17 February 2010

Shoreline of Wonder

Mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904 – 1987) said all great myths, all ancient and archetypal stories, have to be re-generated with each passing generation.

Journalist Bill Moyers mused to Star Wars creator George Lucas, "You are taking these old stories and putting them into the most modern of idioms, the cinema." Moyers asked Lucas
Are you conscious of doing that? Or are you just setting out to make a good action-movie adventure?
Lucas said
With Star Wars I consciously set about to re-create myths and the classic mythological motifs.
Myths and religions react to (and are born from) the same reality. Myths and religions convey the same messages. Stories differ across cultures and across time because different languages were needed and because the stories emanated from different contextual paradigms.

Yet when distilled, these stories express the same hopes and fears about how one lives in this world.

So we have these unmistakable commonalities - archetypal stories - that cross-cut time and cross-cut cultures. This might be explained if we could follow a red thread to a common source - a single god or creator.

Or these commonalities might have evolved from an independent aggregation of existential thought by diverse peoples bridging time and cultures.

Common myths emerge from common human experience. Common myths address thoughts and existential fears from the same human psyche connected with a transcendent reality.

This is my bias, but it can't be proved.

Religious icons are a curious expression of this. It is also curious that cultures pray to and appeal to these objects - objects that, somewhat ironically, were carved, cast, or painted by human hands.

Today's most ubiquitous religious icon is the double-door refrigerator. Don't laugh. The contemporary refrigerator has the gravitas of a travertine marble statue in a Renaissance cathedral. The ice box is like an alabaster figurine overlooking the tranquil nave where the fearful and spiritually unfulfilled worship, pray to, and beseech a higher power -- in our case the higher power is a TV set, but you get the point.

Our refrigerators are often festooned with pithy existential quotes on magnets. I found a quote on a refrigerator magnet on a revolving display rack at St. Paul Corner Drug that said
As the island of knowledge grows, so does the shoreline of wonder
I have been unable to attribute this quote to an author, but I did find a variation where the word wonder is replaced with the unknown. (All of the world's philosophy majors must have ended up with low-paying gigs word-smithing refrigerator magnets or penning up the life-cycle lamentations schlubs like you and I can't conjure up for a sympathy card).

I like the shoreline of wonder quote because, among other reasons, I have considered the concept of measuring the circumference of an island (or a lake), then marveling at the notion that the length goes to infinity as one measures in finer and finer detail (e.g., the molecular level). By extension, the island of knowledge and the shoreline of wonder are both infinite (depending on the scale of the topological assessment and one's point of view).

Many of us - most notably me - find hollow comfort in apparent truisms like this. Truisms on refrigerator magnets have become part of the mythology that brings comfort to our shared existence.

It's crazy, it's absurd, but it's that shoreline of wonder that keeps me bounding out of bed each morning. Depending on how you look at it, life can be addictive.

15 February 2010

Climate Change

Scientist and Sci-Fi author David Brin analyzes the distinction between deniers and skeptics in his instructive post Distinquishing Climate "Deniers" From "Skeptics".

I was what Derek Sivers would call a First Follower in believing the urgency of addressing Human Generated Climate Change or HGCC. This was a gut reaction - a notion - grounded on ignorance of HGCC science back in the late 1970s.

My knee-jerk reflex was every much as dangerously ignorant as the Denier’s delusional afflictions.

From Brin's post:

The Skeptic

The Skeptic is no pushover! She knows that just because 100% of those who actually know about a scientific subject are in consensus, that doesn't mean the consensus-paradigm is always and automatically right!  There have been isolated cases, in scientific history, when all of the practitioners in a field were wrong at once.
The Denier

The Denier knows no history, knows nothing about science, and especially has no understanding of how the Young Guns in any scientific field... the post-docs and recently-tenured junior professors... are always on the lookout for chinks and holes in the current paradigm, where they can go to topple Nobel prize winners and make a rep for themselves...

Since my knee-jerk reaction, and since my First Follower days in the late 70s, data have come in. Time has passed. Reputable people - much smarter than me - have drawn conclusions. My understanding has also increased. My notions have been confirmed or dispelled.

This morning I Tweeted
The more intimate I am with data, the more difficult it is to deny the implications
This truism is applicable to rational people and truth seekers. Skepticism is part and parcel with the scientific method. Denial is a human defense mechanism.

