/* Added by TWP, 10/12/2012 */ /* End of addition */

One of the live oaks that bless my home

Saturday, July 14, 2012

How happy and sad at the same time

My wife and I are finishing a two week vacation in California and Washington State.  We reconnected with a bunch of friends in the Bay Area.  And on Friday, July 13th (not the full moon), my oldest son, Lucas, defended with gusto his Ph.D. thesis in agriculture at the Washington State University, and became Director of Thurston County Extension and Small Farms Faculty.  We are so proud of him!

People of all walks of life really like Lucas.  This is clear from the comments we overheard and a recent article about him.  The young Dr. Lucas will need all the good will of many to introduce agriculture to the legislators and public in the fast-growing Thurston County, and get funding for the numerous projects he wants to carry out.  Helping young farmers to grow organic crops and open new markets to them by creating necessary infrastructure will not be easy. Public funding for agriculture is very scarce these days, unless you are a 67 years old corn grower in Iowa, making millions regardless of the federal subsidies that rain on you each year.

I wish my son all the good luck I can will for him. His life of public service and creating new jobs in Thurston County will be rough at a time of cutbacks and rollbacks of all government programs.  It is my outdated opinion that a civilized country needs a public sphere, but who would listen today to such socialistic statements.  "Off with government's collective head," shout the loudest and most morally outraged folks who no longer carry heads on their shoulders.

Which brings me to the sad part of my report. Both Washington State and California are blessed with the breath-taking beauty of their mountains and coasts. This beauty was recognized a long time ago. For example, President Theodore Roosevelt created Mount Olympus National Monument in 1909 and after Congress made it a National Park, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the legislation on June 29, 1938. In 1976, Olympic National Park became an International Biosphere Reserve, and in 1981 it was designated a World Heritage Site. In 1988, Congress designated 95 percent of the park as the Olympic Wilderness. President Theodore Roosevelt was a young Republican and his fifth cousin, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a middle-age Democrat.
The Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic Mountain Park in Washington State. 
We hiked there and were enchanted by the Park's stunning beauty.
We drove from Olympia around the Olympic peninsula and covered 420 miles in two days traveling around the park, and hiking in it occasionally. OK, so the Olympic Park needs to have its roads maintained, the Visitor Centers staffed, and it needs a few rangers here and there to maintain control and safety. And, no, I do not want to carry a concealed weapon to make up for the lack of rangers.

Unfortunately, today Congress is so busy transferring our taxes to its highest paying benefactors that far too little money is left to fund National Parks in this beautiful country of ours. Thus, to enter the Olympic Park, I paid $15 for a one-week pass. (I remind you that for most people this pass buys a single-day entry.) Fifteen dollars may not be much for me or fat cats paying off the Congressmen and Senators, but it is an extra financial burden for most American families. Therefore, we have just managed to cut off the only chance many of the less fortunate Americans have to connect with nature in the parts of their own country that were set aside for this very purpose by their own forefathers. What a national disgrace! What a proof of corruption and ineptitude of the current representatives of the people ( I am just kiddin'; these individuals surely do not represent me, my family, and dozens of my friends).

And it gets worse. On the way to the Olympic National Park and on its outskirts, one is tempted to stop at the beautiful beaches. The prettiest ones are state parks. It now costs $10 per entry into a state park in Washington. Alternatively, one can spend $30 for a one-year pass, which is what we did. There are studies that show that even an $1-2 fee prevents many of the poorer people from visiting the most beautiful parts of their states. And, no, Jesus would not approve of these fees.

Of course, the situation is much worse in the nearly bankrupt California. (Please check out this last link pointed out to me by a UT student.) Many of the state parks are still free, but show severe neglect and disrepair. Between San Francisco and Santa Cruz, we have seen several parks with parking lots overgrown by weeds that push through cracks in the pavement. Many of the restroom buildings are abandoned and locked with padlocks and chains. In California one can see the future of public space in the U.S.: decrepit and abandoned through government ineptitude and craziness of the confused and angry electorate.
Click on the image to see the inscription. The gorgeous Volunteer Park in Seattle was designed and planted by veterans of the Spanish War around the year 1900.  The Palm House with a unique orchid collection started serving public in 1910.  Today, half of the Palm House is out of order and only small donations from the public seem to be used to renovate it.

