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, and even magically – no matter the method devised, evil defies solution. In many cases, the proposed solution is revealed as evil itself; the Spanish Inquisition comes to mind, as do the Salem witch trials, but there are countless examples.
The ancient Greeks explained the existence of evil through a mythology that externalized human emotions; it was believed that human beings are controlled by external gods such as Ares and Aphrodite, who played their ways with human emotion and destiny itself. By displacing responsibility in this way, shame and blame were also displaced.
Western religious traditions – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – dealt with the problem of evil by placing it at Satan’s door, setting up a primal struggle between good and evil. This Manichaean approach relies on acceptance that evil remains a constant force in the universe and can be counteracted only by the equally constant force of good, but like the ancient Greeks, assigns blame externally; “the devil made me do it.”
Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism use Karma – the effect of past actions, including thoughts – to explain evil. This too is displacement, but displacement into the past, effectively casting blame on the effects of one’s behavior in a previous life. That notwithstanding, frightful demons and punishing hell realms are also part of such cosmology, and theoretically await those who commit evil acts in this life.
Our legal system places evil within the confines of blame. The application of effective causality seeks to assign personal responsibility to our actions and inflict punishment accordingly. This approach eliminates the need to understand evil, and merely seeks to punish it. Although some effort is put into determining motive and/or mental state, these address the nature of punishment, not the nature of evil; ironically, our system of punishment inflicts additional trauma on perpetrators of evil. So it goes.
As psychologist Sue Grand notes in her book The Reproduction of Evil, the perpetrator of evil is generally someone who has suffered as a victim of abuse and trauma, and seeks to escape the torment of that trauma by transferring it to others. These new victims then reproduce that evil by abusing others in turn. However, Grand also observes that evil propagates through a complex system of complicity requiring participation by bystanders. The role of bystander is the act of forgetting; denial, dissemblance, changed narrative, and altered facts all serve to eliminate history and therefore absolve perpetrators. We saw this process at work during Hitler’s Third Reich and more recently in the complicit behavior and willful evasion of truth by the Senate Republicans during the impeachment trial of Donald Trump.
The transfer of evil from individuals to a wider culture-at-large requires an act of mass-forgetting, and when this happens evil is reproduced on an enormous scale. The genocide of America’s Native Americans could only have happened through collective, social acceptance of denial, dissemblance, changed narrative, and altered facts.
Although evil will always be with us, a commitment to gaining a deeper understanding of its mechanisms and our contributing role as bystanders may help us weaken evil’s chain of torment.
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 to reducing homelessness remain out of reach
Given the size of the aging baby boomer generation, baring an exceptional turnaround in public policy, I expect the homeless population in Sonoma County to grow to 10,000 within the next five years. While some boomers have retired in comfort, a vast number have little in the way of savings just as they become increasingly dependent on others due to health problems, dementia, and a too-pricey housing market. Accordingly, the homeless population is increasingly elderly, easily victimized at the hands of predators and subject to dumping by hospitals eager to unload unprofitable patients
What began with Ronald Reagan’s decision as Governor to close all of the state’s mental hospitals has now grown into a statewide homelessness epidemic. Combined with Jerry Brown’s elimination of local redevelopment agencies in 2012 that supported the creation of low-income housing, the aging of the boomer population, and rising rents, a deepening fog of poverty and desperation has moved over the State of California. Unless a massive program is developed, the reality of homelessness will be increasingly felt
The Trump administration is threatening to intervene in California’s homeless problem, but how that intervention might look remains a question. Given how refugees and asylum-seekers at the border are being treated, caged behind barbed-wire in detention camps like criminals, it’s likely that a “humanitarian” federal solution will include rounding up the homeless and placing them in cages, too. The privately-owned detention center business is highly profitable and their number is increasing rapidly. Such human warehouses purport to treat people decently but an increasing number of reports indicate otherwise. There’s no reason to suspect such facilities to house the homeless will be any better, particularly given the medical and mental health needs of an aging population.
