Friday, December 31, 2010

THE BIG BLOB THEORY

This entry is a deviation of my ongoing narrative.  But it is something I've been wanting to say, and New Year's Eve seems like a good time to say it.

In this post I will attempt to describe a Model of the Universe that I have been contemplating for some time.  Of course I am not an astrophysicist or a cosmologist, or any other kind of scientist who could propose some theoretical basis which could be proven by a series of complex equations.

I did, however, present this model to Professor James Gates, John S. Toll Professor & Director of the Center for String & Particle Theory at the University of Maryland, who very matter-of-factly said, "Oh yes, that is the Theory of an Infinitely Expanding Universe."

I'm not sure if my Big Blob Theory is exactly the same as that, because it's not infinitely expanding. It is based on some "proven" models:
  1. Space-Time is curved.
  2. Black holes exist.
And on some models which may be  more mathematical than real at the moment:

  1. There are multiple/many dimensions of the universe and reality.
  2. There are parallel or multiple universes.

In the Big Blob, the Universe is sometimes expanding, sometimes contracting, through vertices of Black Holes.  The Black Holes are portals to parallel universes (which are not strictly parallel in a geometrical sense, but which are coexisting).  The spatial-temporal positions of the Black Holes may also vary.  Each parallel universe is another dimension, but the number of these other dimensions can vary over space and time.

Think of the Universe as breathing through the Black Holes.  Sometimes the space-time beyond a given Black Hold is moving inward, while that beyond another Black Hole may be moving outward.  Over time, the dimensions beyond Black Holes may disappear or collapse into another dimension when they have fully contracted, and other Black Holes may appear at other space-time locations.  Therefore the potential number of "Blobs"/Black Holes is infinite.  Perhaps it would be better to call them "Blebs" rather than "Blobs", but I think Blobs just sounds better.

From our position, we can see only the curved space-time of the dimension we exist in, but because it is curved the borders will be indistinct and will be perceived as infinite. There is an infinite number of possible perspectives, just as there is an infinite number of ways to slice a sphere.  But this does not mean the Universe is spherical.

Attempts to explain the Universe with super-string theory represent different planes and intersecting nodes of these dimensions. But (I think) the super-strings represent only one point in time, and there could be (and are) infinite points.

I think this explains in simple terms the interchangeability of waves and particles in electromagnetic radiation.  Particles and hence mass would exist where nodes of waves/super-strings intersect and interact with each other.

I would like to be able to show you an animated depiction of this model. This video of superheated water comes close:




Now because these Blobs can occur in or branch off from an infinite number of places in one dimension, there could (or would) also be an infinite number of branches from each Blob.  In other words, "our" Blob may be a Bleb of another Blob. I think, but am not sure at this moment, that this means the Universe could ultimately fold back upon itself like a Klein bottle or a multi-dimensional Möbius strip (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klein_bottle), in which the blobs or time-space intersect. And of course this could happen in an infinite number of ways. Evidently the Möbius strip model of the Universe has been the basis of some science fiction stories, so this part of the model is not a new idea.

What is different here is the "Klein bottle" is multi-dimensional, but that the number of these dimensions can vary.  For a more rigorous explanation of multiple universes, or multiverses, go here:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Many-worlds_interpretation.  I don't pretend to understand everything in this article, but somehow I think it's related to what I'm saying here.

This model is totally intuited, but I'm pretty sure it's correct.  In any case, it can't be proven or disproven from our perspective, so it's as good as any other.  This ambiguity must be a feature of any correct model because any strict mathematical proof would be finite and the Universe in this model is infinite.

Now I think I'll have another glass of wine and see what else I can imagine.

It's just now midnight. Happy New Year to one and all.  Let us hope we can survive another year without destroying ourselves and our universe, as this superheated water does.

-bjd

Thursday, December 30, 2010

TOMORROW

OK, now I see how foolish it was to want to keep those 50-year-old clothes.  So tomorrow the "Intermediate" pile is going to be drastically cut down.

Tomorrow I'm going to contact a commercial storage place and start transferring the storage boxes there.

Tomorrow I'm going to call the pet transport lady who has somehow gotten me confused with a person having a French bulldog.  Airlines don't like to transport snub-nosed dogs like the French bulldog.

But, as you can see in these pictures, there's no confusing a long-haired miniature daschund or a basset hound with a French bulldog:


My Long-Haired Miniature Doxies as Pups
(They're Grown-Up Now with Longer Snouts)

Grown-Up Mini Wienie with Basset

French Bulldog Pup
http://puppydogweb.com
As you can clearly see, there is no resemblance whatsoever.  Well, maybe a little if you don't count the ears.

-bjd



Wednesday, December 29, 2010

SERIOUS SORTING OF STUFF

Today I finally got around to sorting through the rest of my clothes, which should have been finished last week.  It's the kind of thing one has to be in just the right mood for, like cleaning out the refrigerator.

I made a lot of progress, generating four large plastic garbage bags full of things to give to a woman's shelter.  Some of the items were brand new, still with tags, which I had bought on a whim and never used.  (This was in the distant past; now I've solved that problem by never shopping for clothes.)

