A Walk at the Abbey

A sandy, rocky creek bed in high desert.
Early winter, the day is cool, dry, sunny
The creek is almost gone, left behind
is a small run of water,
more than a trickle, but not much
Finding its way among the rocks
lush with water plants, testifying to the months that this tiny
movement of water has survived a dry, dry season.

Following the water, I have a need to find
a stick. A walking stick. A swinging, whacking stick. A stick
to satisfy the little boy in me.
There is one. Right sized and sturdy.
Covered in rough bark giving a firm grip, it will do.
Now equipped I continue walking, whacking bushes
and scribing lines in the sand and golfing small rocks,
As sticks are meant to do.

Then, around a small bend, at the base of a cut bank
the water ends. Running free then it stops in a sandy, rocky basin.
It must sink into the ground here. There is no other outlet.
Does it feed an underground lake?
Or join an invisible river racing beneath us to who
knows where?

I contemplate this briefly, then, finding no lesson,
continue my walk along the now totally
dry creek bed. A bed that is wide and wild and rushing after a rain
in the desert. But now is quiet and empty. A canvas of rock and sand.
I drag my stick along as I walk.

My stick is a quill that traces my path.
It makes a furrow on the sand and skips along the tops of the rocks.
An erratic record of my path. Of my life in this short walk. Of my life.
I turn and look at where I walked. There are some marks scattered here and there,
but mostly nothing.
I walked there, but the rocks don’t tell.
I leave the stream bed, still dragging my stick and reach a broad, dry sandy expanse.
My stick could leave a long straight furrow here, but why?

It would be boring, I think.
I drop my stick and continue over the broad expanse of sameness.
Not sure what lies after, my walk is done.


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“unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance”.

Karl Popper.

See here for discussion of how this affects our universities in the West.

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Trump = Kleptocrat?

As seen by South Asian powers currently – among other interesting views.

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Tribes and their creation

I just found this old post from Slate Star Codex wherein he discusses tribalism. In the post he uses the term “conservation of tribalism” as a question about why humans tend to gravitate towards a tribe. A partial answer is the need for identity and community that we humans have. Some of the questions raised in my mind include – Is identity politics, therefore, necessarily bad? Where do people go to find community if the old modes break down? (eg, organized religion, patriotism) Are we creating more micro tribes by challenging the larger community affiliations we have? (Nationhood or Western Civilization, for example) What are the relative powers of race, ethnicity, culture, ideology/religion, etc to create a tribal identity? Are different tribes necessarily in conflict if they organize around different issues? Can one be seriously multi-tribal?

No answers for now, but I hope to think about these things.

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Breaking Smart

Well worth reading. Food for thought. Underestimates the power of existing institutions to interfere and derail (witness China) and underestimates the effects of underlying hardware reliability, but good insights for the most part.

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[It’s] not censorship, it’s consciousness raising

That is a quote from a NYT review of a contemporary Chinese art exhibit.

I am sure that rationale has been used thousands of times by censors from every culture from every historical period. And yet we still fool ourselves with it. In this context it is used to justify the exclusion of three pieces of “art” from the exhibit. Whether they were truly art is debatable, but their exclusion is clearly censorship by people whose moral sensibilities were offended.

I find it disturbing that censorship is regaining favor among the general population, especially the young and educated. The rationale is no different than it was a thousand years ago – the thought, the speech, the depiction are simply wrong and will disturb the moral order of individuals and society. Therefore, they should not be thought, spoken or shown.

I guess we will see how this evolves. Edit – Or how I evolve on this subject.

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Watching the Chilean Miner Rescue

As I sit in front of my computer watching a live feed of the rescue of the Chilean miners I am awed by the simplicity of the scene. A simple trapezoidal steel frame supporting a large traveler wheel. A steel wire that first was descending into the hole and is now ascending from the hole, with a miner inside the cage.

Five or six orange clad men with hard hats clustered around the shaft opening just watching while the capsule descended. Drinking coffee, pacing, chatting, kicking something near the opening. But now the capsule is coming up and more people cluster around. The orange clad men are closest to the opening and appear official but others gather in more casual clothing – all with hard hats. I don’t know where the VIP’s are but I bet they will appear as the capsule gets closer. This is the 16th man, I believe. Half way through the 33.

The machine on camera is simple. Oh, the siren goes off. The capsule is near. A feed of a woman hugging rescuers. I guess the mother or wife of the man coming up.

