Archive for the ‘Spirit’ Category

On Evolution

21 March 2020

Sitting at home a lot during these days of self-quarantine, I resort to the computer for something to do. I use Mozilla Firefox as my browser. And Firefox uses an app called Pocket. This is a feed of “popular” articles that a user can mark for “saving” or later review. Of course, cloud apps don’t actually save anything to the client device (the computer you own and work with) but keep everything on the server (a network of computers that you don’t own, but store all data available on a network – in this case the Internet). Although I believe Pocket provides some sort of local save feature.

At every logon, the featured articles in my Pocket feed change a bit. They include quite a wide range of writing, but mostly those offered by traditional publications that once had hard copy versions, such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, New Yorker magazine, The Atlantic magazine, Harvard Business Review, and so on.

Newer content sources also appear. Quartz is a business-oriented news service. Wired is a technology-oriented magazine that has a hard copy version. Vice is a younger-adult-oriented media provider. Vox is a left-leaning provider of “exploratory journalism.” Mental Floss is another example of many newer media companies that are now online-only. The Conversation is an academically-oriented site. I may also see posts form NPR, Citylab, Aeon (an Australian educational charity) and many others.

Though there is a lot of variety provided by all these organizations and all the people who write for them, there is a tendency – certainly in the topics I follow – to not challenge too heavily the Status Quo.

Though I challenge the Status Quo for ostensibly rational reasons (that it isn’t working that well and has become exclusionary) I admit that I may harbor a more irrational bent for challenging our desire for a stable belief system.

Be that as it may, certainly one concept that has moved solidly into the position of a stable belief system, at least in the realm of academia, is Evolution. Some would argue that Evolution is one approach to the larger problems of “Origin Science.” Yet this concept has not yet received broad academic support, although there is some movement in that direction, such as the Institute for the Science of Origins at Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, OH).

Which came first?

Without getting into all the sociopolitical ooze that accompanied science as it drove itself into the twentieth century, “modern” science seems to formally reject any idea that ideas, or a desire to create, could have actually preceded form, or the results of creation.

This was a significant divergence from the concept of Prime Mover expounded by Aristotle, and the willingness of many earlier scientists to believe in something like God. Further, the new concept contained a sort of logical riddle: How could creation ever happen, if what was created (the physical universe, for example) also created the desire to create (life, for example)? It makes more sense that the desire to create would come first, and then the creation would follow.

Eastern religious ideas began to enter the West with the colonization of India and other such areas starting in the mid-1700s. It is theorized that certain power groups in the West were concerned about the “soft” ideas of the East and sought to counter them. However that may be, we find in Darwin a desire to explain biology in terms of physical causes only, and in his half-cousin Galton, a desire to breed mankind into “better” forms (Eugenics).

What the West had on its side was that the physical was obvious, measurable, and thus knowable, while spiritual things were seen as intuitive, impossible to measure, and thus impossible to gain any certainty about. To this day many scientists, both in the East and the West, believe this basic premise either explicitly or implicitly and are only comfortable with concepts of physical causation. That does not, however, mean that “spiritual causation,” as one might call it, has not been investigated, demonstrated, and in fact found – in many ways – to be as measurable and as knowable as other forms of causation.

Ramifications of the doctrine of the Prime Mover

For Aristotle (according to what I have read about him so far), the main thing that the idea of a Prime Mover allowed into the picture was God. But in more general terms, what the concept allows into the picture is Spirit.

The simplest concept of spirit is indeed the concept of a Prime Mover. More colloquially, we could see this as a being who got something started, then sat back to watch what would happen. This being might then wander off to put its attention on something else, yet the system it had put in motion could continue to operate.

As we can measure the “age” of the entire physical universe by various methods and theories, another ramification of this concept is that Prime Mover, God, or Spirit, has existed for a LONG time, and might, for all we know, still exist. This gives some people what I might call the “Santa Claus problem.”

He sees you when you’re sleeping;

He knows when you’re awake.

He knows when you’ve been bad or good,

So be good for goodness sake!

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

There are plenty of people in the world (and it seems in the West in particular) who don’t want anybody to know when they’ve been bad or good!

And this is one theory why concepts of Spirit, immortality, past life memory and similar things have been discouraged or invalidated in the West.

Secular attempts to re-establish the concept

There have been a significant number of individuals and groups who have sought to preserve spiritual concepts as religious beliefs. Far fewer have made attempts to secularize these concepts.

Hubbard’s own efforts along this line began with a secular intention. It was not until 1954 that the church was established, years after his initial breakthroughs had been communicated and applied.

However, broadly speaking, academic interest in “spiritual” phenomena has existed for a long time, and has resulted in a significant – if not broadly accepted – amount of work in the field. I always like to point out the Division of Perceptual Studies at the University of Virginia School of Medicine as an example of this. They have documented thousands of cases of past life recall.

Another development has been the attempt to make Intelligent Design an academically acceptable research discipline. So far, per Wikipedia, this has failed. The concept attracted, and was started by, so many religious people that secularists think of it as just another attempt to re-inject religious doctrine into the classroom. For these people, it seems, Intelligent Design means Prime Mover means God. This concatenation of essentially unrelated ideas has spoiled the movement.

