polar symmetry at the Equinox

UMass Sunwheel

Clouds partially obscured sunset at the UMass Sunwheel this evening, but the day was glorious and could not be damped by moisture at high altitudes. vernal equinox 2010 at the sunwheel Dr Judith Young’s astronomy lesson drew a crowd of over a hundred on this warm spring day.

I always learn something new from her “every day astronomy” as she labels the astronomical events that occur every day, 365 days a year, always and forever as long as the earth turns.  Today I was struck by the symmetry of light at the North and South Poles. If I got it right, today is the only day – just once in the entire year – when both the North Pole and the South Pole receive light from the sun. Not only do they each receive sun at the same time (once in 365 days) but they receive it for the whole day: an entire 24 hours.

Imagery came to mind as she spoke, of the earth rotating in a slow swirl of light and dark, pulsing back and forth (pendulum-like?) from this day of total light at the top and bottom to the opposition in six months, when both poles will be simultaneously in total dark for another single day. The North will swirl on, now, in permanent light, while the South twirls in darkness.  The pattern will shift a bit from day-to-day until the Fall Equinox reverses the trend, casting the North toward the dark and the South back into the light.  (There must be a good animation of this?)

Imaginational error!  Ha – I did find an animation, and it doesn’t look at all like I had visualized! The movement is an uneven rocking, not the smoothly symmetrical dance of intertwined light-and-shadow flitting about my brain. Well. Imagination is just that, right? Imaginary.

I also located Dr Young’s astronomy podcast for today, which proposes an International Unity Day in addition to including most of the information she shared on site. The proposal is premised upon the fact that for this one day only, everybody on earth is positioned relative to the sun in exactly the same way.

Coordinates (for coordinating)

IMG_0413

During her talk at the Sunwheel, Dr Young made an off-hand comment about how Eskimos experience the sun very differently than we do. It gave me an idea about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which poses the idea that people’s experience of the world is different because of the influence of their particular language.  It isn’t that the language per se generates a different world, but that the language reflects the particular coordinates of how a culture experiences the world around them. Then I remembered Bakhtin’s heteroglossia, which theorizes that every one (each individual) has, to some extent, their own language.

Given such a vast sum of possible variations (be it with languages or experiencing the sun) it is quite amazing that there are days (infrequent, and thus perhaps special) when anyone paying attention would discover that they were oriented to the sun in exactly the same way as everyone else (with exceptions at the extreme latitudes). It is as if the earth moves in such a way as to produce a single coordinate system – just a taste, for a time, to prove it is possible?

Dr Young (in her podcast, linked above) lists the 4 characteristics of the Equinox –

  1. the Sun rising due East,
  2. the Sun setting due West,
  3. the Sun up for 12 hours, and
  4. the Sun down for 12 hours.

And the amazing thing is that everyone on Earth sees this on the Equinox… So you may be located in Australia, or Ireland, or Ecuador, or Amherst, Massachusetts (where I am) and whether you are in the Southern hemisphere or the Northern hemisphere or at the equator, on the Equinox you will see the Sun rise due East and set due West, with 12 hours of Sun up and 12 hours of Sun down.

Just think about it – on the day of the Equinox, all creatures inhabiting the Earth will experience the same thing with regard to the direction of sunrise and sunset, and with regard to the length of time the Sun is up and the length of time the Sun is down.

Most days it is pretty hard to imagine umbrellas large enough to encompass all differences.  Personally, I’m eager to help create them.  I’ve joined this organization Four Years. Go. Perhaps it will keep me out of trouble (one hopes) when I’ve nothing else to do!

this century – a wish for us all

celebration timespace

My buddy Chris Boulton wrote and produced this short film as a birthday gift for a friend’s son.  Described by the dad as, “A little Dr. Seuss, a little Shel Silverstein, and a lot of the good old unselfconscious love,” the sentiments compose an anthem for current and future generations.

I’m pretty happy to have been included in it!  I render the third stanza in American Sign Language. (Click the title to watch and listen to the video.) Hale is obviously one lucky kid; I bet he’ll grow up to be okay sharing the wish with all the other children in the world – including us grown-ups with bits of “kid” still in us.  Come on ya’all – let’s really make this our century!  Do well for people you don’t even know!

HAIL TO YOU HALE TRUE!

