27 October 2010

Still Life

I'm captivated by this image. It's a Daguerreotype made by Louis Daguerre on the streets of Paris in 1838. It is believed to be the earliest image that includes a person (ref: The First Photograph of a Human). Early photographic images required exposure times of several minutes.

The human in this Daguerreotype is on the street corner -- standing still with his leg propped on a stand -- looking like he was getting his boots shined. This image was made in 1838! As historical marker, it would be another 38 years before Bell patented his telephone.

It would be another 23 years before Mathew Brady's haunting images of the American Civil War, like the "Starving Soldier" (shown right).

These images must have seemed like pure magic.

Photography is still magic.

When I make time exposures of people using a digital camera, I'm never sure what palette of motion will be imprinted in pixels. Most of my photographs are what master potter Randy Johnston calls Nourishable Accidents. If my photographs turn out to be compelling in some way, I owe a debt of gratitude to dumb luck.

The draw of photography is that it can make life still. Photography suspends the animation of day-to-day life, framing it comfortably for consideration at our leisure - a powerful potion indeed.

A Personal Perspective

I learned about the history of photography from my long-time friend, and former photography professor, Rudi Dietrich (see this video profile of Rudi Dietrich).

Susan Sontag's book On Photography was influential to many would-be media-types of my generation. It gave me an entirely different perspective of the camera in the modern world. Her book inspired me to toss out hundreds of negatives and images in 1980. But I'm back to photography because I'm drawn to illusion that it frames life, and because the act photographing and the time-sliced imagery, lets me contemplate life at leisure.

24 October 2010

Learning, Adapting, & Acting

Someone I follow in the software space tweeted the question
Are you a first-rate noticer?
I responded
I notice so many things, sometimes I miss the most important!
The question was meant to reach out, and perhaps tweak, the sensory-challenged -- the people who don't seem to notice much. In the context of software teams, failing to notice, can be a detriment to the team and to the product.

I am an obsessive processor of new sensory information. My senses are turned up & mostly tuned in. Many people miss too much. Others fail to understand the most fundamental characteristic of perception (i.e., that perception is not always reality).

Still others fail to understand how they're influenced by knowledge, historical context, and comparative experience (or lack thereof).

In Intelligence & Uncertainty, I suggest there's a positive correlation between intelligence and uncertainty. I also mention a cognitive bias known as the Dunning-Kruger which says,
People who don't know much tend not to recognize their ignorance, so they fail to seek better information.
I am convinced my journey is an iterative process of learning, adapting, and acting. Rinse and repeat. I haven't a clue where this leads, but I'm programmed to do it.

In the documentary 180ยบ South, Patagonia's founder Yvon Chouinard says,

The whole purpose of climbing something like Everest is to effect some sort of spiritual and physical gain. But if you compromise the process you’re an asshole when you start out and an asshole when you get back.
~ Yvon Chouinard

23 October 2010

Smooth the Jagged Edges of Fate

I recognize, and mindfully champion, the enormous role luck has played in my good fortune:
  • a spouse who's my best friend,
  • sensitive and intelligent children who exceed my expectations,
  • a comfortable house in a civilized city,
  • a viable small business,
  • and so on.
More precisely, I recognize the role of dumb luck. Dumb luck because I am ignorant of what spring-loaded fate awaits my arrival.

Most of us embrace the notion that we're hard workers, so I don't belittle hard work.
The harder I work, the luckier I get.
~ Samuel Goldwyn
And I don't give short shrift diligence and persistence.
Diligence is the mother of good luck.
~ Benjamin Franklin
I am not yet willing to dismiss the influence that hard work, diligence, and persistence might have, however negligible, in realizing good fortune.

But lady luck is lady luck. Most individual achievements are traceable to chance.
Impressive as a corporate titan may appear, his success is truly testament to a thousand variables far outside his control. Good genes and attentive parents and a smart peer group and a legacy admission to Yale and perfect timing and much else.
~ Ezra Klein
We know empirically that pure chance is a significant determinant of material reward.

