No transcript yet

Sorry I haven’t put up a transcript for this week’s Bare Bones Biology, because — my computer is in the hospital. Oh no, you say, you should have backed it up!! Oh yes, I say, I thought I did, but that automatic backup software didn’t back it up. I will get a copy of the disk from Stevo and put it up before next week (I hope) and meantime, I’ve been watching my little pond ecosystem slowly die in the drought.

You know, about 50 years ago when I was taking ecology and studying a beautiful little ecosystem along a river at UC Davis, I thought in my dissociated moments that it might be interesting to watch and record the result of human overpopulation. But – no, I thought. It won’t happen in my lifetime.

HA! Check out Crash Course on Youtube if you want to understand exponential growth.

And then I thought — after I wrote my report — who would there be to read it? A vision of Professor Salt pops into my mind. He was a nice man and a good professor, but – – –

The answer is that human societies have crashed under population pressures quite a number of times in the past and it has already been recorded. For example, read COLLAPSE by Jarrod Diamond. It’s not a slow thing in my pond; these fish were all alive the day before I took this picture, and the water is not that much different today from yesterday, and it seems not to have been a slow thing in past human events. That’s what is meant by a “tipping point,” when all the factors TOGETHER, climate, temperature, food energy, water, all that and more, in their interacting effects, are outside the limits of tolerance of (whatever species) — And yet people keep telling me “it’s always been the way it is and it always will be.” The fact is the whole earth ecosystem is a living entitity that is always changing in response to the environment. The internal environment in this case.

But wait — that’s what I’m trying to tell you. The law of gravity, the second law of thermodynamics, the law of cause and effect. They are not changing. They are what make life possible on this earth. If they change, life is not possible. If they don’t change, then our life is not possible unless we abide by the natural laws, and the best way to do that is to understand the natural laws — not pretend they don’t exist or are under our control..

Peach Clubhouse Newsletter 110528

Tuesday, May 31, 6 pm, the Peach Clubhouse is privileged to present the premiere of MOTHER, the film.

You probably know that I have been looking for a movie about population that I’m willing to show. It must be factually accurate, and it can’t be a movie that just tries to scare people to make money. HOHOHO – here we have it – and we will be the premiere screening!

The story line documents a number of problems associated with human overpopulation. We do know that we have problems. So then the movie describes the travels of a young advocate for children’s rights as she searches for solutions. MOTHER is factually accurate and well thought out. I look forward to sharing it with you.

Not coincidentally, the showing of this film coincides with the current two episodes of Bare Bones Biology that describe the results of my little study of Planned Parenthood volunteers.

Friday June 3 at 3 pm at the Peach Clubhouse the Insight Meditation group will begin a review of the workshop recently presented by Pema Chodron at Omega Institute. Meditate first, review after.

Sunday June 12, 2 pm at the Unitarian Uiversalist Church will be presented by the Texas Drought Project. The fracking tour begins in Cuero, and ends in College Station. It features the movie Gasland along with the personal commentaries of people who have first-hand experience with fracking. Fracking is a process that breaks up the underground layers of rock to release natural gas. Maps are available on my blog, on the right hand side, that show the areas of fracking and the areas of our water resources. This is only one of the concerns about fracking. Sooner or later we as a human population will need to decide whether or not we want to leave any resources (gas, oil, water, food) for the coming generations. I say yes, and I say we should begin not later than now. The fracking tour will bring us the information wee need to help us do this. One thing you can do to help is distribute the flyer attached and “like” the facebook page, .The Dark Side of the Boom.

WooWoo – Central A/C is coming to the Peach Clubhouse, but I’m not sure when.

The Road Less Travelled

Where have I been you say? Well, I’ll tell you where I have been. I’ve been to a Pema Chodron retreat, and if you want to know how great that is you should go to your own. How foolish would it be for me to try to describe her???

But the rest of the trip was also fairly interesting and I’ll give you some of the high points.

I started out as usual getting lost for quite a long while in Austin until I finally went to the doorman at that really really REALLY snazzy hotel down there by the river and he told me what I was looking for (a not-snazzy hotel) was on the other side of the river. So I got a place to stay and a good nights’ sleep before getting on the train to Chicago. That was interesting and added a couple of people to our mailing list, and we arrived in Chicago four hours late, but that really didn’t much matter, as I had to wait 5 or 6 hours in the station.