Evolution as an information problem

I have seen arguments that run something like this:

At every instance of procreation (or cell division in simpler organisms), there is a chance for the genetic information in the cells (or the sex cells in higher organisms) to vary from that contained in the parent cell or cells. This can result in an offspring (or daughter cell) containing different genetic material than the parent. If this offspring lives to reproduce, that genetic variation survives. If it does not live to reproduce, that genetic variation does not survive. This limits the information passed forward in time to: Yes or No, did that variation allow that organism to survive to reproduce? Thus, any other information that the organism might acquire over the course of its lifetime is meaningless from the point of view of genetic information.

This means, for example, that a person who procreates from the age of 20 to 30 can forward no useful genetic information gained after the age of 30. And that if that person had died before the age of 20, he would have forwarded no genetic information at all.

Of course, most scientists in the field believe that experiential information does not encode and so cannot be forwarded. Yet at the same time they believe that genes broadly determine not only physical appearance, but general behaviors and abilities as well. How does all that data ever get into the genes, if the only datum available is survival to procreation?

Cell differentiation is another problem, but this one has been researched into the ground. They’ve got it all figured out how, in advanced organisms, a single cell pair relying on just one copy of its genetic code eventually turns into an organism with eyes, legs, a liver, etc.

How did all this information get into the genome? Researchers don’t seem too worried about that question.

A solution to the information problem

What is the difference between a living cell or organism and a dead one? All most scientists can tell us is that something made the cell or organism unable to function, and that was that.

Well, causes of death are usually so diverse and so obvious that this explanation is difficult to argue against. We have a few “freak” cases (an accelerating phenomenon in modern hospitals) where people die and then mysteriously revive. Their own stories of what happened are discounted. But they almost universally validate the concept of the Prime Mover.

Whether people report that they were “called back” or simply decided that they really didn’t want to die just then, we see the whole concept of Spirit assert itself as a reality of (at least) human existence. And this gives us a solution to the problem of too little information to ever really successfully evolve.

To fill this role, Spirit must have some sort of mental capability, or “somatic memory” of its own, distinct from mere genetic codes. And the research finds that it does. Spirit, in fact, seems to have a lot of really interesting capabilities. It fits the requirements for a Prime Mover. It can bring physicality into existence without itself ever being physical. And so it can add something to a living organism that makes it alive, that gives it a purpose, and motion. In theory Spirit exists above the level of genetics, and probably created genetics. In sober reality Spirit helps us to do things that could never be encoded into our genes, but can easily be remembered or recreated. It can also make profoundly stupid mistakes, act crazy, and pretend to be dead. Without Spirit, real evolution would have never been possible, and the future would be a total dead end. With Spirit, we possibly have another chance.

…like the day before Christmas

20 March 2020

As more pronouncements occured regarding how best to “flatten the curve,” I thought it might be wise for me to go out and do my weekly shopping a day early. The day was forecast to be sunny (it was at least partly sunny all day) and of moderate temperature after a series of long rains.

I brought my bike with me in a quite sparsely-populated train. The first thing I realized was that I had forgotten my camera, and so this post is unillustrated. I was wondering if anyone would try to enforce the six-feet rule on the train. It wasn’t until we reached the first station in Folsom that a security person got on and checked for evidence of paid fares. And though she didn’t mention the six-feet rule (there being only two passengers in the whole car), I noted that she just looked to see that I had a CONNECT card, but didn’t take it from me and hold it under her scanner as she normally would have.

Folsom Winco was, thank goodness, not overly crowded. There were a lot of older people there, many a good deal older than my 65 years. Winco was keeping its bulk bins open (I wondered if they would), but had run out of certain items, such as dry roasted peanuts to make fresh-ground peanut butter. They were also out of organic rolled oats. Sometimes I think they could just switch to totally organic and probably only suffer a minor loss of customers!

The lady running the self-serve checkout machines had to help me with an item that didn’t register the same weight when I weighed it as it did when I bagged it. She commented on the flourishes I used to enter the product codes and swipe the bar codes, saying she found them entertaining!

I packed everything into my panniers, and placed a little zipper bag (found at Goodwill) inscribed with the message “see you at the barre” on the top of the rear rack using a couple of bungee cords. It contained some water, a couple of odd items that didn’t fit easily in the side bags, and a fig bar. And I was off.

In the first field I bike through to get to the river, I found the Miner’s Lettuce now overgrown with grasses, the blue allium blooming all over the place, and a lovely yellow borage (probably what’s known as “fiddleneck”) popping up in places. Then I spied a small raptor in a short tree just ahead. It flew off as I approached and tried to catch something on the ground but was apparently unsuccessful. Eventually it flew back and sat on a post not far away and let me look at it. It had a lovely mottled brown plumage and bright yellow feet.

I then joined the main trail. It was quite busy! At first it seemed like the usual crowd of Saturday fitness bikers, then I started seeing families and older people. I realized that with school cancelled and many jobs suspended, this first sunny day of the week was the perfect time for families to leave their dreary homes and enjoy the out-of-doors. I heard one guy comment as he passed, “The park’s just like the day before Christmas!”

Importances

In these days where touching someone or going out for a frivolous social event – or work – runs the risk of “unflattening the curve,” our leaders have had to wrestle with the question: “What’s too important to close down?”

