FeuerThoughts

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The FeuerThoughts blog offers the meandering thoughts from the brain and fingers of Steven Feuerstein. Me. Let's see...I am known primarily for my writings and trainings on the Oracle PL/SQL language, having written ten books on the topic. I am also involved with the Refuser Solidarity Network (www.refusersolidary.net), which supports the Israeli refuser movement. For even more of me, check out www.stevenfeuerstein.comSteven Feuersteinhttp://www.blogger.com/profile/16619706770920320550noreply@blogger.comBlogger393125
Updated: 4 hours 31 min ago

How are you?

Tue, 2016-06-28 06:26
I get this question a lot.

You probably do, too.

Sometimes nothing more is meant by it than "Hello."

Sometimes they really mean it, they really want to know.

Generally, my answer is "Great!"

'Cause no matter what relatively small irritations I have in my life, the bottom line is that my life is quite wonderful.

But I've decided that perhaps I should not simply say "Great!" I should explain why my life is so great.

So here goes:

Great!

I am an organic life form living on the only planet we know of in the entire universe that supports organic life. How wonderful is that?

Plus, I am self-aware, so I know that I am alive and can appreciate rainbows and the sound of wind moving through trees, and so on.* How incredible is that?

And, best of all, I have two smart, beautiful, hilarious, stubborn and funny granddaughters.**

So how am I?

GREAT!

* Note: just in case that sentence sounds as though I am celebrating the uniqueness of human beings, I must clarify that I happen to believe that many, many living creatures from thousands of species are self-aware and appreciate the world around them. Birds, spiders, squirrels, "etc" ....

** Photos are, of course, required to back this up:

Loey Lucille Silva


Juna Josephine Silva



Categories: Development

Complaining about the weather

Sun, 2016-06-26 09:16
Seems like I hear people complaining about the weather a lot.

Too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry....

Seems to me that we should never complain about the weather. I refuse to complain about the weather. Why would I take this position?

So far there is just one planet that we know about in the universe that supports the kind of life we are: organic, carbon-based life.

"Weather" cannot be separated from this planet. So when you complain about the weather, you are complaining about the only place in the universe humans can even possibly, remotely live. 

Seems a bit mean spirited, from that perspective, to whine about rain (which is needed badly for us and trees and lots of other living things to survive).

Beyond all that, humans have spread across the entire planet, even (and often) to places that are hostile to human survival (places, in other words, that we did not evolve to live in).

In order to live in many of these places, we destroy chunks of those places to make them more hospitable, comfortable and convenient for us.

So it seems to me that when someone complains about the weather, we should ask:

Do you live in a location on Planet Earth that does not require the establishment of a "human survival zone"?

Indicators of Human Survival Zones: air conditioning so your brain doesn't fry; heat so that you don't turn into an ice cube; homes that seal you off completely from your surroundings....

If yes, then our response should be:
Wow! Aren't you lucky? You can breathe, you can drink water, you can eat the food, you can enjoy the natural environment with minimal degradation of that environment, and without dying. Why would you ever complain about the weather?
If no, the our response should be: 
You have no right to complain. You shouldn't even be here. You can only be here by radically changing (usually by destroying) the world around you. Which, by the way, affects the weather. If you don't like it here, then leave. But don't complain.And if none of that seems to be making a dent, you can always fall back on the Rainbow Argument:
How can you complain about the weather (and by extention a planet) that gives you rainbows? 
Categories: Development

Two Amazing Men Discovered Evolution by Natural Selection!

Thu, 2016-04-07 10:09
Most everyone knows about Darwin, and what they think they know is that Charles Darwin is the discoverer of Evolution through Natural Selection. And for sure, he did discover this. But the amazing thing is....he wasn't the only one. And whereas Darwin came to this theory pretty much as a Big Data Scientist over a long period of time (mostly via "armchair" collection of data from scientists and naturalists around the world), The Other Guy developed his theory of Natural Selection very much in the field - more specifically, in the jungle, surrounded by the living evidence. 

His name is Alfred Russel Wallace, he is one of my heroes, and I offer below the "real story" for your reading pleasure. 

One of the things I really love about this story is the way Darwin and Wallace respected each other, and did right by each other. We all have a lot to learn from their integrity and compassion.

Alfred Russel Wallace and Natural Selection: the Real Story 
By Dr George Beccaloni, Director of the Wallace Correspondence Project, March 2013

http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/tv/junglehero/alfred-wallace-biography.pdf

Alfred Russel Wallace OM, LLD, DCL, FRS, FLS was born near Usk, Monmouthshire, England (now part of Wales) on January 8th, 1823. Serious family financial problems forced him to leave school aged only fourteen and a few months later he took a job as a trainee land surveyor with his elder brother William. This work involved extensive trekking through the English and Welsh countryside and it was then that his interest in natural history developed.

Whilst living in Neath, Wales, in 1845 Wallace read Robert Chambers' extremely popular and anonymously published book Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation and became fascinated by the controversial idea that living things had evolved from earlier forms. So interested in the subject did he become that he suggested to his close friend Henry Walter Bates that they travel to the Amazon to collect and study animals and plants, with the goal of understanding how evolutionary change takes place. They left for Brazil in April 1848, but although Wallace made many important discoveries during his four years in the Amazon Basin, he did not manage to solve the great ‘mystery of mysteries’ of how evolution works.

Wallace returned to England in October 1852, after surviving a disastrous shipwreck which destroyed all the thousands of natural history specimens he had painstakingly collected during the last two and most interesting years of his trip. Undaunted, in 1854 he set off on another expedition, this time to the Malay Archipelago (Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia), where he would spend eight years travelling, collecting, writing, and thinking about evolution. He visited every important island in the archipelago and sent back 110,000 insects, 7,500 shells, 8,050 bird skins, and 410 mammal and reptile specimens, including probably more than five thousand species new to science.

In Sarawak, Borneo, in February 1855, Wallace produced one of the most important papers written about evolution up until that time1. In it he proposed a ‘law’ which stated that "Every species has come into existence coincident both in time and space with a pre-existing closely allied species". He described the affinities (relationships) between species as being “...as intricate as the twigs of a gnarled oak or the vascular system of the human body” with “...the stem and main branches being represented by extinct species...” and the “...vast mass of limbs and boughs and minute twigs and scattered leaves...” living species. The eminent geologist and creationist Charles Lyell was so struck by Wallace’s paper that in November 1855, soon after reading it, he began a ‘species notebook’ in which he started to contemplate the possibility of evolution for the first time.

In April 1856 Lyell visited Charles Darwin at Down House in Kent, and Darwin confided that for the past twenty years he had been secretly working on a theory (natural selection) which neatly explained how evolutionary change takes place. Not long afterwards, Lyell sent Darwin a letter urging him to publish before someone beat him to it (he probably had Wallace in mind), so in May 1856, Darwin, heeding this advice, began to write a ‘sketch’ of his ideas for publication.

