There has now been a good deal of discussion regarding hanging curtains from the ceilings of school rooms. As this practice presents potential serious detrimental consequences, we have prepared this checklist to consider, and note that such practices have been discussed and discourage in other locations for months now.
The Anchorage Park Foundation (APF) is on the warpath yet again. Last month they released a Google Forms petition that asked just about everyone (but elected officials) to spend money to create something already there (https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfYlTdg36Z0ttJ2DAwemCgVp7IROOHni-2xBEh7GizRIHaH3Q/viewform), and I’d like to spend a few of your moments addressing why this is another bad idea.
Who and What
The petition is not addressed to elected officials, but to various MOA staff and to AMATS, which underscores probably the biggest problem we have with transportation infrastructure in Anchorage: planners are not accountable to the public. Specifically, the petition is addressed to
* Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Solutions (AMATS) Policy Committee
* Anchorage Project Management and Engineering
* Anchorage Parks and Recreation
* Anchorage Traffic
* AMATS Staff
and, after some self-aggrandizement (more on that below) the petition makes the following request:
We urge you to allocate funding for a public process to determine a preferred alternative for a safer crossing at this important intersection and work together on a wayfinding plan to make this unique and lovable trail system a destination for all.
One small problem…
A Crossing Already Exists
Yes, a safe crossing has been in place there for decades. A block and a half south of where the creek flows under Lake Otis Blvd is a tunnel. Yes, a nice wide tunnel, much nicer than anything one would see down by Westchester Lagoon. And that raises a handful of very important questions! Questions nowhere visible in the petition!
It gets better, of course. It turns out that the tunnel lies on a line between where the trail comes from and where it goes to; in other words, the trail goes out of its way to a crossing that will never exist, as opposed to taking the route that would employ the existing tunnel.
But take heart!!! Though things would have been simpler to align all those years ago, it is still relatively easy to fix the problem. And yes, I intend to keep you, Reader, hostage as long as I can.
So why would someone design a trail that eschewed the only viable crossing? There are a number of possibilities, but most of them reflect the kind of critical view that most in government are allergic to, so let’s look at giving the question a more positive spin, and that suggests two possibilities.
The first is that at the time no one saw multi-use trails as transportation corridors (lame, yes, but not as negative as most explanations…). Arguably the Campbell Creek Trail would be just that: a narrow band of asphalt that would run the length of Campbell Creek. Of course, who would have expected that another trail following a major water course would be so popular that we would spend almost $1,000,000 redoing it (but not making it any wider over much of its course). Well, the truth is LOTS of PEOPLE understood that the design was inadequate, but who listens to the public???
The second argument, I suppose, is the “build it and they will come” magical thinking bit that we bought in the movie theaters. The trail followed the creek, and eventually the MOA would have to widen the bridge over the creek to included a bike trail (as money was no object…). Yes, there are such tunnels in some locations, but though the nearby corner has been rebuilt over, and over, and over, and over again, and though we opine mightily about “non-motorized plans” and supporting non-motorized users of our municipal infrastructure, “they came”, but without the buckets of cash needed to build a bridge, or another tunnel.
The truth is that we are never going to build a bridge over Lake Otis at the Creek, and with all the other demands on diminishing (already gone?) funding, who in their right mind would build ANOTHER tunnel under a six lane highway? Can you spell BOONDOGGLE? But what, you ask, is wrong with APF trying to hustle a little interest?
Undermining the Public Process
One of the biggest problems here is that once again APF is subverting a complex and comprehensive process whereby communities feed their capital improvement project requests through the municipal system. Indeed, what APF “does best” is bypass all that by getting a direct appropriation from the State, and thereby making a virtual mockery of the all the work that all the “little people” invest in trying to push their respective projects forward. But, you exclaim, APD is a private, non-profit, non-membership corporation, so how does it have such an outside effect on government? Well, the answer to that is the partnership scheme that was brought to bear for Parks in Anchorage, which makes partners more important than the public. Money talks.
Yes, I can provide multiple examples of how APF has tried to run roughshod over the public, but since I am trying to keep this short, and some Assembly members get positively red in the face when Ms. Nordlund’s name comes up, we can set that aside for now. But I am happy to appear at any Assembly or Administration work session to discuss such matters…
But back to Moose. People have been riding the loop around Anchorage for years. As part of their little self-promotional branding efforts, APF started calling the loop, The Moose, and started promoting an “initiative”, which in part also celebrated APF accomplishments, while issues that APF does not want to address “under the carpet” (e.g. “celebrating” Pine St., which has accomplished nothing, while ignoring Boniface and RJSP – safer routes needing extensive work but ignored for decades).