HAIL TO YOU HALE TRUE!
TODAY IS YOUR DAY
THOUGH I CAN’T BE WITH YOU
I’VE GOT SOMETHING TO SAY

WHEN YOU BURST ONTO THE SCENE
JUST ONE YEAR AGO
YOUR PROUD PAPA CALLED ME
TO BE SURE I WOULD KNOW

“HE’S HERE!” HE BELLOWED.
“OUR BIG BUNDLE OF BOY!”
“AND WE LOVE HIM SO MUCH —
LIKE OUR MOST FAVORITE TOY!”

AND WHEN I HEARD THIS GOOD NEWS
I KNEW JUST WHAT IT MEANT:
THEY WERE READY FOR YOU
READY ONE HUNDRED PERCENT!

[Cuando escuche las noticias
Sabia justo lo que significaban
Estaban listos para ti
Eras justo lo que esperaban!]

YES, YOUR PARENTS HAVE SKILLS
AND THEY FLY WITH GREAT SPEED
TO MEET BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE
WHO ARE POOR AND IN NEED.

BUT DO THEY RUN? DO THEY HIDE?
STICK THEIR HEADS IN THE SAND?
NOT A CHANCE!
THESE CATS ARE CURIOUS.
THEY WANT TO UNDERSTAND.

WITH CAMERAS AND MICS
THEY ASK QUESTIONS AND LISTEN
IN DESERTS OR JUNGLES
OR EVEN SOMEBODY’S KITCHEN.

[Con cameras y microfonos
Investigan un poquito
En desiertos y selvas
O hasta en la cocina de Fulanito!]

SO DON’T BE SURPRISED
IF THEY STUDY YOU TOO
AND START ASKING THEMSELVES
WHO IS THIS HALE TRUE?

NO ONE KNOWS JUST QUITE YET
AND THAT’S PART OF THE FUN.
AND THE BEST PART IS
THAT THE FUN’S JUST BEGUN!

SURE, THERE WILL BE BAD TIMES
AND SAD TIMES
AND DOWNERS INDEED
BUT THERE IS ONE THING TO COUNT ON
AND I MEAN GUARANTEED:

WITH YOUR MOM FULL OF AMY
AND YOUR DAD A GREAT SCOTT
YOU’LL BE LOVED TO THE LIMIT
WHETHER YOU LIKE IT OR NOT!

SO HAPPY BIRTHDAY HALE TRUE
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU
THIS IS YOUR YEAR LITTLE BUDDY
AND THE NEXT ONE IS TOO!

HECK! THIS IS YOUR CENTURY
IT’S YOUR TIME TO SHINE
AND YOU’LL DO IT QUITE BRIGHTLY
ONE STEP AT A TIME!

Bluebirds? “Only in my mind.”

Nantucket Island

Due to winter weather, it took us more than nine hours to make I-195 Eastthe drive from New York City to Hyannis. As it happened, at least one of us (STFU) understood the need to be on Nantucket for New Year’s Eve, because such an opportunity truly doesn’t happen too often in a lifetime.  So we managed the drive, caught the fast ferry and arrived to a full panorama of downtown lights only 12 hours after departure. We enjoyed a midnight meal, plenty of good cheer, and a long leisurely sleep to usher in the new year.

Nearly all of the “new year” accounts I have read express relief for the change of year and also for the turning of the decade. Only one suggests that the future may be worse than the past. Daniel Gilbert writes in a NYTimes Op-Ed, “Ours may be the last generation of Americans to suffer for return — to remember events that took place when place still mattered.”

How place still matters

Optimism is reputed to be a survival trait; humor even more basic. I witnessed both in abundance at Nantucket’s annual Audubon bird count meeting on the evening of New Year’s Day. More than thirty serious birders gathered at the UMass-Boston Field Station to report tallies of birds sighted by volunteers who spent the entire day outdoors, scanning island skies, thickets, and beaches for hints of wing. I hardly qualify as even a novice birder, so the sense I make of what I heard is certainly suspect…nonetheless, as I listened to the rote calling out of bird-names and the response in numbers from each designated area’s representative, my attention was captured by the reactions of these hardy experts. An image began to emerge in my mind of an incredible ecosystem of avian life – I would love to see an accurate animation of bird flows over time, specific to geographic regions and types of bird. It would be beautiful, I’m sure. And alarming.