In order to get ahead of the situation, local jurisdictions will have to sacrifice other types of priorities; caring for people properly is expensive and there’s no profit in it except knowing that needy people are treated kindly. Multiple year-round shelter facilities must be constructed in locations that are accessible by public transportation, staffed by medical and mental health professionals equipped to treat a vulnerable and often unstable population. Cities must be prepared to accept a role in providing care and facilities, and local law enforcement agencies must be engaged to insure that such activity is properly monitored. Being homeless, however, is not illegal and people who are mentally unstable cannot be locked up unless they present a danger to others.
Sonoma county has enjoyed a vibrant tourist economy for many years; new hotel construction continues and vacation rentals have exploded. Significant revenues from tourism are diverted into tourism promotion, but its increasingly likely that dollars devoted to caring for the homeless will begin to need to be siphoned off from other sources, like tourism. Raising taxes and imposing fees is nearly impossible, and the money to address the homelessness problem doesn’t grow on trees. Major financial sacrifices will have to be made from other programs like road repairs and public transportation. Get ready for the homelessness Tsunami.
“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 crisis, new ADU regulations are yet another sleazy housing industry scheme to make huge profits for themselves and wealthy Wall Street investors at the expense of the average homeowner.
Under new rules effective January 1, 2020 regulating the creation of ADUs, every California property owner has been set loose to conduct commercial activity by monetizing their backyards. Fast-moving companies with the scent of profit in their noses are already hawking their services, with promises of a steady income-stream for property owners. Facebook ads by such companies are already running across my newsfeed. A new gold rush has begun, but this time it’s the gold buried in California’s backyards. Wall Street is salivating; let me tell you why.
It costs between $50,000-150,000 to convert a garage to an ADU, and as much as $400,000 to build a 1,000 square-foot ADU from scratch. Aside from the occasional single property owner who might have the credit or cash to finance this amount, attention is going to corporations who can bundle this new type of real estate asset and monetize the business model by issuing stocks and bonds. This means banks, mortgage issuers, insurance companies, finance companies, tax accountants, and yes, most certainly Wall Street, are going to be involved.
What of pre-existing density and zoning rules? With the new statewide ADU regulations, every single-family-zoned property in California with a yard has suddenly been converted to multiple-family zoning. ADU homes of 800-1000 square feet are big enough for a couple, and even a couple with kids. This alone will cause a geometrical, unplanned density increase of cars and people in most neighborhoods; new neighbors on every side is a real possibility.
Roughly half of the residential real estate in America is investor-owned, not home-owner occupied, and California’s new ADU regulations eliminate owner-occupied requirements. Accordingly, it’s wealthy property-owner-investors and sophisticated housing development corporations and their allies who will harvest the money-tree now bearing fruit in California’s back yards; then again, it never hurts to appeal to good-old American greed. Every home-owning Californian is now being cultivated as a budding business-entrepreneur-landlord, with a valuable nest egg sitting in the backyard, legally entitled for rapid exploitation. California’s new ADU rules demand a streamlined application approval process, the swiftest in the real estate development industry, so the ready money is lining up. But there’s a host of other issues and questions.
Will an ADU be affordable to rent? Real estate development and property management companies are interested in maximizing profits, not affordability. Government regulations mandating the affordability of ADUs are not allowed, and they will rent at the highest price the market will allow. Property taxes associated with ADU construction will have to be folded into rental rates; a $400,000 ADU will add $4,000 a year in taxes, plus increased homeowner insurance. And who will rent these ADUs in Sonoma? Will wealthy, white homeowners seek low-paid Latino restaurant or hotel workers as tenants? Not likely, but well-paid high-tech workers in the Bay Area will be delighted to rent a small house in Sonoma to enjoy on the weekends.
Development impact fees are not collected on ADUs under 750 square feet. This means government will see little in the way of new revenues while at the same time must provide services to a larger population of residents. Does an ADU have its own address, for like mail delivery? What about utilities, like PG&E and garbage? It will get complicated.
