Taoist mythology, Lanna history, mythology, the nature of time and other considered ramblings

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Location: Chiangrai, Chiangrai, Thailand

Author of many self-published books, including several about Thailand and Chiang Rai, Joel Barlow lived in Bangkok 1964-65, attending 6th grade with the International School of Bangkok's only Thai teacher. He first visited ChiangRai in 1988, and moved there in 1998.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Bangladesh Rising, also sinking – mirror to the world

Tea-balls, mirro-finance and ocean-front property

To witness development of commercial tastes among folk who’ve never before had expendable cash with which to make decisions can be interesting. Self-sustenance can fly out the window from the influence of advertising, as things never before even thought about become needs. General parlance calls this progress. Once plastic bags were collected in Thailand to sell in Myanmar; now they’re so ubiquitous governments have initiated propaganda campaigns to limit use.
Have you ever thought how much tea-bags hamper the culinary experience that made tea the world’s most popular beverage? The rectangular tea bag wasn’t invented until 1944, and not only do paper tea bags often contain Epichlorohydrin, a pesticide which becomes active when in hot water, and can cause infertility and harm your immune system, but artificial ingredients are usually used to flavor bagged tea. Plastic tea bags in hot enough water begin to break down, releasing toxins into the tea, and paper ones have usually been chlorine-bleached. Tea companies use pesticides: a 2015 Greenpeace report shows 34 pesticides in Indian tea. As the teas weren’t washed, the pesticides end up in your drink. Also, for best taste, tea must be able to release its flavors properly. When tea brews, the leaves expand, but tea bags offer little room for them to unfurl and swell, limiting real tea flavor. As tea bags often contain only fannings, dust and leftovers after larger leaf pieces are gathered for sale as loose tea, they give a rather astringent, bitter taste, usually overcome through added artificial flavorants and perfumes. This is particularly true of tea blends with fruit or flower aromas.

It’s estimated that by 2025, Bangladesh will have 63 cities with middle class populations of at least 100,000 (compared with 36 now), but this thriving middle class with its yen for convenience has brought about absurd contradictions, as with interest in Tetley and Lipton teas, likely far more traveled than their Bangladeshi consumers!
The tea market of Bangladesh is growing rapidly; sales have increased recently with a rising number of tea stalls offering sit down services. Most Bangladeshis see tea as affordable and refreshing. The top five brands are Ispahani Mirzapur, Lipton Taaza, Tetley, Finlay and HRC. Most started as foreign brands, but now are produced and marketed locally. They aren’t expensive by international standards, but global standards for middle class income are much higher, and the unnecessary packaging and advertising costs are hardly convenient relative to the value of money and the costs of obtaining it. Tea, after all, still grows wild in northern Bangladesh! Not many, though, still drink that.

Bangladesh tea pickers live in isolated villages without electricity or running water, in harsh conditions. Some don’t speak Bengali, particularly marginalized inhabitants of the mountain regions on the border with Myanmar and those living in Sylhet, the land of tea plantations in the northeast. They use Garo, Urwan, or Tripura among themselves, and barely basic Bengali with employers. Their salary is low - 48 to 55 US cents per day. A couple of tin pots, an oil lamp, and a few blankets are all many have. Duncan Brothers, a leading tea company in Bangladesh, which produces 30 million kilos of tea per year, the equivalent of a third of Bangladesh’s total crop, has increased tea pickers’ daily salary and provides huts for workers to live in, plus three kilos of rice per week. In exchange, during the harvest season, between March and December, workers must pick 20 pounds of young leaves per day. Still, as people prefer commercial, packaged teas, there’s more profit to share with workers than there would be otherwise, and conditions are improving – slightly. Workers, though, not infrequently use additional income for coffee and energy drinks.
When Tai (Dai, Zhouang, Yua) from Yunnan entered the area now Shan State, in the 12th century, concerned, perhaps, about Mongol encroachments, some went on across Nagaland to Assam India (1228), just north of Bangladesh, and became Tai Aiton. They surely carried domesticated tea with them. Europeans, of course, had to make it their own. Robert Bruce introduced the Assam tea bush to Europe after encountering it in 1823. He found the plant growing ‘wild’ near Rangpur in Assam while trading in the region, and noticed Singhpo tribesmen brewing tea from it. A Singpho chief, Bessa Gam, showed Bruce how the tea was brewed and consumed, and provided him with samples of the leaves and seeds, which he planned to have scientifically examined. Robert Bruce died shortly thereafter, without having seen the plant properly classified. It was not until the early 1830s that Robert’s brother, Charles, arranged for a few leaves from the Assam tea bush to be sent to the botanical gardens in Calcutta for examination. Then the colonizing British East India Company formed a body of ‘experts’ (the Tea Committee, 1834), to assess the scientific nature and commercial potential of Assam tea. The adherence of its members to the Chinese ideal (in terms of the plant and the method of manufacture) led to the importation of Chinese tea makers and Chinese tea seeds to displace the ‘wild’ plant and traditional methods in Assam. After a while, a hybridized version of the Chinese and Assam teas proved successful in the Assam climate and terrain, and it became called ‘Camellia sinensis var. assamica’ (distinct from the Chinese version (Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, which has smaller leaves).
Connoisseurs and affectionados often use Pyrex glass or small red-clay tea-pots. My mother used a large porcelain one into which she would put an aluminum tea-ball with the tea inside, but preparing hot consumables with aluminum isn’t a huge improvement over ancient Roman lead water-pipes. She also had a small stainless steel teapot, not much bigger than a bracelet charm, for single cups of tea - but the leaves had to be really packed inside, leaving no room to expand.
Real epicurean tea ceremony devotees have much more to say about proper preparation, but I’m not one, and won’t go into tea types here. They are as myriad as coffees, tobaccos, beers or ‘milks’ and milk products, but as cannabis varies extremely, I guess tea can too, somewhat justifying the incredible range in prices! I grow my own, and after my tea-picking wife soaks, squeezes and dries them, just boil the leaves in a regular steel cooking pot, like for chai tea - but often with astragalus, fresh green herbs, dried mushrooms, licorice root or other dried material of purported health benefits. I then pour it through a strainer into a tea mug. Throwing out the first ‘rinse’ doesn’t make much sense to me as my tea and herbs are from my yard! Often I will boil it a 2nd time, sometimes even almost 24 hours later.

Like most branded teas, Lipton teas, the world’s most popular and restaurant standard, are a blend, selected from different plantations around the world, in Sri Lanka, India, Kenya, and China. Lipton Yellow Label is blended from as many as 20 different teas.
The Tetley Group was bought by India’s Tata Group in February 2000 - Tata Global Beverages markets tea under the major brands Tata Tea, Tetley, Good Earth Teas and JEMČA. Tata Tea is the biggest-selling tea brand in India; Tetley is the biggest-selling tea brand in Canada and the second-biggest-selling in the US and UK. Established in 1837, Tetley was the first to introduce the tea bag to the UK, in 1953. It introduced the round tea bag in 1989 and the ‘no drip, no mess’ drawstring bag in 1997.
The international trade union IUF criticized Tetley in 2009 for not allowing statutory maternity leave to pregnant tea pluckers, and for locking out 1,000 workers on the Nowera Nuddy Tea Estate in West Bengal for so long that local government distributed food coupons for emergency rations to workers and their families. In May 2010, a crop sprayer died of poisoning on a Tata estate in Assam, leading to protests at which two other workers were shot dead by riot police. On 30 January 2012, Tata Global Beverages and Starbucks announced the creation of a 50-50 joint venture called Tata Starbucks Limited, which owns and operates Starbucks Coffee ‘A Tata Alliance’ in India. The company has 51 tea estates in India and Sri Lanka, especially in Assam, West Bengal in eastern India and Kerala in the south. It’s the largest manufacturer of Assam and Darjeeling tea and the second-largest manufacturer of Ceylon tea. Tetley Kenyan Gold is made in the UK from tea leaves grown at high elevations in Kenya.
Tata Group claims belief in “creation of sustainable value” - meaning giving back to society what came from society. It’s been a pioneer in employee welfare, the eight-hour working day, provident funds and maternity leave, instituting them before they became law. In recent years, Tata companies have started using their core competencies to help in sustainable development of communities around the world. But in January 2014, Tata Global Beverages and International Finance Corporation (part of World Bank) were criticized for poor working conditions, low wages, and gross human rights violations in a report released by Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School. The report alleges Amalgamated Plantations Private Limited , which is partly owned by Tata Tea, was in violation of many of provisions of Indian Plantation Labor Act on its tea plantations in Assam and West Bengal. In March 2014 a documentary on The Guardian news website claimed that Tata Global Beverages was underpaying the minimum Indian wage at an Assam tea plantation which Tata co-owns.
In October 2015, a movement of 6,000 female laborers calling themselves ‘Pempilai Orumai’ ( women’s unity) laid siege to the Munnar tea estates, one of Kerala’s most popular tourist destinations and a subsidiary of Tata Tea’s plantation in Kerala. Trade and tourism were brought to a near standstill. After nine days of protest and marathon negotiations, Tata/Tetley gave in. It was a stunning victory: a group of semi-literate women had taken on the most powerful interests in the state and won. The spark that ignited the protest was a decision to cut the 20% bonus paid to tea pickers, but there was also anger at their one-bed huts without toilets or other basic amenities. While they earn significantly more than tea workers in Assam, they say the 230 rupees (£2.30; $3.50) they are paid for a day's work is just half what a wage laborer in Kerala would get.