The whole process got a lot easier when I decided to generate an "intermediate" pile of things I might want to keep or might want to throw away or might want to give away.  This simple decision enabled me to empty the closet much faster.

So here is my closet, thanks to my new cell phone's camera which only took me about half an hour to figure out how to use:

Actually this is just half my closet,
but - trust me - the other half
looks the same.

And here is my "intermediate" pile:

That's the storage container,
barely visible at the bottom,
and a second "intermediate" pile
beginning to grow on the left.

It may be difficult to understand why this "intermediate" pile looks like most of the clothes that were previously hanging in the closet, so I'll explain:

  • My first "grown-up" skirt, bought at Frost Bros. in downtown San Antonio when I was in high school.  This was the first time I gave myself permission to shop at a fancy store, after growing up in a simple yet poor neighborhood.  Long outgrown, but it still makes me feel special every time I look at it.  And - who knows - I might be able to fit in it again someday; it's a nice shade of teal.
  • The "little black dress" bought by my high-school/early college boyfriend at Bonwit Teller (another classy store) in Boston for a college dance.  The boyfriend is long gone, but the dress is still a classic, considering that it's nearly fifty years old.  Black silk crepe with a draping skirt and a line of rhinestones around the gently scooping neck.  I wonder if I'll ever be a size 11/12 again?
  • A nice "wind suit" (remember those?), only about 35 years old, and in a size Large so it's not altogether out of the question that I could wear it again someday. And it's windy in Panama, so this might come in handy.
  • And about thirty other items with similar histories.
Yes, I know we discussed how emotional attachment to material things is not good.  But there are some memories I'm not quite ready to let go of just yet.  

Perhaps by the time of the final packing.  I will know when it's time.

And if not then, they can always go into commercial storage with the billions of other things from millions of other people's memories.

-bjd

OF CELL PHONES AND UNDERWEAR

Yesterday my Blackberry Storm died.  RIP.



So now I have a new Motorola Droid 2 Global phone, which is slicker than a greased pig, as we used to say in Texas:



I couldn't figure out why the salespeople were saying all this stuff about Gmail; then I remembered that Android is a Google operating system (Read:  fast internet access).

It also can access the web through Wi-Fi, and has both a touch-screen and a nifty little physical keyboard:


Why am I telling you all this?  Because the Verizon Wireless salesman didn't transfer my Blackberry phone contacts, so I won't be able to call anyone until Friday (when I go back in to pick up the second free phone that was out of stock).  So you'll have to call me if I want to talk with you.  

And by the way, I don't know how to answer incoming calls yet.  But I've set up some nice music for you to listen to while I'm fumbling for the Answer button.

All this happened because I thought it would be good to stock up on cotton underwear at Target.  Cotton underwear is well nigh impossible to find in Panama, so the blogs say.  The Verizon store was just down the street from Target.  Besides, I'm still not sure where my previously worn underwear is in the house.  Perhaps the dogs decided to hide it somewhere for future indulgence. They've been known to do this before, especially when the underwear is dirty.

But you probably didn't want to know that.

So that's what I did yesterday instead of sorting through my things.

-bjd

Monday, December 27, 2010

BACK TO PLAN A

The pet transport company assures me they can get me and my dogs to Panama City.   But not as soon as December 31st, our original travel date.

Now we are aiming for January 5th.  I re-scheduled appointments for the dogs' International Travel Certificates and the USDA/APHIS certification for Monday the 3rd.  Then I'll visit the Panamanian Consulate on Tuesday the 4th.

Whew.  Now I will have time to figure out what happened to all my underwear.  It's got to be here in the house somewhere....


-bjd

Sunday, December 26, 2010

MAJOR COMPLICATIONS

Tonight, instead of going through my clothes, I spent the evening trying to figure out how to get my dogs into Panama when the weather forecast for Panama City is 90 degrees F on December 31 and the airlines won't fly animals when the temperature is forecast to be higher than 85.
  1. Called COPA airlines, which has extensive operations in Central and South America, thinking they would deal with the heat:  They don't ship animals at all during December and January.
  2. Have been working on the idea of flying to San Jose, Costa Rica instead of Panama City, and taking the dogs into Panama by car.  San Jose's temperature is forecast to be in the 70's.
  3. Costa Rica has different deadlines for vaccinations than Panama. Rabies must be at least 30 days and no more than 1 year prior, while all the other shots (distemper, leptospirosis, parvovirus, corona virus, etc) need to be within 30 days for Costa Rica.  That means I would need to go to Costa Rica by December 29.
  4. All the Costa Rica government employees, including those who clear animals at the airport, take the week off between Christmas and New Years.  So December 29 won't work.
  5. Finally I found a pet relocation service based in Costa Rica and sent them an e-mail asking if they could get my dogs approved to enter Costa Rica temporarily in transit to Panama, without complying to the letter of Costa Rican requirements so long as the Panama requirements are met.  Also asked them if they could take me and the dogs in their van to David, Panama, where I plan to rent a car until I can buy one.
  6. Having decided that I could make no more progress on a plan tonight, I'm going to bed and will hope for the best - again.  I'll call the pet services tomorrow and see what they have to say.
  7. (Sigh)
Plan B
-bjd

Saturday, December 25, 2010

EXTREME TOILET REPAIR

Cost of repairing non-flushing toilet by cutting the too-long overflow tubing and spraying WD-40
in a sticking fill valve:  $0.

