Category Archives: Education

Shaping a Living World: Part 5

We must be clear about our agenda, which includes promoting sustainable, local economies, reforming our food systems, distributing resources in a more just and humane fashion, and ensuring that our human populations are below the carrying capacity of our planet through access to voluntary birth control, and equal access to education and work for women.A Pagan Statement on the Environment (Italics Mine)

Hello again folks!

I’m going to say right off the bat that this is going to be a long one. But there is a lot to say on such an important issue.

Today, if you haven’t guessed, we are going to be talking about gender equality. This is a huge topic, and it includes both Women’s Rights as well as LGTB+ Rights. So before we jump right in to the deep end, let’s get a little bit of a handle on what we are talking about here. When I talk about equality, I am talking about basic human rights, as the UN site for Goal 5 points out;

Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.

Providing women and girls (all people) with equal access to education, health care, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision-making processes will fuel sustainable economies and benefit societies and humanity at large.” (Italics added are mine) (UN SDG Goal 5)

Now, this runs us straight into our first problem. While we cannot diminish the fact that goal 05 is primarily focused on women and girls, it also leaves out specific mention of LGBT+ people. This is a big problem, and it has been pointed out in several sources;

“….heads of state gathered at the U.N. this weekend to adopt this ambitious roadmap for achieving sustainable development on our planet over the next 15 years. Yet throughout the 35-page draft document there is no mention of the words “sexual orientation” or “gender identity,” or of LGBT people.“ (HRC.org)

While the article points out that there are several of the SDG’s that could cover LGBT+ rights. Some of the examples covered include parts of Goal 10 such as;

“- By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status

– Ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome, including by eliminating discriminatory laws, policies and practices and promoting appropriate legislation, policies and action in this regard”

The article also points out that increased equality for women and could also benefit lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender women. However, the fact that the language that the LGBT+ community is not specifically mentioned all throughout the goals is more concerning. If we are talking about Gender Equality as the goal, then it makes sense that it should include ALL people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Lupa, a bisexual woman, drives the point home when she says;

I do wish there was more explicitly said about including QUILTBAG (queer, undecided, intersex, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, asexual, gay) people in the sustainability goals. They’re already trying to show gender equality through improving the status of women, but they ignore how the oppression of QUILTBAG people (whether female or not) can scupper sustainability efforts in the same way that the oppression of women does. Not only are you keeping a big group of people out of play in finding the solutions for the problems we face and implementing them, but oppressing them also means they’re less likely to find help for other sustainability issues, such as poverty and disability. “ 

Let’s explore the specific targets in this goal in more depth shall we?

Sustainable Development Goals

Women and girls make up about half of the population, and we as a species are never going to make it if we continue to treat half of the population as an after thought. This goes well beyond just women as mothers and daughters, but gets to the heart of the fact that women are people too, and should be involved in the process of building a better world. As such, for this section I am going to comment on a selection of goals one by one to drive the point home.

End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere – SDG Goal 5 

This is such a huge topic that I am struggling on where to begin with this one. Women face discrimination in all parts of life; at home, on the job, and in the classroom. There is not a single sphere of social life in which women are not discriminated against, whether directly or indirectly, and with varying degrees of severity. It can range from microaggressions, to sexist jokes, to full on misogyny.

Discrimination can be legal or informal, and includes gender wage-gaps, social and economic opportunities, cultural biases, and dozens of areas at home and in public. It can be present in assumed gendered stereotypes (ie. the woman’s place is in the home/not in this place), or just straight up regressive or repressive policies. Some of these are discriminatory, some border on violence. Which leads us to our next point;

Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation…

I want you to take a good look at the fact sheets from the World Health Organization here

I want you to notice that around 1/3 of all women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime.

I want you to notice that most (30%) of that violence is committed by an intimate partner.

I also want you to notice that up to 38% of all murders of women are at the hands of a male intimate partner.

It should be obvious that we can do so much better than that, no matter where we fall on the gender spectrum. I am especially talking to the men here, because we have to do better than this. How is it even okay that most women will be murdered by male intimate partners?

My friend Kathleen O’sullivan-Cook had this to say;

This goal should seem obvious, and yet still continues, and in many places in America people seem to encourage it, or at least do very little to stop it. Even here in Michigan which has one of the highest trafficking rates in the country, little seems to be done to combat it. As for violence, particularly private “domestic” violence, there is despicably little done to punish those who perpetrate the violence. Even our own police forces find it difficult to sympathize with women and girls when violence occurs. And yet, 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, and hundreds of women die every day at the hands of their significant other.” 

The point goes without saying; that there is a great deal more work to do here. We must work to change our cultural attitudes, as well as our policies that allow such deplorable conditions for women.

Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life

This one should be another obvious point, but it is not always the case. In fact, women are the exception rather than the rule when it comes to positions of leadership; whether corporate, educational, or government. This is especially true in the US, and you can see that from some of the information from Time. Of course, that comes with the caveat that this information was from the election last year. That said, I doubt things have shifted too much in the course of a single election. Women are still vastly underrepresented considering they are approximately 50% of the population.

As Kathleen points out;

The goals need to include making sure all women are no longer excluded from key influential systems that help raise them to positions of power, such as higher education “fraternities” that give shoe ins to members. They also need to be included in influential public roles, such as more governorships, religious figureheads, and other authoritative roles…

…This includes, employers, public spaces, educational institutions, and in the home. Without addressing the social psychological triggers that continue the current culture of “women domesticity” we can not move toward a more balanced system.” 

Let’s move on to the next point.

Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences

This target directly ties in with a similar target for Goal 3;By 2030, ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services, including for family planning, information and education, and the integration of reproductive health into national strategies and programmes.”

This goal in particular is really important for the health of women as well as keeping the total population of humanity at a sustainable level. There are so many different facets to this issue; body autonomy, sexual autonomy, as well as reproductive, health, well being, and environmental facets. It is going to be impossible for me to cover all of this in any real depth.

With that in mind, Lupa has this to add to the conversation;

I would love to see all of their Goal 5 objectives met in my lifetime, but I’d be content just seeing “universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights” come to fruition by 2030.

See, the thing is, no one wants to talk about the impact that having children has on women. It is absolutely your right to reproduce if that’s what you want, but it’s also your right to say no to reproduction, even if you want to keep having sex. There are women out there who had more children than they would have preferred to because they didn’t have access to birth control and/or because they were victims of reproductive coercion. The same goes for some women who really didn’t want children at all, but who ended up with them for similar reasons…”

One of the most sustainable things we can do is to give women control over both their health, reproduction, and their sexuality. There is huge amounts of data that show the strong correlation between universal contraception and much more sustainable birthrates. In addition, there is increased control over family planning, and a lower incident rate of unwanted pregnancies in the first place.

Lupa goes on to drive this point home;

The goal, of course, is to raise the standard of living for everyone, and a great way to do that is to have fewer people to divide resources among. Yes, we need to focus on using fewer resources per person and using what we do have more reasonably and efficiently, but even when you’re living in really sustainable circumstances every additional person increases the demand for basic things like food, water and space to live. It’s just a matter of math. In areas where people live on pretty meager rations you still get deforestation and other habitat loss as the population grows. Studies show that when women have universal access to birth control, the birth rate drops dramatically. That’s good for the planet as well as people. “

As Lupa points out, the two big factors of sustainability are resources use per person, and the number of persons overall. Even assuming a much more equitable distribution of resources, the number of humans on the planet is still something we must address. As with so many other things, you cannot have infinite growth on a finite planet.

There is a great article on Vox that really details the population and affluence problem in greater detail. I highly recommend you check it out. The article gives a short formula to measure human impact on the environment;

Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology

Which means that we need to look at all these aspects of our species, as all of them have been going up, as has our environmental impact. Over the next century, population might reach as high as 11.2 billion, with continuing increases in inequality of both affluence and technology. But as the article points out, we know how to tackle these issues;

Luckily, we know the answer. It is family planning that enables women to have only children they want and choose, and education of girls, giving them access to income opportunities outside the home. We know that women, given the resources and the choice, will opt for smaller families.