Finding this unsatisfactory, Darwin abandoned it in about October 1856 and instead began working on an extensive book on the subject.

The idea of natural selection came to Wallace during an attack of fever whilst he was on a remote Indonesian island in February 1858 (it is unclear whether this epiphany happened on Ternate or neighbouring Gilolo (Halmahera)). As soon as he had sufficient strength, he wrote a detailed essay explaining his theory and sent it together with a covering letter to Darwin, who he knew from earlier correspondence, was deeply interested in the subject of species transmutation (as evolution was then called).

Wallace asked Darwin to pass the essay on to Lyell (who Wallace did not know), if Darwin thought it sufficiently novel and interesting. Darwin had mentioned in an earlier letter to Wallace that Lyell had found his 1855 paper noteworthy and Wallace must have thought that Lyell would be interested to learn about his new theory, since it neatly explained the ‘law’ which Wallace had proposed in that paper.

Darwin, having formulated natural selection years earlier, was horrified when he received Wallace’s essay and immediately wrote an anguished letter to Lyell asking for advice on what he should do. "I never saw a more striking coincidence. If Wallace had my M.S. sketch written out in 1842 he could not have made a better short abstract! ... So all my originality, whatever it may amount to, will be smashed." he exclaimed2. Lyell teamed up with another of Darwin's close friends, Joseph Hooker, and rather than attempting to seek Wallace's permission, they decided instead to present his essay plus two excerpts from Darwin’s writings on the subject (which had never been intended for publication3) to a meeting of the Linnean Society of London on July 1st 1858. The public presentation of Wallace's essay took place a mere 14 days after its arrival in England.

Darwin and Wallace's musings on natural selection were published in the Society’s journal in August that year under the title “On the Tendency of Species to Form Varieties; And On the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection”. Darwin's contributions were placed before Wallace's essay, thus emphasising his priority to the idea4. Hooker had sent Darwin the proofs to correct and had told him to make any alterations he wanted5, and although he made a large number of changes to the text he had written, he chose not to alter Lyell and Hooker’s arrangement of his and Wallace’s contributions.

Lyell and Hooker stated in their introduction to the Darwin-Wallace paper that “...both authors...[have]...unreservedly placed their papers in our hands...”, but this is patently untrue since Wallace had said nothing about publication in the covering letter he had sent to Darwin6. Wallace later grumbled that his essay “...was printed without my knowledge, and of course without any correction of proofs...”7

As a result of this ethically questionable episode8, Darwin stopped work on his big book on evolution and instead rushed to produce an ‘abstract’ of what he had written so far. This was published fifteen months later in November 1859 as On the Origin of Species: a book which Wallace later magnanimously remarked would “...live as long as the "Principia" of Newton.”9

In spite of the theory’s traumatic birth, Darwin and Wallace developed a genuine admiration and respect for one another. Wallace frequently stressed that Darwin had a stronger claim to the idea of natural selection, and he even named one of his most important books on the subject Darwinism! Wallace spent the rest of his long life explaining, developing and defending natural selection, as well as working on a very wide variety of other (sometimes controversial) subjects. He wrote more than 1000 articles and 22 books, including The Malay Archipelago and The Geographical Distribution of Animals. By the time of his death in 1913, he was one of the world's most famous people.

During Wallace’s lifetime the theory of natural selection was often referred to as the Darwin- Wallace theory and the highest possible honours were bestowed on him for his role as its co- discoverer. These include the Darwin–Wallace and Linnean Gold Medals of the Linnean Society of London; the Copley, Darwin and Royal Medals of the Royal Society (Britain's premier scientific body); and the Order of Merit (awarded by the ruling Monarch as the highest civilian honour of Great Britain). It was only in the 20th Century that Wallace’s star dimmed while Darwin’s burned ever more brightly. 

So why then did this happen?

The reason may be as follows: in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, natural selection as an explanation for evolutionary change became unpopular, with most biologists adopting alternative theories such as neo-Lamarckism, orthogenesis, or the mutation theory. It was only with the modern evolutionary synthesis of the 1930s and ’40s that it became widely accepted that natural selection is indeed the primary driving force of evolution. By then, however, the history of its discovery had largely been forgotten and many wrongly assumed that the idea had first been published in Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Thanks to the so-called ‘Darwin Industry’ of recent decades, Darwin’s fame has increased exponentially, eclipsing the important contributions of his contemporaries, like Wallace. A more balanced, accurate and detailed history of the discovery of what has been referred to as “...arguably the most momentous idea ever to occur to a human mind” is long overdue.

ENDNOTES

1. Wallace, A. R. 1855. On the law which has regulated the introduction of new species. Annals and Magazine of Natural History, 16 (2nd series): 184-196.

2. Letter from Darwin to Charles Lyell dated 18th [June 1858] (Darwin Correspondence Database, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-2285 accessed 20/01/2013).

3. These were an extract from Darwin’s unpublished essay on evolution of 1844, plus the enclosure from a letter dated 5th September 1857, which Darwin had written to the American botanist Asa Gray.

4. Publishing another person’s work without their agreement was as unacceptable then as it is today. Publishing someone’s novel theory without their consent, prefixed by material designed to give priority of the idea to someone else is ethically highly questionable: Wallace should have been consulted first! Fortunately for Darwin and his supporters, Wallace appeared to be pleased by what has been called the ‘delicate arrangement’.

5. In a letter from Joseph Hooker to Darwin dated 13th and 15th July 1858 (Darwin Correspondence Database, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-2307 accessed 20/01/2013), Hooker stated " I send the proofs from Linnæan Socy— Make any alterations you please..."

6. In a letter from Darwin to Charles Lyell dated 18th [June 1858] (Darwin Correspondence Database, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-2285 accessed 20/01/2013), Darwin, who was referring to Wallace's essay, says "Please return me the M.S. [manuscript] which he does not say he wishes me to publish..." and in a letter from Darwin to Charles Lyell dated [25th June 1858] (Darwin Correspondence Database, http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-2294 accessed 20/01/2013), Darwin states that "Wallace says nothing about publication..."

7. Letter from Wallace to A. B. Meyer dated 22nd November 1869 cited in Meyer, A. B. 1895. How was Wallace led to the discovery of natural selection? Nature, 52(1348): 415.

