The Ethical Divide

Watching the news today is not pleasant. It is wearing as a virulent war wages across civilization, as political collaboration collapses into populist and plutocratic conflict, as millions of families experience layoff, job loss, mortgage foreclosure and eviction. If it isn’t the virus, it is stagnant racial conflict, it is the collapse of European democracy into authoritarian abuse, it is the elimination of whole societies as wars that should have ended long ago drag on for decades. If not these issues, it is the collapsing educational system, the disrespect for Constitutional government, the incompetence of elected officials who do not understand the path of history as it evolves into an unknown future. And it is the dwindling of global resources that is ignored by eighteenth century economics.

But there is good news. A movement is emerging. The first newsworthy awareness of this movement began in 2017 when José Andrés (full name, José Ramón Andrés Puerta), a famous chef with a chain of restaurants in Spain and the U.S., organized a charity kitchen to feed survivors of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico in 2017. He fed hundreds of thousands. In 2019, Andrés repeated his charitable miracle in Marsh Harbor in the Bahamas when Hurricane Dorian devastated those islands. He established World Central Kitchen as a permanent organization that provides aid to victims of natural disasters.

Of course not everyone has the wherewithal to underwrite charity at such a scale but the better news is the hundreds of special efforts emerging to extend support to those in need. The characteristic of this movement is its local, unincorporated approach consisting of local volunteers and independent leaders, who have stepped up not just for hurricanes but for first responders, victims of the virus, job loss, and the generally needy who have no resources because of today’s disruptive world.

A good example is The Good Shepherd Lutheran Church located in Conneaut, Ohio where a female parishioner organized fellow church members to set up a free kitchen on Saturdays to feed the public so they would have food for the weekend.

Lisa Baker, a volunteer with the Food4Life Atlanta Survival Program, said she’s encouraged by the number of people who are volunteering their time to help. “The first couple of days, I kept hitting refresh on our database, and it was kinda scary watching how many volunteers signed up,” she said. “We have more than 900.”

Other examples are endless. It is clear that common citizens of every class, every religion and every community have stepped out of normal life to help others. Mariner’s term for this is ‘pass it forward’ but these compassionate folks are passing it forward in giant doses!

If you want relief from the terrible news broadcast, distract yourself by participating in the one real, valuable and progressive movement – helping today’s economic victims. Contribute cash, better yet jump in – it’s restorative.

Ancient Mariner

On Being a Stick

A stick always has two ends – if it has been broken from its tree. When it is attached to the tree, it is part of a larger presence, something that has evidence of a higher calling as part of nature. It is true that the branch (it is not a stick until it is separated) or even the entire tree may be dying or dead. Still, there is an aura of purpose, a part of the grand scheme for the planet’s biosphere.

Is the human species a stick or a branch? There is much evidence that humans have ceased being a branch; humans do not enhance the growth of the biomass, its natural balances or its evolutionary progression. The only human value to the world’s natural environment is species decomposition as mulch for the planet’s grand scheme, the same as a stick.

Unfortunately, on its path to mulch, the human stick exudes bile and poison and extinction to any environment around it. As Roundup is to vegetation, humans are to the environment.

The mariner, in spirit at least, has evolved into a minimalist. Three cheers to the ten million homestead families in the United States alone who have chosen to escape from the grist mill of human economies and who have returned to living only as the world around them will tolerate. Three cheers for the Amish who have sensed a limit to what nature will tolerate. There is no profit in nature, only balance. Ignored by the human species in pursuit of profit, the planet will tolerate only so much. The human species may end up being mulch, like a stick.

It is proven that humans alone are responsible for the extinction of 16,000 species since 1850. It is the combustion engine and energy production that has led to climate change, with seas rising more rapidly every year and forcing devastating shifts in weather patterns around the world. Human efforts in chemistry have improved war to the extent that a nuclear bomb can eliminate life, human and otherwise, in an entire city in one day.

Finally, artificial intelligence, a human contrivance, likely will eliminate the independent spirit of the human species. As independence fades, mulching grows nearer.