What can be done (to address the crossing issue)? Well, for starters, we can ignore APF’s rhetoric and misdirection. We can inexpensively address the current access to Folker from Campbell Creek trail, and create a sharrow to 52nd and the tunnel on the East side of Lake Otis. On the West side we simply need to create a sharrow down Waldron to Cache. And at the tunnel itself, we need only remove the stairs and existing ramp and replace with shallower ramps on both sides. All told the few trail tweaks and the ramps would run substantially less than $50K and does not need “study” so much as some nitty gritty design work: design work that should have been done decades ago and a bit of engineering.
Most importantly, with all the critical infrastructure needs we have, these fixes are NOT critical. Period. I rode the path described above last week and it is MUCH better than a good deal of the “Moose” not being complained of! Let me be blunt: NOT NOW. Identify the fixes, put them in a plan and pass it about for comment – and then put it on the CIP list somewhere near the bottom.
Yes we need wayfinding, but APF and P&R ignored public comment on wayfinding, and as a result the little bit that is in place is disappointing and substandard. The truth is, as I noted above, that while we provide everyone with lots of Opportunities to be heard, no one ever actually listens to anything said, nor does anyone ever make any changes as a result of any testimony on any project. Indeed, on a recent project where State funding was killed because APF made such a shambles of the grant (the public DID try to make suggestions, but APF and P&R simply ignored every suggestion made), an MOA Assembly member thereupon ran about claiming that I killed the project off. Really? Considering how much pull I have with you lot, you know how pathetic such an allegation is, but there you go.
No, I could not address everything there is to say about any of this here. But lucky you, if you want to hear more all you need to do is ask. No, the various persons/parties being petitioned won’t ask, because they don’t see that as in their brief. They don’t “solve”problems, they kick them down the high speed, incredibly dangerous (and unresponsive to NTSB or FWHA guidance) roads…
Approbation and Admonition
I am sure we are all obliged to Dr. Bishop and her leadership team for keeping the health and safety of students, staff, and families front and center when addressing critical action impacting the entire community (and, in point of fact, the entire state).
That is in no small part why it is really so easy to request, under the Alaska Public Records Act, the documentation (as detailed below in the incorporate request) regarding building safety with respect to airborne viral contagion, that Dr. Bishop and her team have already undoubtedly compiled, as well the additional documentation demonstrating that the recent decision is not arbitrary and capricious, nor a response to political pressure.
As most everyone in the community is now aware, simple distancing of six feet in outside and open spaces might offer minimal protection from infection by droplet, but distancing to address primary spray becomes just one of many concerns when one considers appropriate prevention and mitigation for interior spaces where aerosols 1 may be appear, as Alexandra Feathers has noted. We know (as does the President 2 ) that SARSCoV2 is a potentially deadly airborne virus. 3 Ventilation is now a critical concern for all the U.S. as made very clear by Elizabeth Gardner’s piece in the USNews. Nor are such concerns, when the topic of current NAS (National Academies of Science) workshops, simply to be ignored as hysteria or panicked overreaction of the lay person.
Dr Bishop has repeatedly suggested that Covid case counts are dropping. The truth is, as anyone who can read the State’s Covid Dashboard knows, that case counts continue to indicate high risk levels, and we continue to see major spikes. And yet ASD would have 4000+ adults, 40,000+ children, and everyone indirectly threatened by contact with them, agree that risk in ancient school buildings is an order of magnitude less than in retail establishments, bars, or elsewhere. Yes, employing the “DeVoss Directives” 4 risk matrix forced on CDC by the “Misrepresenter-in-Chief” (see fn2) requires a Covid count almost ten times that employed by the State and Municipality to adjust appropriate public behavior!
The green line in the image above (taken from the Alaska DHHS Covid Dashboard) represents the Municipality of Anchorage high risk level case count which poses risks of “widespread community transmission with many undetected cases and frequent discrete outbreaks.” Risk levels have been “high” for months.
It is obvious, even to those most resistant to STEM and modern epidemiology, that ALL occupied areas of the school must be at least fully ventilated to meet Code requirements at the time it was built or major remodel/upgrade. This means that closets turned into offices, and rooms partitioned without mechanical review, and the like, undoubtedly do not pass muster. Changes in operations and maintenance as well as management and funding for O&M impact existing systems, and typically render adequacy of mechanical and HVAC systems dubious at best. Systems must be evaluated during normal occupied hours of operations under expected use conditions for any assessment to even approach adequacy. And all that data must be SHARED.
Unfortunately, it appears that most ASD staff are doubtful 5 about building safety under the “new” plan (which eschews relatively objective standards adopted by the State), and have sincere doubts that ASD can safeguard anyone’s health and safety at present. These concerns are, naturally enough, bolstered by the intimate knowledge staff have of the myriad building maintenance issues they already confront, and the lack of any comprehensive offering by the District that ASD leadership is, in fact, addressing those very real problems. 6 Increasing reports that ASD Administrators are alreadying bullying teachers into 3’ instead of 6’ separation and otherwise trying to push staff into potentially inappropriate conduct does not in any way reduce those concerns.
