belligerent saber-rattling by political parties; street demonstrations accompanied by vandalism and violence on the part of both demonstrators… Read the rest
When Orwell penned this slogan in his book “1984” he was addressing political theory, not neuroscience, yet from the perspective of current brain research, he was spot on. Our consciousness is but a sliver of the operation of mind, the rest hidden from our awareness. Turns out “free will” is less of a … Read the rest
If you read my column regularly, by now you know that I enjoy a cup of tea. My tastes in tea run to classic Chinese varieties like Oolong and Pu’er, and I can joyfully spend an hour or two exploring new varieties of fine tea.
Teapots, on the other hand, are a source of disappointment, specifically, the way … Read the rest
“We can’t return, we can only look behind.” – Joni Mitchell
Despite the persistence and power of memory, the seduction of the past and 20/20 hindsight, the arrow of time appears to go in one direction only: forward. It might be more accurate to say “outward,” insofar as forward inclines one to think… Read the rest
Human society today rests far less upon nature than upon the results of human imagination. Futurist and inventor Buckminster Fuller called it our “metaphysical” world, author Neil Postman calls it “technopoly,” and I call it our “cooked-up reality.” It was not always this way.
Be it ritual figures made for spiritual practices, decorations placed on everyday objects, hieroglyphs applied to rock faces, images created using colored sand, applied body paint, feathers or jewelry, so-called “folk art” is the natural and often… Read the rest
We live in an age of specialists and experts who identify themselves as at the top of their craft, experts like the financial wizards at JP Morgan Chase, who recently lost their company over $3 billion dollars. “Ooops,” they said. “We feel terribly stupid.” These are the same specialists who tanked the… Read the rest
In our pursuit of self-identity we accumulate physical preferences such as hairstyle and body shape, various beliefs, likes, dislikes, and psychological habits. In general, we consider these accumulations personality, and once gathered, we protect personality with great devotion.
That members of the Secret Service and U.S. Army shamelessly availed themselves of the services of Columbian prostitutes in advance of the arrival of President Obama is no surprise to me. For thousands of years, powerful men have blended their official power with their sexual urges. Such men often … Read the rest
What, exactly, are we looking for, and why is it everyone is always telling us what we need and what to do? Need a new car? Of course you do and BMW has the answer. For that matter, so do Ford, GM and Chrysler. Need new clothes? Foolish question; just ask Penney’s, Target, or Nordstroms, they know. Salvation… Read the rest
“But words will never hurt me,” says the childhood aphorism, yet nothing could be further from the truth. Try yelling “oatmeal!” in crowded theater and watch nothing happen but annoyed stares and admonitions to please be quiet. Yell “fire!” and watch chaos erupt.
Understanding of brain physiology has increased enormously in recent years, yielding answers about mapping, the role of various structures such as the neo-cortex, amygdala, corpus collosum, and so forth. Moreover, though we now know how various structures relate… Read the rest
I’ve just returned from a solitary retreat in the Colorado Mountains where I stayed in a tiny remote cabin in the woods without electricity, telephone, running water, bathroom, Internet connection or refrigerator. I prepared meals on a one-burner propane stove and read by lantern light. Nights were… Read the rest
Want a six-foot talking Terror Bird? How about a dwarf Stegosaurus? Miniature Wooly Mammoth, anyone? Get ready; genetic engineering is about to explode into the commercial marketplace, bringing us the strange excitement of all kinds of new and intriguing designer pets.
