Saturday, July 06, 2019

Defying The Gods

                                          DEFYING THE GODS
Yesterday, I awakened in the early morning hours with a strong intuition that I needed to return regular postings of my “Dormgrandpop” blog.   I began these postings in 2006.  They dwindled to a single entry in 2018.  What explains this?  My work schedule was intense, but no more so than in previous years.  In part, it was an awareness that Singaporeans do not necessarily welcome public commentaries by foreigners.  Reading over years of postings, beginning in 2006, I was amazed at the quality of some – not all – of the postings.  Today, I want to begin again.  
My setting is idyllic, a generously sized room and bath in a spacious bungalow, situated on a generously sized plot, enveloped by Palm trees, Elm trees and other fauna whose names I have yet to learn. Our location is Safety Harbor, a retirement community of about 18,000, leavened with a significant younger generation. My daughter co-directs the Safety Harbor Arts and Music Center while enriching Safety Harbour and surrounding with murals and mosaic art,  I will have more to say about this environment and my own engagement in subsequent postings.
However today I want to express my concern about the dehumanization of society that I have experienced since my return to the United States.  Surprisingly, individuals seem more wedded to their Smart Phones here in America than they were in Singapore.  At this is just the tip of the iceberg.  I have read forecasts, particularly in publications sponsored by the Wharton School of Business of the massive unemployment in just one area of commerce, truck driving, as a result of robotics.  Another problem area is impact on mail-order concerns, particularly Amazon.com on retailing. Both in Singapore and the US, I have treasured my relationship with face-to-face retailing.  It still thrives in retail establishments such as Publix and Walgreens, plus small retail establishments on Safety Harbor’s main street and periphery.  I see little attention given to the social consequences of these trends.  The worst  is the travel business where airlines are engaged a concerted effort to put travel agents out of business and then delegate “customer relations” to outsourced call centres.  
My musings lead me to return to a book that I read when, as a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics, Norbert Weiner’s The Human Use of Human Beings.  In the concluding pages of this remarkably prescient work Weiner writes this reflection on the field to which he contributed.
The Greeks regarded the act of discovering fire with 
very split emotions. On the one hand, fire was for them 
as for us a great benefit to all humanity. On the other, 
the carrying down of fire from heaven to earth was a 
defiance of the Gods of Olympus, and could not but 
be punished by them as a piece of insolence towards 
their prerogatives. Thus we see the great figure of 
Prometheus, the fire-bearer, the prototype of the sci- 
entist; a hero but a hero damned, chained on the 
Caucasus with vultures gnawing at his liver. We read 
the ringing lines of Aeschylus in which the bound god 
calls on the whole world under the sun to bear witness 
to what torments he suffers at the hands of the gods. 

The sense of tragedy is that the world is not a 
pleasant little nest made for our protection, but a vast 
and largely hostile environment, in which we can 
achieve great things only by defying the gods; and that 
this defiance inevitably brings its own punishment. It 
is a dangerous world, in which there is no security, save 
the somewhat negative one of humility and restrained 
ambitions. It is a world in which there is a condign 
punishment, not only for him who sins in conscious 
arrogance, but for him whose sole crime is ignorance of 
the gods and the world around him. 
(Free Association Books, London, 1989, pp. 184.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

FOR WANT OF A VISION, OUR SPECIES WAS LOST

Not long ago, I celebrated my 81stbirthday.   A few years before, a day or so prior to  my 74thbirthday, the passage below  came to me as I was meditating,  It was my blog posting for March 12, 2012.  I also Scotch-taped a copy, below the keyboard of my MacBook Pro, where it remains to this day.   When I delivered a plenary address at the 2013 System Dynamics Society’s Annual Conference, acknowledging receipt of the Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award, it was my conclusion.
Deng Xiaoping was born in 1904
He became paramount leader in December 1978
He led China through October 1992
His leadership transformed the country
What I have done is preparation for what I will do
My most productive years lie ahead