Ancient Mariner

 

Thoughts as the Shelter-in Continues

Mariner is fortunate that for the moment his financial status is sufficient, his curiosity in social studies has not waned and there are more physical chores than may be achievable in the gardens, home repair and shop projects. He is truly fortunate. Still, mariner like millions around the world is stifled by the lock downs, the isolation, the fear, the diminished ability to live a normal life.

Taking note of the television’s creation of slowly moving landscapes and the screensavers on the computer, mariner has declared his large living room window his own screensaver. He sits for periods of time noting that his screensaver has loops of viewing just as the landscapes do. There is the woman who walks her two little piles of dog hair in the morning and in the evening; there is a high school runner who will pass the window three times in half an hour; there are the three children who ride their bicycles to the nearby playground and back again; golf carts pass on their way to the golf course and back; UPS and FEDEX pass each day. Just like the landscapes, mariner has watched the summer turn into fall and now into winter. The meditation crowd has nothing on the mariner!

The problem is that mariner’s brain takes these screensaver moments to think about reality, economy, cultural collapse and impending issues that mariner’s readers are tired of hearing. To wit:

A book, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty (2013) by D. Acemoglu and J.A. Robinson, suggests that a nation can be too wealthy and therefore become susceptible to moral degeneration and economic weakness. Mariner is reminded of a series of tests with mice done in the 1960s. The mice had all the comforts possible: food, water, playgrounds, little nest apartments, etc. Eventually, the mice showed growing signs of disrespect, abuse, gang discrimation and even rape and murder.

The key factor for human societies was that the population has overthrown an authoritative plutocracy and spread the wealth to the population (AKA democracy). American citizens are experiencing this phenomenon. To be brief, consider Lori Loughlin spending $500 thousand and lying about her daughter’s athletic prowess to get her daughter into the appropriately prestigious university. Pondering at his screensaver, mariner wonders whether the rise in college tuition is because more people have the wherewithal to pay – making each seat in the university a scarcity versus market competition. Is this how the economy weakens? It has been proven that elite universities are attended only by the economic elite. Is this why colleges of lesser prestige are failing – the price doesn’t justify the reward?

It doesn’t take much imagination to recognize the disruptive nature of this behavior as it relates to economic class. Mariner has cited several times that the labor class has been deprived of sharing in the wealth since 1980; hence Donald’s Base. Humans are mammals, too – just like mice.

Maybe it’s better not to watch the screensaver too long.

Ancient Mariner

Don’t forget to dot the I

Many, many years ago mariner knew a woman who was raised deep in the back country of Tennessee. In her forties, she was not literate. Don’t surmise that she was unintelligent or otherwise had shortcomings; actually, she was mentally sharp and had a pleasant personality. Simply, she had never been taught to read or write.

Mariner was friends with her children and he visited often. One time, he saw a grocery list she had written so her husband could buy groceries on the way home. Most of the items were single letters, marks and shapes rather than words. One drew my interest; it was a stick man, a plus sign and two whole eggs. “What does this mean?” I asked. She said it was a man plus 2 eggs – in other words, ‘mayonnaise’.

She never received the credit due for her contribution to literacy. She invented a literate style used by many young people today – emoji.

Written language began and existed for centuries without the ability to use the same printed word/sounds in different situations. The Egyptians were famous for their massive and intricate accounts of history using only graphics and images, every account unique in its documentation. The first language to use letters and words was the Indian language called Brahmi, several hundred years BCE. There were other ancient written languages that existed a millennium before that but they weren’t as organized.

Certainly civilization as we know it could not have evolved without letters and words. But today a new phenomenon is evolving and it replaces letters and words with images. Is it because it’s too much trouble for the thumb to bounce around on a tiny keyboard? Is it because reading and writing are too slow in our super fast computer society? How many folks have said, perhaps often, “reading is too slow – show me a chart or a picture.” Or perhaps, “Just give me a link, I’ll read it later.” (and never do)

Mariner ponders whether sentences, too, will disappear. Perhaps only in news broadcasts will a viewer ever read a whole sentence on the TV screen. Words, usually dressed up with color and shapes, are all one needs to understand a commercial. But why stop there?