Habitual and dogmatic Skeptics are tread-milling on the same irrational slope as Deniers. Skeptics and Deniers have made their claims in the HGCC discussion.  And,
Their claims are like flagpoles staked to a planet with no atmosphere.
Action by rational people is over-due.

14 February 2010

Lone Nut to Leader

I ignore people writing about, or yapping about leadership because my long-standing bias is that these TAG Body Spray-ed charlatans are fleecing $9.95 from hoofed ruminant suburban TV viewers for a CD full of snoring bromides.

I agree with some-time circus clown Derek Sivers when he says
Leadership is over-glorified
I have long confused leadership and management.
I bristle at being managed. I can abide being managed by someone if they are mensa-scale smarter, or more experienced. But in all due modesty, few are. If all goes well, I can persuade everyone to work as a team of equals lending talents to the effort. I believe in self-organization. Other biological systems do it, so why can't humans?
Here's the thing
Leadership is some nut inspiring me to do crazy shit. 
Management is a lamp shade blocking my light. 
If someone hasn't done it already, let me say without equivocation management is dead.

Management  & Leadership have never intersected on any Venn diagram universe I have known. One's about control. The other is about inspiration. I don't know about you, but I ain't having the control shit.

Are most innovations born in environments of control or inspiration? Easy question.

Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy

Derek Sivers' Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy is an inspiring must-be-seen 3-minute video

Derek's salient observation is that
The first follower transforms a lone nut into a leader.
This simple observation was a slap on the head from Captain Obvious. Sivers espouses the First Follower idea. He is also the first person to explain how cultural movements get started that made sense.

Coda and Coca-Coda
  • The leader embraces the First Follower as an equal. 
  • The First Follower transforms a lone nut into a leader.
  • The First Follower calls his friends to join then publicly shows everyone how to follow.
  • Being a First Follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership. 
  • A few more followers joining the movement stokes momentum.
  • Sustainable movements eventually reach something akin to Gladwell's Tipping Point.
  • As more people jump in, it's no longer risky
Before you know it Bob's your uncle - you've got a movement!

Read the full text of Derek Sivers' TED talk in the blog post Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy.

12 February 2010

I'm Yours

I don't know how we got here. Don't know why we're here.

I don't know if we have a purpose other than a genetic predisposition to procreate. But an amoeba can reproduce, so one can only wish for a higher purpose than a monkey-humping, huckle-buck in the hay barn.

There's always that pesky voice reminding us to do our bit. Sometimes it takes more than a good night's sleep to inspire us to do some good while bare-backing this hurling biosphere.

That's where the ukulele comes in.

Two Ears, One Mouth

You know the old saw
You've got two ears and one mouth, so you can listen twice as much as you talk.
or the variation,
You've got two ears and one mouth. Use them proportionally.
I like
You've got two ears and one mouth, ears have the majority, so shut the fuck up and take notes.
This rule-of-thumb for listening applies to us all, with Vincent van Gogh being one notable exception who, by self-imposed anatomical re-jiggering, could
Talk just as much as he listened
Few things are worth an ear. Yet listening and seeing enrich life in tangible and unimaginable ways.
The quieter you become, the more you can hear
   ~Ram Dass
Snow-shoeing toward Hyalite Peak in the dead of winter at night,
Silence is deafening and darkness is blinding

05 February 2010

Corporate Sunshine

President Obama slam dunked US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito about the reckless US Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance handed down in mid-January during his recent State of the Union address.

American poet, essayist, political activist and founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) J.P. Barlow was hopeful
The Corporatocratic Court decision may be a blessing: it may trigger a groundswell of opposition to corporate personhood. ~J.P. Barlow, from Twitter
Some forward-thinkers in the US House, like Alan Grayson, are championing 6 bills I want keep an eye on:

The Business Should Mind Its Own Business Act (H.R. 4431): Implements a 500% excise tax on corporate contributions to political committees, and on corporate expenditures on political advocacy campaigns.

The Public Company Responsibility Act (H.R. 4435): Prevents companies making political contributions and expenditures from trading their stock on national exchanges.

The End Political Kickbacks Act (H.R. 4434): Prevents for-profit corporations that receive government money from making political contributions, and limits the amount that employees of those companies can contribute.

The Corporate Propaganda Sunshine Act (H.R. 4432): Requires publicly traded companies to disclose in SEC filings money used for the purpose of influencing public opinion, rather than for promoting their products and services.

The Ending Corporate Collusion Act (H.R. 4433): Applies antitrust law to industry PACs.

