Links of the Month: June 2021

A very early cartoon from Poorly Drawn Lines

Consistent with my rewrite of my latest CoVid-19 article, I’m going to try to make my LOTM write-ups more factual and less editorial, or at least less judgemental. I’m also merging the CoVid-19 Corner back into the Politics and Economics As Usual section, and discontinuing the Radical Non-Duality section, since I’m sure you hear more than enough from me on that topic in my other posts.


global emissions data per David Hughes from a new report for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, published also in the Tyee and Resilience in an article by Andrew Nikiforuk ; the dotted black line shows what “net zero by 2050” would entail

“Net Zero” is unattainable: Andrew Nikiforuk explains why the idea of achieving “net zero” emissions by 2050 (needed to reduce global warming to 2ºC) is just propaganda, achievable neither politically nor technologically. Any talk of averting runaway climate change now, he explains, is just wishful thinking. The International Energy Agency agrees with the data but they still believe: “The world needs to pivot from getting 80 per cent of its total energy supply from fossil fuels in 2021 to getting just 20 per cent from fossil fuels by 2050. That means there needs to be no new investment or expansion in fossil fuels, and companies need to focus completely on how to reduce emissions from existing projects.” I hope “the world” is listening.

Expedition says “tipping point” is now: A consortium of 300 scientists studying arctic melting said it may well be too late to prevent runaway climate change, no matter what we do, even if the tech miracles that Andrew discusses and the “world pivot” the IEA says is needed were to come about. A spokesman said: “The disappearance of summer sea ice in the Arctic is one of the first landmines in this minefield, one of the tipping points that we set off first when we push warming too far… And one can essentially ask if we haven’t already stepped on this mine and already set off the beginning of the explosion.”  That’s scientist-speak for “we’re fucked, but please don’t fire me for saying so.”


Image: Barney with his green life jacket, from the following Tiny Love Story in the NYT (thanks to Larry Sheehy for the link):

The Last Biscuit: “Before the city pool in Johnson City, Tenn., got drained at summer’s end, dogs could take a swim for five bucks. Sporting his green life jacket, Barney leapt in as if he weren’t tired, deaf, toothless. We stayed until no one else was left. It’s a small thing in life, a dog, but small is relative. I packed biscuits for our last trip to the vet. I sat on the floor in the lobby, feeding Barney biscuits one by one, and for a moment it seemed possible that we might never run out.” — Shuly Xóchitl Cawood  (You can read how she crafted this story here.)

Spain pilots 4-day workweek: A plan to subsidize businesses making the shift ushers in the possibility this could become a national and global trend. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link.

Canadian English, eh?: Katherine Barber, the editor of the Oxford Canadian English dictionary and champion of Canadian terms and spellings, has just died. The book is discontinued, but it’s still available to view online.


cartoon by Greg Perry in the Toronto Star

Corpocracy, Imperialism & Propaganda: Short takes:

CoVid-19: Short takes:

Inequality and Caste-ism: Short takes:


from the Not Another Science Cat FB group

Why do cats love boxes?: A scholarly study, sort of.

Beaverton headlines of the month:

    • Ottawa Senators fans allege years of false imprisonment with Eugene Melnyk (ask a hockey fan to explain if you don’t get this)
    • Heroic cat bravely saves owner from being in bathroom alone
    • Health Canada research suggests side effects from trying to use Ontario’s vaccine booking system are worse than side effects of the vaccine

These guys can dance: A new bird species struts its stuff in mind-blowing fashion.


The prison of the self: another great cartoon by Michael Leunig

From PS Pirro:


I found the keys in the junk drawer
along with the post-its and bottle caps
and other reminders of days I must have
lived through while I waited for the world
to change, knowing it could not, that it
could only always be what it is, the sum
of all its parts, trees and beetles and milkweed
and kissing bugs, the people who loved,
the people who would never love, the train
I rode to the end of the tracks, the dog I met
there who followed me home, we shared a
package of hot dogs from the quickmart
as I rummaged through the lost voices
and empty refrains of too many seasons
spent in the same place, the lock on the shed
is rusted now but perhaps one of these keys
will fit and the tumbler will turn and the
shank will lift and the door will swing open,
perhaps it’s not too late to step inside, find
what was lost, all those ways I meant to be.

From Euan Semple:

Fitting In

We are all pretending to be something we’re not.
We fit in to our parents’ expectations when we’re toddlers.
We fit in to the norms of our peers at school, or conform to the role of our idealised heroic loner.
We fit in to the roles expected of us as adults – husband, parent, dependable worker, boss.

But none of this is who we are.

The real us is the bit that knows that this process of inculturation is happening, that watches it taking over our lives, that regrets the pretence.

From me, in a letter to John Whiting:

Zeynep Tüfekçi has explained that the problem with social media is that the original customers (the users) have essentially become the product, and the vendors (corporations that buy ads and user data) have become the actual customers. So for users to complain about Facebook’s service is akin to McDonald’s hamburgers complaining to the patty-flippers about how they’re being served to the public. “Just shut up and get in the bun.”

From Chris Corrigan: “The difference between critical thinkers and conspiracy theorists is that critical thinkers look for evidence to disprove their beliefs and conspiracy theorists look for evidence to confirm their beliefs”.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | Leave a comment


Old friends | Sat on their park bench like bookends
A newspaper blown through the grass
Falls on the round toes | On the high shoes | Of the old friends

Old friends | Winter companions the old men
Lost in their overcoats | Waiting for the sunset
The sounds of the city | Sifting through trees
Settle like dust | On the shoulders | Of the old friends

Can you imagine us | Years from today | Sharing a park bench quietly?
How terribly strange | To be seventy

— Paul Simon

On Tuesday I turn 70. The actuaries say that, thanks to my good diet and exercise program, and the fact my life is relatively low-stress, I have about 17 years left. Sounds about right.

Even before I discovered radical non-duality, I had no fear of dying. It’s pain and suffering I’m afraid of, and the ravages of Alzheimer’s, which runs in the family, and which the Trudeau government won’t let me use as a reason for medically assisted death when that time comes. The thing I worry most about is how those I leave behind will cope without me. They’re certain to take my death far harder than I will.

