Pathos or palace?

Yesterday, in my Ecological Design Thinking class, I showed a couple of images of the iconic Sand Palace, the reinforced concrete house that is still standing in Mexico Beach, FL after Hurricane Michael slammed ashore with 155-mph winds that flattened the rest of town.

I asked my students to consider what questions this raises about building in a place like that, the lengths this owner and his engineer went to, etc. One student from Florida said it showed foresight and was a smart way to build in this day and age. Why not exceed current code by twice the wind load? Instead of Florida’s 2002 code requiring a house in that place to withstand 120-mph winds, this one is designed for 240-250 mph.

Something about it bothers me, though. What does it mean that this one resilient house survives and everything else around it is destroyed? What is the point of this lone house in a place where nothing else is working? In a place absent of connection and reciprocity? Continue reading

In search of trim tabs

Any parent of a teenager knows the frustration of becoming ensnared in their black-and-white thinking. Teens are so clear and unequivocal in their opinions. Mine is certain that I am frequently wrong, naïve, or just plain dumb. Well, the teenagers who have stepped up and spoken out following the latest school massacre are giving us a healthy dose of black-and-white thinking. And it’s just the medicine we need. We can’t always afford to be patient in an emergency. Arguing over every shade of gray has been a paralyzing trap.

These young people speak from authority as survivors of hideous trauma that most of us cannot imagine. They know what needs to be done and they will brook no interference. Who knows? Their involvement just might be the factor that creates the greatest shift. Continue reading

After regulation, reconnection

It is easy for me to slip into despair when I read about the latest environmental protections that are being removed by EPA usurper-in-chief, Scott Pruitt. These are so egregious as to be almost laughable, like a plot outline for an overly absurd dystopian novel. One of the latest is that mining companies no longer need to set aside money to cover potential damages from their activities. They will not be held to account for toxic tailings, sludge pond overflows, and other messes.

I confess I did not have the heart (or stomach) to delve further into the topic, to determine what, if any, contingencies were substituted for the simple effect of holding corporate polluters responsible for their actions.

We are so much better than this. We have these regulations in place for good reasons, often made necessary by historical disasters that resulted in loss of property, livelihood, or even life.

There is a long and growing list of these now-shredded protection regulations. Disbanding a panel that helped cities respond to climate threats. Giving away millions of acres of protected federal lands—stolen during the genocide against the people who were here before white Europeans came. Allowing fracking companies to dump spoils into the Gulf of Mexico. (Articles are here, here, and here.) Maybe Pruitt and his cronies are brainstorming new names for the EPA. Environmental Polluters Association. Economic Pirates, All.

Here’s a thought: maybe this is a necessary unravelling that will lead us to another way of being. Continue reading

Science informed by feeling: Hope Jahren’s “Lab Girl”

I ran across an old email from a friend, who is in a scientific field, ranting about the admonition to “trust in science,” as if it were an actual thing with power, rather than a rational method for taking data into consideration and making new discoveries. She references C.S. Lewis, who said that the “scientific habit of mind” is a truncated one that developed “during the same period men of science were coming to be metaphysically and theologically uneducated.”

My friend takes this meaning from Lewis: “Science is a wonderful discipline to describe what we observe, but many treat science as the actual power that caused the phenomenon it merely describes. Science describes ‘how’ but not ‘why’, and unless the ‘why’ is being contemplated, thought is truncated.” We have, she observes, “a wealth of knowledge and a poverty of wisdom.” Continue reading

Rx for a rotting foundation

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” ~ Abraham Lincoln, June 18, 1858

In a speech at the Illinois Republican convention in Springfield, IL, Lincoln kicked off his bid for U.S. Senate. He paraphrased the New Testament to comment on the recent Dred Scott decision of the Supreme Court that he believed would effectively legalize slavery in all states. I assume he meant “house” metaphorically, as in household or institution—or country. But today, on Independence Day 2017, I choose to take the liberty of reading this literally. And to add my own paraphrase:

A house built on a rotting foundation cannot stand.

Continue reading

Dystopia reconsidered: from post-apocalyse to pre-apocalypse

Twitter feeds and mainstream media home pages have started to read like teasers for the latest post-apocalyptic Netflix series. No wonder there is a glut of fiction with themes of disruption, chaos and war brought on by unruly, destructive weather, fires and flooding; epidemics; economic collapse; civil wars; displaced populations; oppression; or [fill in the blank]. To explain this trend, as well as its appeal, literary critics have had to come up with some glib theories.