Even in its current decrepit state, the Volunteer Park Palm House in Seattle touches our souls with many beautiful exotic plants.
In 1910, when Theodore Roosevelt was president, the smallest urban place had 2,500 people. "Urban" was defined as including all territory, persons, and housing units within an incorporated area that met the population threshold. The 1920 census marked the first time in which over 50 percent of the U.S. population was defined as urban. Today, rural America accounts for just 16 percent of the nation's whole, an all-time low. Urban people need to see nature to understand that milk and bread do not come from Safeway, and see nature's fragility.  Shame on all of us!

P.S. The disappearing parks in California: Read here.  The mismanagement of California parks: Read here.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Superficiality versus depth

I want to write about many things that deeply disturb me. But if I did, most readers would not bother to read my sermons and others would be shaken and annoyed by their implications. So I'll limit myself to commenting briefly on the growing chasm between complexity of a modern society and inability of most everyone living in this society to grasp and follow its complexity. Converse is also true: Since we do not understand the complicated world around us, we resort to the simplistic, narrow, and random snippets we call "our opinions". Most of these snippets have little to do with reality, thus the gap between what is and how we perceive it keeps on widening.

Let's start from something light and uplifting. I keep on hearing good news about the various new sources of energy that will totally displace the existing fuel mix: "Genetically modified bacteria or viruses that produce enough liquid fuels to make crude oil production obsolete." Or "North Dakota is the Saudi Arabia of shale oil." Or "soccer balls with motion devices that charge batteries for evening reading, while the balls are kicked by boys in the afternoon, will replace power stations in Africa." Or "an algae pool in Arizona can produce more gasoline than an oil field." Or "because of increasing crude oil production in the U.S., gasoline price may have peaked forever." Or "fracking (of natural gas wells) is terrible for the environment and contaminates groundwater." Or "cars and trains will be replaced with bikes." Or "technology will always win with geology." Or "cellulosic ethanol is better than corn ethanol." Or whatever.

You probably expect me to debunk each one of these statements using thorough scientific arguments and try to win you over with my correct interpretations. I probably would do just that a year or two ago, but it is too late now. The power of self-deception and wishful, soothing thinking is such that I cannot win with your favorite delusions. Therefore, why should I try?

Like a Tralfamadorian watching Billy Pilgrim, I observe this busy nonsense with an increasing peace of mind. The Tralfamadorians could see in four dimensions (space + time), and have already seen every instant of their lives and that of the Universe. Kurt Vonnegut told us that Tralfamadorians could not choose to change their fates, but they could choose to see any moment in their lives or the lives of others. They believed that when a living creature died, it would continue to live in other times and places. By the way, have you seen that German movie, entitled "The Lives of Others," about the second most efficient homeland security apparatus? I watched it three times.

Just as the Tralfamadorians knew with certainty how the Universe would end because of a botched test by their scientists, I know how this current nonsense will end. But I will not tell you, because you are not ready yet to be a Billy Pilgrim. It takes a lifetime of living as a human display in a Tralfamadorian zoo to understand what matters and what does not.  I am not quite there yet, but am doing my best to retain peace of mind about what unfolds in front of my wide open eyes.  The only small award I can claim is that my children and wife have been successfully inoculated, and will lead wise and good lives regardless of me.  Similarly, many dozens of my students have been inoculated and will help in transforming us into a wiser society without me.  So it  goes.

P.S. Today in the morning I ran along the Half Moon Bay beach.  There was not a soul in sight until I ran into a young couple clad in leather and an old homeless man.  The young man suddenly approached the homeless man and in a clear strong voice asked: "Sir, are you hungry?"  Before the visibly frightened old man could run away, the youngster handed him a big sandwich.  And so it goes...