The fact of the matter is that ASD has a long history of viewing Alaska State statutory and/or regulatory mandates as largely “advisory”.7 As a result, even in the best of times, no one really believes ASD is fully in compliance with all the pertinent legal mandates. But this is not the best of times; this is a time when we comply with a variety of State and Local mandates issued to protect the public from a dangerous virus during a pandemic which is killing tens of thousands of Americans.
In sum, the community may wish it could put its faith in Dr. Bishop, but that is simply impossible where her actions run contrary to accepted science, appear to be responsive to national political manipulation, and are supported merely by unfounded aspiration, especially where ASD can offer little but hollow promises.8 No changes should be made to the initial plan (which, in as much as it was approved by the Board, implicitly had at least some community support) until ALL the considerations involved have been fully vetted and publicly discussed, a process that could not possibly be completed in the timeline adopted by Bishop. To that end, for the purposes of promoting effective and comprehensive public review and discussion of the documents which would arguably direct such policy, I am requesting, and as noted above, hope the Board joins in that request, the documents discussed below.
Public Records Request
In order to assure the Administration the greatest opportunity to demonstrate the efficacy and adequacy of the current HVAC/mechanical systems in the district, which covers buildings that should have been torn down decades ago, to buildings recently constructed I am hereby requesting that ASD make available for public inspection and copying the materials identified below.
In as much as it is often the practice of institutions to overestimate the cost of production so as to chill requests and obstruction distribution of information to the public, I am also hereby requesting that The Board direct the Superintendent to publish the requested data on the ASD website such that the entire community can review same and come to their own conclusions as to whether to place their health and welfare, their very lives, in the hands of Dr. Bishop.
A. Please produce for each and every facility of the district:
Most recent TAB (Testing, Adjusting, and Balance) reports for the ventilation systems, including air handling units (AHUs), fans, distribution and classroom GRDs (grills, registers, and diffusers); total air supplied to each room and percent of outside air for each AHU for current and winter operations.
Inventory or accounting of the AHU filtration currently being used for each AHU, if not noted in the TAB report.
All complaints regarding problems with any ventilation system and full details of actions taken in response (turning it off, replacing, ignoring complaints, etc.) for the past five years.
All records evidencing compliance with IMC ventilation requirements for the last five years (or when last verified if over five years).
Documentation of BAS (building automation system), week long trend of the ventilation status & operating conditions.
B. Please produce all documents purporting to offer an analysis of Covid transmission that recognizes that three foot distancing, as recently stated by ASD and pushed by unit administrators, is adequate for safety of all building occupants, including cites to any research and evaluation thereof relied upon.
C. Please produce all documents that address an analysis of whether the new declared plan will comply with current MOA EOs and State mandates.
D. Please produce all documents evaluating the need for or efficacy of Powered Air Purifying Respirator (PAPR) units to afford protection to staff.
E. Please produce all correspondence with anyone the District views as a health expert with a medical credential concerning the criteria, safety, and efficacy of the proposed plan.
F. Please produce the data and ASD’s analysis thereof which shows that the case rate in Anchorage is dropping.
G. Please produce ASD’s analysis regarding replacing objective criteria with subjective criteria for opening schools as to whether use of subjective criteria promotes abuse, discounts science, and creates an unstable environment.
H. Please produce all internal correspondence discussing when and if the Board should be consulted regarding this radical change from a plan the Board approved.
Marc Grober, Esq.
5610 Radcliff Dr.
Anchorage, AK 99504
CDC. “Communities, Schools, Workplaces, & Events.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 30, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/schools-childcare/indicators.html.
———. “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) - Transmission.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, September 21, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/how-covid-spreads.html.
“COVID-19: Alert Levels.” Accessed September 21, 2020. http://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Epi/id/Pages/COVID-19/alertlevels.aspx.
Elfrink, Tim, Ben Guarino, and Chris Mooney. “CDC Reverses Itself and Says Guidelines It Posted on Coronavirus Airborne Transmission Were Wrong.” Washington Post. Accessed September 21, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/09/21/cdc-covid-aerosols-airborne-guidelines/.
International Code Council. “International Mechanical Code,” 2012. https://codes.iccsafe.org/content/IMC2012/chapter-4-ventilation.
Kapust, Patrick J. “Updated Interim Enforcement Response Plan for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) | Occupational Safety and Health Administration.” Accessed September 21, 2020. https://www.osha.gov/memos/2020-05-19/updated-interim-enforcement-response-plan-coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19,” n.d., 35. https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3990.pdf
Peccia, Jordan. “Aerosols vs. Droplets: In Transmitting COVID-19, There’s a Big Difference.” Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science. Accessed September 21, 2020. https://seas.yale.edu/news-events/news/aerosols-vs-droplets-transmitting-covid-19-there-s-big-difference.