As I wrote recently, I am more equanimous than I used to be, though still annoyingly inattentive, unobservant, and insensitive, and a frustratingly slow learner. My sense is that we don’t notice the changes we go through, they happen so gradually, so we actually become much more different over time than we realize.

I wrote: “Perhaps I am less my self than I thought.” In radical non-duality, that statement is tautologically false, but somehow it seems not a bad description of where I’ve come to. I have long been conditioned to overreact emotionally to unpleasant surprises and hence to handle stress badly, but somehow being aware of that propensity takes away some of its former intensity and dysfunction.

The colour photo in my right sidebar, a Zoom selfie from a couple of months ago, seems to depict me better than any other portrait over these 70 years. Though the fact that it’s flattering may bias my thinking; I have always been terribly vain.

So I have no advice for anyone on how to live. Worse than that, Everything I have learned suggests that ‘we’ have absolutely no say over what these conditioned bodies we presume to occupy will or won’t actually do. Even worse than that, there is actually no ‘we’ to do or not do anything. The idea of a separate self, the idea of separate things that ‘really’ exist in ‘real’ space and time, the idea that there is birth, life or death as a ‘real’ event, the ideas of free will and control and meaning and purpose and agency and continuity — all of these ideas are just mental constructs, the desperate human sense-making brain doing what it does, trying to extract meaning from what has absolutely no meaning.

And even worse than that, all of these invented ideas are wrong, a complete psychosomatic misunderstanding of the nature of reality, a complete misperception and misconception of what the apparent waves and particles and chemicals that seem to reach the senses of the body and which our brains translate into meaning, actually represent.

In short, we live in a delusional, hallucinated reality that our senses invented, and now believe that created reality to be absolutely and exclusively the true reality.

It’s a really neat trick our brains have played on us, all in the hoped-for interest of greater evolutionary adaptation and fitness — to create this artificial representation of reality, invent ‘dimensions’ of space and time in which to place everything that is sensed, as ‘objects’, and then, the coup de grace, to create the concept of a ‘self’, a homunculus seated inside this idea of a separate body, as the absolute centre of all these objects — as the one and only ‘subject’.

Why do we believe this is all real, so fervently, if it is not? Because the mental model that is the ‘self’ is in a closed loop of its own making. It’s the only reality ‘we’ know, or can know. The ‘natural reality’ that is seen in infancy is very quickly forgotten, much like everything else from that fuzzy time when nothing ‘made sense’. And all the other afflicted selves we meet furiously reinforce the validity of this shared delusion, since it’s the only reality they can know, too.

Science can now show compellingly that not only is there no time, no space, no self, etc but that having a self is completely unnecessary to the functioning of the human and has no effect whatsoever on what the human, who you think of as you, apparently actually does.

Wild creatures, not afflicted with this disease of large abstracting brains, have evolved to do what they do, brilliantly, with the same sensory inputs we have, and probably the same sensations of pain, ecstasy etc but without the use or need for a conceptualized separate self. They ‘make sense’ of what is apparently happening, and their conditioning takes care of the rest, perfectly well, instinctively, without any need for the abstractions of self and separation. That is why their lives, except in brief moments of fight/flight/flee stress, are characterized by equanimity and enthusiasm, not the chronic dread, anxiety, shame, guilt, rage, grief and hopelessness that our sad species ‘lives’ with.

My sense is that some people ‘recover’ from the disease of the self — the self just vanishes without reason and its absence is never noticed. Perhaps the entrenched ‘default’ pathways of the brain that created and reinforced the sense of self are suddenly disrupted. I think for most of us there are ‘glimpses’ when the self is simply not present, but when the self later ‘returns’ it is unable to make sense of them and so disregards them. And I suspect that at the moment of death — which is, after all, not a moment since there is no time and no death — this is suddenly, obviously seen, though not by the self.

So my illusory life of 70 years has, like everything else, no meaning, no purpose, no trajectory. Nothing matters. I can’t of course ‘know’ this — my self gets in the way. Everything matters to it. But as soon as I heard this message, which conformed to so many of my other subversive beliefs, experiences, and learnings, there was a resonance, a quiet unprovable certainty that this is what is really, already, timelessly, but ‘only’ apparently happening.

Perhaps it’s convenient, this utterly equanimous sense of what is — contrary to what we’ve all always believed — the truth, arriving at a time when my lifetime of struggle is nearing an end and can be seen as meaningless and unnecessary. It’s not like I had, or have, any choice.

So maybe, in the course of the next 17 years or so, we’ll find ourselves, you and I, sitting, like bookends, at the ends of the same park bench. If so, I will greet you but countenance no talk of health or politics or spirituality. I will be watching the birds, learning from them. They know what is going on. They are under no illusion.

How terribly strange.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Radical Non-Duality | 4 Comments

CoVid-19: Light at the End of the Tunnel

Note: Michael Dowd’s comment on the original version of this article has prompted me to “mark up” the article to remove judgements and stick to what we know. I’ve tried to do that, below, with the additions/changes noted in a separate colour and the deletions noted by strikeouts. Really interesting exercise! Thanks Michael!

U of Washington’s IHME institute’s estimated actual CoVid-19 death toll and infection numbers by jurisdiction. Estimated deaths are 150-250% higher than “reported” numbers, and estimated infections are 2-15x “reported” case numbers.

In North America at least, it would seem that we’ve vaccinated just enough people just fast enough to keep ahead of the variants, and the consensus is that future infections and deaths here will be sufficiently low to allow us to reopen just about everything this summer.

That may not be possible happen in much of the world, though it seems likely that, due to most unvaccinated countries’ citizens’ much stronger immune systems, and their bodies’ experienced capacity fighting off viral infections, most of the damage even in those countries has now been done.

The carnage is enormous: ghastly, and that’s only made worse by the fact it was entirely preventable, and entirely mitigatable even once the pandemic hit. Ten million deaths worldwide, a million Americans, dying often horrible deaths. And the long-term ravages of the disease on the bodies of those infected we can’t yet even guess at.

As the chart at left above shows, one out of every 300 Americans died from the disease, and one out of 600 of the world’s people will die before it’s over. Average life expectancy for all citizens dropped by over a year in the US and half a year in Canada. The death rate in much of Eastern Europe and Central Asia was half again as high as even the horrific US rate.

