Sunday, August 26, 2007

Things could be worse.

Many many thanks for all your kind wishes. It helps.

After I went in to the sheriff's office personally, they came out. And found our truck.

Upside down, in the middle of the river.

The alleged meth-heads had apparently tried to ford what is usually a smallish creek with it- except it was swollen from the rains- which picked the truck up and flipped it. Dumping all the tools in it into the flooding creek.

Oddly, the chainsaw was on the shore- they'd evidently been using it. That still works.

No insurance is going to cover the truck- it wasn't covered as a "vehicle" - but being a truck, is apparently not a "farm machine", either... nice loophole for them.

And- both my professional mowers; critical for our harvests, were in the shop being repaired.

Here's the shop:

Right smack in the middle of this photo; which I borrowed from the Rochester Post Bulletin (many thanks).

So, they're toast. At least as big a problem as the untruck. Pretty hard to do our harvest stuff in grass up to our knees.

But, the sun is shining. And in a very bizarre development- our crops are NOT being stolen by the crows and jays as fast as usual. I was out before dawn checking- there just seem to be very few jays at all. West Nile? Possible.

I HAVE had a few volunteer pickers show up- a huge help. Long long ways to go, though- our harvest; of 3 different tree crops; runs through October. All the time.

Monday, August 20, 2007

and the creek DID rise

so, in my last post, I wrote; " Harvest is predictable; we know it's coming, barring - uh, tornadoes and floods."

I shouldn't have said that, I should NOT have said that.

If you read the news- there's serious flooding in the US Midwest- and yeah, we're right in the middle. If you keep track, you're going to be seeing a lot of amazing photos in the next few days- they're only now coming to the surface. In fact, all our communications went out on Saturday; only trickling back this morning; email is still dicey.

If you'd like to see some photos etc; here's a regional paper- flood stuff

We're only moderatly affected- can't pick our stuff in a downpour, but we don't have crops that can be pounded into the mud. We did get 5" of rain in 24 hours on Saturday; but neighbors got 10- 12" in places. We lucked out.

But, no question; everything is goofed up.

Hm. I was about to write, "I don't have any disaster photos of my own.... but. I do. And, once again, indicative of a lack of "good sense" -

We put this canopy up for a farm function- and we KNEW it needed to be guyed; me, Beelar, and Middle Son, and Spice. And the truth is, at the end of the day, we were just too wet and tired to believe it was gonna happen. So it did; a nice wind gust in the middle of the night tossed the canopy whole into the bushes. Busted a couple legs. We could have done without it. sigh.

And. Just for fun. On Monday morning- our 4wd farm pickup- strictly on farm, no license, and so rusty no one in their right mind would look at it- was stolen. With all my harvest tools- and chainsaw (read "winter heat") etc. It was sitting out away from the house- mostly because the ground was so wet we didn't want to move it- it rips up the ground right now.

Most likely stolen by meth-heads, looking for anything not nailed down- since the sheriff, of course, is busy elsewhere.

so- harvest is at a dead stop, at the moment. Yeah, global warming is not fun.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

the alligators are winning.

Mostly I do not envy Colinakanim. He lives in a big city; I live in a big country. We both have spectacular toddling daughters, and wives that mostly put up with us.

Ok, I don't really envy him at all. But. One thing he does have, in his urban life, is a little more time to write. And I do wish I had it. The rural reality here is- my harvest has started. And my life depends on it, pretty much literally.

Our entire year's income is tied up in the harvest. We haven't gotten into WHAT we grow; and I'm not going to, here. The entire rest of my life is spent explaining that, and I'd like one place where it's not a topic. But our income is based on plants we sell- that we grow from seed we select here. No seed harvested= no income. And the critters like to eat it too- so harvest is genuinely URGENT. As in; we've got to work all day, and all night if necessary, to get things done, because it cannot be done tomorrow. Only right this second.

That's where we are right now; up over our ears in harvest alligators, and it's exhausting. Which is why I'm short on posts. I'll continue to squeeze some in, and there will be more time later, after harvest; so please stick with me.

Urbanites just don't have this kind of urgent need. Well, unless you count tornadoes, and floods; but they're rare and unpredictable. :-) Harvest is predictable; we know it's coming, barring - uh, toradoes and floods... and drought.

It occurs to me.. (ok, that's a hint; gonna wax philosphical here...) that our pre-modern ancestors lived in worlds that mostly had regular periods of urgency and ease. Times when abilities were consistently pushed to their limits; times of testing.

