Archive | September, 2014

With so many in “deep poverty,” mere poverty is almost like the middle class

29 Sep

Philly poverty

If one of us, or many of us, falls behind, way behind, is it the responsibility of those ahead to pull up the less fortunate, the unfortunate and all those whom fortune has woefully forsaken?

Those living in and around Philadelphia should be giving this serious thought. In this city, the name of which means brotherly love, the economy, the culture, the dynamics, the thoughts and the ideals are too weak to sustain the population. What exists there represents gross failure.

A new report says that 12 percent of Philadelphia residents live in something called deep poverty. Sadly, the times have forced us to look beyond mere poverty, which in Philadelphia is 26 percent.

The city, which I live outside of, ranked highest in deep poverty when compared to the nation’s 10 biggest cities. Nearby Camden, across the river in New Jersey, is not among the biggest and wasn’t ranked. But it has a deep poverty rate of 20 percent and a poverty rate of 43 percent.

From my little cloister, that’s difficult to even imagine.

Deep poverty chartAll these figures come from the U.S. Census’ 2013 American Community Survey, which was recently released.

By definition, a family of three is in poverty if it lives on $20,000 a year. In deep poverty, three survive on $10,000 a year.

In terms of sheer numbers, there are 184,000 people in Philadelphia who are clinging to its lowest rung. Alfred Lubrano, a staff writer for the Inquirer, said that’s about the size of cities like Tallahassee, Florida or Salt Lake City, Utah.

It strikes me as being post-apocalyptic.

But I almost never go to the neighborhoods were the 184,000 live. Camden to me is like Mars.

Still, I can’t help feel as if people like me have somehow failed those in deep poverty, even though many have failed themselves.

In any group, on any place in the world, there are people who do well and people who do not. There are those who need no help and there are the helpless. Now and in the past, however, social units like Native-American tribes or New England colonies or even extended families would try to lift up those that some might describe as laggards. They would do so simply because the unit was a unit and felt responsible for its members. To some degree, we do this in America. We have networks of social services, we have churches and synagogues, and we have government.

Lubrano, the Inquirer reporter, interviewed a Philadelphia women in deep poverty. She is 42 years old, separated with three children ages 7 to 17. Born into an Irish-Italian family, she had dropped out of high school and worked as a cashier. According to Lubrano, she fell into depression and was unable to work. So the government provided her with disability payments of $8,880 a year.

This is a nice gesture, but not a solution to the problem.

So what is? With so many types of poverty, there probably would have to be an assortment of solutions, and even then many couldn’t be reached or helped or encouraged. But it’s for certain a studied, intelligent approach would reduce Philadelphia’s Tallahassee-size problem to perhaps a problem the size of Lost Springs, Wyoming, or Bozeman, Montana.

I lack the training, depth and insight of a social engineer, but one thing I’d like to see in every poor neighborhood is a “Factory of Last Resort.” Employment would be open to all those in poverty and deep poverty who are looking for an out. They would manufacture a mundane but useful item, like brooms or soap. These factories probably would operate at a loss, but there would be incentives to keep loses to a minimum and inch toward profitability. Included with the job would be access to health clinics, day care, a dining hall and dorms.

We would be building the equivalent of an urban kibbutz.

After a time, management positions would go to employees who exhibit leadership skills, the ones who have learned and blossomed from the experience. Awakenings often come with restored dignity.

Those of us who are doing well would be encouraged to buy the brooms and soap as a sign of support. It would be a way for all of us to make our cities whole again and to keep humanity human.

And then, should we want to, we can safely and happily visit the once great and now great-again places like Camden, which spawned RCA Records and Campbell Soup. And the City of Brotherly Love can free itself from the embarrassing irony of its name. It can return to its Quaker roots of service, justice, community, self-improvement and independence.

I love a good city. This would give us more of them.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

Nearly every physicist in the world will insist that you – yes, you — have married a movie star, earned millions of dollars and lived in an exotic locale. They know you’ve done this – even if you don’t –because their research proves it. Strangely, this is what science has come to, and it’s bunk.

18 Sep


Basic science once was easy. Now it’s difficult for even scientists, and those who pretend to understand it probably don’t.


There is no logic to it. Nothing in the observable world compares to it. Metaphors can no longer explain it. Wild imagination is required just to discuss it.


In ancient times, when there was a lunar eclipse, people would say their god ate the moon and later vomited it up. Don’t laugh. The stories our scientists tell today also sound like fables.


Consider this standard, nearly universal tenant of science:


We cannot predict what a particle will do because it actually does everything while inhabiting a multitude of universes.


What this means on a larger scale is that each one of us has married a movie star, become a millionaire and done nearly everything else that is possible to do — and maybe more. We just didn’t do it in the single universe we wake up to every day. We did it somewhere else.


There is no word yet on how to jump our consciousness to those other universes, where clearly we are having a lot more fun.