8. See Rachels, J. 1986. Darwin's moral lapse. National Forum: 22-24 (pdf available at http://www.jamesrachels.org/DML.pdf)

9. Letter from Wallace to George Silk dated 1st September 1860 (WCP373 in Beccaloni, G. W. (Ed.). 2012. Wallace Letters Online www.nhm.ac.uk/wallacelettersonline [accessed 20/01/2013])

OTHER NOTES

Please cite this article as: Beccaloni, G. W. 2013. Alfred Russel Wallace and Natural Selection: the Real Story. <http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/tv/junglehero/alfred-wallace-biography.pdf>
This article is a slightly modified version of the introduction by George Beccaloni to the following privately published book: Preston, T. (Ed.). 2013. The Letter from Ternate. UK: TimPress. 96 pp.
Categories: Development

Goodbye Old Bike, Hello Old Bike

Sat, 2015-10-31 09:53
In 1977, one of my best buddies told me about a friend he had, who had just custom-built a bicycle for him, from components. This guy would do the same thing for me. "How cool is that?" thought I.

A few weeks later, for (according to my admittedly leaky memory) about $200, I received a bicycle that became one of my all-time favorite machines.

It was built around a black Raleigh Competition Reynolds 531 double butted steel tubing. It was powered by a lovely, engraved, all-metal Shimano 600 Arabesque derailleur ("One of the most decorative groups Shimano ever released"):


The bike was a beautiful ride and all-around excellent transportation. It came to Chicago with me in 1981. It took me downtown for my first job as a programmer in Chicago, at First National Bank (I commuted by bike whenever possible). It accompanied me on day trips all over Chicagoland. It took me back and forth to the CISPES office, a cause and organization that consumed way too much of my life for too little in return. Whatever foolishness I chose to engage in, this bike helped me do it in style (my style: it was scratched up and usually dirty, but the chain and gears were clean and lubricated).

But for some reason (yes, that's right, I do not recall), about fifteen years ago, I decided to buy a new bicycle, and chose a Jamis Coda. I hung the black bike (I don't know what else to call it. It used to be a Raleigh Competition, but that was long before I took possession) in the back of my shed, and very much enjoyed the Coda. It was new, it was shiny, and it was a hybrid, better suited for city riding. After a while it wasn't new or shiny anymore - just my style, but it was still a great ride. I didn't think very often about my black bike, even when I noticed it hanging behind garden gear and abandoned kids' toys.

Well, a couple months ago, I got careless with my Coda and it was stolen. Arrrrggggh.

I figured I would buy a new bicycle, which I dreaded in part because everything has gotten so over-built, optimized for convenience, unnecessarily fancy, etc. Not my style. Started looking around and found myself at Bucephalus Bikes, where they do a brisk, proud business in reconditioning older bicycles to better-than-new.

That got me thinking: maybe I should bring in the Reynolds 531 frame (by this time, I was thinking that was all that was left of the bike) and see what it might cost to make it a beauty, once again.

I hauled it out of the shed and was delighted to see it was intact as a bicycle, but with understandably flat tires, rusty chain, and who knows what else wrong with it. I did, after all, choose to stop riding it long ago.

Feeling slightly guilty at not returning to Bucephalus, I brought the black bike to my neighborhood bike shop, Roberts Cycle. They made appreciative noises. They probably do that with all their customers. :-)

Well, in any case, a few weeks went by and yesterday I rode the bike home - smoooothly. Here are the parts Roberts needed to properly restore the bike:
  • Chain
  • Front and rear brake cables and housing
  • Front and rear shift cables
  • Seat binder bolt
  • Schwalbe 27-1/4 K-guard (Kevlar) tires
  • Sealed bottom bracket
  • Headset bearings (29, loose, had to be individually packed in)
  • Rear wheel bearings (22, loose, had to be individually packed in)
  • Front alloy wheel
  • Used rear derailleur
Yes, you read that right. They removed the Shimano 600 and gave me a "good enough" replacement for a very fair price. He never asked if I wanted to replace it. WTF? The guy who runs the shop explained that the 600 was actually not compatible with the rear gear assembly on the bicycle; I couldn't get to all the gears using it. So he swapped it out.

Gee, I'd never really noticed any problem. I rarely needed the very low settings. I started to feel aggrieved and righteous about the whole thing, but he so sincerely seemed to consider it an act of necessity. So in the end I accepted with grace (or so I told myself) the Shimano 600 (and every other part, including the old ball bearings - !!) in a plastic bag.

I tried not to be too sad. It really is pretty.

No, I won't tell you how much all those parts (and the accompanying, thoroughgoing overhaul) cost me. I suppose I could've gotten a new bicycle for the amount, but nothing as elegant or satisfying as my black bike. 

And as I said in an earlier post, "New is BadBuying things new is the way to consume the most resources and have the worst impact on our world. So I am going to make every effort to avoid buying new things and instead by used."

Hurray! I acted on my principles. I have lots of principles and I never feel like I act enough in accordance with them. I also am not sure how many I've forgotten.

So this act of reuse and redemption felt - and feels - really good. 

Now if only it would stop raining so I could go out for a ride!

Categories: Development

About My Son, Chris Silva, Amazing Artist, Father and All-Around Human Being

Tue, 2015-10-06 14:59
"For the record...."




Chris is the 2015 recipient of a 3arts grant, which makes me incredibly proud and also gives me the opportunity to share his professional art bio (I mostly experience him these days as Papa to my two wonderful granddaughters).

Born in Puerto Rico, Chris Silva has been a prominent figure in Chicago’s graffiti and skateboarding scenes since the 1980s, as well as an enthusiastic fan of a wide range of music genres which have resulted from the influence of metropolitan life. Building on his solid graffiti art foundation, Silva proceeded to play a significant role in the development of what is now commonly referred to as "street art." He now splits his time between working on large-scale commissions, producing gallery oriented work, and leading youth-involved public art projects. As a self-taught sound artist with roots in DJ culture, Silva also anchors a collaborative recording project known as This Mother Falcon, and has recently started integrating his audio compositions into his installation work.

In the early 90s, Silva worked on a mural with the Chicago Public Art Group and was eventually brought on board to help lead community art projects with other urban youth. As a result, the act of facilitating art experiences for young people has become an important part of his art practice, and he regularly includes students as collaborators on large-scale artwork that often leans heavily on improvisation. Over the years, Silva has helped orchestrate youth art projects both independently and in partnership with Chicago Public Art Group, Young Chicago Authors, Gallery 37, Yollocalli Arts Reach, After School Matters, and the School of The Art Institute of Chicago.

