13 September 2015

Seconding Yourself

Louis C.K.
photo: Daniel Ewer
Loving a mate, or loving your children, often means putting yourself second. Seconding yourself.

For comedian Louis C.K., having a child changed his life. Having a child freed him from selfish notion of what he'd given up, to fully and deeply appreciate what he'd gained.

Interviewed by Terry Gross, Louis says:
The greatest thing about having a child is putting yourself second in your own life. It's a massive gift to be able to say you're not the most important person to yourself.
- Louis C.K., Fresh Air Interview

02 August 2015


Mississippi River above Lock & Dam No. 1.
Attracted to the mirrored water of the Mississippi, a man of limited range, tottered to the edge of the river gorge.

I noticed his curved spine. He surveyed the precipice. The anise scent of Black-eyed Susan and the tannic odor of the oak savanna filled his senses.

I imagined this river scene was the gently flowing backdrop to the memories flooding his mind.

Two feet rooted like buckthorn, he swayed like a blade of prairie grass for quite some time, rotating his head to drink in the panorama.

When finally he turned to leave, it was a bittersweet recognition. We both knew this was his last memory of this particular bend in the river. A once gaping future had collapsed to moments.

He crossed my path. I watched him recede. Moments later I took this picture.

24 July 2015

NASA's Forward Thinking

NASA is an exemplar of agility. NASA, and other public institutions like NOAA and NSF, have survived a massive and prolonged political assault on science, reason, and the inconvenient truths that follow from data collection and analysis (e.g., global climate change).

I'm a critical optimist, but I sense that a 35-year pendulum swing toward short-term profiteering, pillage of finite resources, and gutting of public institutions that began with the Reagan Presidency in 1980, will once again, swing back toward serving the common good.

The 1980 election of Ronald Reagan represented a point of inflection in the US. Reagan ushered in a prolonged insurgency built around the destructive notion that government-funded institutions do not and should not exist to serve the common good. Other than an uninterrupted series of blank checks issued to the DoD by Congress, NASA is one of several examples of beleaguered public institutions that survive on the shear will of forward-thinking people.

Sunlit Earth from DSCOVR
In early July, a cooperative program between NASA and NOAA was able to make the first full sunlit photograph of Earth from space since the iconographic Blue Marble images taken by Apollo 17 in 1972 - a 43 year gap!

Despite a decades-long pummeling by a stingy, small-minded Congress, NASA continues to do important and essential science. The cooperative DSCOVR satellite that made the beautiful image of Earth will float in gravitational equilibrium between the Sun and our planet monitoring climate change.

NASA's lesson is that it's near impossible to extinguish the passion and will to learn. NASA is testament to our innate capacity to dream and to Think Big. Ultimately publicly funded institutions like NASA, NOAA, NSF, and NIH will once again lead the world in basic research and cooperative R & D. Well-funded, cooperative public program will seed economic growth and drive job creation.

I can't profess about the organizational structure of NASA, or how they have been able to adapt to decades of piss-poor support from Congress, but suffice to say, where there's a will, there's a way.

"As we begin to comprehend that the earth itself is a kind of manned spaceship hurtling through the infinity of space—it will seem increasingly absurd that we have not better organized the life of the human family."
Hubert H. Humphrey, San Fernando Valley State College speech, September 26, 1966.

03 July 2015

The Arc Bends

The marriage equality decision handed down by the conservative-leaning Roberts Court, and Bree Newsome's heroic climb up a 30 ft flagpole to bring down the Confederate flag that disgraces the South Carolina state Capitol, are historic cause to reflect and celebrate this Independence Day.

I am reminded of the beautifully poignant words that encapsulate my world view and my deeply-held optimism:
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.
Martin Luther King Jr.
If I've learned anything about the human plight here where we find ourselves in the outskirts of the Milky Way, it's that the bending of that arc requires occasional courage and unrelenting persistence.

The Bard from Asbury Park says it best:
It is time to move forward. The country that we carry in our hearts is waiting.
Bruce Springsteen


30 June 2015

Time Leap

Today we underwent a leap second, thus reminding us time is a human construct.
As the Earth continues to slow, leap seconds will grow more common. Eventually we will need one every year, and then even more. Scientists could have avoided these awkward skips by choosing instead to adjust the duration of the second itself. Who would notice? That is what they did, in fact, until 1955.
James Gleick
Rostock Marienkirche Astronomische Uhr, 2011-02-12, by Schiwago

11 June 2015

Rotate into Darkness

After watching a handful of feral horses grazing in prairie grasses, we climb to a high point. To the east are the stark and subtractive badlands exposing the head-scratching wonders of geologic time. To the west, are rolling hills of buffalo grass and wildflowers.

Following some carefree putzing along a ridge line photographing wildflowers, avoiding scat piles, and listening to a band of coyotes, the sun, in a predictable but improbable arrangement with it's satellite, bids farewell by painting the sky above the horizon.

