Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Journeyman Chronicles: Part 1

The Voyage of Life: Manhood by Thomas Cole

{Note: The Journeyman Chronicles are going to be a continuing feature.  A journeyman is the stage between an apprentice and a master.  It is where one has learned their craft, and begins to practice it unsupervised.  It can also define one who is on a journey. It this last definition that applies to the Journeyman Chronicles, I am on a journey.  From sickness to health, from darkness to light, from weakness to strength, I am on a journey of discovery.}

                The problem with being an adult is that there is no path.  There is no way, but the one that you make.  That path is never clear, it is undefined and tenuous.  We can only illuminate the briefest area in front of our feet.  We often stumble, unsure of our next steps.   We are blind to the future, subject to the whims of causality; we live in seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years.  We can’t know tomorrow, because we cannot see over the horizon of now.
                Our life’s journey is one that we cannot plot out.  And if we could, it would be subject to the whims of our interactions with the rest of the universe.  We live in the ever collapsing wave function of now, each interaction building onto our subjective reality.  Today, now, is all we are guaranteed; our now is built upon our immediate reality.  Like the mall diagram, we are here, under the red spot of today.
                It is as if we are in a boat on a rapidly flowing river, we have no control over the direction and flow, we desperately cling to our reality, not knowing what turns, rapids and dangers lie ahead.  We endure the whims of the universe, we use faith to give us strength, we use reason to derive understanding, and we use invention to refine our experience.  Time’s river takes toward an unknown point on the far horizon to the west, whether we want to or not.

Friday, November 18, 2011

November 17th 2011

  It’s late and I’m tired. I cannot be sure how much of this is stream of consciousness, or just the rattling around of things in my head.  Jumbled and distorted by the medications that have brought me back from the dead.  No one could accuse me of thinking straight these days.  And I cannot be sure how much is real.
I spend the day with a tube plumbed into my arm, attached to a pump, the pump attached to a plastic jellyfish looking thing filed with the latest results of medical science. I am nauseous, tired and sweaty.  But I try to sit comfortably in an overstuffed recliner, like the other patients, each attached to their own intravenous “jellyfish”, sitting in our own alcoves, in various states of numbness.  It is like some bizarre party where everyone is high, but no one is enjoying themselves.  It is quiet except for the beeping of pump alarms as the “jellyfish” run dry and the hum of the air conditioner.  Occasionally, someone shambles by, dragging their “pet”, and they make their way to relieve themselves, our eyes meet briefly, and we understand each other.

  There is a lot of false bravado here.  NFL locker rooms have nothing on this.  The sick and dying cling to life, miserable as it is, by trying to smile their way through it.  They joke about their hair falling out, the nausea, the vomiting and the jaundice.  A gallows humor fills the place, because if you can’t laugh at this situation, sitting here using poison to kill parts of yourself that are killing other parts, what can you laugh at.

  My jellyfish is finally drained of its essential bodily fluids, and the fastidiously neat Jamaican nurse unplugs its long plastic tendril form my body.  I sit, freed at last, and almost too tired to get up.  I heave myself on to my feet, fight the sudden wave of nausea, and breathe in and out. My head clears. I begin the long walk out.

  I see an older woman, who I swore had blonde hair when I came in, now bald.  Her skin is the color of old parchment, jaundiced and covered in bruises.  The left side of her face is slack.  I don’t know what she’s got, but she has a slew of jellyfish on her pole.  She looks like she has been through all kinds of hell, I could only guess at what her diagnosis is and what her prognosis is going to be.  I give her that wink and whiplash smile that’s worked on every girl since I was sixteen.  “Take it easy love.” I say in a jaunty tone.  She smiles, wanly.
  There is a young woman in her late teens or very early twenties; she would be pretty if she wasn’t almost grey.  She’s reading that book about glittery vampires.  Suddenly, I can see her ultimate fantasy.  She would give anything to be a glittery vampire too.  She would give anything, not to be here, not to be sick, not to be plugged into this infernal damned beeping jellyfish, slowly poisoning her, so that she can live.  She wants to be pretty again, go to parties, to live…even if it means being a glittering vampire.

 I meander through the labyrinthine hallways, finally reaching the outside world.  It is balmy and wet.  The air is thick, humid, it smells like life.  It smells of civilization, and green living things.  It is good.  I suck it in. Finally I collapse in the driver’s seat of my car.  My head is vibrating; it feels like it will shake apart.  The meds are kicking out.  I drive home, carefully.  My arms are so scared with needle marks that any cop that pulls me over will think that I am a junkie for sure.