Big Data has learned to communicate directly with our subconscious brain. The conscious brain isn’t needed much anymore. Primary education theory is moving toward natural skills training; Liberal Arts is disappearing from colleges and universities. Will literacy be next?

Ancient Mariner

Of Politics and Nature

Two topics today. First, Amos offers some observations about the election; second, some observations about the roles of nature on the one hand and mariner on the other.

֎ The campaign between Donald and Joe has strung out far too long but finally has ended. There is a tendency to believe that once Donald is gone, the Federal psyche will return to normal. Alas, this is not the case. Donald has reformed the GOP from the ground up; many elected Congressmen are staunch conservatives and further are social extremists as well. One Congressman even supports QAnon.

Cleaving the head of the GOP (Donald) is more like cleaving the head of Medusa – leaving her many snakes to run off in every direction. It will take at least one and likely two more Federal elections before the GOP has ferreted out the extremists and develops a new legislative base that focuses on the current century.

֎ Mariner is experiencing a micro-example of what cattle ranchers experience in western states where the wolf has been reintroduced to the balance of nature as an apex predator – and protected from human hunting as well.

Mariner’s backyard is an amateur attempt at creating a private, green and pleasant environment that blocks out the fact that he lives in the midst of three used car lots each with massive concrete slabs a helicopter can land on and huge multi-port garages. [The reader may recall an earlier post where it was observed that many homes in his town have too many vehicles to park off the street therefore forcing the extra cars to park at the curb. Blame the abundance of vehicles on U.S housing and wage policies that force grown children to live with their parents because they can’t afford their own residence. The inconvenience is that if cars park at the curb, the streets are too narrow for 2-way traffic.] Homeowners have abandoned the attached garage model and have sacrificed their backyards to something akin to a truck depot.

Mariner apologizes for rambling. Back to his amateur garden.

An abundance of damage to expensive plants and a voracious consumer of the vegetable garden, rabbits are unwanted in mariner’s garden. They are wanted dead, not alive. In recent years he and his neighbor never kill less than a dozen rabbits per year on the property – an oasis amid endless concrete slabs. Helping the mariner with his anti-rabbit campaign are two or three stray cats that do their share of finding and eliminating rabbits. Within mariner’s garden, cats are an apex predator.

However, like the cattle rancher who understands the role of the wolf in nature but doesn’t appreciate the loss of cattle, mariner must respect the cats for their role but the cats do not limit themselves to rabbits. All the small rodent-like creatures are prey as well and, alas, so are birds.

Mariner prides himself on offering a pleasurable environment and bounty to birds, squirrels and selected insects. He maintains two birdbaths in his gardens. Until recently it was not uncommon to see whole flocks of sparrows and finches sitting around the entire perimeter of the birdbath. Higher class birds like doves, cardinals, crows and jays are regular visitors. The Monarch is afforded a row of milkweed. Is this not the Garden of Eden?

Unfortunately, yes. Nature keeps things rolling by allowing oversight by many kinds of predators – except for H. sapiens, who has become a problem just like mariner’s rabbits.

One of the cats has learned to sit by one of the birdbaths. The cat hides under an adjacent Baptisia shrub. When a bird lands on the birdbath the cat leaps faster than the eye can follow to catch the bird. Birds aren’t stupid. They don’t visit this ol’ watering hole anymore.

While this doesn’t cost mariner income, it puts his sense of justice into a dilemma. His feelings are contested just as those of the cattle farmer. There is a difference in scale, of course, but not sympathy. Mother Nature is tough.

Ancient Mariner

 

There is no Lee in Today’s World

Mariner hasn’t seen Chicken Little in a while. He doesn’t come out of the henhouse. Inside, he sits trembling and wears a World War I army helmet. By his side are prayer beads, a prayer rug, a few wicks to light a candle, a ready-to-leave motor scooter and an AR-15.