Here in California the “winners” have been: hospitals and other health care facilities, core infrastructure services that most of us never think about, food distribution businesses, food growing businesses – even breweries, homeless shelters and the like, news media, gas stations and auto repair shops, banks and credit unions, hardware stores, home repair workers, mailing and shipping companies, educational institutions if they can find ways to do their work without having people touch each other, laundry services, restaurants but like schools – take-out only, office supply stores and similar supply businesses, delivery services, transportation that supports essential activities, care-givers, professions needed to support essential activities, childcare as modified by certain guidelines, and employees needed to maintain essential operations in business (like security guards and whatever).

When I was a lot younger I would have looked at this list and felt that it made sense. But back then I would have wondered, well, why do people do all those other things besides these things? Now I have a better idea of why they do. But that doesn’t change the fact that the above-listed activities are some of the most core activities in any human community. If any one of these goes bad – like health care, or food – those affected are in some deep doo-doo. And yet in our society these days, many of these activities are operated as for-profit businesses.

In theory, if some human activity ceased to be profitable, it could not attract investors, would go unfunded and eventually collapse. But that can’t happen to any of these essential activities, can it?

And although there may be some wiggle room in the grey areas of moral choices, the basic answer is, no, that can’t happen to essential activities.

My thought on this is that if you try to force any essential human activity into a situation where it can’t survive unless it can pay investors interest, then you are going to run into some major problems sooner or later.

One scenario is that the investors – normally represented by the Board of Directors – force managers to do whatever is deemed necessary to keep the activity profitable. In other words, managers are pushed towards throwing moral values and humanitarian values – which is why most of these ARE the essential activities – out the window in favor of a value system based on whether the activity can make money or not. We know that this has happened to many human activities. A vivid though imperfect example is the field of mental health.

The other scenario is that the activity somehow manages to make the necessary financial adjustments in a way that preserves both the core values of the activity and its financial attractiveness. We know this doesn’t always happen, and that we have lost or risk losing some of these core activities simply because they can’t figure out how to make themselves viable.

My more recent realizations about all this stem from Hubbard’s assertion that money is basically just a form of energy. That led to the understanding that every activity must inflow more energy than it uses just to operate at all. In a purely physical system this excess energy is often referred to as “waste.” In a business it is often called “profit.” And in a non-profit it may be known as “reserves” or some similar concept.

In a physical system, the ratio of energy output to energy input is called “efficiency.” However, attempts to apply this concept to human systems have not always been that successful. One reason is that the economists don’t always factor in the costs (or energy use) of all those essential services needed because we are human. If this mistake is committed and the result is a recommendation that new hires be paid less (or some similar move), then that mistake may contribute to what we call “poverty” for some workers; they can’t make a “profit” on their own labor!

The complications resulting from the various pressures of life and less-than-rational human responses to those pressures are many and varied. One example which I looked into a while back is public transportation. I don’t know about other places, but in the Sacramento area, customer (rider) revenues only account for about 20% of the operating costs of the system. If the Sac Regional Transit District couldn’t get state and federal money (support from taxpayers who don’t use the system) then it couldn’t provide the services it does now. I don’t know if it could even operate.

Another I have been looking into recently is the mental health system in California. It’s problem is that not enough people want to be mental health workers, and a lot of communities don’t want anything to do with having a mental health facility in their area, or otherwise have a bad image of the subject. In this case, the activity is currently over-funded but is unable to provide the services demanded of it. In short, it’s a criminal system. It wastes almost all the energy poured into it, so everyone’s getting tired of it, even though everyone knows that better mental health would help society in so many ways.

So this is one of the huge shortcomings of “modern” society: It has real problems drawing the line between brag and fact, and forcing essential activities to get good products instead of resorting to criminality. Just today I read an article on the history of coffee production. It gave me chills! The amount of inhuman treatment of workers that had to be undertaken to make coffee profitable was utterly despicable. And that doesn’t even take into account the fact that coffee is basically just a legal street drug and only masks the true problems people are having in being alert and productive with a temporary “high.”

I hope this latest challenge gives some who care about such things reason to pause. Over and above all the gory details about how this outbreak actually came about, we have the irritating fact that the medical knowledge – even the spiritual knowledge – that, if used, would have made this attack much less serious than it has been, has been with us for decades now, neglected and unused. We can’t just blame our ills on “profit motive.” We all need what sometimes gets called a “profit.” There are more basic failings at work here. We have known about them for some time now. But we have only begun to properly handle them. Not in time for this challenge. What about the next one?

I return to The Lands

18 March 2020
dead trees along american river

About two years ago I started a blog called “The Lands” about a fictional global event that changed the planet forever, and how it was handled.

It is set, maybe, 50 years in the future.

It was an exercise for me in how things I had learned could be applied in the real world. But of course, the global emergency I depicted was entirely fictional…

I wanted to turn that blog – or at least that idea – into a work of fiction. But I didn’t particularly want to write a novel. I was getting pictures of how the story might go, so I thought: Why not write a screenplay?

I am still working on a version that could actually last an hour or longer on film. Meanwhile, I wrote some other stories to get some practice on how to use Trelby, an open-source tool for writing screenplays.