The modern world has worked hard to remove such things as hunger, cold. And here we are, perhaps; with bodies and minds that have evolved to run like race-cars; some of the time. But no races to run.

I truly think this could be the basis of some of our ills. Too little to do; of course; but also too much energy; too much drive; and nothing to focus it on. So it winds up focused on anything handy - too often dangerous, stupid, enticing pathways like drugs, jumping out of airplanes... - etc.

I have a favorite book to recommend - "The Land Remembers", by Ben Logan. It's "the story of a farm and its people"; the brilliant images from the mind of a boy growing up on an isolated farm in Wisconsin. Not at all far from me, in the same kind of landscape.

Logan is stunning in the clarity of his recollections, and the pure humanity of them. I re-read it often.

If you want to really know what it's like to be part of a harvest crew; working after dark or before a storm- here's your best chance. Be prepared to sweat.

What comes to you is that yes, here's a small boy being asked to give everything he's got; for his family- stretch his muscles and stomach and head to the breaking point- and he does it. Grumping, as we all do. And very very proud of it.

Harvest IS that way. Cruelly demanding. It hurts. When you're in the middle of it, you wonder how you ever were so stupid as to get into this, and you want OUT. But it's satisfying in a way that's nearly impossible to convey. We can cut it. We're going to make. And- it's the family.

But it does leave you exhausted; spent - wiped out; at the end of the day. Tricky to write.

Read the book, please- I'll be astonished if you don't like it. Let me know. Hang in here.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Pants On Fire, part 2

I could have done without the horrific confirmation of this bit, right in the middle of it. The collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis is exactly a case in point. The engineers (who speak yet a different language from scientists, believe me) said "this is not a good bridge" - and - nothing whatever was done to correct problems; until people died. We really need to address this as what it is; BAD COMMUNICATION; or NO communication; followed by systemic INDECISION. Rome, people, is falling. Just as they started stealing lead from Roman aqueducts, once nobody cared enough to stop them - now they're stealing copper - in the USA- and shutting down farms. copper theft. And the major, important, bridges fall down. And everybody says "not my fault".

It IS somebody's fault. There are two probabilities; either it fell as the result of serious incompetence- most likely multiple incompetences; or; it's that one in a million that collapsed in spite of everything being done right. Which one would you bet on?

Here's part 2; I hope to have something to add to this soon; it can use some updating.

Of course, nefarious individuals, or in present parlance, the evildoers, could and did and do use the reported confusion to increase the inaction. Adding to the paralysis. Ustat Quo, Inc. does not really want to have to buy scrubbers for their smokestacks, in spite of the lovely full page ads about their new nature preserve.

If you are not asleep yet, I have one more layer to the onion for you; back to professional scientist training.

Science longs for “objectivity”. It is, of course, useful if you are going to get to “truth”. Science positively hankers after objectivity.

Now the philosophers of science know, as you know, and I know, that “objectivity” is a snare and a delusion. But they yearn, and strive, for it anyway.

Striving is fine, but there is a tendency for striving to become “belief”, which is an immediate disaster in sifting facts looking for truth; belief causes blindness.

It works like this: young scientists-to-be have it beaten into them that “I” has no place in science. Writing a scientific paper that starts “I went to the woods” will get you an F. Do it over. “The woods were visited” is what happened.

The goal here is to strip the blatantly unobjective “I” from the science; science must be done by objective, non-involved persons, who can see things clearly without the clouds of personality.

This is a crock, of course. All observation is done through the lenses and smogs of our own culture, our sex, our past, our training, what we ate for breakfast, and who we last talked to. Ask any anthropologist, or psychologist, priest, or advertising exec. To believe humans can be objective, I will venture to point out, is gloriously irrational.

But that is how scientists are trained, nay forced, to communicate; through an artificial scrim of admittedly pretended objectivity.

What it does, in fact, is add a layer of camouflage to any truths that may be hiding in the scientist’s writing. You come to learn this- the “publish or perish” law has generated staggering mountains of junk noninformation that must be screened for scraps of fact. One of the things you quickly learn as an apprentice scientist is to judge the person doing the writing- are they a damfool? an incompetent? plain scum? badly trained? just silly? actually psychotic? All of those are utterly possible, indeed common; figuring out who’s what helps sift the heaps of scientific disinformation; it’s probably less worth your time to be looking through the work of an idiot, charlatan, or scoundrel.