Had we never pursued followed the advice of virologists and epidemiologists and banned factory farming, exotic species harvesting, and invasion of the world’s last wilderness areas, we wouldn’t be worrying about pandemics at all: As recently as 50 years ago, before these activities became widespread abhorrent behaviours exploded and became global, many health experts were predicting the end of deaths from infectious disease. But over the past 30 years pandemics have spiked and are expected to continue to accelerate. We are doing nothing to prevent The next one, which may be worse — perhaps even an order of magnitude more deadly make this one look like an easy dress rehearsal.

And pursuing a Once the pandemic was declared, had we all followed the advice of public health experts with a “go for zero” policy when the next pandemic hits instead of the ad hoc approaches most countries used with CoVid-19, could reduce fatalities by an order of magnitude. , as Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan and some other countries did, the total death toll would have been a small fraction, perhaps less than 10%, of the number that have died from this horrible plague. Instead, we let ignorant, self-interested politicians waffle back and forth on policies for fighting the pandemic, opening and partly closing and then opening again.

As the chart above right shows, as a result of our doddering about 40% of Americans got the disease, and while many were asymptomatic, that means that more Americans developed their immunity by contracting the disease (with its unknown future damage to their bodies) than got their immunity from vaccination. The US was more than half-way to herd immunity before the vaccines that might have saved so many lives arrived. So a million Americans died, for no reason.

IHME estimated cumulative death tolls per 100,000 people to date.  Some of the ‘orange’ areas have lost nearly 1% of their entire population and over 10% of their senior population to the pandemic.

The overall global data looks similar — due to unavailability of vaccines in struggling nations, the global infection rate, currently 28%, is likely to hit 40% as well. Fortunately for many of those countries, which have little or no hospital capacity to deal with the disease, their infection fatality rate (IFR) looks to be much lower than it has been in the Americas and Europe.

In Canada, only about 11% of the population were infected and the fatality rate here (42,000 CoVid-19 deaths) was only 1/3 of the American rate, so thanks to a bit more diligence on our part, we saved tens of thousands of lives, but now we are depending much more on vaccination for protection; still, only 60% of Canadians have received their first dose, and only 10% their second dose, so we’re not out of the woods yet. And the needless death of 42,000 Canadians is nothing to brag about.

So we could have prevented this, and future pandemics. And we could have nipped them in the bud once we knew they were in circulation. But we didn’t. And we won’t next time.

Not much else to say. Maybe, hopefully, we’ve learned something. We’ll see.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | 3 Comments

Never Felt Safe

I‘ve been simultaneously reading two books of essays, largely autobiographical, whose authors’ courage at admitting the truth about themselves is disarming, even startling. Melissa Faliveno’s Tomboyland describes growing up in rural Wisconsin and evolving as a queer feminist; here are a few excerpts from this amazing writer (photo above from her website):

I tell her I think this is a cultural thing, a midwestern thing. And maybe what I mean is it’s a class thing. It’s something I think about often, having grown up in a small town — where you do your best to hide your pain, where if you let it go a whole town will know. Talking about your problems I think is something reserved for the upper classes, the educated classes, for families in which a life of the mind is more important than a life of work, and of the body, and of the land. Where my friend Sue comes from, and where I come from — generations of farm families with little money and many mouths to feed — we don’t have time for the kind of trouble that dwells in the brains or heart. We learn this from the stories of our forbears, who were more concerned with the kind of trouble a drought could bring, or whether the crops would yield. We don’t have the tools — the language, the education, the resources — to say some things aloud, to deal in the daylight with our problems. So we keep them to ourselves, and we carry them with us.

In a small midwestern town, darkness gets buried like a secret. I came from a place that kept silence like a curse, a people who stuck to their silence like work. In a place where the land is both fertile and hard, lush and alive then brutally cold — a land we work with our hands until they’re hard, a land that decides our fate no matter the toil — we are silent about our hopes. We are silent about our fears. We are silent about money, unless we think someone has too much. We are silent, most of all, about our bodies, our desires and our pain. In my family, we sat in our silence; we steeped and stewed in it; we kept it packed inside.


“It seems like our job is to figure out what to do with our grief,” my friend Jules says. “Like, do you just drag it behind you? Do you figure out a different way to relate to it? Do you use it to fuel something? Do you make it your own?” No one I ever knew had used the word grief like Jules did. I’d only ever heard the word within the context of death. Jules, instead, talked about grief as if it was just a part of life, that it was something we carried.

“How do I carry it with me?” she says. “Because you can’t cut it off and you can’t leave it behind. I think that might actually become a defining feature of a person — how you relate to your grief and what you do with it. I think we need to expand the definitions of grief. Sometimes you get angry, and sometimes you get sad, and sometimes you profoundly mourn something. And I wish it was more a conversation in general, so it would be seen as a normal part of living, as opposed to the way you’re broken. The reasons I didn’t want kids were all selfish. I didn’t want to watch their hearts break, and I didn’t want to watch them struggle, and I didn’t want my heart to be broken by watching them go through the same things I went through, or things I don’t even know about now — I didn’t want to feel the pain… My mother had such a picture in her mind of what a good mom was, and she tried to do it, but she really didn’t have the ability because no one fucking does.”


“Is there anywhere you feel you can be your full self?” I ask Jules.

“No! Never! I don’t think I’ve ever been my full self anywhere. I don’t even think that’s a thing.”

We laugh, because we understand that on some level the idea of a whole self seems like the dream of a much younger person, who has yet to make the hardest decisions — the kind that thrust a person down one path instead of another; the kind that are immutable. We laugh because we both know now it’s not possible. But as we part ways that night, and I watch the blinking tail-light of her bike disappear into the darkness, I grieve the person who used to think it was.

Vlogbrother John Green’s The Anthropocene Reviewed is a collection of transcriptions of his podcast, which mixes astonishing bits of historical and scientific research with brilliant quotes you’ve never heard, jaw-dropping insights into human nature,  and raw admissions of his struggles to cope with everything from being bullied and beaten up in childhood in Orlando, to his OCD, which has driven him close to the point of madness throughout the current pandemic.

In one essay John (photo above from his website) quotes Amy Krouse Rosenthal‘s words of wisdom: Pay attention to what you pay attention to, and then he adds:

Marvelling at the perfection of [a dying leaf his son had shared with him] I was reminded that aesthetic beauty is as much about how and whether you look as what you see. From the quark to the supernova, the wonders do not cease. It is our attentiveness that is in short supply; our ability and willingness to do the work that awe requires.