Silva was awarded a major public art commission by the Chicago Transit Authority to create a mosaic for the Pink Line California Station (2004); created block-long murals in Chicago's Loop “You Are Beautiful” (2006); created a sculpture for the Seattle Sound Transit System (2008); won the Juried Award for Best 3D Piece at Artprize (2012); and created large commissions for 1871 Chicago (2013), the City of Chicago, LinkedIn, CBRE (2014), OFS Brands, and The Prudential Building (2015). He has exhibited in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, London, Melbourne, Copenhagen, and The International Space Station. In 2007 Silva received an Artist Fellowship Award from The Illinois Arts Council.
Categories: Development

Planet Hard Drive? Muddled nonsense from Scientific American

Thu, 2015-07-23 08:59
In the August 2015 issue of Scientific American, I came across an article titled "Planet Hard Drive", a "thought experiment" arguing that we can think of Earth as a kind of "hard drive" and "although Earth has an enormous capacity to store information, order is still rare....but the growth of order on Earth also stems from the production of cultural information."

The article is behind a paywall, so I cannot reproduce it here, but if you are a subscriber, here you go.

I find it generally hard to read SciAm these days, as well as many other scientific sources, because of the pervasive species-ism (humans unique, more important than all others) found sadly among scientists.

But this article was, I thought, a real disappointment, coming from SciAm. I sent this letter to the author:

Professor Hidalgo, 

I read your SciAm article with the above title, and I found it scientifically sloppy and offensively tone deaf, given the state of our planet today (specifically the threat of climate change and human-cause extinctions and species degradation). 

You might not read past that initial paragraph but if you do:

Scientifically Sloppy

I am all for interesting “thought experiments”, but it should have a reasonable amount of logical consistency. I think your experiment fails in this regard. 

Specifically, you talk about the growth of order on earth from production of cultural information.

This implies a clear net positive change in order due to our intensely “ordered” products. 

Yet previously, you recognized that there is order (lots of it) in living things. 

And that's where I see a very deep (specie-ist-driven) fallacy: to create our products humans destroy a vast amount of living things and therefore wipe out corresponding enormous amounts of order. 

Vast parts of the rainforest, extinction of entire species, degradation of the ocean, etc., etc., etc. - do you really think that if you even attempted to conceptualize the volume of order sacrificed to build iPhones, you could come out with a net positive growth in order?

I suppose it might be remotely possible - but you don’t even address this trade-off, making your argument incomplete and sloppy. I am very surprised that SciAm did not insist on a more rigorous treatment.

Sdaly, you seem to blithely accept that destruction of life on our planet in order to manifest our culture-as-thought as products. 

Which that brings me to…

Offensively Tone Deaf

Your insistence to see the entire world through a human filter and impose human paradigms onto the rest of the natural world is shocking, giving the growing awareness (especially among the most rational of us, like many scientists).
“A tree, for example, is a computer”
“Objects of this kind [manufactured products] are particularly special.”
“Biological cells are finite computers”
“People are also limited, and we transcend our finite compuational capacities by forming social and professional networks.”
“Special” “Transcend”

You use words that impute relentlessly positive values to human activity. 

Yet if you do not place humans “above” all others, you could at least say (my changes in bold):

“People are also limited, and we augment our finite compuational capacities by forming social and professional networks. A necessary consequence of this agumentation is the destruction of the computational capacities of billions of other living creatures.

At the very end of your muddled thought experiment, you finally hint at a bigger picture:
“The resulting hyperconnected society will present our species with some of the most challenging ethical problems in human history.”
Ah, ethics! Finally! Professor Hidalgo will now point out the grave price paid by our planet and co-inhabitants for human's desire for comfort and convenience, but....

No, no. For you, like way too many other humans, all that matters is the human species.
“We could lose aspects of our humanity that some of us consider essential: for example, we might cheat death.”
Now that would be a real ethical disaster (cheating death) - precisely because it mean accelerated devastation of our planet and non-humans.

But that doesn’t seem to even register in your thinking.
Categories: Development

A Lot To Listen To

Mon, 2015-07-20 07:40
A Lot To Listen To

Sometimes, if you're lucky,
there is nothing to hear
but the sound of the wind
blowing through trees.

Now you could say:
"That's not much to listen to."
Or you could listen...

Listen
to the rustling, hissing, whispering, sometimes angry sound
of thousands 
of almost silent brushings of leaf against leaf,
of feather-light taps of twig striking twig,
any single act nothing to hear at all
but when the tree is big enough
and the leaves are numerous enough
and the branches reach out 
thinner and thinner
poking out toward the sun
carrying leaves to their destiny,

then you might be able to hear
the sound of the wind
blowing through trees.

It's a lot to listen to,
if you can hear it.




Copyright 2015 Steven Feuerstein
Categories: Development

A natural born tree right in my own backyard!

Wed, 2015-06-17 07:33
As some of my readers may have noticed, I spend a lot of time these days among trees, paying attention to trees, cutting back invasive trees to save native trees, etc.

And one thing that I came to realize is that at least in an area like Chicagoland, humans tightly control the reproduction of trees. 

I live on a lovely tree-lined street. Big trees - 100 ft tall or more. Maples, oaks, ash....but there are no baby trees, except for smallish trees that the city plants when they have to remove diseased trees (such as all the ash trees, under assault from ash borers).

It makes me sad to think of how impoverished my immediate surroundings are, how unnatural. We don't even let trees - majestic living things that make our lives possible, that live through many of our own generations - live out natural life cycles. 

In fact, I have come to accept that trees planted singly along streets to enhance our lives are really just ornaments. If "a man is not an island" then certainly a tree is not a forest. And very few trees live naturally outside of forests of many, many trees.

Well, enough of sadness. Veva and I were sitting on our patio last week, enjoying the (finally) warm weather and our lovely garden (thanks to Veva), when she pointed out something truly wonderful:


Can you see it? We planted the birch trees years ago. They are now 40 feet tall, but nestled in between? A natural born baby birch tree! Can't see it? Here maybe this will help:


I feel so much better now. The (minimal) wildness of our garden (as in: no grass) made it possible for a birch seed to take hold and grow. A tree that humans did not plant and hopefully will allow to grow to maturity.

Humans love to debate things like "Do plants feel?" Of course, it is terribly difficult for us to imagine such a thing - because the way that plants would think and feel would be so different from us. So we will likely never really be able to answer the question.

Which means it would make a lot more sense to err on the side of caution and assume that trees and plants and creatures do feel, do think in their own way, do take joy in life.

And watching this natural born tree grow, it is certainly easy to believe that it is joyful. I sure am.



Categories: Development

The human being is the only animal that...

Sat, 2015-05-16 08:41
Last night, I decided to re-read Stumbling on Happiness, a book I'd discovered a few years ago and was (then) delighted with. 

I chose that over one of my (back then) favorite books of fiction, because I'd been thinking yesterday and how odd it is that lots of left-leaning humans are all upset about climate change and really pissed at their elected officials about their non-action on this literally world-changing issue at a time when radical action is necessary - yet they don't take radical action in their own lives.

It's pretty clear that politicians will not change direction (will not override the influence of the source of their funding), until their constituents demonstrate a deep desire for change, backed up by action.