Cost of plumber's visit saved:  $175.

Satisfaction of doing it myself and knowing that the plumber who had installed it didn't do it right:  Priceless.

http://www.extremehowto.com/xh/article.asp?article_id=60467

Rhetorical Question: Why do they always show men doing toilet repair?
Rhetorical Answer:  For the same reason they call it a ballcock high-flow fill valve.

-bjd






A WHITER SHADE OF PALE CHRISTMAS

Home alone at Christmas.  Normally that would be a bad thing, but I'm grateful for the time to sort through my things.  Today I found my mother's mink coat, which had lain long forgotten in the back of my closet.  It'll go on ebay.

In spite of a dire weather forecast, we have had only a few snow flurries today.  New York City and Boston are expecting a blizzard.  We'll see if Baltimore can continue to thread the eye of the needle.

In the meantime, here are the current conditions:



Not that you would be interested, but I find them fascinating.

Ah, Boquete!

-bjd

Friday, December 24, 2010

SILENT NIGHT

Christmas Eve in Baltimore, approaching midnight.
Something is different.
There is no noise.


No sounds of cars and trucks rattling down my street.
No people talking loudly as they walk by.
No sirens, not even the distant sounds of trains.


For once Baltimore seems like a normal city.
I love the quiet.
It is the sound of peace.


I hear it is quiet in Boquete.
Except during the Flower Festival, soon after I arrive.
Then late-night discos vie for the loudest.


I think my little house will be out of earshot.
If not, I'll roll over in bed.
And hope for the best.



Hope – that four-letter word so filled with meaning.

Hope implies something positive.  We hope for the best; we don’t hope that something bad will happen (I hope).

Hope cannot exist without its two companions, faith and love.  One cannot speak of hope without affirming the others.

In this context “faith” does not refer to religious faith, such as faith in a divinity.   Nor is it a blind faith that entrusts the fulfillment of one’s hope to powers and circumstances external to oneself. Instead, faith here means an assuredness in a specific outcome that is hoped for, a firm belief that one’s hope not only possible, but also achievable.  We must have faith that our hope will be fulfilled, else what’s the point in hoping?

Hope helps us define our vision of what we want the future to be, and with faith we can achieve it - a future that is somehow better than the present.

But what is it, really, that enables our hopes to become reality?  The third leg of the stool:  love.  Once again, this love is not the traditional notion of romantic love.  Rather, it is a way of interacting that is based on mutual respect and compassion, with a shared goal of moving toward a peaceful outcome in everything we do.

As Paul said in I Corinthians: 
"And now these three remain:  faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love."

Love is what makes hope possible.
We have just passed the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon’s death, and the end of yet another Christmas season.  Now, after all the presents have been unwrapped, all the food eaten, all the hellos and goodbyes of reunions said – what is there left to hope for?

On this cusp of a New Year, it is natural to define new hopes.  It is my hope that you have hopes that endure long past any artificial division of the calendar.  Notwithstanding the usual self-centered Resolutions, but hopes that can be shared and fulfilled by all humanity.

Hoping for the best - that sums up how I feel for you and the world today.

Hoping for the best in our forward-thinking church.
Hoping for the best in our conflicted world,
And for defenseless people harmed by selfish leaders.

Hoping for the best, that nations may learn peace.
 Hoping for the best, that they may lay down arms
And use their wealth to help humanity.

As John Lennon said in his immortal song, “Imagine”:

"You can say that I'm a dreamer,
But I'm not the only one.
I hope someday you'll join us,
And the world will live as one."

How little progress the world has made toward John Lennon’s vision.  Or Jesus's, for that matter.

But we can always hope.


Morning Glory
-bjd

Thursday, December 23, 2010

ONE STEP CLOSER

Today an estate auctioneer came and took away all my valuable furniture and art to sell.

My dining room table with the marquetry top:
Gone

My 18-Century French commode:
Gone

My 19th-Century French stained glass window in a gilded frame which had followed me from Denver to Wales, to Texas and finally to Baltimore:
Now Gone

My Elizabethan miniature portraits painted in oil on copper engraving plates and which could be immensely valuable if they are the only known wedding portraits of William Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway or which could be worthless:
Gone

My Victorian pickle castor with the charming bird's feet tongs (had to look this one up to find out it was a pickle castor and not a sugar jar):
Also Gone

And yes, the Ramon Froman painting discussed in the last post:
Gone Forever

Along with many other things I had possessed for years but rarely used.  The funny thing is, I don't feel sad at all about losing them.

Maybe I should feel sad about not feeling sad.

-bjd






Saturday, December 18, 2010

BABY STEPS

Grades are in, commencement is tomorrow, last faculty meeting is Wednesday, which is also my last day at work.

Am seriously going through my "stuff".  An estate auctioneer is coming by early next week, who I hope will take all the big pieces and significant art out of the house for safekeeping and sale.

Some things are difficult to part with, like my Ramon Froman painting, "Portrait of Karon Martinez".  I can't take it with me to Panama because oil painting are considered hazardous substances!  (Note to self:  Get that law changed.)

