29 December 2013

Hula Popper of Determinism

Hula Popper Lure
Jerking a hula popper atop sunken timber can be irresistible to bass. Deterministic mathematical models and spirograph plots are like crack cocaine for aesthetic logicians like me.

Unlike messier stochastic cousins, deterministic mathematics is compelling for its simplicity, orderliness, and predictability.

The Spirograph
Invented by Bruno Abakanowicz
between 1881 and 1900
Humans are curiously predisposed to prefer the quiescence of order over the cacophony of chaos.
Humans prefer the quiescence of order over the cacophony of chaos.
Big Bang Model
Perhaps our preference is genetically baked-in. Perhaps the act of imposing order allowed humans to become a dominant species.

Many scientists are drawn to the predictability of data-validated deterministic models over the specter and surprise of an unpredictable Black Swan.

Imposing order as a tool for proliferation might explain why most of us find order so comforting. The Big Bang Model posits that the universe originated from an extremely dense and hot state that exploded in a massive outward expansion that continues expanding to this day.

The human existential milieu is, and has always been:
integrated and orderly going to disintegrated and disorderly
Contemporary cosmologists hypothesize there might have been a previous yin to the entropic yang of the Big Bang. Order and disorder might be facets of the same coin.

Deterministic models often ignore the messy randomness most of us readily acknowledge, but the hula popper of determinism seems an essential lure. Determinism and prediction are at the heart of inquiry. However absurd the human quest, the deterministic line of inquiry keeps us chipping away at insurmountable unknowns with the crudest tools we have, mathematics and repeatability.

26 November 2013

Open-Office Snake Oil

The open-office plan was never intended to improve access, spark creativity, foster innovation or foment collaboration. Open-office is command and control owners asking,
How can we shave overhead and, as a bonus, demean our workforce?
Open-office is a physically recorded testament to the wholesale disregard for people producing wealth for others. Open-office is yet another depravation milestone in the spiraling degradation of the middle class workforce.
"I had an office. Now I don’t."
- Jason Feiffer

An office landscape floor plan

Cubicle Plan
My first gig out of engineering school I was given a private office overlooking the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis (circa 1989). Since then my creature comforts have been steadily replaced with reminders not to get too comfortable.

Today I am a contract software developer wedged next to a load-bearing column sitting on a bed of razors. I have had to furnish my own MacBook which is set up on the employer's folding table where I am working madly to row the boat for the fat, dumb & disengaged.

Sure I've had gigs were I'm allowed to work from home, but I value employers who still provide workspace for my team. I half-jokingly wonder if my next engagement letter will read,
"Contractor must provide his own MacBook, chair, internet access, pens, paper and workspace because Ownership is short-sighted, risk averse, and greedily milking every penny of the coffers dry."
Some oppose an open-office plan because they find their silent-farting, loud-talking coworkers off putting. Not me. I love my co-workers. Unlike the fat, dumb & disengaged who own this hell hole, we get shit done.

The raison d'être for open-office is it's cheaper & it fleeces the last shred of worker dignity. I love collaborating with my teammates, but open-office layouts have the viscosity of bean counting snake oil.


21 November 2013

Imagining the World in Games

Many of my waking hours as a boy were given over to imagining and playing solo games like Bedroom Hoops Basketball; Front-Yard Mini-Football; Concrete Foundation Backstop Baseball; and Stick Pebble Home Run Derby. In this imaginary world I played each athletic position, provided play-by-play narration, and listened to the roaring crowd noises in my mind. I conjured leagues of teams comprised of fictitious personalities who generated real and meticulously recorded statistics.

And as an adolescent insomniac I'd conduct Finger Boxing matches where my left-hand index finger would pluck my right-hand index finger, and vice versa. When my left-hand index finger received a roundhouse pluck, it'd stagger then strike back. After rounds of stinging blows from the left and the right, one finger would deliver the knock out that ended the match.

Imagination is fertile ground. Games engage us, but more importantly, games can motivate inquiry and inspire a deeper understanding of observable events and phenomena.


Game designer Jane McGonigal demonstrates the brilliant Massively Multi-Player Thumb Wrestling in her TED talk. With the novelty of thumb wresting as a communal activity, she describes the opportunity for participants to experience ten positive emotions in 60 seconds or less. Emotions like joy, relief, love, surprise, pride, curiosity, excitement, wonder, contentment, and creativity.

Humans are an emotion-seeking species. Emotions engage and grip us. And emotions experienced through communal activities can be a powerful community-building potion.

My early imaginary games were a self-indulgent escape hatch from boredom, but today I brainstorm about competitive games that might bring people together through shared experiences of the world.

One such game is GrokEarth.

Grok is a word coined by science fiction writer Robert Heinlein that means to understand intuitively or by empathy.

