Solar Ricardo

Solar Ricardo

Monday, December 17, 2012

Addendum to the last post...

image by Don Rock, Terror Worldwide
I got a lot of responses to the last post- I just wanted to clarify a few points.

I don't equate gun ownership with liberty. Owning a gun won't stop the homeland security forces from raiding your house- for more than a few minutes. Ask David Koresh. I'm not particularly attached to my guns. So personally, I'm not taking that stance. I think if you are worried about liberty, your time is better spent backing the EFF than the NRA. But unlke the UK, the guns are ALREADY OUT THERE. We can't get from here to there. Law abiding folks will give them up willingly, or grudgingly, but a lot of people will see this as the line that will not be crossed and they will become the outlaws they always fantisized they would be. It will create a whole new class of "domestic terrorists". It fulfills a self-fulfilling prophecy. Taking guns really would become the first step to tyranny, because a whole class of people want that to be the case. They are begging for it. The feds know that it's just not going to happen, or if it does it will be UGLY. Here's another idea. Pull out of ALL foreign entanglements. Reduce the military budget by 2/3. Allow that money to go back into the economy and improve peoples lives. Let's stop the prison industrial complex and reform drug laws- that would reduce illegal gun traffic by -what- 90%? Let's get some decent health care happening, so sick, delluded, paranoid people can address these problems. Let's get election reform so peoples voices can be heard and we don't have to fear our government. Let's abolish the "National Guard" and return militias to the states, so people who want to receive military training can get it in their state helping and defending their neighbors, not kicking in doors and shooting children in Fallujah. THEN, and only then, will people stop feeling like they need to defend their "Liberty". THEN, maybe we can have a society where people don't feel they need to bury ammo in their back yard.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

School shootings, gun control and our truly fucked-up society

Like everyone in America this weekend, I am struggling to understand why these horrific acts of violence are occurring, and why no one in government seems to be able to suggest even the tiniest step toward addressing them. Unlike many of my friends, I can't make up my mind about a solution. For them it seems to be a simple decision. I can't seem to get there, so I'm trying to organize my thoughts here, in hope of clarifying the issue for myself.

On one hand, I am seeing my “liberal” friends posting statistics pointing out that European countries that have strict regulations of guns have lower per capita gun deaths. On the other hand, I have “conservative” friends that point out that dis-arming of populations has been the first step to establishing totalitarian regimes in many other countries. To me, neither of those examples means anything when dealing with the gun control issue in the US, but it does illustrate the basic divide in political thought in the US, and why our federal government can no longer govern effectively on any of the key social issues of the modern age. Yes, if we make guns illegal, only criminals will have guns. Unlike the UK, the guns are already out there. Only a nation-wide house-to-house search could rid this country of guns, and we can all agree, that is not something we want. And yes, no one needs a high-cap assault weapon to hunt deer, and yes, most gun deaths occur in the home. All of these things are true. So where does that put us?

A few facts about school shootings in America: school shootings have been occurring in US schools since there have been schools in the US. Of course, killing technology has advance exponentially since Matthew Ward shot Schoolmaster Butler with a flintlock pistol in Louisville, Kentucky in 1853, and high capacity automatic weapons have made the outbreaks of violence increasingly horrendous. Another fact- in most cases the throughout history, the shootings have been premeditated acts of mentally ill individuals. In many, if not most cases, the individuals committed suicide after the killings.

Other factors: In most cases, historically, the weapons used in these cases were legally obtained. In most cases the shooters were white males from average households. In recent cases, many of the shooters have been treated for mental conditions with prescription drugs, and many have been avid players of violent video games. These factors are all far to vague and subjective to really take into account. Although I suspect that in recent cases, the violence in our entertainment, and the over-use of drugs, most of whom list “suicidal thoughts” as a side effect right on the box, I'm going to set those aside. I think they are symptoms of a much bigger cultural problem.

Let's go back to the two undeniable key factors of the situation- guns and mental illness.

Gun Control- This country was founded by the gun. It is linked to our history- who we are as a nation, for better or worse. For some, it is a symbol of their self-sufficiency, or their distrust of government. I understand both of those. I think this explains why, despite the fact that per-capita gun ownership has steadily fallen since the 60's, support for the right to own a gun has increased. In the back of most Americans mind is a deep-rooted fear that maybe, someday, they will need one.

On the other hand, most everyone agrees that a less violent society is what we need to strive for- one where we don't need to worry about being robbed, raped or enslaved in a police state. It comes down to another bigger cultural problem- What IS freedom, really? What happens when your “freedom” collides with my “freedom”? Okay- back to bigger cultural problems again.

Mental Illness- Government funding for mental health services are dropping rapidly, despite the increased need for those services in these difficult times. Insurance companies won't pay for them either, unless you have an expensive, premium policy. How are parents with sick kids supposed to get help? Shit, again, back to huge cultural problem.

