Modern refuges


It’s a crazy world.  As Lily Tomlin once quipped, “No matter how cynical you become, its never enough to keep up.”  Refuges are key to keeping your sanity.

Luckily, there are places that seem to be relatively buffered by the modern world, and require little or no money to use.   In some places, however, these modern refuges can become (logically) attractions for the homeless.   Public libraries, beaches, and parks can be refuges, but when homeless populations rise, these places may not work as their intended respite from modern life for all parties.    Modern libraries, being climate controlled, quiet places in cities face the brunt of this, and library staff have to learn how to handle these situations.  In a rich suburb, you may not see homeless in the library, or in a park; in denser cities, it is almost the norm.

Making it tough/illegal for people to exist outside the work-home-car iron triangle (not being able to park a camper on the street in many jurisdictions, for example), the skewing of the economy to the rich,  the closing of mental health facilities; there are a range of reasons why people become homeless.

Usually, home is one’s primary refuge, no matter how small.   But without a home, refuge is tough to come by. Without refuge, the world can be a scary place, and that alone can drive you further and further into difficulties.


  • What is your low-to-no-cost modern refuge?
  • If you became homeless, what would be your refuge?
  • How do we make more refuges for people?  Can we do it without breaking the bank?
  • Will overpopulation, public debt, and environmental destruction be the end of our public refuges?

The Green Pill


By W.carter – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,; modified under terms of CC BY-SA

The red pill / blue pill choice presented in The Matrix is a nice fork in the road moment that has been appropriated by a few folks in a few other realms, most notably the men’s right’s movement.  The beauty of the red pill / blue pill moment is that there is a point in time where you must take a stand, one way or another; there is no vacillating, although some sneaky folks have suggested taking both pills.

The red pill / blue pill moment is a concrete conscious choice between clear but very conflicting paths.  Yet there are other “pills” which have an insidious way of worming their way into your life and creating large changes, without the dichotomy of a clear choice.   There was a billboard I saw once that had the quote, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions,” by jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

The idea that many of us have experienced is what I like to call a ‘green pill’ moment, when you realize the world is a lot bigger, and is subject to far more physical realities and constraints than we would like to admit.  Chris Martenson calls these realities the “triple E” of energy, environment, and economy, part of his larger ‘Crash Course‘ on reality.    If there is an “anti-” green pill, it might that of the cornucopians, who believe in the Singularity, but these ideas are not subject to an either-or fork in the road moment.  The ‘green pill’ bit can sneak up on you after taking it; you ruminate it on a few days or weeks, and, if you are honest with yourself, you will start looking at the world a different way.

For me, my ‘green pill’ moment started way back with Isaac Asimov’s book on over-population, Earth, Our Crowded Spaceship, written in 1974.  Lying dormant for years, this idea was reawakened when having to do work related to the Y2K problem, and finding the work of James Howard Kunstler’s The Long Emergency  written in 2005.   A good deal of skepticism, fueled by books like The People’s Alamanc and The People’s History of the United States, made me realize that there were other ways of looking at history, and that things weren’t as cut and dried as most history is taught.

The worldview that makes the most sense to me has generally been that along the vertical center of the “collapsnik” chart; the upshot has always been “we are in for a rough ride.”  Getting to this point isn’t easy, especially when you are trained to be an engineer to solve problems; predicaments are sometimes presented in your training, but for the most part, engineers are trained to provide solutions (usually, with more and more technology).


  • What was your ‘green pill’ moment?   Reading The Long Emergency?   Seeing What A Way To Go: Life At the End of Empire?  Viewing Chris Martenson’s Crash Course?   Did you need multiple doses of the green pill, or did things come together quickly?
  • What is a good way of getting people to even try the green pill?  Is there a minimum dosage that is needed?  Do they need to see the interrelation between the three E’s to make a conscious choice to break out of our modern and all too real Matrix?
  • Is the divide between Green Pill folks and Cornucopians insurmountable?  Is there a middle ground?  This seems unlikely, but is there a “middle way”?

Missed meals; missed comforts

One of the many epidemics in our society is obesity.  Not just being overweight, mind you – serious, life-threatening body-mass-indexes (BMI) that are over 30.   The high level view is that the cause is a preponderance of sugar/corn syrup in our modern diet.   According to a Chris Stefanick podcast on the topic,  eating less calories is good, but unfortunately, your body catches on, and then starts to metabolically slow down.   Likewise, exercise is good, but exercise alone won’t allow you to eat whatever you want, because you’ll get hungry, and eat more.  One of Chris’s suggestions (he mentions quite a bit of research on this) is that reducing carbohydrates is a key to reducing the insulin rush (cause by carbs/simple sugars) that cause this.