To most, Bangladesh, the 8th most populous country, is synonymous with poverty, rivaling Haiti and Congo, but it’s actually not in the bottom 20% of countries (the poorest are in Africa; North Korea, Afghanistan, Solomon Islands, Nepal and Tajikistan are others, but reports vary). Population estimates vary; a 2011 census claimed 142.3 million, but 2016 UN data suggests 163 million, and that doesn’t include 688,000 Rohingyas, and another 200,000 others from Myanmar, in refugee camps. Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world; it’s capital, Dhaka, (pop. 15 million) is the most densely populated of all cities in the world. But century old paddle steam boats navigate its beautiful rivers, and old trains occasionally excite ‘train-spotters’. The country faces challenges education, healthcare and corruption, but is one of the largest textile exporters in the world, with major trading partners the EU, US, China, India, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore. In 2008, Bangladeshi female workforce participation stood at 26%, with women dominating blue collar jobs in the garment industry. Agriculture, social services, healthcare and education are major occupations for Bangladeshi women, while their employment in white collar positions is steadily increasing. Handlooms operated by women supply at least 60% of the country’s clothing.
Bangladesh is predominantly rich fertile flat land, but is also riverine, and prone to floods. 79% is delta plains. Most parts are less than 12 meters (40 ft) above sea level. It’s estimated that about 10% of its land would be flooded if the sea level were to rise a meter. Many of the rural poor population live in areas that are prone to extreme annual flooding causing huge damage to their crops, homes and livelihoods. To rebuild their homes, they often have to resort to moneylenders, and that causes them to fall deeper into poverty. In September 1998, Bangladesh saw the most severe flooding in modern world history. As the Brahmaputra, the Ganges and Meghna spilt over and swallowed 300,000 houses, 9,700 km (6,000 mi) of road and 2,700 km (1,700 mi) of embankment, 1,000 people were killed and 30 million more were made homeless; 135,000 cattle were killed; 50 km2 (19 sq mi) of land were destroyed; and 11,000 km (6,800 mi) of roads were damaged or destroyed. Effectively, two-thirds of the country was underwater. The severity of the flooding was attributed to unusually high monsoon rains with unusually large amounts of melt water from the Himalayas, exasperated by widespread cutting down of trees (that would have intercepted rain water) for firewood or animal husbandry.
Although more than half of GDP is generated through the services sector, agriculture is considered the largest sector of the economy, making up 18.6% of Bangladesh’s GDP in November 2010 and employing at least 45% of the workforce. More Bangladeshis earn their living from agriculture than from any other sector. The country is among the top producers of rice (4th and Bangladesh’s most important product), potatoes (7th), tropical fruits(6th), jute (2nd ), and farmed fish (5th). Its per-capita income was US$1,754 in 2018. Bangladesh has one of the world’s oldest tea industries, and is a major exporter of fish and seafood. Bangladesh’s textile and ready-made garment industries are the country’s largest manufacturing sector, with 2014 exports of $25 billion. Leather-goods manufacturing, particularly footwear, is the second-largest export sector. The pharmaceutical industry meets 97% of domestic demand, and exports to many countries. Garment exports, the backbone of Bangladesh’s industrial sector, accounted for more than 80% of total exports and were on track to again surpass $25 billion in 2017. The sector continues to grow, despite the need for improvements in factory working conditions to avert further high-profile accidents that have killed more than 1,000 workers in recent years. Steady export growth in the garment sector combined with remittances from overseas Bangladeshis - which totaled about $13 billion and 6% of GDP in 2016 - are key contributors to Bangladesh’s sustained economic growth and rising foreign exchange reserves. The recent influx of hundreds of millions of additional refugees from Burma will place pressure on the Bangladeshi government’s budget and the country’s rice supplies, which declined in 2017 in part because of adverse weather. Bangladesh is the world’s third largest Muslim majority country, with Muslims making up more than 80%. Hindus are 10%, Buddhists and Christians 1% and surely there are still some tribal animists. Maybe the rest are agnostic? The urban population is 35.8% of the total; 73% are literate. Youth unemployment is high, ages 15-24 9.4% unemployed.
The Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies has found one-fifth of the middle class has already taken business as the means of income. A person with $US 3 per day is included in the middle class. The upper middle class group is of people with a daily income of $US 4, which rose to 20% of the population in 2010. Many live on 1.25US$-2US$ per day and so are poor by World Bank standards - 26% Bangladesh's population is under that $2US mark. 48% children in Bangladesh is malnourished, and many of them work more than 45 hours a week, often in rag trade sweatshops. This is an indirect and unintended result of the actions of soulless multinationals and rapacious local entrepreneurs, whose only concern is to take advantage of the profit opportunities offered by cheap labor.
The adult population grew past 100 million in 2015, and had a combined wealth of $US237 billion at that time. Per capita income in Bangldesh is about $14000, ahead of at least 35, maybe 38, other countries. Credit Suisse has identified 1.2 million Bangladeshis as members of the global middle class, with wealth amounting to almost $18,000 each. This burgeoning middle class of business and government workers values foreign brands and has jumped onto the digital IT bandwagon by millions.
Regardless of what one calls middle class, sales in consumer products ranging from foreign cosmetics, air-coolers, refrigerators to passenger vehicles, are at record levels. As tens of millions of “middle and affluent consumers” see their incomes increase, economic growth has been 6%. Bangladeshi consumers differ from most Asian counterparts in having an aversion to accumulating debt - this helps deliver stability, which the country otherwise lacks. The country’s population , young, vibrant and growing, helps propel growth and rising consumerism. It’s estimated that the 84 million really poor by 2025 will be just 44 million. Purchasing power won’t be limited to major cities like Dhaka and Chittagong, but should extend to Khulna, Gazipur and other cities.

Still a developing country, Bangladesh has an impoverished banking system, particularly in terms of the services and customer care provided by government run banks. Private banks try to imitate the banking structure of the more developed countries, but are often foiled by inexpert or politically motivated government policies executed by the central bank of Bangladesh, Bangladesh Bank. The outcome is a banking system fostering corruption and illegal monetary activities/laundering etc. by the politically powerful and criminals, making services or the performance of international transactions difficult for general customers of the ordinary citizenry, students studying abroad or through distance learning, foreigners and people entering the middle class but not yet familiar with banking.
Micro-finance, originally to foster tiny owner/operator businesses like roving snack selling, shoe or clothing repair, maybe knife and scissor sharpening (does anybody do that anymore?) or perhaps purchase of a gas-powered steed-blade weed-wacker, worked well for a while then went into decline.
Micro-finance as it originated at Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank involves tiny loans to women with fixed terms and amounts, group liability, weekly meetings, forced payments into a group savings account, and a set of 16 social pledges chanted each week while standing at attention. They use groups to facilitate interactions with clients, and may offer various incentives for peer support. The Grameen model spawned imitators around the world, involving a large share of micro-finance clients in India, the Philippines and East Africa. However, formal guarantees and even, in some cases, weekly group meetings have disappeared. Micro-finance grew to enormous scale in Bangladesh, with about 23 million borrowers. This is the highest population saturation of micro-finance in any country.
Grameen Bank, begun as a government project in 1976 and established in 1983 as an independent bank, provides financial resources to the poor on reasonable terms, to generate productive self-employment without external assistance. Its customers are landless persons who took small loans for all types of economic activities, including housing, with about 70% of them women. Collective rural enterprises also could borrow from the Grameen Bank for investments in tube wells, rice and oil mills, and power looms and for leasing land for joint cultivation. The average loan by the Grameen Bank in the mid-1980s was around Tk2,000 (US$65), and the maximum was just Tk18,000 (for construction of a tin-roof house). Repayment terms were 4% for rural housing and 8.5% for normal lending operations. Grameen Bank extended collateral-free loans to 200,000 landless people in its first 10 years. Amidst a prevailing pattern of bad debts throughout the Bangladeshi banking system, only 4% of Grameen Bank loans went overdue.
Islamic banks can’t pay interest or charge any return on loans, but some Muslims dispute whether interest is equivalent to riba (usury). Lawyers and scholars will argue their way around anything, but, to be consistent with Islamic law, banking and finance can’t invest in business involving alcohol, pork, gambling, pornography or gossip columns, demand late payment charges, or, (Heaven forfend!) engage in the buying or selling of derivatives, options and futures. All transactions must be ‘directly linked to a real underlying economic transaction’, which excludes ‘options and most other derivatives’. In Islamic finance, one must work for profits, and simply lending money to someone who needs it doesn’t count as work. Money must not be allowed to create more money. Instead, a bank must provide some service to “earn” its profits. Still, Islamic banking is seeing impressive growth in Bangladesh, as also has international banking (EXIM, Citibank, HSBC, State bank of India), likely to the detriment of ‘micro-finance’.
Analysts have suggested that micro-credit can bring communities into debt from which they can’t escape; researchers note instances when microloans from the Grameen Bank were connected to exploitation and pressures on poor families to sell their belongings, leading in extreme cases to humiliation, further borrowing, child exploitation, despair and even suicide. Also, micro-credit banks depend on subsidies, thus acting as another example of welfare. In some cases, poor rural families have suffered debt spirals, harassment by micro-finance debt collectors, and the kind of despair their religion was meant to forefend.
By early 2000s microfinance was clearly ‘all talk, no walk’ – with poverty not actually reduced anywhere. Most local markets in poor countries were already saturated with the simple products and services produced in micro-enterprises. Most micro-financed enterprises eventually fail, sending borrowers deeper into poverty. Interest rates didn’t stay low: in Mexico going up to 80%, in Bangladesh and Bolivia 30-40%... almost no real businesses can service such rates. Dichter’s Micro-credit paradox has it that ‘the poorest people can do little productive with credit, and the ones who can do the most with it are those who don’t really need micro-credit, but need larger amounts and longer credit terms.’ It was just a pretense, much like the pretense that religion trumps money.