I was the very first person on the train to Albany and snagged the perfect seat, after which the train filled up and someone came to sit next to me, which would be OK, except I had no sleep on the previous train because my legs hurt unless I move around. So this guy was sitting there and my legs were jumping around until finally I went up and found a position in the lounge car with my body twisted just right around the table so that I could fall asleep for short periods of time. Meantime this guy sat bolt upright, sound asleep, for about 10 hours.

We were a couple of hours late into Albany, where I transferred to another train that arrived late into Rhinecliff because of flash flood warnings on the Hudson River. I was only slightly disappointed that the water never came up to the hubcaps, and we arrived about half an hour late. It’s a good thing they recorded that first talk, because my pen dropped out of my fingers several times as I faded into audio hallucinations and missed most of it. It was very good. Equanimity.

The entire Omega experience was beautiful and relaxing and friendly, and healthy. They have honeysuckle TREES. And as I had made my return reservations for the wrong day, I got to stay over and investigate the beautiful and excellent Ram Das library. You should go to Omega. They have R&R vacations or work-study vacations. You can go and just hang out or work half time and attend things.

So then I went back down to the train station. The only person on the platform as the train came in and the station master announced “Train #133 to Austin!” And I did the whole train thing in reverse. The biggest difference was the Albany to Chicago train was about two hours late getting all the cars organized and late getting into Chicago, so they held up our trains to Austin and elsewhere. We had this very friendly car full of people supervising the organization. The last of them has just gotten off and I’m feeling a bit bereft.

But not to get ahead of the story, I’m sure you want to hear about the young man who got on to the Albany-Chicago run sometime about 1:30 AM (I was sleeping in the café car), claimed my seat next to the man with the lovely Tennessee accent whose daughter is a biology major at Brown, and climbed into the overhead rack with his pillow to sleep away the night. Why didn’t I think of that?

Someone was escorted out of the train in the middle of the night, someone was searched, body and bag, before finally being let on at Dallas, sniffer dogs were doing their duty while ignoring the little hands of wandering four-year-olds, and I have learned to ID plain clothes operatives as they sweep the cars at night with their little flashlights. I’m glad I look so harmless.

I added another three people to our group mailing list, gave another of my Bare Bones Ecology Energy Handbooks to two jolly conservative Bible-Belt navy veterans, and received an invitation to go out to the Hopi reservation for horseback riding, photography and maybe a little movie making.

As an aside, the first videocast that we will make at the Peach Clubhouse will focus on the life of dirt/soil. It applies directly both to the Fracking Tour that will be brought to College Station in June by the Texas Drought Project, and our own Monsanto project. More on those later.

This coming Friday I will bring some of the podcast of the workshop to our 3 pm meditation session at the Peach house. I won’t be there in the morning. Have to take the computer to the Apple store before the end of warranty.

We all learned a lot about quite a number of things and that is always fun. Probably I’ll do it again, on this same train, only heading out west!

My New Friend Chuck

Bare Bones Biology 056 – Levels and Population I

People talk about levels of organization all the time, only they don’t know it, and they don’t know that different levels have different characteristics, and therefore different problems and solutions. For example:

Excerpt from Interview with Alan Senauke Part I, The Interdependence Project Podcast

“What is right view? In this sense, the view that this person had was quite correctly looking at exploitative labor practices and perhaps ecologically destructive manufacturing processes. So she saw that and was able to work on that. But the main issue is to me one of the entire question of consumption and consumerism, and the manufacture of desire . . .”

Both people are right, but the solution to one problem diminishes the solution to the other. In comparison I reproduce below an excerpt the “Advent of Evolutionary Christianity,” with Michael Dowd and Ian Barbour. Again they are talking about levels of organization, but this time they label the relationship. As a result, it they can make positive parallels between religious thinking and documented scientific realities, rather than trying to understand which is “right.”

Barbour: “The other insight that I think religious views can benefit from understanding is the idea of levels of organization. That’s become much more prominent in recent scientific thought. I think you call it the “nested hierarchy”?
Dowd: Yes, yes, “nested emergence.” Speak to that if you could—please.
Barbour: Well, I think the idea of emergence of new levels (both in evolutionary history and in the growth of an embryo)—that new levels of organization come into being . . .”

and then he went on to make his point. My point is that he set the subject clearly and the discussion that followed was more clear for it.