US News & World Report. “Is Your School’s Air Quality a Risk Factor for COVID-19?” Accessed September 21, 2020. https://health.usnews.com/hospital-heroes/articles/is-your-schools-air-quality-a-risk-factor-for-covid-19.
National Academies of Science. “Airborne Transmission of SARS CoV 2 A Virtual Workshop | National Academies.” Accessed September 21, 2020. https://www.nationalacademies.org/event/08-26-2020/airborne-transmission-of-sars-cov-2-a-virtual-workshop.
STAT. “Why Isn’t Ventilation Part of the Conversation on Reopening Schools?,” August 5, 2020. https://www.statnews.com/2020/08/05/ventilation-part-of-school-reopening-conversation/.
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert Season 6 Episode 1: 9/14/20 (Bob Woodward, Luke Combs). Accessed September 21, 2020. https://www.cbs.com/shows/the-late-show-with-stephen-colbert/video/98tyVseV_QkxxEW_j_N4YJTf9GBIsfZi/the-late-show-9-14-20-bob-woodward-luke-combs-/.
Woodward, Bob. Rage, 2020.
For a video explaining differences between aerosol and droplet concerns see, Jordan Peccia, “Aerosols vs. Droplets: In Transmitting COVID-19, There’s a Big Difference,” Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science, accessed September 21, 2020, https://seas.yale.edu/news-events/news/aerosols-vs-droplets-transmitting-covid-19-there-s-big-difference.
The President has admitted as much. See, Woodward and The Late Show.
There is no more potent evidence of the political machinations in which the CDC is now involved than the most recent attempt to sanitize CDC recommendations. See, Tim Elfrink, Ben Guarino, and Chris Mooney, “CDC Reverses Itself and Says Guidelines It Posted on Coronavirus Airborne Transmission Were Wrong,” Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/09/21/cdc-covid-aerosols-airborne-guidelines/.
The Secretary of Education has waged a continuous assault on expert medical opinion on health and safety in schools, and has been regularly supported in this endeavor by the President, who has been engaged in political manipulation of CDC to that effect, apparently because he believes using the Administration to misrepresent the facts is appropriate.
AEA survey results.
Pertinent OSHA and IMC requirements are identified in the Bibliography. Complaints regarding violations of ventilation standards have been filed with ASD in the past.
Indeed, ASD recently violated State law in failing to timely respond to an earlier public records request, and compounded its misconduct by misrepresenting the mandates of State regulation regarding teacher qualifications while also attempting to obfuscate with respect to the underlying concerns (whether ASD teachers are teaching within the areas of their expertise).
Much of ASD’s Plan amounts to reactive procedures, procedures which, because of the well documented delays in obtaining adequate data, will be of little value in protecting those not infected from contracting the virus.
This document created via docxpresso WordPress plugin from an ODT created by the Google Doc shared at https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vQLVHPHnVm5m_atUGVhnot_AyopIchFPDsSvs8l3Bp-IwMP76n7d4YOjbCORThVHTN_s1OoLY8zUaXn/pub
Sometimes it seems just so much easier to die.
I am guilty of what others did.
I am guilty of what others didn’t do.
I am guilty of what I never intended to say and never said, but what others thought I meant.
I am guilty of not understanding how very guilty I am.
I am a source of unpleasantness that increases in unpleasantness the more I fail to comprehend that others find me unpleasant because they thought I meant something I did not mean, and find any attempt to explain the misunderstanding as, of course, unpleasant.
It makes no never mind how I feel or what I did, and any suggestion that any of the foregoing is true, is of course, evidence of my guilt.
I don’t relish hanging. Nor death by Covid19, come to think of that. But as I slowly disappear, sometimes I wonder if the process can be simply hastened.
“If you only calmed down!!!”
If I only wasn’t …
I was hovering over depression recently and was taken aback by a comment someone made about people who are subject to depression, becoming depressed by way of direct causation. By that I mean X screams at Y, and Y gets verklempt and goes all Goth and becomes suicidal (to compress things a bit). It has always seemed to me (and I think people like Durkheim who looked at the societal implications of broad depression) that depression is not a matter of discreet response but is rather more systemic. And then I realized that it is the “nonsystemic” nature of depression which lies at depression’s core.
“Good Grief!”, you gasp, “Now what is he trying to say?”
What I am saying is the depression arises on a growing sense of entropy (in the non-technical sense; my apologies to physicists everywhere). Generally, entropy is defined as
A measure of the amount of disorder in the Universe, or of the availability of the energy in a system to do work. As energy is degraded into heat, it is less able to do work, and the amount of disorder in the Universe increases (see arrow of time). This corresponds to an increase in entropy. In a closed system, entropy never decreases, so the Universe as a whole is slowly dying. In an open system (for example, a growing flower), entropy can decrease and order can increase, but only at the expense of a decrease in order and an increase in entropy somewhere else (in this case, in the Sun, which is supplying the energy that the plant feeds off).1
More popularly the term is used to describe increasing uncertainly and disorder in a system. I don’t want to belabor the thesis they promote, but I think Carhart-Harris et al. touch upon the idea I am suggesting here.