Being a landlord can be a real pain, which is why the business world is salivating, knowing they will grab most of the profits through ADU property-management corporations that find tenants, and manage rent collection. And corporations seek to maximize profits, so rent will always be market-rate. A 1,000 square feet unit is large enough for two decent-sized bedrooms, a livingroom/kitchenette and bath, and will rent in Sonoma for at least $2,500/month; that’s more than a full month’s take-home pay for a worker with a minimum-wage job.
Sound travels and sometimes a noisy neighbor over the fence can be a challenge; having four new neighbors added to the ones you already have will certainly be interesting, particularly if it’s multiple families.
Setbacks and zoning requirements have traditionally been applied to the development of neighborhoods of single-family housing through the imposition of minimum lot sizes required for dwelling units, formulas about lot coverage, and floor/area ratios. Growth management ordinances have regulated the rate of development and population increase. Historically, the population in Sonoma has increased at a managed average rate of 1% per year. If only 20% of the 4,500 single family parcels in Sonoma build and rent an ADU in the next few years, the population will quickly increase by a whopping 20%. The same goes for the rest of Sonoma Valley; do the math.
We’ve seen this game before; the market will quickly be oversaturated with ADUs sitting empty, and unwitting homeowners unable to keep up with payments associated with ADU costs will lose their homes. It’s just another version of the type of housing bubble that collapsed in 2008.
Past regulations created single-family neighborhoods as we’ve known them, forming the basic fabric of the community; the new ADU regulations will change all that. Under the guise of a housing crisis, Sonoma and the rest of California has been snookered by an avaricious building industry into the uncharted territory of yet another real estate boom and bust.
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, and the growth of battery-powered devices like electric vehicles. The other reason, of course, is profit. The metalic nodules at the deepest recesses of our oceans range from marble to grapefruit size, and technology has advanced to the point where underwater mining equipment can withstand pressures 200-times greater than surface pressures.
It was once believed that no life forms could exist in the deepest trenches of the sea, but that belief has been proven false. Ecosystems of unique creatures do indeed inhabit these other-worldly realms, and the likelihood of their destruction is great as the rush to harvest metal nodules increases. The irony in all this is that battery-powered electric vehicles are now being hailed as a major way to solve our greenhouse gas emission problem, when it’s adapting to hydrogen as fuel that’s the far better and emissions-free solution. In typical fashion, we attempt to solve one problem by generating another.
What gets far too little attention, however, is the consumer lifestyle that fuels the consumption of automobiles, and the degree to which human society is now addicted to expensive modes of personal transportation. That addiction is furthered by the physical structure of human society itself, how homes, places of work, schools, and the infrastructure that surrounds us has been influenced by and for dependence upon automobiles and inexpensive fossil fuels.
Dependence upon automobiles is linked at a deeper level to matters of personal autonomy and the modern imperatives of time. At its most basic, freedom of movement is inherently a property of animal life; the ability to move is an inborn element of survival and thus our personal attachment to autonomy through the use of the automobile is deep-seated. The modern imperatives of time, however, are not inherently inborn; rather, our relationship to time is socially constructed and dictated. Most of us live and die by the clock.
In a clock-driven society where time is money, patience is poorly cultivated, and accordingly this breeds habits of instant gratification. Our desires for instant gratification are vigorously pursued by businesses and opinion-makers, all of whom futher their own profits by exacerbating our impatience. With each passing decade, we’ve witnessnessed the erosion of abilities to suspend emotional outcomes; speediness has become a virtue. Faxes yeilded to email, email to texting; standard mail yeilded to airmail, airmail to Fed Ex overnight delivery; overnight delivery yeilded to Amazon’s same day delivery. With each iteration, our ability to be patient shrinks, and commerce invests in ever faster modes to satisfy our growing impatience.
Now that we’ve enjoyed the conveniences of the modern world in the pursuit of satisfying our desires, giving up desire and instant gratification will be extremely difficult; this shift is exactly what’s necessary. Replacing gas-guzzlers with other types of personal vehicles is simply another way to continue to enjoy a sense of autonomy and instant gratification, and the continued destruction of the ecosphere — progress — is the price we pay. This is the harsh message of 16-year-old Greta Thunberg: that a fundamental shift in human culture must happen to avoid environmental calamity, that we must stop living in a fairytale, wake up and own-up to the true seriousness of our situation.