GrokEarth is competition based on live earthquakes occurring around the earth. Participants select GPS stations around the world. A participant's stations accrue daily points based on their proximity to the seismic jostling of the Earth's crust. Whether we feel the earthquakes or not, hundreds of them are recorded daily in our largest cities and remotest islands. The higher the magnitude of the earthquake, and the closer the GPS stations are to the epicenter, the more points accrued.

Games like GrokEarth have promise as educational tools. To gain a competitive edge one must inquire and acquire a deeper understanding.

10 November 2013

Sacred Places

I'm human-centric. It's all I know.

Interpretations of the sacred and sublime are random and subjective.

Interpretations are nevertheless real because we perceive them as verifiably repeatable. I have experienced places that can only be described as sacred.

Sacred places are physical and mental loci we return to for solace, well-being, peace, and good tidings.

On Pete's Hill  looking west at the Tobacco Root Mountains

“There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.”
Wendell Berry, Given

28 October 2013


In the poem Confederate Graves in Little Rock, poet Richard Hugo wrote,
“The right words never find themselves cut into stone.”
From the same poem, he writes
“Maybe the best graves stay unmarked,”
I don't resonate to the acronym RIP. If one is a theist using RIP makes sense because it's an antiquated artifact of religious doctrine (e.g., may his soul rest in peace). R.I.P. comes from the Latin Requiescat In Pace.

Speaking or writing RIP has become our cultural norm. It is mindlessly deployed. RIP is spoken or written without considering its meaning. If one's atheist or agnostic (which I falsely assume many are), it makes little sense to use RIP.

What is a suitable acronym to deploy instead of RIP?  I propose WAS.


WAS means We Are Stardust. But it could also mean the past-tense was as in he was a person.

“Believe you and I sing tiny and wise
and could if we had to eat stone and go on.”

from Richard Hugo's poem Glen Uig in Making Certain It Goes On


17 October 2013

GOP Shutdown Postmortem

Standard & Poor’s estimates the Federal Government Shutdown of 2013 cost the economy $24 billion.

By comparison, NASA’s budget is $16.6 billion. We're no longer a nation reaching for the stars.

Politics in the US is busted. It's a sad state of affairs when a small but well-funded band of delusional opportunists and hate-filled nincompoops can orchestrate a bogus crisis for political theater of the absurd. Worse yet, both political parties use this theater to stuff their war chests.

It was shameful how many emails sullied my in-box from the DNC or PACs attempting to convert the daily fear & loathing fomented by the GOP into donations.

January 2015

The 113th United States Congress will prove to be one of the most ineffectual in history, particularly the ridiculously gerrymandered US House of Representatives. The Republican Party, and its self-serving leadership, are to blame.

Today's GOP is a small tent political party bereft of rational thinking, and burdened by vitriolic hatred and an irrational fear of the common good. The US will be shackled to the 113th Congress until January 3, 2015.

Let us count the days until November 2014.

November 2014

Come November 2014 many of us will have the privilege and responsibility to vote out all of the delusional opportunists and hate-filled nincompoops who held our country hostage during the Shutdown of 2013.


18 September 2013

A Personal Dialect

We spend a lifetime acquiring a dialect that is influenced by the sounds, phrases, and pronunciations we hear in the places we live. How does our dialect compare to that of our American peers?

I completed an NC State University Dialect Quiz to learn how my way of speaking compares with other speakers of American English.

This map is a data visualization of the similarity of my personal dialect with the dialects of American English as measured by data from the 2003 Harvard Dialect Survey.

This "heat map" corresponds remarkably well to the places I have lived, or have spent significant time:
  • New Jersey Age 0-17 
  • Montana Age 17-22 
  • Minnesota Age 22-present 


Dear DNC

Dear DNC,
  We want our peace signs back.
The 60s
I am a person without a political home. The political landscape in the United States is a turgid cesspool. Elected representatives openly shill for big money at the peril of an overwhelming majority of the electorate. Meanwhile the Democratic National Committee incessantly spams us for campaign contributions.

I'm weary.

In a thinly veiled fund-raising questionnaire the DNC asks,
What would you say to another Democrat to inspire them to get involved with or contribute to this organization?
What would I say? I'm running on empty.

In fairness President Obama has been dealt an awful hand:
A nincompoop-infested, right-wing extremist House of Representatives - dishonorable men and women bank-rolled by the highest bidders. 
The President deserves credit for trying to do the right thing. By all reputable accounts, Barack Obama has been a reasonable, consensus-seeking centrist. Who could have predicted how insanely intransigent House Republicans would be?