Entropy is a dimensionless quantity that is used for measuring uncertainty about the state of a system but it can also imply physical qualities, where high entropy is synonymous with high disorder. Entropy is applied here in the context of states of consciousness and their associated neurodynamics, with a particular focus on the psychedelic state. The psychedelic state is considered an exemplar of a primitive or primary state of consciousness that preceded the development of modern, adult, human, normal waking consciousness. Based on neuroimaging data with psilocybin, a classic psychedelic drug, it is argued that the defining feature of “primary states” is elevated entropy in certain aspects of brain function, such as the repertoire of functional connectivity motifs that form and fragment across time. Indeed, since there is a greater repertoire of connectivity motifs in the psychedelic state than in normal waking consciousness, this implies that primary states may exhibit “criticality,” i.e., the property of being poised at a “critical” point in a transition zone between order and disorder where certain phenomena such as power-law scaling appear. Moreover, if primary states are critical, then this suggests that entropy is suppressed in normal waking consciousness, meaning that the brain operates just below criticality. It is argued that this entropy suppression furnishes normal waking consciousness with a constrained quality and associated metacognitive functions, including reality-testing and self-awareness. It is also proposed that entry into primary states depends on a collapse of the normally highly organized activity within the default-mode network (DMN) and a decoupling between the DMN and the medial temporal lobes (which are normally significantly coupled). These hypotheses can be tested by examining brain activity and associated cognition in other candidate primary states such as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and early psychosis and comparing these with non-primary states such as normal waking consciousness and the anaesthetized state.2
In other words, when we hear people talking about “coming apart at the seams”, or “going to bits” what we really may be hearing is their attempt to express the sense of increasing entropy, a feeling that all order is breaking down, including the manner in which they “fit” into the circumstances around them.
As I can attest to personally, as these gaping black holes open before us, it is this sense of purposelessness, senselessness, and chaos that reach and envelop us. The good news is that in many cases one can just refuse to “feed” that sense. “Pitter, Patter!” as Wayne would say.3
And, perhaps that is why those who have fortified their psyches with excessive structure are so at risk when that structure is threatened. They feel the ground beneath their feet feet shifting, and the fear they feel is not just the fear of imminent physical consequence, but the fear that nothing makes sense any more.
What I find curious is where those who do not seem to experience fear, still experience this since of entropy. Is that a mark of reduced ego, a misinterpretation of chemical signal, the result of some insight?
It would seem that people can manage to suppress entropy, perhaps using the same types of neural circuits used in cognitive inhibition (thought to regulation analytical thinking) and that such management alleviates, remediates, obfuscates or otherwise resolves the onset of depression. But it also suggests that those living in a world perceived to be completely ordered would be subject to acute depression should their perceptions waiver; in other words, their delusions of actual order keep their brains from having to balance the real existence of disorder.
Recently I came across the following “pearl”,
Gender is a myth, like the rest of the physical world.
The physical world is not “a myth”. Period. Full stop. On the other hand, gender certainly would appear to be mythical, myth being a cultural narrative explaining the physical world. In the case of gender, it is myth that explains, names, sex.
SO what exactly is myth? That is a tangled question. Lincoln rejects all the chaff of religiosity, collectivity, and veracity and pares things down to the kernel.
Having invoked the category of “myth,” however, in a context where it is not commonly applied, it is useful to indicate how I use this term and why it seems appropriate. To begin, I would reject three widely accepted notions. First, myths are not sacred narratives. Although many myths claim sacred status, in this they misrecognize their own nature, for they are human stories, like any other. They simply make more exaggerated claims to a more elevated kind of authority. Second, myths are not collective narratives or the speech of any group as a whole. Rather, they are stories that are told and retold in countless variants. Often the authorship of these variants is unacknowledged, forgotten, or deliberately hidden, but in its details each variant advances the specific interests of those responsible for its production, revision, and circulation. These anonymous agents and absent authors misrepresent themselves-and those for whom they speak- as the group as a whole. Third, myths are neither false stories, nor true, but simply stories that claim to speak with authority about issues of deep importance. Sometimes these claims succeed and sometimes they fail, and the same story can change its status over time from myth to fable and back again, since such status is a function of reception.
If myths are not sacred, not collective, not true or false, what distinguishes them from other narratives? My best attempt at definition runs as follows: Myth is ideology in narrative form. More precisely, mythic discourse deals in master categories that have multiple referents: levels of the cosmos, terrestrial geographies, plant and animal species, logical categories, and the like. Their plots serve to organize the relations among these categories and to justify a hierarchy among them, establishing the rightness (or at least the necessity) of a world in which heaven is above earth, the lion the king of beasts, the cooked more pleasing than the raw. Sometimes issues of human society are given explicit attention-in stories that treat the relations of men and women, uncles and nephews, our tribe and its neighbors, etcetera – and sometimes these are left implicit, as when stories about lions serve to make points about royalty. But always this concern to rank (or to recalibrate the ranking of) human groups is present, and this is the most consequential aspect of any mythic story. 1.
