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Banbury Cross

a pillow for lost thoughts...

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Moraine Lake

Glacial Lakes are sporting a peculiar tone of blue, which viewed from a certain angle high above the surface may seem almost surreal. Almost as if a tanker with industrial blue paint had a terrible accident down there a few weeks ago. A truly dazzling combination of metallic boldness and pastel serenity.

That unusual tone is caused by the presence of the so called "rock flour" - a powder of finely grained minerals produced over the eons by slowly moving glaciers. One of the most famous examples of this phenomenon is Moraine Lake in the Canadian Rockies. In addition to the characteristically blue waters, it is also surrounded by a spectacular panorama of alpine peaks that bestows upon this charming place a well deserved postcard status. The view of the lake from a small rocky platform about 30 meters above the surface had become so popular that it was once featured on one of the older editions of the Canadian 20 dollar bill.

This is where the passing birds fall silent. This is where the long fibers of time streak unimpeded across the crystal skies. This is where the Gods of land sculpting come for their adrenaline shots.

Trombones and the bright blue blouses.

Mice partying with the mouses.

Moss is the boss.


The Sentinel Pass

Unbridled eyes galloping over invisible sediments of time. Green smiles parading on a carpet of alpine meadows. The glassy sky slowly turning around an axle of a glistening flute of Sun. Chiseling fibers of wind caught in the dreamy draft. Gelatinous blue of the glacier lakes. Memories wrapped in an echo chamber of half drunk glasses of wine.

I am sitting at the rocky outcrop of Sentinel Pass, muscles aching from a steep ascent into a narrow saddle between Eiffel Peak and Mount Temple in the Canadian Rockies. Some 2610 meters above the sea level. Stern and rugged slopes frame the breathtaking panorama of the surrounding ridges. They say that "might makes right", but I would tweak this old adage to "height makes right".

There is something about the intrinsic three dimensionality of mountains that gives people certain natural depth without making them pretentious and affected. As if it was the brooding majesty of alpine peaks that prevented our souls from deflating into a parody of greatness. Sure, the hardship of life in the mountains itself is deterrent enough for aspiring crooks, but the beauty of snow capped peaks contributes an extra layer of magnificence.

Stacy Aumonier once wrote a short story "Kidnapped General", in which a bus driver hijacks a doubledecker full of London bankers, drives them far beyond the boundaries of the city and releases them into the fields and meadows so they could find the lost meaning of life.

And that is what mountains bestow upon our wretched existences. The lost meaning of life. Nature has a way of realigning our priorities, filling us with a sense of wonder and recharging our mental batteries.

Simple solutions

We do not live in easy times. The more people roam the surface of this Earth and consequently the more they interact, the more complex the dynamics of human race becomes.

The rules of conduct, legal or implied, have become so complicated that it is virtually impossible to know them all. Whether we like it or not, laws have become contradictory and even the lawmakers themselves do not quite know what every new piece of legislation entails. In immortal words of Nanci Pelosi - uttered during the big battle for Obamacare - "We have to pass this bill so you can find out what is in it."

We have lost our ability to think things through, we have lost our appreciation for sustainable solutions, we have lost our sense of social perspective. Our affairs have become so entangled in a chaotic dance of cause and effect that we cannot really tell what is the right way even if we wanted to. We wave our little ideological flags in lieu of rational discussion and we keep proposing quick fixes that do more harm than good.

And we do not care anymore. Because no matter what we do, the turbulence of life will grab our actions and produce something else anyway.

But it does not have to be this way. Simplicity still is the ultimate form of sophistication. Solutions could still be simple if only we were willing to employ our instincts in lieu of armies of lawyers and lobbyists. I think much of the what ails our time would go away if we implemented two basic principles:

1. all public entities must have a balanced budget
2. all control of money must belong to the people.

The balanced budget creates a necessary feedback loop that provides natural control to the extent of public spending. If people are not willing to pay for certain services (and that is what the taxes are), then those services are probably not sorely needed. The moment you start padding your budget with debt, you lose this natural control mechanism and all hell breaks loose. And if you start supporting the pyramid of debt with the crutches of loose monetary policy, you will just ask for a spectacular implosion down the road. And that brings us to the second point.