Those are the two most powerful levers to bend the population curve. They are also, in and of themselves, an enormously powerful climate policy. When Paul Hawken and his team investigated and ranked carbon-reduction solutions for their Drawdown project, they found that the combination of the two (call it the female-empowerment package) carried the most potential to reduce greenhouse gases later this century, out of any solution.” – Vox

We will get to the Drawdown numbers later, but the fact remains that the best way we can make the world more sustainable for everyone is education, universal contraception, and family planning resources.

All of these goals hit on the need to change our mindset as well as our sociopolitical reality. We need to look at Women’s Rights far more holistically, and implement and fund strategic changes in order to create a more sustainable world. More than that, we need going to need everyone at the table to figure out the best way forward, and that is women as much as it is LGTQ+ folks.

There are countries in the world that can serve as models of how to do that.

Social Democracy

Women’s Rights in the Nordic Countries

It should come as no shock that the Nordic countries are some of the most equal countries in the world when it comes to gender equality. According to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report for 2016, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden are the top four countries when it comes to gender equality, as it is measured by the report. The report considers many criteria to assign a value between 0 (inequality) and 1 (equality). Some of these factors include the number of women in government positions, women’s educational achievement, women’s health, and the wage gender gap. Those four countries come in at .874, .845, .842 and .815 respectively.

Denmark is the outlier, which comes in at 19th with a score of .75.

The United States by contrast comes in at 45th, with a score of .722.

The stats for all these countries obviously show that there is more work to be done, and I don’t think there is any kind of “utopia” world that would allow any country to get a perfect score.

The Nordic countries are notable for a lot of gains in Women’s Rights, but there are some drawbacks too. To highlight just a few of the positives; we turn to the Huffington Post;

– 99% – 100% literacy across genders

– A huge amount of women in tertiary (university/college) level education

Women as a majority in the high-skilled work force

Mandatory parental leave, included paid time off and quite generous leave benefits

– All Nordic countries are in the top ten for percentage of women in parliament (44.7% in Sweden)

Yet, as the Washington Post points out, the Nordic countries also have a higher than EU average rate of intimate partner violence for countries so high on the gender gap report. A few factors of why this might are considered in the article; a higher reporting rate of domestic violence, or possibly a back-lash against the position of women in society.

While I won’t go into any more depth on that topic, it is clear we all have more work to do.

LGBT+ Rights in the Nordic Countries

It is no secret that the Nordic countries are some of the most progressive in the world when it comes to LGBT+ rights. Here is just a selection from various Wikipedia articles for the various countries;

Denmark 

“The rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Denmark are some of the most extensive in the world and a high priority.

Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in 1933… Denmark was the first country in the world to grant legal recognition to same-sex unions, in the form of “registered partnerships”… Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation was entirely prohibited in 2004. Same-sex couples are allowed to jointly adopt since 2010,…Gays and lesbians are also allowed to serve openly in the military.”

Norway 

“Norway, like most of Scandinavia, is very liberal in regard to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights and Norway became the first country in the world to enact an anti-discrimination law that explicitly included sexual orientation within employment since 1981. Same-sex marriage, adoption, and IVF/assisted insemination treatments for lesbian couples have been legal since 2009. In 2016, Norway became the fourth country in Europe that passed a law allowing the change of legal gender solely based on self-determination.”

Finland 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights in Finland are some of the most progressive in the world. According to an annual ILGA report the Finnish LGBT legislation is among the most extensive and developed LGBT legislations in Europe.

Compared to fellow Nordic countries it ranks at the top outranked only by neighbouring Norway. Both male and female same-sex sexual activity has been legal in Finland since 1971 with “promotion” thereof decriminalized in 1999 and was declassified as an illness in 1981. Discrimination based on sexual orientation… was criminalized in 1995 and discrimination based on gender identity in 2005.”

Sweden 

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) rights in Sweden have been regarded as some of the most progressive in Europe and in the world. Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in 1944… Homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in 1979. Sweden also became the first country in the world to allow transgender persons to change their legal gender post-sex reassignment surgery in 1972 whilst transvestism was declassified as an illness. Transgenderism was declassified as a mental illness in 2008 and legislation allowing gender change legally without hormone replacement therapy and sex reassignment surgery was passed in 2013. After allowing same-sex couples to register for partnership benefits in 1995, Sweden became the seventh country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage countrywide in 2009. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression has been banned since 1987. Also, since 2003, gay and lesbian couples can adopt children, and lesbian couples have had equal access to IVF and assisted insemination since 2005.”

I don’t see much reason to go into any more depth at this point, though there is plenty more nuance that could be explored here. For now, I would like to look at how my home country of the USA compares to some of the Nordic countries.

How the US stacks up;

I live in the US, and frankly writing this article shows in stark relief how far we as a country still have to go when compared to many other countries. We have fallen behind on many significant measures, and nothing about the current political or administrative client gives me a lot of hope that will change any time soon. All along the way we are up against cultural, social, economic, and political obstacles.

I am not going to lie to you. If we want to change the direction this country is going, we are going to have to fight for every inch. We are going to have to fight embedded systems of repression and oppression on every conceivable level. Many of the powers that be are going to resist every inch, and we have to be prepared for that.

So let’s take a closer look at where we need to make changes.

Gender Equality and Women’s Rights

From Wikipedia on Gender Inequality in the US;

Gender inequality in the United States has been diminishing throughout its history and significant advancements towards equality have been made beginning mostly in the early 1900s. However, despite this progress, gender inequality in the United States continues to persist in many forms, including the disparity in women’s political representation and participation, occupational segregation, the gender pay gap, and the unequal distribution of household labor. In the past 20 years there have been emerging issues for boys/men, an achievement and attainment gap in education is a discussed subject. The alleviation of gender inequality has been the goal of several major pieces of legislation since 1920 and continuing to the present day. As of 2012, the World Economic Forum ranks the United States 22nd best in terms of gender equality out of 135 countries” (Wikipedia Gender Inequality in the US)

There is a lot to say here, so it difficult to know where to begin. Let’s start with the fact that Wikipedia cites the 2012 Gender Gap Report. Above we talked about the 2016 report, which shows that the US has dropped significantly. While the Nordic countries occupy the top spots on the report, the US has fallen over twenty spots from 2012 to 2016; now ranked #45 out of 144 countries. This not only shows that our progress on general equality has stalled, but has actually fallen a great deal.

We still have significant problems in, as is pointed out; in political representation, gender pay gap, and the fact that women often still perform the majority of household labor.

This has only been exacerbated since the 2016 election, when we have seen nothing but constant attacks on women’s health and sexual autonomy. Add in that unlike most major industrial countries, the US lacks a universal healthcare system, as well as no guarantees of decent contraception or family planning services. These too have been undermined repeatedly by primarily Republicans and religious organizations.

To make matters even worse, the US does not have any federal standards for paid parental leave. As the Business Insider points out;

Out of the world’s 196 countries, the US is one of only four that has no federally mandated policy to give new parents paid time off. That burden is placed on individual states and employers.” Business Insider

One of four countries. Really let that sink in. Also let it sink it that the health and well being of women is in the hands of individuals states and employers. Some of these entities have a long track record of not caring about women or their rights.

While there are some laws that protect time off for new mothers, that time is often UNPAID, which forces women to return to work due to financial stress. While many of the European countries, and especially the Nordic countries, have extensive and comprehensive parental leave programs… This is one area in which the US falls quite flat, as it leaves the decisions in the hands of states and employers which often results in a patchwork of substandard policies.

If the position of women in the US needs a lot of work, this applies more so to LGTQ+ rights; as is pointed out by Wikipedia;

In addition to the inequality faced by transgender women, inequality, prejudice, and violence against transgender men and women, as well as gender nonconforming individuals and individuals who identify with genders outside the gender binary, are also prevalent in the United States.” (Wikipedia Inequality in the US)

The fact is, that just like many other issues in the US, there is no federal law that outlaws LGTQ+ discrimination. Once again, this results in a patchwork of laws that vary greatly on a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction basis. These laws runs the gamut from LGBT protections, to basically encouraging open discrimination. As the Wikipedia article on LGTQ+ rights in the US points out;

…the United States has no federal law outlawing discrimination nationwide, leaving residents in some states without protection from discrimination, other than from federal executive orders which have a more limited scope than from protections through federal legislation. Thus, LGBT persons in the United States may face challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents.“ (Wikipedia LGBT Rights in the US)

The data on this does not paint a pretty picture, and that is when there is data available. It is clear that we have a huge amount of work ahead of us. This will include changes in spirit, changes in culture, and changes in policy. This is the kind of work that can take decades, and it is important that we keep pushing for more progression in these issues. We more than have our work cut out for us, but the impacts cannot be understated.