In his post The Argument Over Inequality, Ezra Klein suggests the myth of individual exceptionalism undermines society. I agree. American exceptionalism romanticizes the notion that we are a nation of individuals.

Tacit in the notion of a nation of individuals is that responsibility for organizations are preordained to be individualized (e.g., the buck stops here), and as a consequence run from a top-down structure.
A top-down hierarchy is inherently unstable - it assumes the ethical and operational infallblity of those at the top.
A pope is as corruptible as a pauper, if not more susceptible. A top-down hierarchy allows for an intellectually lazy, disengaged underclass. Further, it nurtures self-serving behavior in those in charge (e.g., see Enron scandal).

Klein retells the story of iconic inventor Alexander Graham Bell and his lesser known, would-be competitor, Elisha Gray.
On Feb. 14, 1876, Elisha Gray entered the U.S. Patent Office. Like Bell, he meant to patent a device for "transmitting vocal sounds telegraphically." Unlike Bell, the device in his patent actually worked. But Gray was a few hours too late. Bell's representative had come earlier in the morning to assert Bell's claim. In the log books, Bell is the fifth applicant that day and Gray is the 39th. And so it is Bell's name we remember. Meanwhile, Antonio Meucci, an Italian stage technician, had applied for a "caveat" -- a placeholder patent -- five years before either Gray or Bell. But lacking the $10 necessary to pay the patent office, his claim lapsed.

The recognition that luck plays a dominant role in an individual's fortune, or in a country's fortune, or in a society's fortune, or in an institution's fortune, deflates the insidious notion of exceptionalism.
Exceptionalism The perception that a country, society, institution, movement, or time period is "exceptional" (i.e., unusual or extraordinary) in some way and thus does not need to conform to normal rules or general principles.
source: Wikipedia.
Individuals and institutions are limited in the influence they have on their good fortune.

Like Klein, I believe that public policy should, as a matter of fairness, smooth the jagged edges of fate.

17 October 2010

Regressive Tax Policy is Horse Shit

It's easy for ideologues, king-makers, and hate-filled simpletons to ignore what historical data tell us:
Cutting the top tax rate does not lead to job creation!

Since 1964, the top tax rate has steady declined (pink squares) while the unemployment rate (blue circles) has fluctuated with little correlation to the top tax rate.

It's easy for ideologues, king-makers, and hate-filled simpletons to ignore another thing historical data tell us:
Cutting the top tax rate does not lead to economic growth!
Horse & Sparrow Economics

In this tiresome season of politically-motivated mis-information, friends of the rich are again rolling with shop-worn horse and sparrow economics which says,
if you let horses gorge on oats, some of that grain will pass through their systems and be deposited on the ground for the sparrows to enjoy.
Sparrows eating horse shit? Maybe. People? NO.

Aside from the economically painful reality born out by historical data, cutting the top tax rate for rich people is nonsensical because
  1. They don't need it; and
  2. Many rich people aren't particularly nice, or demonstrably charitable. 
Does it shock anyone that billionaires cut corners on maid service by hiring undocumented immigrants?

Meg Whitman, with a net worth of $1.3 billion (more than the GDP of Belize or Greenland), shouldn't be mistaken for a benevolent queen.

Ms. Whitman, GOP nominee for governor of California, shit-canned her housekeeper after discovering Nicky Diaz Santillan, a trusted "family member", was an undocumented worker.
"I was shocked and hurt that Ms. Whitman would treat me this way after nine years. She was throwing me away like a piece of garbage.
~Nicky Diaz Santillan, Meg Whitman's former housekeeper
Unless you're a self-serving, wealth-hoarder in the top US tax bracket, you've got no business supporting regressive tax policy. Furthermore, no middle class person has a rational excuse to support candidates that espouse the false notion that tax cuts create jobs or grow the economy.

13 October 2010

Why are Funny People Never Conservatives?

Are there any conservative comedians?
A conservative comedian is as much of an oxymoron as noisy silence.
Some of the most pointed commentary & illuminating discourse comes from comic figures. Some of my personal favorites are Marx Brothers, Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, George Carlin, Woody AllenChris Rock, Dave Chappelle, Larry David, and Jon Stewart.