I’ve written about love before, and my words don’t really amount to much compared to how love feels. I’m not alone in writing about love, of course; it’s the stuff of rock and roll, Shakespeare, a thousand poets, romance novels, crime drama plots and notes passed back and forth in eighth-grade English… Read the rest
Sitting here in the “land of the free” while much of the world struggles with democracy and reorganizing society, I can’t help but contemplate the meaning of freedom. Tossed around liberally by conservatives, freedom as a word seems to have morphed into a convenient catch-all political platform.… Read the rest
“You win a while, and then it’s done, your little winning streak.” – Leonard Cohen
You may think you are a loser: full of self-criticism, disliking your looks and your body, eating badly, drinking and smoking, not sleeping enough, ignoring your kids, slacking off at work, treating friends like… Read the rest
Of all the difficult things in the world, watching myself get old and decrepit will surely rank among the toughest. Unless I keel over and suddenly expire, fate dictates I will likely suffer indignities of pain, weak bones, altered gait, low energy, debilitating disease, and/or dementia before death… Read the rest
Previous to the last 10,000 years during which farming, agriculture and establishing fixed cities emerged as dominant social structures, human beings lived by hunting and gathering, living in modestly sized groups, picking up camp and moving with seasonal food sources. All that changed when three… Read the rest
The defining character of the modern age is its relationship to acquiring knowledge: the idea that knowledge is power, specifically power over nature and others. This orientation distinguishes modernity from antiquity’s belief in knowledge as its own reward and wisdom… Read the rest
In a previous column about money I wrote about symbolic and imaginary mind, and its place in human experience and psychology. The symbolic is related to language. Through language we form thoughts about our perceptions… Read the rest
The downside of poor is fairly obvious; no money – no food comes to mind. But in America being poor seems to have fallen on particularly hard times of late; the end of welfare, denigration of food stamps, no health insurance, and a safety net very well-frayed around the edges. Let’s face,… Read the rest
There is no shortage of disagreement in the world. On topics petty to profound, human beings exhibit an infinite range of opinions in opposition to each other. The glass is half-full or half empty, the weather is too cool or too warm, a pierced nose is enchanting or disgusting, cilantro tastes great or… Read the rest
Death often arrives unannounced, of course, and at my age more frequently. This past year has brought the passing of family and most recently my dearest friend of 41 years, Kurt von Meier. Kurt was unlike anyone else I’ve ever met. Even as he grew older, he never stopped being a surprise. … Read the rest
So here’s my prediction: during the next decade there will be a huge crackdown on marijuana users. Evolving technology for drug testing, criminal law and political opportunism will converge, creating the perfect conditions for a crack-down more severe than any before.
In the beginning, there was The Word, and not too long thereafter, The Book. The first books were all about The Word, and other genres remained well in the future. Books were simply books, and their content represented the wisdom of the world.
By the 15th century, the first novels were born, and with them… Read the rest
Orwell wrote “Who controls the present controls the past” and in light of the current state of politics in America, Orwell proclaimed truth. I’m referring of course to George Orwell, English writer of the dystopian “1984”, his eerily prescient vision of the contemporary world. In its “book … Read the rest
All things change; what is born grows older and dies. Sometimes such change is quick, sometimes slow, unexpected or anticipated, dramatic or subtle. Moment to moment, we are changing; our thoughts literally alter the physical framework of our brain, our actions alter the components of the body, and… Read the rest
You get up, use the bathroom and find your robe and slippers in the dark while your wife sleeps. Closing the bedroom door behind, you make your way to the kitchen at the front of the house. You flip on the lights. You walk to the door leading outside and find your way to the driveway. A newspaper lies rolled-up… Read the rest
“Good morning Audré,” I murmur, slipping out from under the covers. “Good morning, Larry,” Audré replies, “Do you want me to begin preparing your tea?” “Not yet, thanks,” I mutter, walking to the bathroom. “Lights dimmer please, Audré.” I blink as the illumination drops a notch or two.