  I collapse, finally in my bed.  My wife and children rumble around me like tornadoes, each a swirling mass of chaos that I, in my fatigue, am almost oblivious to.  Later I awake, and write this. Not a dream, not a nightmare, some place where faces and time are distorted, memory is warped and reality becomes relative. 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Chaos, Complexity, Uncertainty and Expert Systems

Chaos:  a mathematical theory where small differences in initial conditions (such as those due to rounding errors in numerical computation) yield widely diverging outcomes for chaotic systems, rendering long-term prediction impossible in general.

Complexity: a condition of numerous elements in a system and numerous forms of relationships among the elements.

Uncertainty: A principle from quantum mechanics which states a fundamental limit on the accuracy with which certain pairs of physical properties of a particle, such as position and momentum, cannot be simultaneously known. In other words, the more precisely one property is measured, the less precisely the other can be controlled, determined, or known.

Expert System: a computer system that emulates the decision-making ability of a human expert. Expert systems are designed to solve complex problems by reasoning about knowledge, like an expert, and not by following the preprogrammed instructions of program code.

Question: Could our systems have evolved to the point where they are so complex, that they are beyond our control?

When you watch the pundits and experts pontificate about the economy, or geopolitics, do you ever feel that they seem to just appear to be bloviating about things that they really have no grip on?  In a game where there are 7 billion participants, can we ever guarantee an equality of outcomes?  Given so many variables and the ever more complex interactions with each other, can we truly be in control?

When we look at our world, we see so many closely coupled interactions that it may in point of fact, now be beyond the control of humanity to balance our supply chain, financial markets, and resources.  Consider how food in distributed throughout Africa.  If equality of outcome were possible, would there be millions of people starving to death.  If we could establish long term control, reducing the chaotic pressures of our current world state to small perturbations over time, instead of wild, bubble induced swings, would that not be better for our species in the long run?  Efficient, pragmatic, and science based solutions to energy, resource distribution and population governance may be the next stage of societal evolution.
I have suggested in the past, that in a world with plenty, where scarcity of food, or other resources, is a thing of the past, our conflicts may disappear. If you have all your needs met, and your wants are accessible, what do you complain about?  Do you still have wars over ideologies, when there are no oppressed?  When everyone is comfortable, do radical ideologies have anywhere to get a foothold?

If expert systems were available to distribute the least amount of negative outcomes across the widest population possible, would that actually work?  Note, I said, least amount of negative outcomes.  We cannot insure that everyone will always have the most awesome day ever, everyday.  But we can say that the least amount of “suck” will be distributed across the widest possible base, thus reducing the overall amount of negative outcomes.

Would such a system reduce the apparent Chaos currently affecting our world today?  In a post scarcity world, where computer systems increase human efficiency to the point that no one goes without, could we move from childhood to our more mature state?  I am not asking for a world where puppies and grandmas never die, and we live forever; such fantasies are unproductive flights of childish imagination.  I am looking for world where needless suffering and cruelty has been removed, and that we, as a species, can unite, toward loftier goals than internecine, tribal warfare; mindless, soul numbing entertainments and the other petty distractions that we have come to expect from 21st century humanity. 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Somnium 2

I surrender myself to the inevitable darkness of sleep, which in turn throws me into this night’s maelstrom.  How far down the rabbit hole of crazy will I allow myself to go tonight?  Bing…last floor, totally bizarre with drabs of paranoid.  Enjoy your stay, and please watch your step.

Things are out of sequence here, the glass is broken and then it is full, people move in reverse and reality is truly relative.  Like a poorly edited movie, I jump from scene to scene and none of it makes any sense.   There is nothing to which I can grasp on to, and I slide down into the warm embrace of madness.
The red, stained darkness of my mind reels at the disjointed assemblage of images running riot through the outer reaches of my skull.  Come on you demons, if you think you are hard enough. Let’s have at it then shall we.  Let’s play this night’s mad adventure out for real now.  Let us fight our apocalypse here, on this bare ground.  You, me, and all the chaotic self-destruction that we can muster; the party is at ground zero, and I brought the dip.

None of this is making any sense, but it no longer frightens me.  I am reveling in the chaos; bring it, I scream, and a demon’s head explodes in gory triumph.  Point blank, both barrels, screaming now.  Fix bayonets, and charge to the sound of the guns.  This is the revolution and it will not be televised.  Come on you demons and devils of the Id, let’s get this over with. 

A mirror shatters, and then reforms.  The glass was jagged, now it is smooth.  Smooth, flat, brilliant in the light.  Where is that light coming from? The glass is below the fight, which is falling upward, away from me.  Flat, featureless, dazzling …I’m falling faster, I can’t fly, but I am falling with style.  The glassy surface yields and I find myself in another space.