The concern with place presented by Gilbert has to do with the human ability to fix memories. As individualized shops give over, increasingly, to chain stores promising the same product everywhere, the ability to associate key events with particular places anywhere becomes blurred. We will still remember, he says, but in a displaced fashion:  “… reliving experiences that are located in time but dislocated in space. ” At the bird meeting, someone asked, “When’s the last year we had a bobwhite?” “I keep hoping,” was the scorekeeper’s reply, while someone else answered, “Thirty years.”  It looks like their range is typically south of Massachusetts, although bobwhites have been common here in summer. I was surprised by how many summer birds are in the count, such as 2,328 American Robins! Imagine the double shock when someone commented, “A little lean, that!” and another echoed, “It’s got to be low.”

“Anyone hear a fish crow today?” “No.” “Well said.”

I am sure I missed many jokes whose point was based on insider ornithological knowledge. There were more birds named that I have never heard of (especially varieties of ducks and gulls) than those I know I’ve seen, but I was pleased to be familiar with a bunch of songbirds, woodpeckers, and hawks. More than half of the reported bird counts did not inspire commentary one way or the other. Either the numbers were in the range to be expected, or whatever change was apparent did not warrant verbal exchange. Sometimes there was an audible sigh, or a slight deepening of silence. But most of the banter was intended to keep the mood light and you wouldn’t know (unless you know) that there may be cause for concern. Besides, some of the counts were higher than anticipated – evidence of adaptation that will yield its result only as changes (whether of climate or development) continue to unfold.

DSCN0472

Note: this is not a full account of all
reported birds, only those to which
there was active response
from the birders.

There was “a pile” of black ducks (596), and a “crapload” of coots (@41?). I know there’s quite a developed scientific vocabulary for these things, so I checked technical terms for groups of specific birds. Nope. I was relieved – the whole meeting would not be conducted in jargon I couldn’t understand! “Crapload” would come between a covey of grouse, partridges, ptarmigans or quail and a deceit of lapwings. And “pile” is missing between a peep of chickens and a pitying of turtle doves. Isn’t language marvy?! There were 19 harlequins (“Wow! Nice count!”), and 24 gadwalls (“Holy cow”), but the Old Squaws seemed to have disappeared. “There was no flight this morning – that was weird.” “There were more than 22,000 over Barnstable the other day, where did they go?” “What?! Have you been drinking again??” “That’ll get ’em wondering.” “They’re somewhere, we just don’t know where.”

Good news first

There were 190 Lesser BlackBacked Gulls. “Is that a record high?” “First time we’ve had that.” “It’s pretty phenomenal.” “It’s up there!”  Seven Hairy Woodpeckers were spotted: “that’s of a lot of them, a lot for us,” and 91 Flickers: “Seems like a good flicker year.” There were also “a lot of crows here today” (704), and another potential high: 1,026 chicadees. Eleven golden-crowned kinglets. “That’s amazing; they’re kinda scarce.” Someone saw a tundra swan: “Who is that guy?!”

A murmur greeted the single viewing of a pied-billed grebe, “a rarie” and “good count” for the 46 hornbilled grebes. One bittern: “Wooo, nice.” Eighteen Great Blue Herons was exciting (“Wow!”) There were six blackbelly plovers and a single snipe, “Good job,” and one Glaucus: “Way to go! Thank you!” Two dovekeys were seen, “Yea!” “Exciting!” “So dramatic!” and 252 Razorbills, “Wow!” “Whew!” “Woohoo!” “Sweet!” for seven seen Barn Owls, and another “whoo” for the single Longspur. And so it went, for about an hour, with these highs punctuated by lows intermixed with unremarkable counts in a syncopated rhythm larger than all of us.

Not such good news

DSCN0492Not a single killdeer, a fact greeted with a low groan followed by a few seconds of silence. At the news of only three Black Legged Kittywegs, there was a sharp, collective intake of breath. A bird whose name I missed had a very low count: “That’s pretty puny. Horrible.” No ringnecked pheasants had been seen: “Bummer. There are some around.” It was “too much to ask for” a blue wing shoveler, although there was a sole pine warbler: “Good job, they’re scarce this year.” No pippins. “Just thought I’d ask.” There was a veritable protest when no one reported a Kestral. “Ahhhhh!” “I thought we had one!” “It was a rumor.” “Who started that one?!”  Thirty-six redtail hawks, however, was “not so bad.” Overall though, “the songbirds are not strong. This is really weird. Songbirds are really down this year.”  Seven towhees. “That’s low too, isn’t it.” Field sparrow? No. “Oh, just checking.” Eleven savannah sparrows: “Really crummy.”