More than 100 million people currently live within a meter of the high tide level, and are expected by scientists expert in the subject, to be flooded out by 2040, or at least 2100 (by which time a 3 meter rise appears likely). Maybe the rise will be only half a meter by 2040, but storms will still substantially limit safety. It’s likely that sea level will rise in more than about 95% of seaboard areas. Some ‘experts’ claim they expect a rise of only half a meter by 2100, but more reassuring projections have often turned out to not only be false, but intentional deceptions paid for by vested interests (read: petrochemical concerns and extraordinarily wealthy right wingers). Very conservatively, sea level are expected to rise by 0.8 feet by 2050 and between 3.3 and 4.9 feet by 2100; but increased heavy storm activity means even that will be costly. Strong scientific evidence shows that global warming is increasing certain types of extreme weather events, including heat waves, coastal flooding, extreme precipitation events, and more severe droughts. Global warming also creates conditions that can lead to more powerful hurricanes - climate change is predicted to create refugees by increasing the frequency and intensity of natural disasters like droughts, floods, and tropical cyclones.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says we can expect the oceans to rise between 11 and 38 inches (28 to 98 centimeters) by 2100, enough to swamp many cities along the US East Coast. More dire estimates, including a complete meltdown of the Greenland ice sheet, place sea level rise to 23 feet (7 meters), enough to submerge London.
Average global sea level increased eight inches since 1880, but now is rising much faster, particularly on the US East Coast and Gulf of Mexico. The average elevation in Florida is just 6 feet; many places are as little as 3 feet above sea level. Sea level is going to rise as all that ice in the Arctic melts, many islands in the Pacific will disappear, and many millions will be displaced.
Research published early in 2016 in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that as many as 13 million people live in vulnerable regions along the US coasts, which will be lost to them by 2100 if sea levels rise by 5.9 feet (1.8 m). Sea level rise will affect millions in New York City, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. Most vulnerable is Southern Florida. Researchers project that nearly two million people in Miami-Dade County alone could face displacement due to rising sea levels.
In Bangladesh a sea level rise of one meter would submerge a fifth of the country and turn 15 to 30 million people into climate migrants. By 2050 about 25 million people will be affected by the rising sea levels. Khulna, Bangladesh is especially endangered.
Similarly, in the Nile area, if sea levels rise half a meter, 8 million people will be displaced from Alexandria and the Nile Delta, unless they get better flood protection. Without adaptation, 40% of Bangkok will be flooded under just a 0.15 meter sea level rise, which is likely by the 2030’s. 70% of Bangkok would be flooded under an 0.88 meter sea-level rise, which is occur over the next half century. New Orleans, Houston, NYC, Algiers, HoChiMinh City (Saigon), Jakarta and Palembang, Indonesia, in China, Shanghai, Tianjin, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, plus Kolkata and Mumbai in India, also Guayaquil in Ecuador, and many more, will be severely affected by even a relatively mild sea-level rise (8 inches by mid-century), even with steady investment in flood-control technology.
Jakarta’s been made even worse by direct human action - as less than half of the city’s 10 million have access to piped water, illegal well digging is rife. This drains underground aquifers, deflating them, and despite heavy rains they aren’t being replenished - as the prevalence of concrete and asphalt limits absorption of rainfall. As a result, about 40% of Jakarta now lies below sea level.
In the Chesapeake Bay area - a flat region that’s been sinking at a rate of 1.1 to 4.8 millimeters per year since the 1940s – many people have boats. They’ve begun preparing for sea rise with a pilot project, based in Norfolk, Virginia. Groups of climate scientists, government people and private citizens are developing recommendations for zoning and construction projects to protect against sea-level rise and storm surge. Their models could be replicated elsewhere, but depend on local funding and organizing, and so are challenging for most communities to develop.
Global warming is likely to create 200 million climate refugees by 2050, but climate refugees currently have no legal rights and are unlikely to gain them in the near future.

There is hope, sort of: in southeastern Bangladesh, experiments have been done since the 1960s to ‘build with nature’. Construction of cross dams has induced a natural accretion of silt, creating new land. With Dutch funding, the Bangladeshi government began promoting the development of this new land in the late 1970s. The effort has become a multi-agency endeavor, building roads, culverts, embankments, cyclone shelters, toilets and ponds, as well as distributing land to settlers. It was expected that by fall 2010, the program would have allotted some 27,000 acres (10,927 ha) to 21,000 families.
Bangladesh has 6 or more billionaires (At $10,000 per HOUR, working 50 hours a week and 50 weeks a year, with no tax or overhead, it takes 40 years to hit a billion. No-one could POSSIBLY be worth that wage!); one who sells tanks and fighter jets had $7 billion frozen by a Swiss bank. Several of Bangladesh’s richest are closely related to top government officials, and several have been charged by The Anti-Corruption Commission in Bangladesh. Leading Bangladeshi businessmen say that military-owned businesses are virtually indistinguishable from other commercial enterprises in the way they operate. Politically, since most Bangladeshis live in fear (for valid reasons), they support and vote for people or a party that they see as a protector. Money being a symbol of power, this translates to them voting for the corrupt. This can be said about politics in general, all inclusively. One of the richest, Ragib Ali, heads Sylhet Tea Company, owns tea estates in Chittagong and Sylhet, and has founded numerous educational institutions. His net worth is $US 250 million.
Meanwhile, there are at least 20 legal brothel villages, including Kandipara and Daulatdia, home to 1,500 prostitutes, some as young as 10 years old, who work in tiny cubicles amidst a maze of dirty alleyways.

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Friday, August 17, 2018

Some semi-academic fun from being misled by sci-fi (The importance of yeast in prehistoric human development)

Sometimes when reading for pleasure I get an enjoyably exciting sense of learning something. Like many things, it’s often just illusion, but if illusion sparks imagination, that’s hardly all bad. Neal Stgephenson’s 1992 ‘Snow Crash’ is a case to point. The world’s best swordsman and hacker par excellance finds trouble working pizza delivery, crashing a Mafia-owned car but meeting a 15-year-old avatar of the goddess of the world’s first recorded religion (and root of Easter, sort of). OK, but at about page 200 it became thought-provoking for me, the subject becoming ‘speech with magical force.’
I quite like mythology, of which there seems to be much more than I can absorb. The multitude of Hindu deities alone would demand more than a lifetime to much absorb, and for all I know, Vodun (Vodou) may be about as rich. With somewhat herd-like instinct, I follow along too much with absurd Eurocentric ‘Greco-Roman’ narrative, despite having spent almost half my life in Asia. I know the plays attributed to Shakespeare weren’t composed by the son of an illiterate small-town glover, and that English is no magical formula, and I even think sometimes in Thai, but training and habit are harsh masters. ‘Snow Crash’ mentions ‘a self-fulfilling fiction’ while giving a, to me, new slant n the Tower of Babel legend. This led me to collect some data, which I present here. I do not pretend it to lead to understandings, although I had hoped.

Viruses have been suspected of influencing human thought processes, and we know some fungi most certainly can, but what about yeast?
Yeasts, an early domesticated organism (man’s oldest industrial microorganism), were used before the development of a written language. Hieroglyphics show that ancient Egyptians used yeast - the process of fermentation to produce alcoholic beverages and to leaven bread dates back past 3000 BCE. Early fermentation was possible due to natural microbial flora: wild yeasts and lactic acid bacteria often found with cultivated grains and fruits. Leaven, a soft dough-like medium, is used to start new batches of bread dough. Over the course of time, the use of starter cultures helped to select for improved yeasts, through saving of “good” batches (of wine, beer or dough) to use for the next batch. Cheeses were also made through action by bacteria and molds. In East Asia fermented foods including yogurt and other fermented milk products, pickles, sauerkraut, vinegar (soured wine), butter, and a host of traditional alcoholic beverages became popular.
Archaeologists have found early grinding stones and baking chambers for yeast-raised bread, and 4,000-year-old drawings of Egyptian bakeries and breweries. It’s likely the first fermentation was accidental, occurring when salt with harmless microorganisms was incorporated into food, and it fermented the food making it more delicious and nutritious.
This was taken a step further, perhaps 1000 years later, by Chinese who inoculated basic foods with molds, which created enzymes, in salt-fermented soy-foods like miso, soy sauce, soy nuggets, and fermented tofu; these aided salt-tolerant yeasts and bacteria. These have important distinguishing characteristics: the most important use mold; dairy products and other animal proteins (excepting fish) aren’t widely used, as they are in the West. Mold has mainly been used to make koji (mold-fermented grains and/or soybeans), which serves as a source of more than 50 enzymes in much the same way that, in the West, the enzymes of malt (steeped and sprouted barley or other cereal grains) are used to make alcoholic beverages, just as Japanese make saki and shochu (spirits), and also rice vinegar (yonezu).
The nature of koji is embodied in the characters with which the word is written. In the more traditional form - used with most miso koji and especially with barley koji - the ideographs for ‘barley’ and ‘chrysanthemum’ are placed side by side. In the more recent form - used especially with ready-made rice koji- the ideographs for ‘rice’ and ‘flower’ are conjoined. The first form is said to have originated in China, the latter in Japan about 1,000 years ago. In both, the notion of grain covered with a bloom of mold is vividly expressed. The only traditional East Asian fermented soy-food not prepared with molds is Japan's natto, and its relatives thua-nao in Thailand and kinema in Nepal; these are bacterial fermentations. Some have suggested that molds are widely used since they grow well in areas having a humid climate and long rainy season during the warm months.
Modern fermentation processes and technology are based largely on traditional processes.
In the West mold-fermented foods are limited primarily to cheeses with strong flavors and aromas: Camembert, Blue, Brie, and related others. Because of the widespread use of mold-fermented foods in East Asia, ‘mold’ there has had a rather positive connotation, something like ‘yeast’ in the West. Most Westerners still have a deep-seated prejudice against moldy products, and they generally associate the word ‘mold’ with food spoilage. This may help explain why so little has been published in English about the history of fermentation and knowledge of the fermentation process in East Asia.
The earliest records of the koji-making process can be traced back to at least 300 BCE in China and to the 3rd century CE in Japan. Molds differ in one important respect from yeasts and bacteria in that they can be easily observed with the naked eye. In East Asia it was probably understood that fermentation was a life process long before it was in the West. By the 6th century CE, as recorded in the Ch'i-min yao-shu (the earliest encyclopedia of agriculture), the Chinese had distinct names for two types of molds used in fermented soyfoods; what we now call Aspergillus was then called ‘yellow robe’ and Rhizopus was called ‘white robe.’ These cultures were carefully distinguished and propagated from year to year. By the 10th century a koji starter or inoculum was deliberately being used in the preparation of koji for fermented foods.
These nutritional additions might well have had incredible importance due to the change from hunting and gathering from the wild to sustained agriculture limiting the nutrients obtained. The B-vitamins in yeast were likely of great help for dealing with the stresses of civilization!

Possibly related?