But today I found myself home for a day, because I had some sniffles. My church wants to play it very safe. They know what’s being reported about this global event…

So I thought, why not publish here the part of the story that I consider basically finished? Maybe it could provide a few of you with something to do if you, too, are stranded at home. And maybe it could point out that there might still be some hope left in this world. So here it is:

Help and Happiness

1 March 2020

I was recently encouraged by a Scientologist to write something on the subject of help.

My main reluctance in doing concept articles is that I don’t have many, or any, photos to illustrate them with. So, sorry for the lack of pictures in this first draft. Perhaps that will be rectified later.

In this little piece on the subject of help, I thought I’d structure it around The Way To Happiness, one of my favorite informational books written by LRH for the general public. This book is unique in our literature, as it doesn’t mention Dianetics or Scientology anywhere in it, yet we use it a lot and distribute it widely. The contents of the book itself are best communicated by this video: https://www.scientology.tv/documentaries/the-way-to-happiness.html

Help

Help is a word for the basic exchanges that occur among people in any society. Many forms of help are considered valuable enough to pay for, and all economies are based on the idea that the products and services offered for sale by businesses will help the people who buy them.

Other forms of help are embedded into society and its biological nature and are considered basically required forms of charity or selfless assistance. Some forms of these activities, like education, lie on the border between social necessities and social niceties and may cost money to those helped under some circumstances.

In any case, a society can’t run properly if it can’t generate enough economic support to help people, at least in the most basic ways, who can’t afford to pay.

Take Care of Yourself

This is the first precept in The Way to Happiness and is obviously a basic. If you aren’t well-fed, well-rested and basically healthy, you will be in no position to help anyone else, whether that be in the role of parent, teacher, or worker. Therefore, taking care of yourself helps everyone who you normally interact with.

This basic continues to show up throughout the book. Be Temperate is precept 2. Don’t be Promiscuous is precept 3. Set a Good Example is precept 6. Seek to Live with The Truth is precept 7. Do Not Murder is precept 8. Don’t Do Anything Illegal is precept 9. Do Not Steal is precept 13. Be Worthy of Trust is precept 14. Fulfill Your Obligations is precept 15. Be Industrious is precept 16. Be Competent is precept 17. Try Not to Do Things to Others That You Would Not Like Them to Do to You is precept 19. Try to Treat Others as You Would Want Them to Treat You is precept 20. And Flourish and Prosper is Precept 21.

If you can take care of yourself well enough, then you can create a stable platform in your own life that will enable you to help others abide by the above precepts.

Love and Help Children

This is precept 4. It is one of the most important acts of charity that most of us take upon ourselves early on in the course of our own adult lives. It is incredibly important in the activity of putting the future there. Of course it embraces many activities, but the essential concept is that those you help as your own children are not obligated to pay you back.

But the other point about this whole subject of charitable help is that those you help will tend to feel obligated to you for the help you have provided. Thus, a part of helping anyone selflessly is the action of accepting whatever they may have to offer in return as their help to you.

Honor and Help Your Parents

This is precept 5. Although many parents of the previous generation strove to remain totally financially independent into their older years, this is becoming less and less possible now, and in some places has never been possible. Their obvious first resource for help when they get old is and should be their own children. This, essentially, completes the cycle of exchange that starts when we are children. It is a necessity in a biology-based society, whether we rely totally on children to handle their own parents or dream up some sort of collective scheme (like Social Security) for accomplishing this.

Be Industrious, Be Competent

In order to accomplish the help of children and old people that we must do to sustain our society, we must earn more during our working years than we need merely to take care of ourselves. I consider this to be the foremost principle behind the concept of “profit” (economists might disagree).

This can only be accomplished through the exercise of industry and competence. In the confusion of growing up in this modern world, these basics can easily get overlooked. The grim philosophy of “every man for himself” can creep into the picture and cloud the fact that the game we are playing here on Earth consists essentially of helping each other, and that if we stop doing that, we will soon have no Earth.

As I look back on my own life now, I am amazed at how long it took for me to realize that the main reason I was working was to help my company (or similar group) be successful so that it could continue to exist and help others with its products and services. Actions that contribute to this are the ones that most likely lead to pay increases and promotions (in a sane group). And at their core they consist of industriousness and competence.

The formula for competence, by the way, is: Look, Learn and Practice. Thus all these activities are also forms of help, and are some of the most important activities to help others accomplish.

Respect the Religious Beliefs of Others

More generally, this could be seen as just learning to get along with others. The focus here is on religion because we have had so much trouble with it down through the ages. Today we have groups like “Interfaith Councils” whose sole purpose is to smooth things out between the various churches and promote an atmosphere of cooperation, especially in our charity work.

Spirit, and concepts of spirit, are also important parts of life for most people. The idea that such concepts are somehow superfluous is terribly cynical and, by observation, simply untrue.

Look at the value people place on art, beauty, and entertainment for example. These activities could be considered totally non-productive from a purely biological point of view. I often wondered about this when I was younger. Do animals need art? Then why to we need art? The answer is that most of us are aware of our spiritual nature and value it highly. Art and storytelling validates this awareness and therefore becomes a potent form of help.