Though my address was generally well received, my choice of Deng Xiaoping as a role model did not win accolades. (A second role model, New Institutional Economics Pioneer, Ronald Coase, who published his last (co-authored) book, how China Became Capitalistat age 100 and died at age 102, was better received.) 
The week of my 81stbirthday, my first in a new venue, relieved of institutional responsibilities (except family kitchen chores) seemed a good time for stock taking. I chose to take stock, not only of my own modest contributions to a calling that might be called “Sustainable Development” advocacy, but those of others. The output of dedicated advocates, in varied media and genres has been prodigious, however achievement of fundamental changes advocated by these proponents, has been far less than needed and hoped for.  To cite one example, a viewer of Singapore’s Asia News Channel will hear reports of high GNP per-capita growth rates reported as good news many times each day. These will be echoed in Singapore’s national newspaper, The Straits Timesand many other venues.  Indices related to sustainability, will be reported rarely, if at all.   Here in the US, of course, there are even fewer grounds for optimism.   We Americans have a climate-change denier as president and had until recently, a lobbyist for energy corporate interests as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agenda.  This is a far cry from the days when President Richard Nixon created the Council on Environmental Quality and Environmental Protection Agency.  Subsequently, President Jimmy Carter initiated the Global 2000 Project and, as a follow up, I drafted for President Carter’s staff, Towards Effective Foresightfor the US Government, drawing on Global 2000, and proposing a sustainable development agenda for the President’s Second Term.  
A growing cadre of advocates have been at the business of what has come to be known as sustainable development and the promotion of sustainable societies ( if one takes publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring as starting point), for more than five decades.  The Limits to Growth came about10 years later.  It used a rigorously crafted “global” simulation model to produce starling results that have been rigorously affirmed in two subsequent volumes, (Beyond the  Limits (1993)  and Limits to Growth: The 30 Year Update (2004).  “The 30 Year Update,”  affirmed the results of earlier volumes and warned that the window of opportunity for steering the Planet Earth’s interdependent  social, political, economic, towards a stable sustainable equilibrium might be closing.  
I believe there is a well-established and well documented technology for slowing and ultimately reversing this trend that has not be fully explored.   It is that technology of “visioning”  (envisioning). It draws target audiences towards clearly envisioned positive outcomes rather than away fromproblems that need to be addressed.  The distinction may seem subtle, but it is important.  Along with Donella Meadows, I was first exposed to this technology in a workshop entitled Leadership and Mastery, led by Charlie Kiefer, Robert Fritz and Peter Senge.  For me, Robert Fritz’s emphasis on the power of “visioning” (or envisioning) was a life-changing take-away of lasting value..  I know this was true for Donella Meadows as well.  In fact, before her untimely, tragic death, I believe she had become one of humankind’s most eloquent spokespersons, both of envisioning technologies, and of  the sustainable equilibrium visions that were the product of her own envisionings. Dana’s Vermont, USA based co-housing community, Cobb Hill and her Sustainability Institute manifested them concretely.  
How does one “envision?” in a passage his book, The Path of Least Resistance (DMA INC. 1970, P. 66-67)  I have quoted many times, introducing visioning exercises to my students, Robert Fritz writes this.  By vision I mean the inner crystallization of the result that you want to create so that the result is conceptually specific and tangible in your imagination, that you would recognize the manifestation of the result if it occurred.  If you had a vision of owning a ten room home in a wooded area close to a lake, you could easily recognize the result if it occurred.  Similarly, you could easily recognize a job which utilizes your talents and abilities, which is loving, interesting and mutually supportive.  You could easily envision a vegetable garden of large, ripe juicy tomatoes, tender ears of corn and so on.  In each case you could recognize the manifestation of the vision if it occurred. ...Vision has power;  for in vision you can easily reach beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary. 
You have only to imagine yourself in the 19thcentury, before indoor plumbing and electricity, before refrigeration and air conditioning, ...before jet flight and mass transportation, …before telephones and superglue to see the extraordinariness of  inventors and technicians.  Vision also has a magic quality.  I define magic as seeing the results without seeing the entire process leading to those results.  The inner eye of vision can see what isn’t yet there, can reach beyond present circumstances, and can see what, up to that point has never been there.  It is truly and incredible human faculty that is able to see beyond the present and the past, and from the unknown conceive something not hitherto in existence.
Let me conclude this introduction with a brief parable from several years as co-owner with my wife of a Minneapolis high fashion boutique in the late 1960s.  A young woman enters our sales floor and begins leafing through a rack of high fashion attire.  I walk up, look her up and down, listen to her story and  with a somewhat critical expression and say,  I can see that your present attire is not sustainable for the social life you would like to lead?  You are right to be concerned about your looks and your popularity.  However, I can sell you just the outfits that will help you turn things around.  
How different a conversation would be that did not begin with “current reality” but, rather envisioning a reality that was exactly the way my customer would wish it to be.  We might than begin seeking out role models, real or imagined that embodied that envisioning. .  
Walt Disney is quoted in writings by Robert Fritz and Peter Senge among others as saying “If you dream it, you can do it.” I don’t claim that my little parable is a perfect metaphor for the needed and necessary task of envisioning sustainable societies as important step on the path to attaining them.  However, as we struggle to solve the problems that impede the path to sustainability in villages, towns cities, regions nations and our planet, we should not neglect taking time for envisioning how life will be for our human species when our hopes and dreams have become our reality.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Many happy returns of the day earth! It's been 4.53 billion years already.