Also, does anyone want a pre-World War II Noritake "Janice" set of china, service for eight?  It was my mother's.  I've used it probably less than ten times.  Now is the time to let go of it, and many other things.

Buddha said that the cause of all suffering is attachment to material things.  This may be true, but some things are more strongly attached than others.

Portrait of Karon (sic) Martinez - Ramon Froman
Mother's China:  Too good to throw away, too much to keep

-bjd

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

ONE MORE MILESTONE

Last night I gave the "final" final exam of my teaching career.  It was a sort of lovefest between me and the students.  One of the students, a professional photographer, took a picture of our class before everyone settled in to write the exam.  Another one brought cookies.  This was the largest class I've ever had - 31 students, which is huge for a graduate-level class.  Yet in many ways it has been one of the best.

So now I'm immersed in grading the exams and getting the grades posted.  There isn't any time to work on sorting through my stuff or getting my furniture sold.  But that will come.

In the meantime, a friend in Boquete has offered to meet me at the airport in David, take my stuff and the dogs in her car, put the dogs up in her house, while another friend of hers, whom I have never met, is going to let me stay in her guest room that first night.  All so I won't have to drive to "my" house in the dark and wake up on my first morning in Boquete without any food in the house.

Then they are going to take me out to breakfast.  How great is that?

This extraordinary kindness is typical of experiences I've had in Boquete.  I hope that, as more and more people discover the wonders of Boquete, it will not lose its essential qualities such as this that make it such a great place to live.

Current Baltimore Weather

Current Boquete Weather



-bjd

Friday, December 10, 2010

PROGRESS TOWARD PANAMÁ

As of today, it is three weeks until I leave for Panamá.  There is much yet to be done, mainly in the area of going through all my personal possessions and deciding what to keep vs. throw or give away .


Yet I am making some progress.  Just today I:
  • Made an appointment with the USDA/APHIS office in Annapolis to verify my dogs' international travel certificates on the afternoon of the 28th.
  • Made an appointment with the vet to issue same on the morning of the 28th.
  • Had previously taken the dogs to the vet on November 30th for a full set of new vaccinations, to the tune of about $100 per dog.
  • Actually bought the airline ticket for the 31st.  (Note:  American Airlines has the best connections between BWI and PTY.)
  • Bought trip insurance in case we can't fly on the 31st because of weather conditions.
  • Called the airline reservations office and verified that I can check three dogs as baggage:  the two mini-wienies in one carrier and the basset hound in the other.  I had previously verified on the IATA website that this is allowed.
  • Made arrangements with José Saenz of goldenfrog.net to be my man on the ground at PTY.  He will receive the dogs from baggage and process all the paperwork with the vet on duty at PTY.
  • Asked José to transport me and the dogs to the Albrook domestic airport across town and make reservations for an Air Panama flight to David, the closest airport to Boquete.  This will save me seven hours of travel time with the dogs in a car. The flight is only 45 minutes.
  • Reserved an SUV with Budget Rental Cars at David airport for one day, so I would be sure to have enough room to take the two dog carriers and my bags.
  • Verified with my friend Fran in Boquete to meet me at the David airport and help me with walking and re-crating the dogs for the 45-minute drive to Boquete.

I was very clever to schedule these international travel certificates for my dogs only a couple of days before departure, in case the airline won't take the dogs on the 31st.  We have to "thread the eye of the needle":  if it's colder than 20 degrees F at BWI, or forecast to be warmer than 85 degrees in Panamá City, the dogs can't fly.  The certificates are good for only ten days. By getting he certificates so late, I will have more leeway in taking flights on later days if the 31st doesn't work out.  We'll have to see if this strategy pays off. Hopefully I won't have to drive through a blizzard to get them done.

By way of my personal preparations, I had previously:
  • Made arrangements with a lawyer in Panamá City, whom I found by personal referral, to process my Pensionada retirement visa.
  • Obtained a letter from the University's Human Relations office, verify my retirement on January 1 with a full notarized signature (after the third try - as I did know the signature had to be notarized until after the first two were issued).
  • Renewed my passport, which was due to expire in December.  Now it's good for another ten years.
  • Obtained letters from my pension plan and Social Security, verifying my monthly income of at least $1000.

This is to obtain the Pensionada Permanent Resident Visa status, which gives me 50% discounts on travel, 30% discounts on restaurants, movies, medical care, etc.  One of the reasons Panamá is such a draw now for US citizens to retire there.  Many gringos retire there on their passport tourist visas without these benefits, but need to leave the country every 90 days to keep their tourist visas current.  (Or it may be 120 days, as no one seems to know for sure what the law is, including the immigration agents at the borders.  This is just one of the many charming quirks about Panamá.)