Support a Government Designed and Run for All the People

This is an important precept (10) that I almost missed because it didn’t at first seem to connect with the concept of help. But there it is in the first word of the precept, “support.” To be part of a scene where Government is slowly going crazy can be a very stressful experience. This has been the case in many countries over history and seems to be creeping up on us now here in America. Luckily we have our founding documents which are very clear on the point of Happiness and what government is supposed to do. Though these documents may seem terribly outdated in many ways, they remain conceptually sound, and are worth supporting (I think) over and above any actions which mere humans may implement in their name.

The current scene here in the U.S. is a very confused scene. We have too many in government acting like criminals, listening to advice from people acting like criminals, or simply acting confused or incompetent. It is our job to put this damaged structure back together into something that will work better and be more effective than it ever has been before. I think that now that we have tools like The Way To Happiness, we could be successful at this.

Flourish and Prosper

The last two precepts in The Way To Happiness go over who the “real heroes” in society are, and why they deserve to prosper, and quite often (but not always) do. To lead a helpful, even charitable, life, does not bar one from happiness and prosperity, but rather opens the door to those valuable rewards. Though some may build temporary empires on forms of “help” that actually only harm (such as illegal drugs, human trafficking) they are often short-lived and frantic versions of real prosperity, and can never lead to real happiness.

Thus, we must measure a “help” activity not by the PR put forward to justify or defend it (or criticize it), but by the actual results it obtains. We are living though a time where these contrasts are very much in our faces. Just last night I was reminded of how “vapes” were marketed as a way to “help” people stop smoking cigarettes. Instead, they have become a more sophisticated, more easily hidden, and more readily accessible way of consuming dangerous drugs, including not only nicotine, but also THC, drugs intended for medical use, and hard drugs. So here we have an example of a technology that sold itself as “helpful” yet has exploded into one of our worst drug use epidemics in history.

True help will assist us to flourish and prosper. Value it!

I left out one of the precepts that is also key:

Do Not Harm a Person of Good Will

Such people unfailingly try to help, and are the backbone of any society.

Reader feedback on this topic will be valued and is highly encouraged!

Changes

16 February 2020

Springtime is a period when things change a little faster than normal. If you don’t pay attention, those changes might whiz on by unnoticed and uninspected.

Flowers

But most of us at least notice the flowers. Last week the flowering trees were just beginning to pop. This week they are all over the place.

Corporate flowering trees in Folsom last week.
Flowering tree on the bike path this week.

The slightly unusual greenery that always greets me at the beginning of my ride back to Sacramento has now been identified! It’s known as “Miners’ Lettuce” and apparently is edible when it is young like this.

Last week’s Miners’ Lettuce.
This week’s Miners’ Lettuce.

The ferns continue to develop and will probably enjoy a complete reproductive cycle before the summer heat causes them to die back.

Visitor-planted daffodils are growing better in some places than in others. Perhaps the big stand is being helped out with watering…

Daffodils last week.
Daffodils this week.

There is a unique species along the path, the “wattle” that is native to Australia. It blooms early and very brightly. It’s an acacia; there are many different varieties.

The wattle last week.
The wattle this week.

Another spring flower is oxalis. I don’t see much growing naturally in the woods, but it is in gardens everywhere, and at Pond Park there is a little hill totally covered with it.

oxalis (wood sorrell)

Animals

I haven’t spotted any pregnant deer but there might be one or two.

There are always a few egrets by the river.

Here’s another try at capturing an image of the elusive woodpeckers.

New Growth

Of all the photos I took of branches leafing out, this one of catkins (willow, probably) is the only one that came out.

catkins

Time and Change

If you inspect the situation carefully, you might realize that the only time you have actually directly experienced is present time. The past can only be experienced through memory, and the future through imagination.

The changes we make to present time are all that make it appear that time is passing. We can count the changes that appear to be cyclic (rotation of heavenly bodies, vibration of atoms) and thus “measure time.” The physical universe changes in such predictable ways that this works for us.

Yet all of existence actually only exists in this instant. This fact has been used in our spiritual work to help us understand how to gain more control over our present time, and thus, the future.

29 February update

It’s not often I get to write a post on the 29th of February!

We have basically had zero rainfall this whole month, which is a little unusual. The plants which rely heavily on surface water are suffering under these conditions.

wilting ferns

The ferns I have been following are obviously now wilting, even as their spore sacks are almost mature.

The daffodils planted by park lovers are doing better, but they are bulb plants so have a mechanism to store some reserve moisture. Even so, you can see some wilting in these flowers.

daffodils

A new flower has appeared, also a bulb plant. These are almost certainly Allium (onion family) though the flowers are a bit showy, suggesting the possibility that these are horticultural escapees.

allium - onion - new flower
allium fully open flower

The low rain levels also showed up at this holding pond next to a newer development. This is usually full this time of year.

Meanwhile, the early-leafing trees continue to green out. This is a buckeye, which I tried to photograph earlier but failed to get my focus right.

buckeye new leaves

The Miner’s Lettuce I have been following is still going strong, probably due to the shaded locations and thicker soils it seems to prefer. I tried a little bite this time and it is very palatable.