We as willing and curious passengers, rotate into darkness.

Sunset Buck Hill. Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

23 March 2015

By George

By George! there's an insidious movement afoot in the United States to dissuade people from using terms like climate change, global warming, and sea-level rise.
In Senate testimony, top Rick Scott adviser won't say 'Climate Change'.
Historically fascists are the recognized masters of doublespeak. Doublespeak is
deliberately euphemistic, ambiguous, or obscure language
Doublespeak is the antecedent of today's Political Speak. Political Speak is the disingenuous practice of
changing two way discourse into one-way communication; sticking to the party message no matter what the other is saying.
Urban Dictionary
Having eschewed science, having angrily dismissed noble laureates and academicians, having willfully ignored data that conflict with deeply held notions, and having exhibited a diminished capacity for empathy, neocons and tea party conservatives, like the infamous fascists from our not-yet-banned history texts, are left with language manipulation as the sharpest arrow in their quiver.

Let's consult two Georges to explain.

New George

Cognitive linguist George Lakoff is the most eloquent contemporary author writing about how language is manipulated to frame political discourse. Lakoff makes the link between biology and perception.
We categorize as we do because we have the brains and bodies we have and because we interact in the world as we do.
George Lakoff, Philosophy in the Flesh
Lakoff chides progressives for political naiveté.
If you believe in the eighteenth century view of the mind, you will look and act wimpy. You will think that all you need to do is give people the facts and the figures and they will reach the right conclusion. You will think that all you need to do is point out where their interests lie, and they will act politically to maximize them.
George Lakoff, Don't Think of an Elephant
Old George

Lets not forget the futurist insights of George Orwell. The term doublespeak was popularized by Orwell's dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty Four.
Prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated hen-house.
George Orwell from the essay “Politics and the English Language”
Our Melons

Rapid news cycles stimulate the amygdala to condition us by fear. Fear is the basest of human instincts.
Facts are the sandbags we use to divert the flood of misinformation.
I am hopeful for an neurological adaptation favoring empathy.
The biology of empathy allows us to comprehend our connection to each other, to other living things, and to the physical world that supports life.
― George Lakoff
Gray's Anatomy, Plate 718


17 March 2015

Rounding Up Evil

A couple of codgers in my coffee shop were discussing RoundUp® and whether or not it was "evil".
Glyphosate molecule

Defining evil is tricky, but I'll give it a try.

There is a suite of Monsanto herbicides that continue to foul soil, groundwater and surface water. Much of our fouled water resources are no longer potable without engineered treatment.

Fresh water is a finite resource. Fouling the biosphere threatens the thin planetary life raft we inhabit. Monsanto's products & practices have generally degraded the biosphere.

As an impressionable consulting engineer fresh out of engineering school, my first job was to make a computer simulation of Atrazine migration in partially saturated soil and groundwater. Atrazine is a Monsanto herbicide. My simulation was based on contaminant transport equations meant to address, in the best back of the envelope sense, the question:
Where does atrazine go after soil moisture carries it into shallow groundwater?
The answer is that the dissolved herbicide finds its way into shallow wells or streams and rivers. Atrazine is a known endocrine disrupter in mammals. In the United States atrazine was the most commonly detected drinking water contaminant in 2001.

I learned first hand that Monsanto spends millions upon millions of dollars supporting stables of lawyers, consulting hydrogeologists, and consulting engineers to defend their products and practices.

One can only imagine how much money Monsanto can now funnel into influencing Congress as a result of the disastrous Citizens United v. FEC decision.

RoundUp was first commercialized in 1976.

I would never use RoundUp. I would never knowingly use any Monsanto product, yet their suite of products are omnipresent in the food chain.

It doesn't take a MacArthur Fellow to interpolate between killing a few harmless weeds with RoundUp and unintentionally degrading human health particularly in light of the fact that humans share 15% of our DNA with mustard grass.

I'm not trained in biochemistry so I probably can't defensibly decree that the RoundUp molecule is evil.

A more reasonable argument could be made that Monsanto, and their products and practices, have not served the common good, and thus Monsanto could be considered by you and me to be an evil entity needing an earnest regulatory harness rather than the wink-wink complicity of a corporate-backed Congress.


15 March 2015

Sizing Me Up

Walking on Mississippi River Boulevard this morning I was drawn down the river gorge to the shoreline by the sight of a bald eagle jousting with a murder of crows.

I have seen soaring eagles on my river walks but I was unaccustomed to seeing an eagle cavorting on the ground like a garbage-pecking shorebird.

I descended the gorge to the water's edge. The eagle was distracted by the rowdy crows. I sidled closer. He had moved to a perch on a low-hanging branch that bent out over the water. This enormous bird was staring down the cheeky crows who reminded me of the cartoon magpies Heckle & Jeckle.