The End the Hijacking of Shareholder Funds Act (H.R. 4487): This bill requires the approval of a majority of a public company's shareholders for any expenditure by that company to influence public opinion on matters not related to the company's products or services.

04 February 2010

Left Behind

Do you sense a correlation between small-minded, dogmatic religiosity and just about every truly evil event you've witnessed or read about?

It's my measured, but unvarnished perception that dogmatic fundamentalists are fundamentally fucking shit up all over this hairball.

My buddy Garry Smith gave me a bottle of George Dickel Tennessee whiskey the other day.
Me: What's this for?
Garry: For turning me on to Greg Keeler.
That is, rocky mountain raconteur, poet, essayist, biographer, painter, professor, and fisherman Greg Keeler (cf. Trash Fish: A Life). Here's a video of Greg singing one of my favorite tunes, an original composition called Left Behind.

At the end of the tune, Greg ceremoniously kills the shot of Dickel sitting on the table. Greg's escapades with cult-novelist Richard Brautigan (Trout Fishing in America) were often kick-started by George Dickel as recounted in Greg's closely personal memoir, Waltzing with the Captain.

Greg Keeler was my creative writing teacher in 1980. He was an endearingly awkward, untenured professor in those days who indulged a few of us upstarts by reading poetry side-by-side with us at the now defunct Union Hall Coffee House on Main Street in Bozeman, Montana.

Greg's poems were ridiculously superior to the self-absorbed, half-baked drivel the rest of us dished up (e.g., River Men), nonetheless Greg treated us like comrades-in-words.
River Men
Bozeman, 1980

From manly notions careening down
Ejaculatory duct in kayaks, from
Mount Everest to Katmandu waving

Nature awaits our wiggling semen
Seductively clad in lugged soles
And housed in ultra light tents

Idiot minoes swimming to
Beat the river to the rock

Ersatz Authenticity

37signals founder Jason Fried tweeted
In the future there will be teeth yellowing services.
I agree.

Our navel-gazing culture of abundant excess will see the emergence of Ersatz Authenticity or EA.

Ersatz Authenticity is the desire to feel
  • Authentic,
  • Weathered, and
  • Wise.
when one is, by all accounts
  • Half-baked,
  • Shallow, and
  • Dim.
Yellow teeth will be the gold standard of EA.

03 February 2010

Joint Strike-Out F-35

A $100 bag of confetti looks like this

If you could hold 3 billion of these bags, you would be holding the amount of confetti the US Congress authorized the Pentagon to spend over the next 25 years on a fleet of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) aircraft.

A few questions beg asking
  1. Which fiscal conservatives in Congress authorized the Pentagon to spend $300,000,000,000 for 2,456 Joint Strike Fighters?
  2. Why is the procurement of F-35s a more pressing priority than Health and Education?
  3. Why is weapons procurement handed a blank check, but it takes 13 excruciating months of show-boating and dicking around in Congress to ultimately have legalized organized crime (a.k.a. the Insurance Industry), and their greedy pals in Big Pharma, BUY enough US Senators to kill insurance reform?
The JSF is such a boondoggle that President Obama's Defense Secretary Robert Gates is working overtime to get the F-35 program back on course.

Who is the real enemy? The Defense Industry? A Congress beholden to the Defense Industry? Comatose citizens?

02 February 2010

Bald Eagles Are Pissed

The headline read:
Bald Eagle Tired Of Everyone Just Assuming It Supports War
Why couldn't that be a NY Times Op Ed instead of a humor piece in The Onion?
Score one for Republicans

In 1972 a Republican led EPA saved our beloved bald eagle from certain extinction by having the foresight to ban the pesticide DDT. This proves at least two things
  1. Republicans were much more centrist and reasonable in 1972
  2. It is possible for Republicans to do good things
Talon-full of Historical Perspective

Republicans weren't always this bad. The dismantling of government services that served the people began with Ronald Reagan's election in 1980. Today Mr. Reagan is valorized by many afflicted with memory loss and dubious analytical skills. He led a cultural wave of gutting government services by putting the proverbial foxes in charge of the chicken coops. The people -- schlubs like you and me -- are the chickens in this metaphor.

In reaction, the Democratic party cast themselves adrift losing their progressive rudder. The Democratic party was soon overrun and overtaken by Corporate Centrists like Bill Clinton. Mr. Clinton oversaw the transition to the Corporatocracy we are living with today (e.g., Big Pharma and Insurance Companies kill insurance reform in 2009-10 - a huge dis-service to the citizenry).