Sadly the childishly-stubborn and counter-productive behavior exhibited by House Republicans will not deliver a Democratic majority because American voters don't pay attention to public policy. Many American voters are not critical thinkers. Many Americans' opinions are influenced foremost by fear and secondarily by what they perceive to be their self-interest superseding the Common Good. Some American voters allow their opinions to be deftly manipulated by the fact-averse drivel that is broadcast by hate-filled, right-wing media. For an overwhelming majority, day-to-day living is a proposition of lose-lose and lose some more...
after corporations automate or outsource your job and fudge-pack your sorry ass into poverty.
There is not much for progressives to get charged up about. The rich fleece the middle class and the poor get third-world poorer. Income inequity grows unabated.

I am unsure how we turn the tide. I suppose the Democrats could use more stalwarts like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders.

I would like Democrats to focus more on JOBS and much, much less on elective military incursions into global civil wars and much, much less on electronic snooping into the private communications of its citizens.

31 August 2013

Libertarian Lowdown

I agree with about a third of what libertarians espouse. In particular, I agree with opposing laws that limit personal freedoms and I agree with the need for laws that protect personal privacy. It's the silly self-made-man mythology and the anti-people, Ayn Rand bullshit I can't abide.

Further, I prefer my standard bearers to have a rational grasp of public policy and the sniveling Rand Paul and the hate-filled Michele Bachmann strike me as a couple of politically-driven ignoramuses.

Congressional Approval? Sure.

Constitutionally lawful & brilliant political calculus by President Obama to first seek Congressional approval before ordering an utterly senseless and unpopular military action in Syria.

Let the conservative nincompoops and spineless Democrats in Congress fall all over themselves to bloody their hands entangling the US in yet another ill-conceived quagmire.

We'd be better off ridding ourselves of the entire Republican Party ― who demonstrably hate 99% of us ― and then shit-can all the spineless Democrats who vote for a punitive bombing of Syria to prove their war-mongering chops.

17 August 2013

Trail Signs

A backpacker walks into a bar. Barkeep asks,
"What'll it be?" 
The backpacker hands him a nearly empty 16 oz. container of creek water and says,
"Boil this, add some rocks and top it off with with your finest scotch." 
Barkeep says,
"No problem. Should I start a pine cone tab for you?"
I like trail signs. The rugged elegance of the typography routed from wood and each impression filled with white paint is pleasing for its simplicity and utility.

That trail signs also might give us poetically name destinations, navigational guidance and distances is a civilized marker of humanity frequently encountered during contemplative solitude.

What if trail signs posed more challenging choices? What if a trail sign gave us the choice between opposing world views?

What if one arrow directed us to Strive for Reality while the opposing arrow directed us to Persist in Delusion?

How many backpackers would continue to do one as they chose the direction designated by the other?

28 July 2013

Scrupulously Truthful

Our culture seems less influenced by critical thinkers than by opportunistic hucksters. Many of today's cultural icons have an aversion to critical thinking, a distrust of science, and a lack of humanistic compassion.

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) is an antidote for our times. Here are unassailable rules-of-thumb for a healthy democracy written by Russell for the New York Times in 1951:
  1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.
  2. Do not think it worthwhile to produce belief by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.
  3. Never try to discourage thinking, for you are sure to succeed.
  4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.
  5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.
  6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.
  7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
  8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent than in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.
  9. Be scrupulously truthful, even when truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.
  10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.


16 June 2013

The Best...Ever

Still Life with Melon and Pears
Luis Egidio Meléndez (1716–80)
I once heard Bill the 75-year-old proprietor of the long defunct Coast Health Foods in Lincoln City, Oregon proclaim in a gravely two-pack-a-day, chain-smoker voice:
"These are the best pears I've ever eaten!" 
His bold-face proclamation has stuck with me for more than 35 years.

Bill's ebullience might have been rooted in his sincere belief that hand-picked organic pears would prove to be an antidote for cancer.

When feeling puckish I make the same bold-face claim about any fruit I am about to eat ― no matter how chalky or over-ripe it is ― because the stone-cold silliness of hyperbolic proclamations make me chuckle, and because it might be the last piece of fruit I eat.

Pecking on Privacy

View north from
our sun room
I have a perverse new pastime -- I violate the privacy of birds who fly into our yard.

We have four feeders strategically placed in view of our sun room.

By violate the privacy, I mean I parse their emails and I systematically quantify their socio-political profiles based on a proprietary algorithm that slurps down their social media posts from a 1.36 Mbps straw.(1)
“When it comes to privacy and accountability, people always demand the former for themselves and the latter for everyone else.”  David Brin
Whether they Tweet Wings up! or Wings down!, I'm indiscriminate. Finches, Cardinals, Grosbeaks or Grackles...it doesn't matter.

