28 October 2016

A Thought on Science & Religion

Science is a differential equation. Religion is a Boundary Condition.1
Alan Turing

When Turing wrote "Science is a differential equation. Religion is a Boundary Condition", I think he meant that science and mathematics are abstractions we've invented, and improved upon over millennia, to help us to objectively explain things using logic & reason as we humbly strive for intellectual honesty — not unlike how differential equations objectively model the dynamics of phenomena in space and time.

Turing's metaphor that religion is a boundary condition refers to an observable human foible that whenever we bump up against the limits of comprehension, we make shit up.

  1. Epigram to Robin Gandy (1954); reprinted in Andrew Hodges, Alan Turing: the Enigma (Vintage edition 1992), p. 513.

04 September 2016

Leadership & Self-Reflection

Portrait of George Washington
by Charles W. Peale (1775–76)
George Washington was a humble critic of his capabilities.
“While I realize the arduous nature of the task which is conferred on me and feel my inability to perform it, I wish there may not be reason for regretting the choice. All I can promise is only that which can be accomplished by an honest zeal.”
— George Washington, President elect, 1789
A month into his Presidency, following the first quadrennial presidential election of 1789, Washington expressed the weight of his responsibility:
"I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn into precedent."
In contrast, 57 quadrennial election cycles later, is a mashup of Mr. Trump’s fetishistic braggadocio as the presumptive GOP nominee for the same office:
“The beauty of me is that I’m very rich. My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.”
— Mr. Trump
Mr. Trump’s blind spot for his considerable limitations and inestimable weaknesses suggest he's, at best, capable of command-by-coercion like other infamous authoritarian strongmen.

The capacity for honest self-reflection is a predictive indicator for successful leadership.

03 September 2016

Religion, Reflection & Change

Someone asked, "If forced at gunpoint, what religion would you choose?"

Forced at gunpoint, I’d be a convincing liar.

Last weekend, nosing around the forgotten towns of rural America, I rolled into Underwood, Minnesota, population 341. One of the Main Street buildings was a modest church. I pulled over.

The sign reads:
Prayer does not change things; prayer changes people, and people change things.
If prayer is quiet reflection, then this message resonates with me.

Forced at gunpoint to choose a religion, I’d say I’m an Underwood Unitarian.

28 August 2016

Stationary Waves

Stationary waves are a predictable phenomena caused by jumps in the contour of a riverbed.

Small-town America was abruptly abandoned about forty years ago. Angry tribes of white-complected people are prepared for battle with proverbial pitchforks.

Cresting stationary wave in the Otter Tail River
below Fergus Falls Dam

The embittered people who remain in largely insular, hardscrabble towns range from dysfunctionally depressed to putting on a happy face for tourists who visit their town to escape the stress of some modicum of economic viability in pockets of urban America.

Stationary Waves is a poem that includes a cresting stationary wave found in a river that surges through a small town in western Minnesota like a pulsing blood vessel, overlain by my knee-jerk impressions of a town in decline.

Stationary Waves
Fergus Falls, 28 August 2016

Naked bedrock
punctuates history
like a stationary wave
reveals a shameful deceit

Black flies circumnavigate
the Fergus Falls imbecile
like delinquent exoplanets
orbit a fading red dwarf

Colonies of pickup trucks
permanently stuck in reverse
back into empty spaces
in overflow parking

26 August 2016

Women’s Equality Day

Vintage ERA YES button

Congress hasn't done much for women in the past 45 years.

Today is Women’s Equality Day.

In 1971 the 66th Congress designated August 26 as Women’s Equality Day at the behest of social activist and women's rights icon Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY).

Sadly we'll endure the inept 114th Congress, paralyzed by small-minded ideologues, until January 3, 2017. It is my fervent hope the political pendulum in Congress will swing back toward people-centric equality issues.

Sadly the flurry of #WomensEqualityDay tweets on my Twitter timeline was exceeded by #NationalDogDay. I've a soft spot for dogs, but I love women. And I'm passionate about equal rights for all.

The #WomensEqualityDay tweets reminded of the ERA YES button I got just a few years into my political awakening in the late 1970s. The protracted struggle of Equal Rights Amendment has shaped my political world-view.

Progress is rarely revolutionary and rarely sudden. Progress is almost always a long and determined slog.

22 July 2016

Clinton Misses the Message

Sec. Clinton’s VP choice of another corporatist neo-liberal demonstrates how shockingly little the DNC and beltway Democrats have understood about this historic Presidential election cycle. 

