Chapter 17 (WIP)- Where Do We Go From Here?

Still amazed by what he was learning, Rodney stood up. “Jessica, what would you like to see next?”

“I’m not sure. There is so much to see, and I’m still not quite 100%. What is nearby?”

“Well, most of what you wanted to see is pretty close. Let’s save the vehicles until you want to venture out a bit more. So how about we check out some of that automation?”

“That sounds good. Since we are thinking about food, maybe we should start there.”

Rodney thought for a minute. “The transport is by vehicle, so that can wait. And preparation, well I’m not sure you ready for that.” He paused. “Why not? I can tell you about some of the infrastructure on the way.”

Jessica stood up to follow. “I know, most of our infrastructure is automated too, but people have to maintain it, don’t they?”

“Everything has sensors and routine maintenance is done by specialized robots. Initially building those and the sustainability overhaul took a lot of labor, but now it basically runs itself.”

Jessica thought for a moment, “I know I don’t know a whole lot about how modern life runs, but I’m pretty sure that in my world no one has bothered with a ‘sustainability overhaul.’ Is that just to make it something that allows it to be run by robots, or does it have to do with the environment?”

“Well, yes it got set up for the robots, but it was primarily because of the environmental damage we were doing before.

“For instance, to replace old fuels, the windows and sidewalks collect energy from the sun. The roads were replaced with parks like this one. It’s not really my field, so I couldn’t tell you all the things they do. I know they are more pleasant and clean up something that would have wreaked havoc on the world.”

“That must have been expensive!” Jessica exclaimed before she realized how illogical her comment was here. “But I guess that is kind of a non issue here, as long as people are willing to do the work.”

“The people who did that work knew that as soon as it was done everyone would have less work, most were passionate about the benefits. Some needed the hours for something they wanted. The more things that people don’t really want to do gets taken over by machine, the more that people get to do the work they love.”

“That’s really awesome that people here were able to get together in time to do something before the world starts going all to hell. Where I’m from, the people who are in a position to orchestrate something like that refuse, and tell everyone else that it’s not happening.”
Rodney was confused, but that quickly became concern. “Why would they do that? And how would people let anyone who would do that get into a position of power?”

Jessica started explaining about elections and loyalties and disheartened people and betrayal, before she stopped and just said, “Money”.

Rodney wanted to ask why people would put up with a system that caused so many problems, but he could see that Jessica was wondering the same thing. And his confusion was no match for her frustration.

They walked in silence for awhile, before Jessica stopped. ” Can I tell you something?”
Rodney was encouraged by her trust. “Sure, what is it?”

Jessica took a moment to figure out how to say what was on her mind. “I have been frustrated for a long time by the way things work in my world. This place seems to have all the solutions.” She paused for a chuckle, “Which might be why it seems like a dream.” She became serious again. “In my world I work all night long, every night of the week, just to have a roof over my head and food on my table. My boss won’t pay more than they have to, I have no time to look for a better job. Then one night a kid comes in to steal money and shot my coworker. Now I have not been working for awhile to recover. I don’t know how I will pay my bills. And on top of that I spent some of that time in the hospital. Each hour there costs more than I make in a whole night. I am beginning to wonder if I am making up this world as a coping mechanism. Each time I am here, it feels more real than the last time. Sometimes I think I am going crazy.”

Rodney took Jessica’s hands. “Do you feel this? Is this real?”

“It feels real. But how—”

“Never mind how. Never mind what other people think of it. You are here right now. Maybe you are only here in spirit, but does that make your experience of it any less real?”
Jessica was beginning to cry. No matter how many times she thought that she had released her stress and anxiety, it kept creeping back. She looked at Rodney, who lifted up her face to look at him.

“It’s alright. You will be taken care of here.”

Jessica sobbed, “But it is there that I am worried about.” Rodney gave Jessica a great big hug.

“I know I can’t help with there in any way but through your mind. How about we fill your mind with solutions, and try to find a way for you to make a real difference back home.”
Jessica pulled back and looked at Rodney. She was beginning to trust him, in spite of the strangeness of this place, these people, and his own persistence. “Thank you.”

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Renewable Energy

Hey America! Fossil Fuel is not the answer. Even Nuclear Power is unnecessary. Let’s set aside the debate over whether or not global climate change is happening or if it caused by man. It does not matter. There are enough reasons to stop using fossil fuels without that.