Doty, who wrote a handbook on myth, would largely agree with Lincoln, though he quotes Manfred Frank to the effect that, “The correct definition of myth exists as little as the correct definition of human being itself.”2
I recall in the ‘70s, between “Social Construction of Reality” 3 and “Dancing Wu Li Masters” 4, that many were going “off the rails” because they could not differentiate between a thing and a description or label for a thing. Somehow, just because it seemed we had different ideas of what a thing was, that thing ceased to exist!
So while some poo-poo’d the programmers (an up and coming demographic whose impact on society would soon see all those snickers rattle in the throats of the denigrators), programmers were a bit ahead of the curve in this respect as the difference between a thing and its label was fundamental to their praxis…
As a friend remarked, “Werds r hrd”. And anything “hard” is likely magical. Look no further than the various biblical canons and consider the dialectic between the concept of the ineffable 5 6, and the idea that being able to call one by a “true name” renders power over the named. 7
But, what is really in a name…
’Tis but thy name that is my enemy.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face. O, be some other name
Belonging to a man.
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And, for thy name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.8
More to the point perhaps,
To bait fish withal; if it will feed nothing else,
it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me and
hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses,
mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted
my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies—
and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not
a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions,
senses, affections, passions? Fed with the
same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to
the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer
as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not
bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you
poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall
we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will
resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian,
what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong
a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian
example? Why, revenge! The villainy you teach me I
will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the
Now what? What’s the 911 on all this?
Adam Alter references studies that, “suggest a sort of linguistic Heisenberg principle: as soon as you label a concept, you change how people perceive it. 10 This idea is similar to those pursued in rhetorical genre studies and in the introduction of that all too common word today, meme.
Bawarshi and Reiff specifically note that RGS provides that cultural mapping that we would expect to see served by myth. The entirety of Chapter 6 of their book is worth study, but here is a snippet,
Part of how genre systems and their genre sets coordinate complex social actions within systems of activity is by supplying intentions, distributing cognition, and shaping our notions of timing and opportunity (what Greek rhetoricians called kairos). Genre systems do not just sequence activities; they also sequence how we relate to and assign roles to one another, how we define the limits of our agency, how we come to know and learn, and how we construct, value, and experience ourselves in social time and space 11
Now compare the genre sets of RGS with Dawkins conception of memes.
The new soup is the soup of human culture. We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. ‘Mimeme’ comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like ‘gene’. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme. 12
We continue to focus on what I like to think of maps and legends. Guides on how to interpret the physical world around us. We seem to forget that our map IS NOT the physical world. Our maps may help us to relate to that world, but when we forget that the maps are of our own invention, we truly forget who we are.
With the rise of self-anointed spirituality and the sudden caché of “Buddhism”, discussion of compassion is all the rage. I have often pondered the possible obligations of “compassion”. I don’t see compassion as mandating the provision of another’s desires. Nor does compassion mandate I interfere in another’s “just desserts”. As I see it:
- wishing is foolish,
- celebrating another’s misfortune is not compassionate, but acknowledging they deserve their present circumstances does not reflect a lack of compassion, and
- the whole karma/dharma thing is religious nonsense.
It is clear that there is a divide of sorts between Buddhist views of compassion and some more “romantic” Western notions. 1 A discussion of compassion by Jenniger Goetz 2 points out the “cold” nature of compassion as viewed by Buddhism.
The more one reads Buddhist writings, the more one realizes that Buddhist compassion is similar to lay conceptions of compassion in name only. While lay concepts of compassion are of warm feelings for particular people in need, Buddhist compassion is not particular, warm, or even a feeling. Perhaps the most succinct and clear mention of this is in the discussions of the Dalai Lama and Jean-Claude Carriere (1996, p. 53). A footnote explains in refreshingly plain language that compassion in the Buddhist sense is not based on what we call “feeling”. While Buddhist’s do not deny the natural feelings that may arise from seeing another in need, this is not the compassion Buddhism values. Instead, Buddhist compassion is the result of knowing one is part of a greater whole and is interdependent and connected to that whole. It is the result of practiced meditations. Indeed, Buddhist compassion should be without heat or passion – it is objective, cold, constant and universal.
Trungpa (1973) argues true compassion has the potential to appear cruel or ruthless. Compassion requires prajna or transcendental wisdom – an ability to see past shallow appearances and see true suffering and need. For this reason, compassion may involve giving someone what they really need, not what they want. In addition compassion is an open gift, it is generosity without demand. One does not expect or require reciprocity or confirmation of compassion. Indeed, true compassion will often not be appreciated and may be received with anger or hatred. The next section discusses the threat of anger to compassion and the methods for dealing with this.