The fruit trees continue to flower. The earliest ones were very showy, but now many more have appeared. I was interested in how many of them appeared in the understory of the wooded area along the trail. These reminded me of the flowering dogwood I used to see in Michigan forests in the spring. These trees get sunlight until the canopy leafs out, though in this particular forest the summer canopy is less dense than it can get in a Midwestern deciduous forest. I don’t think fruit trees are the normal thing in mature forests, so these could be escapees from cultivation.

fruit trees flowering in a riparian forest near a population center

7 March update

Some rain finally came today. I didn’t believe it would be much when I got the news on my weather app, so I didn’t take my umbrella, but went without my bike.

The rain wasn’t hard, but it was persistent. I got wet enough that I decided to go into Goodwill and get an umbrella. Or, maybe, an umbrellita. It was a kid’s umbrella, but I thought it was kinda cool. Dory from Finding Nemo.

Dory from Finding Nemo

How to read a screenplay

22 January 2020

When I got my first idea for a piece of fiction, I used the platform I was familiar with, WordPress, to present it here: https://landofdeadtrees.wordpress.com/

However, I was interested what this idea would look like as a movie, so I started a script for it (not totally finished yet). In that process, I learned a bit about how writers make scripts for movies.

The screenplay

It’s a bit of an odd-looking thing. There’s lots of room in a screenplay to scribble notes in the margins and such. The dialogue runs down the center of the page and is pretty narrow. The movie business has been using this format for years. It must work for them.

The more “scrunched” format of the ordinary novel, or even stage play, is apparently partly a function of the costs associated with printing paper books. We have become used to a printed format where most of the page is filled with words – with perhaps the occasional illustration.

Because computer files don’t require paper, it is now possible to publish movie or radio or stage scripts in the form in which they are actually used by directors, actors, technical people, etc.

The idea of publishing in this format appealed to me mainly because the punctuation rules for written dialog are so involved that I didn’t particularly want to learn them. I have read many stories written in the ordinary way, and I must say, it seems totally natural as one is reading. Yet one might notice that if you were just watching two people talking, all the “he said’s” and so forth would not be necessary, and you would have to judge their intentions and emotions by the expressions on their faces, not by extra lines in the written story. I wanted to present just a basic visual idea of how I thought a story could play out, so this “sparse” form seemed like it would suit my purposes.

Technical aspects

Somewhere it is written, “every screenplay begins with the words FADE IN and ends with the words FADE OUT.” This may be technically correct, but I saw no reason to include these in my screenplays. These are camera (or effects) instructions and most of that will be missing from pre-production screenplays. The story is carried forward through its scenes, the action and dialog between characters.

If you sit down and watch almost any modern film or video, you will notice how often the environment of the shot can change. A stage play, like the old sitcoms, might take place entirely in one location. That was a simple and economical way to tell a story. Motion pictures have always pulled away from that limitation, like radio dramas and novels before them. In a modern motion picture the viewer may even become confused about exactly where the action is taking place. In the screenplay, each change of scenery must be announced by a SCENE entry (in all caps). It is up to the Director and Cinematographer and Editor to decide whether the scene changes are obvious or confusing to the viewer.

Traditionally, any inside or indoor scene description begins with “INT.” for “interior.” And external or outside scenes start with “EXT.” for “exterior.” Though I was loose with this rule in View From The Forest, I followed it more closely in Space Captain. It is also traditional to indicate time of day in the scene header, at least “day” or “night.” In my screenplays I often left this out.

Under the scene title is the action, a description of what is going on in the scene, who appears in it and where they are located. A lot of this is up to the screenwriter. Where it seems that certain aspects of the scene should be obvious, or left up to the imagination of the Art Director (or someone else), the descriptions here might sometimes seem minimal. Technically, this description helps Art, Costumes, Props, Lights and others determine exactly what they need to provide for each scene, as well as informing the actors of what they are supposed to be doing.

The dialog consists of a narrowed column of text running down the middle of the page. It may include (parentheticals) indicating voice tone or demeanor, or whether we see the character while he is speaking or only hear him over the phone or off in some other room. Each character is announced by a short name or nickname in all caps before his lines. It is traditional for only one character to speak at a time, but there are ways to make the dialog messier if this is desired for artistic effect.

With the caveat that I am a beginner in all this, the above are the basic technical points to keep in mind while reading a screenplay.

View From The Forest

This story is offered as a short introduction to the most basic concepts of Permaculture, along with my long-lived love for trees and forests. The main characters are two trees who live side by side in a small forest. Though the idea of talking trees is not a new one, my studies perhaps give a new perspective on what they might say to each other if they really had that capability.

View From The Forest screenplay

inside the arboretum

Space Captain

Space Captain screenplay

Space Captain is a story of three ETs who get trapped on Earth in the long distant past and make peace with their fate. I got the idea from my Scientology studies, then ran into a version of the song Space Captain, which I vaguely remembered Joe Cocker doing a long time ago. The idea of the song went perfectly with my story idea, so I picked the song title for the name of this story.

Dialogs

7 December 2019

I have added this new category under Spirit to provide a place for a type of writing that I have been using for a long time.

The word “dialog” (more properly spelled “dialogue”) comes to us via Latin directly from Greek, where “dia” represents “through or between” and “log[os]” represents “talk or word”. Thus, it resides in a group of words beginning with “dia-” that includes the modern coined word Dianetics, “though mind”.