Scientists know this, and judge other scientists; carefully, even subliminally, all the time; but they don’t talk about it or admit it to outsiders. And with all the practice, they get very good at reading between the lines of pseudo-objective idiom.

When they talk to the press, they know their peers will read it, and judge it; so they are extremely careful to speak in the most precise scientific terms- and use all the pretend objectifying language at their disposal; their professional reputation can be irretrievably damaged by unprofessional utterances (like “yes”, or “no”).

The result is statements that seem cold, distant, and full of so many obfuscatory disclaimers and weasel words that any lawyer would swell with pride. If the statements were in English.

Serious scientists lay it on thicker than the BULL shouters. Most of the BULL shouters have no professional reputation left to protect (among scientists, that is; the dean is oblivious, since Dr. Billy gets lots of press)- so in fact, to the journalist’s ears, Dr. Billy sounds more forthcoming- more personable, rambunctious, and, oh, worth a little more space in the article...

All done for the sake of Truth; and all done with the best of intentions.

And as a result, we are all on a path to a very warm place.

“Truth” has not been served; nor have we, nor the wellbeing of the world.

Is this the only case where critical information has been lost in a morass of good intentions? Of course not. Immediately after the terrorist attacks of September Eleventh, a refrain heard over and over, quite sincerely made in most cases, was “No one ever imagined that such a thing could happen...”. Utterly untrue. Repeated warnings were made by knowledgeable people, extending from briefings for Congress to books published for general consumption. Warnings stating that various kinds of precautions should be taken, immediately. The true statement would be “We did not listen to the people who knew.”

So is that the only other instance? Of course not.

So, why am I telling you all this?



There you have the 2002 essay. Why am I telling you this? Because- I do think we can start to change all this. First step; recognize the problem. Second step- get others to see. Third step- work for new decision making processes. Now there is an iceberg that can keep you busy for the next several lifetimes.

More on that next time.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Pants On Fire, part 1

(For new readers: to skip the chatty introduction, and get to the discussion on communication; skim down to the ----> ---> ----> --->)

The bug is hanging on, and besides making it difficult to eat or work, it's making my brain very foggy yet. So I'm going to share a bit of previous writing with you. This is an essay from Jan. 29, 2002; written mostly out of frustration. It's written in the style of a newspaper Op Ed piece, though I've never pursued publication- the odds looked too long. The piece itself is too long- almost 3000 words, so I'm going to split it into 2 installments here. And, not to bushwack anyone, it includes a small number of words (maybe 4) children are usually not encouraged to use. They are necessary, I think.

The topics are bang on many of our recent discussions, here and on other blogs in this vicinity- and the statements are some I've run into nowhere else. We are in trouble; as a world. A huge part of the reason is our inability to understand our problems, communicate them, and decide what to do about them. We REALLY have to do something about that- and you know what? There is no chance the "governments" CAN; nor the "universities". They can't; at this point. I'm wondering, though, if the blogosphere might not actually have a crack at it. Though it's pushing on icebergs, always. I'll put up part 2 tomorrow. Do note the date this was written- I would not be patting the USA on the back so much today.

Pants On Fire
Jan 29, 2002

It’s pretty obvious to everyone these days that we (as in us humans) are all walking on thin ice, in terms of keeping everything (as in Life, the Universe, and) going. To most of us, all we need is a new dose of headlines to once again bring us to the pellucid realization that all of Humankind is teetering on the brink of destruction. Or as our great grandparents would have more briefly put it, the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

And it is, too. List any area of human endeavor, and you will quickly come up against major problems. Enron. Global warming. AIDS. Terrorism, real and imaginary. Opportunists using terrorism, real and imaginary, to advance their own agendas. Creeping up on us all is the suspicion that the crowing televangelists are right. The end is near.

America is a great place. No doubt about it. What an amazing experiment we are. We still, in fact, are breaking new ground constantly, in terms of what humans can do by way of self-government. We do try, very hard. I had the luck a number of years ago to have a job that took me into the offices of Congressmen and Senators, and into intimate conversations with a number of them. Lots of intimate conversations with their staffers. Sure, there were the stereotype slimy politicos that we all scorn, those just there for the power and sex. But I also met a lot of very sincere “good people”- folks who were there because they wanted to try to make things work. Very impressive, they were, in the face of the daily struggle with the endless crap. And I think there were more of them than there were slimeballs.

Cynicism is easy, and gets easier day by day. The reasons “things” don’t work is that the people in charge really don’t give a damn about them, we hear.

