Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Kunstler Compressed

James Howard Kunstler, that pundit of place in America's "Happy Motoring Utopia" has an excellent new post on his blog. He doesn't say anything new (for him), but provides an excellent and direct summary of his ideas and writing to date. So, if you don't feel like reading "Geography of Nowhere" and his other works, you can get a quick intro to this important thinker by simply reading his latest post. I think they'll lead you to your bookstore to pick up a copy of his classic, "Geography of Nowhere."

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Need a Speaker?

I am available for a limited number of speaking engagements. My speaking experience is extensive and varied, including:

- Over 100 combat mission briefings during the Iraq War

- Argument before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

- Presentation to Mediterranean Studies Association annual conference

- Presentation to Yale Journal of International Law annual conference

- Panel participant at FERC conference for 300+ energy executives

- Presentation to Air Combat Command annual intelligence conference

- Presentation to FBI’s Anti-Terrorism Advisory Counsel

- Presentation to Inter-Agency Forum on Infrastructure Protection

To discuss speaking at your event, please email me at:

Friday, January 12, 2007


Robert Anton Wilson died yesterday at the age of 74. He was one of the most extraordinary characthers of the 20th century, but it may truly be in the 21st century that his genius is fully understood. I was only fortunate enough to have one brief conversation with him, on the nature of mental maps of physical geography, but I have been strongly influenced and inspired by his writings (some available online, but his finest works are only available in hardcopy: Prometheus Rising, Quantum Psychology, and the Cosmic Trigger series). So long, Bob.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Viva Mesquite

Those who have traveled the American Southwest--or just about any warm, arid region of the world, have surely seen endless vistas of Mesquite. American ranchers have long considered it an invasive weed species, but I think that it is one of the most valuable gifts in our pantheon of useful native plants.

Mesquite, or the broader genus Prosopis that is found throughout the world's warm arid regions, is incredibly useful and underestimated. It is incredibly drought hardy, thriving on rainfall alone in the Sonoran Desert (and elsewhere), a location that receives around 12" or rain per year. Mesquite tap-roots have been discovered over 200' underground in copper mine tunnels--this is one hardy plant that enjoys water when it gets it, but can survive long and intense droughts. It is a leguminous tree, and is very effective at fixing nitrogen in the surrounding soil. It provides excellent, high-protein browse for livestock, its pods making excellent poultry forage. Its flowers are great attractors of polinators, and mesquite honey is renown (as is its cousin, acacia honey) for its excellence. It grows rapidly, especially considering its environment. It is probably best known today as a source of wood-chips to flavor BBQ dishes, but its wood is an excellent and very energy dense form of firewood and charcoal. With its root system established, it makes an excellent copice species--part of the problem that Western ranchers face when trying to get rid of it. It is also prized as a hardwood for structural timbers, furniture, and tool making. In fact, it is such an efficient creator of wood from marginal lands that it is being considered as a prime species for ethanol production. It is also semi-deciduous, and its leaf drop is an effective desert mulch in wind-protected areas. It has numerous traditional medicinal uses, many of which are being validated by modern medicine. It is a long-lived, zero-care tree that is a fascinating potential component for dry-land arboriculture.

Sounds like a pretty valuable tree, right? I left out the most interesting part. Its seed-pods are a traditional human food. Mesquite drops exceptionally hard seeds encased in elongated seed-pods. These pods themselves are dried and ground up into "Mesquite Flour." However, this "flour" is nothing like its wheat-based namesake. Mesquite flour is moderate sweet, has about 100 calories per ounce, and is very high in protein, fiber, and minerals. Perhaps most importantly, its carbohydrate content has a very, very low glycemic index--about 25 (mesquite flour is 80% carbohydrate, 25% being fiber, 13% protein, 3% fat). The Tohono O'odham indians of Arizona used to subsist primarily on mesquite flour and are now decimated by diabetes as they have almost completely abandoned it in favor of wheat flour. From a primitivist-diet perspective, mesquite flour does not have the same objections as grain flours do--the glycemic index is very, very low, the actual seed is not eaten, and the plant evolved an evolutionary system where the seed is extremely hard, but the pod (from which the flour is made) is very palatable to animals. Finally, one acre of hands-off mesquite production produces in the area of 2500 pounds of mesquite flour annually--that works out to over 4 million calories, or 10,000 calories per day.

Go figure....

