Tuesday, January 29, 2019

What is Human?

    A recent hike poses here as metaphor as we humans trek further into the unknown. 
     Reputable science tells us children born today could easily live into their 100's.
     Please allow a brief scenario. Were I to experience cognitive issues and if a chip or device was available to correct the malfunction, I'd be in for it. Artificial or transplanted organs are real and medical science is thresholding new realities. Immunotherapy is getting more precise, our manipulation of DNA offers both hopeful and fearful potential. Our influence on life, longevity and denial of death is surging exponentially. 
     Imagine it is 2040 and for any number of reasons air quality has degraded so as to threaten lung function, so medical science responds with perhaps adapter kits or even newly engineered lungs to accommodate rotten air. 
      Despite that this current era of the human epic has a sizable percentage of foodies and others who love to eat, what if bio engineering finds a way to produce our "food" without all of the resource drain. We might waste less water and energy by producing a new kind of nutrition product. We learn that our digestive system is less important than it used to be. Our hip and knee replacement become even more amazing with outcomes that turn us into unbreakable people. Hearts, livers, kidneys, vascular systems all morph and change as we humans trend toward what science fiction identified as cyborgs.
      On an assignment years ago I sat on cybex machine next to NBA star Len Elmore. He joked that someday athletes would be mechanically enhanced and not have to nurse knee injuries. 
      Efficiency, durability, algorithmic actuarial analysis, expanded life ranges, medical discovery, scientific adaptability, and a quest for immortality collude and we find ourselves "evolving" in ways the human animal never danced to the Darwinian waltz.
       are there dangers on this path

     I think we are on that inevitable journey, because if we can, we will. If science and medicine can fix us and slake our fears, we will take that path. 
    We are slowly ebbing into a new kind of human, already. High Tech billionaires just up the California highway from my quiet village are investing millions in medical research labs to find ways of beating death. Steve Job's illness and death sent a message to the creators of the communications technologies that have changed human behavior, that despite all the wonders of their creations, and all the money they amass, humans still die. Even the rich and famous. 
    I don't run wildly into the future screaming for death's embrace and I don't know anyone who does. If you were a billionaire with every human comfort you can imagine it is understandable why you would want to hang on to it for as long as possible, maybe even forever. And with a billion or a few, you can spend on targeted research to help you find the new fountain of youth. All of us reap the sewing of those seeds of desire for a more perfect human and longer existence.
choosing the path
    So perhaps more scientifically wise than we have ever been and now augmented by artificial intelligence, machine learning, and the golden age of medical research we humans  are capable of making decisions that we once described as "playing God."  Though I think that was ever so, we have  tools now that are more powerful and change inducing than ever. 
    We are at an interesting juncture in the path of human evolution. And when some of our brightest and most influential set goals of expanding life to new horizons and seriously aspire to immortality, and when we point our technology and inventions to those outcomes, there is something else to put on the agenda.
    It's my two cents worth that now is a time to consider what does it mean to be a human? What makes us human? What are the intrinsic characteristics of a human being? 
     I know of no place where that is registered, certified nor even understood. There has been no reason to do so. 
     Now, as we can see a future where technology and science can extend and change our lives in historic metrics, should we not consider what that means? How synthetic, or artificial or chipped do we become before we cease to be the creature we have been when flesh and blood were the arbiters of life and humanity. How "human made" do we become before we cease to be human?
    If death were to be eliminated or at least deferred for ranges previously unimaginable, and if we did not need our biological bodies, or significant portions of them, how do we change? And how do we know we are changed or changing?
      Interesting questions I think. Implications I believe. Millions of we bipeds also owe a measure of our humanity to an understanding that human life also frames a spiritual dimension. How would that be affected?

      See you down the trail

Monday, January 21, 2019

Reaction Time and The Dream

      It's subjective and no one knows, but I think if Martin Luther King Jr were alive, his primary focus would be economic disparity. He raised the issue of poverty and since his death the gap has widened. The rich have gotten richer and the middle class is crumbling. Like prophets he spoke truth to power. As Aristotle noted, inequality leads to instability. Instability looms and the rich are deaf.