Brilliant and crystalline, it hums with a glorious pulse.  Everything moves; the subtle eddies of space-time are revealed, and order is resurrected. The crystal gives way to clockwork, gears slowly moving, time flowing as it should.  I open the door, onto an improbable beach.  Carl and Albert are sitting under a thick, sweet smelling cloud.  Their chaise lounges are parked next to a palm; their drinks are fuchsia with little yellow umbrellas.  The universe has had its way with me.  They raise their drinks and smile.
The alarm goes off.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Writers are an emotional lot.  They are sometimes oversensitive to the various in’s and out’s of human interaction.  What is just a minor spat to someone else becomes a lurid, overarching drama ending in tragedy.  What we often see on some of our more intellectually challenged television productions are just that, the poorly manufactured mountain out of a rather pathetic molehill.  Then there are those dramas that we act out in our daily existence.  These events occur in the darkness and obscurity of our private lives, hidden from the eyes of strangers and family alike, we suffer in silence.  It is my firm belief that there are two types of people in life, victims and survivors.  The victim picks at the scab of tragedy, relishing in the pain.  The survivor adapts, overcomes and allows even the deepest wounds to scar over, to mend and heal with time.  Some wounds however, run deep.  They terrify the soul, and burn our conscience.
Betrayal is that deep wound.  I am speaking not of something as prurient as the betrayal of a lover, or a friend, but of something much deeper; when our body fails us, that is the most devastating betrayal of all.  We all understand our mortality, we see those around us age, become frail and fade into memory.  We except the inevitable direction of time’s arrow, and we cling to each day, sucking the marrow out of each moment.  We are blissfully ignorant of our deaths. Then we stumble, our body fails us.  For the first time we realize our mortality, we see what has been invisible to this point.  The clock of our lives is finite; seconds, minutes, hours, days and years are ticking by ever faster.  There is no reset, and zero hour is coming up fast.
I never knew fear until my body failed me.  I was never afraid of the long dark nights.  I slept well.  I went about my daily tasks, not caring about my portion of life.  I lived.  Right up until I started to die.  My body was at war with itself.  As the battles raged, I found myself in a hospital bed, facing the inevitable; with no other choice, I jumped. With zero options, surgery was the only way out.  The medications were administered, I was anesthetized, and the doctors operated. I remember waking, being relieved that the journey to the west had not ended.  I would see another dawn.
My memories are foggy about that time.  They are distorted by the pain medication, and even the pain itself.  Nightmares still haunt me, even a year later.  Fear, confusion, doubt hound me.  There are days where I am paralyzed by weakness.  Sleepless nights, frustrated days, and the constant pain of rehabilitation, I am still hurt by this betrayal of the flesh.  I am stunned by my mortality. The physical scars have healed, but they still transect my body and are visible.  They are the first thing that I see when I use the bathroom mirror.  Some days, they don’t take my breath away.  Other days, I am still shocked by them, an eternal reminder of the time my body betrayed me.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hold Fast

One of my favorite movies is the often maligned “Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World”.  I think it is about the most accurate depiction of life at sea on board a Royal Navy Frigate during the Napoleonic Wars as can be produced.  In one of the scenes is an old Jack Tar who has seen many years before the mast.  Wizened and carved by the elements, this old salt has tattooed across his hands the words, “Hold Fast”.  In his age, he had to, just to survive. He held fast to the rigging, else he would have fallen to his death many a time.  He had seen the roughest life could be, and yet he was still ticking along.

So, why the reference; have you been watching the news lately?  Our nation is before the mast; we are facing the highest winds, the most frightening waves, we are storm tossed, rudderless.  The helm of state is hard over all the way, but we cannot turn.  Like the Titanic, we face nothing short of icy Armageddon.  This is not about politics. I am not being political. The facts present themselves, I am merely interpreting them.

If you except my interpretation, then as chaos erupts about us, what should you do? As the old Jack Tar said, you hold fast.  You hold fast to those truths that are irrefutable, you hold fast to those things which will lift you up, you hold fast to those people who will stand with you.  If you are a person of faith, hold fast to that.  If you are a skeptic, hold fast to that.  Pragmatism, honest questioning, fair play, the essentials of human decency are our rigging, and we are going to hold fast to them.

Nations will rise and fall, the sea of history is one of conflict and turmoil, with brief moments of glacial calm.  As the ship that is our nation is tossed about in the storms of economic chaos, we must hold fast.  We must hold fast to our freedom, we must hold fast to justice, we must hold fast to our reason.  When we are beset by storms, and the inexplicable events of life, it is our reason, the sapient part of our humanity, which must prevail.  It is too easy to just surrender to the insanity, too simple to let go and stop fighting.  The hardest thing to do is to hold fast.