What I've found is that birds are a lot like humans.
“What man art thou that, thus bescreened in night, So stumblest on my counsel? Who are you? Why do you hide in the darkness and listen to my private thoughts?”
― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

(1) Our feeders are equipped with unsecured Wi-Fi access.

02 May 2013

A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats

Bay of Fundy, tide out
I find myself espousing a form of capitalism that doesn't seem to exist -- one based in fairness and driven by merit.

I have trouble with the naked "liberty" espoused laissez-faire capitalists. I believe a society is better served by legislation and regulation that serves the common good (e.g., a minimum wage that is a sustainable, above poverty wage, strong consumer protections, world-class public education, and a public safety net).

I am from the "rising tide lifts all boats" view of capitalism. A society has the potential to do great things with abundant wealth. I am too much of an idealist to ever abandon that ideal.

Bertrand Russell captures the essence capitalism that serves the few:
"Advocates of capitalism are very apt to appeal to the sacred principles of liberty, which are embodied in one maxim: The fortunate must not be restrained in the exercise of tyranny over the unfortunate."Bertrand Russell
The tide is out. The boats are beached.

28 April 2013

Mythology and the Psyche

 Joseph Campbell wrote in The Power of Myth:
“All religions are true, but none are literal.”
I am unsure what Campbell meant by the religions being true. I suspect he meant that religious beliefs are better understood in the context of understanding and appreciating the genesis of mythologies.

From Tlaloc the Aztec god of rain, fertility, and water, to the Ojibwa belief that the northern lights are an expression of the god Nanabozho's lasting love,
myths are an expression of humanity in all its existential hopes and fears.
Knowing a few of the myths of ancient cultures, and having begun to appreciate the cosmology of ancient peoples, has helped me place contemporary religious dogma into historic and psychological perspective.

Stories that endure to be woven into the fabric of cultural mythologies, however absurd in light of what we know from reasoned thought, the fossil record, and reproducible experiment and observation, have much to say about the totality of the human mind, conscious and unconscious.

All humans share the same doubts and fears. All humans feel the weight of mortality.

I suspect multiple versions of an existential narrative are as old as humanity. From that perspective, religious dogma seems slightly less appalling.

13 April 2013

The Word on Religious Doctrine

I fancy myself a spiritual person because I long to connect with other living beings. So don't shun me for declaring religious doctrine culturally toxic and morally reprehensible.

We are told that god is mysterious. And if by god is mysterious you mean there is stuff we'll never understand, then I'm with you. We are children of the great mystery.

Otherwise religiosity and the arguments for devotion to one cultural mythology over another fall somewhere between insane and incomprehensible.
"If you wake up tomorrow morning thinking that saying a few Latin words over your pancakes is going to turn them into the body of Elvis Presley, you've lost your mind...But if you think more or less the same thing about a cracker and the body of Jesus, you're just a Catholic."
- Sam Harris
Listen to the following Univeristy of Notre Dame debate where Sam Harris obliterates the pilings and foundation of religious doctrine and the theistic framework of Christianity.

30 March 2013

The Monk and The Physicist

This is a parable about a monk and a physicist.
Moai bar stools

If you asked a monk if light was a particle or a wave, he'd say both. A physicist doesn't have the luxury of certainty without some burden of proof.

Part of me wants to be both monk and physicist. Or perhaps someone who writes about their encounter in a bar.
A monk and a physicist walk into a bar. Barkeeper says, "Free drinks if you can tell me if light is a particle or a wave." The monks says, "Both!" The physicist ponders this question for quite some time. Finally he asks, "Whatever happened to the Priest and the Rabbi?"
There are few easy questions and even fewer satisfying answers.

17 March 2013

Social Graces & Other Enigmas

I'm socially inept.

I can write pretty, but you plop me into a crowded room full of interesting people and I seize up like a 72 Gremlin with no synchromesh.

I'm pretty sure I am afflicted with a high, but tragically one-sided Social IQ. I pick up and process ass-loads of incoming data. On the other hand, should I try to contribute my fair share to the conversation, my words either won't be heard or I will sound like an inconsequential nincompoop.
I'm like what your internet experience would be if regulations prohibited your provider from marketing bold-faced lies about download rate.
If you see me paralyzed on a padded footstool at a social gathering, you can bet your over-hopped beer my mental computer is processing petrabytes of visual, auditory, sensory, and olfactory input. I know what you're thinking before you say it. I could probably mime what you're about to say so that you'd feel like your brain was running on a two-second delay.

I know you think that I've gained weight. I know you've speculated that my faux-hipster beard masks a double chin. I know you can't remember just what it is I do for a living. I know you think I'm an armchair liberal who hasn't lifted a finger to help the human condition. And, so on and so forth.