About halfway through the meeting, the group had a moment on the edge… there was an eider of a type I didn’t catch but the question was posed, “King or Queen or One Who Wasn’t Sure?” [Seen at the museum the next day: ‘Captain, the lad’s a girl!’ about a sailor who fooled the crew for eight months until she became sick.] Meanwhile,”We had a bird we think’s a hybrid,” regarding which they decided to count “1/2 of each.” Clearly, evidence of a natural drama is discernible between the lines of these birder’s spare and functional statements and dry humor.

Signs of Change

Erosion of the island has been occurring at an increasing annual rate for the past several years. Houses have been lost to the sea; others have been relocated to their innermost property line in order to persist as long as possible. Scientists suggest that within 600 years, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard both might be gone. Birds will find other habitats, of course. Unless they lose elements of native habitat required for survival. See “Life in the Boundary Layer” for a taste of what some of these elements might be.

The Gillmont? “Going once, going twice….count week.” It took me a few follow-up questions to understand the system.  The “week” of the official bird count is centered on a region’s chosen date.  For Nantucket this is January 1, which means the full week for the official, annual birdcount is December 29 to January 4, but because this is an inexact poll, bird species seen during the three days before and after count week can be added to the final tally. Last year, there were 134 species in the literal count and 142 with the additional days before-and-after. This year, so far, only 117 species have been counted during the official week, with another 8 that were seen in the three days prior to the start of the official week, that’s 125 total. If no additional species are seen before January 7th, the overall species count will be down by 17.

The Faraway Place

Despite the zero count for Tufted Ducks, “I feel in my bones there is one here. Stay on your toes.” Zero Egrets inspired a pun, “No regrets,” which got quite a chuckle, “It’s so late,” apologized the scorekeeper. No Common Mergansers drew a whistle (of dismay?) and the absence of Ruddy Ducks (“Uh oh”) led to, “We know what we’re looking for tomorrow.” As with many things in life, much comes down to being present at the “right time, right place” in order to see (as did one lucky soul) a Short-Eared Owl.

There will be a tomorrow. As these birders showed me – reinforcing life lessons from friends – how we get there (enduring the weather, teasing each other, sharing passions), and what we make of it once we arrive, is up to us.

“slower, deeper, softer”

With unfailing precision, solar observatories around the globe and through the history of humankind offer tribute to this primal source of existence. If life as we know it depends upon the parameters determined by earth’s orbit, then “what,” my friend asked, “does the orbit of the earth depend upon?” “Gravity,” I offered, “which they’re still trying to figure out.” Later, a voice out of memory nudged me to add, “and electromagnetic forces.” These are two different categories of what the physicists call “fundamental forces.”

Winter Solstice
Earth

“Winter after winter
I never cease to wonder
at the way primitive man arranged, in hewn stone,
such powerful symbolism.”

~ George Mackay Brown (about Maeshow)

sun sets south of eastA handful of friends humored me in the middle of the longest night of the year, ‘toasting’ the earth with our lit candles.  Earlier in the day, one of them accompanied me to the Sunwheel, where UMass astronomer Dr Judith Young explained the placement of stones marking the rising and setting of the sun at the furthest edges of its annual arc across the earth’s sky. The setting of the Winter Solstice sun occurs at its most southern position on the western horizon (for those of us in the Northern hemisphere), visibly marking the physical point in the earth’s orbit when our angle to the sun shifts away from the slow gathering of longer and longer nights to the gradual return of lengthier days. Although the coldest days of the year still lay ahead, they are just the tail of the momentum generated at the other end of the earth’s orbit, when the Summer Solstice marks the peak of daytime. These moments of transition are ancient and inexorable. They representative the constituting limits of life on earth.

With unfailing precision, solar observatories around the globe and through the history of humankind offer tribute to this primal source of existence. If life as we know it depends upon the parameters determined by earth’s orbit, then “what,” my friend asked, “does the orbit of the earth depend upon?” “Gravity,” I offered, “which they’re still trying to figure out.” Later, a voice out of memory nudged me to add, “and electromagnetic forces.” These are two different categories of what the physicists call “fundamental forces.” Perhaps, I mused to myself later, my friend wanted to know if I would say God? It could be that “god” is a name referring to the same thing, being a word created by people using various languages to label a recognizable (if inexplicable) phenomena.

Solstice observatories are ancient and evident on most continents, including Newgrange (in Ireland), right stone marking winter solstice sunsetwhich is older than Stonehenge by some 1200 years, and Maeshow (Orkney Islands, Scotland). The oldest one in the Americas was confirmed within the last decade at  Chankillo (Peru, a Zapotec site), and another one exists at Building J (Mexico). Chaco Canyon’s famous sun dagger (United States) is another type of solar observation mechanism. The Inca built Rumicucho (Ecuador – which boasts some incredible equinox sites, see “Where No Shadow Falls“) and Machu Picchu (Peru, see this virtual tour of the Sun Temple).