Okay, so I'm back to square one, just like our government. Unlike, the government, I am not willing to accept that somehow legislative band-aids will create a solution. The popular Einstein quote says that Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I don't accept that a government of, by and for special interest groups like the NRA, big Pharma and the Insurance lobby can fix this problem.

Finally- Let's be clear about what a ban on guns will and won't due. It will prevent the random killing of 10-20 innocent, mostly white, middle class people each year. It won't prevent illegal gun violence, most of which is committed with revolvers and shotguns and happens in lower-income and minority communities, due to poverty and bad drug policies. It also won't lead to a loss of personal freedom or the US becoming a police-state- that is happening despite individual ownership of automatic weapons. I don't see the President crying publicly over all of the suicides of people who can't get adequate health care, or the innocent children killed in drone strikes. I think we have a way bigger problem here, and freaking out over the same old hot-button social issues won't do jack-shit.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

“You Can't Learn Less” : Academia, The Media and Education by Choice

A friend of mine mentioned recently that he was beginning to doubt his fathers old saying, “you can't learn less”.

He was referring to a recent news article about a Farleigh Dickinson University study that found  people who relied solely on Fox News (and MSNBC) for their information faired worse on a news quiz than did New York Times readers, NPR listeners, and even people who cited the Daily Show as their primary news source. My friend mused that perhaps Fox viewers were learning less than nothing.

Curious about the origin of the saying “you can't learn less”, I went to the source of all “learning”, Google. There, I found that the saying is attributed to R. Buckminster Fuller, the visionary architect of the mid 20th century. This made perfect sense to me. Bucky  Fuller is, coincidentally, a personal hero of mine. Although some of his techno-utopian visions of the future seem somewhat dated now, his basic ideas about mimicking the highly organized systems of nature still make a lot of sense to me. It didn't surprise me that the quote was from Fuller- his books can be wordy and sometimes difficult to read, but they always full of highly quotable ideas. “Education by choice, with its marvelous motivating psychology of desire for truth, will make life ever cleaner and happier, more rhythmical and artistic,” Fuller wrote in his 1928 book, 4D Timelock .

Fuller, who died in 1983, believed very strongly in the potential of television and radio as tools of learning. What would Bucky Fuller think of the current state of mass media as teacher? How would he have felt about 24 hour cable “news”, or more importantly, the internet, with it's vast store of quasi-facts and disinformation?

The Fairleigh Dickinson report stated that: “People who report reading a national newspaper like The New York Times or USA Today are 12-points more likely to know that Egyptians have overthrown their government than those who have not looked at any news source. And those who listen to the non-profit NPR radio network are 11-points more likely to know the outcome of the revolt against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. However, the best informed respondents are those that watched Sunday morning news programs: leading to a 16- point increase in the likelihood of knowing what happened in Egypt and an 8-point increase in the likelihood of knowing what happened in Syria.”  Of course, another great American thinker, Mark Twain once wrote “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” Interestingly, Fox News attempted to deflect the criticism by attacking Fairleigh Dickinson's academic record rather than calling into question the study's methodology. ““Considering FDU’s undergraduate school is ranked as one of the worst in the country, we suggest the school invest in improving its weak academic program instead of spending money on frivolous polling – their student body does not deserve to be so ill-informed.”

This pissing match between academia and the media is nothing new, but it does clearly illustrate the current state of “knowledge” and “learning”. Academic research is in large part funded by corporations and the “scientific polls” used endlessly by the media are designed specifically to stir controversy and advance political agendas rather than advance truth-seeking. These bastions of academic learning and institutions of news and information gathering have gradually devolved into production facilities for politically driven disinformation.

It would seem that my friend might be right -people may actually be learning less, or more accurately un-learning- shucking meaty and troublesome “big thoughts” in favor of pre-chewed intellectual pablum. In times of economic uncertainty and social unrest, it may just be easier to accept this un-learning process. Dealing with climate change seems an insurmountable problem, so it's simply easier to deny it's existence than to study the research. It's easier to accept the “fact” that America is the greatest nation on the planet rather than to study different political systems objectively. It's easier to search for bible quotes on the internet that support your predetermined position than it is to read the entire book and study the historical context in which it was written.