Ian Barbour was talking about levels of development. If we want to talk about levels of physical reality, we might set our levels at individual (level one) population (level two) corposystem (political and economic complex, level three) and ecosystem (level four, the most complex level, that contains all the others) – then it is clear that what is good for one level is not necessarily good for the next level. I can say, for example, that pesticides are good for me personally (level one), and they are great for the corposystem to make money with (level three), but they are very harmful to the ecosystem (level four) – and we require the ecosystem for our survival. That’s the reality; then we have to decide what to do about it.

This is the background for an informal study that I did at our local Planned Parenthood.

First I asked as many protestors as possible why they were picketing the organization. They gave me literature and also personal stories about individuals, level one. Harm to embryos and fetuses. There are good statistics that show any harm to embryos and fetuses is about 3% of what this organization might do, but anyone can understand why humans need and want to protect what they view as other human individuals. Kindness and compassion toward other individuals is a necessary human value. So they are right.

I then received permission to ask the same question of volunteers who support the organization, and their answers in every case related to the welfare of the community (the community is level two), and often referred to medical help they had needed and received. They maintain that individuals can not be healthy unless they are wanted and supported within a healthy community. There are a lot of data to show that they are also right.

So what we have here is an argument in which both sides are right, and they don’t know it because they don’t understand that different levels of organization have different requirements for their welfare, and because of this, the problems and solutions are different at different levels.

Next week I’ll talk about levels three and four in this same non-argument, and on Tuesday the 31st at the Peach Clubhouse, we will show the first good movie I’ve seen on the subject.

Bare Bones Biology 056 – Levels and Population I
KEOS Radio, 89.1, Bryan, TX
audio download

Bare Bones Biology 055-Susan Crane

Susan Crane created “Ploughshares” as part of her lifetime commitment to ending nuclear proliferation by nonviolent means. Of course she’s only one of so many people who act upon their convictions, even including many people we do not admire. But we do admire when someone gets it right in the compassion department, and then does her homework so that she understands both the facts and the implications of her actions – and then she acts upon her convictions — that’s what I call wisdom compassion. Wisdom compassion looks upon suffering and then tries to understand the causes of that suffering. Wisdom compassion looks at all the levels of human involvement, from the individual level to the community (in this case the communal rule of law), to the level of the corposystem and the ecosystem. All the living levels. Wisdom compassion says: “Let’s look at the root causes of (whatever is the problem) and see what we can do about it that will not cause more suffering from the cure than from the cause.

Susan Crane was interviewed on Sprouts a few weeks ago (Pacifica Radio, not to be confused with Jane Goodall’s Sprouts clubs). Sprouts is hard to find on the web, so I will help you by linking it to my blog. On KEOS radio, 89.1, Sprouts is aired on Sunday mornings at about 6:30. I started listening because I don’t want to miss Bare Bones Biology on Sunday mornings at 6:55. And neither should you. But Sprouts, and sometimes Sierra Club Radio that precedes it, are equally as good as the Monday evening programs you hear on KEOS. So the full story is available on the Sprouts podcast, and I have a copy of that if you want to hear it.

The short version is that Susan Crane broke into a nuclear facility to smear her blood on a nuclear submarine, and has been sentenced to quite a long jail term for this action.

For me the bottom line of this story is the way it demonstrates the difference between heart compassion and wisdom compassion. Your basic heart compassion imagines what it would feel like to be under a nuclear bomb exploding. Your wisdom compassion studies the effects of nuclear technology through the levels.

So to really simplify this, in terms of suffering the nuclear sub gets negative marks at the individual level, and the ecosystem level, while it contributes positively to the economic level. At the level of communal rule of law – it is against American law to smear blood on a nuclear submarine, but it is against international law even to have submarines ready to drop nuclear weapons on anyone.

Clearly, Susan Crane has spent a lot of effort evaluating the complexity of the problem, before dedicating her life to nonviolence. In my perspective, this means she is acting from heart compassion that has been informed by her wisdom compassion to dedicate her life to others in a way that causes the least overall suffering in the world.

