Little Creatures

As I progress through the video series at Love Returns, I’m having more and more trouble keeping myself anchored. Time and space, life and death, nature and design: it all winds together more thickly around my mind.

At Dance Tribe on Sunday, I felt disconnected, as though some part of me was missing from the experience – or something else was in control. Half-way through, I focused intently, and found myself thinking about the phytoplankton whose shells are dissolving. While higher concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide warm the air, causing the most immediate threat to human civilization, they also increase carbolic acid in the oceans. This is bleaching coral reefs and impeding the maturation of phytoplankton.

Phytoplankton are the base of the oceanic food chain, and the greatest source of the oxygen gas that we breathe to fuel our metabolism.

Their message was simple: “We can’t do it any more.”

I fell into a deep-rooted grief that built until I was concerned that it would disrupt the celebration. Taking down my gear from the shelves, I headed for the exit, only to be stopped by these lyrics:

Black lives matter.
Children lives matter.
Police lives matter.
Judge lives matter.

The grief spilled over, then, and I started sobbing, face turned to the heavens. After a time, another man leaned his head into my shoulder. I finally pulled myself together, set my gear down, and went back out on the floor.

It was different. My muscle cells seemed to float as though on an ocean swell. Bones forgotten, it was all about the tissue rising and falling, until I tumbled over onto the floor.

And then the second phase: protective tissues. Lower extremities anchored firmly as though to the ocean floor, my arms and head swayed in the air, fluid, the currents of the air rolling along and around them.

The then the final phase: shells, the calcium accretions that became our bones. Joints and alignments came into focus.

In Psalms, this echo rolls back from the Messiah:

I am less than a worm.

Not less, in that moment, but of and from. They are still inside us, those simple things.

And they are dying.

In the closing circle, we were asked to state our names and offer a word that summarized our experience in the dance. I blurted out my name, but concealed that word that was presented to me.

Destruction.

Trump v. Jesus

As I watched the footage of Donald Trump screaming “Get them out of here! Get them out of here!” and “Try not to hurt him – but if you do I’ll defend you in court,” I had this image of Jesus standing in the center of the crowd, trying to calm the hatred, just falling to his knees as a great shouted heart-cry arose from him.

This is not what I died for!

Rachel Maddow’s backdrop to her coverage of violence in the Trump campaign sported a picture of a Trump in full bombast, underlined with “De-Nomination.” Rachel sees Trump as a fascist, and drew parallels with the behavior of his followers and those of Hitler. Indeed, one of those caught on film pushing a black attendee at a Trump rally proudly proclaimed his affiliation with a white supremacist group. Maddow believes that through his incitement of violence Trump is disqualifying himself for nomination to be the leader of a free nation.

I see this as being a far more complex phenomenon, recognizing that the anti-Trump media has tended to feed the paranoia by casting his off-the-cuff comments in the least charitable light. Trump’s retort to Megan Kelly that “blood [was] coming from…wherever” was probably an unfinished reference to her nose or mouth, not her vagina.

My own visceral reaction to Trump comes from another source. After I finished playing with electrons and muons, I left particle physics because I realized that it would never have practical applications. It wouldn’t create jobs for the people that need them most. My first “real” job involved rescuing a project built by technologists to monitor waste discharges from a facility that employed 10,000 people. The system was required by the local treatment facility because prior discharges had disrupted their operations. Working eighteen hour days under enormous pressure, I brought the system under control, investigated patterns of radiation releases that violated the terms of our discharge license, and participated in tours to calm public fears. I protected those jobs.

After leaving government employment, I began work as a software developer. In my three major engagements, I worked in companies run by people who hated government, seeing it as merely an impediment to job creation. But the ethic of their operations was shocking to me. The organizations were dominated by fear – fear largely originating from the realization that the software used to control the expensive machines they built was so incomprehensible that engineers could no longer configure the installations. In each case, I refactored the code, fixing bugs and adding features as I went. I saved jobs.

The response in every case was to beat me down, because I exposed the fact that, at root, it was the behaviors of executives that made it impossible to achieve success. It was the lies and anger managers projected at their employees that destroyed their capacity to think. I came in and restructured those relationships, building a core of rationality and blame-free problem solving that enabled people to grasp at hope. I ministered to my peers as a Christian, and that terrified those that terrified them.

So this is what I see when I see Trump: a screaming blaggart who builds casinos designed to take advantage of people of weak will, and exclusive communities that protect the rich from rubbing elbows with the poor. I see a destroyer of families and social cohesion, and a diverter of energy that could be employed to heal the infirm and sustain the poor.

In Daniel’s Dream of the Four Beasts [Dan. 7], Daniel sees the coming of “the Ancient of Days” on a “flaming throne” with “wheels of fire.” This is the imagery that accompanies Apollo, god of the sun, in Greek religion. Daniel sees the fourth beast being consumed by flame, even as the last of its horns continues with its “boastful words.” So we have Trump, distracting us with his boasting (“When I’m elected, we’ll win so much that you get tired of winning.”) from the necessary work of healing the world of the mess we’ve made of it, and most specifically the effects of global warming.

