We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Night on Bald Mountain

Beltane                                                             Sumi-e Moon

Rocky Mountain National Park

Rocky Mountain National Park

On Sunday night we had a thunder storm. While growing up and living in the Midwest, close to sea level and in the humid east, we didn’t think about cloud heights much. Clouds are way up there; we’re down here. Straightforward.

But look at this definition: Cumulus clouds are low-level clouds, generally less than 2,000 m (6,600 ft). Well. Here on Shadow Mountain we are at 8,800 feet. Over the last week we’ve been within many cumulus clouds, dense fog advisories being common, not because of an ocean, but because of our elevation.

That thunder storm Sunday night was relentless. Lightning strikes, bright flashes, big thunder. And a lot of the time it felt like it was happening right where we were. It probably was. This was being in a thunderstorm, not under it.

Quite the experience. Naps the next day all round.

It’s All Real Stuff

Imbolc                              Black Mountain Moon

Prep days. Yesterday reorienting my workouts, today moving back into Ovid with the Latin. Prep is important but I find I want to hurry through it, press on, get to the real stuff. But, it’s all real stuff, isn’t it?

When doing the Latin, for example, I want to work fast, translate easily, get it. But, most often I have to work slowly, translate with difficulty, struggle to understand.

In the MOOC I’m taking from McGill University the current section is on physical literacy. An amazing insight for me. Literacy in the alphabetic, language based world, yes. Numeracy in the numbers based, mathematical world, yes. But physical literacy? That is, learning basic moves and physical actions that can later be strung together to play a sport, keep one fit, teach us how to fall, no. The idea never occurred to me.

It apparently surfaced in the 1930’s in America whereas numeracy only emerged as an idea in the 1960’s. It’s not surprising, I guess, since the move from the farm to the town and city was weighted against the old, physical ways that had existed since hunting and gathering gave way to the neolithic revolution.

Perhaps, come to think of it, becoming native to this place is a component of physical literacy, a tactile spirituality. As we move less and less, we interact with the natural less affectively, less often, less well. Perhaps play is a big component of becoming native to this place, wandering aimlessly in the woods or by a pond, in the mountains, on lakes.

Anyhow, I’m excited about this idea, a human trilogy necessary for a satisfying life: literacy, numeracy and physicality.

College on the cheap

Lughnasa                                                                  College Moon

If you read articles about higher education, you will have noticed an ongoing debate about its future. Will there be brick and mortar campuses? This is the same debate that retailers have as online sellers, especially Amazon, but many others, too, among them Walmart, batter the solid walls of American shopkeepers. Will there be brick and mortar businesses at all?

In both cases a process called disintermediation is at work, that is, removing the intermediary between the deliverer of goods and the end customer. In the case of retail businesses economies of scale, snappy delivery and vastly increased inventory (or at least access to inventory) tilt the momentum right now toward the online seller.

In higher education the internet seems to provide the same threat. The MOOC, the massive open online course, threatens to broadcast the best teachers to a wide audience, free. Even inversion, a variation on online education where professors lecture online and then classes meet to discuss assignments and raise questions, could, in theory be used to teach massive numbers of students at the same time.

Rather than elimination of the state university, the less prestigious private schools and community colleges the more likely result is a new paradigm altogether, one that uses the advantage of the best educators broadcast widely and cheaply and the advantage of the brick and mortar campus in delivering the moratorium years.

Education is not, for most, a solo affair. It involves rubbing up against others, their ideas, their prejudices, their spark. And the moratorium years-that time between the teens and full adulthood (which seems to be stretching out longer now)-in our culture need to take place away from home.

The best content offered at the most reasonable price should be a boon to all institutions of higher learning. Maybe the brick and mortar experience is shorter or taken in more discrete chunks. What’s magical about three quarters or two semesters? Why does it all have to be in the same location? Why not two years here, one there? Or two months in the city, two in the country. Or a season abroad, then a season back home. Why not mixtures of all this for the stay at home learner, the adult for whom education is, or at least can be, a solo affair?



Spring                                             Hare Moon

The first of three workshops has finished.  This one, life context, positions you in the current period of your life.  It’s been, as always, a moving and insight producing time.  These workshops move below the surface and defy easy summary, but I have had one clear outcome from this one.  I’m in a golden moment.

I’m healthy, loved and loving.  Kate and I are in a great place and the kids are living their adult lives, not without challenges, but they’re facing those.  The dogs are love in a furry form.