Chicken Little suffers a malady that many suffer in today’s world: There is no lee. Lee is a sailing term that references the side of the boat away from the wind; it also references any place where safety may be had as a storm approaches. Today, the world offers little in the way of a lee.

There have always been storms, even really disruptive ones that change how the world and its biosphere survive. What is notable today is that everything is changing at once; there is no anchor to hold onto. Religion is adrift; nuclear war lurks in the shadows; the weather is changing; seas are rising onto the land; governments are becoming dysfunctional as global resources dwindle; a worldwide virus is killing hundreds of thousands all over the world; violence and militarism spread as if they were a virus; new technology threatens ancient behavioral norms; the Earth itself seems unsure about the future. Where is a lee? Where is a big tree that one can tie to while the storm of change threatens?

Mariner may sound like a naïve romantic when he suggests that the entire human race has nothing to cling to except itself. It may be that clinging to fellow humans may be the only lee available – such as it is. Take note that everywhere in the world that conflict and destructive behavior exists, things get a lot worse, not better. Are there any among us who would prefer to live in Syria, Belarus, Venezuela, Azerbaijan, or Ukraine? Does anyone look forward to living in Burundi, Eretria or Sudan where it is as likely to die from starvation as it is to live into adulthood?

If the United States is not careful, it will cast aside its humanity, its economy and even its sovereignty as it willingly moves toward social conflict and separatism. Everyone is stressed by the rapid transition from the relative comfort of the 1900s to the undefined, unsympathetic future of the 2000s. An accelerant in the nation’s move toward mistrust and violence is its President, Donald Trump. Donald is a Romanesque throwback to the times when abusive narcissists rose to power through division and unscrupulous behavior.

It is a common word in the news today and often a call to arms in its own right: The word is ‘unity’. The lee, that tree to tie one’s self to is one another. It is quite easy to say, “I’ve got your back if you need me (even though your politics are different). At the moment, given that diversity doesn’t continue to grow, words of conflict are simply words. Set them aside. What is left is sharing; pass it forward; compassion – and survival.

Ancient Mariner

Must-have Knowledge for the Twenty-first Century

Mariner hasn’t written a post recently that goes beyond commentary. Today, he feels the need to provide an educational assist that is absolutely critical to the future happiness of human beings. Three recent documentaries have focused on the issue of instant world-wide information about anything and everything – including every individual’s social and behavioral profile – and more importantly, how that individual can be manipulated to control personal decision making.

As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to generate new forms of economy and society around the planet, making personal decisions is disappearing from the individual and even from groups of individuals to be replaced by computerized statistical assumptions. AI has the speed and processing power to identify an individual’s likely behavior in any circumstance. Given that power, AI also can manipulate an individual’s seemingly personal decisions.

AI takes advantage of the way the human brain has evolved; how it makes decisions both subconsciously and to a lesser degree, consciously. Understanding the statistical behavior of the relationship between conscious and subconscious thought, AI can take advantage of what humans think is a conscious decision based on factual information when, in fact, that decision is induced by AI influencing subconscious feelings.

Make no mistake; AI already is at work in society. Most stock market trades are made by computers that can continually improve performance without help from humans. Big Data (social media, Google, etc.) already makes billions of dollars by selling an individual’s profile and decision tendencies to private interests.

Fortunately, this unbridled and dangerous phenomenon has become an issue in public, political and educational circles; individual ignorance plus lack of regulation combine to generate an opportunity for a powerful technocracy to control general behavior and political dynamics.

In the past few months three documentaries have been produced that focus directly on this AI issue and the liberties taken by Big Data to infringe on personal privacy, security and democratic (human) authority. Mariner addresses each documentary below. Watch all three, add in a history of psychology and a scientific analysis of the brain and the reader will have knowledge equivalent to a masters degree in behavioral psychology.