The argument about the technology not being ready has been made since the 1970s. The technology is there now. We have the ability. Yes, batteries are still the weak point, but there are very promising possibilities there too (Tesla) (Hydrogen). The potential energy that is out there is astonishing. The power from the sun alone provides more than we need.

Many countries are making great headway towards completely eliminating the use of fossil fuels (Germany) (Austria) (China). If this is possible so quickly after starting down this road, why is America vowing only to reduce our output by a small percentage over the next several decades? Those in power are making this seem like it is an incredibly difficult goal to attain and is going to make a huge difference.

The only reason that this is challenging is because of the power that the existing structure has to prevent any change. Our current model is to the benefit of a few who will pay a lot of money to keep it the way it is.

What about the other objections people raise? One of the strangest to me is that the technology is not nice to look at. For one thing, what is more important? The future of the planet or the color of your roof? Another thing, the methods of getting fossil fuels are a lot less pretty. solar_vs_fossil_fuels

Ok, so you don’t want solar panels or wind turbines in your backyard and you are willing to pay for the line loss. There are other possibilities too.

Or you could just use your clear windows! There are many projects out there, big and small.

In fact keeping energy production closer to home can solve lots of problems. As far as I can tell the main reason that we are currently using large wind and solar farms rather than investing more in at-home systems is because the power companies still get their cut this way.

Ok, what about those job losses we hear so much about? Renewables create more jobs than it replaces.

A few more arguments that are worth discussing.

Ok, so this is more like a list of outside info than a real post, but seriously, the information is out there. I don’t need to repeat it.

Black Friday

In honor of this most American of holidays, I will talk about why I am NOT a consumer.

Consume – transitive verb

1:  to do away with completely :  destroy <fire consumed several buildings>

2a :  to spend wastefully :  squander

b :  use up <writing consumed much of his time>

3a :  to eat or drink especially in great quantity <consumed several bags of pretzels>

b :  to enjoy avidly :  devour <mysteries, which she consumes for fun — E. R. Lipson>

4:  to engage fully :  engross <consumed with curiosity>

5:  to utilize as a customer <consume goods and services>

intransitive verb

1:  to waste or burn away :  perish

2:  to utilize economic goods

 

To consume is, essentially, to destroy. So how do 5 and intransitive 2 fit in? It seems to infer that the products and goods are destroyed. In the case of foods, that makes sense, but so many more products are on the market that should not be destroyed with use.

Using the word ‘consumer’ creates the expectation that everything is intended to be used and then discarded. This is unhealthy and unsustainable. Personally I prefer to re-use things as much as possible. Most of my clothes are either made by me, or second-hand. I buy cars used, I refuse to buy a new home. I am planning to start an indoor herb garden soon, and I am still trying to decide what I want to use for pots.

I don’t get rid of things until they no longer serve a function. I know that many other people will replace something, for instance a sofa, and throw out the old one. In my apartment complex, hardly a week goes by that I do not see what seems to be a perfectly functional sofa sitting by the dumpster. Mine I got at a thrift store. Most things I will buy a cheap one, just so I have one. Later, once it needs to be replaced, then I will buy a nice one that will last longer.

What frustrates me very much is that most modern technology is phased out while the product is still functional. I am constantly having to buy new, not used, expensive technology just to keep up. As nice as the high-end things are, there is no point in buying it, ever, because it will be outdated soon enough that I can buy the same thing at half the price in six months.

Those in charge of corporations, especially marketing for them, prefer to refer to customers as ‘consumers’. It de-humanizes people. The destructive associations with the word probably help with that even more. The label ‘consumer’ makes people into objects that do nothing but churn through the junk that they are thrown. There is no though given to the people buying the product. Maybe these people would rather have something that they did not have to replace every six months. Maybe people are already scraping the bottom of the barrel and need a break.

Marketers and CEOs would prefer that people continue to purchase more and more. This means that long-lasting is counter-productive, as is relenting advertising in any way. Ironically it also means that ‘consumers’ need an ever-increasing monetary supply to fund the dream of ever-increasing ‘consumption’.