Are there any conservative-leaning comedians that are actually funny?
The only conservative comedian who makes us laugh is Stephen Colbert - and his schtick is a spoof. Ironically, Colbert is funny because, in character, he exposes the pointless indefensibility of a self-righteous, conservative viewpoint.

The best political comedians illuminate the absurdity or hypocrisy of any institution. Religious institutions are a ripe target. Mort Sahl takes aim with
Most people past college age are not atheists. It's too hard to be in society, for one thing. Because you don't get any days off. And if you're an agnostic you don't know whether you get them off or not. ~Mort Sahl
The hypocrisy of political dogma is ripped by George Carlin's pointed joke about the absurdly hawkish nature of conservatism,
Once you leave the womb, conservatives don't care about you until you reach military age. Then you’re just what they’re looking for. Conservatives want live babies so they can raise them to be dead soldiers. ~George Carlin
Chris Rock's solution to gun violence seems both absurd and pragmatic
Gun control? We need bullet control! I think every bullet should cost $5,000. Because if a bullet cost $5,000, we wouldn't have any innocent bystanders. That'd be it. Every time someone gets shot, people will be like, ''Damn, he must have did something. Shit, they put $20,000 worth of bullets in his ass.'' People would think before they killed somebody, if a bullet cost $5,000. ''Man, l would blow your fucking head off, if l could afford it. l'm gonna get me another job, l'm gonna start saving some money, and you're a dead man! You better hope l can't get no bullets on layaway.'' So even if you get shot by a stray bullet, you won't have to go to no doctor to get it taken out. Whoever shot you would take their bullet back. ''l believe you got my property.'' ~Chris Rock
Lenny Bruce was succinct in his assessment of justice
In the Halls of Justice, the only justice is in the halls.
Lenny Bruce
Waxing deftly about our proclivity to political expedience, Groucho Marx quipped,
Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others.

Comedians instinctively understand and exploit human foibles. Conservatives ignore them. Conservatives live in the haughty and delusional atmosphere of human exceptionalism and infallibility.

I contend,
Whenever you feel infallible, you're poised for a comic fall.
How many social conservatives are scandalously discovered ostensibly "hiking" the Appalachian Trail or desperately looking for love by toe-tapping in the MSP airport rest room?

It is almost impossible to be conservative and also be funny, because
Being funny is about being human.
Stand up comedy is a profession about collective humanity. On the other hand,
Conservatism will always carry the distinctly un-funny encumbrance of individual exceptionalism.
Comedy has always been centered about human-kind’s collective fallibility. I don't see that changing any time soon.

I would, but I need the eggs

One of the most beautifully human soliloquys is found in the closing scene of the virtuosic Woody Allen comic film Annie Hall, where narating protagonist Alvy Singer illustrates his point about the need for human connections:
...this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, "Doc, uh, my brother's crazy; he thinks he's a chicken." And, uh, the doctor says, "Well, why don't you turn him in?" The guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs."

06 October 2010

Will Catholicism Implode on Hatred?

A talking head for the Twin Cities archdiocese said Catholics should expect to be denied holy communion if they're wearing rainbow buttons or ribbons in of support gays and lesbians. WTF?

How can Catholicism remain relevant to anyone when its leaders are ignorant, bigoted, sexually-repressed psychopaths?

Can the Catholic church survive its own venomous animosity toward its homosexual brethren?
Believe those who seek the truth. Doubt those who find it.
~Derek Sivers
Archdiocese: Communion too sacred to be used as protest
by Madeleine Baran, MPR
October 6, 2010
St. Paul, Minn. — A spokesman for the Twin Cities archdiocese said Tuesday that Catholics should expect to be denied communion if they are wearing rainbow buttons or ribbons at church to support gays and lesbians.
Full article
If the threat of clergy playing pocket pool with altar boys doesn't repel Catholics, surely this small-minded animus directed from the archdiocese toward the rainbow wing of "god's" children will.