Our Connection with the Universe

I read something recently that really made me think. If you lived on the sunshine side of a tidal locked planet (one in which one side of its sphere always faces the body it orbits around), over the generations you might completely lose sight of the fact that there’s a universe out there, because you’d never see the stars.

How tragic that would be. For centuries, Man has been looking skyward and wondering what is out there. We imagine constellations of stars as being part of a group even though they are nowhere near each other. We give them names. We wonder if we are alone.

Personally, I find it extremely comforting that there’s something so much larger than myself that it practically renders me insignificant. It makes me feel that any concerns I may be having are insignificant, too.

There is so much beauty in the night sky. It calms me. It embraces me. I’d hate to lose that sense of awe.

Our moon is tidally locked to us, which is why we always see the same face. But we are not tidally locked to it, nor is it tidally locked to the sun, which is why we see different phases of it as it continues to face us. If you lived on the far side of the moon, you wouldn’t know earth existed. That’s a profound view of reality, because the earth is comparatively huge, and would be rather hard to ignore in other circumstances.

Tidal locking would mean you’d only get to see one version of reality. And over time that reality would be reinforced to such a degree that it would be hard to leave room for any other beliefs. (In fact, one’s very concept of the passage of time would probably be so different that it might render one incapable of imagination.)

It just goes to show that your reality has a great deal to do with where you are looking. That’s why I love to travel so much. I think it’s important to experience other points of view. And by that I don’t just mean the opinions of others. I mean the points from which I get to view the world and the heavens.

I hope you take time to look about you, dear reader. There are many things to see. And those sights will enhance your connection to the universe.

NGC7293_(2004).jpg

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Who’s Spinning the Planet?

I saw a sign the other day that nearly made me drive off the road. It was in front of a church. (Yup. Buckle up.) It said:

“Did the LORD wake you up this morning? No? Who rotates earth?”

Oh, where to begin.

First of all, I instantly got this image of the sign creator gleefully looking at his work and saying, “Yes! Finally! Proof that God exists that NO ONE can argue with!!!!”

I weep for humanity.

To be absolutely clear, this blog post is not about whether or not God exists. I’m not going there. I have a cold, and that’s much too meaty a topic for me to dig into at the moment.

No. This post is about the ignorance of Man and the stupidity, in particular, of this sign.

In the Trump era, I’m kinda getting used to people taking absurd leaps in logic. Mostly I just shake my head sadly and move on. But to ask who’s spinning the planet, you must first believe that in order for the planet to spin, some entity or other must be spinning it.

To that, I can only respond, “Kindly get your head out of the stone age and join the rest of us in 2019.”  Anyone with a passing concept of the laws of physics knows that there’s no one sitting at a gigantic pottery wheel in the sky, tediously spinning, spinning, spinning our world for us. If that were necessary, it would be a horribly cruel job to saddle someone with. It sounds more like a task to give someone who is residing in hell.

That there are people out there who have never taken physics or learned of gravity or heard of Copernicus doesn’t surprise me overmuch. (Saddens me, yes, surprises me, no.) But in order to take this sign seriously, you have to believe in witchcraft. Your society would have to be at the developmental stage where you think that you must provide a blood sacrifice in order to make the sun rise each day. You’d have to wear bones in your nose and club your women and drag them into your cave.

If your spiritual belief includes a higher power, I hope that he, she, or it is sophisticated enough to not be wasting time on the minutiae. Because there’s a lot of work to do up in this mo’ fo’. There’s no time for dilly dallying.

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Another Earth

In keeping with my tradition of being several years behind the times, I just saw a really fascinating movie from 2011 entitled Another Earth. It was a romance. It was a drama. It was science fiction. It was a surprise.

It included three story lines, any of which would have made an excellent stand-alone movie, and they had very little to do with one another, but somehow that still worked. There was a romance that was intertwined with an extreme tragedy. There was a subtle little story about the suffering of an old janitor that I dearly wish they had expanded upon. And then there was the sci fi/philosophical element which fascinated me, and which I want to talk more about.

Spoiler alert. This particular story line was about discovering that there was another planet, capable of supporting life, on the opposite side of the sun. For some reason, our orbits finally misaligned enough so that that planet could actually be seen by us. For years we observed it, but it was too far away to make contact. But the closer it got, the more obvious it was that this planet was, indeed, occupied.

Finally, the planet was close enough to make radio contact, and this is when it gets truly weird. A scientist from SETI makes first contact. And the person on the other end speaks English. And that person has her same name. And her same birthdate. And her same childhood memories.

So now everyone is faced with the concept that each person has another “you” out there on this other planet. If you met your other “you”, what would you say to that person? What would you ask?