The garden and the bees give Kate and me a joint work that is nourishing, enriching and sustainable. We’re doing it in a way that will make our land more healthy rather than less.

The creative projects I’ve got underway:  Ovid, Unmaking trilogy, reimagining faith, taking MOOCs, working with the Sierra Club, and my ongoing immersion in the world of art have juice.  Still.

I have the good fortune to have good friends in the Woollies and among the docent corps (former and current).  Deepening, intensifying, celebrating, enjoying.  That’s what’s called for right now.


Imbolc                                                              Hare Moon

In that slightly down place that completing a course produces.  Yes, it feels great to have stuck with it, finished.  And, yes, it feels very good to have the new knowledge.  But there’s now a hole where the climate change course was.  This is not the same feeling I had when ModPo and the Modern/Post-Modern courses finished.  That was more like exhilaration.

This one mattered to me.  I’m not sure where or what I’ll do next. There are books to read, several recommended by the professors.  There’s the America Votes work and the possibility of using Great Wheel as some kind of vehicle to further mitigation and adaptation in Minnesota. But right now I feel deflated, a bit overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task that lies ahead for all of us.  This will pass.  But it’s there.

Since I finished earlier than I imagined, I’ll be able to work on my query letters tomorrow. I am also starting a new course focused on personal change that I don’t expect to be as demanding as this course was.  I let Whitman slide, did basically nothing and that’s the first one I’ve done that with, but I had overextended myself and something had to give.


Merchants of Doubt

Imbolc                                                            Valentine Moon


Spent yesterday doing the Climate Change course.  A fascinating series of lectures titled Merchants of Doubt.  Primary author of the book, Naomi Oreskes, is a historian of science at U. Cal. San Diego and a lecturer in this course.  This book and her lectures make a compelling and important case that climate change denial has its roots in the work of a small group of distinguished scientists, three initially:  Robert Jastrow, Frederick Seitz, and William Nierenberg.  All three were cold war physicists working on nuclear arms.  All three distinguished themselves.  Jastrow became head of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Seitz was president of the National Academy of Science and Rockefeller University, Nierenberg headed the Scripps Institute for almost two decades.

Read Great Wheel for the expanded story. The three of them worked on an advisory panel for Reagan’s Star Wars Defense Initiative.  When 6,500 scientists refused to take SDI money or work on it in any way by signing a petition stating their intentions, it caused great concern among these three cold war physicists.

The three created the George C. Marshall Institute to challenge the scientific consensus against Star Wars.  Seitz also worked for RJ Reynolds as a consultant.  In 1989 the cold war ended. The U.S. had won the cold war.  This deflated the rationale for the Institute; but, using the strategies developed by the tobacco industry, “doubt mongering”, the Institute went on to attack the science behind acid rain, ozone holes and eventually, global warming.

This methodology, honed in tobacco wars and practiced against acid rain and ozone (unsuccessfully, as it turned out), has been blisteringly effective against climate change science and its policy implications.  Why?  Read the rest of the story on Great Wheel later today or early tomorrow.


Back on Tailte, Peering Into the Climate Future

Winter                                                        Seed Catalog Moon

After a frustrating morning with a balky computer, I got into Robert Klein’s work on Missing.  He’s good.  Careful, detailed.  I’ve only rejected one of his edits so far and that one I understood what he did, but chose my construction over his.  I didn’t get far, but I’ll keep at it.

I wrote a private post earlier about my anxiety as I approached this stage.  It’s still there, but the anxiety decreased as I worked.  I hope that continues to be the case.

As I mentioned on Great Wheel, my computer is running a climate model with its unused processing power.  This is part of an Oxford Study to determine the results in a particular model if it is run many times with slight variations.  These slight variation can be very significant (think butterfly flapping wings), but without running these complex models over and over, tweaking them in slightly different ways each time, it’s impossible to know for sure what a particular adjustment will do.

Climate and weather modeling are big users of super computer resources and the work on my computer is part of a massively parallel processing strategy to, in effect, mimic super computers without having to buy them.  The concept is simple.  Each home computer has many times the computing power necessary for almost, if not all, the tasks it performs and, in addition to that, most of them sit idle most of the time.  By downloading parts of larger task onto many, many home computers use can be made of both the idle and under-utilized processing power.  The first one of these projects was SETI, the Search for Extra-Terrestial Intelligence, and I was part of that one, too.

They are resource intensive, however, so some of my computer frustrations might have come from it modeling global climate in the background.  I’m 95% with the task the Oxford folks assigned to me (well, my trusty Gateway is 95% done) and it may be a while before I take on another one.  This run takes approximately 350 hours of processing time.

