Monthly Archives: July 2019

Conspiracies and Courage, Public Domain

David Collum, a Cornell chemistry professor who writes prolifically (and is interviewed in many places) on our collective crazy world wrote this recently, and it has been making the rounds:

I am a “conspiracy theorist”. I believe men and women of wealth and power conspire. If you don’t think so, then you are what is called “an idiot”. If you believe stuff but fear the label, you are what is called “a coward”.

This is something many people think is true; as Professor Collum brings up, 75% of Americans think the JFK assassination involved a cover-up of some type. The range of conspiracies is large, however, and filtering them is a tricky business.  The September 11 attacks (allowed to happen, or forced to happen, or a variety of in-between scenarios), various assassinations, how various 20th and 21st century wars started,  the origin of AIDS, UFO coverups, the “flat earth” theory, were the moon landings faked… you can go pretty deep down the rabbit hole.  To be clear,  every conspiracy theory is NOT true; after all, anyone can drum up a theory in the basement, and attempt to promulgate it far and wide.   Yet some conspiracy theories remain with us, and when a large portion of the population quietly questions the official narrative, you have to wonder.  Bringing this stuff up is difficult, and requires courage, especially when some conspiracy theories are false.  The September 11 attacks, the JFK assassination, and the moon landing “conspiracies” may have different levels of merit, and putting forth one may lump you in with believing the others.  Even topics with lots of data is difficult –  bring up the topic of an afterlife or UFOs at any gathering, and someone is likely to raise an eyebrow.

  • What conspiracy theories have the most traction?
  • If 75% of the population thinks the JFK assassination was a conspiracy, why isn’t there more questioning, outrage, or pushback?
  • Are the answers or truths to some conspiracy theories so outrageous that not believing them is the best route?  Could the population handle the truth?  Is this the rationale, then, for keep the conspiracies hidden?
  • What makes people take the leap, to either chase conspiracies, or to make the leap in bringing them up in “polite conversation?”



Letters to the future

Just saw this; it seems that letters to the future (as discussed a while ago) are not just personal things. Time capsules tell the future of who we were at the time, but this is different.  For one, it isn’t buried until a certain time – it is open to the world.   This is a very public, very prominent commentary on knowing a possibly terrible future.


  • As the climate changes,  and the nature of our predicament becomes more apparent, might we see more of these?
  • Might the future be filled with monuments of apology, or will we be too busy scraping along?
  • What would you say to the folks in the future in your geographic area?
  • What sort of monument would you construct?
  • Imagine a culture or religion that continually made public displays like this, talking to the future in a relatable way, and making people think about what they were doing at that time.  Could this be part of our future culture, and a way to ameliorate modern tendencies?


Right on target, sort of

Mashup of and; both in public domain

Yesterday’s missive by Rev. Kunstler was par for the course.  JHK continues to write well, and more importantly, the regular commenters chimed in with many bon mots and commentary. One note struck me as something worthy of repeating, and worthy of a bit of investigation.  User toktomi referred to Perry Arnett’s comment that,

“It will be in no one’s best interest to factually report the reality of the decline of fossil fuels once it begins in earnest.”

Looking up Perry Arnett, a few references showed up in, under their ‘experts’ page.   Arnett, writing in 2007, had posited that by 2014, with depletion rates of 15%/year, we’d be in serious trouble by 2014.  Yet, here we are, living pretty much as we did (although things do seem a bit rickety…).  This isn’t to knock Perry by any stretch; I’d venture to say many of us who see the data are still surprised the lights are on.  Fracking and financial hocus-pocus may be part of the reason why we’ve kept the plates of civilization in the air for so long . But that it is in “nobody’s best interest to report…” may be one of the more disturbing comments on the entire collapse/powerdown issue.  When/as things being to decline, if nobody reports this, that means we might be in even a *worse* situation.   In the driving-over-the-cliff analogy, this is continuing to keep your foot on the accelerator as the car actually launches itself in the air, Thelma and Louise style.

If a boat was taking on water, and it was known by the crew that for sure, the boat was truly to sink, wouldn’t you want to know?

Off the grid

Off the grid, literally.  Own work, Public Domain.

Talking with a member of my own local world, they brought up a scenario where a friend wanted to put up solar (photovoltaic) panels on their house for independent electricity generation in a suburban area. As attractive as that might be, we both were cognizant of the difficulties (battery maintenance, inverter life, solar panel degradation).   What we both voiced was that this was a bit of an off-the-grid pipe dream.

There’s a fantasy that some folks think of from time to time, that of being completely ‘off the grid.’  Put solar panels on you roof, put in a well, and grow your own food – all are part of the vision. The idea is that you could withdraw yourself from the world, and go back to a ‘simpler’ life.   A few communities have done it; the Amish is one prime example in the US.   There are a few caveats with this wish, as far as actually carrying this out:

1) Simplicity –  A simpler life may mean removing some, if not many of those modern conveniences, like the Internet, smart phones, and fresh strawberries year round.