[The wonderful Earth Day greeting, below is reproduced, with permission from and thanks to Balaton Group (balatongroup.org) member Anupam Saraph.  It was posted on the website Pune365.com)

From my human perspective, that’s ridiculously long to comprehend. We humans rarely see beyond our day. Or something we’ve come to call as the short term…
So we end up doing stupid things that we realise are stupid in the short now – or the lifetime of a child born now. Alas, only if we are able to think about the short now. But you have seen many short nows. For you, is that short term?
I’m told by my extremely clever friends who have been studying the lives of stars all their lives, that if we compare our 100 years life to your approximate life span, you’re probably about 45 years old.
We humans have been around for just a little over 7 days of your existence.
I’m enormously grateful to you for you working hard to make yourself habitable for life. You’ve made life thrive for over 35 of your 45 years. My geologist friends explain how you shaped yourself to create the most beautiful landscape we may ever set our eyes on. No landscape designers and engineers can match the magnificence and wisdom of your mountains, plains, rivers, deserts, seas and polar caps.
No architect can parallel your ability to create habitats where such a diverse set of homes for such a remarkable diversity of life may thrive. 
For the fresh air you provide, I express am eternally grateful to you. Without all the plant life that you support, the air would not be breathable. Without their absorbing the carbon from the atmosphere, temperatures would be unliveable. Without them releasing oxygen into the atmosphere our life may just not exist.
Without the bio-geo-chemical cycles you support would you be any different from the 100 billion other planets in our Milky Way? 
For the fresh water I can drink I owe you my sincere thanks. You created the rain so rivers may flow and give us water. So the ground may store it to keep itself from warming and to supply life with water and so that rivers may not dry. For the sea that allows the river to meet the clouds. So the seasons may continue to nourish life.
For the magic you’ve woven on to yourself to create the diversity of life that you support, both plants and animals and the billions of microbes, you’ve added unimaginable joy to existence. Something only you have managed to create among a hundred billion exoplanets in the Milky Way!
For the 1.6 trillion times you tirelessly went around yourself to give us our days so we may live our lives and nights that give us the rhythm of life, I am grateful. For every one of your 4.543 billion journeys around the sun, you created seasons that breathe life into spring, summer, autumn and winter! My amazement at your consistency, persistence and devotion.
Possibly, just like the cells in our bodies don’t recognise the tissue, organ or organism they are a part of, we humans don’t recognise ourselves as the cells in your living body. When our cells fail to work, the tissue and eventually the organ may fail and cause death of the organism. When we humans and our cultures fail, we endanger your health, perhaps your survival. When our cells grow without constraints, we call it cancer. Unless balance is restored and the growth of cancerous cells is stopped we die.
We humans have grown our population, our consumption and the trail of waste and destruction exponentially in less than 1 second of your life. I hope we are not the cancer you contracted.
When cancerous cells spread themselves to other tissue and cause growth of other cells in other tissues, we say the cancer has spread – it has metastasised. In just 0.000002 seconds we’ve destroyed 80 percent of the wildlife you had evolved over 35 years. When we spread our growth culture across your body, destroying other life forms, are we the cancer that has metastasised?
But, it’s your birthday today, So I will not talk of your ill healthIt’s our day to celebrate together. It’s our day to hope we will be the life that values and protects you. It’s our day to express gratitude of our relationship.
And it’s my day to express my love for you. It’s my day to pledge my role, small as it may be, to ensure your health for the next 50 years of your life!
Happy Birthday Dear Earth! 
Dr. Anupam Saraph grew up in a Pune that was possibly a tenth of its current expanse and every road was lined by 200 year old trees. He’s committed to the cause of de-addicting the short-termers. 

He can be reached @AnupamSaraph

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Exiting the Stage, Safety Harbor Florida, 5 January 2019

The customary retirement age for faculty at the National University of Singapore is about 70 years old.  However shortly after celebrating my 79thbirthday, I received an offer from the Residential 4 College Master to renew my contract for one or more additional years.  This was a remarkable offer. I had little doubt that if I accepted, I would be able to satisfy the requirements for a peer review of my teaching that university regulations required. 
As I pondered my decision, words of wisdom from my mother came to mind (for her,  aphorisms were a frequently employed parenting tool) “It’s better to leave the stage, while the audience is still applauding.”  
In responding to the Master’s offer, I recalled that when I first learned about the RC4 mission, educating “Systems Citizens,” using System Dynamics Modeling as a foundation, I said I would gladly work for free. This would not be necessary, he responded.  This offer had, in 2014-15 morphed in a joint Visiting Professorship with the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (where I was already teaching) coupled with an appointment as one of the College’s “Resident Fellows” with direct the responsibility for about 100 students in residence. I offered to stay on as “Modeler in Residence,” with flexible schedule, again working without compensation.  My personal goals were to reinvigorate my System Dynamics modeling practice, to move forward with a research agenda emphasizing the envisioning of sustainable development and to spend more time with my family and the diminishing number of old friends who still remained alive. 
In response, the Master offered me the option of remaining for a year as a full time Resident Fellow, making myself available as mentor to students and faculty colleagues and offering an informal weekly colloquium in my apartment to a small group of highly able students who were extending the normal two-year Residential College term for study for a third year.
This kind offer ushered in one of the most rewarding years of my professional life, because of the opportunities it gave me to connect with students informally, without the obligations of marking and assessing. There were also opportunities for speaking and writing, though my research productivity was less and I had hoped for.  As the academic year drew to a close and I made plans to return to the United States, I made a special effort to connect with the friends and mentors who had made such a difference in my life over the preceding eight years.  Now the time has come, with my writings, to give thanks to the students, friends and colleagues in Singapore who have given me so much. Their gifts can never be fully repaid; however, I must do my best.   