For the vast majority of us, the world is emblazoned in millions of colors, from intense solids to the most subtle shades and blends. While it is impossible to describe color to another person in absolute terms our color sense is consistent enough that to most of us stop signs look red and lines in the road… Read the rest
I know it’s inexplicable and defies understanding, but somehow I received an email from the distant future yesterday! From what I’m told, it’s traveled 36 light years (roughly 212 trillion miles) to reach my desktop, from the constellation Vega. As I said, it’s inexplicable. It’s from a young woman… Read the rest
Let me begin by saying I like food; I make it everyday in my own kitchen. Food can undoubtedly be one of life’s finest distractions, though as I’ve been explaining to my three-year-old granddaughter Isabelle, no matter how cool food is, tomorrow it’s all poo-poo. But America is totally obsessed with … Read the rest
Experts like to make economics sound complicated; after all, who needs experts for something simple? Macro, micro, Keynesian, free-market, leading indicators, blah, blah, blah…start talking about this stuff and eyes glaze over, minds drift and before too long another scoundrel has ripped… Read the rest
My wife and I recently returned from a long-delayed week’s vacation south of the border staying at what was the first “health and fitness” retreat, Rancho La Puerta, founded in 1940. The founders of the ranch were a Transylvanian professor named Edward Szekely and his young wife Deborah who believed… Read the rest
There was a time when paying bills was a private affair, as were auto loans or credit card charges. An invoice was received, a check or money order was sent as payment; sometimes one would visit a local business and pay an invoice in cash. These transactions were based on trust, and reinforced the mutual… Read the rest
Human beings have been managing many things for a long time; we manage piling rocks into a wall, corralling livestock, selling stocks and bonds and so forth. The “management of things” means things are used and applied to situations by human effort so that a reasonably predictable outcome is the result.… Read the rest
I’m reading a 1996 book entitled “Demonic Males” which endeavors to explore the roots of male violence by examining the history and habits of our closest animal relative, the chimpanzee. Genome comparisons show we share 99 percent of our genes with chimpanzees, but genes tell only part of the story.… Read the rest
Everyone hates taxes, or so it’s said, yet of the certain both death and taxes are included. The anti-tax crusaders bellow “no new taxes!” while the pro-tax crusaders sound apologetic. At best the pro-tax forces muster arguments about “fairness,” but this is not a terribly convincing message in a country… Read the rest
I’ve been back in New York City for a while visiting my mother. She’s nearing 89-years-old, slowing down and not quite up to whipping up a big dinner like she used to, so we’ve been going out to eat quite a bit. Having run the gamut of neighborhood joints during the week, coming up with someplace exciting … Read the rest
Physicists generally agree the matter we can see and detect makes up only a small percentage of the total matter in the universe, something less than 17%. The remaining matter has been named “dark matter” because it cannot and has not been positively detected; its gravitational effects, however, have… Read the rest
America’s extended political primary process has been dubbed the “silly season,” but given the pronouncements of this year’s Republican candidates, “stupid season” is a more appropriate moniker. The various GOP candidates talk trash about everything from the TARP bailout to the recent budget … Read the rest
Ringing, actually. Like millions of others, I suffer from tinnitus, in my case a continuous squeal of high-pitched hissing, sounding much like the steam valve in a turn-of-the-century radiator I lived with in my first one-room apartment in New York.
Lucky for us the framers of the U.S. Constitution put happiness right near the top of the list, just under life and liberty. Had that not been the case, most of us would be in dead-end jobs we hate, buried in debt, beholden to others, taking anti-depressants and complaining most of the time. OK, I’m being… Read the rest
Nearly two years ago I wrote in this paper that popular fantasies about an increase in consumer spending turning around the economy were a joke. At that time the worst of the housing and credit crisis was becoming manifest, and foreclosures were beginning to soar. The bailout funds had made their way … Read the rest
Roundup (Glyphosate) is a particularly effective herbicide that is widely used in agriculture to control weeds growing among food crops. Monsanto, the developer of Roundup, wedded Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) with Roundup to create a completely integrated system of crops that are genetically… Read the rest
It’s said humor is tragedy revisited, like slipping on a banana peel or getting your foot stuck in metal bucket. It’s not very funny while it happens, but gets funnier when retold or remembered. I keep trying to find the humor in everyday tragedy, something I learned … Read the rest
A recent report in the NY Times listed the 2010 CEO income from 200 of the largest corporations. The amount of compensation was stunning, of course, and ranged from a stratospheric $84 million for Phillip P. Dauman of Viacom, $70 million for Larry Ellison of Oracle, and $76 million for Ray R. Irani of Occidental… Read the rest
I’m bedeviled by “y’ know.” Everywhere where I go I hear “y’ know.” From a literal standpoint, I don’t know, and I must assume I will be told, that is, what I need to know. Out of politeness, I don’t say “No, I don’t know,” since that would be humiliating and embarrassing to others. But I often think it.