In another essay he wonders what moths, irresistibly drawn to all forms of human-made lights, will do when our species has gone: Will they be drawn to the moon? In another, he reveals the astonishing fact that practically all the penicillin ever dispensed descends from the mold on a single cantaloupe, found by accident by bacteriologist Mary Hunt in a grocery store in Peoria in 1942 during the search for sources for what was then a rare antibiotic.

Listen to his podcast on Wonder and Sunsets and it will make you cry with knowing how broken and amazing our sad species is. You can feel the pain he carries in his gentle, fragile, yet reassuring voice.

I love these two books, but there are moments in them I cannot endure — they are simply overwhelming in their self-awareness and their brutal honesty about their narrators, and the human condition.

Over the last decade, with a lot of help, I have finally started to pick away at all the gunk that has been so layered over who I think I am to the point I became unrecognizable, even to me. The insufferable arrogance that I once displayed, largely as a defence mechanism of course, has yielded at least a bit to an awareness that my whole life, and the bulk of the decisions I have made, to do, and not do, things, has been driven almost entirely by fear.

In 2016 I tried to set aside all the self-serving delusional nonsense in my bios and identify the true “story of me”:

My whole life I have been bewildered, unable to really make sense of anything, just muddling my way through, and I have often been quite fearful and socially anxious as a result. I have put great effort into many things but have nothing much to show for it. I’ve had some interesting insights, but nothing that’s of much practical use to anyone. I have been generous, but only when I could easily afford to be. I’ve been very lucky. I have become more joyful and fun-loving, but more pessimistic, more curious, and more skeptical about everything, even whether we as separate ‘selves’ actually exist.

Lost, scared and bewildered, that’s me. Maybe a lot of other people, too, but who am I to say?

And as a result I am just unable to open myself to, and really empathize with, the enormous suffering, sorrow and anguish that dominates so much of so many people’s lives. It hurts too much. It shuts me down. I become catatonic, dysfunctional.

So now I’ve reached this perilous and awkward stage where I’m very content exploring “how the world really works” but am increasingly averse to learning any more about what it means to be a human in times of immense struggle, precarity and danger. I am, most of the time, more contented than I have ever been, less distraught. But that’s in part because I no longer share the anguish of my human colleagues over our personal and collective tragedies and unhappinesses. I can’t face them. I know I’m no use to the world broken, and if I allowed the colossal awfulness of things to affect me as it affects them, I would be forever broken. I could never heal.

That means, then, that I can’t care much about the profound suffering of others. It’s not that I don’t care; it’s that I can’t. It’s too much to bear. It’s so much easier and more tempting to contemplate, and to believe, that the self, and all suffering, is just the affliction of the brain’s misunderstanding of, and disconnection from, what’s really happening, which is actually utterly ‘impersonal’.

All my life I have believed that life should not be so hard and so terrible as it seems to be for the human species. All my life, I have never felt safe. We are not well, I have come to believe, none of us in this mad global cancerous ‘civilized’ human culture, and our severe illness is having a catastrophic effect on our world and on each other.

In her book, Melissa writes: “To live well is to speak one’s truth — even if that truth is just a question.”

So I guess my question is: What’s wrong with us? How and why did we get this way? Why, when wild creatures live lives filled almost entirely with moments of equanimity and moments of enthusiasm, are human lives so filled with dread, anxiety, violence, misery, destruction, anger, shame, and grief — and yet we don’t sensibly just remove ourselves from Gaia’s gene pool and end the suffering. Instead, we invent after-lives that will ‘redeem’ our lifelong unhappiness and misery, we make it illegal to end our own lives peacefully, and we bring yet more human babies into the world with the insane belief that it will somehow be better for them!

And we convince ourselves that there’s nothing wrong with how we live, and that things will inexorably get better, when all the evidence shows the opposite to be true.

What’s wrong with us? I care, but I can’t care. I know, I sense, I remember the anguish and dread and hopelessness and emptiness and self-loathing and gnawing terror that I suspect all but the most inured, psychopathic humans feel much or most of their lives. I’m sorry. I know I can’t fix it, but it’s much worse than that: There’s nothing to fix. That’s not to deny the feelings, and the damage that they do to us. It’s to say we are all deluded about what’s really going on, starting with the belief that we’re apart and separate and have control over what these seeming bodies we feel ourselves inside do, and don’t do.

When I’ve met with people suffering from dementia, the nurses told me not to argue with them, and not to ‘agree’ with their ravings either, but just be present with them and acknowledge that what they see, hear, and fear, is completely real for them, though it “obviously” is not real. I wonder whether that’s exactly what might be called for in all our dealings with all our fellow humans, all of us coping with the ghastly affliction of having and being an endlessly-suffering, tormented, unsatisfiable self.

There is no cure for this affliction, though *%#$ knows we try enough substances to try to medicate ourselves to endure the pain another day. And we all have it, this affliction, save a handful who have no selves but mostly don’t know what they’re missing, and who function just fine without them.

I remember the childlike wonder, long before wonder became something manufactured by corporations and packaged in theme parks. When there are glimpses here, I remember. Suddenly it’s obvious, that this ubiquitous human madness, this ghastly psychosomatic misunderstanding of what the brain has invented, is covering up the stunning, simple wonder of everything being already everything, weightless, without importance. Nothing needed, nothing that must be done.

But then I am back, forgetting, making conceptual nonsense from perceptual sensations. Judging, assigning meaning, taking things personally. Getting angry, ashamed, terrified. Lost, scared and bewildered again. It helps a bit to know it’s all a hallucination, a misunderstanding. But it doesn’t change anything. Just as our lungs cannot decide to stop breathing, I can never let go.

I ache with Melissa’s and John’s struggles and sorrows, and cheer for their accomplishments, their small victories, their moments of sheer joy. But I recognize their lives are, like their books, just stories, fictions, like all our lives are. Their stories are smart, compelling, insightful, and articulate. I feel like I know them, like I really would like to know them in the time I have left to know anything.

But they are still just stories. If only we could get past our stories, lose our selves and just be! But of course, that’s just a story too.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Radical Non-Duality | 6 Comments

Switching from Feedburner to Follow.It

Google is abandoning its free RSS-to-email service Feedburner (that I’ve used for a decade) in two weeks.