Rest assured if you ever deigned to talk to me...that is, if you surveyed the entire room to find everyone else animated and engaged and then had to settle on the likes of me as the last possible option beyond the dog, I would regale you with incomprehensible sentences on a topic you couldn't give two shits about.

Praise the gods of humility for Pablo Neruda.
"When everything seems to be set to show me off as a man of intelligence, the fool I keep concealed on my person takes over my talk and occupies my mouth."
Pablo Neruda

Mazel Tov, Incense & Burning Sage

Mazel tov!
Years ago I was a guest at a wedding at Temple Israel in Minneapolis. I saw the groom crush a glass with his right foot, and then I heard myself join the other guests shouting "Mazel tov!" It was a moving expression of humanity.

I remember the mysterious sweetness of burning incense from Sunday mornings as a boy attending mass at Our Lady of Peace in New Providence. I recall being mesmerized by the wafts of smoke emanating from a thurible swung around the altar. It was high theater meant to acknowledge the mystery.

In Boulder this past winter I joined the lighting of a bundle of sage as my family members gathered around a backyard fire pit flame that engulfed the boxes that once contained the remains of beloved ancestors. We talked about the Japanese ritual of passing around the disintegrated bones of the deceased with chopsticks. We invented our ceremony. The burning of the bundle of sage was extemporaneous. Our actions were heartfelt and as grounded as a sod house on the prairie. It never struck me that others might find it odd.

Burning sage.
Religiously speaking, I am filled with wonder. I am baffled by the endless mysteries. I revel in considering the questions, but have no answers.

I find dogma in all religions to be toxic. But I understand that religion is born from deep yearning - the same deep yearning I share with the rest of humanity.

I appreciate the beauty of ritual. I acknowledge the capacity of ritual to connect us with our humanness. But I denounce the small-minded tendency to presume my rituals, the ones I practice, are more meaningful, or less absurd, than the next person's rituals.
No more meaningful. No more absurd.
Listening to friends at a social gathering deride the rituals of an unconventional wedding was disappointing. I know little of the rituals of this particular religion, but as they were described, it struck me that what others felt comfortable snickering about, I would have likely experienced as heart-felt, joyful, or profound.

Open-mindedness is a discipline that requires practice. The catty snickering over someone else’s marital rites reminded me that to practice open-mindedness is not unlike the discipline of daily exercise. It reminded me to support people making connections through the sometimes awkward practice of ritual. And it reminded me to approach the rituals enjoyed by others with beginner's mind.

16 March 2013

Enfeebled SS GOP

Bruno Gianelli from
The West Wing
I saw The West Wing episode where it was revealed that the sleazy Democratic political operative Bruno Gianelli had gone over to the dark side. We learn that Bruno is scheming and spinning for the Republican presidential candidate.

Bruno's challenge is considerably tempered by the fact that his candidate is a moderate. Yes, a moderate Republican - the kind of Republican that progressives like me pine for. Yes once upon a time there were electable moderates in the Republican Party.

The moderate Republican in Bruno's case despises the one-issue religious right who have hijacked reason and compromise from conservative discourse and have limited the flexibility of Republican members of Congress to negotiate and cut deals with their Democratic colleagues.

The tone of this year's Conservative Political Action Conference seems to be a re-run of the small-minded, hate-spewing dogma that dominated the Republican side of the 2012 Presidential election. Nothing has changed in dark and empty void that is the Republican brain trust. Both leaders and followers are inexplicably disconnected from reality. Party leaders are compelled to continually pander the basest of their base - The Hate Wing.

Costa Concordia. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
I liken today's Republican Party to a enfeebled luxury cruise liner taking on water. It is a luxury liner because it is an an extraordinarily well-funded vessel.

Some of the best minds on the right rely on the same tired bromides. I don't see shop-warn, extreme right-wing talking points as a winning formula for the GOP in the years to come.

How do Republican strategists fix this? How does a political party turn anti-people policy positions into something people can warm up to enough to support?

I would like to see a savvy political operative, someone like Bruno's character, in charge of the RNC, rather than a sniveling, incompetent lightweight like Reince Priebus. I don't see how the SS GOP luxury liner doesn't list and sink. On every issue of the day, Republicans have forced themselves to champion the unpopular position. How is this sustainable?

Part of me revels in watching Republicans do and say all the wrong things at every turn. However as a pragmatic problem solver, I'm very curious about The Fix.

23 February 2013

Remembering Wildcat Hill

I was visiting Carmel in 1976 with Bay Area curator and art teacher Hayward King along with buddies James Krehbiel and Cleve Ellis with whom I’d made the road trip to San Francisco from Montana. Mr. King was our guide to the San Francisco art scene. Part of our tour was driving south to Carmel.