Yes, our muscles ache. Yes, our calloused hands are bleeding.  Yes, we are tired.  But if we let go we will die.  We will die as sure as if we had fallen from the rigging.  Freedom and prosperity are not easy, they are hard won.  They require focus and management, they need tending.  Our moral imperative is to maintain what was given to us for the next generation, so they can bring it forward to the next. This is the way of things.

So what do you do when the rain falls from the sky, the seas rise from their depths, and the very pillars of heaven shake?  As the man says, “You’d better hold fast.”

Friday, July 29, 2011

Screaming at the wind

If you scream and no one is listening, did you actually scream at all?  There are times when it is all I can do just not to completely surrender to the chaos, the swirling effervescent madness that is all around us.  In a crowded room of people talking about the trivia of the day, it is all I can do to contain my fury.  Is this the best that we can come up with?
Thousands of years of progress have led us to what?  A pre-processed, self absorbed society obsessed with celebrity, the sexualizing of our children, sublimating creativity, perverting passion, and dismissing reason, because it is inconvenient to be educated and think.  It is much better to be a passive consumer, don’t make waves, don’t create, and don’t yearn to be free.
Free is hard, it is complicated, it requires knowledge and skill.  You can’t sit and watch hundreds of hours of television and be free.  You can’t have a world of pundits and policy wonks tell you about how things should be if you are free.  If you are free you can think for yourself, you can apply reason and skepticism, you can derive first principles through understanding and observation.  You can make things if you are free, and the things that you make will be useful and have a certain raw beauty because you made them. 
If you are free, than you can be heard, because your voice is your own.  It is drawn out of you, compelled not by “animal spirits” but by the very fact that you are free.  You choose to sing, laugh, shout and cry, because you are free.  You can go about your life, as you see fit.  Living in harmony, knowing that you are free, freedom is hopeful.  Because you are free, you can step aside from the petty prejudices and tribal hatreds that have bound us to outmoded superstitions.
I yearn for this type of freedom.  I am tired of being afraid; I am tired of looking down.  I am tired of being told, “This is for your own good.” I am tired of the mendacity and mediocrity; I am tired of being ignored.  I am tired of being taken for granted; I AM TIRED OF NOT BEING LISTENED TO!  They hear me well enough, but they don’t listen.  Listening requires intellectual effort, and thought.  I am just background noise, like an overloud radio or television, they just mute me.
I am screaming, in the wind.  I can feel the rawness in my throat; my eyes are tearing with the effort.  I am jumping, shouting, yelling, cursing but to no avail.  The wind steals my voice, and I am just another mad man, yelling silently in the gloaming.  There is nothing to see here folks, move along.

Monday, July 4, 2011

235 years anon

July 4, 1776, a group of men, sweltering in the heat of Philadelphia in the summer, complete a document.  It is unlike any other document ever written.  It separates what hitherto have been colonies from their colonizer; it creates a nation from nothing but a tax revolt and an idea.  The idea is one so profound that it’s still reverberating into our time.  Can humans govern themselves, justly and rationally?

These men wrote down, for the first time the founding ideals of what they would base their government on.  They made the astounding revelation that all men are created equal, and that they are entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  A few years later, they crafted a Constitution, which enumerated the powers of the government, describing in detail exactly what the limits were for those who would run our country.  We are the first nation to do so, to set down in black and white what we believe and how we should conduct our governance.

In 1861 we fought a war to define just what a man was, and what the word “American” means.  Today we understand that men, is a noun that constitutes all members of the species Homo sapiens; that it does not discriminate by color, creed, or sex.  If you are a human, you should be free and allowed to pursue your life’s course as you will.  Since then we have lit the world with the light from the shining city on the hill, always trying to free the oppressed.
Are we a perfect nation? No.  Sadly, we are a nation of humans, with the frailty associated with that state.  Our sins have been spread across the world, for all to see.  Our reach has exceeded our grasp, but our heart is in the right place.  We don’t occupy, we liberate.  We build schools, not walls.  We bring water, power, and light to those places where there isn’t any.  We sacrifice our dearest blood and costliest treasure to ensure the freedom of humanity.

And so the sun rises on the 236th year of our republic, we have many accomplishments under our belt, but the road ahead leads through some dark times.  Our nation, leveraged to the hilt, must find a way toward the promise of tomorrow.  We need to make sure that the work of our Founders continues, that we live up to their aspirations, the dedication and sacrifices of generations past, and the responsibility of the us here in the present.  We must ensure that ours is not the generation that squanders the gifts of freedom, so that our children can enjoy them in the future, and to that end defend our republic and the ideals which it was founded upon.  So, the revolution continues, each generation entrusted to carry the flame, one step further down the path, lighting the way to tomorrow.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Romance in the Time of Riots

                                     This image was sourced from Getty Images Worldwide.