After the rise and resonance of Sen. Sanders’ wealth inequality message, Sec. Clinton and the DNC are still profoundly deaf, dumb, and blind to the national zeitgeist of economic insecurity. Even the churlish megalomaniac Mr. Trump seems to have grokked this message from day one. Nut-wing conservatives and milk toast neo-liberals like Sec. Clinton have sold us down the road. 

Sec. Clinton will still have my reluctant vote, but the choice of Tim Kaine is a head scratcher. Clinton’s safe pick of Gov. Kaine seems risky in this economic climate. 

How does the DNC bring energetic millennials into the big tent? Not with Tim Kaine. Hows does the DNC excite the base? Not with Tim Kaine. Why didn’t Sec. Clinton reach out to mend fences with progressives by making a bolder pick? Sec. Clinton is thumbing her nose at Sanders millennials & old lefties like me. This VP pick is a personal affront. 

Sec. Clinton needs to pull a rabbit out of the hat next week in Philly. People are ready to burn this shit down. 

Still, the #1 most compelling reason to hold your nose to vote Hillary Clinton besides stopping the churlish megalomaniac? At least two Supreme Court nominations are in the offing.

20 July 2016

Opposition to Mining Near BWCA

TO:U.S. Forest Service, Superior National Forest*
DATE:July 20, 2016
RE:Opposition to Renewal of Twin Metals’ Federal Mineral Leases
I oppose the renewal of Twin Metals’ Federal mineral leases, MNES 1352 & 1353 in northeastern Minnesota.

As a Minnesota resident, I agree with Gov. Dayton that underground copper-nickel mining near the jumping off point for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCA), 10 miles from Ely, MN, is too close to a much valued water and wilderness resource.

The BWCA has been enjoyed by generations of people in Minnesota and beyond. Preserving this unique water recreational area serves the Common Good.

While the several hundred jobs that Twin Metals’ mining offers is enticing in dire economic times, mining has historically resulted in unacceptable environmental degradation. Harvesting non-renewables for profit is the old-school thinking that has characterized previous centuries. Such short-sightedness regarding heretofore unspoiled recreational resources is a disservice to current and future generations.

I am concerned that Federal agencies, perennially squeezed by Congressional ideologues, will not have the necessary budget to provide essential regulatory oversight of the Twin Metals’ mining operations.

Inadequate regulatory oversight of mining operations poses an unacceptable risk to the BWCA, to Ely residents, and to other valued resources in the area.


Bob MacNeal
Saint Paul, Minnesota

Sunset over Pose Lake, a small lake accessible only by foot.
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

*email to: TwinMetalsLeaseInput@fs.fed.us on July 20, 2016.

24 June 2016

Merging Voices

The central scripture of Sikhism, the Guru Granth Sahib, proposes this on selfishness:
"Give up your selfishness, and you shall find peace; like water mingling with water, you shall merge in absorption."
Applying ancient Sikh wisdom to a twenty first century rush hour lane merge is not so simple.

A friend posted this animation of an idealized zipper merge fearlessly defying a

dictum of decorum: Never discuss religion, politics, or the zipper merge.

Regrettably I am unable to elevate my consciousness to the zipper side.

I know rivers were carved and scoured by eons of rushing water.

"Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it." — Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

Like Maclean, I know that rivers flow over rocks from the basement of time, but a merging traffic lane is a more immediate than the epochs of geology.

A voice on my left shoulder says,
"You've moved 10 feet in 20 minutes, yet that fucker wants to cut in front of you? Inch up man! Inch up!"
A voice on my right shoulder reasons,
"Go ahead merge at the last second in front of all of those poor schlubs. Studies show it's the most efficient means of funneling traffic."
Both voices make sense, but in the immediacy of the moment my emotional left shoulder overrules my logical right.

The good news is that I left all of this traffic madness behind over a year ago when I decided to leave the twentieth century parked at home in the garage. I've opted instead for foot, bike, bus, and light rail.

Here's a picture of me commuting on foot...no filter.
The Scream

21 March 2016

Merchants Have No Country

I'm conflicted on aspects of Jeffersonian Democracy, but dude got it right when he wrote,
"but merchants have no country. the mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains."

Jefferson was admonishing New England merchants and shipowners who were more concerned about diminishing the profitability of transatlantic trade than rallying around their country in the War of 1812.

Fast forward 200 years. US companies have $2.1 trillion clams parked overseas for the sole purpose of avoiding US corporate taxes. Microsoft, Apple, and Google are brand-name players in this shenanigans.

 It's time to bring down a big government hammer on this shit:
  • Step 1. Fill Nino's seat with a moderate.
  • Step 2. Overturn Citizens United v. FEC.
  • Step 3. Clean Congress the fuck up.
  • Step 4. Double Congressional salaries to $384K a year but require our representatives to shop for health insurance on some shitty website like the rest of us.
  • Step 5...You'll have to buy the book.