We need to create a new, more sustainable model for the future. We need those who create the products to have their goals aligned with those who use the products. We need both the production and disposal parts of this to be aligned with the wellness of the planet and its future.

 

Fear & Trust

Once upon a time people knew everyone they came into contact with on a regular basis. When a stranger came to town everyone knew about it and was full of curiosity. That stranger was alienated by a sense of otherness, and could cause problems, but they were so outnumbered by the locals that it was not likely.

As cities grew larger people grew into small groups of trust, and people who were up to no good had the ability to blend in and hide. Bandits could come into town, work their mischief and leave as quickly as they had arrived. On the other side, locals could scam people, but if they tried to scam other locals they would probably be caught, and so most choose to prey on people passing through town or skip the scam and go the sneakier burglary  /pickpocket route.

As transportation has become easier, strangers are more common, and are largely ignored. In large cities no-one even knows who is local and who is not. Small towns seem to exist largely due to the tourism industry, and so strangers are just a part of everyday life.

Most people have just accepted this status quo of not knowing who is nearby. We routinely lock our homes and automobiles, women carry pepper spray to protect themselves, and we choose to live under the watchful eye of video surveillance systems to keep others in check.

Why do we, especially Americans, do this? We have been told so many times that the world is out to get us that we believe it. On the news we hear stories about people who were trusted with something taking advantage of, or just generally not deserving that trust. We hear stories of the time that a child was left in the day care’s van after a field trip and left to die, we hear stories of people’s lives being torn apart as the result of a burglary, and we hear about people being massacred on a public street. These are terrible things, and we should be aware of them.

The problem is that these are the only stories we hear. We do not get to hear the stories about a nurse who spends her time off the clock reading to coma patients, we do not hear the stories about the homeless man who picks up garbage in the neighborhood for free every day, or the bank manager who knowingly sets his own wages less than his employees and sets raises based on personal situations rather than work ethic.

We have been conditioned to think the worst of everyone around us. Fear is used for advertising everything from mouth wash to legal policies. It is also perpetuated by laws that hold the homeowner responsible for injuries on their property, even when the person is not supposed to be there. Many tales have been told of robbers who successfully sued the homeowner for injury, even if the robber themselves broke the window that injured them. In some countries homeowners insurance covers break-ins even if the front door was unlocked.

So how can we trust anyone? The short answer is we can’t. But as social beings who need human interaction, we balance risk and reward. We go to school, work, shopping malls, etc even though we know about the massacres that have happened in these places. Our experience tells us that these are very rare, and we take that risk. In fact we scorn the people unwilling to take that risk as insane.

As we meet people and make new friends we do develop a level of trust, but deep down we know that there is no way to know what they do behind our backs. This is part of what causes so many paternity suits and why we have structures built up to keep businesses accountable.

Today a movement known as the ‘sharing economy’ has been making an appearance. This is still largely a fringe movement, but some things have become mainstream, like eBay. In the beginning this was a very risky way to purchase or sell things. The product might not be what was advertised, or even exist at all. The payment may never arrive, and the seller had no recourse. Policies have been enacted since then that hold both parties responsible and protect them from the possibility of things going wrong.

Craigslist is still very basic. When using craigslist the risk is still a part of the user experience and something to be wary of. The company has published tips on how each party can protect themselves, but does not vet participants in any way, no reviews, or much in the way of account creation. They have chosen to welcome newcomers as equals rather than to embrace those who are in it for the long haul.

Both of these examples are largely just a way to facilitate a single transaction. Craigslist encourages in person exchanges, while eBay requires no face-to-face interaction. Other examples of this ‘sharing economy’ are just coming into the market. These range from renting out rooms in your home to hooking up for the evening or going out to eat at an aspiring chef’s home. These examples have followed eBay’s example to assist the users in trusting the other party. This allows participants a way to engage in activities that would normally be considered very risky with less fear. That is good thing, but some have also been accused of deleting negative reviews in the hopes of creating a positive public perception. There is also the issue of being held accountable for those reviews and not wanting to criticize a nice person.

I see this movement as a good thing as a whole. We need to find a way to trust again. Even if that trust is supported by a business structure. Anyone who has walked down a public street in New York knows that of the thousands of people we may come into contact with on a given day, we avoid 99% of them. Even those we do interact with, like cashiers, we cannot fully trust.

