Birds, toddlers and the phoney laws of profit

Fine-mesh netting to stop birds nesting in trees and hedgerows has recently become a thing in the UK. Apparently it’s been going on for a few years in the leafy margins where town merges into countryside. But it seems to have particularly taken off this spring, and photos have been pinging around social media.

Why would anyone stop birds nesting? Well, if you’re a property developer with a planning application pending, you need to make sure any trees and hedgerows you might later want to uproot aren’t home to feathery families. If they are, it’ll be illegal to displace them and that’s going to cost you time and money. So there you go. A sound business rationale for something quite appalling.

This wouldn’t be the foulest trick in the annals of human mistreatment of other creatures, but it seems to have struck a chord with many people. One of those ‘what have we come to?’ moments signalling unease in the collective psyche. Something which draws back the veil on the price that nature pays for society’s glorification of profit.  Something which reveals how we distance ourselves not only from the rest of nature but also from our own true nature.

Tangentially related in my mind was a news story from London a few weeks ago. A housing estate south of the river featured a notionally communal play area divided by a hedge and wall. On one side, a spacious garden and grounds accessible only to tenants of the estate’s privately owned flats. On the other a narrow strip of playground serving the handful of social housing flats. The development project had been required to include a proportion of social housing units, and communal play provision for small children had been part of the original specification. But now the ‘private’ and ‘social’ children, who wanted to play together, were segregated. So there was a bit of an outcry.

The estate management company embarrassed itself for a few days in the media, defending the indefensible with proprietor’s logic packaged in pathetic PR guff. After all, they asserted, only the private tenants paid the service fees which maintained their children’s VIP play facilities. Yeah but no but. Instinctively we all know that toddlers are exempt from social hierarchy. And in this case, the walls came down. But as it is for toddlers so it should be for the rest of us. Human hierarchies are a social construct, abominable and completely artificial, but like detachment from nature they serve the profit principle well,  so we’re stuck with them. Until people suddenly see right through them.

These two stories are linked for me in that they help delineate what it is we’re up against and show me where to direct my energies. I can’t ‘fight’ climate chaos but I will go out of my way to defy the maladaptive hallucinations (to borrow Richard Reese‘s phrase) that have created and are still driving it. And I can do so in the faith that deep down all of us are on the same side. We’re not supreme over nature, we’re not supreme over each other, and we won’t be blinded by the phoney laws of profit. So there.

Another found along the way

Found this treatise nailed to the door yesterday without an identified author or return address. Someone has been thinking hard and working hard on where to go from here. I leave it without comment.

Towards A Positive Democratic Platform
Democrats need to present a positive program and to explain why it is better than the Rightwing agenda. We have to move from the reactive to the creative. Continue reading “Another found along the way”

Not Being Heard

The drama that unfolded during the last few weeks over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court took many of us on a journey that no one could have predicted, and that became a drama about something much bigger than the Supreme Court. Bigger than party politics, or even right versus left. It became about being heard.

It became, for some of us, about memory, history, and the way we understood our own lives. Continue reading “Not Being Heard”

Our opposable thumb

Stereoscopic vision, depth perception, certain emotions and other perceptions, and the ability to stretch our thumbs farther than most other species, the ability to build and destroy things, and many other traits individually or in combination separate us from other species, not necessarily all species though.  Other animals with opposable thumbs include gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, and other variants of apes; certain frogs, koalas, pandas, possums and opossums, and many birds have an opposable digit of some sort.  Many dinosaurs had opposable digits as well.  Granted, most of these are primates, as are we.  I wonder if rationalization is something unique to humans.  The ability to ponder may be as well.” Continue reading “Our opposable thumb”

The flood washes over us

A year ago I wrote an article discussing Hurricane Harvey.  Here we are again watching another 1 in a 1,000 year hurricane disaster unfold.  I won’t try to summarize all the other weather disasters that have been unfolding around the world this year.  This year is going to be the fourth warmest year on record behind 2016, 2015, and 2017 respectively.    Our global climate is obviously in chaos and weather disasters becoming more frequent and severe. Continue reading “The flood washes over us”

The Game-Changer

There is a long struggle ahead of us and the outlines of that struggle just got a little more clear this week, when Elizabeth Warren, the Senator from Massachusetts, introduced the Accountable Capitalism Act, which is about nothing much less than  changing the game.   Her legislation calls for corporations that make over $1 billion a year to be formally responsible not just to their shareholders but also to their workers, customers, and communities – which last concept hopefully extends to the environment.  This is important because at present the board of directors and the management of corporations are legally bound to maximize economic return.  That is the only criteria – other than not breaking the law – with which they are allowed to make decisions.  This dictate is the backbone of capitalism as we know it, which is to say a most predatory, ruthless, and myopic kind of capitalism which sooner or later is going to get us all killed.

Of course the spokespersons for the titans of industry and finance say not only is Elizabeth Warren “batty” but also that  she is a Communist who must be shut up or all the businesses in America will move to Switzerland ( I kid you not.)   Because heaven knows American Capitalism  Will Not Survive being responsible for anything but making as much money as possible!  Such a fragile flower cannot be asked to clean up its own room or do the dishes.

As the incomparable Charles Pierce puts it:

This is one of the first complete frontal assaults on the economic theories that have ruled American politics in one form or another for the past four decades. It is one of the first substantial efforts to treat the ascendancy of conservative economic ideas as a thoroughgoing blight that must be reversed, and it does so by turning the achievements of which conservative economic ideologues are proudest back on them. Corporate personhood? OK, then we’re going to have corporate jail, too. A rising tide lifts all boats? We’re going to be sure everyone has a seat.