  In the current “information age” it seems to be more difficult than ever to achieve Fuller's vision of a self-motivated seeking of truth. Looking for the needle of truth in the haystack of corporate propaganda is made even more daunting when the internet offers nearly infinite haystacks to search through. Still, there are opportunities out there. Education by Choice can still be achieved without incurring a lifetime of student debt or giving up and handing your brain over to talk radio hosts. The Free Skool, unschooling and maker movements, Citizen Science, open source technology, online forums and yes- the good old public library are all available to aid self-guided learning. Education by Choice is a subjective process, though, and can easily digress into the ghettoization of knowledge that occurs when people don't look outside of their own echo chamber for information. A good spectrum is necessary. Religious fanatics are an example of people who may be highly educated, but lack a full spectrum of learning. So to are plant geneticists who can't think outside the industrial agriculture paradigm and believe that only increased yields can solve hunger. Learning in a vacuum, where subjective information is mistaken for truth, can take one “down the rabbit hole” in a hurry- conspiracy theorists and even some environmental activists can begin to parrot factoids culled from other like-minded amateur researchers, rather than doing the reading, or even better, having a first-hand experience for themselves. As the wonderful writer/philosopher/humorist  Robert Anton Wilson once put it: “Is", "is." "is" — the idiocy of the word haunts me. If it were abolished, human thought might begin to make sense. I don't know what anything "is"; I only know how it seems to me at this moment...”

Ultimately, learning is the life-long process of decorating one's own reality tunnel. You can choose to paint it one color, or paper it with one pattern, or you can make it a bulletin board- a dynamic collage of constantly updated and improved tidbits, which hopefully, eventually become a pattern that offers you a life that is  “...ever cleaner and happier, more rhythmical and artistic.” 

The information is all out there, in those haystacks. To begin the search for the kernels of truth, you need the tools to winnow away some of the chaff. 

Here are five suggestions for beginning your own trip down the road to Education by Choice :

Five Suggestions for Learning More, Not Less

1. Learn to learn/think/express yourself

There have been a lot of studies done about how people learn, and it's worth finding and reading some articles about how people learn. Experts on learning often break learners down into three groups- visual, auditory and tactile- and discuss how different people learn best using these types of cues. Which type are you? I suggest trying/using all three. A lot of recent books and websites call these “mind-hacks” or “brain-hacks”, and offer fun exercises for organizing information and learning habits.

It's also important to learn to express yourself accurately, and avoid semantic laziness. Because of the rapid standardization of communication due to digital technology, written text shorthand cliches like “IMHO” take the place of more complex expressions, and spoken cliches like “at the end of the day” or “literally...” offer lazy thinkers definitive statements to stop further examination of a given topic.

An interesting exercise is to read about and explore “E Prime”. Invented by Alfred Korzybski, the father of general semantics, E Prime is a style of english that does not use any form of the verb “to be”. Using E Prime helps avoid definitive proclamations and bases statements on the speaker or writer's actual experiences.  Try going a day without using the words “am, are, is, was, were, be, been or being...” for example, don't simply pronounce “this coffee is good!” Say “I really like the flavor of this coffee!”

2. Read real books

This is not some sort of Luddite judgement call- I love the internet as a research and communication tool, and an ebook reader can definitely offer great possibilities for taking a lot of information along when you are on the go. However, researchers have found that information retention is still better among those who read physical books.  Books offer a physical and tactile experience that helps the brain retain information. More importantly, books do not offer the distractions available on an e-reader of computer. There are no hyperlinks to chase, no email or facebook to check. I suggest reading a book, making physical notes as you go, and when you are finished, re-visit those notes and do additional research online.

Also- explore old books. There are endless great ideas in them that may have not found their way into the digital realm. Also, the process of going to the library, or to a used bookstore, will bring you into close physical proximity with other “book people”. They might be older people, or simply people with a different set of life experiences from those of your friends, roommates, work colleagues, etc.

3. Work with your hands

Learning doesn't happen solely in your mind. Exercising your body and honing your manual dexterity are important to the learning process. I could never understand math as a high school student, but a few years as a carpenter brought into clear focus the reality of geometry and algebra.

Work is exercise, and not the meaningless vanity-driven exercise of the stair-master. Digging, planting, harvesting, chopping, carving, building, repairing, cleaning, all can build the muscles and skills, clear the mind and offering real-life lessons. A broad range of physical and intellectual experience is critical to how you think and learn. Robert Heinlein wrote: “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. “

4. Be a teacher and a student

I love online forums, hackspaces and free skools.  I love any place that I can interact with other people of similar interests, share information and experiences, and learn from each others successes and mistakes. It's a great feeling to reach a level where you have something to share and you can take on the role of teacher. It's a great way to put your ideas and knowledge to the test. An education needs to be a shared experience.

I also love hands-on workshops and other opportunities to interact with people who are a knowledge level or two above me and my fellow citizen scientists.It's important not to be comfortable with the level you are at in the learning process, and to remember that there is always more to learn. Face-to-face interactions with good teachers are critical, and that doesn't have to happen in a classroom.