The latest comes from Sam Sacks, writing in the Wall Street Journal’s “Books” section for April 8-9, 2017. He assures readers that “vogues for dystopian literature are usually a sign of national health.” As evidence, he cites the mid-20th-century anxiety about nuclear weapons and the Cold War that produced works like “On the Beach,” and says “they were also the fruits of widespread prosperity.” He wraps up his argument with two neat aphorisms:

“The more people have, the more frightened they are of losing it all.”
“These novels are what happens when a comfortable culture has a midlife crisis.”

This is a shallow, unimaginative diagnosis. It’s like a doctor recommending NyQuil as a treatment for lung cancer. Continue reading

In praise of the power of love and human intention to solve problems

Modern civilization faces many intractable and seemingly unsolvable problems. We can be beguiled by simplistic, flashy, one-off moves like building walls or issuing Executive Orders to keep so-called “undesirables” out. But humans have proven again and again that clear thinking, creativity, and cooperation can work wonders. How else could we have landed a man on the moon? Or invented the iPhone? Or stopped spewing ozone-depleting chemicals into the air?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the power of intention. I’m not talking about films like “The Secret” and “What the Bleep Do We Know,” although I confess to being fascinated by the idea that this whole thing we call life is a game that we are literally making up moment by moment as we play. Today’s stories will not require a mystical acceptance of alternative realities. (You can find explorations of those in other posts here, here, and here.) Continue reading

#whyimarch in celebration and support of the whole community of Life

I was glad to see that the organizers of the Women’s March have issued a position paper. It’s good to have a better sense of the energy bubbling up within and around this event. If the bus parking applications are any indication, this is going to be big. It’s fair to assume that people are coming for many, many personal reasons. The position paper helps us to recognize a shared purpose. And from there, who knows what’s possible?

So it was with a growing feeling of unease that I read down the four PDF pages, point by point, wondering when—and then if—the environment would get a mention. Here we have gender justice, freedom from violence against our bodies, an end to—and accountability for—police brutality, and the end of racial profiling. Here we have dismantling gender and racial inequities within the criminal justice system, Reproductive Freedom, Gender Justice, LGBTQIA rights, and a fair, secure, equitable economy. Here we have equal pay for equal work, the dignity and fair treatment of care workers, the right to organize, the living wage, Civil Rights as birthright, passing the ERA, and immigrant and refugee dignity and rights.

Finally, the last point at the end of page 4, is this: Continue reading

Asking WHY is my superpower

A wise friend taught me something yesterday that is so profound, simple, and fun that I couldn’t wait to share it. Her lesson came in two parts. First, we each have a superpower. This is a talent or predilection that comes so effortlessly, we might overlook it, or assume that everyone has the same ability. It’s a familiar idea. Michael Meade, for example, calls this our genius, that spark inside that each of us is born with. It fuels our work and allows us to offer our gifts to the world.

What my friend said next surprised and delighted me. She said, think of when you were a kid and you kept doing that thing that you couldn’t help doing, to the point of driving everyone around you crazy. Your most annoying habit. Your mom, dad, siblings, and peers would tell you—beg you—to stop. But you couldn’t help yourself. That’s your superpower. Continue reading

Polarity reversal: a solstice tale

From the BBC, 19 December 2016: “Scientists have speculated we could be on the cusp of a polarity reversal, which would see North become South, and South become North.”

In preparation for this eventuality, Rand McNally has announced that world maps will be reprinted so that North America appears to hang upside down, putting Florida on top for a change. California will be on the East Coast and New York on the West Coast. Not that it matters much, since both are bastions of the Liberal Elite. Naturally, the Midwest will remain Mid. After years of debate, it will not be renamed the Mideast.

The Southwest will become the Northeast, and Northeast become Southwest. No one will know where to go for leaf gazing in the fall, causing hundreds of B&Bs and New England country inns to close. Likewise, Santa Fe’s shamanic energy vortex will be relocated from the spa lobby of the Rancho Encantado to the Caterpiller Visitor’s Center in Peoria, Illinois. The Visitor’s Center’s top recommendation on Trip Advisor will change from “Fun place to kill an afternoon!” to “I felt so good here; I don’t know why.” Continue reading