My brother Alan (thank you!) has arranged to transition my blog’s subscription service to Follow.It and that transition starts today.

If you’re an email subscriber to my blog posts, you may receive two copies of my blog articles for a couple of days. Sorry for the hassle, but please don’t unsubscribe — I will turn off the old Feedburner service very soon. If you don’t want to continue to receive emails with my new articles, it’s easy enough to unsubscribe from Follow.It . Hopefully the change will be, as they say, relatively seamless.

Here’s a link to in case you’d like to personalize the way you receive How to Save the World articles by email through their service.

I also apologize for the ads at the bottom of emails, which I hope to eliminate by upgrading to their premium service.

Fingers crossed and thanks for subscribing!


Posted in Using Weblogs and Technology | 3 Comments

Bowen Birds

A few recent photos I’ve taken on Bowen: Great blue herons, crows, mergansers and geese. The 6th photo was a battle royal between a crow and a really pissed off crab; the crow won. The final photo is of course not a bird, just a little guy resting yesterday in our back yard.

If you want to see more Bowen Birds, here’s my whole collection.

Posted in Creative Works | Leave a comment


This is a brief introduction to the subject of biomimicry, a concept developed by Janine Benyus twenty years ago. I’m using it to prompt an upcoming discussion by a Teal business group on how self-managed businesses might draw on natural processes to improve their own, and what an OD program about biomimicry might look like.

For almost 4 billion years, 100 million species, our biological mentors on the land, in the sea and air, and even underground — have evolved chemical, technological and engineering adaptations to deal with problems critical to their survival, using abundant, natural, local materials. Biomimicry (aka biomimetics) is the study and application of these adaptations to human problems.

Here are eleven examples of biomimicry from Janine Benyus’s introductory video:

Spiders need a means to build strong, mobile, weather-resistant homes to catch prey At room temperature and low pressure, spiders have evolved a self-manufactured fibre that is 5x stronger than steel A wide range of engineering and textile applications
Abalone need to build shells that are tough enough to withstand abrasive sand Abalone “paint” their shells with proteins that form ionized crystals in an iridescent mother of pearl finish that is twice as tough as ceramics No-kiln ceramics;

Sea-water-and-protein based “manufacturing”

Plants need to create strong fibres to withstand the elements, and pests Nature converts CO2 to cellulose and other strong and flexible “building materials” that are then used to build wood, shells, coral and other structures Captured CO2 and methane is being used to make biodegradable plastics and packaging materials and even strong, lightweight furniture. And sequestered CO2 and seawater are being used to make low-emission concrete
Insects need to convey information and instructions collectively to achieve shared purposes Insects use sophisticated “hive” communications physics and chemistry to convey precise information and instructions Algorithms based on insect communications are being used in “smart” buildings to enable multiple sensors to minimize energy use
Fish need to conserve energy when swimming long distances in “schools” Fish have evolved “eddying” motions of their tail fins that draw in the fish swimming behind them (birds in flocks use similar “energy-saving” techniques These motions are now being used in wind farms so that each vertical rotor amplifies the movement of nearby rotors, increasing efficiency by a factor of 10 with less land use
Desert creatures need to find ways to collect scarce water Pointy structures on some desert creatures’ wings act to condense water out of fog Fog catching nets in agriculture; surfaces on the inside of water bottles that condense humidity and self-fill the bottle
Ocean fish cells need fresh water to survive Fish membranes (like those in our kidneys and red blood cells) are natural desalinators, using a combination of a unique surface shape and ionization that attracts and produces pure H2O “Forward osmosis” desalination plants mimic this natural process to desalinate 10x more effectively than traditional plants
Some plants need to survive in extreme heat and drought conditions Synergistic fungus in the roots of these plants trap moisture and keep out heat Fungus-inoculated rice seeds produce 5x the amount of rice with ½ the water
Some flying creatures need colour to attract mates but can’t “afford” the weight of pigments Hummingbirds, butterflies and peacocks are ‘naturally’ all brown; it is light refraction depending on the angles of the wing molecules that produce the profusion of apparent colour, not pigment “Structural colour” (surface refraction colour) is 4x brighter than pigment colour and never fades; used in aerospace ‘paints’ and un-counterfeit-able currencies, may soon be used on cars
Leaves need to stay ‘clean’ to be able to photosynthesize Lotus leaves have tiny waxy ‘bumps’ that cause rainwater droplets to ‘ball up’ and slide down off the leaves, taking dirt particles with them “Lotus effect” fabrics, roofing tiles and exterior paints that never need cleaning
Some slow-moving sea creatures need protection against hostile bacteria Some sharks have evolved a surface skin shaped with tiny sharp ridges that bacteria cannot adhere to, and body chemistry that repels bacteria Some door knobs and hospital surfaces now use a thin-film anti-microbial coating similar to sharkskin; some hospital fabrics use threads with ‘natural’ metals that repel bacteria

There are lots of other examples. Airplane shape, wings and tails. Structure of skulls of birds used to design strong, lightweight materials. Velcro, based on burrs, and other non-chemical adhesives based on geckos’ feet (pictured above). Bullet trains and boxy cars modelled on bird and fish body aerodynamics. Beehives inspiring hexagonal structures. Mosquitos inspiring new hypodermic designs. Sonar. Mycorrhizal (plant/fungus) associations for information gathering and communication. Bird and bee navigation. Did you know swimsuits with textiles that mimic the low-friction surfaces of sharkskin are actually banned from professional swimming competitions?

The biomimicry website provides the first chapter of Janine’s book and a lot more videos on the subject.

The above are mostly product examples. Biomimicry can also be used to draw on natural solutions to improve services and organizational processes. For example, some creatures, particularly females, instinctively make sounds of a type and pitch that has a calming effect on babies and even peers in stressful situations. Much study is being made of bird and bee navigation systems, and pheromones that have profound effects on behaviour of many creatures of the same species, and even on their predators and prey.

In biomimicry, the question to ask is always: How does nature deal with this problem?

One of the problems we face when trying to apply biomimicry beyond the mysterious physical/structural, chemical and technological ways nature solves problems, is anthropomorphizing. Particularly when we look at animal behaviour, we expect and look for animals to behave the way we do, and ascribe human-like causes to their behaviour.