I am of the habit (some consider it an ability) of imagining dialogs or speeches or presentations interrupted by questions as a way of thinking through how more difficult concepts could be conveyed, or made understandable, to others.

Here’s an earlier example of my experiments with dialog in writing:

A more recent example appears here: https://landofdeadtrees.wordpress.com/2018/06/11/the-georgia-guidestones/

I often do something like this at night, while others sleep (peacefully or otherwise). For some reason, I find it difficult to sleep in an unpeaceful world. I feel some need, or duty, to further the postulate that this will change, and that a higher sort of peace than mere “absence of war” can be achieved on this planet.

In that vein, I offer this video: https://www.scientology.tv/series/l-ron-hubbard-library-presents/is-it-possible-to-be-happy.html

I intend to create some more dialogs as an extension of my “science fiction” story called The Lands. All it really intends to do is to point out to those curious enough to read it that solutions for some of our more basic challenges here on Earth are closer than they might have realized. That’s all I really want to accomplish at this point: To let the planet know that a new kind of future is available to it; that we only have to reach for it.

Armistice Day, 101 years ago.

11 November 2019

“What happened on that great occasion was this. The news came about midnight. Next morning I called up the President (Hr. George Kidd, I think) of the B. C. Electric Railway, and asked if I may have the sight seeing street car – open top. Mr. Kidd replied, “It will be ready when you want it down at the corner of Cambie and Hastings. There will be a conductor and motorman; you tell them what to do.” I asked that it be there at 10 a.m. and it was. I said that I was not able to pay. He replied, “It is at your service as the contribution of the B. C. Electric Railway Company.”

“I assembled my 72nd Seaforths band at my place of business on Cordova Street between Homer and Cambie Streets. The Mayor of Vancouver was His Worship Mayor Gale, and he placed all bands under my charge – twelve bands in all. There was little preparatory organization, there were many musicians, some of them returned soldiers, some had instruments – some without. I had to purchase three instruments out of my own purse. Altogether I had one hundred and fifty men. Out of these I picked twelve leaders as bandmasters; then gave each leader twelve men according to their instruments, and away they went, some on floats, some marching on foot. The sight seeing street car with band playing went everywhere – over every line. We allowed no one on except returned soldiers, and many of these accompanied us. We went up Mt. Pleasant, Fairview, West End, everywhere, playing as we went, and except for intervals for meals, did not cease playing on that sight seeing street car until 10 o’clock that night. Some musicians stayed the entire time, some would retire, new ones take their places, some come, some go, it was a wild day of jollification, no order, no system, but everywhere harmony and co-operation. I supplied all the music. I had about 400 marches in my library. We played “Tipparary,” “Keep the Home Fire Burning,” “Pack Up Your Troubles,” “Long, Long Trail,” and other popular ones of the period. “Colonel Bogie” was a great favorite.

“I just divided the 150 men into 12 bands under a leader, gave them their music, told them their position in the line of march and left them ‘go to it.’ It was a glorious moment.”

This story was dictated to the Vancouver Archivist, Major Matthews, by my great-grandfather Edward Cox.

He was the leader of the 72nd Seaforth Highlanders band (featured image) during the war years. Earlier (below) he was with the “Sixth Rifles” in their band. He is specifically named by the Archivist as being in the photograph below.

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Armistice Day for real

Armistice Day was about the beginning of the end of a terrible war. The Germans had been defeated in France, where the armistice was signed. A prominent German politician led the delegation that went to France to sign this agreement. The Allies were led by the Supreme Allied Commander, the French General Foch.

The war involved terrible suffering and slaughter among the troops on all sides. By 1918 everyone (except a few insane “leaders”) wanted it ended. The final arrangements were made in the following year. But the news of this Armistice spread like wildfire across the planet, with the help of telegraph equipment.

Now known in the U.S. as “Veterans Day,” this date should be celebrated by the lovers of peace across this planet as a symbol of what is possible when combatants finally decide to lay down their arms. The fact that military units in most places support bands shines like a little ray of hope that one day war as we now know it could end.

 

Day of the Dead

27 October 2019

We are creeping up on Halloween, so why not work with that theme this week?

The significance and timing (end October) of the observance itself has been a Christian tradition for so long, that the possibility that is was originally a non-Christian observance is now in doubt, even though a traditional Gaelic festival was observed at the same time of year.

Dia de Muertos

In Mexico, the Dia de Muertos tradition definitely began as an observance connected to Aztec tradition and beliefs. Everyone in Mexico knows this. However, it was not traditionally observed at this time of year, but rather at the beginning of summer. When the Spaniards came, this eventually got shifted so that this observance coincided with what we know as Halloween.

In most earlier religions or spiritual systems, the spirit was believed to survive death in some manner. Most religions believe that the spirit “goes somewhere,” but can return to “visit” for various reasons. Though there may have been some societal need fulfilled by this belief system, it is also possible that these ideas came from actual experience, as our best data indicates that the spirit does indeed “leave” and then “come back.”

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In the case of the Mexican tradition, it was taught that this day, or these days (two or three special days may be observed) are somehow set aside for the spirits of those you loved to come back and visit. Little (or not so little) alters of offerings would be set up for those who we hoped would come visit, to make them feel welcome and more comfortable. Note the modern Californian add-ins to this alter display from last year’s celebration in Old Town.