After getting the veterinary documents authenticated by the USDA, I will still need to :

  • Go to either the Department of State or the Panamanian Consulate to have all the documents apostilled (certified as authentic), at a cost of $30 per document.  Remember, I have a 2-day window before my original departure date if it is not postponed due to weather conditions, so I will need to get this done December 29 or 30.
This blow-by-blow description is just to give you an idea of all the hoops I need to jump through, just in case you were casually thinking of retiring in Panama yourself.  These requirements (except for taking the pets by air) are specific to Panama, so if you're thinking of some other country you will need to learn their requirements,

Bottom line:  allow lots of time for planning and implementation.  It also helps to be patient and non-judgmental about the bureaucracy of your destination country.  This is just how things are done, and it doesn't do any good to complain about them.  (Sometimes it does make things more expeditious to offer bribes to various officials, but that is a totally different story.  I don't recommend bribing the Consulate, the Department of State, or the USDA.  Or anyone for that matter.  It's best for gringos, especially women,  to conduct themselves in such a way to be beyond reproach.  I may change my mind on this point later.)

In case you were wondering, here is a running total on the cost of taking three dogs to Panamá:

Shots:  $300
Apostille:  $30 or maybe $270, if they count the vaccination certificates separately from the international health certificates and the USDA certification)
Baggage fee for two dog crates, BWI to PTY:  $300
Once arrived at PTY: MIDA Import License $36 
Minstry of Health Three Dogs Home Quarantine $390
José's fee for taking the dogs through the authorities: $100.  (Worth every penny, I'm told.)
José's fee for transporting me and the dogs to Albrook Airport: ?
Baggage fee for checking dogs from Albrook to David:  ?

Total known fees so far: $1396.  And that's just for the dogs, not including my own tickets.

I'll let you reserve judgement about the sanity of this venture.  But before you jump to conclusions, check this out: http://www.physiciansmoneydigest.com/your-life/AARP-Ranks-the-Top-5-Places-to-Retire-Abroad.

More to come...

Molly (left) and Chauncey (right)


Chauncey and Li'l Bit in Mixed-Up Beds

-bjd





Tuesday, December 7, 2010

MOVING FORWARD AND GOING BACK

Wow, it's been a while since I've posted an entry.  Much has happened since then.

I've decided to retire and move to Panama, as of January 1!  This blog started with a trip to Panama last January, almost a year ago.  Where has this year gone?

So I'll be returning to Boquete with my three dogs.  We are going through all the red tape (and expense) to get them into the country legally.  I have a lovely little house rented month-to-month, fully furnished with utilities for $250 a month.  I have already made quite a few friends in Boquete, and am looking forward to contributing to the community.

I've already been asked to be the acting President of Boquete ArtWorks, a new artists' co-op.  We hope eventually to get studio and gallery space downtown.  My personal vision is to make Boquete a center for the arts, with art as a visible part of everyone's lives there.  This includes public art, an arts festival, and providing art supplies to the schools, and juried art shows.

But first, one step at a time.  There are many things to do between now and December 31, when I fly down.  Not the least of these is going through all my stuff, deciding what to discard and what to keep (very little).  Most things are not worth the expense of shipping there.

A New Year in Boquete!  Right now it's 33 degrees F in Baltimore, with a wind chill of 22.

And in Boquete it's 63.  Perfect turtleneck weather.

I'm looking forward to the twists and turns of life abroad.  And, if for some unforeseen reason it doesn't work out, I can always go somewhere else.

This image is in honor and memory of Elizabeth Edwards, a lady of great courage and inspiration, who lost her battle with cancer today.  To me it signifies paths of light radiating from the depths of despair, and the hope of a bright future.

Bless you, Elizabeth, and bless all those who are fighting their own personal battles, whatever they may be.

Boquete:  Yellow Pansy

-bjd

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

SAFE AND SOUND

Tonight all the miners have been rescued, thanks to the determination and professionalism of all involved.  I watched the last one emerge, Luis  Urzua, the foreman. He was a study in self control and self confidence, a true hero who rose to the occasion and took care of his men to the end.

May the world never forget these brave men, and the dedication of the rescuers and Chilean government to make this miraculous rescue possible.

It has been so refreshing to have good news be the most important story of these past few days.  May this rescue be a message to the world, that our priorities should be in saving people, not destroying them. And may we learn to reduce our consumption of material goods, so that good men like these won't have to risk their lives to satisfy our appetite for unnecessary luxuries.



-bjd

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

LOS MINEROS

Tonight I am glued to the live feed from Chile for the rescue of the 33 miners who have been trapped for 68 days.  The preparations are excruciatingly slow.  One wonders if each clank of a wrench means that something has gone wrong.

Even now, at the 11th hour, there are many things that can happen, both good and bad.

Let us hope and pray that these heros' ordeal will be over soon, and that they will each have a happy ending.

Salud para todos,

-bjd

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

THE COMING COLLAPSE

I like to think of myself as a prophet.  I foresaw the implosion of the US real estate market several years in advance.  I foresaw the takeover of both the House and Senate in the last general election (though that one didn't require a lot of thought).  And now I see something looming beyond the horizon that is more important and more tragic than anything we have ever experienced.

This is a vision of a general collapse of the world's economy coupled with irreversible destruction of our environment.  I can see it as surely as death.  There will not be enough energy to drive our cars and heat our homes, there will not be enough excess capital to support medical and basic research, there will not be enough food to sustain our population.

I've been feeling uneasy about the future for some time now, but what really put this vision into clear focus was Tom Ashbrook's "On Point" radio show last night, "Rare Earth Elements, Global Power":
http://www.onpointradio.org/2010/10/rare-earth-minerals.