Rather than just accept such ideas, which evolve from a desperate, almost ruthless attempt to boil science down into a single theory of everything, I take the position that human being are incapable of fully understanding what exists and how the universe works.


It’s a concession few are willing to make, but I have made it.


To their credit, scientists keep trying to figure it all out. The problem is, they try too hard.


In the time-honored tradition of changing the facts to fit the theory, scientists – mainly physicists — make their single-theory equations work by adding 10 or more dimensions to the four we know. They have pushed the limits of logic by describing a key component of matter as having only two dimensions while at the same time saying it seems to have only one. Perhaps most interesting but hardest to accept is that the theory assumes our universe is one of many universes and that the history we know is but one occurrence of infinite occurrences, meaning all things in all ways have happened.


Yes, you have driven a Lamborghini and owned a house in the South of France.


Only by assuming such things can a single theory work.


Feynman quoteModern physics used to be about spheres revolving around a central core of matter. The planets revolved around a sun; electrons around their nucleus. Big and small objects sort of worked the same.


The catastrophe of science began when it was determined that big and small did not work the same. Things were far more complex than a bunch of balls circling around other balls.


Scientists who longed for a single theory could not live with this duality of big being different from small. And so they struggled for a theory that would handle both. These theories only worked with 10 or 11 dimensions, with vibrating strings replacing atoms, with everything having not one life but a history of every possible life.


There actually is an assortment of these theories. And, mathematically, they all work – which I think means they can predict what is observed or sort of observed. In the new science, you really can’t observe anything.


Any scientist reading this will know I am not one of them. For the past several decades, however, I have tried keeping up with their progress. I’ve enjoyed and felt comfortable with Einstein’s theories of special and general relativity. They were complex and not entirely in line with what we experience in life, but scientists found believable ways to explain them using stories of clocks on trains and twin space travelers.


Next came quantum mechanics, which defied all logic and seemed impossible and ridiculous but could not be proven wrong. Then, when physicists started trying to unify theories on the four forces of nature (gravity, electromagnetism and the weak and strong forces of the atom), a big mess started to accumulate and I could not keep up.


But recently, I checked back to see if anything sensible had developed. I picked up the book, “The Grand Design” by Stephen Hawking (the guy in the wheelchair) and Leonard Mlodinow (a physicist at Caltech). Like any survey of science for the layman, it starts off good.


The authors even make jokes about their profession.


stephen-hawkingAbout all those new dimensions, they say: “Ten dimensions might sound exciting, but they would cause real problems if you forgot where you parked your car.”


They included cartoons. One is of a woman introducing two men saying, “You both have something in common. Dr. Davis has discovered a particle which nobody has seen, and Prof. Higbe has discovered a galaxy which nobody has seen.”


The authors easily convey the genius of such minds as Richard Feynman (who in his spared time played bongos at a strip club), John Conway (the creator of a simple game that seems to explain the workings of God) and so many others.


But they also let on that few if any of today physicists really understand the things they expect us to believe.


Indeed, Feynman, a quantum god, once said that no one understands quantum mechanics. He described is as “nature as She is — absurd.”


Niels Bohr, a quantum pioneer, said that anyone who does understand quantum mechanics would be shocked by it.

It’s difficult to find a concise explanation of quantum mechanics, but author and theoretical physicist Sean Carroll said the theory tells us that what we can observe about the world is only a tiny subset of what actually exists.


Einstein recognized the importance and power of quantum theory while admitting an inner voice told him it was not the real thing.


Neils quoteI have this same problem. Something tells me that without elegance, logic and relative simplicity, a theory cannot be correct. The strange, counter-intuitive ideas of science, these mathematical attempts to explain what we are not yet capable of knowing, are earnest and hard-fought attempts to penetrate the impenetrable. They are not, however, for me.


I prefer to put in with Aristotle, who didn’t need to test, measure or even observe. If he could think it through and see the sense of it, he accepted it. If it explained the world and what he knew of it, that was enough.


Science is a marvel, but so are the philosophers and poets – so many of them ancient Greeks – who could explain the unseen and unknown without so much as a microscope. They were intuitive and in touch with the creation and they just knew.


That’s what I’m waiting for. A new Aristotle. A philosopher who just knows.


And even then, what is explained will be far short of reality. It will be a beautiful metaphor that we can grasp, glorify and use; one that will enable us to carry on in a long harmonic march toward the greater understanding of ourselves.


But I remained convince that the truth, the ultimate theory, is just not for us to know. We were created for another reason, a reason that will never be revealed. Something or someone else, a force not of this world, has the job of knowing. Tough luck for us.


The best part, however, is that few but me will admit it, and that the search continues. The search is good. It keeps us alive and gives us meaning, even if it takes us in circles.


As the biblical proverb says:


“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.”


By the way, there are a few scientists who have come around to thinking their colleagues are dead wrong on quantum mechanics. For more, read this.

By Lanny Morgnanesi

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