This is also a great way for people with similar interests to meet up and make friends. Even something as mundane as ride-sharing can lead to a lifelong friendship, especially if both parties are put at ease enough to open up.

As someone who works in customer service, I also see the potential, if this type of economy really took off, of the weeding out of the bad apples leading to public businesses, who have no way to review guests, having to deal with only those left out of the sharing economy. This means that since businesses are the only ones held accountable , they are forced to stretch themselves more and more to accommodate, and keep happy, worse and worse customers.

But is that really a bad thing? I could replace my income by renting out rooms and giving people rides, so long as I was a trustworthy person. I could use those services from other trustworthy people, creating a parallel, better, more transparent, economy. This would encourage people to be trustworthy, and so able to use this economy where people share the things that they value, adding value to the economy as a whole, without the need for more products. The economy of those who are deemed unworthy would be unsustainable, and self-punish those forced to use it. I honestly believe that most people are good. Even more so when being bad is not rewarded.

By supporting people who share only what they personally have, rather than those who have more than they need, this also creates a more equitable system. It could return the balance of power to the individual instead of the corporation, but only if you trust the corporation to properly vet the individuals.

 

Fear

I think that this will probably end up as a series instead of a single post. This will serve mainly as an introduction and outline.

What is fear? Fear is natural response to dangers. From an evolutionary perspective this means flight or fight. We evolved with a known danger with a predictable likelihood and outcome. These factors get calculated and we decide whether it would be in our best interest to flee the danger or to fight it. This decision also depends on other factors. Are you alone? Are there others that need your protection? Do you have backup if things go badly? How fast is your pursuer likely to be in comparison to you?

All of these situations need a lot of adrenaline to assist in either path, so the body produces more. This is why we sweat,  get tense, and other thought processes fade into the background. In the natural world, these threats arrive, and are dealt with, and we move on.

Today there are a lot more things that cause us fear. As humans we are living in a world completely foreign to our ancestors. Our fears vary according to where we live, but many of them we cannot solve as quickly as a situation in the wild would be. We are afraid to lose our jobs, our homes, our families. We fear disease, economic hardship, terrorism, rape, kidnapping. We fear police, politics, the poor, the rich, other races, our families, each other, and even ourselves.

What does that mean for us? As individuals it creates a state of constant stress and anxiety that is so common in our society. It leads to increased use of anti-anxiety medications. It also can lead to a feeling of despair, which explains our epidemic of depression. Our bodies were not built to deal with constant stress, and that may lead to the type of chemical imbalances that we are finding.

As a group, humans are drawing more lines between themselves and others. We do this in our daily lives. We refuse to make eye contact with strangers as we hurry through crowded streets wary that anyone we pass could be a pickpocket, or worse. On a larger scale we do it with entire cultures. America has broken all ties with Islamic nations because we are terrified that they are out to get us. Extremists of all types rationalize their actions using fear. Homegrown terrorists are afraid of the government, religious zealots are afraid for the continuation of their way of life, politicians are afraid of the people. In order to make themselves feel safer, people will resort to making others afraid. This is the source of the threat, including the demonstration of power.

Why are we so afraid today? Many people will tell you that it is because of our human ability to anticipate, but that leaves out the distinction between our ancestors’ fears and our own. I do not believe that we would ever have begun building permanent settlements if people obsessed over fears of wild animals in the same way we obsess over our fears today. Others will say that it is because of our global society. This is also part of the story. We are able to see the horrors going on in far flung parts of the globe. The images of 9/11 that are scarred into the minds, certainly of anyone who remembers the event, are mostly those images that were shown on television. People can describe this scene even though they may never have been to New York.

I believe that while these points contribute to our societal fears, the main cause is fear mongering. People who gain by the public’s fear do everything they can to manipulate our fears. This includes not only those who use violence to make others fear them, but also those who use the violence of another to create a solidarity between victims. What does that mean? It means that scared people are easier to control. It means that through manipulation of our fears people become predictable. It means that by convincing people to be afraid of one thing, they can be forced to overlook other things. It means that when people are afraid they make alliances with others who are also afraid. Politics took this to a whole new level when the color coded terror threat level system was created. This is used as a way to tell the people exactly how frightened they should be on a given day. I was reading about yesterday’s attacks in Paris, when I came across an interesting juxtaposition. In two back to back sentences we were told that there is currently no indication of an attack on the U.S., and then told that none of our prediction methods saw the Paris attacks coming. They know that at this moment our fear is already heightened so much that if they told us to be afraid they could lose that carefully crafted control.