I would like to turn to Drawdown now to drive this point home.

Drawdown

It cannot be understated how much of an impact it will have when we empowered half of the population. While there are only three solutions in the Drawdown section on Women and Girls, combined these solutions represents the #1 way to combat climate change, and could help remove more than 120 gigatons of C02 from the atmosphere.

That is more than onshore and offshore wind combined.

So let’s look a little bit closer.

Educating Girls 

As a stand alone solution, this one ranks as #6 out of 100, and has the potential to remove almost 60 gigtons of C02 from the atmosphere by 2050. As Drawdown points out, the two factors that influence family size and environmental impact the most are education and family planning. By opening up more educational opportunities to women and girls, we can also help combat climate change and build a more sustainable world. This would have to happen at all levels, from preschool up through university level. We could certainly roll in universal education here, as many European countries do.

The fact is that the education of women and girls not only reduces the number of children in later life, but also creates skilled, resilent, and well educated people to handle the problems of the future.

Family Planning 

Right behind the education of women and girls, is family planning. This solution comes in at #7, and can help remove an additional 60 gigatons of C02 from the atmosphere by 2050.

As Drawdown points out, high quality family planning services has benefits for womens health, welfare, and overall quality of life. It also will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The numbers are staggering. 225 million women in lower income countries want more control over their sexual autonomy, and want a say in whether or not they become pregnant. Even in higher income countries such as the US, some 45% of pregnancies are unintended. This is not helped at all by the constant effort by those in power to remove access from abortion, contraception, and family planning service to women across the country.

Health, welfare, and reducing our carbon footprint are all wins in my book.

Women Smallholders

I have already mentioned this solution before, but it needs to be mentioned again. Overall, this solution ranks as #62 overall, with a 2 gigaton reduction in C02 by 2050.

The fact is that women average about 43% of the agricultural workforce, especially in lower income countries. These women are often underpaid or unpaid, and lack the access to necessary resources to ensure productive yields as well as sustainable land management.

With better access to those resources, women throughout the world could help feed more people as well as reduce the need for further deforestation and reduce emissions.

I want to thank you for sticking with me through this article. I know it is a long one, but there is a lot to be said about Gender Equality, and much more to be done. I’ll give Lupa the last word here;

When we are all allowed to work together, instead of fighting with each other, we are more effective as communities and as a species. It’s really one of the most remarkable things about Homo sapiens sapiens, in just how intricate our social networks can be, and how deep our empathy may be rooted. By breaking down divisions and celebrating diversity, we are encouraged to cooperate and find joy in each other. We have more time and energy to put toward things that matter, instead of wasting it on hate. And isn’t that pretty damned sustainable?”

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References

http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/gender-equality/

http://ecopagan.com/

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions

http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2016/rankings/

https://www.thelocal.no/20161028/norway-classifies-third-on-gender-gap-report-2016

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/06/10/the-best-countries-for-gender-equality-may-also-have-a-domestic-violence-problem/?utm_term=.f1001922abb3

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/saadia-zahidi/what-makes-the-nordic-cou_b_4159555.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Denmark

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Finland

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Norway

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_Sweden

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/08/18/shaping-a-living-world-part-10/

http://www.passblue.com/2015/05/17/no-room-for-lgbt-rights-in-the-new-un-development-goals/

https://www.hrc.org/blog/op-ed-what-does-the-uns-agenda-2030-mean-for-lgbt-people

http://www.businessinsider.com/countries-with-best-parental-leave-2016-8/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_rights_in_the_United_States

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_inequality_in_the_United_States

http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs239/en/

https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2017/9/26/16356524/the-population-question

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/11/14/shaping-a-living-world-part-5-b/

https://fireiceandsteel.wordpress.com/2017/11/13/shaping-a-living-world-part-5-a/

 

Advertisements

Science Fiction Technology

(Image from CERN (modified): Here)

Hello again folks,

I’ve been writing a lot lately, and a fair bit of that has been on some pretty serious topics. As such I want to take a step back for a moment, and write what I will consider a “just for fun.” post.

It should come as no surprise to anyone here that I am big time sci-fi buff, as well as a science fiction writer. Shameless plug; have you had the chance to check out my books? They are available on Amazon for Kindle as well as print for $2.99 – $11.99. You can also get them for $10 (includes shipping) from my Etsy Shop, and have them SIGNED!

Now that the plug is out of the way, today I want talk about some of the technology that inspired a lot of the ideas I use in my books.

Fusion Power

As my books take place in the the 24th century, the primary source of power for most cities, colonies, and starships is fusion power. For those that are unfamilar, fusion is a kind of nuclear reaction that fuses together smaller atoms into larger ones; and releases a crap-load of energy in the process. As the Wikipedia article on fusion power points out, it is the process that fuels stars;

The fusion reaction normally takes place in a plasma of deuterium and tritium (hydrogen isotopes) heated to millions of degrees. In stars, gravity contains these fuels. Outside of a star, the most researched way to confine the plasma at these temperatures is to use magnetic fields. The major challenge in realising fusion power is to engineer a system that can confine the plasma long enough at high enough temperature and density.”

There is a few important points I want to highlight here, because they will be important as we go forward. The first is the fact that nuclear fusion takes place in a plasma, which is the fourth state of matter. Plasma is basically a highly ionized gas, and is found in nature as things like lightning, and stars. Neon lights are also plasma-based.

The other important part here is that, aside from gravity, plasmas can be shaped and contained by electromagnetic fields. This is the property that has allowed countless numbers of fusion experiments to take place on Earth.

Because some of these fusions reactors look really awesome, I wanted to just post a few of them here as examples;

NSTX Reactor, a tokamak style reactor;

(Image from Wikipedia)

Wendelstein7 Reactor, under construction;

(Image from Wikipedia)

I hope you can why some of these experiments inspired me. They look like something straight out of a science fiction movie! When I imagined the power reactors on my ships and planets, I pictured things like the NSTX reactor.

But you might be wondering to yourself, why fusion? Not only is it a staple of science fiction, it gives a rather efficient means of creating energy on a starship. All of my ships and cities require electrical power, and fusion represents one of the best way to do that.

Can you imagine the power of small star to power a city or a ship? I can, and that’s why I went with fusion. Plus, many of my ships I also imagined would have supplementary solar panels and others means to create power as well. Let’s talk about that for a moment.

Power Plant Design

Alright, so we established that fusion reactors are at the heart of my ships and colonies. These systems create all the power and energy my ships and cities need to thrive. But let’s take a closer look at how they do that.

Like our own Sun, a fusion reactor would create two very important resources; light and heat. The heat is probably the most notable of the two. But how do we turn a sustainable fusion reaction into electrical power? The answer is in steam turbines, just like nuclear (fission) power plants use on Earth.

(Image from Here)

I want you to look at the image above, and imagine that this is a fusion reactor instead of the fission one pictured. The reactor core would be pretty similar in function, and still create quite a bit of heat. The rest of the cooling and electrical system would work pretty much the same way. The heat would be ran through a coolant, which would create steam, which would turn the turbine in order to make electrical power.

But instead of the electricity going into a city, it would be fed back into the ship. That electricity would be distributed via an inner ship electrical network, and probably also stored in some kind of battery system.

Another important aspect of the function would be the cooling system, which could also be hooked into the water circulation systems. That way, you could have things like on board plumbing, and hot water too. I imagined these systems would be a lot like what we see on modern ocean cargo ships.

(A system for liquid natural gas.)

