Archive for April, 2016

Bertha Begins to Bore For Realsies


Seattle, Washington State, U.S. of A.  This thriving city is the scene of a modern technological thriller, called the ‘Viaduct Replacement’, and involves the world’s largest diameter Tunnel Boring Machine, or TBM, aptly named Bertha.  Bertha is supposed to drill a tunnel large enough to handle two two-lane roadways, over 9000 feet long, underneath downtown Seattle.  The machine started the job a couple of years ago, made it about 1,000 feet, and broke down.

After a mammoth effort, the TBM has been repaired, and has successfully mined to the last point before going underneath structures.  Mechanical failures after this cannot be addressed by digging a big hole and hauling the machine to the surface in pieces to be worked on.  Tunnel boring machines like Bertha, only smaller, are at work all over the world, and have been around for about 20 years or so.  Not only does Seattle have the world’s largest TBM, but the city is notable for being built partially on fill, which included wood, metal, concrete, cars, and probably a few bodies.  The soil is also very sandy, which makes boring a tunnel more difficult.

But this is not the first experience Seattle has had with tunnels, as two bus tunnels were bored underneath 4th Avenue in the late 1980’s, which proved to be very successful in spite of some initial problems.  Some are calling this project, which is to replace an aging and earthquake-damaged elevated highway, the ‘Big Dig’, but it is nothing like the enormous project in Boston.  Hopefully, it won’t end up being called the ‘Big Bust’ or something like that.  But even if Bertha experiences no more problems, the new tunnel will not accommodate the volume of traffic the Viaduct handles.


The value of people.


Every person has value, an inherent worth, which cannot be calculated or assigned a number, because people are all worth the same.  Each individual, every one of us, is worth exactly the same as any of us.  We are the most complex, advanced, intelligent aspect of the Cosmos we know of.  Every one of us is a miracle, magical energy wrapped in a body which is only temporary.  Simply by being here, we contribute to the group, the community.  An idea, an emotion, laughter, a hug, people bring these to us, share them with us, and we do the same with someone else.  We are each breaking trail for the rest, helping each other merely by being here.

Materialistic society has tried to turn us against each other, by claiming some have more worth than others, or that possessing certain things makes a person more valuable. Yet, strip away the materialistic trappings, and we all are the same.  No matter how much you own, what you own is not a part of you, but something which you hold on to.

Sliding into Darkness


Materialism leads to greed, where an individual comes to believe that they are better than everyone else, and therefore deserve the bulk of the wealth.  Acquiring more wealth becomes the goal of the greedy, even if they cannot use what they already have.  Depriving people of essential goods and services in order to maximize profits is allowed by society,  and  ignored even when society must provide those essential goods and services.

Our materialistic culture teaches us to cherish things instead of people, and lures us into sacrificing much of our time, and our health, to a job which provides no spiritual rewards, no sense of accomplishment, no pride in the work.  We accumulate the trappings of wealth, the big house, the fancy cars, the expensive toys, but they leave us feeling empty, cheated.  The stress of holding down a job eats away at us, physically and mentally, until the stress is expressed in physical ailments.  Uncertainty about the future, fear of losing what employment we have, and emotional isolation hammer at our well-being.

People are giving up, turning their backs on life, and killing themselves in steadily rising numbers.  Murder-suicide is becoming a common thing, even to the point of someone killing their own children before they kill themselves.  The Western way of life, capitalism, consumerism, materialism, is spreading across the globe, turning the focus away from the group, the tribe, the clan, and onto the individual, me, I.  Images of young people having fun are used to tempt us into accepting the materialism, embracing the greed, the lust for things.  Media, television, the Web, these are the tools that capitalism uses to ensnare us, to corrupt us.  Our society is spiraling down into darkness.  Avoiding it is the only way to stay sane.  Turn off the TV, put down the phone, and go for a walk.  Look around you, see the world the way that it really is.

Are Youth and Beauty bad for us?