I must admit to feeling quite deflated by the recent Supreme Court decisions regarding the first amendment. To see liberal justices Ginsberg, Sotomayor and Kagen recently join Scalia and Roberts in deciding not to protect minors from videos filled with blood-spattering violence, torture and mayhem… Read the rest
Watching old films of the 40’s and 50’s explicitly reveals the underpinnings of our American cultural narrative. Produced before the rise of contemporary comic irony or social satire, these post WWII films feel more like “educational” dating or coming of age films that were shown in high school. Commentary… Read the rest
As the world moves solidly into the 21st century, education in America appears to be headed to the 19th. Teachers and the country’s public school system have been targeted by political conservatives who seek to cut salaries and job security for unionized teachers while diverting taxpayer dollars … Read the rest
Bob Dylan sang that, “those not busy being born are busy dying” but from what I can tell most everyone is doing both at once. Each new moment is a moment of rebirth. What seems constant and solid is a renewal, one heartbeat, one breath at a time. And that’s how close we are to dying;… Read the rest
A recent excavation in Asia uncovered a small village near the birth place of Attila the Hun. Archeologists found a hand-written scroll from 445 A.D. tucked inside a sealed ceramic bottle. The scroll contains entries by a low-level government employee, much like a Twitter diary, covering a period … Read the rest
We can’t anticipate all the possible outcomes of every human activity, this is just a simple fact. Each action in every moment cascades through endless time, generating effects. Some effects are obvious to all, others are extremely subtle and beyond ordinary awareness. Effects can be large or small,… Read the rest
At last count there are at least 10 banks in the City of Sonoma and more coming: Bank of the West, Wells Fargo Bank, U.S. Bank, Exchange Bank, Sonoma Bank, WestAmerica Bank, Rabobank, Citibank, Union Bank and Bank of America. It seems like a new bank opens in a new location every few weeks. This leads me to… Read the rest
Europe has a lengthy history of philosophical thought, ranging from ancient Greeks such as Aristotle up to and including English, French and German philosophers of the 20th Century. Knowing and the nature of knowing have occupied some of the… Read the rest
Most people I know don’t think about hell too often. I brought it up cheerfully at breakfast the other day but perhaps it was too early to talk about it; everyone just stared at me. Then again, I might have just been the only morning person at the table.
A media frenzy ensued recently when in London, England, an ice-cream shop began to advertise and sell ice-cream made with mother’s milk. “Baby Gaga,” flavored with vanilla and lemon zest, was advertised as a bit sweeter and not as thick as standard ice-cream. Almost immediately, the British authorities… Read the rest
Life as we know it is made up of proteins, amino acid structures of great variety allowing for the assembly of DNA, RNA the other solid structures of living things. At the scale of individual proteins, we are talking about structures that are micro-cellular; literally… Read the rest
There have been many articles written about abuse and exploitation of the world’s environment; over-fishing of the oceans, deforestation of the rain forests, and extinction of various species of birds, mammals and amphibians. What’s not covered as often is the depletion of the American wallet.… Read the rest
My mother will be 89-years-old this year, and during a recent visit I suggested we rent a car, drive to New Rochelle from Manhattan, and take a look at the house she grew up in. I’d never seen the house at 10 Argyle Avenue, and my mother had not been back to see it in 80… Read the rest
One of the strangest experiences while flying across the continental U.S. happens above Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas; soaring six miles above, one looks down upon networks of old missile silos.
