Henry Hemming’s book The Ingenious Mr. Pyke
is a well-written page-turner that reads like an adventure story. Of
particular interest is the nurture of innovation, summarized by the
epilogue and the final section, which I have enhanced, listed here and rendered as
a mind-map, to give two alternative views of the same information.
I have experienced some modest success conjuring innovative ideas from a
group of peers. It works very well. Our interpersonal relationships with each
other were relaxed and respectful. We had fun; there was much laughter and
a strong sense of camaraderie. Geoffrey Pyke looked for the seemingly
absurd and ridiculous and, in so doing, developed novel solutions to difficult
We found better ways of doing things by brainstorming and using trade-studies
to select the best solution. Our work environment was open, honest, and
imbued with a freedom to try the unusual. We allowed ourselves to fail, try
again, fail, try again, and succeed. We had alternative plans to try if one
course of action proved blocked by prevailing circumstances. We delivered our
product on time and within budget.
Were I to lead a project again, I would use the Pykean guide as a template
to guide and record the development progress and solutions. Knowing the path a
project has followed is useful during the out-years when there is uncertainty
about the reasons for the design decisions.
We came away from our projects with a sense of accomplishment and professional
Pykean Guide to Innovation Mind-map
Pykean Guide to Innovation Listing
Be prepared to look silly.
Be willing to make mistakes.
Don’t be afraid of ridicule.
Question accepted truths.
Keep going until one truth is found to ring hollow.
It is easier to solve a problem than it is to identify the problem.
Dispense with preconceived notions:
Cultivate the inquisitiveness of a child’s mind.
Cultivate the beginner’s mind.
To these minds all things are possible and don’t know that something
can’t be done.
Refine the problem or question:
Tiny adjustments to the formulation of a problem can unlock a torrent of fresh ideas.
The correct formulation of a problem is more than halfway to its solution.
Mine the past for historical analogies and lost solutions.
Survey the wider world:
Never limit research to a single field.
Cultivate broad general knowledge.
Look for correlations everywhere:
Everything is irrelevant till correlated with
Identifying correlations is not a question of ability, but of
Wildly inventive teenager:
Teenager represents fantasy.
Proposes and takes things to extremes.
Psychiatrist represents reality.
Does not shoot down ideas.
Allows the teenage voice of fantasy to finish each train of thought.
Dialogue begins with the patient presenting the problem in its
most pared-down form, after which the conversation proceeds under
its own momentum until it produces either a subject for further
research or a solution.
Try inverting and reversing concepts to see what is revealed.
Don’t become attached to a tentative solution.
Try, fail, learn, and try again as soon as possible.
Extend and share ownership of the idea.
All innovations must encounter resistance.
Expect resistance and plan the presentation of the idea accordingly.
Innovative ideas can be threatening to creatures of tradition and habit.
Use clear narrative to promote new ideas.
Weigh the pros and cons.
Contrast development of an idea against inaction.
Enlist the early adopters.
What lessons are there to learn from success or failure of an idea.
I don’t understand the current craze for vinyl. I was glad when CDs arrived. Admittedly, I wasn’t buying
audiophile pressings, so perhaps I should have been a little less annoyed
by the pops and crackles produced by brand-new LPs
never before played. My strategy during the Age of Vinyl
was to record the first play of an LP to cassette tape and then use the
cassette for frequent listening; in this way, I reduced the wear on the LP
to a minimum.
Straight from the Horse’s Mouth
Any mechanical or electrical recording is a debasement of the original
performance. At least, this is so for music performed on acoustic
instruments than otherwise. Ultimately it is best to hear a performance
live as it is performed; yet the quality of live music depends a lot on the
acoustics of the auditorium. Assuming that all is well with the auditorium,
it is better to be present at the original performance.
I have heard music played in a room with dead acoustics and it was a
memorable experience in that the room seemed to engulf the sound making it
very difficult to hear.
Another occasion, I heard the Claremont Trio play in a small auditorium
with good acoustics. They delivered a youthful bravura performance of
Mendelssohn’s trio no. 2 in c minor opus 66. I bought their CD of this
music and thought the digital reproduction to be a close match to what I
heard live, as played on a Bose-like box that employs a lot of digital
Analogue recordings are subject to far more variability during recording
and replay. They do vary, but even the best seem to lack full dynamic
range. Recording equipment is mechanical and dependent of good maintenance.