Mr. King took us to Wildcat Hill in Carmel. Wildcat Hill is the home and photography studio of the Weston family which began with the much revered photographer Edward Weston (1886-1958). Hayward had been one of Edward Weston's caretakers in the years preceding Weston's death.

Hayward was also an old friend of photographer Ansel Adams (1902-1984) who lived nearby in Carmel. King knew I admired the work of Weston and Adams. He called Adams from Wildcat Hill to find out if Adams was up to meeting three students from Montana. Adams replied that ordinarily he'd be delighted, but that he had a touch of the flu and didn't want to stray too far from his bed. He asked Hayward to check back in a day or so. By that time, we were on our way back to Montana.

Weston &Adams at Wildcat Hill
by Pirkle Jones
When we dropped off Hayward King in his San Francisco apartment, which seemed like it was located in the shadows of the Bay Bridge, Hayward arranged an extraordinarily generous art trade with me.

He gave me a signed Pirkle Jones (1914-2009) silver print of Adams and Weston on the porch in front of Wildcat Hill. Pirkle Jones was one of Ansel Adams' first photography students at what is now the San Francisco Art Institute.

In return, I was to give Hayward King a gum bichromate print I had made, but could only describe to him. The image I agreed to give to Mr. King was a typical self-absorbed self-portrait that fledgling photography students tend to make by the dozens. This trade was testament to Hayward King's generosity and his love for, and devotion to, building The Community of art.

I carefully transported the Pirkle Jones' Wildcat Hill print back to Montana, framed my gum bichromate self-portrait and sent it to Mr. King.

Ansel Adams would have been 111 last Wednesday. In "Revealing Light" I write about Ansel Adams' affinity for light.

20 February 2013

Rules of Flawlessness

Hearing the clap, clap, clap beats of a mechanical typewriter at The Museum of Endangered Sounds jogged my memory.

The typewritten beats reminded me of youthful efforts at achieving perfection. I typed stories for a short fiction course on a mechanical typewriter.

My typewriting was obsessive, or compulsive, to varying degrees depending on what I perceived to be the quality of the story.

Quality is elusive. I knew what quality was not - quality was not gobs of correction fluid on heavy paper or jarring erasure marks on cockle-finished onion skin paper.

Back to fiction. If I thought I had conjured up a particularly good story, my relationship with the typewriter, and the act of typing, would often degrade from detached industrial efficiency, to controlled rage. If I committed one typo, I'd yell fuck-me, rip out the page, crumble it into a tight ball, and wing it across my two-room apartment.

Writing long-hand on canary-colored, college-ruled paper, I would often finish a story in short order. If the story possessed the elusive quality I sought, I'd be compelled to type into the wee hours of the night, if necessary, to produce immaculately typed pages. A few hours discarding and re-typing would reduce me to a production rate of two or three words per minute.
During those times, the typewritten words felt like I had chiseled them letter-by-letter like I was Michelangelo revealing the Pietà from a slab of Carrara marble.
It seemed to me that a good story deserved flawlessly typed pages. The same is true today, only the medium and the rules of flawlessness have changed.

14 February 2013

The Blicans of the Deep Distortion Quadrant

The Blicans are a human-like species from an asymmetric planet in the Big Baby galaxy located in the Deep Distortion quadrant of space.

Pre-Pubescent and Post-Pubescent Blican Males
Extra-terrestrial anthropologists posit that this orange-tinted species habitually perceives the ills, calamities, and human tragedies of the past through rose-tinted contacts lenses.

By all accounts, Blican males believe
  • The future has no hope;
  • The present is the past;
  • Back is forward; and
  • Old is new.
We know little of what Blican females believe except for shaken, not stirred. The female of the species is sequestered in the home where she stands by the door with a shaken, not stirred martini at the ready awaiting the eventual return her mate.

All Blicans regardless of gender are characterized by pathological distrust of anything unlike them. The fossil record of their wobbly planet indicates that The Blicans are un-common. That is, they are:
  • averse to common perception;
  • repelled by common sense, and 
  • deaf, dumb, and blind to the common good.

And if that isn't vexing enough, there's evidence that Blican males are living among us here on earth. In the United States Congress for example:
  1. If The President calls for sunny skies, Blican males immediately hold a press conference calling for rain.
  2. If The President counters their opposition to sunny skies by calling for liquid sunshine, Blican males invoke the filibuster.

02 February 2013

Dummyville, USA

There is sub-culture in the US who value ignorance as a badge American authenticity.

Demon of ignorance, Apasmara,
under Shiva's right foot.
Many US high schools no longer teach civics.

If I was a political historian, I would explore the notion that the dumming-down of Americans began in earnest during the Reagan presidency.
"There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that "my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge." Isaac Asimov
Asimov's cult of ignorance seems to have metastasized from the anti-government sentiment ushered in by the Reagan presidency.