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 throw me and twenty percent of the freshman class out of school without explanation, and told us we had 24 hours to get out of town.
My mother popped three dexidrine, gassed-up her Pontiac Firebird and raced up to Providence, Rhode Island at 90-miles-per-hour. “You’re stupid,” she’d bark out every few miles as we drove to Westchester, “you know that?” By the time we got home my father was there; Mom and Dad had officially divorced just a few months earlier, the first legal divorce due to “irreconcilable differences” in the history of New York, or so my mother told me somewhat later. “Maybe the army would do you some good,” Dad yelled, but I’d grown up watching Sgt. Bilko and there was no way I was going to join up to fight in Lyndon Johnson’s stupid Vietnam war.
I bought a VW bug for $400 and got a job at a sheet-metal fabricating factory over the border in Connecticut. That lasted just a month or so, until I felt too threatened. The guys at the plant were what we’d now call blue-collar Trumpists; coarse, loud and aggresive. “Hey Al, did ya remember to bring them scissors so we can cut college boy’s hair after lunch?,” manager John Stelmak would yell over the deafening noise. “Go Airborne,” he confided in me privately.
Meanwhile, I’d applied to the NYU Institute of Film and Television, and been accepted, so in early summer I found an apartment at 8 St. Marks Place in the East Village, a studio on the fourth floor in an old tenement walk-up a few blocks from The Magic Circus. It was in front of the Circus one evening that PR Bobby tore off my beaded necklace. “You know who I am?,” he said threateningly, “I am Lucifer, I am everywhere.” He waved his hand, “Now go away, Bitch!”
I filled my apartment with kitch and a mattress on the floor, and began to introduce myself to other tenants. The “super” was an old guy named Joe, who passed me off to his nephew Johnny Benigno. Joe, Johnny explained, was actually Crazy Joey Roma, short for Romatowski. “Crazy Joey was part of the Dutch Schultz mob,” he said pridefully. Johnny was a street-smart, lower east side kid with a fast mouth filled with only a few teeth. During a period of three days employment at Radio Shack, he boasted he’d put half the day’s cash receipts into his pocket instead of the cash register. After I’d moved out, I heard he’d moved to Woodstock and had a gun.
Johnny shared a studio with Pinkie, so named because he was missing one. A middle-aged auto mechanic, Pinkie had let his blond hair grow long figuring it would help him score with hippie chicks, but his perennially greasy hands and dirty fingernails escaped his attention. There were plenty of hippie chicks, many of them runaways. Kitty Findlay from Silver Springs, Florida shared my apartment for a few weeks along with her white cat she’d named “cat”. Kitty ended up pregnant, and a guy named Lee Littleton was the father; I was told she named her son Silver Fire.
Lee was an aspiring rock musician and compulsive womanizer who lived on the ground floor. He got a gig at a bar mitzvah in Long Island and since I could carry a tune he invited me along. When we got back to St. Marks Place he revealed that he’d stolen three velvet tablecloths from the temple. When I introduced him to my girlfriend Peggy a few months later, he complimented her boots. “Beautiful family, man,” he told me, grinning.
Unlike my street-side studio apartment, the units in the rear of the building were dark, tiny studios, with two miniature windows looking out into a soot-stained air shaft. The radiators in the building never worked properly, but the gas stoves heated the rooms adequately unless it got down into the 20s, when ice would form on the inside of the windows. Hidden behind their tightly-locked metal front doors, long-term residents went about their busines silently, avoiding the hippies who had invaded their space, but we’d run into them at Stachu’s, a Polish restaurant around the corner on Avenue A; we lived on their doughy pirogis, which cost like seventy-five cents each.