Tape has physical contact with the recording and replay heads, degrading
with the passage of time. Vinyl pressings are subject to wear and tear from
handling and must have a needle in contact with the surface of the LP
platter in order to reproduce the recording. Turntables must be adjusted
and balanced to produce the best reproduction. Static must be reduced to
eliminate the pops and crackles that inevitably ensue.
Vinyl is all too fiddly and there is too much room for error. Digital
reproduction takes up less space, is truly compact, and the sound quality
of good all-digital recordings is excellent, to my ears far superior to analogue
reproduction equipment. To me, CDs were a welcome new technology.
The digital audio chain from recording to replay is less prone to
degradation than is the case for analogue recordings and, finally, the
sixteen cubic feet of audio equipment with tangle of inter-connecting
cables is gone.
Once the audio is captured as digital data it is effectively subject to no
change. Not only that, the disc is played by reading the digital data
represented by pits in the data surface of the CD using the reflected beam
of laser light. It reads the same way every time and is touch-less.
Nowadays, most people play digital music files using computers or
smart-phones. Most music data is stored in .mp3 format, which is a lossy
compression format developed by the Moving Picture Experts Group. mp3 isn’t
the best audio format yet it is widespread and used by most people. There
is a noticeable difference in quality of reproduction between .mp3 and
other unencumbered formats like Ogg Vorbis and Opus. Vorbis is definitely
better quality. Still, CDs have good reproduction though an extensive
collection of discs isn’t necessarily compact.
In his book Walden Warming, Richard Primack demonstrated
the scientific value of long-term data collection by amateur naturalists. He
used the data collected by Henry David Thoreau combined with that collected
by amateur naturalists today to show that our weather has warmed significantly
in recent years. Primack showed that the rise in temperature affects all
species more or less. So, I am encouraged to start a journal to record my
observations of the world around me.
Implicit in Primack’s book is the fragility of data. For analysis and
display it is better collected and kept electronically. For long-term
availability and longevity, it is better collected as a written record on paper.
If Thoreau had used electronic storage then it likely wouldn’t be readable
after more than a century. Paper continues to be a useful and durable medium
though a much less flexible format.
Today, I noticed small blue flowers blooming in the grass on the south side
of our house. I took a picture with my camera and positively identified the
forb as Asiatic Dayflower (Commelina communis), using
the on-line Audubon Wildflower guide.
Our weather has been fine and today there were blue skies and sunshine with the
temperature in the 70s. Asiatic Dayflower blooms from June to October; it is
quite common in Tulsa and adds a pleasant contrast to the grass.
Our grass is biodiverse.
Wanting to try the BSD,
which is closer to UNIX
than Linux, I uncovered an old tower
PC that I had been using as a
clothes-horse; it had been switched off for more than a year, sitting on
the floor of my study. I applied power and installed PC-BSD, the most
user-friendly of the BSDs. Installation was straightforward, but the
machine failed to emerge from the
BIOS splash-screen on reboot.
A search of the Internet produced clues pointing to the need to reset the
BIOS by removing and
backup battery or failure of an electrolytic decoupling capacitor. I
didn’t think resetting the BIOS would do any good, but tried it
anyway. More obvious was the bulging capacitor and brown exudation of
electrolyte from a ruptured case, red-circled in the picture.
Electrolytic capacitors are formed by the deposition of an oxide dielectric
onto aluminum or tantalum foil electrodes separated by a gel electrolyte,
coiled to increase the surface area while reducing the physical dimensions
to a minimum. Electrical characteristics of these capacitors are maintained
by operational use, but degrade when unused for long periods of time.
Degradation is manifest by an increased leakage current that can become an
effective short-circuit. Sudden application of power to a capacitor in this
degraded state will generate heat and gas, the pressure of which can be
enough to rupture the case or make the capacitor explode; depending on the
physical size of the capacitor this rupture can be accompanied by a pop or
One memorable moment occurred to me while repairing some equipment ages
ago, a capacitor exploded like a party-popper, ejecting a streamer of foil.
I suspect that the embossed X in the top of the case is to create a
weakness to prevent explosions when the capacitor fails, so that all that
happens is a bulging deformation with some minor escape of electrolyte.