Hall Thruster

Alright, with power systems out of the way, I want to talk a bit about what inspired my designs for propulsion in my books. The short answer is the technology behind both the Hall Thruster, and the technology used at the Large Hadron Collider at Cern. We will start with the Hall Thruster.

(Image from NASA)

So, you saw the picture of the thruster above, but you might be wondering how exactly a Hall Thruster works? For that we turn to Wikipedia;

In spacecraft propulsion, a Hall-effect thruster (HET) is a type of ion thruster in which the propellant is accelerated by an electric field. Hall-effect thrusters trap electrons in a magnetic field and then use the electrons to ionize propellant, efficiently accelerate the ions to produce thrust… “ 

In short, Hall Thrusters function by accelerating an ionized propellant as exhaust to create thrust. Most of these ionized propellants are in the forms of plasmas, often from noble gases such as Xenon. You see, I said that fusion plasma thing would be important.

In addition to creating power for ships in my books, the fusion reactor is also the source for ready-made plasma. This plasma, being heavily ionized, is then accelerated through a futuristic version of a Hall Thruster in order to create thrust.

However, it must be said that current Hall Thrusters are relatively weak in thrust department. There has been a lot of improvements over the years. For example, the recent work into the X3 thruster has produced the highest thrust level to date.

All that said. I had to imagine something more advanced (about 3 centuries), and a little bit bigger. That is where the inspiration from the Large Hadron Collider comes in.

CERN

(Image from CERN, found here)

The Large Hadron Collider is the largest particle accelerator in the world, and is found at the European research complex at CERN. The accelerator itself is huge, at 27 kilometers in length. It is “big science” in every sense of the word, and has cost billions of dollars from sources across the globe.

The purpose of the LHC is to accelerator particles to nearly the speed of light, and smash them together. It’s designed to probe the deepest mysterious of our universe, and is a sheer monster of scientific discovery and engineering. It should come as no surprise that it inspired the propulsion systems in my universe. Hey, if you want to power everything from small fighters to huge interstellar battleships; you have to go big.

While their function is not exactly the same, both the Hall Thruster and the LHC use electromagnetic fields to accelerate either ionized plasma, or elementary particles. As such, assuming three centuries worth of innovation and plenty of writer liberties; the LHC and the Hall Thruster provide the inspiration for my propulsion systems.

In addition to requiring a lot of electrical power (courtesy of the fusion reactor), those systems would also be funneling extremely heated plasmas. That means all my engine systems have extensive coolant and heat dissipation methods. These are on full display in my fifth book; Of Origins and Endings.

Do you want to know what other technologies inspire my fiction? Feel free to ask!

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

https://www.space.com/38444-mars-thruster-design-breaks-records.html

https://home.cern/topics/large-hadron-collider

https://home.cern/about/engineering/pulling-together-superconducting-electromagnets

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokamak

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_power

https://phys.org/news/2017-01-fusion-power-limitless-energy.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hall-effect_thruster


Shaping a Living World: Part 4

“Democracy…is not a static inheritance that we can simply live off of, but an ideal that every generation must re-achieve through active effort. Schools are our chief cultural means for educating free citizens who can intelligently and creatively participate in this effort. Education is how we invest in the future of our democracy.” – The Conversation

I am of the generation that heard constantly that the route to a “better” life was through education, and the pursuit of a university degree. I am also of the generation that has seen the housing market collapse, continuous cutting of public funding, and the exorbitant growth of student loan debt.

Compared to many of my peers, I came out “lucky” with only about 30k in student loan debt for only two years of university study. The numbers on this are staggering, per at least one article on CNBC the US student loan debt is over 1.4 trillion and the US is the most expensive tuition rates in the world.

Now, it has to be admitted that the funding sources for the educational system (from Pre-K through university) are really complicated, and it would take a much longer piece to tease out all the nuance. All that aside, I think it is fair to say that education is both a public good, and a valuable method for skills training. A highly educated population is beneficial for the individual, for society, for the economy, as well as for democracy as a whole. I do not think this point can be overstated.

That being said, there is plenty of room for improvement our current education system. Once again, those problems are well outside the scope of this project. But there is certainly a lot of areas where we can do better, not only as a country but as a human civilization as well.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at what the UN Sustainable Development Goals have outlined.

Sustainable Development Goals

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and Goal-4 effective learning outcomes.”

This first one is a no-brainer in my opinion. It it is pertinate that we as a global community make sure that every one of our citizens gets a reliable, consistent and affordable education. Most public school systems in the US provide K thru 12 primary school education that succeeds this goal. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. But that is really complex, and it the kind of thing that must be examined locally, regionally, nationally, and globally. I doubt there is any single “silver bullet” that will fix the plethora of educational problems, but it is a goal worth striving for.

By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and preprimary education so that they are ready for primary education.”

The next goals expands upon the earlier one, by going beyond both the primary school and secondary school system. This goal includes early child care, as well as Pre-K education in the United States. Making this kind of care open to all children is important preparation, and is also vital for child care.

By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university.”

This is a very important issue, as the cost for higher education has been all over the board for the last decadeIn addition, the funding for public universities has generally gone down in the last decade, while the cost for higher education has gone up. This has been supplemented with a huge amount of student loans, which overall has shifted a huge amount of the cost, and the debt, onto students. As the CBPP points out;

These reductions in support have hurt states’ higher education systems. Public colleges have both steeply increased tuition and pared back academic opportunities, often in ways that may compromise the quality of education and jeopardize student success. Students are paying more through increased tuition and are taking on more debt. “

In order to make our education system more sustainable in the long run, we will likely have to increase funding significantly, and ease the burden on individual students and their families. I will talk more on this in a moment.

By 2030, ensure that all youth and a substantial proportion of adults, both men and women, achieve literacy and numeracy.”

Everyone should know how to read and be able to do math, period. This is a pretty self explanatory goal, so I will just move on at this point.

By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.”

Education is the means by which we perpetuate many of our skills and knowledge, and getting future generations involved shaping our sustainable future is of vital importance. Many of the values promoted here are important, including but not limited to; sustainability, gender equality, human rights, and peace. Our educational systems are one of many ways to promote these ideals, and the are certainly ideas we should be promoting.

Social Democracy

The Nordic countries and many countries in Europe approach education very differently than the US, especially higher education. In social democracies, education is often universal and paid for via higher tax rates. Each country does thing in a different way, and obviously there is a lot of nuance and detail that goes into each system.

But as a very brief preview, here are a few examples;

Germany: Regional governments across Germany have all abolished tuition over the past few years.

International students are also able to enroll without paying tuition.” (CNN Money)

More here from Wikipedia;

Public universities in Germany are funded by the federal states and do not charge tuition fees. However, all enrolled students do have to pay a semester fee… Summed up, the semester fee usually ranges between €150 and €350.” (Education in Germany)

Sweden

Sweden, along with most of the other Nordic countries also carries tuition free higher education, though admittedly with more restrictions. Oftentimes, such perks are extended to citizens of the country, or the EU.

The Nordic country offers tuition-free public education to citizens pursuing higher education, and the offer is also extended to students from the European Union. Other international students aren’t eligible.” (CNN Money)

Norway and Denmark are in similar circumstances.

Norway

There are no tuition fees for attending public higher education in Norway, as all the costs are covered by the Ministry of Education and Research.

Students are also given the opportunity to apply for financial support (a part loan/part grant) from the Norwegian State Educational Loan Fund. The main requirement for support from Fund is that you are a Norwegian citizen. However, foreign citizens may also be entitled to financial support.”

(Higher Education in Norway

Finland

This article would not be complete with an honorable mention to Finland, which is regarded as one of the highest performing educational systems in the world. So what makes the Finnish system so unique?

Compared with the stereotype of the East Asian model — long hours of exhaustive cramming and rote memorization — Finland’s success is especially intriguing because Finnish schools assign less homework and engage children in more creative play.” (The Atlantic)

But surely it is worth exploring even deeper than that. According to the Nordic Business Insider , Finland has a better system that the US on several key points. First, it gets rid of the pressue to “teach to the test”

Finnish students only take one standardized test during their entire primary and secondary schooling…

By contrast, the US, driven by No Child Left Behind and Common Core mandates, requires students in third through eighth grade to take annual standardized tests to track their performance. Critics claim constant testing doesn’t make students any smarter but instead creates a “teaching to the test” environment in schools.”