From a Buddhist perspective, Harris notes 3 that,
Viraaga literally means the absence of raaga: the absence of lust, desire, and craving for existence. Hence, it denotes indifference or non-attachment to the usual objects of raaga, such as material goods or sense pleasures. Non-attachment is an important term here if the Pali is to be meaningful to speakers of English. It is far more appropriate than “detachment” because of the negative connotations “detachment” possesses in English.
In fact, at least three strands of meaning in the term “compassion” can be detected in the texts: a prerequisite for a just and harmonious society; an essential attitude for progress along the path towards wisdom; and the liberative action within society of those who have become enlightened or who are sincerely following the path towards it. All these strands need to be looked at if the term is to be understood and if those who accuse Buddhist compassion of being too passive are to be answered correctly.
Bodhi 4 states,
Like a bird in flight borne by its two wings, the practice of Dhamma is sustained by two contrasting qualities whose balanced development is essential to straight and steady progress. These two qualities are renunciation and compassion. As a doctrine of renunciation the Dhamma points out that the path to liberation is a personal course of training that centers on the gradual control and mastery of desire, the root cause of suffering. As a teaching of compassion the Dhamma bids us to avoid harming others, to act for their welfare, and to help realize the Buddha’s own great resolve to offer the world the way to the Deathless.
Considered in isolation, renunciation and compassion have inverse logics that at times seem to point us in opposite directions. The one steers us to greater solitude aimed at personal purification, the other to increased involvement with others issuing in beneficent action. Yet, despite their differences, renunciation and compassion nurture each other in dynamic interplay throughout the practice of the path, from its elementary steps of moral discipline to its culmination in liberating wisdom. The synthesis of the two, their balanced fusion, is expressed most perfectly in the figure of the Fully Enlightened One, who is at once the embodiment of complete renunciation and of all-embracing compassion.
Both renunciation and compassion share a common root in the encounter with suffering. The one represents our response to suffering confronted in our own individual experience, the other our response to suffering witnessed in the lives of others. Our spontaneous reactions, however, are only the seeds of these higher qualities, not their substance. To acquire the capacity to sustain our practice of Dhamma, renunciation and compassion must be methodically cultivated, and this requires an ongoing process of reflection which transmutes our initial stirrings into full-fledged spiritual virtues.
But, you start to whine, isn’t compassion a call to action. Mustn’t one DO something?
The simple answer, of course, is, “Yes!” But while compassion is about helping another find the power to overcome their circumstances, that power truly comes from helping another find detachment5, NOT by way of resolving someone’s difficulties. It’s not about which side of the mushroom to nibble on; it’s about acknowledging one has no need of the mushroom. 6
I had started to do a piece about where Homo economicus was hanging in 2019. This was in no small part because of the suggestion that I came across that les Mises-erables had now gone full cannibal on Homo economicus 1. This was hysterical as here we had those who started out by assuming that humans acted rationally, now arguing that the very model of human rationality was a straw man.
But what had statted me down the path was a rather ridiculous piece by Paul Collier 2 in which he made largely the same claims as McMakken, from arguably “the other side”. Collier largely relies on Blueprint: The evolutionary origins of a good society by Nicholas Christakis 3, an intriguing anecdotal book that is, however, far less effective in arguing human eusociality than anything on offer from E. O. Wilson. 4
So, let everyone (other than admitted “orthodox” economists) agree that humans are NOT rational. They are, contra Solnit 5, not universally altruistic. They vacillate between reliance on their forebrains and their inner chimp 6 And those whose seem to have issues with their cognitive inhibitor circuits tend to be fruitcakes who are also outbreeding those that appear rational.
And now. we have come to the great spasm on the crest of COVID-19, brought to our species courtesy of SARS Co-V-2. While many of us are seeing the “better angels of our nature”7 (Pinker really should stick to linguistics) as Solnit argued, one would be blind and deaf not to be aware of the greedy, careless of Phillipa Foote 8, massing like the real zombie apocalypse. And I have to suggest at this point that the claim of rationality, today, most likelt is an admission that the claimant suffers from Dunning- Kruger 9
I am not sanguine about our future.
I am sharing these photos to demonstrate the inadequacy of the designs we have to suffer in Anchorage. The photos are of a tunnel underneath Boniface Parkway in Anchorage, Alaska. The tunnel is part of a required route for students to walk to attend the local Elementary School that sits a few hundred feet from the East side of the tunnel.
What are the issues we see in these photos?
- The tunnel is not sealed from above, so water seeps into the tunnel from the road bed.
- The tunnel is not shielded from ice and debris plowed off the road above
- The ice and debris plowed of the road above piles up at the entrances to the tunnel (not shown here is a photo from some years ago where the snow wall created by the plowing covered half the height of the tunnel).