I can and do shut it off at times.


Carbon on the Go

Winter                                                                  Seed Catalog Moon

This am in the climate change mooc listening to lectures about the international policy dimensions.  Boy, there are very real dilemmas.  Let me mention just one.  Coal.  To get emissions down coal use has to drop and drop a lot.  But.  Energy use in a nation has a linear relationship to the country’s wealth.  So.  If country A significantly reduces its coal consumption, two things follow.  1.  It will have to use a lot more of some other kind of energy unless it wants to beggar its citizenry.  2.  Country B, perhaps with less financial resources, now discovers that a lot of coal is available, cheaper than ever since one larger user has stopped or greatly diminished its use.  Result?  Country B buys the coal and uses it to generate electricity, thus increasing both its wealth and its emissions.  Hmmm.

There’s a knock-on here that amplifies the problem, embodied emissions.  Sounds like a horror movie premise and that’s not far off.  An embodied emission is when one country produces a product using a polluting energy source, say coal, but instead of consuming the product sells it on the global market.  Which country is responsible for the emissions?  The producer or the consumer.  That’s an embodied emission, when the product you consume sent up its production emissions in another country.

(international movement of coal)

Guess where that happens a lot?  Yep, China exporting to U.S.  So, while our emissions have fallen modestly thanks to first the 2008 great recession then the increasing use of natural gas, China’s been scarfing down coal reserves, many from Australia, then selling the furniture, electronics, appliances here in the U.S.

Embodied emissions have become a big problem since 1990.  Over that time international shipping has undergone a remarkable transformation lowering, then lowering again, the price of shipping even bulk goods like coal and, then, the products created by its use.

The solution to this happens to be simple but politically very unpalatable:  border tariffs. Tariffs are a big no-no to free market ideologues and they do raise the specter of tariffs used as weapons not just to balance the embodied emission problem.  Makes my head ache.


Winter                                                             Seed Catalog Moon

Started another MOOC today.  I won’t be taking a certificate in this one, just as I didn’t take one in the Modern/Post Modern class.  This class focuses on Walt Whitman, ModPo piqued my interest in him and his work.

EdX is another of the MOOC providers, this one tends toward the more high brow: M.I.T., Harvard.  The Whitman class is taught by a Harvard professor and I can’t tell you how many times she mentioned Harvard, Harvard’s resources and the number of poets who attended Harvard.  That put me off.  On the other hand she seems to have an interesting pedagogy in play, one congruent with Whitman which involves taking poetry to the streets and to other cities.

I plan to read the poetry, listen to the lectures and let the rest of it wash over me.  In the climate change MOOC I’m going for the certificate which means all the quizes, two exams, required activities.  I haven’t taken a mid-term or a final exam in over twenty years.  Should be fun.

There seem to be more critiques than praises right now popping up about MOOC’s. Expensive to set up and difficult to maintain.  Not as good as professor-student interaction.  Confusing to students and employers about who is certifying a student’s capabilities.  This is the anti-thesis of the revolutionary heavy breathing that began when they came out.

There is a synthesis down the line that will find MOOC’s do a great job of teaching disciplined students, especially such students geographically dispersed.  There will be proctored exams and course series that function like college majors.  A degree may no longer have only one institution behind it, but a coterie, an alliance, an association.

Will MOOC’s replace current colleges and universities?  Probably not.  Almost certainly not.  Will some of them get replaced?  Almost certainly.  Bricks and mortar is not the only way to learn and the more options students have the better for them.  This may not be best for the current geocentric system, but for whom was it built in the first place?  The student.  The issue is the education, its quality, availability and affordability.  If a few campuses have to become housing complexes, that’s no great loss.


And Things Were New

Winter                                                                  Seed Catalog Moon

So much new.  There’s always a lot of energy at first, Loki’s Children and the Great Wheel, a new workout regimen, getting back on the low carb horse, Climate Change MOOC, then there’s the slog, the keeping at it when the slump hits, a plateau and another push, then more.  Right now I’m mostly in the energy phase, lots of excitement and eagerness.

There will come a time though when the effort seems too much, when the energy has gone from positive to negative, becomes a drain, exhausting.  That’s when past experience helps.

Learning new tools for the Great Wheel.  Diving into the difficulty of reading graphs, percentages, equations, maps, pushing my body in a different way.  Listening to the ideas, the splinters of ideas, the ways forward as research and writing open up a new world.

In it now and glad of it.

May 2018
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