The pressure of the US system creates an environment that reinforces the idea of doing well on standardized testing. There are plenty of arguments to be made that this creates a poor learning environment. More than this though, Finland also on the whole leaves it students with a lot more free time, and a lot less stress.

Students in Finland spend relatively little time on homework… Finnish students spend 2.8 hours a week on homework. This contrasts noticeably from the 6.1 hours American students spend per week. “

And of course, just like the other Nordic countries, Finland’s higher education system is pretty much tuition-free.

In Finland, not only are bachelor degree programs completely free of tuition fees, so are master and doctoral programs. Students pursue higher education goals without the mountains of student loan debt that many American students face. And the same goes for foreign students. Tuition is free for any student accepted into a college or graduate program in Finland.

This contrasts greatly with the US, where the average student loan debt now approaches $30,000…”

Yes, it even applies to international students provided they can get accepted into a Finnish university. Now, please don’t take my word as rote, and with the caveat if you want to attend university in any of these countries you should look into that for yourself. I am working with generalities here, so please don’t make important life decisions without doing your homework.

The last part struck me as ironic. Remember where I said I came out of university with about 30k in debt. I guess that makes me an average American.

Now, let’s look at Drawdown for just a second.

Drawdown

This is another one of the SDG’s where Drawdown doesn’t have a lot of input. As educational systems are really complex, there is a lot of policy and deliberation that goes into shaping them. As such, most of the reforms and change will probably happen at the policy level.

That being said, I think there is one important solution from Drawdown that must be mentioned here. As education is a universal process, it affects the whole of the population. It just so happens that half of that population is women and girls, and so their education is of vital importance. It is also a hugely impact way to combat climate change.

Educating Women & Girls

Education lays a foundation for vibrant lives for girls and women, their families, and their communities. It also is one of the most powerful levers available for avoiding emissions by curbing population growth. Women with more years of education have fewer and healthier children, and actively manage their reproductive health. “

The impact of removing systemic barriers to half the human population cannot be underestimated. This solution is ranked as #6 out of 100 solutions proposed by Drawdown. This solution alone would help to reduce C02 emissions by nearly 60 gigatons by 2050.

That brings this piece to an end. Our next goal is 05 – Gender Equality. I will be spending a lot more time talking about women’s rights and gender equality issues.

As always, thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/education/

http://theconversation.com/education-isnt-a-commodity-for-labor-79606

http://www.drawdown.org/solutions/women-and-girls/educating-girls

https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/12/what-americans-keep-ignoring-about-finlands-school-success/250564/

http://nordic.businessinsider.com/finland-has-one-of-the-best-education-systems-in-the-world–here-are-4-things-it-does-better-than-the-us-2016-11/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Finland

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_Development_Index

http://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/2016_human_development_report.pdf

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2016/sep/20/grammar-schools-play-europe-top-education-system-finland-daycare

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/07/13/heres-how-much-it-costs-to-go-to-college-in-the-us-compared-to-other-countries.html

https://mic.com/articles/106866/the-average-cost-of-u-s-tuition-is-33-788-per-year-in-these-7-countries-it-s-free#.Ueo7ysZEo

https://www.forbes.com/sites/niallmccarthy/2017/09/12/the-u-s-leads-the-world-in-tuition-fees-infographic/#3d9aef7f231e

http://money.cnn.com/2017/04/10/pf/college/free-college-tuition-new-york-europe/index.html

https://www.cbpp.org/research/a-lost-decade-in-higher-education-funding

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Germany

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_Finland

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Higher_education_in_Norway


Reflections and Meditations on 2016 Part 2

 

2016 sure has been a crazy year, on more than just a spiritual level. There have been a couple of events that I have been tracking through various sources. The first was the protest at Standing Rock, and at other locations as well.

It has been really inspiring to me that the Native Peoples are fighting for their rights for clean water and against big oil. I gave everything I could, and I will be watching and hoping that this creates enough ripples to move the world in a new direction. I think we need to move pass the days when we build our civilization on the backs of the dead, in both a literal (the oppression of others) and metaphoric (oil being made from long decayed matter). I also think that our First Nations (this is Canadian term, but I like it) might be on the front lines of that change.

They have certainly put their bodies on the line in more ways than I could. They have endured dog attacks, very serious injuries from “non-lethal” weapons, and even getting sprayed with water in below freezing temperatures. That is oppression at it’s worst.

Because more than anything, I think that Standing Rock really is a lot bigger than just a single pipeline. This is an issue for all people; human or not. It is about a clean environment, clean water, clean air, and clean land. It is about challenging capitalism, and about resisting the status quo which reduces our environment to resources to be exploited for profit. It also challenges the narrative that we ourselves are simply resources to be exploited in the same way. It challenges the “oil narrative”, and shows us there is an alternative to our way of living.

In short, we need to leave the fossil fuels in the ground, and keep building a new energy future.

I think we already have a decent start, but there is so much more to be done. Which brings me to the most recent election. It has left me with a great deal of anxiety and trepidation. The president-elect a “majority” of American’s picked for this country is not a good choice. He is in no way qualified nor has the capacity to lead this country. All throughout the campaign I have listened to hateful, racist, xenophobic, and just straight up bigoted rhetoric come out of his mouth. What is worse, is that it empowered people with those beliefs to act on them. The incidents of hate-motivated crime are up, especially in my home state. Many of my friends and loved ones have expressed their terror, that the rights that have gained recently might be stripped away again. Women, LGBT+ folks, people of color, Muslims, minorities of all stripes.

I have been watching his picks for his cabinet, and there is nothing there to redeem the next administration in my eyes. The former executive of an Alt-Right publication, and anti-EPA guy to lead the EPA, a CEO of Exxon-Mobile to be the secretary of State. Far from “draining the swamp”, instead he has openly embraced a team of people that represent everything I stand against. Big Money, Big Oil; overall a bunch of rich, elite oligarchs.

We have moved passed the democracy, and into the oligarchy. We probably passed that mile-marker some time ago at break-neck speed.

None of this gives me a lot of optimism for the next four years. I think we are going to see a lot of hard won battles eroded. The rights of minorities to be sure. I also suspect a new and stronger push for “domestic energy” which is going to be Big Oil bulldozing over every kind of environmental regulation. It is horrifying to watch any gains we have made at risk. I have made pretty clear that I think social democracy is a great goal to shoot towards. With the incoming gaggle of oligarchs, we have missed that mark by a great deal, and probably set those goals back many years.

I am still processing all of that. Each day seems to get a little worse. I honestly wonder how dark the days ahead are going to be. But I want to leave this topic for the time being.

Still, I tend to take the long view of things. I think this is a side effect of being a student or archaeology.

I have heard several people say this is how the American Empire dies. Some part of me is inclined to agree with them. Do I think our civilization is doomed? No, I’m not ready to accept that line of thought just yet. Nor am I the kind of person that thinks we need to tear down everything we have built to begin again. To employ a cliché, I don’t think we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Honestly, I don’t know what the future looks like. We can speculate, we can model, we can guess; but that is all it is at the end of the day. Still, I can say with some certainty what I would like the future to look like. It gives me hope, and it gives me goals to work for. This year has been very enlightening for me in terms of my political views. I have seen a clear distinction between the things I can’t stand for (Trump), and the things I do support (Sanders).

So what does that world look like? I’ll tell you a few bits for sure, as I have been working my way through Bernie Sander’s book Our Revolution. I will use that here as a talking point.

“Over a hundred years ago, workers in this country took to the streets to fight for a forty hour work week. Marching under huge banners, they told the world they were human beings, not beasts of burden. They wanted time with their families, time for education, time for culture…

Today work is all we are supposed to do. If you get sick, you go to work it you may lose your job. If your kid is in the hospital, you go to work. If your father is dying, you go to work. If you have a baby, you are back on the job in two to three weeks because you don’t have paid leave…” pg 211.

