Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Great Pause Week 3

"In a larger sense, I have been preparing for something like this moment my entire life."

This essay started out like the previous two weeks but, like some kind of viral infection, it followed a nasty growth trajectory, running from an already long 10 minute read to 20, then 30. So, I’ve decided next week I will go back to writing pithy advice columns.

The story thus far: after getting nearly stranded at the site of my permaculture course in Belize with abysmal internet and none of the research materials I had gathered for my latest book project, I made it back to my winter writing sinecure in Mexico and went no farther. This time of year I would normally be returning to The Farm in Tennessee, starting the garden, planning out my next speaking tour, and paying taxes. Instead, I am gathering coconuts, lying in a hammock with my iPad, or talking to you. It is an endless winter.



On my satellite radio a CNN expert commentator squawks about unemployment and the shocked tone puzzles me. Amid all the radical change since March, do economists still not see what is coming? Are they so stuck in the rut they have worn for themselves that they imagine the sooner this ends and we all get back to work, the better we will be? This is not a snow day, guys.

Here the economy was built on tourism. This barrier island was literally sinking under the weight of 10,000 elegantly appointed hotel rooms fashioned of heavy stone, concrete, steel, and dense tropical hardwoods. A few weeks ago the restaurants employed hundreds of cooks and waiters from all over Mexico and beyond. And then, in the blink of an eye, that all shut. The clouds parted and an economic miracle evaporated.

Back at The Farm we don’t farm like we once did — no money in it — but we have any number of practical businesses that are antifragile by design. Tourism in the form of BnBs and our construction trades were brittle but those were never mainstays for the community, and now they are merely supplementary sources of income in good times. The workhorses are producing books, geiger counters, mail-order tempeh kits, fresh soyfoods, midwifery, and medicinal marijuana. These are trades that will not merely survive a pandemic, but thrive on it.

In a larger sense, I have been preparing for something like this moment my entire life. When I was thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail at 25 I imagined that if civilization ever began to crumble I would go find a suitable wilderness to inhabit, maybe in Montana or Idaho, and use my foraging skills to provision myself until it was safe to come out. 

After I landed at The Farm in 1972, I gradually realized it was not about returning to wilderness (although some of us attempted to, up on Hickory Hill), but about designing ecovillages as responsible social enterprises that restored wilderness and reversed climate change. That is a recurrent theme of my later books: community-led change.

My Y2K Survival Guide and Cookbook (1999), co-authored with my mother, sold 200,000 copies. Later revisions — the Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook (2006) and the Financial Collapse Survival Guide and Cookbook (Kindle 2015) — were incrementally better although not nearly as successful. Still, those books had it right. Preparation is everything, and if you had followed my advice, you would be sitting pretty about now.


The concept of antarabhāva, an intervening state between death and rebirth, was brought into Buddhism from the Vedic-Upanishadic precursors to Hinduism. If you have read the Tibetian Book of the Dead, even Timothy Leary’s somewhat humorous edition, you will be familiar with bardos.
Used loosely, “bardo” is the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth. According to Tibetan tradition, after death and before one’s next birth, when one’s consciousness is not connected with a physical body, one experiences a variety of phenomena. These usually follow a particular sequence of degeneration from, just after death, the clearest experiences of reality of which one is spiritually capable, and then proceeding to terrifying hallucinations that arise from the impulses of one’s previous unskillful actions. For the prepared and appropriately trained individuals, the bardo offers a state of great opportunity for liberation, since transcendental insight may arise with the direct experience of reality; for others, it can become a place of danger as the karmically created hallucinations can impel one into a less than desirable rebirth.
Metaphorically, bardo can describe times when our usual way of life becomes suspended, as, for example, during a period of illness or during a meditation retreat. Such times can prove fruitful for spiritual progress because external constraints diminish. However, they can also present challenges because our less skillful impulses may come to the foreground, just as in the sidpa bardo.
 — Wikipedia 

When we watch the President’s daily press briefing (remembering to wipe the screen with alcohol afterwards), we witness sidpa bardo. It is a non-stop rant of karmically created hallucinations.