From time to time I get a hand-written note or letter from older women about a column I’ve written. Rarely are such letter writers critical, and I enjoy knowing that my writing is appreciated. What’s always of interest to me, though, is the lovely and refined penmanship these notes so often display.
Since I launched my Kibble for People idea last year in this paper things have really moved along.
In case you missed that column, Kibble for People is my latest billion-dollar idea. Pibble, as it will now be called, is the fully-nutritional, out-of-the-bag, one-flavor-only food that replaces everything… Read the rest
In the Middle East, authoritarian leaders in power for many decades are being challenged by the young and disenfranchised. During their rule, these leaders enriched themselves, their families and their friends while exercising police-state control over ordinary citizens. This accumulation … Read the rest
In the movie Minority Report, while the hero (played by Tom Cruise) walks through a subway corridor his iris’ are scanned and advertising specifically geared to his interests appears on video billboards visible only to him. While this seems mildly futuristic, I want to emphasize the word “mildly” … Read the rest
As a bull facing certain death stubbornly raises its head one last time, kicks up dust and charges the Matador, so my Brooklyn-born father faced his own end; ninety-one years old, and he truly thought he’d never die. “Why is this happening to me?” he asked me while hospitalized,… Read the rest
“You are a very strange man.” My wife Norma is smiling at me and gently shaking her head. Her comment follows my latest effort at romance. “Inherent non-locality means that when we kiss the entire universe is involved,” is what I said. Admittedly, this does not have the poetic charm of Shakespeare’s sonnets.… Read the rest
Our granddaughter Isabelle loves to paint. She’ll be three years old in late February, and seems to have gravitated to making art. Unconstrained by matters of self-criticism, perfectionism, or rules of any kind, her work is completely expressive, uninhibited and spontaneous. Watching her playfulness… Read the rest
I managed to catch a nasty chest cold circulating around town, found myself low on energy and sitting around for most of a week in no mood to work or even read, so I browsed Netflix and nostalgically began watching the first season of the Paladin saga, Have Gun – Will Travel.… Read the rest
Our modern lives are very speedy, filled with constant activity and continuous stimulation – deadlines, commitments, obligations, forms of entertainment, trips to the store, picking up the kids from school, getting to and from work, doing the laundry, cleaning the kitchen, running errands… Read the rest
I don’t watch too many television shows, but I’m hooked on Mad Men. I grew up in the suburbs of New York City, where my businessman father lived the Mad Men life alongside the other post war executives.
A episode this season featured scenes in a restaurant called The Forum of … Read the rest
A few months ago Wikileaks released hundreds of thousands of government documents about the Iraq war, some of which reveal that not only did the U.S. military look the other way as Iraqis tortured and murdered Iraqis, but actually turned Iraqis over to the Iraqi torture squads. The other revelations… Read the rest
Many of the most moving moments during the last weeks of my father’s life were experiences of hospice. In this age of modern medicine where every effort is used to successfully prolong life, hospice instead focuses patient comfort and dignity.
Prolonging life, even when it comes at the high cost of family… Read the rest
We study, analyze, organize, strategize, plan, anticipate, and calculate probabilities, but life constantly upends us. We enlist computers, algorithms, software programs, collected metrics, trend-spotting, forecast modeling and plain old intuition, yet fail to accurately predict much more… Read the rest
The human condition requires eventually losing everything, even our body; we don’t get to take it with us when we die anymore than we get to take our favorite sweater. Birth, aging, sickness and death comprise the totality of our physical experience – we all know this – but we still suffer… Read the rest
Considering the immeasurable diversity of forms of life in this world – tube worms breathing methane at the mouth of 800 degree volcanic vents at the bottom of the ocean, lichens digesting the minerals in rocks for survival, worms living inside glaciers, bacteria that grow “legs” to move across… Read the rest
Cause and effect are so all-pervasive and unobstructed, most of the time we don’t notice it in operation. The world we enjoy (or not, as the case may be) reflects the continuity of cause and effect at work on everything, even hamburgers and ketchup.