2) Community – In being off the grid, you’ll need a community of like-minded people who share your vision.  If you don’t want a community, and you want to be ‘off the grid’, you either have resources (i.e., money) that allow you to insulate yourself (and pretend that you are disconnected from the grid), or you will live a life with few luxuries. That life might look like that of Ted Kaczynski before he was captured, eking out a life in the wilderness (but still using resources from the larger world).

3)  Maintaining What You Have – As mentioned, without a community of people to trade with, or to specialize, your off-the-grid world, maintained by only yourself will be a lot of hard work, and any technological advantages you started with have may not be maintained for long.  Eventually, you will have to go ‘on the grid’ to solve some of your problems, or live without those trinkets.  New electronics, advanced healthcare, and even simple technologies like plate glass, bolts, and screws can take a large bit of doing which one person or even small groups can’t supply.

Part of this desire may stem from that independent American streak that many folks have been told about growing up.  But that ‘independent’ streak is a fiction.  Most people, in most places, need a community of people, and a wide suite of specializations to have a decent life.   Even the toughest folks in the military at the ‘tip of the spear’ need a huge group of folks in the back taking care of all of the things that make them so efficient at what they do.   It may be that we are so interconnected now (worldwide!) that some want to have the pendulum swing back entirely the other way, and a complete off grid “solution” is the ideal.  Like most things, extremes aren’t a good situation.

The middle path to this may be a community of like minded individuals or families that can work together in their own generally independent grid, and live a decent life.  The question may then translate to “What is the smallest off-grid community you can create that gives the life you want?”  And what does ‘generally independent’ mean, anyway?

The upper limit is that of our entire planet; our civilization is run on sunlight, stored ancient sunlight, and whatever other resources the Earth provides, including its 7 billion plus inhabitants.  How far could we take this down?   Could North and South America, for example, have the standard of living we enjoy, without any input from the rest of the world?  How small might a community get, if they wanted a self-sustaining 1970s level of technology, or a 1890s level of technology?   These sorts of questions are the same reasons that Mars colony plans seem a bit off to me – as cool as these sci-fi ideas are – you need a lot larger community/infrastructure to make these kinds of things work over the long term, and the ultimate ‘off grid’ experience isn’t very ‘off the grid’ at all.

What sort of population and land scaling could apply here, for each level of technology?  For Stone Age ‘off the grid’, it is very few people; for our modern world, it is the entire world.  What sociological law might we invoke, to get an idea of the size of any sort of self-sustaining community with a particular technological base?




Low prices

On sale! Own work, Public Domain.

As much as the Star Trek universe posits a clean future/post-scarcity economy, there have been more even-handed Star Trek series and plot lines that bring the reality of things like war and suffering to the forefront.  The best of these, as mentioned previously, is Deep Space Nine, with a lot more moral fuzziness than Gene Roddenberry’s original vision.

Part of the enjoyment from seeing Deep Space Nine is seeing how one of the species, the Ferengi, react to things.  Obsessed with profit, they are a parody of us (sketched by the writers in the 1980s, reflecting the financial sector), yet strangely enough, they have not participated in such atrocities such as genocide among their own species (the slavery issue is a bit blurry).   There is a great bit of repartee between Quark (a Ferengi) and a Vulcan about the logic of peace here, and it is well worth the few minutes of your time.  Even for a non-Trek fan, the mention of a Vulcan should immediately bring to mind the idea of logic and cold rationalism.  But in this bit of back-and-forth, Quark brings up an important concept, that one should “never pay more for something than you should.”  The “something” in this case is peace, and as he says, “The price of peace is at an all time low!” so buying now (negotiating, while peace is close at hand) is the logical move.   He even manages to surprise his Vulcan counterpart. This may be cherry picking a bit, as Quark has been known to  be a bit more corporate in his outlook, but the sentiments about peace seem to be a bit more heartfelt than that throwaway line.  But the attitude on peace does make sense.

In our world, the price of fixing the climate was a lot lower thirty years ago.  As time has progressed, that price has gone up, and will continue to go up if we don’t respond.  Likewise, a host of our other predicaments gets worse (and the price of ameliorating them) gets far higher.


  • Is it possible for capitalists to stave off the worse of our environmental problems, or is capitalism just not thinking the costs through?
  • Is the cost of reversing climate change so high that it simply is unthinkable?  The best analogy that comes to mind is that of someone being hopelessly in debt.  At some point, you continue living a profligate lifestyle, until bankruptcy kicks in.  Alas, with reality and Mother Nature, bankruptcy means extinction,  and there are no do-overs.
  • What might make capitalists take note of the environment, in a serious way?  Some companies claim to be ‘green’, but more often than not, it is only window dressing (also known as “green washing“).
  • It is surprising that cost-benefit analysis doesn’t factor into more of our world and its decision making.  For example, foreign aid to Central American countries might drastically reduce the amount of refugees coming north, reduce our costs, and make other people’s lives better.  How might we convince people that just in dollars and cents, it makes more sense to invest (!) rather than pay the price we are paying now?