Anyway, there I was wondering once again about humans and why we behave the way we do. And so I sought out some answers in SoH. After all, the renowned Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, says right on the cover: 
"If you have even the slightest curiosity about the human condition, you ought to read it. Trust me."
OK, so fine. If a person says "trust me", usually you want to run in the other direction. But hey....

So I started reading and soon found Daniel Gilbert talking about psychologists are expected sometime in their career to finish The Sentence that starts with "The human being is the only animal that..." and now it was his turn.

Exciting! And then he finished the sentence:
"The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future."
And then you know what I did?

I stopped the reading book - and tossed it into the recycle bin. Yep, I threw the book away. That's how much Gilbert disgusted me, right then and there.

Why? Because of all the things we know about the world and the way it "works", the one thing we can never know is what another animal - even another human - is actually, truly thinking

All we can know, all we can see, all we can measure, and then draw conclusions from, is how an animal manifests their thinking into the world.

Gilbert cites as one "proof" of his Sentence that squirrels will, ahem, squirrel away nuts in advance of winter even in places where they will then find, winter after winter, that nuts or other food remain abundant. 

Go, Gilbert, go! Apply a human frame of judgement onto other animals, sure, why not? Why not assume that means that squirrels don't think about the future, rather than saying: "Maybe they do think about the future and know that they cannot trust what the future will bring, because they are not willing to destroy forests to build houses to hide them from the vagaries of the future."

So I threw out the book, but that got me thinking about The Sentence. I thought I would offer my own variations on that statement and invite others to do the same. Here goes...

The human being is the only animal that:
  • creates garbage, including vast "islands" of plastic in the middle of our oceans
  • causes the extinction of entire species, year in and year out
  • poisons water, the source of all life on this planet
  • learns multiple languages
  • holds it in
And just to pre-empt some typical responses:

The human being is the not only animal that:
  • creates art - lots of birds do, too. Just check out nests of bowerbirds.
  • has a sense of right and wrong - black bears do, too. Just check out Among the Bears. Seriously: READ THIS BOOK.
  • uses tools - birds, chimpanzees and others repurpose stones, branches, etc. as tools
  • is altruistic - again, black bears, and even more so ants. Many species of ants are way more altruistic than humans.
So what can you think of that only a human does? And please don't tell me about your belief about internal states of mind. That's just an opinion. Tell me about what humans do.



Categories: Development

In what ways is buckthorn harmful?

Sun, 2015-04-12 17:54
I spent 10-15 hours a week in various locations of still-wooded Chicago (and now nearby Lincolnwood) cutting down buckthorn. Some people have taken me to task for it ("Just let it be, let nature take it's course, etc.). So I thought I would share this excellent, concise sum up of the damage that can be wrought by buckthorn.

And if anyone lives on the north side of Chicago and would like to help out, there is both "heavy" work (cutting large trees and dragging them around) and now lots of "light" work (clipping the new growth from the stumps from last year's cutting - I don't use poison). 

It's great exercise and without a doubt you will be helping rescue native trees and ensure that the next generation of those trees will survive and thrive!


Buckthorn should be on America's "Most Wanted" list, with its picture hanging up in every US Post Office! Here are a few of the dangers of Buckthorn:

a) Buckthorn squeezes out native plants for nutrients, sunlight, and moisture. It literally chokes out surrounding healthy trees and makes it impossible for any new growth to take root under its cancerous canopy of dense vegetation.

b) Buckthorn degrades wildlife habitats and alters the natural food chain in and growth of an otherwise healthy forest. It disrupts the whole natural balance of the ecosystem.

c) Buckthorn can host pests like Crown Rust Fungus and Soybean Aphids. Crown Rust can devastate oat crops and a wide variety of other grasses. Soybean Aphids can have a devastating effect on the yield of soybean crops. Without buckthorn as host, these pests couldn't survive to blight crops.

d) Buckthorn contributes to erosion by overshadowing plants that grow on the forest floor, causing them to die and causing the soil to lose the integrity and structure created by such plants.

e) Buckthorn lacks "natural controls" like insects or diseases that would curb its growth. A Buckthorn-infested forest is too dense to walk through, and the thorns of Common Buckthorn will leave you bloodied.

f) Buckthorn attracts many species of birds (especially robins and cedar waxwings) that eat the berries and spread the seeds through excrement. Not only are the birds attracted to the plentiful berries, but because the buckthorn berries have a diuretic and cathartic effect, the birds pass the seeds very quickly to the surrounding areas of the forest. This makes Buckthorn spread even more widely and rapidly, making it harder for us to control and contain.
Categories: Development

Consumer Reports guide on which fruits and veggies to always buy organic

Mon, 2015-04-06 10:32
First, I encourage everyone reading this (and beyond) to subscribe to Consumer Reports and make use of their unbiased, science-based reviews of products and services.

It is the best antidote to advertising you will ever find.

In their May 2015 issue, they analyze the "perils of pesticides" and offer a guide to fruits and vegetables. When you should buy organic? When might conventional be OK for you?

[or, as CR puts it, "Though we believe that organic is always the best choice because it promotes sustainable agriculture, getting plenty of fruits and vegetables - even if you can't obtain organic - takes precedence when it comes to your health.]

Here are the most important findings:

ALWAYS BUY ORGANIC

CR found that for these fruits and vegetables, you should always buy organic - the pesticide risk in conventional is too high.

Fruit

Peaches
Tangerines
Nectarines
Strawberries
Cranberries

Vegetables

Green Beans
Sweet Bell Peppers
Hot Peppers
Sweet Potatoes
Carrors
Categories: Development

Who enjoys the feather display of a male peacock?

Tue, 2015-02-24 08:25


Who appreciates the display of feathers by a male peacock?

Female peacocks seem to get a kick out of them. They seem to play a role in mating rituals.

Who else? Why, humans, of course!

We know that humans greatly appreciate those displays, because of the aaahing and ooohing that goes on when we see them. We like those colors. We like the irridescence. We like the shapes and patterns.

If one were to speculate on why a female peacock gets all worked up about a particular male's feather display, we would inevitably hear about instinctual responses, hard-wiring, genetic determinism, and so on.

And if one were to speculate on why a human goes into raptures, we would then experience a major shift in explanation. 

Time to talk about anything but a physiological, hard-wired sort of response.

No, for humans, the attraction has to do with our big brains, our ability to create and appreciate "art". And that is most definitely not something other animals do, right?

Oh, sure, right. Like these instinctive, hard-wired bowerbird mating nests:


That clearly has nothing to do with an aesthetic sense or "art". Just instinct.

Why? Because we humans say so. We just assert this "fact."

Most convenient, eh?