There are few constants in the human drama, but amongst them is the need for comfort and solace in the time of great confusion and chaos.  When the world is falling down around us, we seek solace in the embrace of our loved ones.  It is our essential need to be wanted or loved.  Whether it is the unconditional furry love of a dog, or the embrace of a lover, we need that contact that tells us we are not alone.

So much of our lives are spent in dizzying pursuits.  We chase our careers and the almighty dollar, often to the neglect of ourselves and those that we love.  Love is a funny thing though.  If you ask someone why they do what they do, it is for “love”.  “I want my___ to have whatever they want or need.”  We show our affection in the form of an almost obsessive compulsion to acquire wealth, position, status.  In the end it is our pursuits that overwhelm us, and we lose ourselves in the mundane trivia of the day-to-day.

And then, chaos erupts.  Disease strikes or a natural disaster destroys, and we find ourselves looking at our “stuff”.  How many people have lost their homes, in the tornadoes that have swept America, only to find that what they were most grateful for was the safety of a child, parent, or family member; People wept openly when a pet emerged from the rubble of what had been their home.  They combed the wreckage of their town, searching for those that are lost.

This is our humanity in the raw.  The distilled essence of what we should be.  Our capacity for great good and decency spills out.  We are our truest selves in the midst of a crisis.  When we stand against all odds that is when we shine as a species.  People coming to help, not even knowing what to do, but coming across great distances, because they know that they must help these people.

Love is the power of the human mind to reach outside itself, and consider the needs of someone else above our own.  It isn’t the eroticism gawked at society, made prurient and criminal by religion, but the higher notion of being more than just an island alone, against an uncaring and unfeeling universe.  Love is the peculiar binder of two souls in the dark and vast cosmos.

Which leads to us to the image above; as absolute chaos erupts, two human beings find each other. They embrace, holding onto one another as their civilization is being torn apart. In a moment of noise and tumult, confusion verging on anarchy, they kiss.  In that kiss, they ignore all the destruction going on around them, and for a brief moment, become a universe unto themselves.  They ignore the riot police, truncheons drawn; they ignore the rioters, looting and burning; they ignore the hardness of the pavement, they ignore everything but each other.  They are in the moment.

Later there will be discussions of how and why.  Discussions of “Where is our car?” or “Did you see that cop smack that kid?”  What they will always remember, is that kiss, that fundamental expression of our humanity, in the middle of a riot.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Old Man and the Sea of Tranquility

All I can hear is my breathing…a regular in and out, echoing inside my helmet.  I’m just trying to be in the moment, breathing to relax.  Here I am, in a closet sized room, waiting to go someplace I have been wanting to go my whole life.
As a child, my family would watch the Apollo moon landing footage on our super 8 projector.  I must have made my dad rewind that film a million times.  The shadowy footage of Armstrong stepping out into the blinding sun of Mare Tranquilitatis is burned into my childhood memory lie some sort of surreal afterimage.  How many models of the Lunar Module did I build?  The space shuttle?  My life has been spent looking up at the stars through telescopes and the cockpits of planes. 
How many times did I study the lunar surface from afar, dreaming of stepping out into its magnificent desolation?  I have sacrificed so much to get here.  Time and money sure, but also family and relationships; this is a one way trip.  There is no going back.
But I’m okay with that.  Most people are consigned to a hole in the ground, or a discarded urn on someone’s shelf. I’m here, now…as alive as I have ever been.  There is a voice in my headset, “Ten seconds to vacuum, confirm seals shut and locked.”  My suit is pressurized. It is so much lighter than when I tried it on Earth side.  The green light goes red.  The hatch unlocks.
I slide the gold visor down, my heart is racing now.  The hatch dilates, and suddenly I am awash in raw sunlight.  Brighter than the brightest day, I stumble out of the modest confines of my ship.  More like a balloon inside a tinker toy frame, with rockets bolted on, it was designed to bring me here.  Another larger balloon was sent up months ago, now buried under several feet of lunar regolith (dirt to most folks) it will be my last home in this life.
I’m not really thinking about that now.  I am alive, for the time being, and I will enjoy my time here.  For a man well into his 70’s in lunar gravity I’m quite spry.  I bounce out across the surface; in one sixth earth gravity, I can really move.  The old boy still has it. Hoddy Toddy, and away we go.
I am bounding across the surface, nothing I have ever done before has felt this good.  The arthritis is still there, but it doesn’t matter.  I move with a song in my heart and a spring in my step.   I have a mile to go to the shelter, but I am making good time.  I am moving like I did when I was a kid, I’m not even winded.
I’m having so much fun, that I begin to forget where I am.  I slow down and come to a stop, just shy of a small rise.  I turn around, hopping in place.  I see my ship, sitting in the distance.  It glistens like a gold wrapped candy in the sunlight.  It was my way here, and she’ll sit in the sun now forever, her job done.  Rest in Peace baby, and thank you.
I turn back toward the “base”…that’s a formal term; it’s more like a double wide, more like “rednecks in space”.  But it’ll be home.  I look up.  The Earth, rising above the horizon.  That was home; everything and everyone I have ever known and heard of is back there.  That blue and white orb is the representation of all of humanity.  Our cradle, our home, our trap - if we don’t get going.  It’s beautiful.  Standing in the stunning sunlight of lunar day, looking back at all that I have left behind, I consider the future, and my new home.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Stars, at Night