Tom's show was about these unusual metals, but the implications are far beyond the periodic table of the elements.  It seems that China has more than 95% of the earth's deposits of these minerals.  China has intentionally cornered the world market on these substances because they can mine and market them at a far cheaper price than any other country or private company.

This "cheap" production of these metals comes at a huge human and environmental cost because the elements are not very concentrated in the ore.  As a result, this surface mining leaves huge swaths of destruction in its wake. Though Tom didn't mention this, I suspect there is also a large component of manual labor involved.  China has typically employed human labor in unimaginable numbers for large projects.

Other countries are mining them with forced labor and raped women.  Cnn.com had a photo essay recently on the human cost of these "conflict minerals" in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which I encourage you to see:
http://www.cnn.com/2010/TRAVEL/09/30/ashley.judd.africa/index.html?iref=allsearch.

Why is there such a demand for these rare earth metals? Because they are essential for new "supermagnets" to manipulate the fins on guided missiles.  They are also used in many military products and in cell phones, televisions, and other high-tech material goods.

It seems ironic and tragic that parts of our environment as well as human capital are being destroyed so that the fruits of this effort may eventually wind up in some junk pile when they are replaced by something slicker and more tech-y.

This is wrong.

A global economy based on profit, greed, materialism, human destruction and ever-expanding depletion of non-renewable resources is wrong and is fundamentally incompatible with sustainability and peace.

As my guru E.F. Schumacher said in Small Is Beautiful:
"The economics of permanence implies a profound reorientation of science and technology, which have to open their doors to wisdom and, in fact, have to incorporate wisdom into their very structure.  Scientific or technological solutions which poison the environment or degrade the social structure and man himself are of no benefit, no matter how brilliantly conceived or how great their superficial attraction. Ever-bigger machines, entailing ever-bigger concentrations of economic power and exerting ever-bigger violence against the environment, do not represent progress:  they are a denial of wisdom.  Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology toward the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful. Peace, as has often been said, is indivisible - how then could peace be built on a foundation of reckless science and violent technology?  We must look for a revolution in technology to give us inventions and machines which reverse the destructive trends now threatening us all."

It should be obvious that a truly sustainable economy and society must be based on peace and compassion for all humanity.

May it be so.

The Appearance of Reality:  Pillar of Fire

-bjd

Sunday, September 26, 2010

LISTENING TO THAT STILL, SMALL VOICE

This was a most unusual week because I had two photography shows.  One was with the opening of a new restaurant and the other was part of an invitation-only show in connection with the Baltimore Book Fair.  I put in many hours of work in preparation for both of them, so many that I questioned if it was really worth all this effort to pursue my passion for photography.  People liked my work, but sales were disappointing.  A sign of these recessionary times, perhaps.  Or perhaps a sign that my efforts aren't worthwhile.

By the end of the second show this afternoon, I was drained of enthusiasm.

Some friends had said they would meet me at the restaurant after the other show closed, but they didn't show up.  I sat there contemplating a salad and latte for what seemed like a very long time.

Then the most wonderful thing happened.

A young well-dressed man came into the restaurant.  I smiled at him, for I was sitting right next for the door, and then went back to my gloomy thoughts.  After several minutes he came over to my table and said enthusiastically, "I love 'Carnival Midway'!"  I invited him to sit down and talk.

"The people at the counter told me you were the photographer who took these great pictures," he said.  I thanked him and did feel a sincere wave of gratitude.

He continued, "I don't have a lot of money, but I would like to buy one of your pictures."

As luck would have it, all my prints from the other show were still in my car because I had been too tired to move them into the house.  So I went out and hauled two large carrier bags of prints into the restaurant.

We sat and looked at many pictures for a long time.  Then I found that I had printed some 13x19-inch prints of the image he liked, and he bought one.

We continued.  He is a biologist at at prestigious research institution and takes pictures of developing fish embryos through a microscope, so he has a trained eye.  He said he likes to support local artists, and then said he'd like to be my patron!

He shared an idea for an abstract image for me to work up, based on "The Emergence of Consciousness" series (see previous postings).  Then I suggested a different twist on his idea.  Before long, building on each other's thoughts, we had developed the genesis of a new work.  Then he had to leave, possibly to check on something in the lab.  We had talked for over an hour.

As I walked out to my car, carrying the bags of prints, I felt completely confirmed as an artist.  This was all the more remarkable because I had been so discouraged such a short time before.

I think my "patron" was an angel, sent to give me a message at just the right time.

And now, we will see where this path will take me.

The Emergence of Consciousness:  Cell 01-02-08

-bjd

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A TRULY SUSTAINABLE SOCIETY

I've been reading a lot of resources lately on global climate change and sustainability.  Most if not all of them are focused on climatology and economics.  It's certainly clear that we must drastically reduce our consumption of material goods and non-renewable resources if we are to survive as a race and as a planet.

However, minimizing consumption is not the root solution.  We must develop a civilization based on respect for each other and for our planet in order to survive and thrive.  If we continue to be self-centered, we may succeed in reducing our own consumption a bit, but we will fail to help others who need to be brought up to a level consistent with a healthy, quality life.