And then it is theorized that the moment these two planets caught sight of each other, the synchronicity was broken. We stopped living identical lives, and started off on paths all our own. When you turned left, your doppelganger may have turned right. So now there’s no way of knowing what that place is like anymore. It’s no longer comforting and predictable. It’s actually a tiny bit scary.

And then, as is the wont of millionaires, one decides to create a space program so that a ship could visit this other planet. And he holds a contest so that someone can go along for free. Would you enter that contest? Would you want to go? Would you want to know? Would it be a big do-over for you? Or would it be a do exactly the same? Or a do much, much better or worse?

What would you do if you came face to face with yourself?

If you were expecting me to answer any of the above questions, sorry. I got nothin’. But it’s something I’ll be thinking about for a long time.

Another Earth

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What Does God Think of Climate Change?

Always supposing you believe climate change is real (and I do), I have a thought experiment for you. If you believe in God, then what do you think God thinks about what we are doing to our planet? I mean, we’re taking this amazing gift, and we’re basically pooping all over it. My guess is she or it or he would be mighty disappointed in us. If I were God, I’d be totally rethinking this whole “free will” thing. Because we are definitely screwing things up.

Or maybe the old testament got it right, and what we have is a vengeful, fear-inducing God. If that’s the case, then climate change is some form of punishment, and we better start paying attention. The time for basking in our blissful ignorance is long past.

Here’s an even bigger thought experiment for you: Even if you don’t believe in God and/or climate change, please explain to me why it doesn’t make sense to live a green and clean life? What are the disadvantages?

If our actions just boil down to laziness, selfishness, greed and a basic resistance to change, then God doesn’t even need to be in this equation. We should all be disappointed in ourselves.

climate change

Biosphere 2

Recently, I visited Tucson, Arizona for the first time. I met a lot of really great people, ate a lot of delicious food, and the desert is so amazing that these topics will call for additional blog posts, but I thought I’d start with the first thing we did on our first day, because it was so geek-fabulous that even as I write this I have a silly grin on my face.

Please forgive me. I’m bouncing up and down in my chair, and I can barely contain an excited scream. I got to see Biosphere 2!!!!!!!!!!

This facility, in Oracle, Arizona, first captured my imagination in 1991, when 4 women and 4 men entered its closed ecological system to conduct scientific experiments for two years. They produced their own food, and maintained a mini ocean, rainforest, fog desert, and mangrove swamp as well as a fruit orchard. They even grew their own coffee, but only produced enough for a cup once every few weeks, which must have been torture for coffee lovers.

The purpose of this entire elaborate experiment was to see if it would be possible to maintain human life in outer space. That was what I found so exciting. It was like a space mission right here on earth. I wanted to pull up stakes and move right in myself.

It’s probably best that I didn’t, though. It was hard work. They were constantly hungry. They burned 400 more calories than they ate on most days. I’d have been grumpy. I’d have wanted ice cream.

And, in fact, the psychological aspect of the experiment was what intrigued me the most. The group of 8 wound up splitting into two groups of 4, and the two groups really didn’t like one another. They barely spoke. And yet they still managed to put the biosphere first and maintain the mission. The divisions make me sad for humanity and its attraction to drama, but the fact that they still worked toward a common goal, the health of the biosphere, gives me hope.

Because where’s Biosphere 1? You’re living in it. We all are. It’s planet earth. This complex, life-sustaining ecosystem of ours is critical for our survival, and if we don’t start taking climate change seriously, we’re not going to leave much for future generations. And as the saying goes, there is no Planet B. To heck with surviving in outer space. We need to be able to survive right here, and we’re certainly doing our level best to make that a challenge.

The tour of Biosphere 2 also takes you beneath it, to where all the mechanical systems are, and into the gigantic lung, which kept the facility from imploding or exploding during differing pressure systems. A picture of the lung room is below. (A fun fact is that it was also used as a film set for a very bad movie starring William Shatner in 2002, entitled Groom Lake, which sounds like an entirely miss-able movie.)

Both closed missions in this facility were fraught with controversy, but they taught us much. Currently, Biosphere 2 is owned by the University of Arizona, and they’re doing untold numbers of research experiments, including a Landscape Evolution Observatory (LEO), a Lunar Greenhouse, and a vertical farming project. I’m so glad that this amazing place is still contributing to our knowledge. We need all that we can get, in this age of ignorance.

If you ever get a chance to take a tour, I highly recommend it. I’m also adding a book that was written by two of the original biospherians to the very top of my reading list. Life Under Glass: The Inside story of Biosphere 2 by Abigail Alling and Mark Nelson sounds like a fascinating read. There are actually several books on the subject, but this seems like a great place to start.

Without further ado, here are some of the pictures from my visit.

Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2 Rainforest
The rainforest
Biosphere 2 Cloud Desert
The Cloud Desert
Biosphere 2 Ocean
The Ocean
Biosphere 2 Lung
The lung. That heavy aluminum plate sinks to the ground when it’s cold, and rises when it is hot. It was 100 degrees that day.

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What I Thought America Meant

When I was little, I was taught that I lived in the greatest country in the entire world. I thought we set the best example, and that based on that example, other countries would aspire to be better, and someday the whole world would be just as wonderful as we were.

Everyone would be free. There would be no war. Every individual would have equal opportunities. The world would be one big safe, happy, teddy bear of a place. I was so proud. I felt so lucky to be an American.

To me, America meant generosity, compassion, justice, safety, equality, freedom, dedication, love, and integrity.

If you had told me back then that I’d become increasingly ashamed over time, I’d have been pretty darned disappointed. Disgusted is the word, actually. And even horrified every once in a while. (Simply because I can’t work up the energy to maintain horror for long periods.)

How must the rest of the planet view us when we say things like domestic and gang violence are no longer valid reasons for asylum? What happened to “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free”?

And when did we become okay with children being yanked away from their parents? Do we think those traumatized children will grow up admiring us for that? Do we think those children deserve punishment? Guilt by association?

We were supposed to be the poster child for human rights. Are we? When our president shakes hands with Kim Jong-Un, the worst human rights abuser currently alive, and says he’ll “probably have a very good relationship” with him, it doesn’t do much for that image.

I also thought we’d be the saviors of the world. But we are one of its worst polluters, biggest consumers, and we live in a culture of selfishness and waste. We can’t even hold on to our national parks, which is an embarrassment, because we were the first country to even conceive of them. The planet cries out for us to take climate change seriously, even as some of them are sinking into the sea, and instead of setting an example, we back out of the Paris Accord.

Apparently we value the profits of gun manufacturers more than the lives of our children. We allow the very worst of our law enforcement officers to become murderers without any real consequences. We step over our homeless veterans in the streets. And we don’t seem to think anyone has a right to health care.

We elected a man who brags about grabbing pussies, thinks that white supremacy is acceptable, and uses Twitter to lie without remorse. We take great strides to make it difficult to vote, but that’s probably a waste of energy when no one can seem to be bothered to do so anyway. We spend more time keeping up with the Kardashians than we do with the real current events that actually impact our day to day lives.

We have become fat and bloated by our laziness and greed. We flaunt our hate. We exaggerate our fear. We demonize education and journalism. We are not who we said we would be.

I once told a cousin that America is an experiment. You’d think I had peed in his Post Toasties. How dare I say that?

Well, Cuz, do you still think we are solid as a rock, unchanging, and will last forever? Do you really think that this thing we have become has staying power, above all other regimes that have come and gone throughout history? Are we a shining example of the best of humanity? Have we reached some bright pinnacle? Should everyone want to be just like us?

I wish I could be that little girl again, with the star spangled banner eyes. I wish I was full of optimism and hope for this country’s future. I wish I still thought I was one of the good guys.

But I have to ask: Are we becoming our best selves? Because if we can’t do better than this, if we don’t want to do better than this, then there’s really no hope. And that scares me.

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Let’s Talk About the Weather, Shall We?

I’m looking forward to a rare day of sunshine here in the Pacific Northwest, and the temperature is expected to rise to a delightful 65 degrees. Spring! Happy dance!

Meanwhile, a dear friend in Kansas had to hunker down the other day in anticipation of 2 to 4 inches of snow. In April. This is not normal. The world has gone mad.

It used to be that the weather was considered to be the safest of all possible topics. We are all told to avoid politics and religion over Thanksgiving dinner, but the weather… we could all agree on that, couldn’t we?

Not anymore. The weather has become political. At a time when California is burning to the ground, islands are sinking beneath the ocean waves, there is severe flooding, drought, dust storms engulfing entire cities, super storms of all kinds, and unprecedented ice cap melting, we are expected to avoid the meteorological elephant in the room. Even governmental websites are deleting any references to global climate change.

I never thought I’d see the day when liberals would be considered the most conservative people on earth, but we are the ones that are wanting to take precautions to safeguard the planet. Even if you don’t believe in the overwhelming science of climate change, even if you refuse to look at the evidence before your very eyes, how can you justify not wanting to take steps, just in case? If this really does turn out to be our last chance to save ourselves, don’t you want to be aboard that ark?

What is wrong with reducing our dependence on fossil fuels? Why not recycle? Would it kill you to plant a tree? Is it really so hard to be a little bit smarter about your water usage? Why is expecting our corporations not to pour their toxic waste into our rivers and streams so controversial?

Seriously. Explain it to me. Because I don’t get it.

global-warming
Surely we can all agree that this isn’t the best idea we’ve ever had.