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The circular arrangement of little white bags and oranges (I think) depicted above is not understood by me, but was certainly quite noticeable.

The Devil’s Motorcycle

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I had to find some excuse to include an image of this impressive bike I found parked outside Folsom Winco.

In the fantastical comedy film Raising Arizona, something close to a real devil rides such a machine. I have seen several films that have used the motorcycle as a sort of symbol of approaching danger.

Spooky Butterfly

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This insect is called the “Buckeye,” and the patterns on its wings are called “eye spots.”

Kinda spooky!

Death in Popular Lore

It is surprisingly difficult for most of us to remember what happens when we die. This memory loss has advantages both for us and for the managers trying (never very successfully) to keep us all under control. For us, it means we can end a lifetime by shedding all responsibilities for what we did or didn’t do during it, and “start afresh” every time we get born. For the managers it means we are less likely to realize that we are immortal beings and should hold in contempt any effort to control us by threatening us via our bodies (with torture, death and the like).

As a result, our ideas about what it means to die and “come back” are a bit off base, kooky, and unrealistic. Some think of the departed rising from their graves as animated skeletons. Others think of returning spirits as a bit demonic, tormenting us with swirls of smoke or dust in the shape of bodies and playing tricks on us that are frightening. Some think that they can leave something around to remind you of them.

We could see “trick or treat” I suppose as sort of a dramatization of our attempts to appease the departed so that they won’t continue to bother us. That we in the U.S. use little children to play the role of the returned ones is ironic.

As a part of this whole tradition, those of us who have houses and can afford the time and expense will “dress up” their front yards in keeping with the “spirit” of the season.

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This could be seen as a playful and creative pastime, I suppose. However, the scariest front yards I remember as a kid were the ones that were actually small forests that you had to walk through (or creep through) to get to the house. Spooky!

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The bright orange pumpkin is a great way to decorate the yard as winter begins to turn it brown. Of course, in Sacramento, most of the yards never do actually turn brown…

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I can only imagine this to be the house of a doctor. How else would he have access to so many (classroom) skeletons?

The Vulture

A lurking, dark and nasty-looking bird is a great symbol for spookiness. In Poe’s famous poem, it was The Raven. Well, I didn’t find one of those, but I did find this vulture.

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The dead tree he (or she) is sitting on really adds a dramatic touch, doesn’t it? But I thought I’d try to push it a little further with the color adjustments available in my image editor.

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Now we have more of a night time scene, with the bird in silhouette on a moonlit branch.

My Halloween Project

I always try to squeeze in a project at Halloween time. Though I didn’t have as many LEDs as I really wanted, I’m going for an animated electronic jack-o-lantern.

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Hope I finish it in time!

 

 

 

 

People Celebrate My Birthday

6 October 2019

It was amazing how many people were out on this sunny Saturday preparing for my birthday celebration!

During my usual trip to and back from Folsom, I ran across not one, but two young bucks. The bucks tend to keep their distance from the trail more than the does do, so they must have known I was coming and wanted to see them.

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Later on, during my lunch break, I was entertained by various flying machines from an airshow someone had thoughtfully decided to put on that day at Mather Field.

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But the really big event of the day happened later that evening, when I went to see “5000 Watts” a charity event thoughtfully themed around two of my favorite subjects, electronics and art.

I arrived well before sunset, when they were still setting it all up.

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In the background of this image is Raley Field, a West Sacramento baseball stadium and event venue named after the locally notable Raley family, famous for their chain of grocery stores.

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Here we see the four symbols used by Square Root Academy, the fundraisers for this event. Earth, Air, Fire and Water if I recall correctly. This group sponsors science programs for disadvantaged youth. Prominent in the background is Eileen the “pearl” peacock, a creation of Kristen Hoard and her group of artists and makers.

Well, the sun finally set, and they let us in.

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We were greeted by Kate Marusina’s installation, featuring Ohmu (a creature that plays a major role in a Japanese anime). It seems Kate is a PhD-level researcher at UC Davis who does this as a hobby.

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As the story goes, when an ohmu’s eyes turn red it means that it is mad. This one, however, just moved its mouth feelers around a little bit.

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These flowers were made by young people participating in a school program.

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The inflatable “plants” are an invention of Stan Clark. He sells them through a company called Astro Botanicals.

In the distance we see William (Cenote) Jerome’s “Luminescent Grand,” an electric piano made of plastic that glows as you play it. The visuals of it on his own website are much better than what I could do with a still camera at night.

Also by the piano was an installation by tech company RocketLife that is marketing an app and a small piece of hardware that can help anyone add animated lighting to their creation or project.

Local electronics guru Chris Biddle also showed up with his huge 3D LED matrix (no photo) and there were several other projects on display.

How thoughtful of them to do this for my entertainment!

The open space across from where I live was recently renamed in honor of a downtown developer who died of cancer at the young age of 35. Ali Youssefi, as it turns out, was instrumental in getting the building I am living in constructed, and also a similar building over on R Street which is specially designed for artists.

Last night someone had the square fenced off for some sort of paid event involving “pro wrestling.”

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And they had failed to invite me! Well, perhaps they knew I wouldn’t be interested…