      For the record, I was never appointed a special consultant to the UN. I found this telegram as I sorted through old files. I had forgotten about it. I remember it showing up at my residence when I was at college. I chuckled about it but never learned its source. For almost 50 years I thought it was the prank of my fraternity brother known as "Cool Breeze." John Schleeter was a true political junkie and a jokester. As recently as this fall John denies he sent it, or produced it . The Mystery remains.

in a time of social media that means....
       The recent skirmishes over a Buzz Feed report that Robert Mueller broke his stone silence to refute and the flap over a viral video from the weekend are testament to how we should miss "the good old days," those would be the good old days when the news media was in the hands of men and women who were experienced and were professional.
       Back in the day before social media and smart phones, adults attended to the aggregation, editing and distribution of "news."  Yes mistakes were made, but they were rare and they were always corrected. Now with millions of phones and media feeds and instant comment and reaction there is a lot of garbage in the flow. And we don't seem to be very smart about what to believe and why. 
      What about the source? What about the intent? Is it real? How many sources do you have? In the pre digital world those kind of issues were important. Now, I can post a video or tweet something and it's out there and being reacted to without any qualifications, validations or certifications. It's not just individuals, it is also organizations who act so carelessly.
       When I saw the video of the so called confrontation in Washington I thought it was dubious, but I was amazed at the conflagration that surrounded it. Over reaction prompted more overreaction and the decibel level of America escalated again.
       It's bad enough we have partisan so called "news" networks operating, now we have a multitude of other voices adding to the hysteria. My advice-trust no one. Make them prove they are right before you buy in. Don't react to the first thing you see or hear, think about it. Look for other sources, weight what others think or say or interpret. As unlikely as it is, I paraphrase former President Reagan-watch it, read it but "Verify."  
      And as for news sources--if the bulk of their content, broadcast, print or on line, is commentary and analysis and personality-be very, very skeptical.  For example, compare Fox News and MSNBC to the BBC. 
a playwright in the field
    Actor, producer, director and playwright Tom Alvarez is a long time friend. He and his creative partner have written and staged Calder, The Musical. It seemed only appropriate that he pay respect to the nearest Calder, here on the central coast.
     Halter Ranch Winery in the Paso Robles appellation provided Tom a close up visit.
       Tom also got a close up look at the sun dropping at a western chunk of the US, in this case a little spot in Cambria known fondly as Griffin Park, because it is 110 steps from the Griffin's front door. 

       See you down the trail

Thursday, January 17, 2019

A Good Night in America


      The hometown kids prevail and Jon Batiste wails. Good nights in the US.

    High tides, driving rain, breaks of sun play. Victories too.

 game night
  Game night, school night is a good night in America.
   It is the rhythm and soul of our collective dream, the sweat and the lessons of life. It is sweetness, pure and simple from large urban field houses to small village gyms.
    That is especially so in a school like Coast Union in Cambria with an enrollment under 250 kids.
    I am almost religious about basketball. It's in my DNA and has been a constant dream since I learned to dribble in grade school. I love the game and I love to see kids also love the game. That is especially so here, for sure.

   I'm watching a classic basketball scenario run before my eyes here on the California Central coach.  It seems only a couple of years ago Coach Gehrig Kniffen was the floor captain of his scrappy Broncos team. He played with heart and a court sense. Now he's teaching the love of the game to his team.
   They're not big. One of the kid's mom tells me only 3 or 4 of the boys were basketball players. The rest of the kids grew up on soccer.
   Coach Kniffen has done well. The team plays smart, they spread the floor, they move the ball, work for a shot and show a tenacity and drive. 
    In this gym on this night the game was see saw, tight with heart and soul pushing up and down the court. Parents and friends were enthralled and entertained. On this night the hometown Broncos gained a well deserved victory. And on this night in America winners and losers met as good sports.
Orcutt would have a ride home, considering those few plays, those missed opportunities that could have made the difference. The Coast Union Broncos would give the new coach another first season win. It is the way of the game, an American way.