So, for example, we are prone to saying that wild animals live in strict hierarchies, with the “alphas” dominating the rest, when closer study shows this is rare: the leaders of most animal groups are selected by the groups themselves, and leadership changes often and generally entails more work and hardship than benefits. We ascribe individualistic, “selfish” behaviours and conflicts to wild creatures when most of their behaviours are collective and done for the benefit of the whole group. We imagine wild creatures living perilous, anxious “dog eat dog” lives “red in teeth and claw”, when the natural state of most wild creatures varies between equanimity and enthusiasm, with the fight/flight/ freeze moments being extremely rare. We love to say that many animals “mate for life” when very few actually do.

But if we can get past the anthropomorphizing, there’s lots to learn about how animals live and ‘work’ together, collaboratively and cooperatively. The first thing to witness is their capacity for paying attention. They learn by watching others — what foods their parents eat and which they avoid, how to do just about anything more effectively, and even how to overcome those annoying squirrel baffles. They use workarounds and adaptations to adjust their behaviours to better suit their current environment and situation, instead of brute force trying to change the environment and situation to suit them.

Workarounds are, in fact, the way most human activity in larger workplaces actually gets done. So a computer system that, in the interest of top down command and control, blocks the front-line service person from doing what needs to be done to reasonably satisfy the customer (be that a refund, price reduction, replacement or credit), is preventing the precise workarounds that are essential to customer satisfaction. In a healthy workplace, everyone is free and empowered to do whatever it takes to make the customer happy, even if that means tossing out the SOP manual. Block the workarounds and not only is the customer enraged, the employee’s morale is battered as well. Everyone loses, just because the system is inflexible.

We can use a process called “cultural anthropology” to just watch and notice where the “wear patterns”, awkward (and sometimes ingenious) workarounds, and other signs of dysfunction and adaptation are, and then institute processes to unclog the former and enable and encourage the latter.

There’s lots of other lessons to learn from studying wild animal behaviour as well. The only limits on our capacity to improve our organizations’ processes to everyone’s benefit, are our attention, our imagination, and a willingness to let go of (illusory) control and let the principles of self-organization, curiosity, and trust that everyone’s doing their best, determine what gets done and how. But few organizations (especially large ones) are willing to do so. Far too many have bought the propaganda of patriarchy, coercion, control, competition and rigidity. Nature knows better.


Posted in How the World Really Works | Leave a comment


Greater Vancouver average housing prices per Real Estate Board. Note that an “average” $1.8M house requires a $400k down payment and a qualifying annual income of at least $400k, even at today’s low 2.25% mortgage interest rates. Average prices in the City of Vancouver proper are nearly double these prices. These prices are all roughly double what they were 10 years ago.

I don’t often write about personal events on my blog, but our landlady’s recent announcement that she’s planning on occupying the house I’ve lived in for the last 11 years has me thinking personally about the meaning of ‘home’. As I’m about to turn 70, moving is not the adventure it once was.

We live on an island in the Salish Sea that is also a suburb (or exurb) of one of the world’s most expensive cities — Vancouver. Housing is expensive as a direct result of the massive and accelerating chasm of inequality between the 1% and everybody else. What that wealth gulf produces is a 1% (those with a net worth over ~$5M) — a few million people in all of North America and perhaps thirty million worldwide — who are so awash in money they don’t need, that they are investing in anything and everything that looks like it might at least hold its value: Teslas, vacant land, houses in exclusive areas, and stocks on the global Ponzi markets. And many are exploiting our deliberately-suppressed interest rates to “leverage” their investments — buying a big “investment property” with a huge mortgage in areas with no rental housing, at 2.25% interest, breaking it into multiple units, and hiring property managers on commission to generate combined rental income from it of from $8,000 to $25,000 per month, per house.

Think about this — you can borrow money at 2.25%/yr and invest it in a real estate market (or stock market) whose prices doubled in the last decade (ie increased by 7%/yr). When the actual rate of inflation is over 10% (the fake ‘official’ rate is 2%), can you see why we have massive bubbles in the real estate and stock markets? This is just asking for trouble. If interest rates spike, look out.

The 1% are doing this because, in some areas like Vancouver where the housing bubble is most frenzied, the only people who can still afford to rent a “whole house” are corporations (for whom it is a tax write-off and a perk for visiting execs), and executives with high-six-figure incomes. Of course, those executives aren’t the least bit interested in renting, as they already own large and usually multiple properties. So the buyers of real estate as an investment (a recent study of West Vancouver showed that close to a third of residents there own more than one home), have two choices: leave them empty and then flip them as prices continue to soar, or break them into multiple units and charge $2-5,000/month rent to each tenant, to recover the mortgage payments and property taxes.

Both are happening. On our island, at least 20% of the homes are vacant all or most of the year; the owners use them as vacation homes in the summer and are rich enough they can let them sit empty the rest of the year and not have to worry about pesky tenants. Some “executive lots” here have sold for $2M+ just for the lot. It’s an open invitation for money-launderers. And as each nation simultaneously creates more and more billionaires and more and more homeless people, those billionaires will just keep pushing up the price of lots, and homes, and rents in “desirable” areas worldwide.

Of course, if (when) interest rates spike to the actual rate of inflation, this whole house of cards comes crashing down. Double the rent on a studio apartment from $2,000 a month to $4,000 a month (there are ways to get around the controls) and you’ll find yourself begging for tenants. Keep the rent at its current (outrageous) level and you’ll be unable to meet your mortgage costs, and as resale prices plummet you’ll be under water. Except of course for the 1%, who will simply push the numbered companies they used to buy the houses, into bankruptcy, get a nice tax write-off, and leave the bank holding the bag — and the house empty.

Our island has been dealing with a massive exodus of residents who don’t own their homes, for most of the 11 years I have lived here. They are evicted (and many are “reno-victed”) as the owners decide to sell at a nice profit and use the profits to buy elsewhere where they can get higher rents, often by adding basement “suites” and separate entrances to what were once “single-family” dwellings. Or the owners just sell off and buy land or houses that they can raze and replace with monster homes, and resell, so they don’t have to deal with tenant ‘rights’ and rent increase ceilings.

There is almost no money being spent in our Ponzi bubble housing market to construct new, “affordable” rental accommodations — it’s an unprofitable business.