Thousands of years ago the idea of atoms was proposed. Ancient Hindus and then Buddhists wrote and taught about atoms, as did the Greeks. Reduced to smaller and smaller particles, physical material eventually became too small to be seen physically, so the existence of atoms was inferred.
Having never been to Las Vegas my wife and I planned a visit to celebrate my birthday. We felt excitement mixed with horror; and every friend we told about our plan reacted with: “You’re kidding!” But kidding we were not. Like Ishmael… Read the rest
I’ve just completed James Lovelock’s recent book, “The Vanishing Face of Gaia”. Lovelock, now 90, is the scientist-inventor who popularized the term “Gaia” in the 1970’s to define the earth as a single living organism – dynamic, self-regulating, and responsive to global and cosmic forces. Gaia Theory,… Read the rest
If marijuana is legalized in California the commercial floodgates will open. This is less a matter of good or bad than a simple matter of fact. The marketplace and its investors will swoop in and create an advertising juggernaut to capture customers, and the pot genie will never go back into the lantern.… Read the rest
For most of modern history, wars were fought between nations – France against Germany, Italy against Austria, England against France, Japan against China, America against Germany, Japan, North Vietnam, and so on. While the nature and character of each war differed, what they all had in common… Read the rest
Of four basic human emotions – mad, glad, sad and scared – mad is the most problematic. It is from anger that people are hit, stabbed, choked, murdered, abused, hurt, punished, cursed, castigated, blamed, and objectified. To this list we may add “thrown out of office.”
I had a lunch date with a friend in San Francisco last week at Green’s in Ft. Mason. I hadn’t been there in years, and the entrance to Ft. Mason had been re-engineered, requiring me to find my way to the new entrance. As I ducked through the Safeway parking lot, a fellow in white pick-up pulled up to my passenger… Read the rest
“Leaf blowers to right of them, leaf blowers to left of them – into the valley of death rode the six hundred!”
With apologies to Tennyson, I must admit that there are few sounds more detestable than the gasoline-powered leaf blower. On Wednesday my southbound neighbor’s gardener toils, leaf blower raging… Read the rest
Prior to 20th century physics, which established the dominance of Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity, the concept of an all-pervading invisible aether, the medium through which light, gravity and electromagnetism moved, was commonly accepted. Harkening back to ancient alchemy… Read the rest
My wife says I remind her of the story of the princess and the pea, the parable about making a big deal about nothing. It’s true I am a picky person, though I prefer to think of my self as discerning. That distinction notwithstanding, there are some complaints that I find perfectly reasonable, and among … Read the rest
9-11 is a special day for me because it is my birthday, but it’s not so pleasant for everyone else. The events of 9-11-2001 produced tremendous cultural trauma, and its powerful effects are still reverberating. Such trauma happens from time to time and it often engenders worldwide change. There are … Read the rest
We live in a “me” world, where attention to self is a daily preoccupation. “I want this and you want that” is the basic functioning of contemporary society and we routinely go to sleep each night expecting to greet our “selves” the next morning.
Our sense of self is contingent, however. First there must… Read the rest
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States recently ruled that any action which can be defined as “material support” to an organization deemed “terrorist” is a federal crime. Material support, says the court, includes discussion and/or consultation about non-violence or peace, making… Read the rest
In the 1974 book Lives of a Cell, author Lewis Thomas paints a disarmingly sweet portrait of a single cell that all but imparts a charming personality upon a living thing so small it’s microscopic. The life of a single cell, one of 40 trillion in each of our bodies,… Read the rest
I attended a lecture today. The topic was Jews in the 21st Century, but it covered the 20th century as well. All told, it was not a bad talk, if a bit too long and somewhat repetitive. As it pertained to Israel, I found no basic disagreement with its premise that extremist intolerance on the part of both Israelis… Read the rest