The Mesopotamian pantheon’s most important Gods were a trio: the sky god An (or Anu); Enlil god of storm and the earth; and the water god, Ea (or Enki). Next was another triad: the moon god Nanna (or Sin); the sun god, Utu (or Shamash); and the goddess of fertility and war, Inanna (aka Ishtar). In the later stages of Mesopotamian civilization, a local god, Marduk, became head of the pantheon.
Mesopotamia had a much different climate when it was first settled about 8 to 10,000 years ago; then it was a grassland and marshes. Humans began intensive farming in the area as early as 3,000 BCE, utilizing irrigation, bringing water to fields through man-made ditches or canals. Most anthropologists believe that local tribes came together to dig the canals. The semi-nomadic (wandering) way of life from before was altered; they settled in large communities near the canals. Eventually these became city-states like Ur and Lagash - powerful forces in the region by about the middle of the 4th millennium BCE.
The earliest written records of the first Sumerian societies date from about 4,000 BCE. These records, written on tablets of clay from the river beds, were about the operation of temples. By the time of the first towns and cities in human history, Mesopotamian religion was well organized. Various clay tablets found detail the religion, as well as sacred vessels and architectural remains of temples.
The first written language of Mesopotamia was Sumerian, an ‘isolate’ of no known language family. Along with Sumerian, Semitic languages were spoken in early Mesopotamia. Then Akkadian became the dominant language, with the rise of the Akkadian Empire (founded by Sargon c. 2360 BCE), and also during the Assyrian empires, but Sumerian was retained for administrative, religious, literary and scientific purposes. Different varieties of Akkadian were used until the end of the Neo-Babylonian period (7th to 6th c. BCE). Old Aramaic became common, then was made the administrative language of first the Neo-Assyrian Empire, and next of the Achaemenid Empire. Akkadian fell into disuse, but both it and Sumerian retained use in temples - the last Akkadian texts date from the late 1st century CE.
Early in Mesopotamian history (about mid-4th millennium BCE) cuneiform was invented for Sumerian language; cuneiform literally means ‘wedge-shaped’, from triangular stylus tips used to impress signs on wet clay. The standardized form of each cuneiform sign seems to have developed from pictographs.
Mesopotamian gods were worshiped in temple complexes forming the center of every city. Made of mud bricks, these tall, conical structures were stepped, or built in receding tiers, on platforms of different shapes, and crowned at the top by a shrine or temple. The whole, called a ziggurat, averaged about 150 feet (45.7 meters) tall. Ziggurats formed a bridge between Earth and heaven, like sacred mountains. Each Mesopotamian city had at least one temple complex, and each was dedicated to the worship of a single deity. The temple complex in Ur, for instance, honored the moon god Sin (also called Nanna by Sumerians). The city of Uruk had both a temple to Inana and a ziggurat dedicated to Anu. The complexes were managed by specialist priests, the only people allowed to worship the deities.

Gods of the Mesopotamian pantheon:
Anu: The sky god, King of the Gods. At the beginning of time, Earth was separated from heaven. Heaven became Anu’s home but sometimes he must go on missions to Earth to avenge other gods.
Enlil: The god of air, wind, and storms. Enlil guards the Tablets of Destiny, on which the fate of everything on Earth is written.
Ea/Enki: Lord of the Earth; fun-loving god of fresh waters, wisdom, and magic. Anu’s eldest and wisest son by a concubine, and protector of humanity. In a myth similar to the story of Noah’s Ark, Ea reveals to Utnapishtim that Enlil intends to destroy mankind in a flood. ‘He Who Fashions Things’ was wise and skillful at all crafts, a brilliant scientist, geneticist and engineer.
Ishtar/Inanna: Queen of Heaven and goddess of love and war. Ishtar journeyed to the Underworld to retrieve her love, Tammuz (the Hebrew name for the Mesopotamian god Dumuzi). She’s described as violent and depicted holding several weapons, standing on a lion.
Sin, or Nanna: The moon god, Anu’s grandson via Enlil, was lord of the calendar and oversaw the seasons. Sin wore a beard of the blue stone lapis lazuli and rode a winged bull.
Utu, or Shamash: the sun god, god of divine justice, son of Nanna and Ningal; Inanna’s twin.
Marduk: The god of Babylon who later came to be the supreme god. Marduk fought an army of demons led by the goddess Tiamat. The New Year's festival celebrates the king's fitness to rule through a ceremony in which he bows to a statue of Marduk.

Tammuz was an ancient Mesopotamian god associated with shepherds, and also the primary consort of goddess Inanna (later known as Ishtar). His sister was Geshtinanna, the goddess of vegetation. In the Sumerian King List, Dumuzid is listed as an antediluvian king of the city of Bad-tibira and also an early king of the city of Uruk. He competed against the farmer Enkimdu for Inanna’s hand in marriage, but Inanna preferred the farmer. Utu (aka Shamash, god of the sun, justice, morality, and truth, and twin brother of the goddess Inanna) and Dumuzid gradually persuade her that Dumuzid is the better choice for a husband, arguing that, for every gift the farmer can give to her, the shepherd can give her something even better. In the end, Inanna marries Dumuzid. The shepherd and the farmer reconcile their differences, offering each other gifts. In Inanna’s Descent into the Underworld, Dumuzid fails to mourn Inanna’s death and, when she returns from the Underworld, she allows the galla demons to drag him down to the Underworld as her replacement. Inanna later regrets this decision and decrees that Dumuzid will spend half the year in the Underworld, but the other half of the year with her, while his sister Geshtinanna stays in the Underworld in his place - resulting in the cycle of seasons.

Of course there were 12 in the main pantheon, to go with the 12 lunar months. Anu’s half-sister and wife Antu, their son Enlil’s wife Ninlil (or Sud), their son Ninurta, Enki’s spouse Ninki (Damkina), Nanna/Sin’s wife Ningal, and Anu’s grandson via Enlil, Adad/Iskur and well, to keep things complicated, Ninhursag/Ninmah/Ninti, Anu’s eldest and wisest daughter by concubine Nammu. Oh, and Ereshkigal, Queen of the dead. And a plethora of others… Not that there are exactly 12 lunar months, and addition of olive oil to a yeast-enriched diet may not have changed as much for ‘Ancient Greeks’ as Eurocentric believers in Greco-Roman roots to Enlightenment might have us believe… we still have many fascinating mysteries to linguistic development, much as we do with evolution in general.

The god Ea (whose Sumerian equivalent was Enki), with Anu and Enlil one of the three most powerful Mesopotamian gods, was god of wisdom, fresh water, intelligence, trickery and mischief, crafts, magic, exorcism, healing, creation, virility, fertility, and art. Iconography depicts him as a bearded man wearing a horned cap and long robes as he ascends the Mountain of the Sunrise; flowing streams of water run from his shoulders, emphasizing his association with life-giving water, while trees representing the male and female principle stand in the background. He resides in the ocean called the abzu (Akkadian apsû, an important place in Mesopotamian cosmic geography), far underneath the earth. Sumerian texts about Enki include overtly sexual portrayals of his virile masculinity. In particular, there’s a metaphorical link between the life-giving properties of the god’s semen and the animating nature of fresh water from the abzu. Ea represents wisdom, magic and incantations. He’s the ultimate source of all ritual knowledge used by exorcists to avert and expel evil. Ea was patron of the arts and crafts, and all other achievements of civilization; his connection with water meant he was also patron deity of cleaners.

Inanna was the ancient Sumerian goddess of love, sensuality, fertility, procreation, and also of war. She became identified by the Akkadians and Assyrians as the goddess Ishtar, then with the Hittite Sauska, Phoenician Astarte and Greek Aphrodite (among others). Her’s was the bright star of the morning and evening, Venus. Inanna is cited as the subject of the Burney Relief (better known as The Queen of the Night), a terracotta panel dating from the reign of Hammurabi of Babylon (1792-1750 BCE) – but it’s her sister Ereshkigal more likely depicted.
In some myths she’s the daughter of Enki, god of wisdom, fresh water, magic and a number of other things; in others she’s the daughter of Nanna, god of the moon and wisdom, and twin sister of the sun god Utu/Shamash. Her power of provocation is almost always a defining characteristic in any of the tales told of her.
Inana/Ištar, by far the most complex of Mesopotamian deities, displays contradictory traits. In Sumerian poetry, she’s sometimes a coy young girl under patriarchal authority, while at others she’s an ambitious goddess seeking to expand her influence - e.g., in the myth Inanna's Descent to the Netherworld, her marriage to Dumuzi is arranged without her knowledge, either by her parents or by her brother Utu. Even when given independent agency, she’s mindful of boundaries: rather than lying to her mother and sleeping with Dumuzi, she convinces him to propose to her in the proper fashion. These actions are in stark contrast with her portrayal in the Epic of Gilgamesh, where she’s a femme fatale. Taken by the handsome Gilgameš, Inanna invites him to be her lover. Her advances are rejected - the hero accusingly recounts a string of past lovers she has cast aside and destroyed. There is, arguably, a persistent commonality between these two natures of Inana/Ishtar: her sexuality. The young Inanna of Sumerian poetry, who says ‘Plough my vulva, man of my heart’ is no less desirous than the Inanna/Ištar portrayed in Gilgamesh: ‘Let us enjoy your strength, so put your hand and touch our vulva!’. Accordingly, she was the recipient of prayers regarding (im)potency or unrequited love. Also the patron goddess of prostitutes, she was equally fond of making war and of making love: ‘Battle is a feast to her’. Her warlike aspect tends to be expressed in politically charged contexts in which she’s praised in connection with royal power and military might. This is already visible in the Old Akkadian period, when Naram-Sin frequently invokes the ‘warlike Ištar’ (aštar annunītum) in his inscriptions and becomes more prominent in the Neo-Assyrian veneration of Inana/Ištar, whose two most important aspects in this period, namely, Ištar of Nineveh and Ištar of Arbela, were intimately linked to the person of the king. The warrior aspect of Inana/Ištar, which does not appear before the Old Akkadian period, emphasizes her masculine characteristics, whereas her sexuality is feminine.
The role of the goddess in legitimizing political power was not, however, restricted to her masculine aspect as the warlike Ištar but is attested also for the sexual Inanna in her female aspect. Many third-millennium rulers described themselves as her spouse, due to Inana's significant agency in wielding political power.
Some mythological narratives dwell on the astral aspect of Inana/Ištar, albeit indirectly. In the myth Inana and Šu-kale-tuda, the clumsy gardener boy Šu-kale-tuda has intercourse with the goddess while she is asleep under a tree. Enraged at this, Inana/Ištar goes in search for the hiding boy. The course she takes in searching her violator has been suggested to mimic that of the astral course of the Venus star. Likewise, her movements in the myth of Inana and Enki, in which the goddess travels first to Enki’s city Eridu from Uruk and travels back again, recalls the cycle of Venus. Presumably the same journey was carried out terrestrially in festivals.