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Earthing

One of the best things about the advent of spring is that I find more and more opportunities to walk barefoot. I love the feeling of grass under my feet and sand between my toes. I love feeling connected to the planet, especially after long months of raw, bitter, wet, isolating cold.

In particular, I love the grass out west. It’s soft and smooth, like the grass of my Connecticut childhood. In the South, one is forced to live with St. Augustine grass, which is actually lumpy and painful to walk on. That, and you have to watch out for fire ants and snakes and scorpions and hostile plant life. It’s not the same experience at all. (But I do miss walking on Southern beaches! Warm sand, not painful rocks!)

But walking barefoot, or “earthing”, is now being scientifically studied. It comes as no surprise to me that people are discovering that there are actual health benefits to the practice. I know I feel calmer and happier and much more centered when I’m barefoot.

According to this article, scientists are discovering that earthing improves sleep, reduces inflammation, and increases antioxidants. It has something to do with having direct contact with the electrons that the planet produces. It also reduces stress, regulates glucose and heartbeat, and increases immunity. According to this article, walking barefoot also helps loosen tense muscles, relieves headaches, reduces menstrual cramps, and boosts energy levels.

Whether or not these studies stand up to further investigation, I just know, instinctively, that I feel better when I can feel the earth beneath my feet. After all, we evolved to live upon it. Our very existence depends on it. We are meant to be connected to it. I find it sad that our idea of “progress” is removing us more and more from the natural world.

So get out there and wiggle your toes!

Barefoot-walking

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More Wishes

When I was a child, I used to imagine that if a genie granted me three wishes, one of my wishes would be more wishes. As if I were the only person on earth to ever have thought of that. As if I’d never run out of ideas for wishes. As if I were a bottomless pit of need, greed, and desire.

Sure, I can think of a few monetary wishes. A paid off mortgage. The ability to retire. World travel.

But the older I get, the more my priorities change. My needs are quite simple. Now, if I were granted three wishes, I’d only need one, really. With that one wish, all other problems would take care of themselves.

What I’d wish for is boundless love. And that love would take on variety of forms. After all, that’s one of love’s strengths.

Naturally, I want someone to share my life with, who appreciates me for me, who understands me and loves me just the way I am. If I could wake up beside someone like that again, all other stressors could be handled. If I could just feel as if someone would always have my back, no matter what, I could face anything.

But I’d also want the love of mankind for one another. That would naturally lead to peace on earth. And love for the planet would mean that we’d take better care of it, and actually have a hope in hell of surviving. I’d like to have a government that loves its people, and actually works in our best interests. I’d like a love-centered employment model, in which the people we worked for actually gave a shit about our well-being, our morale, and our ability to earn a living wage without sacrificing our health or our dignity.

I’d like people to love to learn and to read and to vote. I’d like them to love diversity and curiosity and kindness. I’d like families to love one another in spite of, or perhaps because of, their differences. I’d like people to feel so much love that their generosity would know no bounds.

At the risk of becoming a cliché, I really do believe that love is all you need. So that’s what I’m putting out into the universe for 2018. Wish me luck.

genie

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The Sun Will Still Rise When the World Ends

It baffles me that wanting to save the planet is even the slightest bit controversial. What are the down sides to it? It may take time and money, yes, but those are things we won’t have anyway, if we continue to destroy the environment.

It seems that the most primal motivator for humanity is, unfortunately, greed. The worst perpetrators of global destruction are those who are exploiting resources to get every single penny out of them while they still can. To hell with the future. They are only concerned with instant gratification. They think trees were put on this earth to provide the wood to build their three-car garages.

Perhaps those of us who are ringing environmental alarm bells are going about this all wrong. Selfish people, by definition, care only about themselves. They are incapable of the concept that we need to put the planet first. To get them to hop on this life-or-death bandwagon, we need to make the issue about them.

Here’s what these selfish people need to know. We don’t need to save the planet. The planet is, basically, a rock that’s hurtling through space. There’s not much that we can do that is going to mess with that rock. We can burn the entire world to the ground, blow everything up, kill every living creature and leave not one drop of drinkable water on the earth’s surface, and that rock will continue on its path around the sun. The sun will rise and set, and the earth will spin, with or without us.

What we need to save is ourselves.

For humans to survive, we have to maintain the environment in a state that is conducive to humans. It behooves us to keep it from getting much hotter. It’s a good idea to make sure we can grow the food we need to eat. We may also want to think about the fact that we need air to breathe and water to drink. And maintaining this system is rather complex. It means that we need bees to pollinate, and a diverse web of flora and fauna, or the whole project will fall like a house of cards, and that, dear readers, will be the end of us.

So if you can’t be bothered to care about the planet, think about saving yourself.

Environment conflict

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