There are also ancient solar observatories in Asia. The Uglugbek Observatory in Kazakhstan may be the inspiration for a Sun Plaza apparently under construction in Astana City.  This beautifully-laid website by candlegrove, Ancient Origins: Solstice, lays out a panorama of solstice celebrations from around the globe, supplemented by visitors’ comments about Dong Zhi (Chinese), Soyal (Hopi), and Yalda or Sada (Iranian). The site includes borrowings of contemporary religious holidays (Christian, Jewish, Muslim) from earlier pagan rituals and (very exciting!) a lead to information about the analemma (watch the animations!) which explains the Equation of Time and provides great visual diagrams and definitions of ecliptic, true & mean sun, the celestial sphere & equator, and the vernal equinox (which heralds spring).

Our Celebration (Talents, Appreciations, Environmental Goals)

meThis year’s talent pool was tiny but special. Impromptu performances included a fried vegetable and egg dish (Albanian), creative wine pouring (where?! courtesy of South Africa), and cake made exclusively from dry mix and seltzer (Sikh). Quasi-rehearsed performances included ASL interpretations of Power to the Meek (Eurythmics), Hammer and  a Nail (Indigo Girls), and I Gotta Feelin’ (Blackeyed Peas). [Note: The first two came off alright but I failed to make the last song’s crucial rhythm change visible. (Signs of middle-age?!)]  The Mexican contribution (“I’m f*ckin’ brilliant”) was a poem by Pablo Neruda, read first in English then in the original Spanish.

If You Forget Me

Finally, English translations of works by two Romanian poets, Nichita Stanescu (in keeping with Neruda’s relational mirror) and Marin Sorescu: Asking Too Much and (for me, smile) Translation.

A Poem

by Nichita Stanescu

Tell me, if I caught you one day
and kissed the sole of your foot,
wouldn’t you limp a little then,
afraid to crush my kiss?…

TRANSLATION
by Marin Sorescu

I was sitting an exam
In a dead language
And I had to translate myself
From man into ape.

I played it cool,
First translating a text
From a forest.

But the translation got harder
As I drew nearer to myself.
With some effort
I found, however, satisfactory equivalents
For nails and the hair on the feet.

Around the knees
I started to stammer.
Towards the heart my hand began to shake
And blotted the paper with light.

Still, I tried to patch it up
With the hair or the chest,
But utterly failed
At the soul.

“Lentius, Profundis, Suavis”

These words in Latin were often spoken by an inspiring Italian leader of the European Greens, Alexander Langer. They seem appropriate to me as descriptions of the institutional effects required globally in order to stem the worsening of climate change and create decent living conditions for people in all societies.

working the system: market enforcement of emission standards

Resource Economics
Stockbridge 217, UMass
Amherst

Dr Linus Nyiwul’s dissertation defense was conducted almost exclusively in the language of math, with very little generic English explanation for the non-resource management layperson. So I cannot write very much about it, except that it was obvious that his faculty members are excited about the potential of this framework Dr Nyiwul has created for government regulators to exploit market mechanisms by leveraging emissions standards against the needs of firms to attract investors.
There are a couple of premises that Dr Nyiwul builds upon, including a perception that investors would prefer to put their money into “green” companies, and evidence that companies who improve their own environmental management systems experience increases in stock value (e.g., Feldman 1996). Dr Nyiwul described a whole lot of complicated stuff that needs to be properly balanced:

  • setting a standard,
  • needing to monitor to ensure companies are meeting the standard,
  • keeping the cost of monitoring low enough to be reasonable (for government) while
  • making the threat of monitoring real enough that companies prefer to comply rather than risk being caught and having to pay the penalty.

LinusGRAPH.jpgSomehow all those things get crunched through some equations that calculate

  1. “marginal damage” (whatever this means! it apparently refers wholistically to “society”) and
  2. monitoring costs (to the government) and
  3. costs of compliance (for the firms)

…. now, where it gets real interesting is when the government establishes two emissions standards: a regular standard (the minimum to be deemed “in compliance” and avoid penalties) and an overcompliance standard – which would earn a special certification proving uber-greenness (or something en route to such glorified status). There is pilot project currently underway, the National Environmental Performance Track (NEPT), which has weaknesses but whose results – plugged into Dr Nyiwul’s equations – demonstrates that TWO STANDARDS IS GOOD POLICY! Not to mention that firms which earn the overcompliance certification have a special marketing asset to appeal to investors. (They have to meet the minimum “regular” standard first, then apply and demonstrate accomplishment of the overcompliance standard.)