Fear is a great way to get people to give things up. If you are afraid of attacks on your home, keeping your protection is important. This is why the same people who garner fear of people outside of the country attacking are the same people who create the fear of having guns taken away. If you are afraid that you will not be able to protect your family, your personal privacy is less important. If you are afraid that a certain type of person is out to get you it makes you less likely to protect their rights. If you are afraid that your child will be hurt by a stranger it makes you less likely to let them be alone.

What can you do? Recognize when someone is using fear to control. Look behind the words to figure out what the speaker gains by having you believe them. The less self-interest, the more likely the story is true. The more they have to gain, the more they will stretch the truth. The more followers they have, the more credence the story gains, and the more it can be bent without breaking.

People in America today have given up a lot of freedoms in the name of safety, many of which we still take for granted. We need to learn to take a step back and figure out why people tell us certain things so that we can truly protect ourselves.

 

Society For Creative Anachronism

Ok, so today I am gonna plug for the SCA.

I made the black dress from a pattern. I now know that the princess seams are not period, but I still wear the dress. This picture is not mine, but since I hate putting pictures of people up without their permission, and this is the only SCA picture I can find that doesn’t include a lot of other faces, this is what you get.

What is it? – The SCA stands for Society for Creative Anachronism. So what does that mean? It means a group of people (Society) who creatively are out of time and place (Anachronism). Ok, still a little literal. It is a medieval recreation society. We do our best to live as people lived in medieval times. (Without the plague, religious persecution, and lack of sanitation.)

I say medieval, but really any period prior to the 17th century is fair game. Most people stick to European history, but some do delve into the Stepps and even into Asia.

Who are These People? – All the funny clothes, strange names, and crowns can be a little intimidating. It can feel like another world, and that is the point. We take care to make our outfits, accessories, and sometimes even speech, our escape from the mundanity of everyday life. In fact, we refer to life outside the SCA as ‘Mundane Life’, imagine that. Most people choose a name that goes with a persona. They create a person who would have lived in a particular time and place. Then they live in those shoes. SCAers tend to get confused when they find out that I do not do this. I don’t because I cannot choose just one period or place. People can have several personas, but I find even that too restrictive. I will often go every day of an event in a different era. When I joined there were a lot of people whose SCA names were variations of my name. I don’t really see a point. I feel more at home at events anyway.

The crowns are a little different. SCA has our own royalty. The crowns are worn by people who are permitted to. Just to confuse you, the bigger the crown does not mean the higher the rank. The crowns are designed according to the wearer’s preference.

So What Do People Do? – If someone did it during the time period, someone in the SCA probably does it. If it is more obscure, you may have a hard time finding them, especially in a small group. At large events though, GAME ON!

The Biggest Examples –

  • Fighting – Most people who know something about the SCA know about the Fighting, so I will start there. We have two main fight styles. What we call ‘Heavy’ and ‘Light’. All of our martial activities have strict safety measures regarding the weapons, and the armor used. We rely on the honor system to count hits. In the SCA, unless specified in a particular event, if an arm is hit, you ‘lose’ that arm and must fight without it, the same goes for a leg. Fighters will kneel at this point, although I have never seen it, I do not think there are rules again hopping around. If a fighter looses both arms, they will admit defeat, although once again, I don’t think there are rules against going all Black Knight.

Heavy fighting is a recreation of broadsword melee mostly. However many people choose to use axes, maces, or even pole arms instead. We are not a live steel group, which means that when we fight, we are not using real weapons. Most are built by members out of Ratan which is like a heavy bamboo. Usually they are wrapped in duct tape. Because Duct Tape.

Light fighting is a recreation of fencing. We use heavier swords than that used in the Olympics, but use similar face masks. These swords are tipped so that no-one gets run through for real. Beginners usually use only one sword, but more advanced fighters can choose an off-hand weapon as well. I have seen a dagger, a buckler, a cloak, even a rubber chicken.