    It is a game that is immensely personal to a boomer from Indiana. My life is measured in chapters of basketball.
    I got the love of the game from my dad who was a skilled and accomplished player who, were it not for WWII, probably  would have continued on in semi pro and eventually professional hoops.
    I'd practice ball handing and dribbling in the basement of our little Muncie house and clip newspaper articles of my beloved 1950's era Muncie Central Bearcats.
    In Indiana a kid plays basketball wherever and much as he can. I remember Jon Hilkene's old barn with a hard packed uneven dirt floor on half the court and uneven old planks around the hoop and free throw line. We used to shovel snow or chip ice from Tom Johnson's extra wide driveway that was bathed in a street light and well pointed night spots on the house. In the winter we had to wear gloves, which affected our shooting and in the summer, sweat soaked we'd swat at mosquitoes and gnats. Summer basketball camps where the smell of the gym was especially sweet from the wax. Playing between the Hackbee's and Lowen's on an uneven, sloping alley with hoops hanging on the backs of garages, stopping when trash trucks or cars drove by. 
    An Indiana kid dreams of wearing the school colors, but life and moves and broken bones and size can conspire against that "glory." But in Indiana a kid can play in community centers in the inner city with dazzling players and shake and bake moves, or in a legendary old hotel in industrial or AAU leagues with true one time stars, or in church leagues campaigning around the city in great old gyms, at the Y, in pick up games on hallowed field house floors.  
     Even in middle age and beyond an Indiana kid can play in the elbows for lunch bunch at the Y, or in "celebrity games" barnstorming around the state in hallowed old field houses and gyms, playing local all stars or faculty teams to raise money for schools, bands, charities and the like. 
     Game night in America is a good night. It is stepping into a slip stream of good nights that reach back to the beginning and flow forward with that sweet, sweet sound and smell and swish of a net.
   New Orleans virtuoso Jon Batiste, leader of the Stay Human band that is Steven Colbert's house band on CBS is a hoopster. He is also a dynamic and charismatic performer.
   After his recent piano concert in San Luis Obispo he lead
a "love march" out of the auditorium. Was he great? Look at the smile on that little guys face. If you ever get a chance to see him, don't miss it.  It is pure joy, love and energy.
    He said his concert is like sitting in his living room while he just plays around. That's a great thought.  So is spending some time in a gym with him, playing the great American game.

     See you down the trail.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Reaching Higher

  renaissance light
      The human spirit has pulled us back from the brink, out of  despair, dark ages and our self inflicted wounds since the dawn of our existence. 
       A few encouraging notes here, posted between scenes from a California oasis, Palm Springs. 

     A capacity to survive may be hard wired into that vagal nerve highway between the brain and the heart. The Sierra Club reports a few signals of hope in the face of challenge.
     World population, now at 7.7 billion is expected to hit 10 billion in 30 years. More mouths to feed on a planet undergoing significant climate change-growing deserts, massive floods, extended droughts is problematic, yes?

       Ingenuity and resourcefulness have begun the response. 
Urban and hydroponic farmers around the globe have taken cues from Holland where a small nation has become a major vegetable exporter. 
      As Sierra reports, indoor farmers precisely control water and fertilizer inputs and use LED's to emit photosynthesis-optimized light. Vanguard farmers have converted underground spaces, shipping containers, old industrial locations into soil free growing operations.
     Where it is dry engineers are improving passive fog and water vapor capturing technologies. In areas of Peru and Chile farmers no longer rely entirely on rain.
      Tech farming, advanced at schools like Purdue is expected to be a $10 billion industry in 5 years. GPS guided self driving tractors were the start. 
     The next phase includes in-the-field water sensor irrigation, drones, multi spectral analysis measuring sun and water absorption and satellite information. 
       No-till farming techniques improve moisture and nutrient levels in the soil and protects from erosion. 
renaissance thought
    As human stupidity or natural forces cloud our future, the better side of the human animal responds. Marshall Medoff is a case in point. 60 minutes recently revealed his amazing new technology that turns plant life into fuel and even new food products. 
   It is such a stunning development luminaries from science, government and investment sit on the board; 
--Robert Armstrong former Department Chair at MIT,
--Gregory Beecher, CFO of Teradyne, former partner at PriceWhaterhouseCoopers, 
--Steven Chu former Secretary of Energy and Nobel Prize winner, 
--Sir John Jennings former managing director of Royal Dutch/Shell, 
--Mario Molina three-time member of US President's Council on Science and Technology and Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, 
--William J. Perry former US Secretary of Defense, 
--Richard Schrock Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, 
--George Shultz former US Secretary of State, Treasury, Labor and Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

our better angels
    Even in the most dire of circumstances our better angels preside. Doctors without borders, NGO and aid volunteers,  relief workers, counselors, chaplains, educators, emergency responders, and many more are found in war zones, disaster areas, refugee migrations, camps, settlements, and where there is human need.
       There are millions of other human beings noble, caring, sensitive and more worthy of influence than a venal, greedy man and his associates in the inflicting of a crime on federal workers, as well as pain and suffering to people and to this planet and the sensitive balance of life. 