We need to seriously rethink how we do work in this country, that is one of my big thoughts for this election cycle. Allowing for are variability and nuance, I think we as a country work way too much. In addition, as the quote above points out, we really don’t have any real choice in the manner. “Full time” is defined at 40+ a week. I have worked a lot of jobs, and each job has it’s different demands to be sure. As does each persons personal life. I am talking about a work-life balance here, and this country has swung far into the realm of “all work, no life” on that scale.

What makes it worse is that our minimum wage is hardly a living wage, and benefits are really a patchwork. Generally speaking, we are not guaranteed any paid time off whatsoever. Not vacation time, not sick time, not parental time, none of it. We are probably the only industrial western nation that does not allow for these things. Certainly when compared with the Nordic social democracies, we are well behind the curve in this regard. Just a few things I would like to see;

  • A living wage
  • Guaranteed paid vacation, sick, and paternal time off
  • Having “full time” be less than 40 hours per week (variable based on the job) for a better work/life balance
  • A general improvement of worker’s rights, including but not limited to: increase in union membership, more profit sharing and worker owned businesses.
  • Also, a general redistribution of wealth. On the whole, we worker’s see an ever smaller share of the wealth we help produce. I would like to see this change, not only at the business level, but at the greater social level as well. I will come back to this later.
  • I am also watching Universal Basic Income with a great deal of interest

But as college because less affordable, and as working families take on increasing amounts of debt, higher education may actually be increasing social and economic inequality, rather than alleviating it. Making higher education universally will not only create a better-educated society, it will allow us to be a more just society…

Not everyone wants to go to college, and not everyone needs to go to college. This country needs a large supply of carpenters, plumbers, welders, bricklayers, iron workers, mechanics, and many other professions that pay workers, especially those with unions, good wages for doing very important, skilled work. As part of a new approach to higher education and vocational training, we must provide those students with the education and training they need, regardless of the incomes of their families.”

Bernie Sanders – Our Revolution pg 343, 354

This is a large problem in our society, the lack of access to college and vocational training. Many of my generation are strapped with enormous student debt, which will limit our financial outlook for a good part of our lives. It may delay us in making larger purchases such as homes and automobiles.

But that isn’t the half of it. In our capitalist society, too often we focus on the economic benefits of higher education instead of the social ones. I do think a better educated public will help solve a lot of the issues we are facing. But it is not a silver bullet, and the work goes well beyond that.

In addition, not everyone needs or wants to go to college. The other part of this is better access to skilled trades and vocational training. Overall, between the two of them; we would have a more skilled, better educated, and I think more just society. Education in all its forms is a public good, and we all benefit from it.

That is why think;

-We need universal access to higher education, as well as skilled trades training. We are one of the few nations that does not provide these services to our citizens.

“I have, for as far back as I can remember, always believed that health care is a right of all people, not a privilege. Health care is a basic human need. We all get born, we all get sick or have accidents, we all need care and die at the end of our lives. Everyone needs health care. Every should have health care.

It has never made sense to me that the quality of care a person receives – indeed, whether that person receives any care – should be dependent upon the job they have or the wealth of their family. It has never made sense to me that Americans should be forced into bankruptcy because of a serious illness. It never made sense to me that some people will live and some people will die because of their health insurance status.”

Bernie Sanders – Our Revolution pg 318

Universal healthcare is also high on my list. This is the thing that everyone needs, and everyone will use. It is once again a public good that we as a society should provide for everyone. Really, there is not much I can add to this quote, except some personal anecdotes. For several years my wife and I were without health insurance, and there wasn’t a day that went by that I wasn’t anxious about one of us getting hurt or sick. It would have been the end of us financially.

I have pretty good insurance from my employer now, but in my opinion that doesn’t go far enough. Health care should not be a privilege people get from having a decent job. It disproportionately hurts people that are underemployed, or in poverty. Why should we live in a society where only those who are decently employed enjoy healthcare? No, it should be the right of all people, not a privilege that favors the wealthy.

“…there is no issue more important, in my mind, than combating climate change and transforming our energy system away from fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and sustainable energy…

… affordable electric vehicles and recharging stations, more efficient solar panels, advanced battery systems to store wind and solar energy, and innovative controls to seamlessly integrate renewables into our power grid will require cutting edge research… The US can and must dedicate our engineering know-how to a clean energy revolution, in our universities, in our national energy labs, and in the businesses and communities all across the country.”

Bernie Sanders – Our Revolution pgs 251 – 253

This is a huge set of issues for me. The environment is something very near and dear to me, and we need to be doing a better job in conservation, preservation, and sustainability. I have said this in many other cases, so I don’t want to go into too deep here.

But the long and short of it is, we need to get away from fossil fuels as quickly and possible and rebuild our energy infrastructure to be as sustainable and clean as possible. Once our energy infrastructure is done, we need to continue to work to transition our transportation sector to electric as well. These things are vital to combating climate change, as well as vital to our future as a whole.

 

But that is enough of the politics for now.

As always, thanks for reading!


Walking with the Ancestors Part 7-A

The next stop on our journey is a little bit west of the Anzick Boy, as discussed in Chapter 6 of this project. This time we are around 9000 years ago, in the state now known as Washington.

anzick-kennewick

We are at the teal dot on the west coast of the USA, circa 9,000 years ago

This find is known as the Kennewick Man, or The Ancient One, and has a long and controversial story behind it. I am going to use a few selections here to set the scene.

In the summer of 1996, two college students in Kennewick, Washington, stumbled on a human skull while wading in the shallows along the Columbia River. They called the police. The police brought in the Benton County coroner, Floyd Johnson, who was puzzled by the skull, and he in turn contacted James Chatters, a local archaeologist. Chatters and the coroner returned to the site and, in the dying light of evening, plucked almost an entire skeleton from the mud and sand. They carried the bones back to Chatters’ lab and spread them out on a table.” (Smithsonian/history)

What was evident right away was how complete the skeleton, which is often not the case with these kind of finds. To see a picture of the skeleton, be sure to check out the NPR link below. There is some great material there, which I am only going to be able to discuss a small segment here.

Okay, so a couple of college students stumble over this really complete skeleton, and almost immediately a controversy breaks out. One of the big reasons being, and something I have mentioned before; the conflict between respect for the dead and the need for future study and research. I will take a few more excerpts to really put this into perspective.

The fight has been raging for 20 years, ever since a couple of college kids stumbled — literally — across a human skull while wading in a river in Washington state. They thought they’d found a murder victim, and flagged down a nearby cop, who called in a local expert. Instead, they had discovered some of the oldest, most complete human remains ever dug up in North America.

Archaeologists dubbed the skeleton Kennewick Man, after the place he was found, and hoped his bones could help settle one of the greatest mysteries in the story of human migration: how did Homo sapiens, originating in Africa, end up in the Americas?” (NPR)

That sets up one side of this conflict. The archaeologists that excavated the skeleton had a lot of questions, and there was a great deal of testing and research to do before they could even begin to answer some of those questions. It is well known that research and testing is a time intensive process, and so they would need to hold onto the bones for future study. In addition, this says nothing about tests and research tools that have not been discovered yet. If a skeleton is reburied, scientists and future researchers won’t have access to it for future study.

However (and this is kind of a long excerpt;

But a group of Native American tribes considered The Ancient One, as they call him, a direct tribal ancestor — and they didn’t need science to explain how people ended up here. “From our oral histories, we know that our people have been part of this land since the beginning of time,” a leader of the Umatilla tribe wrote in a statement at the time. “We do not believe that our people migrated here from another continent, as the scientists do.”

Working together, five tribes demanded that The Ancient One’s remains not be poked or prodded in the name of science, and instead be promptly reburied in accordance with tribal custom — and under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. That federal law, passed in 1990, requires certain Native American artifacts and remains to be handed over to culturally affiliated tribes or provable descendants.