Categories: Development

Four Secrets of Success

Thu, 2015-01-01 09:56
More than a few people think that I am pretty good at what I do, that I am successful. I respect their judgement and thought about what contributed to my success. I came up with four that form a foundation for (my) success. Since it is possible that others will find them helpful, I have decided to share my Four Secrets of Success (book in the works, film rights sold to Branjolina Films).

Follow these four recommendations, and you will be more successful in anything and everything you seek to accomplish.

1. Drink lots of water.

if you are dehydrated, nothing about you is operating optimally. By the time you realize you are thirsty, you are depleted. You are tired and listless. You think about getting another cup of coffee but your stomach complains at the thought.

No problem. Just get yourself a big glass of water, room termperature, no ice, and drink it down. You will feel the very substance of life trickle into your body and bring you back to life. Then drink another glass. 

Couldn’t hurt to try, right?

2. Work your abs.

What they say about a strong core? It’s all true. Strengthen your abdominal muscles and you will be amazed at the change in your life. I vouch for it from my own experience. 

I’m not talking about buying an Ab-Roller or going nuts with crazy crunches. Just do something every day, and see if you can do a little more every day. 

Couldn’t hurt to try, right?

3. Go outside. 

Preferably amongst trees, in a forest. 

We did not evolve to sit in front of a screen, typing. Our bodies do not like what we force them to do. Go outside and you will make your body happy. And seeing how your brain is inside your body, it will make you happy, too. Then when you get back to the screen, you will be energized, creative and ready to solve problems.

Couldn’t hurt to try, right?

How do I know these three things will make a difference? Because whenever I stop doing any of them for very long, I start to feel bad, ineffective, unfocused. 

Oh, wait a minute. I said “Four Secrets of Success”. So there’s one more. This one’s different from the others. The above three are things I suggest you do. Number Four is, in contrast, something I suggest you stop doing:

4. Turn off your TV.

By which I mean: stop looking at screens for sources of information about the world. Rely on direct experience as much as possible.

Not only is television bad for humans physically, but you essentially turn off your brain when you watch it. If, instead, you turn off the TV, you will find that you have more time (objectively and subjectively) to think about things (and go outside, and work your abs, and...).

Couldn’t hurt to try, right?

Well, actually, you might find it kind of painful to turn off your TV. It depends on how comfortable you are living inside your own mind. 

And if you are not comfortable, well, how does that make you feel?

Wishing you the best in 2015,
Steven Feuerstein
Categories: Development

The insanity that is Uber - a 100$B company?

Tue, 2014-11-25 20:55
So we've had taxis for years and we know that generally taxi drivers work hard, long hours and make small amounts of money. The cab companies make more, of course, but I don't think there are a whole lot of billionaires in the taxi business.

And now there is Uber. An earlier round of VC $ put its value at $17B. According to Fortune, Uber is now "raising new funding at a valuation of between $35 billion and $40 billion, according to a new report from Bloomberg. This would be one of the richest “venture capital” rounds in history (Facebook still holds the crown), and likely mean that investors expect Uber to eventually go public at a valuation of at least $100 billion."

How are to make any sense of this? Where would all the money come from to make all these investors (and shareholders) rich? 

By cutting out the "middleman" (regulation to ensure safe rides, primarily)? Maybe, but I can't imagine it will generate that much revenue?

By reducing the cost of a ride, compared to a taxi? That's true, apparently, some of the time with Uber, but often it is way MORE expensive - because prices are "market-driven."

By shifting more and more of the costs and risks to the drivers? That's pretty darn likely. Just look at the poor "contractors" who have to pay for their trucks and lease their gear from FedEx. 

By shifting riders from mass transit to Uber (in other greatly expanding the "pie" of pay-per-ride)? Again, that seems unlikely.

What am I missing? How could Uber replace an existing business that brings in nowhere near that much money and suddenly be printing the stuff?

Oh, and that's if they don't self-destruct due to their cavalier, arrogant attitudes and actions of their management.
Categories: Development

Feeling trepidatious? Time to lay very low?

Mon, 2014-11-24 12:34
Sure, "trepidatious" might not be a word, per se.

But I am confident it is something that more than one very famous male actor is feeling right now, as they watch Bill Cosby go down in flames.

As in: seriously and deeply apprehensive about what the future might bring.

There are a few things we can be sure of right now, even if Cosby never faces a judge or jury:

1. Bill Cosby is a nasty piece of work, and very likely (was) a pedophile.

The pattern of behavior, finally brought to light after years of self-censorship by victims and callous disregard by the media and judicial system, is overwhelming and seemingly never-ending. Mr. Cosby is a serial rapist, and he did it by drugging young women, some of them less than 18 years old at the time.

2. Bill Cosby is an actor. 

The roles he played were just that: roles. We are easily fooled into thinking of the people behind the roles as sharing characteristics of their characters, but that's just, well, foolish.

The whole point of being a great actor is that you can act really well. You can pretend to be someone else really convincingly. But they are still someone else and not the "real you."

3. Bill Cosby cannot be the only one.

That's where the trepidation comes in. Seriously, what's the chance that Cosby is the only famous, powerful, rich actor who has a long history of taking advantage of and raping women (and/or men, for that matter)?

There have got to be others, and they've got to be terrified that soon their victims will say "Enough!" and then the next deluge will begin.

So my advice to all those A-listers who are also serial rapists:

Lay low, lay really low. Do not provoke your victims. Do not laugh in their faces.

And then maybe you will be able to retire and fade into the sunset, so that your obituary will not be some variation of:

Funny Guy, Sure, But Also a Rapist
Categories: Development

Interstellar Madness

Sun, 2014-11-16 09:19
Saw Interstellar last night. Only had to wait through TWENTY MINUTES of trailers. Had to put fingers in my ears for much of it. So loud, so invasive, so manipulative. Anyway....

I don't watch TV anymore, rarely watch a movie or read a novel. So when I do subject myself to high-resolution artificial input to my brain, it is a jarring experience.

And enjoyable. I haven't stopped watching TV because I don't like it. I have stopped watching TV because I can't help but "like" it, be drawn to it. I am a product of millions of years of evolution, and both Madison Ave (marketeers) and Hollywood know it, and take advantage of it.

Anyway....

I enjoyed watching Interstellar, with its time-traveling plot ridiculousnesses and plenty of engaging human drama. 

But one line really ticked me off. The movie is, to a large extent, a propaganda campaign to get Americans excited about being "explorers and pioneers" again. 

Cooper (McConaughey) complains that "Now we're a generation of caretakers." and asserts that:

"Mankind was born on earth. It was never meant to die here."

That is the worst sort of human species-ism. It is a statement of incredible arrogance. And it is an encouragement to humans to continue to despoil this planet, because don't worry! 

Science and technology can and will save us! Right? 'Cause it sure has done the trick so far. We are feeding more people, clothing more people, putting more people in cars and inside homes with air conditioners, getting iPhones in the hands of more and more humans. 