“When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” -- Leonardo da Vinci

“I believe that we have come this far by the skin of our teeth, that we always make it just by the skin of our teeth — but that we will always make it … survive … endure. I believe that this hairless embryo with the aching, oversize brain case and the opposable thumb, this animal barely up from the apes, will endure — will endure longer than his home planet, will spread out to the other planets, to the stars, and beyond, carrying with him his honesty, his insatiable curiosity, his unlimited courage — and his noble essential decency.  This I believe with all my heart.” – Robert A. Heinlein

When was the last time that you looked up into the night’s sky?  When was the last time that you contemplated the wonder of the stars?  How many people have stopped looking up into the night?  In many of our cities, the light pollution is so bad that even if we were so inclined, the stars are obscured from our view.  Our inspiration for centuries of progress, lost in the pollution of our civilization.

In many arguments about going to the stars, many point out to the various injustices and crises here at home, saying that these should be our first duty.  The stars can wait, they say, first we need to clean up our home.  They point to the costs, saying the vast sums are best spent at home.  They point to the risks, saying that the danger is too high.

In a world of accountants and lawyers, where we have become risk adverse, frightened of ourselves, pulled by the extremes of dogma, confined by an almost universal lack of vision, we have turned away from the stars.  We look downward, inward. We have squandered our tomorrow, for the sybaritic indulgences of today. 

Not everyone moved from the Old World to the New World.  Only a few individuals made the trek out of Africa all those countless centuries and generations ago.  My own ancestors moved from Belarus and Romania at the turn of the last century, no doubt leaving behind sisters, brothers and cousins.  Not everyone is going to the stars. I won’t and unfortunately, neither will you.  Civilization is not about today, it is about tomorrow.

Why build anything at all, if we aren’t in this for the future?  If we stay here only, then our future is finite.  We will last until our resources run out, and then we will be prisoners here, as our star swells, eventually consuming us.  Or, we go out into the night, we learn and grow as we find ourselves on new worlds, eventually around new stars, we evolve. 

Do we dare to dream new dreams, to do the big things, not because they are easy or popular, but because they are our destiny?  Will we stop looking downward, counting the cracks in the pavement of our civilization, compiling the trivia into encyclopedic volumes, or start looking up…looking out into the night once more.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Streamlined and Modern

from the movie "Things to Come" 1936
Standing tough under stars and stripes
We can tell
This dream's in sight
You've got to admit it
At this point in time that it's clear
The future looks bright
On that train all graphite and glitter
Undersea by rail
Ninety minutes from New York to Paris
Well by seventy-six we'll be A.O.K.

What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free

Get your ticket to that wheel in space
While there's time
The fix is in
You'll be a witness to that game of chance in the sky
You know we've got to win
Here at home we'll play in the city
Powered by the sun
Perfect weather for a streamlined world
There'll be spandex jackets one for everyone

What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free

On that train all graphite and glitter
Undersea by rail
Ninety minutes from New York to Paris
(More leisure time for artists everywhere)
A just machine to make big decisions
Programmed by fellows with compassion and vision
We'll be clean when their work is done
We'll be eternally free yes and eternally young

What a beautiful world this will be
What a glorious time to be free

“I.G.Y.” Donald Fagen, the Nightfly

First let me apologize for the delay in posting, but life is what happens between blog updates.

Imagine if you will a world that works.  A world where everything you need is a click away on your smart phone.  Medical care is affordable, efficient, and available.  Transportation is traffic free, and we move about our cities as efficiently as we move about our homes.  Information is accessible anywhere at any time, and it is sorted in a way we can see, hear and understand on an intuitive level.