But even better?  Going on a fast – voluntarily not eating.  From the podcast, he mentions people who eat 2400 calories each day, if fasting every other day, they will eat 0 calories while fasting, and 2900 calories on the days when they are “catching up”, for a net reduction of (1900/4800) 40% calories in the long haul.  It sounds a bit simple, but the science does seem sound.

What if we expanded this concept, to other areas of life?   This was touched on by a post a few years ago (Learning To Live Without).  You may have heard of a few folks who have gone on news or Internet fasts for weeks or months.   I’m currently in the middle of an experiment where I’m only checking personal email twice a day, and it’s been a boon to concentration and getting things done.

Could society use a bit of this, in general?  Jack Alpert, who founded the Stanford Knowledge Integration Lab has an extreme idea, which might be the ultimate in delayed gratification.  He recently was a guest on JHK’s podcast (the KunstlerCast; he is interviewed here).  The upshot? Almost everyone alive now is to be sterilized (!), and then lotteries for the right to have children, essentially, to lower the final population of the earth to 50 million – the “delayed gratification” of having a working (albiet small) civilization.


  • The research on delayed gratification is extensive (check out the marshmallow experiment); how could delayed gratification be introduced into groups, instead of individuals?
  • What sort of delayed gratification would you like to see more of?
  • Could Jack Alpert’s idea ever get going?  Seems like it is a bit extreme for most.
  • Obviously, too much delayed gratification is a bit of a problem; if you don’t eat, you starve to death, so fasting does have its “upper limits.”   What is the criteria for too much delayed gratification?   Even an Internet “news fast” might not be good, in that you could miss timely news about storms, disasters that might be coming, or other things that might affect you.
  • Missing meals, missing comforts – temporarily not having these may be a bit annoying, but in the end, there is a great gain.  What have you deliberately cut out of your life, in order to make your life better in the long run?


Future Schindlers and Göths

   heroes_and_villians.jpg,_Oskar.jpg andöth#/media/File:Amon_Göth-prisoner_1945.jpg

Through one of my regular Brownian-motion browsing of Wikipedia while looking for something completely unrelated, I came across a reference to the well known Schindler’s List, the classic 1993 film about the Holocaust.   The real story of Oskar Schindler, like many others during WW2, has some incredible turns, and his status as  hero has been cemented with that film.   Likewise, Amon Göth’s status as a real world villain has also been spread far and wide.  In retrospect, it is easy to see who were the heros and villians; but what about the unseen heroes and villains of today?

A few weeks ago, the question of retrospective abominations and amusements was put forward.  There are plenty of wacky things going on in our society, and for sure, some of those things will be vilified.   Likewise, some people who live unremarkable lives (by “modern” standards) may be glorified, and those in high places may be seen as monsters (“the last shall be first, and the first, last“).


  • Will there be an equivalent Nuremberg trial for anyone in America, if things “go south”?
  • Who are the modern day Schindlers?  Who are the modern day Göths?  Environmentalists?  Industrialists?   How will the future treat Internet billionaires?
  • Extravagant movies may be a thing of the past, if collapse goes quickly.  Yet stories will remain about our world.  What sort of tales will be told?










Missed the point


I’m not a fan of flying.   Not that I’m afraid, of course.  Flying is much safer than driving, so they tell us.   But the carbon footprint is a lot larger, and of all the activities you can do to lower your carbon footprint, not flying is one of the big ones.  Of all the ways to reduce your carbon footprint, a few basic items:

  • become a vegetarian
  • forego air travel
  • ditch your car
  • have fewer children (the biggest impact)

It was amazing then, today, to get an email from an airline company, wanting to celebrate Earth Day (with a prize of … flights!).   Links to vote on your favorite causes were provided… but not one of them was regarding population growth/overpopulation.

It is the elephant in the room, of course.  Having children in industrialized countries like America, places a huge load on the ecosystem (relative to other countries), but talking about it is somewhat taboo.  There are, of course, some more radical ideas on the whole topic of human existence and population.