Unlike most of my many, many island friends who’ve been evicted over the past few years, our eviction won’t cause us any suffering. We’ll have to move to a smaller, less beautiful place, at least until the market collapses, but that’s all. But there is of course a certain culturally-conditioned shame in suddenly being ‘forced’ to move from the place you’ve called home for so long.

And that’s what’s got me thinking about the whole subject of “home”. Besides being an exhausting, nerve-wracking (in volatile markets), ever-depreciating “investment”, and one that is, for most, the lion’s share of their total net worth, what does it mean, exactly, to call a place “home”?

Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. For many, our home is a symbol of status and of self-worth. We talk about people being “house-proud”. Perfectly functional homes are torn apart and “renovated” simply to display this season’s preferred interior colours and designs, to “keep up with the Joneses”. We feel better about ourselves if our home brings expressions of awe and envy from friends, family and visitors. And vice versa: If our home is shabby, or if we lose it to eviction or foreclosure, we are filled with shame.
  2. Our home’s neighbourhood not only reflects on who we are, it empowers or inhibits us and our families for our entire lives. Proximity to “the right” schools. Our ability to impress the boss, the client, the boy/girlfriend, the bank. Access to people with power and influence. The prevalence of redlining and other racist and discriminatory practices.
  3. Our homes are the anchors of our wage slavery. The increasing cost of homes means the need for commensurate (7%/year) increases in income just to stay in the same place relative to housing costs. That means doing whatever we have to do to get not only raises but promotions. We may say “I no longer want a career“, but if we do we may be essentially saying “I no longer want a home”.
  4. Having a home brings with it the potential psychological impact and trauma of dislocation, whether due to transfer, eviction, foreclosure, or simple incapacity to keep up with the insane upward spiral of home costs. Home for many is the bedrock of security, or continuity, of connection to the earth, the world, and to friends and society. “Starting over” in a new, often less safe and attractive neighbourhood, can be especially traumatizing to children, and to seniors on fixed incomes who fear, often justifiably, that worse may be yet to come.
  5. Home is the reinforcer of caste. While our caste, in the updated sense Isabel Wilkerson uses the term, may be largely determined by our physical appearance, our inherited status and wealth, and our profession/employment, our home plays an enormous role in reinforcing this determination. Live in the right place, your wealth and power will almost inevitably increase, and you will be treated accordingly by almost everyone in society you meet. Live in the wrong place, and you are locked into the lower castes for life (and beyond, through your children and the influences they will have growing up, and the ways they will be treated).
  6. In many indigenous cultures, home is sacred. It is where you belong and what you belong to, not what belongs to you. It gives you a connection to the land and the resources and learning needed to reside and thrive in place. It defines you.

Where will it all end? Like everything in our modern industrial society, the current definition of home, the anonymity of neighbourhoods, the grind of an ever-longer commute from “affordable” residential areas to the places where all the jobs are, the spiralling price of land and housing — none of it is sustainable. It will collapse. But in the meantime it will get worse. There are no “solutions” to a problem that is systemic, global, and worsening at an accelerating rate. No one has the power to fix it.

As we run out of cheap oil, we can expect transportation costs to increase at an even faster rate than housing, and then we’ll encounter a vicious cycle: the soaring cost of transportation will make areas close to good jobs, good schools, in safe, clean, attractive neighbourhoods even more valuable, exacerbating the already massive inequality we are now dealing with. We will reach a breaking point at which most of the bullshit jobs have been automated, and most of the population will have joined what is being called the precariat or unnecessariat — permanently unemployed or severely underemployed. They will be needed only to consume enough mass-produced products and incur enough debt to keep the economy “growing”. So our “first-world” nations will quickly start to look like so-called “third-world” nations — a tiny minority living in staggering opulence with many servants, and the vast majority living in ghettos with just enough money to keep them yoked to the consumer wheel.

Where is the outrage? People can’t be outraged about a situation if they’ve never known anything different, and today’s younger generations have already been primed to expect no steady job or job security, no pension, and certainly no home that they can hope to “own”. This is happening just slowly enough to keep the people in their place, resigned to massive inequality as just “the way things are”.

Much of the world has already lived this way for generations, and soon, like everything else in our globalized economy, this will be our lot as well.

And then, the economy will collapse. We’ll pay for our excesses during this long, oil-financed bubble. And then we’ll discover what “homeless” really means.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | 3 Comments

Ten Ways the MSM Need to Clean Up Their Act

image of NYT 1942 by janeb13  CC0 from Pixabay

Scandals. Getting caught repeating disinformation. Harbouring hate-mongers. Forced retractions. Using unreliable sources. Publishing editorials as if they were news. It’s no wonder the reputation of the so-called mainstream media is in tatters.

Here are ten things the MSM must start doing if they have any hopes of the “information media” surviving another generation:

  1. Refuse to accept or republish government and military propaganda, especially from the so-called “intelligence community” citing “sources believed to be reliable” that “cannot be revealed for national security reasons”. When absolutely necessary to refer to such propaganda circulating on social media, include banner warnings that “this information is unsubstantiated and may be incorrect”. Because that’s the truth.
  2. Apologize when you were conned, expose the con, and reiterate the correct information clearly.
  3. If you use headlines like “What we know about x” (which are best avoided in any case) excise anything that is conjecture, or someone’s opinion, even if the source of the opinion is cited and is an alleged “expert”. An expert’s opinion is an opinion, not a fact that “we know”.
  4. All editorials and op-eds should be clearly marked as such right in the headline, so when the headline is republished in an RSS feed or repost, no one will mistake it for factual information. When editorials and op-eds are mistakenly published as news, there should be a formal retraction and apology.
  5. Abolish paywalls and other blockages for news. Citizens need and have a right to facts, free of charge and obstruction, to counter the firehose of disinformation propagated “free” on social media. Use paywalls for when you actually add value to the news — eg investigative journalism (remember when we used to have that?)
  6. Actually add some value to the news you report. Tell people what they can do in response to what is happening. Investigate and expose misinformation and disinformation. Do real primary research about outrageous abuses by corporations and governments of citizens and “consumers”. Offer solutions — what has worked in other places, and why it worked, that could help readers organize to address current problems. Actually help them organize.
  7. End the “both-sidesing” bullshit. Publishing a racist rant by a hate-monger beside a report of facts about systemic racism is not “balanced reporting”; it is encouraging and empowering racism.
  8. Do not provide any platform (column or interview) to known hate-mongers, plagiarists, racists, sexists, misogynists, crazies, or xenophobes. Banish repeat offenders like the execrable Bret Stephens for life. There is no place in the media in these tumultuous and precarious times for hate speech and disinformation.
  9. Self-police. Get AP or some other industry body to rate all the mainstream media on the basis of facts and professional analysis versus misinformation and disinformation, and to keep a Snopes-style list of misinformation and disinformation with the names of media publications that have published it.
  10. Don’t pander. If you want to publish some aw-shucks “good news” stories, that’s fine. But no sensationalism, no celebrity news, and no gossip. If your headline ends with a question mark, think again about including the item until you have an answer. And if you think you have to include celebrity news to appeal to your base, ask yourself what business you are in — information or entertainment.