Yes and No

No --
Democrats are not blameless.
Yes --
It is possible for Republicans to do good things -- One just has to search the historical record with a fine-toothed louse comb.
The American Bald Eagle

If you have watched American Bald Eagles soar from the bluff-top trees to swoop down on prey in Minnesota's Lake Pepin, you can't not be in awe.

The bald eagle is a magnificent evolutionary adaption and economical killing machine. The difference between the bald eagle and the United States engaging in elective wars, is that the bald eagle kills to generate enough caloric intake to maintain equilibrium.

My definition of self-defense is as sparse and as economical as the eagle's instinct to maintain homeostasis.

The noble eagle takes my breath way.

I do not support war - and I am particularly incensed, offended, and disappointed by wars-of-choice with scant justification. 

01 February 2010

TV Calamity - Jersey Shore

I spent a few weeks in the summers sandwiching 1969 posing as a surfer with my friend Stephen Sunyak in Seaside Heights. I gave Stephen the moniker Phineas, a variation on a contraction of Stephen (phen), and short for Phineas J. Woopie-Cushion.

Phineas’ folks were always trying to maintain a tenuous handhold on their white collar gigs. His dad was a college-educated manager who, when he was lucky, stayed a friable handhold ahead of the layoff axe that was gaining prevalence. His mom was a substitute teacher whom I tormented on occasion in the classroom with attention-starved antics despite knowing she was my surrogate mother for two weeks several summers in a row.

Some years the Sunyaks could barely afford the two weeks in a shore shack in Seaside Park, much less to have me as a hungry guest of the family. I spent some time with them while Mr. Sunyak was out of work. There wasn't a lot of cotton candy on the cardboard spindle.

But then, as it is now, the Jersey Shore is about signing on for shit that’s a pay grade above your station – shit you can’t afford. You saw it then, with families cramped into shore shacks several hot-tar blocks from the ocean. And you see it today with the gobs of credit-card mansions.

Tin Soldiers

When I recall those Seaside summers, the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young tune Ohio rings in my head.

I won the Ohio single at some rigged game on the Boardwalk. Anyone with a melon understood the Nixon administration was not government by the people or for the people.

The shore wasn't 100% about cheap sex and debauchery as depicted in the TV calamity Jersey Shore.

Some of us communed with nature.

There was one Saturday where the surf was flat at sunrise. Phineas and I schlepped our surfboards back to the shack, slept until noon, ate some baloney on Wonder Bread, and checked the surf again. Still flat.

Dominus Vobiscum

Bored to a panic, Phineas and I booked over to Saturday 6 pm mass hoping the surf would be up Sunday morning. Our teenage thinking was that by showing up with shoes on in a Catholic church, our slacker savior would somehow see fit to energize some swells... for chrissake.

The Sunyaks were Catholics, as was every blue collar family in New Jersey including mine. There must be some non-Catholics in New Jersey, I just never met any in the 17 years I lived there. I suppose there aren't many Catholics over in blue-blood Princeton. It's curious, and not-so-curious, that religiosity is roundly class-based, but that's an aside. No one in New Jersey prides themselves on being blue collar any more which is sad. Everyone thinks they're rich. But there are still plenty of Catholics, so nothing really changes that much.

The mass probably wasn’t given entirely in Latin by that time, but wafts of smoldering incense made it plausible to cop a contact high in the front pew. After we were blessed by a troglodyte in vestments
Dominus vobiscum, Et cum spiritu tuo
we headed out to check the waves.

Well I’d be a nun’s steel dildo if there weren't monster 8-footers pounding the shore. Best waves I surfed - ever. Church never made me closer to an anthropomorphic myth, but I did feel the power of nature after that mass.

I used to believe the chiasmus
Cheap things ain't good, and good things ain't cheap
but, not so much now.

The TV calamity Jersey Shore is repulsive - yet it accurately reflects the baseness of monkey-humping humanity. TV's Jersey Shore sugar coats what it's like raw-peckered and coming of age in New Jersey, or anywhere for that matter.

A BBC story about offspring-eating monkeys called Bonobos, reminds me humans are few licks of DNA from being a cannibalistic species. Maybe I shouldn’t be so disappointed about the progress of humanity. Plus, surf's up in some corner of the globe.