I removed the disc drive from the computer to conserve the data and then
recycled the hardware at a local Best Buy retailer, free of charge. The
machine wasn’t worth the effort to repair as newer equipment with much
higher performance is now available cheaper.
My test of BSD was curtailed by the hardware failure. As an operating
system, PC-BSD shows promise, but is hampered by lack of video and wireless
drivers for modern equipment. I did get it running on an Atom-powered
netbook, but it was too sluggish with the limited hardware resources. I
tried it on a modern laptop, but there were no drivers for the graphics or
wireless network interface; I could not be bothered to exert myself to make
it work—why bother when Linux Mint just works and in a fraction of the time
that BSD needs to get going.
To most of us in the more affluent parts of the world, the Internet appears
ubiquitous. Yet there exists a digital divide where lower-income families
cannot afford connections to the Internet. For example, my mentee didn’t
have Internet at home yet needed a connection to do his homework and
interact with the educational institutions. My solution to his problem was
to get him a used computer and refurbish it with an Open-Source operating
system and get him connected by using his mobile telephone as a WiFi
hotspot. Nearly everyone has a smart-phone; this is true even in
third-world countries. Despite widespread equipment, extensive research
consumes a user’s data.
A complimentary system is the
the brainchild of Jason Griffey
who is the head of Library Information Technology at the University of
Tennessee at Chattanooga. A LibraryBox allows anyone with a WiFi enabled
device to connect and download content. Because the LibraryBox isn’t
connected to the Internet, the content must be selected and installed on
the system. A raw dump of data won’t be useful. Effective use of LibraryBox
requires curated content. Content must be customized for the intended
audience. Deployment of the LibraryBox hardware is a trivial exercise: Far
more challenging and time consuming is the selection and curating of
At the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve there is no Internet service. Docents
are not always present to interpret the Preserve for visitors. Opening
hours of the Visitor’s Center are from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.; outside those
hours and on days when there are no docents, visitors have no information.
LibraryBox WiFi fills this void with multi-media content specific to the
Tallgrass Prairie Preserve, available to any visitor with a device capable
of receiving a WiFi signal.
Another potential use-case is for schools in parts of the world where
there is less or no infrastructure. A LibraryBox can be a source of school
material outside of formal school hours. It could also serve as a data
repository for the school. Because LibraryBox can be powered by solar
panels or by battery, it is highly portable for use anywhere.
LibraryBoxes could be deployed in community centers for different
purposes. Each LibraryBox has a chat server to allow users to communicate.
LibraryBoxes can be equipped with birth control, sex education, and
health material to help give women control over their own bodies and
prevent unplanned pregnancy. Users of a LibraryBox remain anonymous; the
chat server can facilitate anonymous discussion of difficult topics.
LibraryBoxes have potential to deliver information where it is needed
without the need for fixed infrastructure. Information can be amended as
necessary; the administrator only has to be within WiFi range of the device
to perform upgrades. Of course, LibraryBox can also be used for nefarious
After eighty-six years of service, our toilet started leaking where the
flush-pipe from the cistern joins the stool. When the plumber put a wrench
on the large flange nut and attempted to loosen it, the cistern twisted
with the pipe and the nut—the steel screws securing the cistern to the wall
had been reduced to flakes of rust by the constant moisture inside the
cistern, causing the tank to shift, thereby breaking the seal between pipe
We decided to replace the original equipment with a modern sanitary
assembly, a toilet in a box. We were expecting this outcome and had done
some preliminary shopping for a new toilet in the week preceding the
plumbing event. The plumber went in search of a toilet and texted pictures
of what he found that included the unit we wanted.
In just over three hours we were able to relax our bowels on a Devonshire
throne with aquapiston by Kohler. Nowadays, the
porcelain is high-tech and streamlined to completely eliminate unpleasant
splash-back to the buttocks. Better, flushing is almost silent; before, a
flush sounded like Niagara Falls in the rainy season. Our plumber did a
good job and only charged $60 per hour. And better yet, our utility bill
reveals that we have reduced our water consumption by one third, from 3,000
gallons to 2,000 gallons per month, corresponding to a bill that is lower
by 31-percent; cost recovery period through bill savings is twenty-eight
months. A reliable, economical flush definitely adds luster to the diurnal
moment of enlightenment.