Do I believe that Susan Crane went through such an analytical step by step approach to evaluating her actions? Of course not. The stepwise evaluation is only a study aid to help us remember that more is involved, and often more of importance. The point is that Susan Crane evaluated all the parameters, in her own way, to make sure she is not causing more harm than good by her actions.

But wait. There is another, higher level for Susan Crane. Listen to her own words.

“I was at the Methodist church one night preparing for a little gathering we were having, a pot luck, and I was talking about nonviolence, so I had this piece of paper, and I was writing the attributes of nonviolence on it, and on the opposite, violent responses to things. The way the culture often teaches us to respond. And I realized at that moment that all the attributes I had for nonviolence – compassion, love, forgiveness – are the attributes that many of us call God.“

Photograph – volunteers at Brazos Valley Food Bank
Volunteers from the Institute of Interfaith Dialogue
Gause Full Gospel Church
and others

Bare Bones Biology 055 – Susan Crane
KEOS radio 89.1, Bryan, Texas
Transcript at
Audio at

Bare Bones Biology 054 – Power and Success

Here on the internet I found a perfect example to illustrate the ideas of levels of organization and emergent properties, using other peoples’ words and experiences. For this illustration I’ll only focus on two levels, the economy and the universe, and I will not quote or link the authors because I haven’t asked their permission, but if you are one of them thank you, I appreciate your insights. First the economy.

(Post) “Modern economics is not a normative science. (Normative = establishing a norm.) Economists don’t say things like “business decisions SHOULD be determined by the market”; rather, they make bold assertions: “business decisions ARE determined by the market”. Firms …are either in business to make money, or they don’t stay in business. Charities put their donations to the uses the donors intend them for, or they don’t continue to get donations. In either case, the ones that survive and thrive are the ones who know how to give their patrons what they want. This is only depressing if you persist in the belief that the universe ought to be wired differently. Being “pro-market” is like being “pro-gravity”. Both exist, and both work according to their respective laws, whether you “believe in” them or not.”

Whoa, I thought when I read that. I was following this along OK until we got to the point where the ECONOMY is considered the equivalent of the UNIVERSE in terms of how it operates. The universe is MANY emergent properties more complex than the economy, and the economy is only a little tiny weenie subset of the universe, and furthermore it is man-made. Finally, I thought, finally I can understand why economists seem to me to be so illogical. But I did not respond on the internet. Happily, someone else did, and that post reads:

(post) “As for the “laws of economics”; (unlike the law of gravity) they have re-written those laws every fifty years since Adam Smith & continue to do so. So perhaps “rules” “guidelines-for-now” would be more accurate terms than “laws”.

That’s the end of that quote. Now we have another post, which I finally did get into the action, and this is roughly what I said:

“Yes! Finally someone gets it” ECONOMICS can never be more than a study of human behavior. If human behavior does not align itself with the laws of nature, then the laws of nature will simply eliminate humans. Therefore, the rules of economics do not MATTER to our human welfare on this earth. It matters how we behave relative to the requirements for our survival. The only good that economics has to offer would be if it were to help bring our human behaviors into line with the requirements of the ecosystem that we need to stay alive.”

That’s the end of that quote, and I will add that is not what economics is doing right now. But that’s my opinion as a biologist. Let’s next quote the opinion of the Dalai Lama, as reported in the 2010 report of the Mind and Life Institute.

“Classic economic theory is based on the assumption that humans are self-interested and rational actors, and casts doubt on the very existence of altruism. New research in both economics and neuroscience reveals a much richer and more complex picture of humanity where altruism and compassion are not only part of the equation, but can be encouraged and learned. Further, research is revealing that pro-social behavior is critical for the survival of humanity, while egoistic and non-altruistic behavior are antithetical to human well-being.” 2010 Annual Report, Mind & Life Institute

To the economist I say that “laws of economics” probably do exist, but I will not believe that you understand them until you can explain how they relate to the laws of the universe, of which they are a miniscule and relatively impotent subset.

Bare Bones Biology 053 – Winning
KEOS radio 89.1, Bryan, Texas
Transcript at
Audio at
Levels of Organization – BBB051-Levels of Organization
Emergent Properties – BBB052-Emergent Properties