I'm not sure how to do this.  We can't do it as individuals, although many individual efforts can help somewhat.  However, uncoordinated individual behaviors will not achieve a critical mass for global change.  Instead, there needs to be a paradigm shift in our global society - a shift away from economies based on unsustainable growth, toward an economy of mutual benefit.

E. F. Schumacher discussed the concept of Buddhist economics in his seminal book Small Is Beautiful.  It has been in print since it was first published in 1972 .  His words ring as true today as when they were written.  Buddhist economics is not based on material consumption, for attachment to material goods is the basis of all suffering, according to their way of thinking.  Instead, Buddhist economics is based on benefiting people


Our modern economies, whether they be capitalist, socialist or communist, have all used war as a way to line the pockets of the military-industrial complex and fuel the machinery of economic growth.  Instead, we need to be thinking in terms of how to produce the maximum benefit for all humankind and the planet, how to value work as an integral part of life rather than something to be avoided.  In other words, a Buddhist economy is based on people rather than goods, on creative activity rather than consumption. You can read Schumacher's classic essay, "Buddhist Economics", here.


This global paradigm shift must involve re-thinking all our measures of economic success.  Instead of measuring a Gross Domestic Product based on production and consumption of material goods, we will need to consider how to measure a National Quality of Life and a Global Sustainability Index.  The country of Bhutan has it right: it measures its economic success as Gross National Happiness, based on nine components that are given equal weight:




1.   Psychological Well-being
2.   Time Use
3.   Community Vitality
4.   Culture
5.   Health
6.   Education
7.   Environmental Diversity
8.   Living Standard
9.   Governance



This year's World Economic Forum at Davos recognized the need for a major paradigm shift.  One US company, PepsiCo, has an enlightened CEO in the form of Indra K. Nooyi, who has introduced the concept of a Double Bottom Line:  in addition to simple profit and loss, a company should be measured by how much it benefits society.  (The irony of this statement is not lost, as PepsiCo's snack foods undoubtedly contribute to the global epidemic of obesity and the looming crisis in the state of health, healhcare and well being.)


So where do we go from here? Scientists have already figured out if we eliminate all carbon emissions now (which of course is impossible), global warming will continue until 2050 because of the momentum already in place.


And in 2050?  Someone will have figured out another model to predict the effects of unrestrained spending and consumption, while the world continues doing business as usual and the planet reaches a point of no return.


It may be a while before we have a Buddhist in the White House or a Gross Global Happiness Index.  Until then, may we each strive to live in such a way to respect our fellow humankind and our fragile planet.  And may we all move in the direction of a global paradigm shift, as quickly as possible.



San Miguel de Allende:  "Language of Life"

-bjd

Friday, July 30, 2010

PHOTOGRAPHY LESSONS

Being a photographer has taught me some important lessons:
  • Sometimes it's best to be a perfectionist, and sometimes it's best to let go.
  • Sometimes joy is in finding the unexpected.
  • Sometimes a weakness can become a strength.
  • Often a simple detail is better than a complicated whole.
  • Often the process is more meaningful than the final result.
  • Often the artist's vision is more real than reality itself.
  • Always the result is worth the effort.
  • Always the creative process increases my understanding of reality.
  • Always photography makes me a better person.
Here is one of my first "serious" images of a volunteer sunflower in my back yard in Texas.  At first I was upset that the image was out of focus.  Then I realized by making it more out of focus, I could create an impressionistic image that was much more interesting than the real flower.  

This is still one of my favorites, because it illustrates all the principles above.  Hope you like it too:

Bryan, Texas:  Big Sunflower

May you find something to fulfill your life as photography has in mine.

- bjd






THINGS THAT BOTHER THE HELL OUT OF ME

The older I get, the less tolerance I have for sloppy language, especially the kind that my students use in their term papers that are rife with run-on sentences, misspelings and all kinds of other useless verbiage that serves no purpose other than padding the length of the paper and making me frustrated to the point where I feel the need to write about it in this otherwise lovely blog.

It seems to be common practice now to use noun adjectives.

Its practically universal usage now, even in respected print media, to get it's possessive and contraction reversed for the pronoun "it".  This is unforgivable.

I keep telling my students to never use split infinitives, but they keep doing it.

Considering all the dangling participles used these days, style manuals may make them legal.

The best papers are written in the active voice.

Some people, in their efforts, use too many commas, in spite of the fact that this practice, when overused, often adds nothing to the meaning of a sentence.

Others on the other hand are reluctant to use commas in writing and this practice often makes it more difficult for the reader to determine what goes with what.

Above all, avoid the use of obtuse, effete, unfathomable language, ascertain the audience for your composition, employ the least abtuse terminology denuded of hubris, false terminology and unnecessarily repeated words, to convey complex and abstract ideas; moreover, one should construct sentences, paragraphs and words in such a way as to make them intelligible by the average populace, i.e. a person with a sixth-grade education.

It pains me to see the English language become a slangathaurus. 


It's AFU, dude.