We had occasion for a day out to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American
Art. It is a two-hour commute to Bentonville, AR.
We enjoyed cool autumnal weather with sunshine and blue skies. We arrived
there guided by the Google Nav Nanny to find the modern building nestled in
a small valley on an artificial lake. The architectural theme of
turtles sunning themselves is nicely achieved to give expansive views out
from under turtle-shell roofing.
We were fortunate to catch an exhibition of Jamie Wyeth’s work and one by
Andy Warhol. Of the two, Wyeth moved me much more than Warhol. Wyeth is
highly accomplished and his work was presented in ideal conditions that
made the radiance of his images glow from the canvas. I was amazed by his
technical competence in portraying textures, surfaces, light, and shade.
We noted when visiting the Impressionist gallery at the Louvre,
hordes of visitors quickly snapping photographs of each picture they
passed. It was no different at this exhibition, viewers were snapping
away with their camera-phones. Flash photography was forbidden, understandably
given the damage intense light can do to pigments.
All Wyeth’s work is evocative yet I was moved to snap my own picture
of Inferno, watercolor on corrugated cardboard, of
a small boy burning trash on the island of
Monhegan while being buzzed by
rapacious seagulls. Inferno is an image that wouldn’t be out of place as a
detail in an allegorical work by Hieronymus Bosch or Pieter Bruegel, it
gave me that feeling. In a moment of weirdness during a meeting when I
was asked to imagine myself as a piece of artwork, I had no idea; now I
know that, asked again, I would think of Inferno and hear the sound of the
sea and crackle of the flames and shriek of the gulls and smell of the
trash and smoke mixed with the smell of seaweed, and feel the heat of the
fire on my almost naked body and the cool of the sea air and feel the
roughness of the ground under my bare feet—I would be intent on producing
a roaring fire to completely reduce the trash to ash. It is a job that I
would relish at that age.
I stood away to the left of the picture, thus eliminating reflections of
lighting in glass, and snapped my camera-phone. Later, to the image, I
applied a levels correction to the color, an unsharp filter, a perspective
correction, and a crop to remove the frame. And I found the accompanying
video of Wyeth at work producing
Inferno, in which I note he works in a way
similar to J. M. W. Turner as portrayed in the recent film Mr. Turner.
Reading the captions explanatory to each example of Wyeth’s work produced a
slight feeling of pretentious over-interpretation that seems to be induced
by the curator’s need to say something profound. Personally, I like to feel
what the work does to me, words be dammed!
It was a worthwhile day out punctuated by a good lunch.
Rev. Barbara Prose was prompted to talk today by a member of the
congregation who suffered some significant losses in her family and who
approached Barbara for advice because she felt she had lost her purpose in
life and her identity and wasn’t helped by well-meaning friends who wanted
her to be as she was before the life-changing events.
Often we develop our identity by the work we do or the rôle we play
in life. We don’t think about it much until we pass through troubled
times. My mother didn’t know what to do with herself for about a year
after my father died—hardly surprising after more than fifty years
of marriage; eventually she found a new direction, though I’m sure
she continued to feel the loss of my father’s presence.
Title of Barbara’s talk is Imago Dei,
meaning that we are made in the image of God; if so, she asked what is our
calling or compelling life choice? What is it that gives meaning,
worth, dignity, and joy to all our days? Barbara used the apocryphal
who planted trees to show that it is possible to do major
work utterly unnoticed, work that one does because one feels compelled to
I like the idea of the man who planted trees, who did so because he wanted
to, because he was doing something he thought important. I like the man who
planted trees because he didn’t want fame or fortune or
approval—he just did. And in doing he left the world a better place
than when he entered. That, I suppose, has become my compelling life
choice, to leave the world better than it was when I arrived.
Trees planted by one person whose long-term vision transforms a barren
landscape isn’t too different from what we as individuals can do to
transform a barren social landscape. In our journey from birth to death
we—all of us—are either sowing wheat or
planting acorns or
Our every interaction with others is an opportunity to plant acorns. During
our lives we have many daily interactions; at each opportunity, what will
we sow: wheat or tares, acorns or dragon’s teeth?