NYU was a bust. I dearly wanted to join humorist Paul Krasner’s protest march to levitate the Pentagon, but that plan interfered with writing a 42-page paper on the poems of Dylan Thomas. I decided to withdraw, and explained my priorities to the Dean of Students. “Yeah, sometimes I feel like tossing these file cabinets out the window,” he empathized. Years later, Paul told me some Pentagon brass reached out to him in advance of the march to set up a meeting and find out more about his “levitation plan.”
I hitched a ride down to D.C. with a guy named Lenny, a carney pitchman who practiced his patois on me for the entire five hour drive. A few hundred thousand of us marched and then congregated in front of the steps of the Pentagon and watched author Norman Mailer get arrested; by ten at night the crowd dwindled to a couple of hundred seated diehards warmed by fires set in metal garbage cans. I left after the surrounding soldiers emptied their canteens on us; I crashed in a stranger’s apartment, and caught a ride back up to New York City the next day. Despite our best efforts, the Pentagon never lifted off the ground, not even an inch.
Then Groovy died. Groovy was a lower east side icon, an affable and outwardly innocent flower child who happened to overdose on hard drugs. His death hit the St. Marks Place community hard; our alternative newpaper, The East Village Other, made a big deal about it. The Summer of Love was over and flower child culture slipped into the icy grip of modern chemistry and New York’s looming winter.
The Draft Department had me report to 25 Whitehall Street for a physical; I prepared by not bathing or changing my clothes for a week and given my wretched appearance and demeanor they shuttled me off to the psychiatrist’s office right away figuring I was a druggie. When Dr. Engels leaned toward me asking, “Tell me Larry, do you like girls?,” I knew I’d be rejected. They sent me home 1-Y, unsuitable for the military except in an emergency.
I moved through a series of odd jobs; they were easy to find but hard to keep. I nailed plywood on the windows inside of an abandoned soap factory; by the end of the day my shoes were caked and covered in animal fat renderings from the floor and I had to throw them away. I tried being a delivery man using my VW, but racked up more in parking tickets than I earned at $4.25 an hour. I worked at Village Movers for three days; hauling furniture and heavy boxes up and down four flights of stairs left me physically disabled for a week. When all else failed, I’d wander to the West Village and panhandle for quarters until I had enough for a couple of cans of tunafish.
One late October night, I found myself in a nearly deserted subway station with no money and the realization that I had a key in my pocket that opened only one of nineteen million doors on the entire island of Manhattan. By then I had a shit job as a file clerk alphabetizing receipts in a windowless room filled with cigarette smokers. Freezing as I waited for the A-Train, I told myself, “If your fate is to be 18-years-old and have a shit job, you can be 18 and get a shit job someplace warmer.” I’d already moved in with my girlfriend up on West 87th Street and by the end of December we’d saved enough to board a plane to San Francisco where my first sight of the fog crawling over Twin Peaks left me speechless.
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, is itself rather remarkable; western science has only come to that conclusion rather recently.
Of course, there are degrees of densely-packed space, ranging from highly dense, like black holes, to lightly dense, like earth’s atmosphere; compared to outer space, of course, even earth’s atmosphere is quite dense. People, comprised of living cells mostly made of water, some minerals, proteins and other bits of stuff, are also densely-packed space, and configured in such a way that allows self-consciousness and imagination to emerge. Not all densely-packed space exhibits such emergent characteristics.
Take a piece of iron, for example. If a piece of iron could talk, what would it say? Perhaps, like the character Groot in the movie Guardians of the Galaxy, who can say one phrase only, a piece of iron would say “I am Iron.” As a particular form of densely-packed space, a piece of iron is highly stable, and remains a piece of iron for a relatively long time, but not forever; even iron rusts, decays and eventually disintegrates.
Whether densely- or lightly-packed, space itself is composed of waveforms, both stable and unstable. These waveforms appear to us variously. Going back to the example of iron, what we call the atoms of iron are themselves composed of still smaller bits, and at the level of subatomic particles assume the appearance and character of waves. These waves interact, resonate, and interfere with each other in a particular and stable way, such that a piece of iron, in human terms, remains a piece of iron for a very long time.