Foxes in the Henhouse

Reagan Administration appointees were intended to cripple government. This was accomplished by appointing people who were opposed to the purpose of the job.

Reagan chose money-driven lobbyists and ethically-challenged corporate lawyers and executives to fill key roles:
  • John Van de Water, who led a consulting firm specializing in union busting, was chosen to lead the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
  • C.W. McMillian, a VP for the National Cattleman's Association, was chosen to head the Department of Agriculture's Marketing and Inspection Division.
  • Richard Lyng, an American Meat Institute lobbyist, was chosen to be Secretary of Agriculture.
  • Joseph Tribble, from the Georgia Pulp and Paper Company, a corporation charged with dumping toxic waste into rivers, was chosen Assistant Secretary of Energy for Conservation and Renewable Energy.
  • James Watt, a lawyer who represented the nation's largest mining and timber corporations, was chosen to be Secretary of the Interior,
  • Anne Gorsuch (Burford), who built her reputation fighting environmental regulation in the Colorado state legislature, was chosen to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Ray Donovan, a construction company executive, was chosen to be Secretary of Labor. As Secretary of Labor, which oversees the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), Donovan championed voluntary compliance with health and safety laws.
Part in parcel with weakening the US government was weakening its most venerable public-serving institutions like public education.

American Corporatism

The Reagan Administration ushered in the growth American Corporatism.
"In classical capitalism, what has been called the 'night-watchman' state, government's role in the economy is simply to prevent force or fraud from disrupting the autonomous operation of the free market. The market is trusted to provide. Under corporatism, it is not, instead being systematically manipulated to deliver goods to political constituencies." Robert Locke
Now we find the interests of the many (i.e., We are the 99%) are systematically ignored in favor of the interests of the few (e.g., majority shareholders and executives).

American Corporatism relies on an uniformed electorate voting against their interests. American Corporatism appeals to and manipulates the basest of fears.

Ignorance is often applauded and celebrated in the US. Unfettered streams of misinformation from right wing media (cf. Fox News) have bestowed upon the ignorant, the uninformed, and the misinformed, the mantle of real Americans.

American Education

Some 30 years following the Reagan presidency and its implicit American Corporatism, our public schools are strapped for resources and our students are bombarded by standardized tests. The tests are mandated under the two-fanged mantra of measurement and accountability. Sadly our students rarely learn civics. Moreover, there is a frustrating anti-science sentiment infiltrating public education.

Perhaps it is not in the best Corporatist interest to have an informed electorate. And perhaps it is not in the best Corporatist interest to have students publicly educated about the nuances and historical context of the US government. If so, it is because
the holy grail for American Corporatism is to dismantle American-style democracy in favor of some sort of Utopian, free market bullshit. 
The means to move toward the dystopian free market delusion is to cultivate ignorance, to misinform, and to shield the electorate from the facts.

The cult of ignorance is killing us.


27 January 2013

The God Pot

Hopi Bowl
I do not worship gods. I am neither theist or atheist. Theism like atheism, is philosophical quicksand.

My life is a flicker of light - too short for the ball and chain of theism or atheism.
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong.
Stephen Stills
Attributing human features and foibles to a deity is naive and absurdly human-centric. My theist friends ascribe human traits to deities. It's inexcusable, but I still love you.

leap of faith is antithetical to critical thinking. Theists, while otherwise lovable, charitable, or admirable, are disqualified as critical thinkers.

Atheists fancy themselves critical thinkers. Atheists are typically smart people trapped by the same narrow thinking as theists. Theists and atheists are the A and B sides of the same vinyl record.

Atheists often quote Epicurus as argument against the existence of god.
"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"
― Epicurus, 341–270 B.C
Shang Dynasty Pot
Note the personification of god. Benevolent god or malevolent god, why bother? It's drivel.

The notion of a benevolent god or a malevolent god is not a particularly illuminating tack. Existence and non-existence arguments are the pet topics of blowhards and gas-bags, neither of whom are particularly good observers or listeners.

So What Then?

If pushed to arrange my existential thoughts into a framework, it would be a framework consisting of two classes of stuff:
  1. Stuff that's well-understood like the earth-bound erosion and transport of big rocks into smaller and smaller rocks, or the laws of earth-bound thermodynamics, and 
  2. Stuff that's not well-understood like particle physics or human consciousness. 
A personal tendency, more for convenience than out of reverence, worship, or fear, is to relegate all of the not well-understood stuff into the god pot for further review and study.
Humanity's god pot holds all the stuff humans don't understand.
The god pot has indescribable volume. We cannot know its extent. That's why it exists - for further review and study. It is precisely this absurd pursuit that keeps us alive. This, it seems, is our quest. We want to feel like we're adding, however inconsequentially, to the pot of human knowledge.