A liminal, that is, in-between, role may also be ascribed to Inana/Ištar by virtue of having travelled to and back from the underworld. In her mythological descent to the netherworld, she sits on her sister Ereškigal’s throne, rouses the anger of the Anunnaki and is turned to a corpse. Only through the agency of her minister Ninšubur, who secures the help of Enki/Ea, was she able to come alive again and return to the world above. In one myth, she takes from Enki/Ea are those associated with ‘going down into the netherworld’ and ‘coming up from the netherworld’. It’s been argued that Mesopotamian grave goods reflect the iconography of Inana/Ištar more than that of any other deity because of this inherent association with transition between the world of the living and that of the dead.

The Exaltation of Inana:
Lady of all the divine powers, resplendent [dazzling] light, righteous woman clothed in radiance, beloved of An and Urac! Mistress of heaven, with the great pectoral jewels, who loves the good headdress befitting the office of en priestess, who has seized all seven of its divine powers! My lady, you are the guardian of the great divine powers! Like a dragon you have deposited venom on the foreign lands. When like Ickur [god of storms] you roar at the earth, no vegetation can stand up to you. As a flood descending upon those foreign lands, powerful one of heaven and earth, you are their Inana.
Raining blazing fire down upon the Land, endowed with divine powers by An, lady who rides upon a beast, whose words are spoken at the holy command of An! The great rites are yours: who can fathom them? Destroyer of foreign lands, you confer strength on the storm. Beloved of Enlil, you have made awesome terror weight upon the Land. You stand at the service of An's commands….

And a somewhat fragmentary hymn to Utu:
Emerging …… below and gazing upwards, Utu (Shamash), great physician, father of the black-headed,
Utu, great hero, focus of the assembly, king, bison running over the mountains!
Utu, bison running over the mountains!
A young wild cow ……, a young gazelle (?) caught in a trap, Utu, the son born (on Earth) with the city
to Ningal (Nannar / Sin‘s spouse) in the E-nun-ana, a bull,
a cedar fed with water thriving among cypresses, holy (?),
patient-hearted, playful, radiating light, he is iridescent radiance!
Then, as my king comes forth, the heavens tremble before him and the earth shakes before him.
After he has left the palace he …….
The heavens …….
May the bolt of heaven …….
The stars …… are awe-struck.
His mother …… in the streets.
She spreads her protection towards Utu.
He has raised his head over the mountains; he is indeed their king!
Utu who decrees judgments for all countries,
the lord, the son of Ningal, who renders decisions for all countries, the lord who is highly skilled at verdicts, the son (grandson) of Enlil,
highly knowledgeable and majestic Utu, the son of ……(Nannar / Sin)–
Utu has placed the …… on his head.
The lord, the son of Ningal, holds the 50 …… in his hand
and thunders over the mountains like a storm.
He has lifted his head over the Land.
My king Utu (Sun God), you cross all the shining mountains like an eagle!
He has lifted his gaze over the mountains.

Sumerian language is an isolate - unrelated to any other known language, dead or alive. It’s been theorized that a virus changed human mental workings and language utilization, but might it have been instead a simpler nutritional thing, namely yeast? Sumerian became an esoteric language of religion, Sumerian deities transformed into other deities, society transformed as diet transformed, and what was once one thing became another, sort of. What goes on in the gut heavily affects what goes on in the brain.

There are about 100 known language isolates (between 75 and 129). The only large ones are Korean with 42 million and Basque with over 580,000 speakers. Only a few others are widely familiar (Ainu (Japan), Waorani (Ecuador), Cayuse and Zuni (USA), plus some Australian and Papuan Aborigine languages). There are ~350 independent language families (including isolates); families for which a genetic relationship with any other language family can’t be shown.
Some language isolates may have had relatives which disappeared, as with Ket of Siberia, the only surviving language of the Yeniseian family. It’s possible that Basque once had relatives; Basque scholars accept that Basque descended from Aquitanian, but maybe they were two members of a language family, rather than Aquitanian being a direct ancestor of Basque. Maybe Aquitanian had a sister language, diversified from an earlier common ancestor, and that Basque descends from that.
Many evolutionary linguists believe that all human languages descended from a single, primitive language, which itself evolved from the grunts and noises of the lower animals. MIT linguist Noam Chomsky argued that the innate ability of children to acquire the grammar necessary for a language can be explained only if one assumes that all grammars are variations of a single, generic ‘universal grammar’, and that all human brains come ‘with a built-in language organ that contains this language blueprint’. But explaining this ‘innate ability’, a ‘universal grammar’, and the ‘built-in language organ’ of humans seems impossible. He also questioned whether AIDS came from a virus (of course he did this with excellent linguistic utilization, never out-and-out saying very much). Steven Pinker, an MIT psychologist wrote: ‘best minds have flung themselves at the puzzles for millennia but have made no progress in solving them.’ ‘Problems such as how a child learns language or how a fertilized egg becomes an organism are horrendous in practice and may never be solved completely.’ However, the existing state of human language suggests that our variety of dialects and sub-languages developed from a relatively few (perhaps less than 20) languages. These original ‘proto-languages’ were distinct within themselves, with no previous ancestral language. How 20 proto-languages metamorphed into a hundred language isolates I can’t imagine. Research has shown young children to use various types of thinking that may not be specific to language at all. They classify the world into categories (people or objects, for instance) and develop understandings the relations among things, according to experience. I note my four-year-old losing a less biased approach to emotional and pragmatic matters with language development (i.e. socialization). Beginnings and early development remain mysterious. Junkie William Burroughs claimed language to be infectious, exerting limitations and controls over people’s minds by its very existence and utility, and that the ability to think and create was limited by the conventions of grammar and usage. While I seem to remember enjoying reading his ‘Book of Breeething’ (sic) (aka ‘Book of Breathing’) while standing at a podium in the Rare Book Room of the Library of Congress in DC, sometime in the early 70s, that ‘language is a virus from outer space’ seems to me a dictum of no utility. Somehow the ‘methods of mind control being used by The Nova Mob, a gang of intergalactic criminals intent on destroying Earth’ don’t worry me much. This was a guy who fantasized 1000 boys jacking off into a stream (or river, I forget) simultaneously… but with the advent of AIDS and computer viruses in the 80s, related speculations became rampant.
Some sources use the term ‘language isolate’ to indicate a branch of a larger family with only one surviving daughter. For instance, Albanian, Armenian and Greek are commonly called Indo-European isolates. While part of the Indo-European family, they do not belong to any established branch (such as the Romance, Celtic or Slavic and Germanic branches), but instead form independent branches. Despite their great age, Sumerian and Elamite can be safely classified as isolates. Elamite, an extinct language used in present-day southwestern Iran from 2800 to 550 BCE. The last written records in Elamite appear around the conquest of the Achaemenid Empire by Cyrus the Great. Elamite is thought to have no demonstrable relatives and is usually considered a language isolate.
Etruscan is sometimes claimed to be Indo-European. Although most historical linguists believe this is unlikely, it’s not yet possible to resolve the issue. Ancient Mesopotamian languages Hattic, Gutian, Hurrian, Mannean and Kassite are also believed to be isolates, but this status is disputed by a minority of linguists. Similar situations pertain to extinct isolates of the Americas like Beothuk and Cayuse. A language thought to be an isolate may turn out to be relatable to other languages once enough material is recovered, but with unwritten languages, that’s unlikely.
Reduced access to plant foods may have led to more meat-eating and, as a result, a bigger brain. The enlarged brain led to premature births, and in consequence a protracted childhood, during which mothers cooed and crooned to their offspring. An upright stance altered the shape of the mouth and vocal tract, allowing a range of coherent sounds to be uttered. However enough food to feed their rather oversized brains was found, man’s ancestors happened on the trick of language, and a whole new mental landscape opened up. Man became more self-aware and perhaps self-possessed.
For all I know, the invention of stable, easily storable dry noodles was as important in human development as yeast, garlic, olive oil or advanced meat or fish storage methods. And if nutrition, or a virus, did awake something in the human brain, there’s an action-reaction situation to be dealt with vis-à-vis the question of how the brain had the capacity to be opened up in the first place!

The Whole Worm Hole

Thousands of million years ago
There was little life and all of it small.
Every cell, then as now, was the first cell.

Before there was either before or after
All was full.
Somehow bubbles of emptiness dropped in
Plop plop, start stop, drip drip
Emit or express, rest
Emit or express, rest
Expanding vacuity until its nothing
Attained virtual ubiquity
With little of matter scattered about
And some, somehow, without oxygen,
Exploding into flame.

All residue, perhaps remains
Of a vast myopic multi-dimensional
Dragon-worm that bit its own hind-end
When the Great Collector of Intellectual Property
Too long forgot to feed that guard worm.
Pain caused scales to fall from its eyes.
It died of fright, then resurrected
As us.
To know
Is to replace those dragon scales
On your own eyes.

Does not the past change
More than the Future?

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Convincing Others

We’re born carrying certain tendencies, attitudes, concerns and proclivities. What occurred in our progenitors’ lives we only slowly become at all able to criticize. We expect patterns to be repeated, and they mostly are. It’s difficult to recognize, or realize, what can or should be changed, especially as there are so many limits to what we can have any enduring impact upon. Words are at best only superimposed over natural anticipations, and taken no more seriously than they ought to be. Our feelings we take much more seriously.
Attitudes, both epigenetically derived and experientially received, change best not from presentations of logical syllogisms or scientific demonstration, but from interest in safety, self-preservation and the well-being of family, community and polity. It’s not about money, power or influence, but of maintenance of continuity – we will maintain what we can of what made us ourselves.
To correct the thinking of the wrong-headed, one must play to that, or achieve nothing. Preaching, pleading, brow-beating or diagramming don’t touch emotion, and emotion is the basis of attitude. Display what is desired, they how it can be lost, and what might be retained, and attitude can be influenced. Getting past blinders is difficult in the best of circumstances; too bad that we’ve clearly little chance of retaining ANYTHING through two more generations (for almost all, anyway).