Our civilization would be managed by expert systems, computers like the IBM Watson system, only vastly more powerful.  This is not say that humans would be unnecessary, but automation and networking go together; the movement of resources, the transmission of energy, the flow of things, are all susceptible to automation. Things would work, there would be no “systems integration issues” (“This damn thing isn’t working, why sweet lord Jesu, why!!!”)

Things would be clean, well managed, and orderly.  Everywhere.  If you touch down in Addis Ababa, your phone will work, you have access to everything that you would have at home, and be able to speak to the cab driver in his language, thanks to on-the-fly translation from your smart phone.  This is not to say that we won’t have drama.

People are people, no matter how smoothly things run.  Grandmas and puppies will still die, and the general human capacity to behave in the absolute worst possible way as often as permissible, would still be in effect.  But what if we reduce the opportunity for humans to behave badly?

What if our world ran so smoothly, that we had what we needed, when we needed it?  We would have more than enough, for billions, not just those that live in a geographic region or particular nation state.  We could have plenty not for those who look like us, or subscribe to our particular religious convictions or any religious convictions for that matter.  Our civilization would be truly civilized, global in scope, moving smoothly across the Earth’s surface.  In a world where there is no scarcity, would there be conflicts?

If we make a world, where we harness energy from the sun, the sea, the wind and the Earth itself, what would be our limitation?  When we can manufacture what we need from raw materials in our homes, make what we want, when we want it, at little or no cost, what are we fighting over?  Do we still have politics? Do we still have jingoistic nationalism and religious fundamentalism?  If your needs are met, you live in comfort, and things work, what do you have to complain about?  

from the movie "Things to Come" 1936

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Thoughts on Politics, Post-Rapture };-)

 “I'll show you politics in America. Here it is, right here. ‘I think the puppet on the right shares my beliefs.’ ‘I think the puppet on the left is more to my liking.’ ‘Hey, wait a minute, there's one guy holding out both puppets!’ -- Bill Hicks, Rant in E-Minor (released posthumously, 1997)

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” -- Winston Churchill, Speech in the House of Commons: The Official Report, House of Commons (5th Series), 11 November 1947, vol. 444, cc. 206–07

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you really want to test his character, give him power.” -- Abraham Lincoln

“Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.”-- Groucho Marx

When we as a nation engage in the political process, our assumption is that we are electing individuals who reflect our common values, shared beliefs, and our highest aspirations.  We make these assumptions because the other side of the equation is that these are people who are cynical manipulators and self-absorbed deal makers, who look at their duties as just steps up the inevitable career ladder.
            We expect our leader to exhibit self control and wisdom.  Instead, it seems we have only been blessed with people of mediocre intellect, no self-discipline and a perverse sense of self-importance.  We ask our leaders to provide conscientious leadership, reflecting the morality of the community at large.  What we have seen of late is that our leaders seem bereft of any morality whatsoever, and are hypocrites of the first order.  A lot of “Do as I say, not as I do.” is going on in the corridors of power, where people who have been buying and selling influence for generations, are daily making exchanges, compromising the ideals of our republic.
            They have sworn an oath to preserve and defend the Constitution, but they have really defended the status quo.  The back scratching and deal making have become so institutionalized, that any outsider is faced with either signing on to the “system”, or quickly becoming politically insignificant.  This is the way of the world, and it appears there is little actual effort to make any changes.  Left or right, they are both branches of the same corrupt tree, and therefore present only the illusion of choice.
            Illegitimate children, drug addictions, and other affronts to the excepted conventional American lifestyle aside, the question is why are so shocked by all of this?  These behaviors are nothing new and as previously mentioned this is the way we have been doing business for generations now.  If we really wanted to change all of this, would we not?  The fact is, that the Romans figured it out, that as long as people could vote themselves bread and circuses, the politicians could get away with a great deal of  mischief.  The illusion of republican ideals, held together with institutionalized corruption will bring about the same result. Pax Americana will grind to a halt, and our time in the spotlight will be over.  That is the true apocalypse.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Thoughts on the coming apocalypse

Dr. Peter Venkman: Well, you can believe Mr. Pecker...
Walter Peck: My name is "Peck."
Dr. Peter Venkman: Or you can accept the fact that this city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
Mayor: What do you mean, "Biblical"?
Dr. Raymond Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor– real wrath-of-God type stuff! Fire and brimstone coming down from the sky! Rivers and seas boiling!
Dr. Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness! Earthquakes, volcanoes...
Winston Zeddmore: The dead rising from the grave!
Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!
Mayor: Enough! I get the point! And what if you're wrong?  Ghostbusters 1984