 ֎ Hacking the Mind

https://www.pbs.org/video/living-on-auto-pilot-5p5jct/?utm_source=whattowatchnews&utm_medium=email&utm_term=secondarypromo2&utm_content=20200910&utm_campaign=hackingyourmind_2020

 Mariner has recommended this documentary in the past. It is a recent production by PBS. A four-part series of one hour shows, it examines – without political bias – how the brain makes decisions. It turns out that virtually all our important decisions, from whether to eat candy or spinach, to what automobile to buy, to choosing a spouse, are first decided subconsciously, thereby provoking a prejudiced decision in the conscious brain.

What is fascinating about subconscious decisions is that no facts are needed. Every decision is the result of a preconditioned, behavioral, biological set of rules where the common denominator is survival of the self. Being aware that the subconscious controls the bias of our existential, real world decisions is important in an AI world that would rather speak to the ‘no fact’ subconscious than to the conscious, reasoning brain. A very clear example of this phenomenon today is the allegiance of Donald Trump’s base in a fashion that disregards existential reasoning. A common street term for subconscious influence is, “My gut tells me . . .”

 ֎ The Social Dilemma

NETFLIX

 This is a documentary that shows the methods, techniques and manipulations used by Big Data corporations. The show interviews a half-dozen technicians and managers who have quit their jobs and turned whistleblower because of ethical issues about how the corporations disregard any moral respect for human users and have no regard for social responsibility; the whole theme for Big Data is monetization of human behavior without human permission. It is frightful that many interactive processes have been turned over to computers to manage interaction on their own without human supervision.

An excellent example is seen through a family’s children who have become addicted to their smartphones. The son drops out of his social and school relationships and is drawn into an extremist group’s activity; the daughter suffers serious destruction of self-esteem because she takes literally the negativity that is often tossed about on social networks. An interesting quote from the documentary: “If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.”

 ֎ The Great Hack

NETFLIX

 This documentary shows how Big Data, without comprehensive regulations, can quite easily set awry the future of entire nations. The show is about one purchaser of data from Facebook who then used it to change public opinion in devious and often untrue ways: Cambridge Analytica.

Cambridge Analytica purchased voter registration data along with user profiles to target specific individuals with propaganda. Cambridge Analytica was able to influence the Brexit vote in Great Britain and was hired by the 2016 Trump Campaign to spread bad information about anyone opposed to Donald.

– – – –

It remains to be seen how national governments will control Big Data. How does one legislate subconscious influence? How does a legislator avoid destroying concepts about ‘freedom of choice’? How can the genuine advantage of AI power be constrained without throwing away its genuine advantages?

If anything is to change, it is because the electorate watched these documentaries and decided they should make their own decisions about life and not just agree to suggestions by Big Data that have hidden motives.

Ancient Mariner

Money in Political Campaigns

Any individual who has poked even a finger into the current of campaign politics has discovered an inundation of fund-raising emails, letters and phone calls from the NATIONAL COMMITTEE (RNC, DNC) of each party. One assumes that this cash contribution is a voter’s right. However, the real campaign cash balance is maintained by special interests like corporations and investors who are the real source of hundreds of millions in donations to campaign financing.

One of the more benign exposures of this plutocracy is when the email says, “We’ve found a 600 percent match for your donation!” Who among us can match six times a national fund-raising effort? To mariner, this is just a way for candidates to hide big money that otherwise would be openly contributed from Political Action Committees (PACs) and corporations – in other words, a favor or policy expectation is the real purpose – not just a citizen vote.

Mariner has challenged the concept of national fund-raising many times on the blog. Consequently, he will not go into elaborate philosophical and pragmatic explanations of why special interest fund raising is destructive to democracy. Simply, this is what must be done to improve democracy as a tool to manage the peoples’ governments:

  • Federal, nationwide election campaigns are funded only by Federal tax dollars; the Federal Government pays for all Federal election campaigns. This includes constraints on private and local fund-raising for nationwide offices.
  • State, district, county and local campaigns may be funded only by entities within the jurisdiction of the specific office to be elected.
  • All elections, Federal, state and local, are limited to a six month time limit. Except within this time limit, no funds may be used for any purpose associated with elections including television, postal mail, shipping, telephone or any other source of communication.
  • Voting should allow electronic voting authorized by an algorithm based on identifiers within driver’s license, passport and personal banking. While this may seem unfair to those who live on the bottom fringe of society, their abuse is a separate issue that would be addressed in an effort for everyone to participate equally in today’s Internet world – including electronic voting.