But in fact, they do; many of them. There are good people, even now, trying their hardest to keep the fabric of our world from unraveling. You know some too.

So how come it all seems to keep sliding downhill?

Our whole governmental and societal experiment was set up by some astoundingly smart people. When you dig into their system of checks and balances, and what they wrote and thought about them, it’s clear that here were a group of thinkers completely familiar with the history of human frailty. They knew to an amazing degree just how it is that rulers go wrong, and they gave long hard thought to how to prevent it.

Giving us the United States of America. What a place. At the age of 200, it still, mostly, functions; mostly dealing out what most would agree is a better form of government, and higher standard of justice, than is usually available elsewhere. All things considered, we do a pretty good job.

Still. Things are not looking very good at the moment; our government is creaky to the point of being a major source of humor for the rest of the world, as they watch us in amazement. And our whole decision making process feels both like we don’t control it, and like whoever does, is doing a really lousy job of deciding what gets done and what doesn’t.

Somehow, for example, the whole country seems to be in paralysis as we watch our government move us cheerfully down the path toward building a brand new, improved, Maginot Line In Space. No one wants a “missile defense”- no one with any brain imagines it will work; and any cretin with 20 lbs of plutonium would obviously be much more likely to just walk into the Stock Exchange and spread it all over as dust, instantly rendering New York uninhabitable for 10,000 years, rather than hope the 30 year old rocket he can buy would actually work. It’s obvious to the entire world that our New Maginot Line is to be built so that billions can be paid to defense contractor executives so they can build stuff that will never have to be used (apart from their new swimming pools and yachts)- and somehow we are all frozen in the headlights.... where is the voice, any voice, of serious opposition to this moronic undertaking? The paralysis itself is paralyzing.

 ----> ---> ----> --->

We stand here stupefied. How and where did our joint decision making process go so wrong?

As it happens, I am intimately familiar with another case in point, and I can see quite clearly how it went wrong. Yes, I’d be delighted to share it with you; I thought you’d never ask.

It’s Global Warming; a Really Big Problem. Is it real? Oh, please. Of course it is, how can you not see, understand, and get it? Yes. It’s real. And yes, we’re in deep shit.

It has been obvious for decades. Literally. I have been an invited speaker at 3 major international Global Warming conferences, in 1988 and 1989, kind of at the outset of “large discussion” of the problem; and again in 2002. Our decision making process has been basically motionless, the whole time.

Here’s why.

We rely, in the age of science, on scientific “opinion” to guide our deliberations. If you want to do the right thing, you have to ask the people who know what’s true. Your senator has more than one staffer whose main job is to get good scientific input.

But, actually, it doesn’t work that way. In truth, we rely on scientific opinion, as reported; by reporters. That’s what we vote by, and call our senators by.

No, I don’t think reporters are bad, or stupid; nor are the scientists. I wish it were that simple. Mencken comes to mind; “There's always an easy solution to every human problem -- neat, plausible, and wrong.”

This ISN’T simple, so pay attention. We’re all supposed to be big boys and girls now, and a little complexity past 2 + 2 shouldn’t scare us.

I grew up exposed to tremendous language differences. So quite early, I noticed that not all people who think they are speaking the same language, actually are. The seminal experience came when I was moved, at the age of 6, from Boston to Cherry Point, North Carolina; and at my first recess, on the playground, one of my new classmates approached me purposefully, placed his nose within 2 inches of mine, and demanded forcefully “Rrryewayangeerrrareb?” *

He was obviously utterly serious, and I had no idea, none, zero, zip, what he had said, or what he was talking about. As I puzzled about it over the years, it became clear to me that not only did I not comprehend the word, but the concepts within were a blank also; I had never heard of a Yankee, nor a Reb, nor had I any comprehension of their relationship. But it was all of the highest importance to my classmate. We did not become friends. The experience was useful when we next moved to Guam, and my classmates did not have English as their mother tongue.

And I was put on my guard about how remarkably common it is for humans to speak to each other, hold what passes for a conversation, and leave the conversation reasonably satisfied; but with no information having changed hands.

Scientists, journalists, “policy makers”, and the general public, are doing this now, big time. More than when our governmental guidebook was conceived.

Scientists, journalists, “policy makers”, and the general public do not, in fact, speak the same languages; and they do not know it. We need interpreters, and have none; don’t even know we need them. Sure, we have “science writers”- sorry, but it’s not enough; not even close. The technical jargons of different specialities have diverged to the point where they are genuinely different languages.