30 January 2016

Musing About Time

Time is a curious concept. For sensory creatures, the apparent passage of time is convenient construct and persistent metaphor to the experience of past, present, and future.

Consensus among cosmologists is that the universe is 14 billion years old. It doesn't help much in our reckoning of time to know a life span is essentially nothing on a cosmic scale.

Clocks are mechanical contraptions calibrated to predicable phenomena like the rotation of the Earth which conveniently stages a predicable sunrise and a sunset.

It doesn't help our understanding of time that the rotation of the Earth is slowing imperceptibly due to the tidal friction of its Moon. Fortunately for our comforting sense of clockwork consistency, the slowing rotation of the Earth is negligible. Today's days are only about 1.7 milliseconds longer than 100 years ago.

Time is a common variable that pops up in classical mechanics and the mathematics of physics. Still, physicists seem far from understanding, let alone explaining, the flow of time.
Time exists in physics, but the flow of time does not. Physicists do not understand the flow of time. In any given coordinate system, we can be at rest in space, but in that same coordinate system, we cannot be at rest in time. Time has this qualitatively different feature. It progresses.
Richard Muller
A moment is central to our sense of reality. Yet a moment is ephemeral in the most infinitesimal sense of the word.
Einstein despaired of his inability to explain the flow of time. But Einstein, despite his despair, moved forward and showed that the rate of the flow of time depends on both velocity and gravity. That suggests strongly that the flow of time does not originate in the human mind, but has a true external physical reality.
Richard Muller
A reassuring, yet possibly erroneous analogy of a moment in time is to visualize the still frame of a movie sandwiched with an imperceptibly small delta before the next the still frame.
Every moment is as real as every other. Every 'now,' when you say, 'This is the real moment,' is as real as every other 'now' - and therefore all the moments are just out there. Just as every location in space is out there, I think every moment in time is out there, too.
Brian Greene
For now it must suffice to consider time a sensory snapshot meant to be experienced to the fullest extent possible.
Who would then deny that when I am sipping tea in my tearoom I am swallowing the whole universe with it and that this very moment of my lifting the bowl to my lips is eternity itself transcending time and space?
D.T. Suzuki


Light Rail Platform
Juxtaposition describes my core motivation in recording mobile iPhone images during my commute to and from a consulting gig in the North Loop.

Juxtaposition is a noun. My preferred definition is,
noun. the fact of two things being seen or placed close together with contrasting effect.
For me the attention grabbing draw frequently involves the contrasting effect of more than two things.The things I see include patterns, lines, light, and frequently something unusual in the ordinary.

My commute is consciously more stimulating when I'm open to the contrasting effect of a chance occurrence.

I don't place the scenes. I adjust my frame of reference. I change the position of my camera frame to discover some contrasting effect that resonates with me.

Whether or not we're consciously aware of it, our minds curate what we see.

Ford Center Lobby / Historic Exterior

Most often the juxtaposition that draws me in for closer consideration are contrasting spatial elements. On rare occasions, the juxtaposition is both spatial and temporal as with the historic photograph of the street car era Ford Center exterior juxtaposed within a view of the present day lobby (above).

Advertising Wrap on Light Rail Train

Even more rare is the juxtaposition of the language we use in naming and distinguishing objects, like the car on the train car seen in the advertising wrap covering a train car (above).

Follow me on Instagram to see more commuter photographs.

12 January 2016

We Revolve

Revolution comes from the Latin verb revolvere meaning to revolve. Revolution was originally applied to the motions of planets.

Revolution was fundamental to Copernicus' world-changing heliocentric model of planetary movement. Copernican heliocentrism was outlined in Copernicus' treatise On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (De revolutionibus orbium coelestium), published in 1543.

Copernicus' model is noteworthy because it displaced Earth from the center of the uni­verse and offered an alternative to Ptolemy's geocentric model proposed in the 2nd century AD.

That revolution is now the mental hook in the advertising vinyl wrap on the light rail car I'm about to board shouldn't discourage us from revolution.

Blue Line Train, Target Field Station
by Bob MacNeal

09 January 2016

Mythical Unnamed Creek

Winter descended last night. I'm drifting toward a summer solstice outing on some mythical unnamed creek in a familiar spot. A Rainbow, or the occasional Westslope Cutty plucked from chilly meltwater are piscatorially sublime, but seem more like that odd illusion of form that bounds off daubs of pigments than something I'd gut & fry in a camp skillet. So in my mind I'm casting a hookless woolly bugger into sparkling riffles for the pleasure of standing in rushing water.