“The tribes had good reason to be sensitive,” writes Smithsonian Magazine’s Douglas Preston. “The early history of museum collecting of Native American remains is replete with horror stories. In the 19th century, anthropologists and collectors looted fresh Native American graves and burial platforms, dug up corpses and even decapitated dead Indians lying on the field of battle and shipped the heads to Washington for study. Until NAGPRA, museums were filled with American Indian remains acquired without regard for the feelings and religious beliefs of native people.” “ (NPR)

The Native American’s claim was wrapped in a deep history of colonialism and oppression on top of the rights of the dead. This is a big issue, and I certainly don’t have the space to detail it all here. I think the excerpt above gives a rough idea of what we were talking about. It is the intersection of a lot of issues that have had a strong (and often negative) effect on Native peoples across the county.

It is an ongoing struggle for sure; as it highlighted nicely by this excerpt from NPR,

“It’s the chafe between science and spirituality,” writes Kevin Taylor at Indian Country Today, “between people who say the remains have so much to tell us about the ancient human past that they should remain available for research, versus people who feel a kinship with the ancient bones and say they should be reburied to show proper reverence for the dead.” “

I have a lot of thoughts about this, as both a student of anthropology AND a spirit worker/shamanic practitioner. I will come back to this at the end of this piece, because there is more of this story to tell.

So we have these two “sides” in conflict about the ultimate fate the Kennewick Man (anthropologists et al)/ The Ancient One (Native Peoples et al), and is the case with many of these things, the conflict has played out of the last twenty years or so.

But for these bones to fall under the protection of NAGPRA, there had to be proof of a connection between the remains and the people fighting to reclaim them today. The scientists said no such connection existed. The tribal leaders insisted it did; they could feel it in their bones. “ (NPR)

That was the crux of many of the ethical as well as legal fights that took place over the last two decades.

That question ended up spawning an unprecedented legal and ethical battle in which prominent archaeologists and anthropologists would sue the U.S. government for the chance to study the bones. Femur bones would go missing under unexplained circumstances. Bitter arguments would be pitched over the migration patterns and feeding habits of sea lions, the curvature and racial implications of cheekbones, the validity of oral tradition as courtroom evidence. “ (NPR)

The skeleton was found on federal land, so it technically fell under U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ control.” (Smithsonian/history)

In 2004, a San Francisco federal appeals court sided with researchers, citing previous analyses that showed Kennewick Man was not Native American, writes Guarino.” (Smithsonian/history)

On and on it went, and for the most part to verdicts favored the scientists. Now, I am not trying to set up the scientists as bad guys, but they didn’t come out looking spotless either. That being said, it is hard to underestimate what we have learned from the Kennewick Man. I wouldn’t be here writing about my ancestral connection to him if we didn’t.

For perspective;

Eventually, the scientists did get a legally approved (though very brief and highly constricted) look at Kennewick Man, and what they learned is truly amazing. Based on the shape of his skull and other features, they theorized that he or his forebears may have been Asian coastal seafarers. They may have journeyed by boat along the south Alaskan shoreline and ultimately all the way down the Americas, hugging the coast and living off kelp, fish, sea lions and the like.”

This is the “coastal migration” theory of the peopling of the Americas, which suggests that a wave, or waves, of people traveled and lived along the Pacific coast long before other travelers chased herds of tasty mastodons and mammoths across a land bridge into Alaska.

They also learned a tremendous amount about what Kennewick Man’s life may have been like. Here’s more from Preston:

“Kennewick Man spent a lot of time holding something in front of him while forcibly raising and lowering it; the researchers theorize he was hurling a spear downward into the water, as seal hunters do. His leg bones suggest he often waded in shallow rapids, and he had bone growths consistent with ‘surfer’s ear,’ caused by frequent immersion in cold water. His knee joints suggest he often squatted on his heels. … Many years before Kennewick Man’s death, a heavy blow to his chest broke six ribs. Because he used his right hand to throw spears, five broken ribs on his right side never knitted together. This man was one tough dude.” “ (NPR)

It is hard to understate how much we have learned from finds such as this one. Like I said, without his DNA data, I would not know I was related to this man in any way. However, the case of the Kennewick Man is one I learned about in my college days; for exactly the reasons I have laid out here. This find is a great case study concerning how we practice science, as well as how we treat the dead.

I am not trying to mince words here. I do feel that the Native Peoples really got the shaft in this case, up until 2015 (I will get to that in a minute). The unethical practices of some of the scientists was really distasteful, and how both federal law (NAGPRA) as well as the legal system being used for a further tool of exploitation and oppression of Native People’s really leaves a foul taste in my mouth.

But the story doesn’t end there. In 2015 new research began to pour out that supported the claims of the Native Peoples.

A group of scientists based in Denmark made a major breakthrough in 2015, after they recovered DNA from a fragment of hand bone and used it to map Kennewick Man’s genetic code. When they compared that code with DNA from different populations around the world, the geneticists found it was closest to that of modern Native Americans. Their findings, published in the journal Nature in July 2015, contradicted previous assertions by scientists linking Kennewick Man to Polynesians or to the Ainu people of Japan.

At the initiative of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, scientists at the University of Chicago were recently able to independently verify the results of that unprecedented DNA study.” (History)

That DNA is why I am able to talk about this at all. Not only did it confirm my relation to the Kennewick Man, it was also the reason that the bones will be given back to Native Peoples, and proved that their claim was a valid one.

Now, members of the Colville tribe and four others say they’ll work together to complete the repatriation — or reburial — process, and the government has shown zero interest in standing in their way. “ (NPR)

I do not know whether or not the Kennewick Man/Ancient One has been reburied as of this time. But this case does open up a lot of questions about the practice of archaeology, and the role of Native Peoples, as well as the general treatment of the dead.

One of the scientists involved in revealing a genetic connection between Kennewick Man and living Native Americans invited members of the five tribes into the lab, where they put on body suits and entered a “clean room” to pay their respects to The Ancient One. In the wake of Kennewick, scientists have been reflecting on ways to work with indigenous communities when these kinds of conflicts come up:

“Many other researchers are taking a similar approach. [Dennis O’Rourke, a biological anthropologist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City] says that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy to working with native communities. He finds some of the North American Arctic groups he works with eager to contribute to his research, others are less so; and their opinions shift over time.

” ‘We really have to change the top-down approach, where we come to people and say “these are our research questions and you should participate, because — SCIENCE,” ‘ says Jennifer Raff, an anthropological geneticist at the University of Texas at Austin.” (NPR)

Yet, on the other hand;

Other scientists say there’s a real danger in altering scientific methods to accommodate religious belief. Elizabeth Weiss, an anthropologist at San Jose State, outlined impediments to her own work in a 2001 paper on the Kennewick controversy, and argued that regulations like NAGPRA require far too little evidence proving a cultural connection to modern-day native communities. She also suggested that such regulations — which increased around the world in the wake of NAGPRA — can have a chilling effect on scientific research:

“Consider having dedicated a large part of one’s life to unearthing the materials that are now being examined. Even casts and other important works — such as videotapes, photos, and excavation records — are in increasing danger of confiscation. Some scientists have expressed fear that their federal grants would be in jeopardy if they objected too openly to current policies. Under such circumstances, most scientists do not even begin ‘high-risk’ projects. Finds that could threaten Native American origin beliefs are especially likely to be targeted. Defendants could become embroiled for years in expensive lawsuits that neither they nor their institutions can afford …

“The politics of bone gathering in Africa are notorious … and one shudders to imagine what might happen if activists could convince modern Africans to claim early human skeletons as their ancestors, so that they too could be reburied.” (NPR)

I said I would circle back to this, and here it is. This whole case sets up a clear example of how science can conflict with oral histories, indigenous traditions, and the general respect for the dead. In my opinion, I think it is possible to have our cake and eat it to, it is a question of balance to me. I agree with Raff, in which there is no silver bullet for these issues. That being said, I think there is certainly a case to be made for collaboration instead of competition. When we are talking about skeletal remains, we are not just talking about objects without a context. We are talking about the remains of the dead, and their relationship to their possible still living descendants and traditions.

As both student of anthropology and a spirit worker, I can see this from both sides. I agree partially with Weiss, that there is a real possibility that science may suffer if that uneasy balance is disturbed. As I have already said, I wouldn’t be here talking about the Kennewick Man if it wasn’t for everything we have learned from studying the finds.