One might be tempted to hypothesize that over the short blip of humanity, the pursuit of knowledge, the quest to know that which is knowable, would have rendered the contents of the god pot infinitesimally smaller. But no dice. That line of thinking is also naively human-centric.
Anasazi Bowl

So here we are.

I, for one, am unwilling to commit to a leap of faith. Nevertheless like most of my species, I have notions. Notions are like superstitions. Everyone has them.

My chief notion is that knowledge is like the conservation of energy. I suspect the sum or volume of all knowledge is constant. Also like the conservation of energy, knowledge cannot be created or destroyed, rather it changes state within the context of humanity.

Insomuch as there is an indescribable amount unknown, our god pot remains constant. When we learn something individually or collectively, we remove something from the god pot, but the void quickly fills with another unknown.
"Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."
― Carl Sagan
Humanity's god pot is as real as our collective ignorance. In the human mind, god exists.
"When I joined the band I didn't know any of the tunes, and when I left the band I didn't know any of the tunes!"
Keith Jarrett reflecting on playing in Miles Davis's band

20 January 2013

Fairness, stupid.

Bill Clinton's campaign strategist famously distilled the 1992 Presidential campaign message to eager staffers into the following three words:
"The economy, stupid".
James Carville
Some 21-years hence, my two-word campaign message is:
"Fairness, stupid."

Alleged Recovery

As someone who entered the US workforce 30 years ago, I have experienced economic recession, economic stagnation, and economic recovery. By economic recovery, I mean alleged economic recovery. I use the modifier alleged because I mean to say, loud and clear:
Each US economic recovery seems to leave more people behind.
We have to ask if this is the kind of society we aspire to be -- a society that leaves people behind.


Fair play is part of my DNA. My father was one of 200,000 telephone workers who walked out in 1968 because AT&T refused a modest wage bump to match cost of living increases. Collective bargaining, at it's essence, is negotiating what is fair. After 18 days, AT&T conceded. Dad got his wage bump. AT&T continued to turn a healthy profit.

My father was a union man with a high school education. He also made a better living than me, sent two sons to college paying cash, and had enough money stuffed in his mattress to enjoy a few years of comfortable retirement.

My father's American Dream scenario will not play out the same way for most of my generation. My economic status has been stagnant or downwardly-mobile since I left graduate school in the late 80s to take my first real job as an engineer. In that engineering job, I had my first (and last) private office.


I have been harping about fairness for so many years, I should apologize to my loved ones. I felt vindicated this morning after reading the Sunday New York Times opinion piece Inequality Is Holding Back The Recovery by Joseph Stiglitz. Joseph Stiglitz is not some tree-hugging, common good do-gooder like me. As it happens, Joseph Stiglitz is a Columbia University professor with serious economics chops.
"Our economy won’t come back strong unless it also becomes more fair."
Joseph Stiglitz, 2001 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Economic Science.

Share of Total Income by Income Percentile (Business Insider)

A staggering share of the income in the US now goes to the top 50 percent. The lion's share of income gains over the past 30 years are enjoyed by the top 10% (and especially the top 1%).

All of us know the health of any business is related to the health of its customers. Today's consumers are dangerously leveraged, or broke.

I don't have all the data to support my notions about inequality and fairness, nor do I have the economics chops of Joseph Stiglitz, but I believe in my heart of hearts that income inequality is a huge ball and chain on our short and long-term economic well-being.
"Politicians typically talk about rising inequality and the sluggish recovery as separate phenomena, when they are in fact intertwined. Inequality stifles, restrains and holds back our growth."
Joseph Stiglitz
Inequality leads us down a path of instability. There are too few people enjoying too much of collectively-generated wealth. Obscene wealth accumulation comes at the expense of the common good. It strips many of us of the basic necessities and provides few economic opportunities.

Our Future

It's time to ask what kind of society we want to be. It's time for a national discussion about fairness whether focused on tax policy, education policy, military policy, or our dwindling social safety net.

It's about fairness, stupid.


12 January 2013

The 113th Congress - Jobs Bill for Zygotes

Have you ever noticed how the policies put forth by conservative ideologues never serve the common good?

Three days ago Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) co-sponsored a Fetal Personhood Bill.

Have those of us living and breathing outside the womb grown weary of the absurdist political theater from Wisconsin's Eddie Munster?

Root canal?  An infestation of cockroaches? Or a 113th Congress infested by domestic terrorists bent on dismantling collective government services?

How will pragmatic and politically aware policy wonks like me manage to somnambulate through the théâtre de l'absurde that promises to be the 113th Congress?

I dunno. But, do me a solid? Wake me up if Paul Ryan co-sponsors a JOBS BILL for ZYGOTES.