La vida no vale nada
Pablo Milanés

Life is worthless
La vida no vale nada 
If four fall per minute
Si cuatro caen por minuto 
And in the end by this travail
Y al final por el abuso 
The journey is decided
Se decide la jornada
Life is worthless
La vida no vale nada 
If I have to postpone
Si tengo que posponer 
Another minute of being
Otro minuto de ser 
And die in a bed
Y morirme en una cama
Life is worthless
La vida no vale nada 
If in the end what surrounds me
Si en fin lo que me rodea 
I can’t change what it was
No puedo cambiar cual fuera 
What I have and what protects me
Lo que tengo y que me ampara
And so for me
Y por eso para mí 
Life is worthless
La vida no vale nada

Songwriters: Pedro Arias, Pablo Milanes
La vida no vale nada lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group



I watched an excellent TED connect with Gary Liu, an editor of the South China News
The way China and South Korea flattened their curve was a three-prong approach: point-of-care testing for everyone, quickly; tight quarantine of the CoV-19 positive; and aggressive contact tracing. Everyone who made contact with an infected person for the previous 2 weeks got tested.
China shut down Wuhan and the entire Hubei Province at 830 confirmed cases on January 13. It was a drastic necessity. The principal pandemic officer at CDC warned the White House and the health industry then that they needed to get going. Two weeks later Wuhan had 35000, then two weeks after, 75000. Two weeks is the time when there may be no symptoms but a person may be infectious. One person can infect thousands of others in that time. 

The greatest failing of the human race is its inability to understand the exponential function.
“In January, it was discussed that there was human to human transmission taking place. So the alarm bells were ringing that this fits the very scary pattern — that it will be very difficult to contain.” 
 — Bill Gates, TED Connects March 24, 2020 

The Alabama governor is still allowing spring breakers to party on the beaches. “We are not New York, you know,” she said. She was not referring to the number of cases. She was referring to the attitude of people towards any edicts from a central government authority. It was also intended as a put-down of NY Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has been calling for a stronger, centrally-coordinated, national response. 

The masks habit in Hong Kong began with SARS. Anyone with a cough is expected to be wearing one if they are in public. Guatemala just made wearing masks mandatory. 

Also in Hong Kong public spaces are constantly being disinfected. Elevator buttons have a plastic sheet cover that is changed often. Dim Sum carts in the street vanished during SARS. Everything went to menu-based restaurants. They give you two colors of chopsticks. One color is to reach to the common Lazy Susan to refill your bowl. The other is for bowl-to-mouth.



Almost 90% of New Zealanders back Ardern government on Covid-19
 China traced back CoV-19 to patient zero, who presented on November 17. The sequence of events after that is illustrative of how political systems fail to mesh gears well with science-based systems. Dr. Lee died on Feb 7. He is now a national hero, honored as such by the central government. The police who persecuted him for blowing the whistle on CoV-19 in December/January have been arrested. 

In the United States the equivalent would be arresting Carrier Strike Group Commander Rear Admiral Stewart Baker and Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly for relieving Captain Brett Crozier from his command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt after the captain sent a memo up the chain of command warning Navy leadership that decisive action was needed to save the lives of the ship’s crew.

President Cobblepot approved the removal and, as if to demonstrate we need to maintain a war footing for our sailors, he dispatched a carrier fleet to threaten Venezuela. He should be arrested too, but the Monarchist parties would have a fit.

My pharmacist agreed to order my cardio meds for me. She said, don’t worry, this will all be over in 3 weeks.

The US has chosen, by intention or default, a herd immunity strategy, at the sacrifice of several million, mostly elderly black people. Most people expect be out of this by next winter, even if no vaccine is developed. The theory is that the CoV-19 virus will disappear for lack of hosts to reproduce itself within. But for that to happen US infections would need to reach eight digits.

I am glad I am not part of that experiment. Here in Mexico they are on the same trajectory, mainly relying on the rabbits’ foot the president has strung around his neck, but I have a bit of shelter to remain apart from that. Assuming they do not lift restrictions here, the barrier is 8 miles of ocean.
Talk about going back to normal after three weeks or six weeks is naive but not unrealistic if (big if) you are doing well with the 3 Chinese tools: universal testing; tight quarantine of cases; and aggressive contact tracing. You need those coming out of lockdown more than you need them going in. 