- The tunnel is at the lowest point of the trail on the West end, meaning that it serves as the sump for all water.
- There is a drain to the storm sewer a few feet to the East of the tunnel entrance on the East side, but that is frozen over half the year.
- As you can see, melt from outside the tunnel solely covers the entire tunnel eventually rendering the entire surface glassy.
- And, not seen in this photo, the lack of any trail lighting on the West side though this has been in the Master Plan for this area for DECADES.
Are there any reasons that these issues could not have been avoided? Two: a) failure to produce an adequate design, and/or b) refusal to fund an adequate design.
A clever friend suggested that we should be concerned with how media is framing its messages.
To put that in psychological terms, elicitation of limbic response via increasingly disturbing images can lead to aggressive behavior. 2 We also KNOW that the kind of media that these people are consuming will raise a limbic response, and that most of them are huge consumers of that media. And we know that these media systems are intentionally targeting these individuals and ramping up their anger.
There is research that suggests that where the subject can differentiate the imagery from reality that this is not seen (hence the literature suggesting that video games may not lead to juvenile violence in al cases). However, where the subject cannot differentiate (i.e. where they believe for example that Fox News is “fair and balanced”), we can eventually expect to see much what we see in teens, whose amygdala are impacted developmentally already, and much, much, worse (read mass murders) . Of course, the external objectives of this media also exacerbate feelings of impotency, and promote projection of personal anger over perceived circumstances the individual feels were unfair, allowing the individual to map the one onto the other.
Our responses, from “thoughts and prayers” to a scolding over taking advantage of an unfortunate event involving a single mentally ill individual are old dodges; we certainly are not going to provide increased resources to address mental health nor is it likely that any deity is going to intervene. Cases like these will not be ameliorated until we recognize that gas powered autoload, high capacity magazines, and short barrels have one purpose. And though most of the dying from handguns is the result of suicide, the same is true of handguns.
I would suggest that these people are not “mentally ill” because I think for most purposes that phrase is largely meaningless. I would also suggest that we have seen Cambridge Analytica, by their own admission and through the analysis of others handily manipulate whole segments of the population, and that the methods for accomplishing that are very much the same mechanism by which media like Fox News can manipulate persons who would otherwise manage. In fact I have watched the mechanism work on persons reliant on Medicaid, turning them into raging phobics intent on putting an end the very benefits that were keeping them alive. Are these people weak minded? Well, that are certainly not 3σs, but the key, recent fMRI work suggests, is that they have cognitive filters that do not work (hence the jokes about Republicans being mentally defective). Its not that they are less capable (though some of them obviously are) but that they are more credulous.
Unfortunately, as a society we are committed to the concept of free speech, and even the concept of “hate speech” worries me. What can we do when we recognize that enough people in our society can be manipulated via media to change election results based purely on tweaking their emotional responses? How do we outlaw poison that 30% of the population insists on consuming, lol? We can’t manage booze or heroine, let alone Fox News!
I had put my hope in good schools, but in fact we will never reach student teacher rations or effective enough teacher instruction to do more than keep our thumbs in the dikes. We COULD limit political campaigns, shut down funding to campaigns (free speech issues again), etc. but those with the money are not about to let the voters they control agree to that now, will they?
Of course there are those who swallow Pinker’s claim that society is getting less violent, so why sweat a few mass murders. Well, not only is Pinker wrong about the data, he is rather callous in suggesting that my neighbor has no real value. 3 And let’s also put to rest the arguments that if someone can blow up a building with fertilizer, why bother with guns. Even BATF and Congress know that is mere foolishness. 4
This is not about “those people” where we obliquely reference some inconsequential demographic of unofrtunates. It’s about the fact that all humans screw up on a regular basis. So many people are killed and maimed by automobiles that we implemented regulations as to both safety AND insurance. There is even a distinct area of the law that deals with dangerous instrumentalities; it’s called strict liability.
There is no rational basis to have millions of weapons w auto load, high cap mags, and short barrels. They are designed for only one purpose, and that purpose is not only unlawful, but seen as immoral by most.
We now know how easy it is to push someone over the edge, and that we have lawful enterprises constantly engaged in doing just that. This second issue is much more fraught than the first as it challenges our ideals about speech. It is not a new problem; orators regularly set off mobs in Rome. But it has gotten to be endemic and the foundations of our polity are now threatened.
Logically one should start with the resolution that toddlers should be allowed to tinker with armed tactical nukes. 5 As one rejects progressive removals from that premise, one is forced to recognize a number of themes which argue for what libertarians might call, well, “liberty”, each of which on close examination can be seen to be elements of a factually insupportable credo.
The inner chimp affords us the altruism of the band, along with the ferocious response to the “other”. As the fore brain competes evolutionarily with the inner chimp, it seems to me that those with limited fore brain functioning outbreed those with fully functioning fore brains, and that bespeaks a Wellsian future…
A bit of roasted Morlock?