-bjd

Saturday, July 10, 2010

DREAMS

Some people are driven by their dreams more than others.  I, for one, have always had dreams:
  • Someday I'll be the one to find the cure for cancer.  (Didn't work out.)
  • Someday I'll win the lottery and be financially secure. (Lousy odds.)
  • Someday I'll write the Great American Novel. (Not at this rate.)
  • Someday I'll be rich and famous and have homes in Aix, Paris, London and Santa Fe. (Not gonna happen.)
Aging has instilled a harsh dose of reality into my dreams these days:
  • Someday I hope to retire with a roof over my head and not have to eat cat food.
  • Someday I would like to be known as a good person who did her best.
  • Someday I'll decide whether to be buried or cremated (but not yet).
  • Someday I'll decide what I want to be when I grow up.
And there are still a few old dreams that I cling to:
  • Someday I'll finally understand the General Theory of Relativity.
  • Someday the Secret of the Universe will be revealed to me.
  • Someday my son will respect me as an intelligent human being.
  • Someday I will have all the time to do all the things I want to do.
In the meantime, I'll keep fine-tuning my dreams, and reminding myself: "A goal without a plan is just a dream."

On the other hand, dreams are nice just for their own sake.  The world needs more dreamers and dreams. 

May we always remember that dreams, well-formed, and well executed, can make the world a better place.  And may we have the courage and conviction to know when to abandon our old dreams that have outlived their purpose.

Here is one of my favorite images: 

Texas Highway 21:
Abandoned Dreams


This is for all of you out there: may you never forget that dreams can come true - if you allow them to.

-bjd



Sunday, June 20, 2010

FOR JONES

Today is Fathers Day.  My father, R. Lee Gilmer Jones, would have been 93 this August.  He's been gone for 15 years, and I still miss him terribly.

Jones (as we all called him) was a simple yet profound man.  He never graduated from high school, so far as I know.  I think he dropped out in the 6th grade to help support his family of 13 siblings during the Great Depression. He liked to fish, flirt with pretty women, and give away money.

Toward the end, when I went through his finances, I found that he was giving money to strangers who would call.  He must have been on every sucker list in the country. I'm so grateful that he lived before the age of the internet, for he'd be replying to all those Nigerian scams.

I had to have his banker establish a trust for him and give him a monthly allowance.  The hardest thing was to take his car away, for he had been a traveling salesman all his life and liked to make his "rounds" every day all over the county.

I didn't know much about the traveling sales business, except that every time he'd have a good quarter and make his "quota", the company would raise the quota.  I think the quota was how much he needed to sell before the commission would kick in.

In the last few months of his life, I was his caretaker. We all lived in the same house - Jones, my son and I. He was going downhill fast.  One night at about two o'clock I found him sitting in a pool of his own urine on the living room sofa, fully dressed and wearing his hat, which he always wore outside, all ready to go somewhere.  After that I had to reverse the lock on his bedroom door and lock him inside at night.  It sickened my heart to do this.

Taking care of Jones was without a doubt the most stressful time of my life.  Once, driving home in our new van, I didn't pull it all the way into the garage because I wanted him to have enough room to pull his oxygen tank in front of the van to the kitchen door.  Out of habit, he pushed the button to close the electric garage door.   I freaked out, started yelling "STOP!" at the top of my lungs, and ran over to the button to reverse the door.  I didn't know if there was enough clearance for it to miss the back of the van.  I couldn't stop it going down, but it did miss the van by about half an inch.  I was so stressed out that I cried for an hour afterward.

The children loved Jones.  He would always have a roll of quarters every Sunday in church and would stand in the middle aisle giving them away.  The kids would stand in line to get them.  I'm sure it was the quarters they liked rather than Jones, and I would always fuss at him for giving away his money.  Now, in hindsight, I find it quite endearing.

Shortly after my mother died, Jones returned her Social Security check to the local office.  I would love to have seen the expression on the clerk's face when he said, "Now I'm going to give this money back to the government, but only if you'll promise me that it won't be used for bullets."

Jones had a hard head.  Once he had made up his mind, there was no changing it.  As  his banker said, "You can be Jones' friend, but you can't be his advisor."  Near the end of his days he got days and nights mixed up.  One day he arose from a long nap late in the afternoon and asked me to make coffee.  I didn't think anything of it, for he and my mother often drank a cup of coffee in the afternoon.

Soon, however, it became apparent to me that Jones thought it was the morning.  I decided to use logic to convince him otherwise.

"What direction is Tyler, Jones?" I asked as we sat out on the back porch.

"That way," he said, pointing east.

"And what direction is that?"

"East," he said confidently.

"Good, Jones.  Now show me where the sun is now."  He pointed to the west.

"And where is that, Jones?"

"West," he said, never being one to waste words.

"So what does it mean when the sun is in the West, Jones?"

"Usually it means it's in the evening," he replied with all the logic he could muster.

Usually it means it's in the evening.

I love to tell that story about Jones.  He lived in his own reality, a world different from ours.

Jones had a unique body odor, a combination of his own sweat and the aroma of Granger pipe tobacco, which he always smoked and which eventually killed him.

Now, fifteen years later, as I lie in bed thinking about Jones, that odor sometimes comes back.  Perhaps it's my imagination, but I prefer to think not.  It's Jones checking on his little girl, making sure she's OK.

Jones, I'm so grateful for the values, determination and love for humanity you instilled in me.

And I will miss you to the end of my days.

-bjd