As the world battles the coronavirus crisis, researchers are warning of a potentially active Atlantic Ocean hurricane season, which kicks off June 1 through the end of November.
The CSU team forecasts 16 named tropical systems; 12 is the average. Eight of those named systems are forecast to reach hurricane status, with winds greater than 74 mph; Six is the usual amount per year. Moving coronavirus victims on ventilators could become a major endeavor that would require action well before a storm approaches the coast — assuming there’s hospital space inland to take them.
And then there are the personal mental and financial barriers. People may be hesitant to evacuate for fear of going to a shelter with the infected. “Much of what we use as baseline assumptions for emergencies will not work right now,” said Bryan Koon, a former director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. “Natural disasters don’t care what is going on with human health issues.” 


They were surrounded by a fleet of staff, who were stranded themselves, trapped in an eternal honeymoon in the Maldives
…[T]hey were the only guests at their resort, the Cinnamon Velifushi Maldives, which normally is at capacity this time of year, catering to some 180 guests. (“Room rates start at $750 a night,” its website still says.) The resort comprises the entirety of its speck of an island. There is nowhere to go. The couple reign like benign yet captive sovereigns over their islet. The days are long and lazy. They sleep in, snorkel, lounge by the pool, repeat.
The resort’s full staff are at hand, because of the presence of the two guests. Government regulations won’t allow any Maldivians to leave resorts until after they undergo a quarantine that follows their last guests’ departure. Accustomed to the flow of a bustling workday, and the engagement with a full house of guests, most of the staff, having grown listless and lonely, dote on the couple ceaselessly. Their “room boy” checks on them five times a day. The dining crew made them an elaborate candlelit dinner on the beach. Every night performers still put on a show for them in the resort’s restaurant: Two lone audience members in a grand dining hall.
At breakfast, nine waiters loiter by their table. Hostesses, bussers and assorted chefs circulate conspicuously, like commoners near a celebrity. The couple has a designated server, but others still come by to chat during meals, topping off water glasses after each sip, offering drinks even though brimming cocktail glasses stand in full view, perspiring. The diving instructor pleads with them to go snorkeling whenever they pass him by.
A dozen Argentines are trapped here and staying in quarantine at the Tribu hostel. They are adhering to the stay-at-home order better than many of the resident families, whose extended relations are arriving for the Easter holidays, after which it is expected the kids will go back to school.
With no tourists the waters are crystal clear and still. Overhead while I swim I used to see jets passing from Europe to Cancun. Now I see flights of flamingos.

The Gulf of Mexico sea surface temperatures have run above normal over the past year but have sharply risen in recent months. Now, they’re about three degrees above average and that is likely to have a bearing on weather across the central and eastern Lower 48 in the months to come.
The last time Gulf of Mexico waters were similarly warm in 2017, it coincided with an above-average tornado season through the spring, and then Category 4 Hurricane Harvey struck the Texas Gulf Coast at the end of summer.
The balmy gulf waters have already contributed to abnormal warmth across the Deep South, where virtually the entirety of the Interstate 10 corridor through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia is wrapping up one of its top five warmest Marches on record. Numerous records have toppled, with some cities soaring into the 90s…. According to the Southeast Regional Climate Center, cities such as Brownsville, Texas, Corpus Christi, Houston, New Orleans, Mobile, Alabama, and parts of Florida have all seen their warmest March on record.
— Matthew Cappucci, Washington Post, March 31, 2020 
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, though storms sometimes form outside those dates. The team predicts that 2020 hurricane activity will be about 140% of the average season. 

The economists and politicians think the pandemic will be over before November. Economics and political science are not physical sciences. 



Here in the Yum Balam nature preserve cutting mangroves is illegal, as it is for most of Mexico also. It is permitted, however, to prune away dead mangroves to reduce the fire hazard. On my morning bike ride I turned down a dead-end trail recently cut on the northwestern tip of the island near Punta Coco and came to a construction site. I noticed all the mangroves were turning white. Then I saw why.

They were being poisoned, probably with Roundup. IV drips had been fashioned from detergent bottles, filled with herbicide, and injected into the trees’ shallow water arteries at 4 meter intervals. 
Tourism should never have gotten this far. It needs to remain in permanent retreat.