Friday, January 05, 2007

Two Mysteries and a Map

I just started to read Daniel Pinchbeck’s “2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl.” I’m looking forward to the book…I’ve always enjoyed the writings of Robert Anton Wilson and Terrence McKenna—authors who challenge our conceptions of what we really know, what reality “really” “is,” etc. So I thought I’d use the excuse to bring up a few of my favorite mysteries—things that science, so far, is utterly unable to explain, and things that, when understood, may truly advance our gnosis beyond today’s empirical paradigm. These are, I think, the two fundamental mysteries--and it is significant that they are best termed "mysteries" rather than "problems" or "challenges":

Consciousness (a case study in Emergence): Consciousness is a problematic field in general, but I’d like to discuss the most unknown (and, as we will see, perhaps scientifically “unknowable”) topic within consciousness: emergence. Science tells us that we have billions of neurons, that they pass and store chemical-electric charges of varying intensity, that they build and constantly refigure massively lateral networks of connections. But science does not provide ANY insight of how consciousness emerges from this set of interactions. “Neural nets” and other attempts to model brain functioning increasingly tell us how it is that learning, memory, muscular control, etc. arise from this biology, but not the genesis of consciousness itself. We can observe the phenomenon of “emergence,” the unexplained coordination of non-hierarchal elements, at many points in our world—one of them being the emergence of consciousness from (presumably) the brain—but we cannot explain its function. This is critical because it not only illustrates our inability to demonstrate any understanding of the very core of our humanity, but it also demonstrates our inability to understand one of the fundamental forces acting in our world—and one that, if harnessed, could be a true solution to the problems of hierarchy. I’ve dealt with this topic a great deal in the past, and I won’t discuss the problems of hierarchy in more depth here, but suffice it to say that a true understanding of emergence would reach in impact far beyond a grant of insight into ourselves.

Developmental Micro-Biology (a case study in Field Teleology, for lack of a better term): The other fundamental mystery (in my opinion), is the unexplained teleological phenomena at work in our world—that is, the unexplained progress towards an apparent “purpose.” The case study here is human developmental microbiology: when a fertilized egg begins to divide, first into thousands, then millions and billions of cells, some of these cells become one kind, and other become other kinds—facilitating the creation of complex organisms like humans, where the liver is different from the brain from the bones. Where is the master blueprint stored to tell some cells to become a liver (and how to structure something as incredibly complex as a liver) and to tell other cells to become a heart (and how exactly to do that)? Science does not know—they have absolutely no clue. Some suggest that the answer is in our DNA, but the DNA is identical for all the cells, so how do they self-organize into such discrete and complex functions? We don’t know. Some (decidedly “non-scientific” perspectives) suggest that DNA (among other functions) is a “tuner” of sorts to receive instruction from a “galactic field” or some similar concept. Sounds ridiculous—especially to a more scientifically “attuned” mind—but it does no worse than science at explaining the mystery of developmental microbiology. On a grander scale, the mystery of teleological phenomena such as this are all-present. If some force outside the egg/zygote/fetus is responsible for directing development—as many argue and a logical analysis suggests—then what else in our world is similarly influenced? What is the interplay between emergence and teleological phenomana? These are all questions that, for now at least, “science” seems to have no answer for. This shouldn’t be looked on as a failure of science, but rather as a reminder that “science” as a concept is a tool, but not the end-all-be-all of gnosis. There are some things that, by its very method, science cannot explain—and these are increasingly more than just abstract philosophical or theological matters. Increasingly they are critical to advancing our society into new organizational forms, to advancing our consciousness beyond the market-state mentality, to preventing the destruction of our ecosystem, and the other critical tasks of our time.

It’s best that we round off discussing these two mysteries with the discussion of a Map—no, not a map that will help us understand these mysteries, but rather a discussion of why our necessary use of a map in the process of trying to do so prevents our success (in a “scientific” manner). Here I’ll resurrect on of Robert Anton Wilson’s most important notions, that the map is not the territory. Necessarily, a map cannot communicate or contain all information about the territory that it portrays—to do so would require it to be just as large, just as detailed as the territory itself, and in doing so it would no longer provide the heuristic advantage of its ‘map-ness,’ that is, that it condenses knowledge about its subject territory. Because, as humans, what our consciousness perceives is that which is inside our head (the map), not the actual territory (concrete “reality,” assuming such a thing actually exists, which we have no way of confirming). Our reliance on a “map” prevents us from empirical knowledge of consciousness, just as it prevents us from holistic knowledge of the entirety of the “field,” and as such we are mistaken to expect a “scientific” resolution to the mysteries above. We have ways of resolving these mysteries—as explored by Pinchbeck in his book—but because they are necessarily “non-scientific,” they are also ridiculed as charlatanism or hokey-pokey. So be it—they are critical to human functioning, and to our future, and we must find some way forward, some new heuristic fusion of empiricism and mysticism. I think that Pinchbeck’s attempt at exactly this—however much it may be ridiculed from all sides—should be carefully considered.