Big oaks from little acorns grow. We can plant wheat and acorns by being
polite, generous, compassionate, caring, and humble. We plant wheat and
acorns by nurturing others, by being truthful, honest, broad-minded, and
fair-dealing. We can choose to do so thereby improving our quality of life
and changing the world for the better; it is something we can practice doing
every day at every opportunity. Just as the climate improves and the
natural environment burgeons with a diversity of life by the presence of
trees, so does our social climate improve with the small improvements that
radiate away from each of us to nurture our social surroundings.
When I was a teenager, I knew that I had to leave home, find my way in the
world, and become more independent. Since then I have come to understand
that my feeling of uncertainty and not knowing what to do is fairly common.
Though uncertain what to do, I was certain that I had to be independent and
rely on my own abilities to create a living for myself.
Now I know that I was given that somewhat rare gift of a happy childhood. I
remember when I was sixteen or seventeen, at a day’s end to a summer job,
queuing at a bus-stop waiting to catch the next bus home. It was late
afternoon when the sun was moving toward the horizon behind some tall plain
trees that cast shadow over where I stood on that warm afternoon. I looked
up and saw the light dappled by the leaves of the tree. In my mind I was
thinking about having a cup of tea when I arrived home. I felt a surge of
peace and tranquility and the thought formed that if the world should
suddenly end in the next instant then I could go with no regret. That
wasn’t the first time that I had felt like that nor the last.
As a youth, I was allowed to pursue interests and explore. Looking back, I
am surprised that I was allowed to do so much; many of things I did
wouldn’t work in the restrictive, fearful times we live in now and would
likely attract undesirable attention, the kind of recent attention given to
boy who built an electronic clock
and made the mistake of taking it to school to show his teacher.
I received a lot of positive encouragement, good suggestions, and advice
from many persons. Fortunately, even though I was the usual surly teenager
with a tendency to look for the reasons why I couldn’t do something,
I did listen to advice and I did try to learn from the mistakes of others.
My optimism overpowered my pessimism. I made the best decisions possible
given my circumstances at the time; I had family, friends, and
acquaintances with whom I could talk. In short, I was extremely lucky. I
never felt prey to the pressure of peers. I never needed to find
myself; I’d wake up in the morning, sweep away the covers and,
voilà!, there I was.
Though I didn’t know what to do, I did know what I wanted to do yet I
couldn’t do it at the time because I was ill-equipped for the work.
But knowing what I wanted to do, I can see now that I accomplished that
objective by unconventional means.
We leave home seeking autonomy, yet we remain dependent. Our mechanized
society confers great individual freedom by providing a vast division of
labor to support our daily needs. We depend on trash collectors, sewage
workers, engineers of all kinds, fire service personnel, ambulance workers,
doctors, nurses, dentists, carters, carriers, teachers, waiters, cooks,
bottle washers, the plumber, the baker, the candle-stick maker, and
Uncle Tom Cobley and all.
We are, all of us, dependent on the health of the natural systems of this
world that enable life as we know it, Jim. We need to look after each other
and do our part to take care of Nature; to do otherwise is the equivalent
of shitting in our hats and clapping them on our heads.
So, in three words: I am grateful. I am most grateful to my parents who, by
the time I was born, were able to give me a stable home with space in which
to grow. I am grateful to my wife who shares in the work of maintaining a
home and who is a fine companion. I am grateful to everyone on whose
shoulders I sit, just as I sat on the shoulders of my father when I was a
small child. I enjoy the support of shoulders uncountable. Thank you! Thank
you! Thank you!
The Problem of Religious
Diversity to their blog, reprinted with permission from a book by Rita
M. Gross entitled
Religious Diversity, What’s the
Problem: Buddhist Advice for Flourishing with Religious Diversity.
Rita Gross is a Buddhist scholar-practitioner and retired professor of
comparative studies in religion. It is pertinent to the life and times of
All Souls Unitarian Church.
As a community in the early years of the new millennium, coincidentally
marked by the arrival of Rev. Marlin Lavanhar in 2000, All Souls has
repositioned and is transforming itself from a predominantly pale-faced
Anglo Saxon congregation to a far more inclusive and welcoming
multi-racial, multi-ethnic community representative of the entire spectrum
of humanity. All Souls Unitarian Church is socially diverse; it is an
exciting place to be associated and its social diversity does wonders for
broadening one’s outlook on life. But, it is not just the social
aspects that are important, it is the religious diversity of the
Each one of us is different from every other person, even identical twins
are different. We belong to the human species yet each person is unique. It
is this uniqueness that creates differences.