Go, science, go!

And if we can't figure out how to grow food for 10 billion and then 20 billion people, if we totally exhaust this planet trying to keep every human alive and healthy into old age, not to worry! There are lots of other planets out there and, statistically, lots and lots of them should be able to support human life. Just have to find them and, oh, right, get there.

But there's no way to get there without a drastic acceleration of consumption of resources of our own planet. Traveling to space is, shall we say, resource-intensive.

Where and how did we (the self-aware sliver of human organisms) go so wrong? 

I think it goes back to the development of recorded knowledge (writing, essentially or, more broadly, culture). As long as humans were constrained by the ability to transmit information only orally, the damage we could do was relatively limited, though still quite destructive.

Once, however, we could write down what we knew, then we could build upon that knowledge, generation after generation, never losing anything but a sense of responsibility about how best to use that knowledge.

That sense of responsibility might also be termed "wisdom", and unfortunately wisdom is something that humans acquire through experience in the world, not by reading a book or a webpage. 

Mankind was born on earth and there is no reason at all to think that we - the entire species - shouldn't live and die right here on earth. Especially if we recognize that the price to be paid for leaving earth is the destruction of large swaths of earth and our co-inhabitants and....

Being the moral creatures that we like to think we are, we decide that this price is unacceptable.


Categories: Development

Science needs to explain this?

Sun, 2014-11-02 08:57
Christopher Nolan of Dark Knight fame releasing new sci-fi movie: Interstellar.

In a Chicago Tribune interview, he says:

I could be wrong, but science needs to cross a threshold and explain why a monkey typing infinitely would never type the works of Shakespeare.

Well, I could be wrong, but maybe Nolan is a bit of an idiot when it comes to science.

Please, Mr. Nolan, tell me which scientists make this claim?

I guess he read somewhere about infinity and how incredibly awesome and big and never-ending it is, and so eventually anything would be done by anybody or anything and so even monkeys would "eventually" write Shakespeare and and and....

Produce a movie called Interstellar with Matthew McConaughey. 

In fact, maybe Chris Nolan is actually a monkey who crossed over from that obelisk in 2001, and got super smart and so a monkey already has produced a movie called Interstellar.

Damn, that is just so cool and so weird and it's like, that's never going to happen, man, no way.

So scientists had better figure out WHY that is not going to happen when they obviously really believe that it WILL happen (go, monkey, go!).

And to do that, they are going to have a cross a threshold, 'cause clearly science has hit its limit here. Just like with souls. Science can't explain souls, so I guess scientists had better cross over - maybe into a parallel universe -

Because really what could be cooler than parallel universes?




Categories: Development

What I like best about myself

Sun, 2014-10-05 09:23
What could be more self-centered?

Why should anyone else in the world care what I like best about myself?

I have no idea. That is for sure. But, hey, what can I say? This is the world we live in (I mean: the artificial environment humans have created, mainly to avoid actually living in and on our amazing world).

It is an age of, ahem, sharing. And, ahem, advertising. Actually, first and foremost, advertising.

Anyway, screw all that. Here's what I like best about myself:

I love to be with kids. And I am, to put it stupidly but perhaps clearly, a kid whisperer.

Given the choice between spending time with an adult or spending time with a child, there is no contest. None at all. It's a bit of a compulsion, I suppose, but....

If there is a child in the room, I pay them all of my attention, I cannot stop myself from doing this. It just happens. Adults, for the most part, disappear. I engage with a child as a peer, another whole human. And usually children respond to me instantly and with great enthusiasm. 

Chances are, if your child is between, say, three months old to five years, we will be fast friends within minutes. Your cranky baby might fall asleep in my arms, as I sing Moonshadow to her or whisper nonsense words in her ear. Your shy three-year old son might find himself talking excitedly about a snake he saw on a trail that day (he hadn't mentioned it to you). Your teenage daughter might be telling me about playing games on her phone and how she doesn't think her dad realizes how much she is doing it.

I have the most amazing discussions with children. And though I bet this will sound strange to you: some of my favorite and memorable conversations have been with five month old babies. How is this possible, you might wonder. They can't even talk. Well, you can find ouit. Just try this at home with your baby:

Hold her about a foot away from your face, cradled in your arms. Look deeply and fully into her eyes. Smile deeply. And then say something along these lines, moving your mouth slowly: "Ooooh. Aaaaah. Maaaaa. Paaaaa." And then she will (sometimes) answer back, eyes never leaving yours....and you have a conversation. Your very first game of verbal Ping Pong. 

I suppose I could try to explain the feeling of pure happiness I experience at moments like this. I don't think, though, that written language is good for stuff like that. It's better for recording knowledge needed to destroy more and more of our planet to make humans comfortable.

And with my granddaughter, oh, don't even get me started. Sometimes I will be talking to her, our heads close together, and realize her face has gone into this kind of open, relaxed state in which she is rapt, almost in a trance, absorbing everything I am saying, the sound of my voice, my mouth moving. Just taking it all in. You'd better believe that I put some thought into what I am saying to this incredibly smart and observant "big girl." (who turns three in three weeks)

Here's another "try this at home" with your three year old (or two or four): talk about shadows. Where do they come from/ How do they relate to your body? Why does their shape change as the day goes on? Loey and I have had fun with shadows several times.

I have always been this way. I have no idea why. I have this funny feeling that it might actually be at least in some small way the result of a genetic mutation. I have a nephew who resembles me in several different, seemingly unconnected ways, including this love of and deep affinity for children.

I don't think that many people understand what I am doing when I spend time with children. I am called a "doting" grandfather. It offends me, though I certainly understand that no offense was intended.

I don't dote on Loey. Instead,I  seek out every opportunity to share my wonder of our world and life with her, help her understand and live in the world as effectively as possible. What this has meant lately is that I talk with her a lot about trees, how much I love them, how amazing they are. 

One day at the park, as we walked past the entrance to the playground, I noticed a very small oak sapling - in essence, a baby oak tree.

When we got inside the park, there was a mature oak towering over our stroller. I asked Loey if she wanted to see a baby tree. She said yes, so I picked her up to get close to the mature oak's leaf. I showed her the shape of the leaf, and the big tree to which it was attached.

Then I took her outside and we looked at the sapling. I showed her how the leaves on this tiny baby tree were the same, shape and size, as those on the big tree. That's how we knew it was a baby of that big tree. And it certainly was interesting that the leaves would be the same size on the tiny sapling. Held her attention throughout. That was deeply satisfying.

Mostly what I do is look children directly in the eyes, give them my full attention, smile with great joy at seeing them. Babies are deeply hard-wired to read faces. They can see in the wrinkles around my widened eyes and the smile that is stretching across my face that I love them, accept them fully. And with that more or less physical connection established, they seem to relax, melt, soften with trust. They know they can trust me, and they are absolutely correct. 