Thus the relative stability or instability of waveforms provide the framework for all that we, as semi-stable, self-conscious waveform patterns ourselves, can observe. With these powers of observation, we make distinctions and accordingly name the various types of things we see, hear and feel. That notwithstanding, the scientific consensus is that only 5% of the universe is comprised of waveforms we can detect; the other 95% of the universe is invisible to us, mysterious and unknown.
Gravity has only recently been added to our list of observable waveforms. Prior to this past decade, the force of gravity has been solely identified with mass and its distorting effects on spacetime. With the detection of gravity waves, the forces at play in the observable cosmos reinforce our appreciation that all and everything is the manifestation of an original Great Waveform from which all other waveforms, galactic to subatomic and all else in between, have been propagated.
We appear to emerge like waves in the water of the ocean, to which we also appear to return. Yet the waves cannot be separated from the water. In actuality, there is no emerging and returning at all; such thoughts are pure confusion. We cannot return to that from which we never left, except in our imagination. The Great Waveform is a unifying force that removes all distinctions and suffering.
Thus I pay homage to The Great Waveform in all its manifestations. May all beings be well. Om Mani Padme Hum.
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.
Herstory (not his story) is largely unwritten, or at least not well-acknowledged. Buried below the discourse and explanations of men, the global history of women is one of silencing, disempowerment, and relegation to man-serving roles. In modernity, western culture has evolved enough to allow women to vote, own property, bear (or not bear) children, and inherit wealth, but in 2019, even these entitlements are under assault by patriarchy.
History (not her story) includes a variety of patriarchal rationales, ranging in views spiritual and materialistic. Author Riane Eisler explored this territory in her book The Chalice and the Blade, as did Robert Graves in The White Goddess. Both books recount the origins and effects of the 10,000-year war on women that has consumed us. It is not a simple gender war, however; as seen in bias and bigotry towards the LBGTQ community, the rejection of the feminine is not gender specific. From the patriarchal perspective, the feminine displays weakness and duplicity — both deemed dangerous — and claims to power that must be suppressed.
Eastern religion acknowledges the legitimacy of both feminine and masculine principles, the former generally expressed as the “receptive,” the latter as the “active.” Yet eastern societies are expressly patriarchal, underlining a history of hypocrisy. The feminine has been relegated to a subordinate position, the principle of “receptivity” perverted into acceptance of submission. “The weaker sex,” as western society has conventionally called women, “requires” the assertion of male power for protection and guidance; eastern society is equally culpable in this betrayal.
Some religious sects explicitly advocate that women subordinate themselves to men, wives follow the orders and dictates of their husbands, and that women limit their own roles to those of “traditional” housewife and mother. Such brainwashing of women can be seen in their attraction to men of “strength and power” rather than the exercise of their own. In her book In a Different Voice, Psychologist Carol Gilligan explains this “silencing” of women and the commensurate replacement of an authentic voice with that of the patriarchy. Punished and suppressed for so long, a version of Stockholm Syndrome forces women to find a voice by mimicking that of their oppressor.
Masculine objections to the “likability” of Elizabeth Warren are an example of the fear that forthright women bring out in men. The male horror fantasy is the “vagina dentata,” the emasculating, all-enveloping feminine from which men once “escaped.” Draping the feminine in costumes of “the muse” or “the whore” to mask the reality of fully-empowered women, men continue to find ways to denigrate powerful women like Warren and Pelosi, but it’s a charade. Pandora, an Ancient Greek myth about man’s creation of the first woman from clay who later releases misery into the world, speaks to the fearful projection patriarchal society placed upon women, and it continues today, unabated. Cruel sociopaths like Donald Trump draw upon fear and anger fueled by 10,000 years of anti-feminine rhetoric and behavior. He finds company in men cut of the same cloth: Putin, Mohammed Bin Salman, Erdogan, Duterte, Kim Jong Il.
Herstory, regrettably, remains a silenced discourse about a world that might have been.