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Beautiful, blessed floating Isles of Eldorado

Instead of creating more Frankenstein monsters and further imperiling our progeny, couldn’t we revive (and maybe refine) viable ancient methods to sustain ourselves? Nuclear energy, GMOs, plastics and lots of other innovations, inventions and developments since the advent of “civilization” don’t just involve unintended consequences, but seem to extend the addictive dependencies (including even grain and cheese) that started with agriculture. Only a very few of us can live as hunter-gatherers, but alternatives to our modern proclivities do exist.
If you ponder humanity’s prospects for the next 50 years, things look bleak. Climate change is shrinking our coastlines. Unsustainable farm practices are depleting our soil. Billions of new mouths will need to be fed. In a world of swelling populations and dwindling farmland, some predict we’re running out of places to go — and to grow food. What’s to be done?
A New York design firm has been growing plants on man-made islands near Manhattan and Philadelphia. On the western coast of Vancouver, 14 floating greenhouses and a two-story house are tethered together on re-purposed fish floats. In Thailand and the waterlogged Netherlands, movements are underway to construct floating homes, greenhouses, hospitals and prisons.
When Europeans began settling the Americas in the 15 and 1600s, they failed to recognize most local gardens, due to lack of mono-culture. Beans grew on corn stalks with melons beneath, and smelly Christians saw only jungle. Now our myopic, egotistic self-indulgence is leading to rising seas, expanding deserts and insufficient space. But “primitives” dealt well with space limitation. Remember, rain-forest had multiple levels with ecosystems above and below each other! Sky-scrapers are not the only way to gain new space.
Despite how it’s claimed that real estate is a good investment as they aren’t making any more of it, it appears that new agricultural spaces may be on the horizon. I don’t know that global warming will provide valuable new property at the earth’s poles, but what about those huge floating garbage-patches? Cover ‘em with hemp-fiber and grow mushrooms!

Lake Kisale, on the border of Congo and Zambia, is famous for floating islands inhabited by fishermen. John Geddie described them: “The matted growths of aquatic plants fringing its shores are cut off in sections, and towed to the center of the lake. Logs, brushwood, and earth are laid on the floating platform, until it acquires a consistency capable of supporting a native hut and a plot of bananas and other fruit trees, with a small flock of goats and poultry. The island is anchored by a stake driven into the bed of the lake, and if the fishing becomes scarce, or should other occasion occur for shifting the domicile, the proprietor simply draws the peg, and shifts the floating little mansion, farm and stick, whether he chooses.”
At Inle Lake in northern Burma there’s something similar. Around a quarter of the massive freshwater lake—the country’s second largest body of water—is topped with these manmade gardens. Farmers glide between their plots from atop boats often propelled by leg-powered oars. Produce (tomatoes, string beans, cucumbers, flowers, eggplants and gourds) is plucked from patches that rise and fall with the currents. Creating the tiny islands is no easy task. Farmers gather clumps of water hyacinth and sea-grass, secure them in place with large bamboo poles, which they then stake into the lake’s muddy bottom. They then heap even more layers of sea-grass and silt atop the mounds before planting seeds.
Traditional bamboo houses of Inle Lake are built on stilts with walls made by weaving strips of bamboo. This provide shade while the light structure and small wall-gaps allow passage to light and air. Since the house is raised on stilts, air can flow on all sides. Roof overhangs shade the walls and protect them from rain, and the structure dries quickly despite the humid environment.
Building atop a lake can provide additional benefits. When water evaporates, it cools down the air around it. Water has a high thermal capacity which means that water temperature varies less during the day than air temperature. It keeps houses and villages cooler during the day and warmer during the night, creating more stable temperatures than what can be achieved on land. On the lake there are fewer obstructions, so wind speeds are higher, providing even more cooling air flow.
Some newer houses are built with wood and have two stories. These houses look more durable and may have a higher status for some locals. But as the walls are more solid, less air passes through and this makes the houses less comfortable. The stilts of the houses rot and have to be replaced approximately every 15 years, and using a fast-growing material like bamboo makes replacing the stilts and the houses more sustainable.
While the houses don’t actually float, the gardens do and this makes them even more flood resistant. As the water level drops and rises, the man-made islands move with the water level. Growing food on the lake also increases the total land available for agriculture, and there is easy access to water for irrigation, even during the dry season.
The practice of farming atop the lake, rather than around it, is thought to have started in the 19th century before intensifying in the 1960s. Though the unusual agriculture has boosted the region’s economy, people have since started to worry that chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and runoff are destroying the lake’s natural ecosystem. Pesticide and fertilizer runoff from floating farms has led to many traditional fish species disappearing, and much less fishing.

When the Spanish arrived in 1519, they saw a vast network of “chinampas” (gardens protruding into or within lakes or ponds) in the shallow lake beds of the Mexico Valley, built from water hyacinth reeds topped with soil. The Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, was surrounded withthese small artificial floating gardens for agriculture. These vast systems were self-watering, self-fertilizing, navigated easily by boats, and highly productive, demonstrating a perfect example of a multi-functioning, self-supporting, and life-regenerating system.
Other, more truly floating garden systems are found worldwide. In South East Asia they may have roots dating far before the Aztec Empire. Large scale floating gardens have been made with aquaponics systems in China, for growing rice, wheat and canna lily, with some installations exceeding 10,000 m2 (2.5 acres). Floating gardens are also found in Vietnam, Bangladesh, and more famously, in the famous floating gardens of Inle Lake in Myanmar. Floating artificial islands are generally made of bundled reeds, and the best known examples are those of the Uros people of Lake Titicaca, Peru, who build their villages upon what are in effect huge rafts of bundled totora reeds. The Uros originally created their islands to prevent attacks by their more aggressive neighbors, the Incas and Collas.
Spiral Island was a more modern one-person effort to build an artificial floating island, on the Caribbean coast of Mexico. Modern artificial islands mimicking the floating reed-beds of the Uros are increasingly used by local governments and catchment managers to improve water quality at source, reducing pollutants in surface water bodies and providing biodiversity habitat. Examples include Gold Coast City Council in Australia. Artificial floating reed-beds are commonly anchored to the shoreline or bottom of water body, to ensure the system does not float away in a storm event or create a hazard. A permaculture principle tells us to “Use edge and value the marginal.” The edges are where there’s the most biodiversity and productivity, as in an estuary, where the river meets the ocean, or at the edge of a forest and prairie. There can be canopy trees, understory trees and shrubs, land crops, edge crops, emergent crops, trellis crops, fish, crayfish, water fowl, chickens on the land base, and floating water plants for fertility and mulch production… There’s immense possibility in cultivating these systems: trellises hooping over the waterways with fruits hanging down which can be harvested by boat, or ways of easily draining the waterways to harvest fish/crayfish, and flooding the land base to bring nutrient rich water to the plants. There are extensive possibilities.
These islands can also act as floating treatment wetlands (FTW). Several plants can play a part of cleaning water by absorbing dissolved nutrients, such as excess nitrates and oxygen, thereby reducing the content of these chemicals. The FTW, based on the soil-less hydroponics technique, comprises four layers. Floatable bamboo forms its base over which styrofoam cubicles are placed. The third layer is composed of gunnybags. Gravel forms the final layer. Cleaning agents planted on the FTW are vetivers, canna, cattalis, bulrush, citronella, hibiscus, fountain grass, flowering herbs, tulsi and ashvagandha. The root systems filter out sediments and pollutants.

Floating islands are not all good. In the Brazilian Amazon, floating islands known as Matupá form naturally in lakes on the floodplains of white-water rivers, ranging in size from a few feet across (or a few square meters) to a few hectares and even hundreds of acres. Sometimes they're just drifting masses of peat, mud, and plants. In extreme cases, these “islands” contain trees over 50 feet tall and 8-12 inches in diameter. These occur in Argentina, Australia, Finland, India, Japan, Kenya, and Papua New Guinea. Aquatic plant managers call them tussocks, floating islands or floating forests. When freely drifting in Florida waterways, they can be extremely expensive in terms of property damage, lost income, and management costs. Tussocks and floating islands are a product of the natural aging process of water bodies and probably have always been a part of Florida’s shallow lakes. Historically, their occurrence was kept in check by periodic drought and fire that kept them within lake margins, or occasional floods that deposited them in uplands or downstream marshes. Nowadays, water levels in most of Florida’s public lakes are manipulated by weirs, dams, or levees, which eliminate extreme high and low water events that historically suppressed tussock and floating island formation.
If not managed, floating invasive plants like water hyacinth and water lettuce, can form large rafts that act as a substrate for emergent plants to colonize. Emergent plants like primrose willow tie the rafts together below the surface with their roots, and above the surface with stems and branches. Native emergent species such as pennywort and smartweed grow from the shoreline to form mats across the water surface. If the mats become large enough, wind and wave action can tear them loose, generating floating tussocks. The non-native Cuban bulrush (Oxycaryum cubense), a grass-like sedge, sends long runners among and over other emergent plants and can eventually displace them with a floating tussock of Cuban bulrush. As water levels increase after draw-downs or droughts, masses of spongy plants like cattail and pickerelweed can pull loose from shallow soft mud flats.
Floating islands can form in the same manner as tussocks. They’re comprised of aquatic and sometimes upland plants, and also herbaceous and woody plants. Most important, they’re characterized by suspended masses of organic deposits like peat and mud that vary from a few inches to a few feet thick. In some cases, the sediments are compact or fibrous enough that the emergent plants, whose roots are interwoven into the sediments, pull as much as several feet of organic material with them to the surface as lakes re-fill. Simply killing the vegetation on these floating islands doesn’t eliminate them. The mud, peat, and woody material continue to float and the cycle repeats; often they must be dismantled to be controlled.

Nutrient pollution is a growing problem along the Upper Mississippi, where water rich in nitrogen and phosphates from crop fertilizer flows directly into the river without the benefit of wetland filtration. The problem is particularly acute in the levee region of southern Iowa, where farmers are groping for a remedy. The polluted water eventually reaches the Gulf of Mexico, creating a dead zone that now spans 6,700 square miles and costs fisheries $2.8 billion per year.
Environmentalists have filed lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency to press for tighter standards for nitrogen and phosphorus runoff. Worried that the agency might step in with new mandates, farm groups are weighing a temporary solution: floating islands that could process the nutrients before they reach the river.
The islands are made from a nonwoven mat of filter material constructed from the recycled plastic bottles, with plant roots growing through the bottom of the mat, adding microbes that will eventually yield clean water and provide food for fish. They mimic the role that wetlands once played in assimilating sediment from local agriculture. Charles Theiling, a hydrological specialist for the Army Corps of Engineers in Davenport, Iowa. has met with 500 farmers who favor using a concentrated wetland-effect, or floating islands, for abating the runoff problem. The pollution is rooted in the disappearance of interconnected flood plains that once existed in this Upper Mississippi region, Mr. Theiling explained. “The flood plains acted like a kidney to the river — they filtered out the pollutants.” But where flood plains once existed, two million acres of rich agricultural land are now planted with corn in each growing season. Swamps have been drained and trees cut. Meanwhile, 110 individual levee districts with pumps and plumbing have been installed to limit flood risks on these lands, which means that excess rainfall is channeled directly into the levees. “Our river wetlands are degraded because of conditions of our watershed and the ones we created by eliminating the flood plain,” Theiling said. “We are not getting the natural ecosystem service benefits of nutrient processing and sediment assimilation that we would get if this land were in its natural state.”
Fertilizer doesn’t just promote growth in crops, but even for algae and microbes. Anything living will respond to fertilizer, most certainly aquatic plants and algae blooms that choke-off beneficial micro-organisms, limiting food sources for fish and other marine life. Floating Islands can support biological processes that feed on fertilizer in beneficial ways, cleaning the water, acting as a sort of bio-reactor, providing something for microscopic life forms to live on, drawing on the carbon in the water, while using up the phosphorous and nitrogen gas.
While the islands have not yet been used widely in the Upper Mississippi, over 4,800 have been installed around the world. Aside from the United States Army Corps of Engineers, public and private entities ranging from a wastewater facility at a Louisiana prison to a landfill in New Zealand have commissioned such islands to clean polluted water, provide nutrients for fish and contribute to species habitat.