 To make it more confusing, most of our scientists actually believe they speak English. But they don’t. I am dead serious about this.

So, we’re at this big meeting on “climate change”, aka global warming. It’s 1988, earlyish in this discussion. All the climate modelers are there, talking about their models; all the reporters are there, listening to the scientists give their reports.

The scientists say; “The data are not yet conclusive; though the indications are strong, and point out the need for more study.”

The reporters, and congressional staffers, report that the scientists aren’t sure about what is going on, and want more study. Now there’s a headline.

I was there. Been there, saw and heard that. And neither scientists nor journalists nor staffers realized that they did not understand the conversation, simple as it appears.

Both scientist and journalist are victims of their professional training, which in both cases is designed to produce the most “truth”. But alas, unbeknownst to the noncommunicants, their operating definitions of “truth” are entirely different.

Both scientist and journalist are thoroughly professional; and it is professional suicide to speak, in public, using definitions of words that differ from their professional standard.

What very few layfolk know is that scientists have hammered into them a spectacularly rigid and demanding definition of “true” that no one else in the world uses. A thing is “true” if, and ONLY if, you can say so with a mathematically calculated probability greater than 95%. And if you can’t quantify and calculate it, don’t even think about it.

Ah, if only we could look at our politicians, and know that there were a 95% chance they were telling us the truth. In the real world, we’re used to judging the veracity of our leaders knowing at best we can give them a 60% chance. God, I’d love a politician I could believe 50% of the time.

So, what was really going on in 1988 was that the climate data the scientists were looking at, with huge variables, was only giving them mathematical “certainty levels” of around 85%. So, there’s an 85% chance, that this climate bobble is due to “real” global changes. Only 85%. The journalist hears “well, the data aren’t conclusive yet, but it’s interesting”, because scientists will be defrocked if they state in public that something is probably true, when the probability is less than 95%. You think I’m kidding? Ask a scientist.

The congressional staffer goes back, and says, well, they’re not sure yet. Hard to move decisively on that.

If any of us went to Atlantic City, and were given the chance to bet on a game where the chances of winning were “only” 85%, what would we do?

You and I both know; we’d bet the farm, and the wife and kids; you’re never going to get that close to a sure thing again.

The next layer of this onion is that the journalists also have a professional standard that turns out to be a catastrophe for truthseekers. Journalists are taught always, always, to provide a balanced report.

So they go to the meeting; a bunch of scientists are looking VERY worried, because they personally would bet exactly the same way you and I would in Atlantic City, and the journalist says, “hm, what does the opposition say?” And they look for contrarian scientists. Of course, they find them.

What shows up in the newspaper is that “some scientists are worried, but not sure”, and “other scientists say the first guys are full of crap.” This is very satisfying for a lot of journalists, who don’t want global warming to be true any more than the rest of us do, don’t like those smart ass science guys much anyway, and are glad they can’t agree on anything, and we’re given a lovely, balanced report, with all views represented.

What they failed to report, in 1988, was that only, say, 85% of the scientists were in total agreement that we were/are in deep shit (but not sure) and only 15% of appropriate scientists were in the contrarian position. (Incidentally, it’s only about 5% in the contrary position today.)

They also cannot point out, because of libel laws and professional courtesy, that most of that 15% of naysayers were professional assholes.

Oddly, universities frown on professors calling each other names like that, or telling truths like that. But we’ve all met them. In every college department, there’s the prof who got there more out of perseverance than brilliance; is pissed off at the world that they’re not really very bright, and have discovered that they can get lots of people to listen to them if they just stand up and say “BULL!” from time to time. These types are inescapable and ubiquitous.

The real equation, in 1988, was that 85% of the scientists who studied the problem were 85% sure we were heading for horrifyingly serious problems, and the majority of their opposition were known fools.

I do not think the journalists understood that.

And what they reported was: no one is sure, and Dr. Billy, a colorful contrarian, says “BULL!”.

I would like to think that our Congress, if given the actual information that almost all sound scientists agreed the trouble was real, would have started taking some kind of action about it all.

Fool that I am.

That, in fact, is what the scientists were saying- "we're in very big, very serious trouble, and need to do something about it now." But they were completely unable to communicate that to anyone- except other scientists.


*"Are you a Yankee, or a Reb?" inquiring whether I considered myself a part of the North, or the South, in the US Civil War (1861-1865). Our readers not from the USA may be surprised to learn that the "North" is under the impression this war is over, but many in the South still do not accept that idea.