Elizabeth Warren’s Accountable Capitalism Act is significant – perhaps even world-historically significant – but her legislation is just one point in a change in the air, in the mood, in a growing awareness.   She has brought up into the bright light of the national political debate  a simmering knowledge that what we do in pursuit of business success  has complex consequences and those consequences are not adequately weighed and measured in the quarterly accounting of profit and loss, of Return On Investment, and Asset Liquidity.  The long struggle will be to make this point over and over again – that we  all must be responsible to a greater conception of the good and profitable – until it becomes common knowledge and the way we do things.

I tell you what…I’m signing on to her team.

Economics, Traveling & Brian Davey’s Credo

“Sharing the same motivations and rules of the self interest game created a common orientation and thus a common operating system for economic actors to participate in.”  Brian Davey, Credo, 9. 

For a few days I’ve been sleeping in airplanes and hotel rooms.  There is nothing in a hotel room that tells you about life.  There is a bed, a TV, and some electrical outlets.  The closest thing to life is the water piped in, and the view if there is one.  Everything non-human has been disappeared except as it appears on the breakfast, lunch or dinner plate.  “There is no there there,” as Gertrude Stein once said so famously of Oakland, (By which she meant the place that she had known had been disappeared).  What does it mean to live in a place which is no place, an abstraction made concrete (and of concrete),  a place where appetite is untethered from its context and therefore unlimited in scope and blind ferocity?

These are the places we made in the name of a certain kind of pantheon of economic Gods – in the name of Efficiency and Innovation and Growth and Jobs.  These are the names of the orthodoxy now.   It is difficult to argue with the gods.  It always has been.  These are the places that we make under the influence of our gods – hotel rooms, office buildings, airports.  They represent the ideals of our civilization.  They are clean to the point of sterility, air-conditioned,  anonymous, secure, profitable.  These, it seems, is the realm we make when the rules of the game are determined by the lowest common denominator of humanity: unmitigated self-interest. We make places that are stripped of all life and love of life.  We make places that are cold, efficient, and impersonal.  We make places that reproduce our lowest common denominator – our blind self-interest, our infinite appetite.

As I am traveling in this world of placeless hotel rooms, the  DJ Avicii, a mere boy in his 20’s but a superstar of the Electronic Dance Music scene, is dying of a drug overdose in another hotel room in Muscat, Oman.  It is a lethal world, this world, even for those who are its “winners,” and infinitely more so for the “losers.”

Why am I traveling in the karmic realm (avicii) of hotel rooms and airports?  To protect its opposite paradoxically enough.  Brian Davey’s speaks of such places:

“People living in human communities situated in specific biological communities (eco-systems) may come, over time, to recognise that the eco-system in which they live has a “balance level” of health. This is is not the same as what economists understand by equilibrium but a dynamic negotiation between the different elements beyond which “tipping points” occur and the system slips into a different state altogether. The sense of responsibility for the maintenance of a place and the way of life embodies and embeds a recognition of the need to stay back from these ecological tipping points. This is based on a keen appreciation of the needs of the whole human community, as well as the need to maintain balance in the community of species of which it is a part (the eco-system).”  Davey, 32.

What if we thought about economics in terms of looking at the whole picture of life on Earth?  What if we let economics be about our better selves – the selves that love and nurture our children without pay, that serve as volunteers in our communities, that feel  and act on our connection to the environment?  What if we advocated for a kind of economics that saw the whole picture of what it means to be alive instead of the current definition that has us fighting over scarce resources, selling ourselves to the highest bidder, bull-dozing “empty” land to make into hotel-rooms, and sacrificing our health and happiness in the name of success?

This is all to say that I am reading Brian Davey’s book Credo (available for free online) where he advocates for just such another kind of economics, and that it’s worth checking out, as well as the website for FEASTA  of which Davey is a frequent contributor.

Also here’s a picture of some lovely snowdrops – which I had never seen before – at Jody’s house.  Amazingly beautiful little things!

the sky on a clear night in January

Flash addition 31 January: the blood moon eclipse dimmed the nearly full moon so the stars and planets all came bright….

If you get up early say 0300 and the sky is clear and you look toward the south and east there is a pageant in the sky that you may not be able to forget. Rising in the southeast and curving toward the south as it rises further is Jupiter, the brightest of the night, the king of the gods to some cultures, and, if you have binoculars, some of the attendant moons. Jupiter is so bright that many of the stars nearby can barely be seen. But the four large Galileian moons, named in 1610 and often visible by eye, can be clearly seen because they are large and so much closer. In all Jupiter has 53 named moons and an amazing 69 total.

Just above it is Zubenelgenubi, the Arabic name for the brightest star in what we call the constellation Libra. Below Jupiter is reddish Mars, in the head of Scorpius closely followed by red Antares and the Hawaiian fishhook tail with the two stars of the stinger at the end.

High above all, is bright Spica and a little to the right nearly due south, is Corvus, the Crow, Alala flying to the west. And directly underneath it, Crux, the Southern Cross, nearly vertical, as far above the horizon as it is tall. To the west the Moon, Canopus, Sirius and Procyon are chasing after Orion diving into the horizon.

If you continue watching for an hour or two more, Jupiter, Mars and Scorpius will continue rising, arcing up and toward the south. Below them will appear Saturn, and then toward dawn, Mercury. These four planets arcing across the sky describe precisely the flat disk of our solar system tilting up above the Milky Way, the bright lumpy disk of our home galaxy seen on edge. And soon after as all these dim rises the sun. All this rarely seen and hard to forget when they are flung across the sky so majestically before us.

In the coming months where as we move around the sun, we get to see the Milky Way continue its clockwise twist until the Teapot, Sagitarius, rises in the southeast and we can see the center of the galaxy directly between the the spout and the stinger on the tail of the Scorpion.