Meanwhile, the natural world is rapidly becoming a giant pile of plastic waste. The ocean is full of plastic, with floating, continent-size patches of it in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, plus newly formed ones in the Arctic. Some uninhabited islands are drowning in the stuff. There are at least six huge garbage patches in our oceans; we’re slowly suffocating natural ecologies with our trash. Fish, birds, and other animals consume bits of the five trillion tons of plastic strewn about the ocean. Doing so can kill them. Weirdly, though, scientists have come to the conclusion that, based on the amount of plastic we make every year, there is only about one-hundredth as much of the plastic floating around as the numbers would suggest. Although there are many possible explanations for this, it may be that microbes are breaking the plastic down. A team of Japanese scientists found a species of bacteria that eats the type of plastic found in most disposable water bottles. The discovery could lead to new methods to manage the more than 50 million tons of this particular type of plastic produced globally each year.
Plastic for water bottles is known as polyethylene terephthalate, or PET. It’s found in polyester clothing, frozen-dinner trays and blister packaging; if you walk down the aisle in Wal-Mart you see lots of it. Part of the appeal of PET is that it is lightweight, colorless and strong. However, it’s also notoriously resistant to being broken down by microbes. Studies had found a few species of fungi which grow on PET, but until just recently, no microbes that can eat it.
In 2016, scientists from Japan tested different bacteria from a bottle recycling plant and found one they named Ideonella sakaiensis that could digest the plastic used to make single-use drinks bottles. In their testing, they inadvertently made an enzyme, PETase, even better at degrading PET. The resulting mutant PETase takes just a few days to break down PET, compared to the 450 years it takes for the stuff to degrade naturally. It works by secreting an enzyme, PETase, which splits certain chemical bonds (esters) in PET, leaving smaller molecules that the bacteria can absorb, using the carbon in them as a food source.
Although other bacterial enzymes were already known to slowly digest PET, the new enzyme had apparently evolved specifically for this job. This suggests it might be faster and more efficient and so have the potential for use in bio-recycling.
One internet article confusingly claims that there are plenty of cheaper and easier ways to break down and recycle PET. It claims that PET is in fact, one of the easier types of plastic to break down. So, industrial scale production of enzymes or genetically-modified bacteria isn’t necessary. But although bacteria that can eat oil have also been discovered, oil slicks also remain a huge problem, especially as the incidence of them isn’t decreasing either, no more than is the addition of methane and carbon dioxide to our atmosphere, despite that we know that this will make our climate over-like within this century.
PETase could be used to break down bottles before they end up in the environment, much as we could stop riding in cars and airplanes, but convenience continues to rule. “Current recycling strategies for PET bottles mostly focus on mechanical recycling, so they chop the bottles up and use them for applications that typically do not need the same materials requirements as bottles,” says study co-author Gregg Beckham, a researcher at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “Engineered enzymes that break PET down to its building blocks would enable the ability to do full bottle-to-bottle recycling,” which might help decrease oil drilling demands for new plastic production. Waxworm caterpillars have been found to break down plastic in a matter of hours, and mealworms possess gut microbes that eat through polystyrene. Beckham says, given how ubiquitous environmental pollution has become, “it is likely that microbes are evolving faster and better strategies to break down man-made plastics. It seems that nature is evolving solutions.” Seems kind of deus ex machina – we can’t help ourselves, so something else has to.
Although a growing number of plastic-consuming microbes will help limit the absolutely disgraceful amounts of plastic dumped, much is consumed by animals that get eaten by us. Our garbage hardly assists biodiversity, and only the morally repugnant think we can keep dumping plastic in the oceans without consequence, but most of our major decision-makers do appear to be morally repugnant.
Still, if these bacteria can be encouraged to proliferate across the ocean, it might reduce humanity’s negative impact on them. But some dismiss the idea of adding either the original bacteria or the genetically enhanced version to ocean environments to speed the degradation of plastic debris, calling it irresponsible, as there would be too many side effects for the ecosystem.

A machine to clean up the planet’s largest chunk of ocean plastic is scheduled to quite soon finally set sail. It’ll work on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, halfway between California and Hawaii, collecting the 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic rubbish amassed there by ocean currents. The system uses a combination of huge floating nets (dubbed “screens”) held in place by giant tubes, ironically made out of plastic, to suck stubborn waste out of the water. It’ll transfer debris to large ships that will take it to shore for recycling. This intricate system is expected to start work by July, 2018. Ultimately, Ocean Cleanup (a Dutch non-profit behind the project) aims to install 60 giant floating scoops, each stretching a mile from end to end. Fish will be able to escape the screens by passing underneath them, while boats will collect the waste every six to eight weeks.
The ambitious system is the brainchild of Dutch teen prodigy Boyan Slat, who presented his ocean-cleaning machine at a Tedx talk six years ago. Despite skepticism from some scientists, Slat dropped out of college to pursue the venture, raising $2.2 million from a crowd-funding campaign, with millions more brought in by other investors.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) spans 617,763 square miles; it’s larger than France, Germany and Spain combined and contains at least 79,000 tons of plastic. Most of it is “ghost gear”: parts of abandoned or lost fishing gear, including nets and ropes, often from illegal fishing boats. Ghost gear kills more than 100,000 whales, dolphins and seals each year, with many of the sea creatures drowned, strangled or mutilated by the plastic.

If instead of cleaning up that mess we’ve made, we try to utilize it as farmland, a new desalinization process, shock electrodialysis, would help. In it, water flows through a porous material made of tiny glass particles (called a frit), with membranes or electrodes sandwiching the porous material on each side. When an electric current flows through the system, the salty water divides into regions where the salt concentration is either depleted or enriched. When the current is increased to a certain point, it generates a shockwave between the two zones, sharply dividing the streams and allowing the fresh and salty regions to be separated by a simple physical barrier at the center of the flow. Water flows across the membranes, not through them, which means they’re not as vulnerable to fouling (buildup of filtered material) or to degradation due to water pressure, as in regular membrane-based desalination, including conventional electrodialysis, which has the potential to desalinate seawater quickly and cheaply - but doesn’t remove dirt and bacteria. Shock electrodialysis, however, removes both salt and particulate matter including bacteria.
Forward osmosis pulls water molecules across a membrane, leaving salt and impurities behind, using less than a quarter of the electricity needed for standard desalination, making it easier for the technology to run on renewable power.
Large parabolic mirrors can be used to collect and concentrate the sun’s energy. Inside this solar still, pure water evaporates, while solids remain behind. The system is currently being tested by a water district in California’s agricultural Central Valley, cleaning irrigation runoff tainted with salts leached from the soil.
Another new technology takes water from the air, but how the completely dry air left from this process affects the rest of the atmosphere, and weather patterns, is not understood.

Researchers in India have come up with a water purification system using nanotechnology to remove microbes, bacteria and other matter from water, by using composite nanoparticles, which emit silver ions that destroy contaminants. Graphene-oxide membranes have attracted considerable attention as promising candidates for new filtration technologies. Now the much sought-after development of making membranes capable of sieving common salts has been achieved. Possibly, graphene-oxide membrane systems can be built on smaller scales making this technology accessible to countries which do not have the financial infrastructure to fund large plants without compromising the yield of fresh water produced.
The Solvay process, a 150-year-old, seven-step chemical conversion method that is widely used to produce sodium carbonate for industrial applications, and that many chemists are working to refine, has been simplified by aiming for sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) rather than sodium carbonate, thus reducing the needed chemical conversion steps to just two. The presence of ammonia causes pure carbon dioxide to react with waste brine from desalination, and create a solid baking soda and ammonium chloride solution. The second step creates an ammonium chloride solution and calcium oxide reaction, producing calcium chloride solution and ammonia gas. Recovering the ammonia allows it to be reused in the first step, reducing the cost of the process.

Even were garbage patches to be surrounded by huge nylon nets bigger than nets used for industrial fishing, microscopic bits of plastic would still contaminate sea-life, much as happens with expensive bottled water so popular of recent. Well, hot-dogs, sausages and noodles are often coated in plastic, and many of us eat that, and sea-life is getting irradiated anyway. So maybe floating monoculture as would please Global AgraBiz is a possibility. Strides in wind and solar power, battery miniaturization and longevity, desalinization and perhaps other technologies might help. Should we be able to expand food production and even living space on the high seas, ocean death might not be seen as the huge problem it actually is, but this shouldn’t be. We can no more do without sea-life than without insects of large predators, regardless of how difficult it is to convince many of these truths. Dead oceans wouldn’t produce oxygen, but rather other gasses, and resultant climate change is difficult to even imagine. In a dead ocean, who knows where a floating island might end up? Currants and winds would be completely different.
Imagination is of the essence here. Either we find ways of combining ancient wisdom with modern discoveries, or society as we have come to know it completely disappears. In all likelihood, within two decades we’re going to be completely dependent on substances that, in their infinite wisdom, our businessmen and politicos have made illegal. For the sake of all, let’s hope we can make it that far without deus ex machina (count on God or the Tao helping only those who help themselves).