a hand out to our federal employees
     Here's a radical suggestion, wrapped in compassion.
George Soros, Sheldon Adelson, Tom Steyer, and the Koch brothers spend hundreds of millions, if not a billion dollars in aggregate to fund campaigns, public relations efforts and causes in their interest. Don't you think they could offer an emergency fund to those 800 thousand government workers who are not being paid. A few hundred thousand dollars means nothing to the uber wealthy influence peddlers but could be a God send to workers struggling to pay mortgages, buy medicine, make car payments, buy groceries and etc.
     For heaven's sake, these people are forced to work with out pay by the US government. Can anything be more unAmerican or wrong?

the righting of wrongs

       My warning bell indicates the more trumpy of you may say the Democrats are also responsible. Not so. Even Republicans voted for a spending authorization. This rogue president had two years of total control of the government and his own party couldn't carry the day to get a "wall" built. I urge you to watch the evolution of the man's remarks on the wall and to understand it was only a code word by campaign handlers to get him to talk about immigration issues because it played well with his more poisonous base. 
     He's in trouble. He's under attack. All of this was predicted by establishment Republicans. All of this was foretold by men and women who served in Republican administrations from Reagan to (W) Bush when 55 of them warned America he was unfit for office. 
      The judicial system he has attacked is working as it has for two centuries. It is the process of a republic. He is a disease and he has infected America and the cure is under way.   
     It's my hunch the man who I have thought is a greedy, tax cheating, venal, stooge may also be a real traitor who sold out his country for his own personal gain. He is the worst of us.
    There are many, there are millions who we should celebrate. They lead us to reach higher.

    See you down the trail.

Thursday, January 3, 2019


cheers to women in charge 
    A new year, hopeful and inspired as they are, currently offers a great beginning rendition with a MOM scoring one of humanity's greatest accomplishments.
    Alice Bowman is the MOM of New Horizon, the teen ager that has gone farther and taken one of the most important photos in the history of the world with more are on the way.
    Bowman was the Mission Operations Manager of the little space craft launched in January 2006.  It has survived the cosmic freeways and space storms to give us data on Pluto and almost as a whim, it was told to go see a frozen rock in the Kuiper Belt. It did and that is mind boggling.
    If you want to feel good about what humans can do, dig into the story a bit. That we flew billions of miles for a brief flirtation with an icy rock that we didn't know existed in 2006 ought to give us hope that science might just help us survive ourselves and our trashing of this planet and our bashing of each other. Thanks MOM.

the kid
     A little hope may glimmer into your heart when you read about a 16 year Swedish girl. Greta Thunberg boxed the ears of the world in December..." So we have not come here today to beg the world leaders to care for our future. They have ignored us in the past and they will ignores us again. We have come here to let them know that is coming whether they like it or not."
    She was speaking at the UN and her message was to the world. If you missed it, her 4 minute remarks are below. By the way, the remarkable young woman identifies as an climate activist with Aspergers. 
 the nancy  
   And one of the most powerful bipeds on this blue marble
is a US mom and now chief herder of the cool, alley, and weird cats in the democrat zone in the US House. Nancy is back on top. Pelosi has not survived all the power plays and battles without a few smarts. That immediately gives her clout over the president. Thinking is not something he does, nor expects from women. 

ya just can't stick Facebook 

     They tell us the US mail service is doomed, but can a computer platform offer cool neon or those beautiful old post boxes? Cheers for the old guard.
   But we boomers do like our phones. They are smart, so as our gray cells age, we have a chance to stay smart. Hello Siri, turn on my brain.

cheers for the wild life

    Just a couple of miles from the post office, zebra roam under San Simeon skies. 
     Now, let me introduce you to a few neighbors-

     By this juncture in his idyllic existence, Hemingway is 
relatively unimpressed by the deer and turkey. Bobcats, mountain lions and skunks on the other hand make an impression.

    Seeing the old bird reminded me of me. As I guided this old guy into another year, one that seemed to arrive entirely too quickly and in such a pitiful state, I pondered and even worried a bit and then took solace in the knowledge intelligent people still exist. Not only that but so do people who care about this planet. Each generation offers up brilliant minds who do their own to advance our sum knowledge.       
    Problems that are still years away, will be puzzled over and solved by people who do not now exist. And I took away from that, problems that now seem intractable are the grist for new scientists, doctors, researchers and problem solvers. 
     Maybe you too can take succor in this from Isaac Asimov.
   There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge." -Isaac Asimov, scientist, author

     In the new year, seek new information. Spend some of that silo time in new pastures. Despite the jack ass in the White House and the carny side show, there are signs of intelligent life on this planet.

...and cheers to the baker

   Lana's artistry extends beyond the canvas. 
   We may not live by bread alone, but it sure goes well with everything else.

    Cheers to you!

     See you down the trail.