  • Other Martial Stuff – The main categories here are Archery and Thrown Weapons. These are essentially target-based activities, since we don’t actually try to kill each other. In some large-scale battles, archers are invited, provided they wear armor that meets the regulations of the battle, and use special ammunition.

I do archery, but I use a Cherokee Flat bow, so it’s not quite period. I do have to shoot a little bit differently than most people who shoot long bow. Other people use the later re-curve style. I have also seen people shoot crossbow, although they are more expensive, and therefore rarer.

I have also done some thrown weapons. I usually use knives, but have dabbled in axe throwing as well. The principles are the same. This is the least popular of the martial activities, although in many ways it is the simplest to get involved in.

  • Performance – There are also bards musicians and dancers in the SCA. People study instruments that most people have never heard of. Sometimes we can even get musicians to play for dancers. Usually this is drummers around the campfire at night while some budding belly dancer shows her moves. Occasionally we will have a formal ball, with court dances that are taught during the day for those daring enough. Bards often travel between camps singing their tales of faraway places. At my son’s first event, it was a bard that finally managed to get him to sleep.

As with everything, there are experts and there are novices. People are not deterred from doing something they are not good at, but rather recruited as someone to pass knowledge on to.

  • Arts & Sciences – In the SCA this mostly means arts, or stuff you create. As an activity, this is not the most obvious, but it’s effects are evident the moment you see a gathering. While some things are purchased outside of the organization, most things that people wear or use at events are made within the group. Some people take pride in making everything themselves, while others contribute to the SCA economy. We use modern currency, but I consider the SCA to have its own sub-economy. Some merchants are able to earn their livelihood by traveling and selling their wares at events, although many include Renaissance Faires as well. We have our own supply and demand trends, sometimes fueled by the fads. Yes, even though we are re-creating the past, certain periods go in and out fashion.

Once again, if someone made it then, someone probably makes it now. I know blacksmiths, weavers, leather-workers, seamstresses, and jewelers. Some people focus on period re-creations. Many SCA members carry knives and even swords on their person, even though they are not allowed in combat. Other artisans focus on SCA-specific crafts like creating the regulation weapons that are used in combat.

I always say that I do not like shopping, and I take great pride in breaking the female stereotype in that. But I have to admit, I lie. I love shopping. I just cannot stand the places that most people shop. I love thrift stores. I will have to write more about that another day. I also love Merchants Row. At most large events there is a designated area for craftspeople to set up stores. This is my weakness. These people sell the types of things I like. People sell period clothing, weapons, armor and jewelry. Others do intricate hair braiding (When you are at a week-long camping event and the showers are full of sweaty fighters most of the time, a braid can be a big help.) or henna. Some people sell modern paraphernalia like t-shirts. Period games are always interesting. Real root beer is always a classic. This is one of the only places that you can find period fabrics and trims to make stuff yourself. Many of the merchants accept not only cash but also barter. More recently, with the help of technologies like square, most can now accept Master Card and Lady Visa as well. I only include that because I find it amusing.

Where is it? – The SCA is an international organization, but mostly exists in the United States. There are local groups in most large cities, and even smaller ones, although it really depends on the town. The city I just moved from had, at its height, more than twenty. Then a lot of people everyone moved away around the same time, leaving around eight active members. A larger city that I lived in had its branch nearly dissolved because no-one was participating. A few years later it has grown and it thriving. Check out your area.

So Why Do I Play? – I got into SCA because I am a history nut, okay, so since I now have a bachelors in History I have decided that I can say Historian instead. But I stay in because the people are awesome. In general the people are far more accepting of others. This is the place where people who feel alienated by society at large find a home. I have made friends of different religions, political parties, and gender identities. People who have been outside the norm for their hobbies, or the way that they look, walk or talk fit in just fine in the SCA. There are some people who will point out historical inaccuracies. Usually that is done in fun, and with the best of intentions, but sometimes it is a merchant trying to sell their wares.

How Much Time and Money Does This Take? – As much as you want to put into it. Some people camp in extravagant period tents, I use a cheap two-man tent I found at Wal-Mart. Some people build elegant Elizabethan gowns, while others wear simple Viking T-tunics. (Some people build those in a period way, while others use modern techniques.) You can spend as much or as little as you want, but if you are like me, you will always want to spend more than you should.