To begin, let me first qualify that I am not subscribing to any religious fanaticism.  I am skeptical of anyone who says they have found the revealed truth in an oft mis-translated translation of a translation.  Let me also say that if you find comfort in your faith, by all means continue to do so, for it would be cruel of me to strip you of your comfort.
That being said, apparently some folks of the deeply religious persuasion seem to feel that the end of the world should be happening on May 21st.  May 21st, 2011 to be exact; now in all seriousness, I do not…repeat, do not, believe that these folks have any veracity whatsoever.  At best what they are doing is selectively reading something that was poorly translated from the original, doing some rather dubious calculations, and coming up with a solution to fit their interpretation.
Which leads me to the topic of our conversation: What if, two days hence, the world is in fact coming to an end?  Maybe not the whole world, let’s just say “The End of The World as We Know It.” Our civilization will grind to a spectacular halt, consumed by a fiery flood, and by Sunday morning it will be all over.  What do you do? There will be no chiseled, square-jawed heroes to save us, no super humans in spandex, we are doomed.  Now what?
Do you spend your last few hours with those that you love? Do you make peace with all those who you have had “issues” with? Do you go out in a sybaritic festival of indulgence that would make Caligula blush? Or, as the clock runs out, do you grab your bug-out-bag, fuel up the four wheel drive and head for the hills, hoping to survive?
What can you do as the hands of the Doomsday clock reach midnight and the bell tolls? Panic, scream in impotent fury, cry, invoke the active deity of your choice, or party like its 1999?  How do you tell your kids? How do you let them know that you can’t save them, you can’t protect them and that it is all going to end, now?
Now think about how this makes you feel? Are you afraid? Angry? Hurt? Consider this: You will have a higher probability that you will have a devastating car accident than you will face an asteroid impact extinction level event.  What foolish drama have you let run your life today? Why did you yell at your kids, or your spouse? Was it important? Was it more important than the end of the world?
I will assume that the answer is no.  So hug your kids, your spouse, or your cat(if it will let you). Tell them you love them.  Work out your issues.  You can’t solve every problem, and some people just can’t be fixed. Run up that hill, but have a candy bar every now and then.  Live, just live. Be happy, but not deliriously so (it makes people nervous). Because a bad day isn’t the end of the world.
On a side note: IF the world does end, I will stand corrected. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

In the beginning...

“The beginning is a very delicate time…” Princess Irulan, Dune

This is a new venture.  Like many attempts previously, it might peter out in a blaze of obscurity.  I will assume that it won’t.  In that assumption let me tell you about what this blog will be about.  It will be about observation, and detail.  It will be looking at the world as it is, paying attention to those things that seems to get missed in all the noise surrounding us.
It will also be about looking at the world at is may yet be.  We will discuss technology, not from a wonkish, techno-geek perspective, but from a more human based point of view.  Geeking out about this tech or that tech is covered ad nauseum, what we will look at is the effect of technology on humanity.  A sound tool in the right hand can do more to improve the human condition than all the political machinations devised.
            We will talk about the future.  About climbing out of mankind’s cradle, and moving off into the vastness of space.  We will work toward a world where things work; a world where our children and their children live at peace.  A world where there is plenty, where disease and war are things talked about in history books. These are our aspirations.
           I believe that all problems are solvable, provided that one can employ enough resources to the solution.  Solutions come from the application of effort, not based on fear or ignorance, but reasoned effort.  Reason, sweat equity and humility might do more for man in the long run.  A rational pragmatism, based on soundly arrived principles can unify humanity.  Not that such a thing is going to happen today.
Today is also another part of what I want to talk about.  We have a war of pundits in boxes, juxtaposed by their inability to find common ground.  When people decide to strap bombs on their children, because they hate their enemies more than they love their children, what does that say about humanity? And why all this hate, because reason has been submitted to the dogma of faith.  When we point at the other, and scream “Infidel”, “Yankee”, “Democrat” or “Conservative”, what possible good can come from that? Do you have to be wrong for me to be right?
          Do not take this as a pacifistic attitude.  Pacifists usually have bad endings. I believe in standing, defiantly. There will always be things to fight for, and maybe we will be on the right side of history.  That is for generations yet unborn to decide.  Standing is not passive, it is provocative.  It is looking the Man in the eye and calling him out for the ills he has caused.  It is giving the digitius impudicus, it is saying “Come and get them” when you are told to lay down your weapons, it is saying “I refuse.” when faced with force. They can only kill you once, right?
         We will stand firmly in the present, looking toward tomorrow.  I will be wrong, I will be right, I may in fact be wishy washy.  I reserve the right to amend my positions and grow as we go through this process.  This is a two way process, as no blog is any good without commentary.  And so, I invite yours, as we begin.