There was some fancy problem-framing, as Linus described one finding, saying that it came about in one way if you set the problem up this way, and comes about in another way if you set the problem up that way. (I love the fact that subjectivity can be found in math!) There are some issues with firms getting to self-report emissions (apparently without verification, unless the regulator goes to conduct the actual monitoring?) And there was quite a discussion about looking at the problem endogamously: with free entry into and out of the market. And output and size effects really matter (but cannot be reversed) in terms of the direct and indirect effects of enforcement costs. Yea, I don’t really know what those sentences mean in “real” economic terms, but there may be other things in play at times which can lead to inconclusive results.
but…. drumroll please! Dr Linus Nyiwul concludes, and his faculty agree:

“An optimal tax rate is smaller than the social marginal damage for a fixed n and no market imperfections.”

The challenges that issue forth from Dr Nyiwul’s work include (in no particular order):

signature.jpg

  1. identifying which are the important uncertainties (given that anything could be uncertain except for whatever is under direct regulatory monitoring)
  2. defining clearly what “overcompliance” means (if “compliance” means paying the right tax, i.e., reducing emissions in order to minimize tax…. does overcompliance move a firm into a “credit” situation?)
  3. how to extend the framework from a single firm to an industry
  4. identifying how the framework as it is fits within known policy issues and concerns, and
  5. extending the frame beyond emissions to look at a lot of other policy issues.

Frog Spawn or Bat Food?

LeRoy d’Espagne, Brussels
1st Meeting of The Beginning
and
Amherst, MA

Sven thought it appropriate to frame our first meeting with a bio-fact he’d just learned from the local dinosaur museum. I’m not a biologist, so I don’t know the life chances of tadpoles, but I certainly hope the light of our collaboration isn’t so bright that we get eaten by bats!
01 Saw Mill River rapids.jpg

Things happen.
Things happen and we make up their reasons.
We never know if others perceive phenomena in the same way that we do; all we have are references points of presence, perception, and language. Today, gazing upon the Saw Mill River, I wondered if I hadn’t been alone, if someone was with me, would they have been as immersed in the gentle rumble of these quick shallow rapids as I was? And what of previous shared experiences – do we remember them similarly? If we both/all recall the event, are the same or different features highlighted in memory? How did we interpret it at the time, and has that interpretation become more fixed and rigid, or has it softened, becoming more fluid with the expanded lens of hindsight?

“Science has only scratched the surface of how language affects thought.”

02small Saw MIll River approach.jpg
At any junction history stretches back, a biographical momentum that imbues each person with impetus for being in the present moment of shared spacetime. Until the moment of meeting, each person is on an independent course – a course shaped by previous relationships and experiences but as yet unaffected by the now-unfolding encounter. What will come from contact is unpredictable, yet not beyond the ken of knowledge, intuition, and intention. What do we want to result from mutual exposure, from the mixing of our life trajectories?
Upon return to Amherst I stumbled into another beginning – a friend’s dream project, well underway. Could these two beginnings, initiated so close in time albeit on opposite sides of the Atlantic, complement each other? 07small onward flow.jpg And if they could, what would be my role? I’ve been thinking (metaphorically, as I do) that I want to be part of a pile supporting bridges over deep water. I’m not “a” bridge, myself, and the support I can offer is insufficient of itself to keep any bridge aloft and protected from scour. But, perhaps, from the relative stability of my own perch . . . this web of inter-relations connecting mentors, colleagues, friends, professional contacts . . .
and meanwhile, as always, the river flows on.