Now there is a close-up of the shaft opening. It is tiny. The woman is crying as she waits. No news reporter interference. Just simple human emotion as rescuers and family experience the moment. Here it is. Slowly. It is quiet. The a round of applause. It is up. They talk to the rescued as he waits patiently inside the capsule and the rescuers detach him. A young man. The woman is his mother. They hug and she doesn’t want to let go. He hugs and greets the rescuers. As he lies on the stretcher to go get medical attention he has a huge smile.

And now the capsule is checked over and prepared to return to the depths for the next. The 17th.

A crude elevator is the final chapter of this rescue. The intervening chapters are a slurry of humanity and technology. As is much of our modern life.

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On Growing Up

I started this post in August and merely entered a title. Obviously I thought the title would be enough to stimulate my memory of whatever idea I had. Didn’t work. I have no memory of what I was planning on saying or why. While trying to remember, though, I started thinking about the creation of ideas. Where do they come from? Why are they sometimes ephemeral?

I have been trying to write down notes when I have an idea for this journal. I don’t have them often because I don’t think about this journal often. The ideas tend to come in bunches. Often I will have an idea which, upon reflection, turns in to an opinion. An opinion must stand up to a more rigorous test than an idea, I think. As I wrote in the Ignorance entry, my opinion doesn’t necessarily have to be expert but it must have some special insight from my experience. At least special to me, if not to you.

But, back to ideas. Thinking aloud (that is with not great depth) it appears to me that ideas come from some conflation of experience and stimulus. That is, some current physical or intellectual or emotional stimulus catalyzes prior experience and thinking. Or it might complete a chain of experiences. Ideas are, by definition, products of inductive thinking. Not necessarily conscious induction.

So if an idea has come to me and it seems worthwhile enough to write down, why can’t I remember it? Is it a function of my particular memory failure or is it a reflection on the worthiness of the idea? Or is it a result of not fleshing out, there and then, the insight that I had and thus losing the connectedness of experience and stimulus. I suggest the latter, at least in this case.

An idea or insight is usually the “tail of an elephant” as one of my old bosses would say. To internalize it and create value with it, I must push and pull and twist the idea to make it concrete in my mind. With the idea that is the title of this post, I did not do so. So losing the insight can be laid at the feet of sloth. Of that I am often guilty.

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The Right of Ignorance

As I think and write about things I often ask myself why do I think I have something to say about a particular topic. Have I studied it? Not usually. Have I researched it? Rarely. Have I experience in the topic? Sometimes. Have I thought about it? Always.

So is thinking about a topic sufficient reason to write about it? Do I, or anyone for that matter, have the right – not the first amendment right but the intellectual right – to venture opinion on subjects on which I am not expert. And by expert I mean that I have not necessarily read or researched extensively or, even, at all what others have said, written, thought.

In some ways, writing, like talking, is a form of thinking. By writing we are forced to form sentences and paragraphs, we must try to form a logical narrative of our assumptions and conclusions. If we edit our own writing we even must come to some conclusion about whether what we say we think actually makes sense. Of course I am talking about expository writing, not polemics or apologetics where one crafts arguments to support a forgone conclusion.

Although we can nitpick about what is polemics, it is easy to spot in practice. It normally contains no doubts, no alternatives and, generally, sarcasm in generous helpings.

But back to my initial question. Is it intellectually okay for me to venture an opinion and throw it out into the public on a subject I do not have a PhD in? I am not asking if it is wise. It may very well be foolhardy if I am thin skinned. I am asking if it is okay.

My answer is yes. I don’t need to be an expert. What I need is the ability to think about something and then to articulate my thoughts. It is okay to be ignorant about a topic and still have an opinion. It is just as reasonable to do that as it is to live life without knowing how everyone else is living theirs. It is therefore reasonable to have an opinion about something in the context of my own limited life experience and intellectual breadth and depth. That does not mean that it is okay to be irrational, illogical or vindictive. As in life, an honest, hopeful and truth seeking approach works best.

Having said that, can I then assume I have something to contribute? No. I probably have nothing to contribute but I have, nonetheless, gained something – greater insight into that topic for myself. Practice at thinking and then writing what I think.

So, despite my abysmal ignorance I grant myself the right to write. About economics, family, public policy, good and bad, sports, government, philosophy, God and other sundry topics as the whim takes me. I suggest that you pray for me.

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Customer Service Surveys

There are a few websites I use regularly that constantly send email surveys asking me to rate my most recent experience. Generally my experience is good, but if it isn’t then I will contact someone. But the one thing that is degrading my experience is the constant survey requests. Stop already! I don’t need an email every third time I use your site! The survey request is the most annoying and least efficient part my experiences.

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