If this series has shown anything, is that I can claim “early skeletons” among my ancestors. However, I wouldn’t have been able to do that without science. I think we can find a balance between science, and respect for the dead.

Kennewick Man/The Ancient One: Sadly, I do not have an exact percentage match for this one. The data is not included in the calculation tool I use. However, I do know that I do match this one, but it is a low count. I would put our relationship in the “distant relative category.”

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kennewick_Man

http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/05/05/476631934/a-long-complicated-battle-over-9-000-year-old-bones-is-finally-over

http://www.history.com/news/army-corps-of-engineers-confirms-kennewick-man-is-native-american

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/tech/meet-kennewick-man.html

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/kennewick-man-finally-freed-share-his-secrets-180952462/

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/over-9000-years-later-kennewick-man-will-be-given-native-american-burial-180958947/


Mentors, Role Models, and the Future.

There has been quite a lot on my mind lately. This year does not seem to be off to a productive start. I guess I just thought I’d be a little farther along with writing and such this year. My current project has slowed to a near stop. It is frustrating. Other projects clamor to be started, but my ambition is lacking.

Normally, I don’t mind the cold or the snow. But this winter is starting to drag, and I am more than ready to get started on spring projects. There is a lot of crafting work I want to get done. Maybe that will be a little more productive.

Yet, I have also been thinking a lot about my future learning and my current path. I have often pondered going to graduate school, but now that seems farther away. In light of several discussions with others lately, maybe my path leads another way. A friend of mine told a story recently about meeting with her advisor about graduate school. I won’t recall all the details here, but suffice to say it resonated a lot with where I am right now.

Frankly, I don’t know where I am right now. What my goals are, my plans, my aspirations? I would have thought I’d be in different point in life at the moment. Getting married had a big part in it. Not saying that is a bad thing, and I have no regrets. I am quite fond of my wife, and welcome the companionship.

Just that, had I been single I would likely have never hesitated with grad school, and the additional debt that entails. Now, I have a wife and a house. Placing that kind of debt burden on my little family of two just seems selfish, and with questionable benefit. Honestly, most days I already feel like a debt slave. Pay for the car to get to work. Work to pay for the car and the house, which stands empty most days while I work. Work to pay off the education that may or may not have helped me get a job… Wheres does the cycle end?

In my college days, I pictured myself working at a university somewhere, research or teaching. Now, that future seems very unlikely. Not that I am complaining mind you, because the more I think about it the less I see myself in that kind of position. My writing suffices, and fills that intellectual and creative need.

Also, I would have never counted on being called by the spirits. Even though I have always been “spiritual”, I never really saw myself in any kind of role in that regard. I would have never figured I’d be called to serve. So now I wonder about what that entails.

I recently attended a metaphysics discussion group, and we talked about formal and informal training. Personally, I favor a balanced approach. Of formal, mentor-to-student structured learning and informal, self-taught experiential learning. The metaphor I like to use is Fire. You can be taught formally about Fire, how it is hot, how it burns, and so on. But until you touch Fire, experience Fire, aka get burned, you don’t really really understand Fire. They are two sides of the same learning process.

So my learning continues, and I contemplate what the future might hold and where I might go. I am still not comfortable calling myself a shaman. Be that as it may, I continue to ponder what I might have to offer to others. I also look to the role models around me, the mentors that have helped me, Jim and Sarenth loom large among them. They are an inspiration to me, and I look up to them. Their thoughts and teachings have really helped me a great deal, and helped me come to where I am.

I look at what the two of them offer to the community. Divination, teaching, counsel, and other things as well. They both co-create The Jaguar and the Owl podcast. Honestly, I don’t have a lot of experience in those things, and I wonder if I’d be any good at these things.

Can I shape my own forms of these things? Certainly I bring my own unique skills to the table. As a hunter, a crafter, and a writer I have my own things to contribute. I have my own learning and thoughts, my formal background as well as my life experience.

I am currently taking a leadership class, and we are currently in a section called “Mapping the Future.” It has really led me to really think about my goals for the future, my strengths at the moment, and parts of myself I would like and develop. Today was more of an introduction, and the next section I am under the impression we will be working up individual future maps. I will be taking the second section of that class in two weeks, so I will have more to say about it then.

Really, I have no intention for the learning to stop. At the same time, I wonder where I am heading?


On Infrastructure

The Wild Hunt has posted an article on a topic that has been on my mind for some time, the topic of infrastructure in the various interconnected communities of paganism. It reminds me alot of the article I talked about some time ago by Keith Parsons. He claims that paganism will be “non-institutional.” To elaborate on this idea, he has this to say;

“Will pagans build churches and hold weekly meetings, while bored kids squirm, exasperated moms reproach, and anxious dads check their watches to see how long to kickoff time?  I hope not.

As I see it, pagans would form informal communities, like the early Christians. In general, the aim of pagan religiosity would be to return a sense of enchantment and delight in the experience of the natural world…”

Ok, my thoughts on this are kind of mixed. On the one side, I think it is worth re-quoting from the Wild Hunt article.

” “We need Temples. Urgently. It brings us together as a community and we certainly need that. … I can’t imagine anything that would make me happier than to one day go to a Temple with my husband and children and bow before the statues of the gods. I crave so badly for the restoration of Paganism to the glory it once had. There is no structure, and I think we need that. We need structure, we need community.” ” – Hendrik Venter

I agree, we do need temples. Places for community worship, and homes for our gods and spirits. At the same time, I am fairly nature-centric person myself, so I openly question the need for mega structures and things like that. Personally, I am of the line of thought that says that “the forest is my temple,” and this makes me wonder if what paganism needs is large structures like the Hindu temple example?

On that line of thought, here is another quote from the Wild Hunt;

“Not all, over most, Pagans want temples or community centers or libraries. They most certainly don’t want to pay for clergy. For them such things either simply aren’t needed or they’re even seen as a spiritual detriment. “My temple is a forest,” has almost become a Pagan maxim.

Dr. Kimberly Kirner, Department of Anthropology at California State University, Northridge, says, “expanding infrastructure isn’t necessary if we keep a small, home-based meeting model and don’t mind that groups often die rapidly and then reform as something else. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing.” ”

This hits on a couple of things I think are rather important. On the topic of “my temple is a forest” we need to maintain the natural areas that we deem are our temples. Conservation is a big thing here. Forests need to be preserved, biodiversity protected. If every pagan adopted an acre of public or private land, and helped to preserve it, that would be significant. The Wild Hunt article said there are approximately 1.2 million pagans and heathens in US. That would be 1.2 million acres of land under stewardship. It would be like a pagan equivalent of “Adopt a Highway”.

Personally, I envision a world not unlike the one portrayed in My Neighbor Totoro. Where old trees are also places of worship, and things like stone spirit houses and roadside shrines are a common, as well as accepted part of our society.

The second point is, that the small, home-based model is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, in my opinion, paganism starts in the home. We don’t seek out converts, and often our families are also often our communities. This also allows for a multi-generational transmission of traditions and beliefs. This is a really important point, and essential for the survival of our ideas and traditions.

In addition, small groups dying and reforming isn’t a bad thing either. I have been through several groups that imploded for various reasons. All of them were learning experiences, and I will carry those lessons on. In a way, that kind of structure allows for a more fluid and dynamic social network.

At the same time, the home cannot be the end all for paganism. Some of us were not raised in pagan homes, and interested seekers might not be either. Regardless of upbringing, some will change paths, and they will start looking for resources.  That is where the next level comes in, things like local shops and local community. I cannot stress enough the value of local metaphysics shops. We have one where I live called The Wandering Owl, and it is a regular meeting place for discussion, classes, and other resources. This makes a wider network outside the home. That is an important part of the infrastructure that is needed.

In summary, I think we do need infrastructure, and in some ways we are already laying the foundations. The various communities are growing, and they will need support. Newcomers will need access to good information, and methods for transmitting between generations is a must. Many foundations have already been laid, but there is still a lot to do. The question we must ask ourselves, is what form that infrastructure is going to take?

References;

http://wildhunt.org/2015/01/building-pagan-temples-and-infrastructures-part-one.html

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2014/08/18/towards-a-rational-paganism