I sidled closer using a tree to block his line of sight. When I was within 50 ft, I reached into my pocket for my camera. He cranked his head and trained his eye on me. I was still. I foolishly hoped he hadn't noticed my approach.

Seconds later he launched low across the river in a splendid arc that soon had him soaring 100 ft above me. In a minute he was joined by a soaring companion.

The two eagles circled overhead sizing me up. Maybe I seemed like an oversized raccoon. Or maybe I had interrupted their search for a nesting site. Surely the anthropomorphic cartoon crows had already discouraged them from settling in the neighborhood.

Panoramic view of the Mississippi River from down river South (left) to up river North (right) standing on Saint Paul shoreline looking across to the Minneapolis shoreline.

10 March 2015

Destiny is Bunk

Destiny is a human construct. Your dog and your goldfish probably don't fret about destiny.

It's understandable that we'd invent destiny to allay the disturbing notion that carbon-based life-forms probably have no purpose and no destiny. We unwittingly delude ourselves with language. The word destiny gives the notion destiny false legitimacy.

Like other species, humans once had a biological purpose to procreate. Today it's a different story.

Our biological success has depleted earthly resources. Our biological explosion has degraded the life raft engulfing the planet. Human population is an existential threat. If humans have a biological imperative, it has toggled from procreation to population control.

To proclaim a personal destiny, we assume a bogus exceptionalism which is laughable knowing we share 36% of our DNA with fruit flies.
Don't get your undies in a bundle over the bogus construct of destiny. 
We're not meant to do or to accomplish shit. Rather, we simply live life to the fullest. Our journey begins with learning what's most meaningful. For me it is to love and be loved.
“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”
Alan Watts, The Culture of Counter-Culture: Edited Transcripts

23 January 2015

NFL Religion & Stadia

It's probably a good thing the Vikings stadium will emerge on the edge of downtown.

While a family of four has to shell out a newborn king's ransom to attend an NFL service, imagine the cross to bear if they had to schlepp their hybrid to a soul-crushing suburb like Arden Hills.

I have come to accept that the new stadium will rise from the Metrodome rubble, but why in the name of shady real estate moguls did the Wilfs sign off on an HKS design that looks like a suburban mega-church?

This migratory-bird-killing glass clad pimple is already an oozing carbuncle on the cheek of Minneapolis.
"What is proposed is like a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved and elegant friend."
Prince Charles on a 1984 planned extension to the National Gallery.
But I suppose its fitting that NFL stadia are designed in the image of hideous mega-churches.

It seems the NFL is the new religion. Indeed the NFL is the rebound religion for those floundering flocks repelled and disgusted by some other reality-suspending paradigm they've outgrown.

Scandal-ridden as they are, the beloved Vikings are incrementally less scandalous than the morally bankrupt, financially challenged Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
We shall build our monument of faith and ye shall come. Thus spoketh the brethren of the Vikings front office.
In fall 2016 well-heeled Minnesotans will turn to the helmeted gods of the NFL to suspend reality for a few hours each Sunday and to worship a prolate spheroid pigskin even if its not inflated to the full 12.5 to 13.5 psi.

03 January 2015

Paper is the New Vinyl

Barnes & Noble Booksellers
Highland Park, Saint Paul
Closed December 2015
English poet Lord Byron wrote, "A drop of ink may make a million think", which has held true since the 15th century Gutenberg Press.
Johannes Gutenberg was the first European to use movable type printing circa 1439.
The written word thrives, but the form has changed. Mass production of paper books is in steep decline.

The decline of the paper book, the independent bookseller, and the big box bookseller parallels most of my adult life.

Independent Booksellers

Independent booksellers endured a protracted decline. Those that remain seem comforting but anachronistic. The decline was prompted by hyper-competitive big box booksellers, but prolonged by the missionary zeal of ownership and the fierce loyalty of customers.
The Bookshop has a thousand books,
All colors, hues, and tinges,
And every cover is a door
That turns on magic hinges.
Nancy Byrd Turner
My favorite independent, Hungry Mind, operated on Grand Avenue from 1970-2000. Hungry Mind sold the rights to their name in 1999 for a cash infusion. By the following April, it assumed the new name Ruminator Bookstore. Four years hence the Ruminator space was emptied out and replaced with a local branch of the upscale clothier Patagonia.

Big Box Booksellers

Bricks and mortar, big box bookstores are disappearing too. Barnes & Noble in Highland Park closed this past December. The decline of big box booksellers was prompted by better e-commerce tools, better e-readers and by the growing mass-produced and independently-produced digital markets.

Bookish Future

Alan Watts said, "The menu is not the meal" which neatly dovetails with the consumption of the written word. The written word is increasingly consumed in some form of digital text or audio. Collectors of finely crafted traditional paper books will drive a small but burgeoning market of limited edition, hand-printed, hand-bound books.

Ink is disappearing. The digital form thrives. And for collectors and traditionalists,
Paper is the new vinyl.