References/Resources:
riding on butterfly wings, Reflexivity
What’s in a Word? Language may shape our thoughts, Sharon Begley
Bridge Supports, Andy Johnson

Once and Future Missions

Memory

Forty years ago, my dad embarrassed me by stopping on a winding highway in the Colorado Rockies and waving down other drivers asking if they wanted to watch the moon launch. I was six years old. We were on the annual summer camping trip. Dad had had the foresight to load up our black-and-white portable tv with a powercord to the cigarette lighter, and he had kept an eye on the time. Not too many cars passed by, and none took up his offer. My brother and I understood that he was excited, but the significance of watching that grainy image of a rocket launching into space was beyond us at the time. Ever since, I rarely remember the event without tears – my own bit of vicarious spaceflight, an historic event witnessed by one of the largest global television audiences at that time. I do not recall watching the moon landing (although we probably did), it must have been under more ordinary circumstances and thus did not imprint as deep.
#17Big Picture APOLLO_11.jpg

The photos from The Big Picture’s Remembering Apollo 11 entry capture the glory as well as the sheer hard labor. One of the experiments (photo 29) has functioned ever since, demonstrating that the moon is moving away from the earth at a rate of 2.5 inches/year. (How does this influence, I wonder, the tidal flow of rock that the folks at CERN need to track?) A friend pays tribute to Neil Armstrong’s expression after the moonwalk (#24), a man who kept his cool “in situations that would have most of us soiling our pants — this incredibly brave, stoic man — is photographed by Buzz Aldrin with an incredulous, half-smile, his eyes brimming with tears after having just friggin walked on the surface of the friggin Moon.”
Stephen Hawking writes,

“Sending humans to the moon…changed the future of the human race in ways that we don’t yet understand and may have determined whether we have any future at all.”

I’m partial to the views of Earth. If only they were enough to keep us mindful of the very narrow conditions that sustain our atmosphere. Humanity is like the population of a spacecraft, only not everything is mechanized according to our abilities for control. In #35, Michael Collins describes the three billion human inhabitants of earth, two explorers in the Eagle, and one moon captured by chance. Now, we have still one moon, and there are plenty of explorers – but adventures of this type seem more rare. Meanwhile the population on earth has more than doubled. We have food and fuel issues that require massive infrastructural adjustments. Unlike a NASA spaceship, there’s no dedicated team working collaboratively to secure the future of our hardy planet. Tough as she is, there are vulnerabilities that need to be addressed in order to continue supporting a viable human population. Hawking argues that we need a more aggressive space exploration program to inspire more young people to enter the sciences, and that we need to be thinking in terms of centuries: 200-500 years to find Goldilocks Zones in star systems only thirty light years away.
The Goldilocks Zone refers to the conditions necessary for a planet to have surface water. Gilese 581c was discovered just two years ago, only 20.5 light years away. The thing is, while technology probably can get us there eventually, we’ve somehow got to keep this planet going at least as long as that takes! We now have the group communication tools to make incredible collaborations possible. Watch this ten minute video from Clay Shirky, an expert on internet communication technologies: UsNow: Part 2 of 7.

References/Resources:
To the moon: historic TV coverage, global audienceNewsday.com
Science Tourism: CERN, Reflexivity
World Population Clock, U.S. Census Bureau
Again, to the moon – and beyond, Stephen Hawking and Lucy Hawking
Are we not the only Earth out there? howstuffworks

Y2K was the warm-up

Antwerp

Yep, I’m one of those.

“The future enters into us, in order to prepare itself in us, long before it happens.”
~ Ranier Maria Rilke

It occurs to me, now, that the significance of Y2K wasn’t that so many of us were wrong, but that so many of us learned about emergency preparedness and crisis management. I, for instance, learned about the essential interdependence of individual, civic, and military/governmental systems for responding to crisis. I agree with Tom Barnett: “Systematically examining a worst-case possibility should not be an exercise in fear, but one of discovery and learning.” His assertion is in the context of US military brainstorming concerning worst case crisis scenarios, globally.

The challenge is that deliberately and consciously choosing the stance of discovery in the face of fear requires labor – mental, emotional, cooperative and collective. Charles Cameron says “a Y2K lessons learned might be a very valuable project, and even more that we could benefit from some sort of grand map of global interdependencies.” I’m suggesting there is evidence that as more people become aware of these interdependencies (thank you economic crisis?), they/we are also becoming increasingly sensitive (as in affected by and reactive to) the implications.

A major theme of the past year for me (living temporarily in Belgium) has been sustainability. I was hosted by a self-described “green terrorist” for part of my stay, as a result I increased personal capacity for lowering my own ecological footprint. As an American with over four decades of lived experience consuming energy with nary a thought, just becoming aware of things I’ve taken for granted – such as how much generated power I use, and how heedlessly – has been the first hurdle.