In that moment, I would do anything for them.

This wisdom (that's how I see it) to accept the primacy of our young, my willingness to appear to adults as absolutely foolish, but to a child appear as a bright light, making them glow right back at me:

That is what I like best about me. 
Categories: Development

What I felt sad about last night

Mon, 2014-09-22 07:16
A few weeks ago, I moved my office into the basement. That was a big change. That room upstairs, with big windows looking out onto Pratt Ave was where I'd spent almost all of my professional career (we moved to the house in 1992, three months before leaving Oracle for a consulting gig), wrote my books (including the first, Oracle PL/SQL Programming, that changed the course of my life), built the software (Xray Vision for SQL Forms 3, QNXO, Qute, PL/Vision, Code Tester for Oracle, Quest CodeGen Utility, etc.), did the webinars, wrote 1000+ quizzes for the PL/SQL Challenge.

But you know what? Bye, bye, no big deal. Change is good (like this change: Veva and I are taking ballroom dancing classes. I will learn what to do with my feet when I dance!).

I like my cave, I mean, office. It's spacious, and I can make as much noise as I want. Which is very important, since I will be churning out lots of really noisy videos about PL/SQL and my latest dance moves. 

I'm getting my artwork up on the walls:


My father did the painting on the bottom left. It has a lot of power and feeling. My dry cleaner created the beautiful painting on top.

I re-established my sand table with beautiful pieces by Terry Hogan, and many other shells and coral from the sea:


And I put some of my awards and other mementos up on shelves that used to hold a small library of science fiction/fantasy books:


So, yes, settling in to my new office. And last night I started nailing up corkboard tiles to the thick wood paneling, so I could pin up photos of my granddaughter, Loey. Oh, I suppose other people, too. But Loey mainly, because she is the light of my life, and oh my she is a bright light.


In any case, as I hammered the tiny nails needed to hold up the corkboard, I became aware that I felt kind of down, as if the day had not gone well. Why would I be feeling that way? It had been a good day. And then I (the conscious part of me) realized that the non-conscious part of me was feeling bad about having broken a branch in the woods earlier in the day.

That sounds kind of weird, right? I mean, seriously, how bad are humans supposed to feel about breaking the branch of a tree? It's not like they'd notice, right?

But it made perfect sense to me, so I decided to share with you why a broken branch would set my brain to brooding, thereby giving you a sense of how I see the world these days.

As to why anyone should care what I think of the world, well, I leave that entirely up to the reader. No readers, then no one cares. :-) 

As soon as the thought (brooding about broken branch) broke into my consciousness, I immediately knew it was true (that happens to you, too, right? You can instantly sense that a thought is correct. Now try thinking about what is going on in your brain for this to happen and how much of your brain is the "I" that is you). 

You see, I had earlier been thinking back over to when I was in the woods this morning cutting down buckthorn. At one point a rather large tree came down hard against a nearby native tree I was working to rescue. 

To my great dismay, one of its branches was caught by the twisty, grabby buckthorn. It snapped and hung loosely. I did that. That was probably two years' new growth, hard work against buckthorn. And I killed it. 

That bummed me out (and still does), but I reminded myself that I have to accept that even when I move carefully and always safely, I cannot always control where a large tree will fall. I will make mistakes and there will be setbacks. But I just have to keep going.

"Going where?" you might ask. I have developed a new, very strong compulsion: to rescue trees. To do what I can with my own hands, with my own time, with, in other words, a solid chunk of my life, to heal some of the damage we humans inflict on our co-inhabitants and the planet itself.

I think about it as direct and positive action, a principle I attempt to follow in all aspects of my life these days.

Here in Chicago, buckthorn - an invasive import from northern Europe - grows aggressively, crowding out the native trees. In particular, they don't allow young trees, the saplings, the next generation of the natives, to survive. And as the buckthorn grows taller,  it also kills off the lower branches of the mature trees. 

Buckthorn is really an impressive, powerful, successful species. I admire it greatly - and I cut down on the order of 200 buckthorn trees a week (many of them quite small, but not all). Contradiction? Not at all. A necessary corrective action to human abuse of our world. We travel about, carrying with us the seeds (and ballast and larvae) of destruction for many ecosystems.

I do not want to lose our native trees (and even the non-invasive imports). I want my children and grandchildren to enjoy forests. I want to respect trees, since we could never have evolved to what we are today without trees. And even today the forests of the world are absolutely critical to the functioning of the global ecosystem(s).

I want to treat trees with respect and do penance for our cutting down 95% of the trees in the continental US. So I go out and rescue trees. It is now my only form of exercise and it keeps me in great shape - especially for picking up, carrying and playing with Loey. She loves for me to hang her upside down by her ankles and swing her like a pendulum. She trusts me implicitly. I love that.

Sorry, you must be wondering: what is the point of all this? 

To give me an opportunity to marvel at the current state of my life, in which I have quite an intimate relationship with trees. I study them, I read them. Really, it's quite amazing. I can go into the woods now, look at how a native tree's branch has withered, identify the buckthorn that is doing the damage, and actually play it out in my mind's eye: years of slow growth, of slow-motion battle, and of losing it to the buckthorn. Everywhere I look, I find the trees telling their stories.

My greatest joy is to uncover a small sapling that was so completely surrounded and covered by buckthorn I didn't even see it there when I started cutting. Then I open it to the sun and the wind. I did this with a lovely 15 foot tall maple sapling last week. I will be visiting it (and hundreds of other trees) each year now, making sure the buckthorn (and grapevine) leaves it alone, allowing it to grow to a big, thick, incredibly strong and life-giving tree.

There, right there, that's what I marvel at: I know that the 10+ hours I spend each week in the woods rescuing trees will mean that 20 years from now there will be trees with a diameter of a foot or more that simply would not be there if it hadn't been for my effort and my attention paid to something other than human stuff.

That makes me feel happy and less guilty about my consumption (and indirect killing of many, many trees). It gives me a purpose in life, besides family and work.

I plan to rescue trees for as long as my body is able to do the work.

Anyone care to join me?





Categories: Development

This is not my kingdom

Sun, 2014-09-21 15:27
I don't know most people in Chicago on an individual basis, but of all the people I don't know, my favorite Chicagoans are scavengers. They roam the alleys in beat up pickup trucks, with various kinds of makeshift walls extended above the bed.

They grab anything made of metal and anything with the possibility of value. They reduce the amount of garbage going to landfills and I thank them very much for doing this.

Driving the other day, passed one such truck with a hand-lettered sign nailed to the wooden side wall. It said:

This is not my kingdom.
Just passing through.


Categories: Development

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