5. Write/draw every day

My father wrote in his journals every day that I can remember. He processed those thoughts into great poetry. I, on the other hand, am a lousy journal writer. I understand, though, that ideas stagnate and dwindle if they are not stored, re-examined and refined. Try to find a system that works for you- a journal, a sketchbook, a camera or voice recorder- whatever fits your style. If you are a social media user, think of it as Tweeting to your future brain.

My way of addressing this need is to use some of the techniques of Lion Kimbro from his book How to Make a Complete Map of Every Thought you Think (which can be downloaded for free online.) Basically I keep a notebook or “catch” to grab my ideas- I scribble down a subject idea and a hint. Sometimes I'll scribble in some sketches, or tape in a scrap of paper or clipping. Then, later in the day, or at the end of the week,  I'll go back through and flesh out some of the ideas when I have more time.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Open Source Keyline Plow

I love the projects at Open Source Ecology. Sometimes I think they build stuff that could more easily be done with existing equipment, but a lot of their stuff is really, really well done... I would like to build a rig like this for my 1940 9N tractor.

Open Source Keyline Plow. from Open Source Ecology on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Wildness, Time-Binding and Feral Technology

"Pointing to the logs burning in the fireplace, one child asked me, "What is fire?" I answered, "Fire is the Sun unwinding from the tree's log. The Earth revolves and the trees revolve as the radiation from the Sun's flame reaches the revolving planet Earth... Each ring of the many rings of the saw-cut log is one year's Sun-energy impoundment. So the fire is the many-years-of-Sun-flame-winding now unwinding from the tree. When the log fire pop-sparks, it is letting go a very sunny day long ago, and doing so in a hurry." Conventionally educated grown-ups rarely know how to answer such questions. They're all too specialized."

From "Critical Path" by R. Buckmister Fuller

The earth is losing its wild places. Natural resources are being depleted, contaminated, and exploited. Most humans would agree that these statements are true, and that these issues need to be addressed, but there is little agreement in the human community on how to do so. As we look at the options for preserving and promoting some elements of "Wildness" in our global and personal environments, we are faced with a basic contradiction - for a majority of humans in the "developed" world, "wildness" only exists as an intellectual concept - most people will never spend time completely immersed in the direct interaction with their environment on a level of basic survival. Because humans are physically ill-equipped to survive in the wild, our tribes have strived to remove us from harm, and like any successful species, our own survival/success may be our eventual downfall, due to resource depletion; human over-grazing.

Ironically, one of humankind's most primitive institutions, tribalism, is the major obstacle to preserving "Wildness". Humans first conceptual tool in the struggle for dominance over the terran environment, tribalism remains hardwired into the cultural psyche of humans in the forms of governments, corporations and religions - all of which continue to tool up to wage a war for survival that was long ago won. How do we retool our tribal machinery to serve not as political, social and economic weaponry, but as vehicles for omni-survival, what Buckminster Fuller referred to as "livingry"? Is it possible to use technology to reclaim elements of the wild, to find a balance at the fringe of domestication where these "feral technologies" might flourish?

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Artist Profile: Peter Aschwanden

Peter Aschwanden: Illustrator and Pioneer of the D.I.Y. Movement
By Rich Dana and Deborah Reade

This article originally appeared in OBSOLETE! #2

Recently, I found myself perusing the book tables at a sustainable living fair and came across a copy of The Septic System Owners Manual. Granted, it's not a title that would attract most readers, but if you live on a farm with an aging septic system as we do, it might. There was something about the cover of this book, with it's playful turn-of-the-century fonts and the tightly drawn pen and ink cartoon that made me pick it up and start leafing through the amazing illustrations.

I remembered immediately where I had seen this drawing style before. In the early 80's, I was living above George Herget's bookshop on Magazine Street in New Orleans.  One of my roommates, George Morrissey, had undertaken a complete rebuild of his VW Rabbit (to the dismay of the neighbors and landlord) on the sidewalk outside, as well as on the living room floor and kitchen table. Ever-present was a copy of How toKeep Your Volkswagen Rabbit Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for theCompleat Idiot. The illustrations in the Septic System book were in the same meticulous yet quirky, humorous style.

PeterAschwanden’s work was ingrained in my memory - the "compleat idiot" series of VW repair books were omnipresent among DIY'ers of the 70's and 80's, and were the predecessors to an entire genre of informal "how-to" books. His illustrations adorned t-shirts and posters of VW nuts across the world.

With the launch of OBSOLETE! Magazine earlier this year, I decided to look into the work of this guy whose skill with a pen rivaled that of other better-known 60's illustrators like R. Crumb and Spain Rodriguez. I wanted to meet this guy. Unfortunately, Peter had passed away in 2005. I’m indebted to Deborah Reade and Francisco Aschwanden, who very generously helped me put together this profile of Peter, his life, and his work.
Read the entire article at our sister publication, OBSOLETE!