So, if the reader is of like mind, send donations to . . .

Ancient Mariner

 

Faith is a necessary life tool for everyone

Read these words from this old hymnbook favorite – sing along if you know the melody:

Life is like a mountain railway

With an engineer that’s brave

We must make this run successful

From the cradle to the grave

Watch the curves, the fills, and tunnels

Never falter, never fail

Keep your hand upon the throttle

And your eyes upon the rail

The verse asks for a commitment to an ideal, a belief that the run must be successful. A belief in what? It could be any religion’s doctrine; it could be any political vision; it could be a personal life or a person’s sustained commitment against fatal disease.

The point is that all thoughts and behavior of any merit require belief in a valued objective. The only instruction in the verse is completing the run and keeping one’s hand upon the throttle. Could this verse be applicable to Blackbeard the pirate’s belief in his role on the high seas? (Yes, mixed metaphor)

What is missing today is context. At the beginning of the verse, what does ‘Life’ imply? As an ethical compass, what is the world supposed to believe in – not just the United States but the entire world? The confrontation is universal: what is a gibbon to trust in a disappearing habitat; what is a fish living on a dying coral reef to accept as normal; what is the dictator of Kazakhstan to believe about his uncertain future; what about the broken and abused family in Nicaragua; what about the preacher in Kansas or the steel worker in Detroit; what about the billionaire CEO. With our hand on the throttle, where is the rail taking us?

More than at any time since nations have existed, we live in a time of social disruption and turmoil. The job of Homo sapiens is to decide where the rail will take us. Holding on to broken, outdated, even useless railways doesn’t help. The job of everyone around the world today is to build a new destination for our railway.

The hymn cited at the beginning was written in 1890 by gospel songwriter Charles Davis Tillman. He styled it for the repertoire of white southerners, whose music was derived from Gospel. Further verses reference the Bible as a source of context. Life in 1890 was from another time, another reality. Where is Life headed today?

[For several renditions of the hymn see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xDrFJ7k9jOA ]

Ancient Mariner

Humans face Many Problems

In 2015 mariner wrote a post that attempted to distract readers from the campaigns of the last Presidential election. He focused on several natural phenomena that make human problems small and irrelevant. One topic was that the North and South poles switch places every so often. He wrote:

Every 200,000 years or so, the magnetosphere switches poles, that is, the North Pole becomes the South Pole and vice versa. Presently, we are experiencing the very early phases of a polar switch. Scientists have determined that the strength of the magnetosphere has dropped 15% since 1840. There is nothing cataclysmic about the switch. The North and South magnetic waves push through each other around the globe. For example, today the South Atlantic and the Bering Sea have very weak magnetic spots such that a compass can be seen to vacillate as North and South magnetic waves move back and forth. “It may take another 2,000 years,” said physicist Phil Scherrer of Stanford University.

The real danger in a magnetosphere shift is twofold: First, the magnetic waves shield us from strong radiation from the Sun that is capable of causing cancer and other radiation ills; the Earth’s magnetosphere is weakened considerably during a shift and the Sun’s radiation can reach the surface of the Earth. At some point, all satellite communications will be interrupted.

Second, every creature that depends on a compass to get around will experience a topsy-turvy effect that turns everything backwards. Many creatures may be disoriented: Monarch butterflies, geese, whales – anything that migrates great distances without mapping terrain.

– – – –

Mariner’s question today in 2020 is, “Will humans suffer topsy-turvy effects because all the maps and street signs will be backwards? What about life without GPS? Will self-driving cars just wander aimlessly? Will Google Earth even know?”

Ancient Mariner