American culture has become focused on two fleeting and naive aspects of our existence:  Youth, and Beauty.  These two qualities have come to outweigh intelligence, wisdom, and experience in determining how important someone is.  So much emphasis has been placed on youth that the elderly are being shut out of our lives, abandoned by their families to institutions or lonely, empty houses.

The reward for years of sacrifice and self-denial was to spend the days playing with children, sharing culture and heritage with the next generation, and guiding the decisions which affected the group.  Elders were respected and influential, an important part of the community.  Their experience and wisdom was considered valuable to the well-being of the group, and their time taking care of the children was essential in allowing the people of child-bearing age to work supporting the group.

This emphasis on youth and beauty is a result of the materialism of our times, the focus on things instead of people, and on the individual instead of the group.  The continuity of the family has been lost, the circle of life has been broken, and our communities are fragmenting as a result.  Materialism drives the advertising which shapes our culture, through sponsorship of programs and campaigns in media.  Because advertisers want to target younger members of society, they have become the focus of entertainment.  Teenagers have a disproportionate amount of influence in advertising and media, because they are big spenders.

Billions of dollars are spent every year chasing Youth and Beauty, in make-up sales, tanning booths, and hair coloring.  But neither can be held on to for very long, and the more energy spent trying, the more vain is the pursuit.  Especially considering how such thinking denies the importance of the Future, crippling our investments, disrupting our planning, and delaying adaptation.  Youth and Beauty cultivate an obsession with the Past, on what was, instead of what will be.

The Great Society


During the administration of Lyndon B. Johnson, in the early 1960’s, a term which held wonderful promise came into use; The Great Society.  America was going to the Moon, we were going to defeat poverty, and Vietnam was a backwater few had heard of.  We were showered with greatness, from our big, powerful cars to our huge, luxurious houses.  The environment was not a concern, except for Rachel Carson.  Materialism was shiny, and new, and still under warranty.

But there were troubling signs, incidents which rattled our complacency, trends which boded ill.  Debt became something easily had, instead of something which was only available to those who did not need it.  Companies began to cut corners, wages did not grow in conjunction with productivity, and investment in the future began to decline.  American soldiers killed American students.  Riots wracked several cities, and a river caught fire because it was so polluted.

America can still be great, but only if we renounce the materialistic, short term thinking of profit at any cost.  People are what will make the difference in the long run, people who are willing to share the sacrifices as well as the rewards.  People are not a resource to be mined, exploited, and discarded.  They have creativity, ingenuity, and spirit, things which no computer is likely to possess for many years.  Paying people minimum wage, regardless what it is, diminishes them, and reduces their ability to create demand for goods and services.  Only when the prevailing wage is considerably higher than the minimum wage will we see a society which might be called ‘Great.’

Will we be forgotten?


Sometimes, I think that we have gone overboard with protecting the individual at the detriment of the country.  And by individual, I am referring to the landed gentry, the .01 percent of the population, who hold nearly all of the wealth.  We subsidize their enterprises, and guard them with our military.  We refrain from taxing them the portion of their income which they cannot spend in a year, claiming that such action will prevent ‘job creation’.  By withholding their wealth from being spent on goods and services, they weigh down the economy, destroying jobs by keeping so much capital out of the market.

The group, the community, society, everybody is hurt by these individuals behavior.  They create wealth only to take it away from those who do the actual work of creation.  They claim they must make a profit on their investments, but they take every single penny.  Wages should have risen until the average wage was about $17.00 an hour.  Not the minimum wage, but the average wage.  If wages had been allowed to grow naturally, minimum wage would still be about $2.50 an hour, but no one would be working for that wage.  Labor would be valued as part of the capital of the firm, not a resource to be exploited.

Placing the individual above the community invites abuse by those who believe that they are superior to others, while threatening the long-term survival of the community.  The individual will die, but the community might survive.  If everyone contributes to that survival, instead of trying to enrich themselves at others expense.  Taking more than sustainable profit is the reason a number of major corporations have suddenly disappeared.  We have to share, or everything anyone has done is going to be forgotten, lost, gradually worn away.