After awareness comes action – which is another entire dimension of learning. I do mean learning, too – because engagement (i.e., doing something, especially anything different than what one usually does) is a change process. Some actions may result in little or no individual effect but aggregate into large social or institutional effects – an example-in-progress is now being debated about twittering and Iran. Staying honest despite the short-term rush of deception is being valorized:

Human beings are well capable of suspension of disbelief, which amounts to trusting one another to create a collaborate narrative that highlights the most authentic aspects of how we see ourselves and one another, to explore, to push the boundaries of what it means to co-create the mixed-media, mixed-reality world in which we live.

a blogpost on online ethics of self-representation, lying,
cultural collaboration, and the evolution of human consciousness

The question is whether we can find ways of telling the story of saving the planet that exemplifies and emboldens us to overcome the inevitable waves of individual and social panic. Here’s Cameron again, building on Don Beck:

“because the idea of “seeing the contours of our social systems” — if you like, glimpsing for a moment the intricate weave whose complex properties we call “the world” — remains … a vivid quest…

Beck works with vMemes, value memes that contribute to models of transformational change. Generating memes about individual efforts to reduce energy consumption is an idea proposed by friends – and I am amazed at the lists some people can recount (over stewed rabbit, no less!) I am also wondering about generating memes to USE YOUR JOB to leverage change in business practices – most acutely at investor, management, and policy levels.

Transform fear into change!
References/Resources:
“one of those” = waning of Public Interest in Y2K
“emergency preparedness” = differential impact on minority communities includes a downloadable prep sheet prepared by Nell Myhand after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans
quote about the willing suspension of disbelief = The ethics of changing your Twitter location to Tehran
Tom Barnett, Naval War College, Year 2000 International Security Dimension Project
Charles Cameron on Y2K lessons learned: Y2KO to Y2OK in The End That Does: Art, Science and Millennial Accomplishment (quotes above via personal correspondence)
“evidence” = a new attitude?
vMemes & models of transformational change = systems in people, not types of people
(re: biopsychosocial theory)

parallel urgencies

Antwerp

Watching the unfolding of social protest in Iran, and still recovering from the large dose of fear I’ve just had to (try to) absorb about climate change, I’m wondering if ‘we’ – populations in the western world – are giving valence (in a group relation’s sense) to the protesters in Iran. Put another way, are ‘they’ acting out not only against the apparent fraud of Ahmadinijad’s re-election, but are they emboldened by the growing sense of urgency among educated people that humanity itself is in a period of crisis?

Valence: second definition, Merriam-Webster:
2 a: relative capacity to unite, react, or interact
2b: the degree of attractiveness … [of] … a behavioral goal

The US did not rise up in protest against the re-election of George W. Bush, even though there were also concerns. Maybe we (Americans) felt (in 2004) that there was still enough time, that we’d get by, get through… are we now hoping to vicariously savor a success by Iranians in a way that we were incapable of even attempting then? And if this movement succeeds, then what?
A political scientist I know says:

it is reasonable to be skeptical about the policy differences between the two candidates on issues that matter. But, having fair elections is important in its own right, and it seems like this could open the door to more political freedom, which can influence a variety of other outcomes…

Jen is right, of course. Fair elections are important in their own right – but we (the electorate) are not willing to fight for them in all times and all places. Why now? Why there? Why with such force? (Note: I am not questioning the actions themselves, I’m inquiring into the motivations.)
What “other outcomes” might be opened up? Or, another way to phrase the crucial question: what deep needs are pushing this expansion of language-based communication? The momentum built up over the last centuries is encapsulated in an instant in this one minute video on the evolution of life by Claire L. Evans. Exerting enough force to alter the current vector is going to take an outcry from humanity several times the size of the protests in Iran.
We (all of us) must comprehend “the vector’s essential properties are just its magnitude and its direction.” And – we can’t give up! Over breakfast this morning, dismay and the sense of helplessness:

“We all know we need to act, but we don’t.”
“If we do it and China doesn’t, what’s the point?”
“We know it is serious, the politicians have to force it.”
“They ring the bell for thirty years. Ring. Then that old man dies. Ring.”

“We need to agree on the urgency.”

YES.

References/Resources:

“Watching” coverage of social protests in Iran via The Huffington Post
“if this movement succeeds” it will be because of communication technology
“force”: definition-in-context
“deep needs” come from deep time
“expansion of language-based communication” frames this as a case* of Bakhtin’s chronotope (see Michael Holquist, forthcoming: Cronotope’s central role in
dialogue
)
*”case” as in “case thinking” ~ see Philippe Lacour, Thinking by cases, or: How to put social sciences back the right way up
a “vector’s essential properties” is quoted from website on Elementary Vector Analysis, Harvey Mudd College.