The MSM are in deep trouble. Readership/viewership is off, their credibility has tanked, and they’re hemorrhaging financially. What they lack isn’t more of the drivel and pap of the entertainment media, it’s imagination. Their business model (relying on classifieds and other ads) hasn’t worked for decades. But there is a huge need for reliable information, investigative reporting, in-depth analysis of issues, and possible action plans that citizens and communities can take. And the MSM don’t have to operate like charities, publicly begging for subscriptions and philanthropy.

In many ways, information media and journalism are art forms. And substantially all of the arts and cultural “industries” are financially struggling and looking for new ways to be relevant and get sponsorship from younger generations. The social media and the music/film/TV entertainment cartels have not only starved out their competitors and reduced their suppliers (the artists) to being mere ‘products’ to package and sell, they have likewise starved out the information media with which they once overlapped.

That genie isn’t going back into the bottle. The social media and entertainment oligopolies will eventually implode, as their customers refuse the ‘price’ of their bloated, profit-obsessed, exploitative, unresponsive offerings, and abandon them in favour of smaller, leaner, more customized alternatives.

But the information media need not wait for that to happen. They can reinvent themselves as an essential public utility, whose products — the truth, and understanding — are as important to the health of communities and societies as water. It will take work, collaboration, patience, a radical shift in thinking and operations, and above all imagination. But it could be done.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | 2 Comments

Notes From the Rising Dark, Pt. 2

On Chronic Precarity, Civilization Disease, and the Illusion of the Separate Self

We are a sad species — lost, scared, bewildered, and afflicted with an horrific brain disease that has convinced us ‘we’, our ‘selves’, are real, separate, and in control of these poor, maladapted bodies ‘we’ presume to inhabit. This disease, exacerbated by a plethora of modern stresses of ‘civilized’ living, has so disconnected us that we have destroyed the planet’s living systems and ushered in the sixth great extinction of life on earth.

I can no longer be angry at this. How can one rage at those who have no free will but to do exactly as they have been conditioned to do, to react precisely as they have been conditioned to react?

But I am sad. It is as if I am witnessing an act of incredible savagery by someone possessed by endless, terrifying hallucinations, who has finally cracked and, using weapons of mass destruction, is just mindlessly destroying everything and everyone in sight. A monstrous, unnecessary tragedy.

I am grieving, in mourning, not only for all the creatures killed, poisoned, imprisoned and dislocated by our deranged human behaviour, and for the desolation that behaviour has wrought on our fragile little planet, but also for the endlessly suffering human masses, whose misery, partly ‘self’-inflicted and partly the result of reacting to other diseased humans’ behaviours, knows no limits or bounds.

And we make fun of the dinosaurs!

Let us hope it all ends soon. The human experiment has gone on long enough. The end-game is beyond all doubt.


When I use the term ‘chronic precarity’ I am referring to lives of constant anxiety, fear of loss and of “not having enough”, and dread about the future for oneself and one’s loved ones.

This is not how any creature was meant to live. Sane creatures, instead of inventing impossible dreams of an ideal future in the hands of some god or other, would, and do, simply cease procreating when this rare and unnatural state of desperate shortage and anxiety makes life just more trouble than it’s worth. Most extinctions are not from mass slaughter, but from the simple decision not to procreate in precarious and awful environments. Wild creatures ‘know’ instinctively when it’s time to quietly go away.

When I use the term ‘civilization disease’ I am referring to the horrible trauma that we inflict on each other, in anger, fear and grief over the ghastly, self-perpetuating and unending violence that we wreak on each other and on our world, our whole lives through. We are not well. Our mental illness grows deeper as our planetary limits are encroached and the signs of our global culture’s staggering collapse loom ever larger. We are rats in an appallingly overcrowded cage, instinctively fighting over what we know will soon be the last crumbs. And with this instinctive knowledge comes a sense of overpowering grief. What have we done? This is not what we wanted!

When I use the term ‘the illusion of the separate self’ I am referring to the evolutionary misstep, which apparently happened just a few millennia ago, when the human brain abstracted the idea of things being somehow separate and disconnected from other things, within the confines of space and time, and then abstracted the idea of a ‘self’, a homunculus in control of each living ‘separate’ creature. This seems to be an extension of the fight, flight, freeze instinct that briefly impels wild creatures to acts of self-preservation, but then is quickly shaken off. Except in modern humans it’s a permanent condition, utterly believed to be real beyond doubt, even though there’s compelling evidence that the self, time, space, separation, individual things, and meaning and purpose, are all not only illusory, but completely unnecessary to a full, healthy life.

We live in our own stories, conditioned by the stories of other afflicted humans. Everything we think and believe and imagine we know, and all the chronic anxiety, grief, shame, rage, trauma and terror that possesses us is just this invented, nightmarish story, a fiction tragically consuming our every waking moment for no reason, except we have forgotten that it was only ever an idea, and not real at all. As young children we are indoctrinated by other afflicted humans to believe this absurd illusion is real, and we grow up and join our ‘conscious’ diseased human societies acting out the madness of self-hood, and destroying our world and each other in the process.


So now I go walking, among the broken forests, along the littered beaches, no longer looking for answers, or causes, or meaning. I am beyond hope. There is nothing to be done. I am content, now, to just pay attention to what is left, in all its staggering and terrible beauty.

photo above taken last week on Vancouver Island

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 7 Comments