One question to ask someone who “cares about the environment” is to ask what they think the carrying capacity of the planet is, or should be (if it is possible to “will” a carrying capacity).  And then ask them if they are having children, and how many [late edit].  Or ask them if they fly by air for vacation.

We live in a world where many of us need to fly or drive for work.  If you don’t own a car or have kids, and fly for vacation once in a blue moon, then perhaps your footprint is smaller than those who own a car and commute.  But having kids is the big one.


  • What is the carrying capacity of the Earth, for humans?  The estimates vary widely; from 100 million to 40 billion.  The Georgia Guidestones call for a population of 500 million.
  • Is Earth Day just another marketing day, like Christmas, Memorial Day, or Labor Day?
  • How do you personally stack up with the big items above?
  • Bringing these items up is difficult; how do you do it without antagonizing your audience?





Missed Past


In Lexington, Massachusetts, on Patriot’s Day, they reenact the Battle of Lexington. People dress up in period costumes, and go through the events of April 1775.   The folks who do the reenactment go all out; they remain in an 18th century mode for a bit of time as well.

The Revolution, of course, is perhaps idolized the most of all American wars because it is part of our founding mythology, and of course, the upstarts won.  We may also romanticize the American Revolution, because like the Vietnamese in the Vietnam War, Americans won against some pretty steep odds – a typical Hollywood story (even though the real story is far more complex).

A few folks seem to miss the past a great deal; so much so that they want to relive it, or even see it live.


  • We have Revolutionary and Civil War reenactments; we even have WW1, WW2, and Korean War reenactments. Will this trend continue, with reenactments of Vietnam, Kosovo, and the Gulf Wars?  Or are those wars too mechanical and brutal?  Could someone do a historical reenactment of the Holocaust?
  • Will reenactments go the way of tail fins and cheap oil?  Who will have the resources to do such things?  If we are living closer to a late 18th or 19th century standard of living, it might not be that appealing.


Missed Futures On Transport


Own work, CC-BY.

We seemed to have missed the exit towards a slightly better future a while ago, but it is always worth it to review what happened.  With good knowledge of the past, we might be able to make more reasonable decisions in the future, or at least give decent warning to our descendants.  Although they probably won’t be building lots of new highways, the more self-criticism we can do now, the better.

One of the things that happened in many metropolitan areas was that the building of highways took precedence over railroads (and in some cases, even displaced them).  A classic case of this was in the New York metro region.  Even though it has one of the biggest commuter rail systems, and one of the largest subway systems, there were many times that thoughts of extra rail or subway lines were squashed or unfunded.

Reading about the Long Island Expressway (LIE), for example, these interesting pieces popped up:

A portion of the path of the Long Island Expressway was along the former road path and right of way of a streetcar line that went from the southern part of Long Island City to southern Flushing.[8]


Unbuilt subway line

A New York City Subway line along the Long Island Expressway corridor had been proposed in the 1929 and 1939 IND Second System plans as an extension of the BMT Broadway Line east of the 60th Street Tunnel, when the LIE was called Nassau Boulevard and later Horace Harding Boulevard prior to the construction of the expressway.[25][26][27]

The main villian/architect (depending on your point of view) behind a good deal of these elements in the New York metro area was Robert Moses, and the book The Power Broker doesn’t paint a flattering picture of him.

Not all of these historical decisions were horrible, to be fair.   There was a planned extension of the LIE through the middle of Manhattan, ten stories above the main streets, but didn’t get any real traction.   The Lower Manhattan Expressway was also nixed, being led by Jane Jacobs.  The real tragedy of many of these decisions is that many of them were undone, but at enormous cost (i.e., the Big Dig in Boston).   Of course, these improvements led to a Jevon’s Paradox (as these roads were improved net traffic increased).

New York City, ages ago, had the foresight to build a water supply system that allowed the city to grow, without having to worry about that most critical of infrastructures.  Some foresight gave them a transportation network (the subways) that also allowed the city to grow.   Making these sorts of improvements in the modern era seems a lot more difficult, as we don’t have the financial resources, and the built-up nature of the city makes it physically difficult to make improvements.


  • What public transport options were available many years ago, that weren’t implemented in your area?
  • What highway construction projects were canceled?
  • How were these projects defeated?  The list of highway revolts is long!
  • Who are the equivalent Robert Moses figures in your local area?  Were they any better or worse?  Is there a Robert Moses figure for public transport?