Today I wrote a letter of recommendation for the Global Ecovillage Network to be awarded the 1 million euro Gulbenkian Prize. Calouste “Mr. 5-percent” Gulbenkian was an Armenian born in 1869 who grew up in Istanbul. He moved to Marseilles at the age of 15 to perfect his French at a high school and then attended King’s College London, where he studied petroleum engineering and graduated in 1887 at the age of 18. In 1896, Gulbenkian and his family fled the Ottoman Empire to escape the Armenian massacres. They ended up in Egypt, where Calouste met influential contacts in the emerging Middle East oil industry. He returned to London a year later and became a British citizen. He helped arrange the merger of Royal Dutch Petroleum Company with Shell and in 1907, at age 38, emerged as a major shareholder of the newly formed company, Royal Dutch Shell. His policy of retaining five percent of the shares of the oil companies he brokered over the course of his career earned him a vast fortune, much of which he dedicated to victims of the Armenian Holocaust. In 1912, he was the driving force behind procuring oil exploration and development rights in the Ottoman territory of Mesopotamia. He gave British interests a 35% share, German interests 25%, Royal Dutch Shell 25% and kept 15% for himself. During the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire, the Pasha of Iraq gave Gulbenkian the entire Iraqi oil concession. Gulbenkian, however, reputedly said, “Better a small piece of a big pie, than a big piece of a small one,” and sold off most of the development rights to Aramco and others, with the usual 5% royalty. In 1938, before the beginning of World War II, Gulbenkian incorporated a Panamanian company to hold his assets, now a subsidiary of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon. 

It would seem to me poetic if this Foundation, whose fortune derives from accelerating the carbon cycle, could be induced to place that money into the service of reversing climate change in time to save our planet.

At sunset I joined a sitting meditation with Moana, a Quebecois, Deeana from Hawaii, and Sandra at Casa TomTom. We sat for an hour to the sound of the wind in the coconut trees and the waves lapping on the shore. 



Biking the beach after sunrise I listened to Terry Gross’s Fresh Air interview with The Atlantic science writer Ed Yong, who predicted a global pandemic more than a year ago. He spoke about how and when the pandemic might end and what the aftermath might be. These are the important questions, but I am not sure he has the answers entirely right, nor does anyone. I am reminded of Joseph Tainter’s excellent book on collapse of complex societies, and works by Jared Diamond and William Catton on the same theme. In the case of Tainter’s collapse narrative for the Maya, which could have as easily come from pandemic as from civil war, or some combination, a great urban civilization devolved in just a few years to rural forest living. The population did not decline very much, it just dispersed. It had lost its glue and so reverted to a previous position of greater stability and self-reliance until it could re-urbanize, which only happened after the Columbian Encounter.
I don’t know that this pandemic has that much power, but there are more and bigger pandemics that may, when they come.

Bought a lime tree sapling in the market and planted it in a bed of inoculated biochar in my garden. Limes are very popular in the Caribbean. Christopher Columbus brought seeds to the West Indies on his second voyage in 1493, and the trees soon became widely distributed in Mexico, the West Indies, and Florida. Here their main function is to make ceviche from raw fish or flavor your Corona.

Seffi gave me a kombucha scoby so I could start a batch. I had brought tea back with me from China when I last taught the ecovillage design course there. Nice to find a good use for it since I am mainly a coffee man.


There is no small amount of schadenfreude watching civilization implode. What would be antifragile businesses for a small Mexican island? As in any survival situation, one begins with a pause, a deep breath, and then taking inventory of what you have and what you will need.