A few days after putting this together, it occurred to me that floating doesn't need to involve liquid - maybe polar methane freed up by our release of too much CO2 could be put in huge balloons to support flying islands! Maybe those who'd live on them wouldn't care how taking water from nearby air would affect the rest of the atmosphere...

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Friday, April 06, 2018

dormant elaborate labyrinths

Back in midevil times when I was young, in my readings (ETA Hoffman, Hesse, Borges, John Gardiner’s “The Wreckage of Agathon”, Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy, Ursula LeGuinn) I not infrequently encountered reference to elaborate labyrinths navigation through which could lead to beneficial greater understandings. I quite liked that myth, but it seems to have, at best, gone dormant.
I’d hoped that through the internet I’d find, if not greater understanding, at least interesting discussion of ideas, or dreams, aspirations, with comparisons of various ways of looking at things or apprehending them. But, sadly, no. It’s mostly just flat assertions.
We have lost so much, for ego.
Like money, at best a questionable God (although, like other gods, it doesn’t answer questions).

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Patent law and the glorification of the individual

Patent law is based on the entirely incorrect notion that an inspired individual, through hard work, can produce something of almost incalculable value which contributes greatly to the ease and utility others can enjoy. The easiest justification for this is through art: painters and musicians, especially, have been seen as of individual genius. I’m not going to argue against Beethoven and Mozart, but it seems to me that we have taken the idea of the importance of the individual far too far. Individual attribution ignores the concept of “standing on the shoulders of giants” and the standing of the individual within society, without which the individual is nothing.
But let’s look at a few of the purportedly greatest minds ever, and what they gave us. His laws of motion gave us modern physics, and his work with prisms and reflecting telescopes helped expand understanding of our world. But he was unable to deal with criticism, even to the point of being unable to tolerate open discussion of his ideas. We know now that his revolutionary, and beneficial, ideas on the mechanics of our world weren’t quite correct. Assertion that his ideas on color weren’t entirely correct drove him to complete nervous breakdown. Some of his ideas were quite mad, and his violent and vindictive attacks against both friend and foe reveal a deeply unhappy man. His set of four rules for scientific reasoning, that (1) we are to admit no more causes of natural things such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances, (2) the same natural effects must be assigned to the same causes, (3) qualities of bodies are to be esteemed as universal, and (4) propositions deduced from observation of phenomena should be viewed as accurate until other phenomena contradict them, remain profound and valuable, but are we to imagine that no-one else would have provided them soon after he did, had he not?
William Shakespeare is regarded as the world's pre-eminent dramatist, but was hardly revered during his lifetime. But it’s claimed both that he stole plots, poems, and even entire stories from other people, and that the real author of the works attributed to him was Edward de Vere (maybe with “a little clique of disappointed and defeated politicians” or substantial contributions from other royalty than de Vere, or even from members of the original acting troupe that presented the plays). Dennis McCarthy and June Schlueter recently used off-the-shelf plagiarism software to make a case that Shakespeare (or de Vere) stole from George North, a barely known writer/soldier, for almost a dozen of ‘his’ works, including “King Lear,” “Macbeth” and “Coriolanus.”
Albert Einstein is also accused of using the ideas of other people, being wrong about relativity and as mistaken about gravity as Newton. Much as with Darwin, it’s clear that had he not presented what he did when he did, someone else would soon have anyway. Somehow a need for individual heroes arose to replace more generic ones like Coyote of many Native American tribes. Most of the world has always been too wise to push individualism toward the absurdities central in our current ‘dominant narrative’ – a world-view which cannot last. Ownership, as it were, is theft. One shares in, and must share with. No man is an island, nor a prime mover. An act of invention hardly should release a person from obligations, the way too much money has come to do.
Sure, people should profit from hard work, from inventiveness, even from good inspirations that require little in the way of sweat or exertion. But how much, and for how long? Is resting on laurels really a noble occupation?

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Sunday, April 01, 2018

(some part of) Why I live with Yanamamo on the Upper Sepik

(with a nod and a wink to Eudora Welty for her wonderful "Why I live at the P.O." - this, other than the somewhat metaphoric title, is all true tho)

One day, living in Bangkok, I helped a guy apply a cement plaster to gaps and holes left when a huge Ganesh statue was cast. We also applied tiny square tiles fronted with gold leaf to the dais edging below the idol. I kept a few of those tiles for almost 30 years.
My father was organizing Thailand’s first department of psychology. Thais find most “psychology” ridiculous, but considered my father’s behaviorism at least scientific. For school science day, I presented a pigeon in a box with a small window in which colored shapes could be made to appear. According to what it saw, the pigeon would turn around clockwise or counter-clockwise, or peck.
We returned via Europe and New York, where I spent several days at the World’s Fair.
Suddenly a world full of discovery was replaced by Indiana suburbia where we had a “split-level” house with white-bread yard in a “sub-division” created from corn fields, with a small woods off to one side. One neighboring house with a flat roof we joked was a helicopter pad, was supposedly designed by Frank Lloyd Wright or someone almost as famous, but it was as dull as all the others. One home-owner sprayed green paint on his grass late at night, when he thought no-one would notice.
Immediately I started school, 7th grade. In gym class, we were lined up in “squads” – a skinny but tall guy who stood in front of me told a short squat guy behind me that he and I were going to have a fight after school, and asked him to be his “second” before telling me to find one too. I simply didn’t show, and never saw the taller guy again, as it was deemed necessary to put us on half days, with high-schoolers whose building hadn’t been completed on schedule used our junior high the other half day. No time for gym. Well OK. The shorter guy I somehow recognized over 20 years later – he was a neighbor in Arizona desert a couple miles from the Rez line. We managed to be friends for over 25 years.
One thing that helped my ability for that friendship was the kid a year older than me who lived in the house behind ours. He had a dog. I got one too, same size, medium. Same short hair, his black with some white, mine all light brown. We had little enough else in common, but few alternative friendships as the other early adolescents in our neighborhood attended ‘parochial’ schools.
My dog got named “Vicky” and she’d bounce and bound with glee as the school bus arrived to drop me off. I’d get my bike and we’d roam the flatland, nowhere particular to go. When rich enough, I’d buy a box of dried apricots for a dollar, to eat while I read, which is mostly what I did. Vicky, seeing my enjoyment, developed longing to participate in the fun and became a huge apricot fan too.
But the wind-up bird or clockwork orange of Skinnerian behaviorism proved anathema to local psychology. We are not stimulus-response organisms of no soul! It was seen as a perversion of reality to even suggest such a thing. Not that my father meant to, not at all. He was a devout Quaker, or Friend, as we called ourselves. He just wanted a scientific approach to teaching, learning and behavior modification for occasionally essential readjustment programs for the maladjusted. That any of his thoughts might be “subversive” he simply compartmentalized. That mark Twain, Will Rogers, Woody Guthrie, Paul Robeson, Humphrey Bogart or Adlai Stevenson could be in any way subversive was meaningless to him, son of a WWI hero who’d become head of the VA for Mexico despite courts-martial for disobeying a direct order from his superior officer to stand fast (a charge also leveled against me, later, over something much more trivial than the “less than half-a-loaf” my grandmother described her husband’s military trial as). As the last officer left alive on his side of a battlefield, he’d called a retreat, and saved many men’s lives. Of course, people have been shot for far less…
My father’d gotten only a one-year contract. It wasn’t renewed. Despite having no decent orchestra to play her harp in, or much in the way of students, my mother wasn’t at all pleased. In 15 years of marriage they’d already moved 8 times. It was no way to live. Her eldest had been packed off to a Quaker boarding school twice already, and packing’s no-one’s favorite hobby. There were unresolved undercurrents of hostility throughout the house that had never become a real home.
Summer heat had come early, the future was uncertain, and despite the Quaker “peace testimony” most local Quakers had proven war-hawks when it came to the area of Asia we’d recently left (with absolutely no feelings of hostility, quite opposite to what we encountered at a Quaker church, where I witnessed folk getting up on their knees backward on pews to confess aloud their sins to all the congregation. This wasn’t what we were used to!). Also, money was tight. Feelings were fraught, frayed, taught and strained.
In the kitchen, a piece of chicken fell to the floor. Vicky grabbed it. My father freaked, called for, demanded, rather, a just purchased, still refrigerated steak. Vicky, loathe to relinquish her bounty, had already growled. My mother scowled. Steak was expensive!
“Chicken bones will stick in the dog’s throat!” my father yelled. He got the steak. Vicky didn’t care. Mom glowered. Dad didn’t know what to do, how to affect a trade. I’d little idea how to help.
My memory becomes indistinct at this point. All could have just gone on as normal, but the dog had growled at my Dad. Next day she was off to the vet, and never came back. “Distemper” Dad said. I was made to burn all her things, including my old, cherished comport blanket she’d been sleeping on, a blanket I’d often longed for on many an air-conditioned Bangkok hot-season night with only a sheet.
Then I was packed off to Mexico, and got kind of lost on the way, after the train broke down and a bus ride to El Paso was offered. At El Paso bus station I had no idea what to do, nor even money to take me anywhere. Called home but they were all out to a movie. Called directory assistance in Mexico but didn’t know enough to reach anyone. The phone operator came to get me and I slept at her house. Later got a dollar for Ma Bell making an ad with the story. On the train in the Mexican desert, between episodes of Archie, Jughead, Betty and Mr. Lodge a girl my age was kind enough to share with me, I stood at the back of the train. The conductor had placed eight silver pesos on the back railing, was teasing a couple of young kids with them. Somehow the two boys were suddenly off the train, running behind, trying to catch up. They never did. Those pesos were an ounce of almost pure silver, larger than a silver dollar but traded at eight cents. USA coins were already made of lesser metals.
Our world doesn’t make sense. I’ve several dogs now and they eat chicken bones most days.
Instead of learning about animal behavior from Konrad Lorenz (who’s “King Solomon’s Ring” I quite enjoyed) or Pavlov, we’d have done better to ask farmers and Bushmen. Instead of trying to boss the world about, we could have tried to lead by presenting a better example. Instead of trying to teach or trade, we should have tried to learn and do. It might have paid, in better than silver coin. But most likely not in ways that would have provided steak dinners in split-level house sub-divisions.
Even my desert-rat from Indiana Bible-thumping without knowing what’s in it ex-friend knows that. Though he finds no use for said information. The next year was 1967 and Dorothy really wasn’t in Kansas anymore. The genie was out of the bottle, Pandora’s box was open and someone left the cake out in the rain. Oh no.