Thursday, February 22, 2018

A Recollection on Mr. Roger's Neighborhood's 50th Anniversary

On days when I take lunch in my apartment, I often listen to podcasts.  Today’s listen was a 1984 Interview by “Fresh Air” host Terry Gross of US Children’s Television personality, Fred Rogers.  His popular program on US National Public Radio, Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, debuted 50 years ago. In responding to a question about why his program was so popular, Mr. Rogers reflected,  “Every one of us longs to be in touch with honesty… I think we’re really attracted to people who will share some of their real self with us.”  The reach of “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood” was brought home to me when two NUS Residential College Four colleagues, one from Singapore and another from Lebanon, told me they had watched it.
In 1982, the US Association for the Club of Rome held an event to commemorate publication of The Limits to Growth. The occasion also celebrated publication of the Association’s commemorative book, Making it Happen: A Positive Guide to the Future. Making it Happen…, was intended to make the Club of Rome’s message appealing to Americans, who had recently elected a pro-growth conservative Republican as their President. It drew parallels between the Club’s message and President Reagan’s Inaugural Address “Americans are too big to dream small dreams…” It described the lives of Americans, including some US Club of Rome Members, whose lives exemplified positive, affirming sustainable development visions.
In introducing the book, I asked members of the audience who had participated in the project to stand.  More 50 rose as I described the book’s message. Each audience member had received a copy and so all could view our “Bookazine” formatted highlights, which included illustrations, poetry, cartoons, and short biographies of contributors  (entitled “who am I?”) as I was speaking.

Why did the 1984 Terry Gross interview, to which I listened while taking lunch, bring back this 1982 memory?  Writing about my address, the Washington Post reporter said little about the substance, merely noting the book characterized contributors as “living exemplary lives.”  Rather what had attracted his attention was that my appearance, words and mode of speaking  “bore an eerie resemblance to Television’s Mr. Rogers.”  Later I wrote a short note to Mr. Rogers, mentioning the reporter’s message and accompanied it with a signed copy of the book.  As I would have expected, he responded kindly. However, as far as I know, Making it Happen: A Positive Guide to the Future, never made it onto the recommended reading list for viewers of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.   

Friday, October 20, 2017

Why you should practice and be prepared to administer The Heimlich Maneuver

Many years ago I was attending a luncheon organized by the biomedical section of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington DC.  The speaker was Dr. Henry Heimlich, who was just winning recognition for a new procedure to prevent choking to death from a foreign object (food) or phlegm obstructing the throat. Dr. Heimlich explained how he had discovered the method through studying the pneumatic physiology of the lungs.  He showed a film that demonstrated the method, which entails clasping the victim under the rib cage and compressing, producing a flow of air from the lungs that clears the passage. 
Now there are excellent online videos that demonstrate the method.  You should check them out, practice, and be prepared to act if someone experiences chocking, especially giving notice by placing one hand on her or his throat.
Not long after not after I attended Dr. Heimlich’s luncheon address and film, my daughter was stricken with severe bronchitis. See seemed ok, apart from needing bet rest and I was walking to the car when she appeared on the back porch of our home. Having heard my description of Dr. Heimlich’s speech she held her hand to her throat, giving the signal that she couldn’t breathe. I rushed up to the porch, cleared her throat so she could breathe and then sped with her to the nearest hospital emergency room.  Her life was saved.
Some time later , my wife and I were enjoying a steak dinner in my Washington apartment, overlooking Massachusetts Avenue. She attempted to swallow an overlarge piece of steak and it became lodged in her throat.  She couldn't breathe and immediately raised her hand to her throat – the choking signal.  I immediately got behind her, compressed her abdomen and cleared her throat.  Though Dr. Heimlich advised taking a chocking patient to the emergency room for further evaluation, she felt fine. We both had a second glass of good red wine and finished our evening.
 Whenever I hear someone who seems to be choking, I am still likely to jump up and be ready to render assistance.  My children call me “Heimlich Man” – a family joke.  I don’t mind.  Had I not attended Dr. Heimlich’s lecture, my (now former) wife and daughter might be dead.