We have:
  • Protected nature preserve status
  • Scores of large, new, vacant hotel buildings, elegantly furnished
  • Scores of well-furnished closed restaurants with industrial kitchens
  • A large number of unemployed chefs and cooks, receptionists, service people, and managers
  • A diesel power plant and distributed lines capable of meeting the needs of 10,000 people
  • A leaky municipal water system that provides clean but not potable water for 10,000 people
  • A decrepit sewage treatment system
  • A golf-cart taxi fleet, in good repair
  • A police department
  • A fishing fleet with multigenerational experience in these waters
  • A Navy base
  • A hundred small shops or mobile businesses
  • Bicycle repair workshops, small engine repair workshops, a boat repair dry dock
  • Sawmills and carpentry shops
  • A bank
  • Hundreds of dogs and a smaller number of domestic or feral cats
  • Wild marauding raccoons
  • A sheltered port with a 4 meter draft
  • Coconut trees
  • Abundant edible wild fish, octopus, shrimp and lobster
  • A couple of doctors and dentists
  • Many plumbers and electricians
  • Many carpenters, masons and palaperos
  • Broadband internet connectivity (weak)
  • Mobile phone service
  • Landline phone service
  • Cable TV
  • Several baseball parks and soccer fields
  • Some sport fishing boats
  • Five passenger ferries and one car ferry
  • An airport (actually just a dirt landing strip)
  • Baseball and football teams
  • An under-financed and poorly-staffed school
  • Several churches
  • Several health clinics, including an urgent care center
  • Several pharmacies
  • Many fresh fruit and vegetable vendors
  • Several bakeries and tortillerias
  • Warehouses, typically used for beer and construction materials
  • Several fully-stocked hardware stores
  • A night-lit basketball court under roof
  • A night-lit bandshell
  • Propane delivery
  • Garbage collection
  • FedEx/DHL once-per-week delivery
  • Mail once-per-week delivery
  • Paddleboards and kayaks
  • Sailboats and catamarans
  • Experienced scuba guides and gear
  • Three kiteboarding schools
  • Lots of artists and musicians
  • Miles of pristine sandy beach
  • Dolphins, rays and whalesharks
  • Flocks of marine and coastal wild birds
  • Crabs, iguanas, lizards, sea snakes and tortoises
  • A river with flamingos and crocodiles

We lack:
  • Enforcement of environmental regulations for this nature preserve 
  • Our previous clean groundwater lens
  • Redundant, robust, renewable energy systems
  • An adequate sanitation system that processes and neutralizes human wastes
  • Adequate recycling, composting and garbage management/disposal
  • Secure potable water supply (not requiring purchase of plastic bottles)
  • Adequate plastics restrictions, collection and disposal
  • Domestic abuse counseling
  • Night lighting and noise restrictions
  • Adequate nesting turtle protections
  • Restrictions on domestic animals
  • Adequate crocodile and flamingo protections
  • Sufficient hurricane design criteria in building codes
  • Legal CBD
  • Secure food supply for islanders, drawn mainly from the island itself
  • Jobs for everyone previously employed by tourism
  • Good schools for all grades and adult education
  • A community FM radio station
  • Microgrid local WiMax internet
  • A smart growth plan, or any consistent, democratic, transparent planning process

The police truck just drove by my palapa, its loudspeaker broadcasting a message directed mostly at the Easter crowd — mainland relatives who are breaking the rules — telling them to kindly observe our stay-at-home directive and only go out when absolutely necessary, observe 2-meter physical distancing, mask, and frequently wash your hands with soap.

It could be another 2 or 3 weeks before we will know if the island survived Jesus’s resurrection.
I felt a little chagrined and asked Sandra to tell the others I would not be coming to our usual wine on the beach sunset gatherings until after the crowds left again. I don’t want to set a poor example by going out when it wasn’t absolutely necessary.



Don’t know who wrote this:

We fell asleep in one world, and woke up in another.

Suddenly Disney is out of magic,
Paris is no longer romantic,
New York doesn’t stand up anymore,
the Chinese wall is no longer a fortress, and Mecca is empty.

Hugs & kisses suddenly become weapons, and not visiting parents & friends becomes an act of love.

Suddenly you realize that power, beauty & money are worthless, and can’t get you the oxygen you’re fighting for.

The world continues its life and it is beautiful. It only puts humans in cages. I think it’s sending us a message:

“You are not necessary. The air, earth, water and sky without you are fine. When you come back, remember that you are my guests. Not my masters.”

You encourage me to do more and then tell you about it. Help me get my blog posted every week. All Patreon donations and Blogger subscriptions are needed and welcomed, especially at this time when I am quarantined far from home. You are how we make this happen. PowerUp! donors on Patreon get an autographed book off each first press run. My latest book, The Dark Side of the Ocean, is nearing that moment. Please help if you can.


1 comment:

Robert Gillett said...

"... he dispatched a carrier fleet to threaten Venezuela." Well, not exactly a carrier fleet. It's a task force of smaller ships with no carrier mentioned.

Glad to see all these updates from you. Hope you continue to stay well.





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