The expansion of the money stock yields immense powers. These powers should be brought back under the direct control of the people. Banks can still act as intermediaries between people with capital and people with business ideas, but the levers and pumps of the global money flows should be placed firmly in public hands. Specifically, any money printing operations should benefit all segments of the society equally. After all, we are all equal at the voting booth, so we should be also equal at the printing press. One man, one vote. One man, one dollar. As a corollary, any bank operating on the fractional reserve banking principles should effectively be nationalized. There is plenty of space for private industries in the productive sphere. National currencies and their management should not be a vehicle for profit generation. Those little pieces of paper that we use to represent wealth with should be - to paraphrase Lincoln - "money of the people, by the people and for the people".

I think these two simple principles would make the world as we know it more just and also more dynamic. But common sense does not get much respect these days, so I am not holding my breath.


Social Dividend

Having spent most of my youth in the socialist farce of the Soviet bloc, I naturally tend to the right hand side of the political spectrum, especially when it comes to economic questions. However, that being said, I believe that this century will experience a dramatic shift to the left.

The world is in the middle of two significant revolutions. Globalization and robotization are changing the dynamics of economic growth as we know it. Both processes are subtly undermining the fine balance between labor and capital. Globalization ruthlessly exports the production into countries where labor can be obtained under most favorable conditions, skipping standards and safety nets fought for by generations of workers and leaving armies of unemployed in its wake. And robotization goes even further, disposing of the need for human labor completely.

That puts a tricky question on the table - what are we going to do with the looming excess of workers? Now, and more so in the future, there simply won't be sufficient numbers of naturally productive jobs to support the current populations (again, most of the stuff will be manufactured by machines and automatons).

In the present state of technological progress, we will soon be able to provide basic living necessities for most people and slowly transform the society to a new model, where machines will be the primary producers and people will act as entertainers, managers and governors.

Sooner or later, a question how to redistribute the wealth produced by machines will emerge. Capitalism is not well equipped to handle it. Capitalism tends to concentrate wealth, not spread it around. If left unchecked, pure capitalism would throw us into a dystopian nightmare, where a selected few are ruling the subjugated and completely dependent masses. And that is where socialism will make its come back.

For some time now, the ideas of basic income or social dividend have been bandied about. And although to contemporary ears they sound like a horrible regression to the horrors of Soviet style socialism, I think that a system like that will eventually have to be implemented. But as always the devil resides in the details.

For there is a little fly in this noble ointment. In the old system, wages served as a feed back loop for controlling the size of the labor force. Thriving economy and higher wages would lead to bigger families, more workers and eventually to lower wages through fierce competition for the available slots. Since this mechanism of keeping population in check is going to be retired, something else will have to come in its stead.

And that is the challenge for the economic thinkers of tomorrow. If we implement the social dividend poorly, it will create more damage than good.

Earth's Day

Mother Earth is a pretty cool planet. Probably the coolest one in the whole Universe. Yet its own children are slowly turning her green pastures into a plastic junkyard.

Growing overpopulation, arctic warming, water shortages, disappearance of bees, never ending deforestation, overuse of chemical agents are but a small sample of human induced headaches facing our little blue green orb. Add to it the chronic hostility between nations, the misaligned financial system and an increasing number of nuclear countries and it must be clear that we as a species are moving in the wrong direction.

None of those problems are beyond solution. But they would require focus, coordination and a long term effort. All currently in short supply. And a tad of common sense would not hurt either. When I was a kid, I thought that by the year 2000 we'd be exploring the Solar system, developing sustainable communities there, harnessing clean energy and, in general, behaving like rational human beings that we purport to be. Yet we still focus on fighting each other over scarce natural resources, on polluting the intellectual space with mind boggling display of political, religious and cultural bigotry, and when we can't take that any more, we drown out our natural conscience by watching meaningless sitcoms on TV.

Over the past few millennia, we have found ourselves in the middle of an environmental and climactic sweet spot, in which, thanks to the recent advances of technology and agriculture, we can actually feed roughly 7 billion people. But that sweet spot is not guaranteed forever. Not only is the arable land disappearing, but that mild and moderate climate that makes large scale farming possible is more precarious that we think. Should we dislodge that finely balanced equilibrium, the ensuing storm may not become the spectacular catastrophe the climate fear mongers revel in, but we may lose the ability to feed ourselves.

To even begin tackling some of the accrued problems, we will have to start looking at other people as partners, not rivals. We will have to replace confrontation with collaboration. And that's a tall order in the era of increasing inequalities. We like to think of ourselves as little angels, but the bloody history of our species says otherwise. I am afraid only an invasion from outer space would make us show some team spirit. However, if we fail to correct our ways, then in the not too distant future, there will be a point where Mother Earth will say no to our silly genes.


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