I think that Rachel had the wrong word on her backdrop last night. I think that it should have been “Domination,” that great enemy of Christian truth and freedom that seeks to force others to comply with its will. As foretold in Daniel, the fiery destruction of domination is an unfortunate prerequisite to the coming of the Age of Christ. As Jesus suffers the “birthing pains” of His return, try not to be taken in by the enemy’s vainglorious self-promotion.

Russian to the Brink

While Nikita Khrushchev once pounded a negotiating table with his shoe, promising that “[the USSR] will bury you,” Vladimir Putin seems committed to a course of “let’s all drown together.” Whether it be oil or violence or rising oceans, the real risks facing his people are clouded in his mind by the demands of keeping a nation of eight time zones under his thumb.

As an industrialized nation whose ports are locked in ice for six months each year, Russia has a mania for warm weather. That was expressed in the ’50s in currying favor with its neighbor Iran, and in the ’80s with the invasion of Afghanistan. As global warming gained steam, the failure to secure a warm-water port made Russian nominally the only nation standing to benefit from climate change.

That wasn’t enough for Putin, whose seizure of Crimea was a thinly-disguised grab for an outlet to the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, a good piece of Ukraine stood between Russia and its new acquisition. Western opposition to the dismemberment of the Ukraine has frustrated Putin’s ambition and exposed the weakness of his military. The flurry of airspace violations by Russian fighter jets has died down as the maintenance bill mounted.

Instead, Putin has shifted to support of Bashar Assad in Syria. This is an escalation of the asymmetrical warfare epitomized by suicide bombers, except in this case the walking dead are the refugees fleeing conflict. The cost of managing the millions fleeing the region is mounting, and borne almost exclusively by the European countries who have responded to Russian adventurism with diversification of their fossil fuel supply.

Again, this geopolitical aim is shrouded in a lofty rationale: Russian claims to be fighting Daesch, the Islamist caliphate that is looting the abandoned regions of eastern Syria and western Iraq. In reality Russian military might is strongly aligned with Assad in his battle with the rebellion again his criminal regime.

In the meantime, Russia continues to pump oil into the Chinese and other markets. Its primary competitor in supply is Saudi Arabia, whose cheap production costs and small population allowed flexibility to decrease production during an oil glut to stabilize global output. Unfortunately, Sunni Saudi Arabia is locked in a regional struggle for dominance with the Shiite regime of Iran, nominally a supporter of the Allawi regime in Syria. This has led it into military adventurism in Yemen, at the cost of $17 billion a month, and is now prompting the Suadi’s to consider intervention with ground troops against Daesch in eastern Syria. An obviously a side-effect is to secure the existence of a Sunni bastion in a region about to be dominated by Shiite states. But it also creates a drain on the Saudi treasury that forces it to sell oil, driving down the price even further.

Saudi Arabia is not the only threat to Russian control of Syria. The rebels being bombed by Russian jets are not going to go away should the regime reestablish control of their strongholds. They will melt into the population, and continue to operate as insurgents. And of course, there’s all those returning refugees to provide for. Just as in Ukraine, Putin is setting himself up to be trapped for the long term in the Middle Eastern quagmire.

Finally, we have the paradox of the melting Russian tundra, composed in no small part of methane crystals that are evaporating. How much of Russia’s oil and gas infrastructure will be swallowed in sinkholes is anybody’s guess. At the very least, we can expect roads and rail lines to be disrupted. Worse, some estimates are that the continental shelf along the Arctic Ocean will soon burp up enough methane to drive global temperatures up by 2 C in the next ten years. That will moderate as the methane burns off, but the effect will be to increase desertification of Russian agricultural land. While warming Siberia is huge, it is dominated by tundra and boreal forest, possessing only a thin layer of soil. It’s not going to be a breadbasket anytime in the next thousand years.

Russia has always been a marginal state, held together by the repressive fist of the tsars. As the last of that line, Putin is playing a game of personal power on the global stage driven by the need to prove his strength to the Russian people. While it’s anybody’s guess as to how soon the Russian state will collapse under the weight of his ambitions, all we can hope is that there’s something left for the Russian people to rebuild with.

Our Extraterrestrial Saviors

Astronomers tout a “high-frequency” (every couple of years) flickering in the light emanating from the star KIC 8462852 as possible proof of extraterrestrial intelligence. The extent and frequency of the flickering rule out the normal cause of such variation: temporary occlusion of the star by a planet in its orbit. This leaves open the possibility that the occlusion is due to a planetary-scale artificial structure.

The possibility of such structures was first popularized by Larry Niven’s “Ringworld” novels. However, the stresses on a ring encircling a star are inconceivably large – no material imaginable would be able to sustain the strain.

Exotechnologists thus turned their attention to another possibility: the spread of huge tree-like lifeforms rooted in Jupiter-size planets. Natural seasonal cycles would cause the density of the canopy to vary over time, thus explaining the flickering.

Given the huge quantities of carbon dioxide transferred to the stellar wind from such growth, CO2 sequestration, long pooh-poohed as prohibitively expensive, now appears to have long-term market potential. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is leading commercialization efforts, beginning with leasing of the world’s largest radio telescopes in the hope that CO2 deliveries can be arranged before global warming exterminates life on Earth.

The SETI program, in reaction to this plan, reasons that “extraterrestrial intelligence must exist, because it is impossible that intelligence not exist somewhere in the universe.”