Unitarians disagree with each other yet manage to coexist peacefully. We
disagree with other religions yet respect their unique ways of living their
spiritual lives. Even though I am indifferent to religion, I appreciate the
sense of continuity and cohesion offered by the Catholic Church. For some
people they need the comfort of knowing what to do and when, they like the
structure provided by the Baptist faiths. As long as there is a human
population, differences will arise among the people.
Rita Gross summarizes the problem best: We have created
our problems, and only we can solve them. That becomes something of a
bottom line for Buddhists. We need to train our minds to be less attached,
less mistaken, less shortsighted, and, most of all, less self-centered.
After all, discomfort with religious others is a form of
How do we take that perspective into solving the problem of
religious diversity? First, I would argue that religious diversity exists
because it is psychologically and spiritually impossible for all human
beings to follow one theological outlook or spiritual path. We are not
built that way. That’s just not how we are. Religious diversity,
which is inevitable, natural, and normal, flows from our different
spiritual and psychological inclinations. Therefore, inevitably, we will
encounter religious others. Second, I would argue that the acid test of a
religion’s worth lies with what kind of tools it provides its
adherents for coping gracefully and kindly with their worlds and the other
beings who inhabit them. Discomfort with religious diversity and the wish
to abolish it is a psychological and spiritual deficiency arising in an
untrained human mind, a mind that does not know how to relax and be at ease
with what is, with things as they are, as Buddhists like to say. Solving
the problem of religious diversity has much more to do with human
beings’ attitudes toward one another than with somehow adjudicating
their rather different theological and metaphysical views. Thus, I am
suggesting that we should start, not with religious creeds and questions
about religions or metaphysical truth, but with questions about how people
are—different from one another—and about how well religions
function to help them live with how they are.
To me it looks like All Souls is performing well on the acid test of a
religion’s worth. Belonging to All Souls helps us to cope
gracefully and kindly with the world and its inhabitants, no matter who or
what they are. Of course, there is always room for improvement. No
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin
Sloan is an enjoyable read. In recommendation of this book, I need say no
M read this book before me; though technophobic, she enjoyed it too and was
inspired in her reading by a recommendation from one of her colleagues at
her bookstore. While reading Sloan’s work, it occurred to me that it is
safe to say that nerds and geeks have been completely rehabilitated; M said
not only rehabilitated but also nerdy geekishness is now the new cool, not
that I have ever been bothered by cool, nerds, geeks, jocks, or otherwise.
Mr. Penumbra is a nice intersection of bibliophilia, mystery, hi- and
lo-tech. At the same time I happened to be reading a paper copy of the
eleventh edition of Linux Voice magazine and Ben Everard’s strongly
positive review of Scott Murray’s book Interactive Data Visualization for
the Web. Visualization of data has been of passing interest for me, so it’s
mention by Mr. Penumbra prompted me to buy a digital copy of Murray’s book,
which I had marked already for further consideration along with Graham
Morrison’s positive review of Bulletproof
TLS by Ivan Ristić.
In 2006, I laboriously prepared a world map that showed the number of
persons from each country that visited The Nature Conservancy Tallgrass
Prairie Preserve in Osage County, Oklahoma. It’s long been in my mind to
find an easier way of connecting to an underlying dataset, preferably
automatically. Now I think have the means to do so, inspired by Mr.
Penumbra, Linux Voice, and Scott Murray’s book.
This was a fruitful crossroads. If I’m successful with my visualization of
the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve visitor data then I see an expansion of the
technique to cover patch-burn and other datasets. First, I have some
reading to do.
At The Point today, Reverend Barbara Prose
delivered herself of a powerful talk on how differences separate us from
each other. Though we may become entrenched in our differences, we can
still open ourselves to the fundamental love that is there to bind us all.
Differences can create opportunities by bursting our bubbles of
conformity, freeing us to see broader points of view.
In his 1962 review of Le Misanthrope, Kenneth
Tynan, the British theatre critic,
How far should one accept the rules of the society
in which one lives? To put it another way: at what point does conformity
become corruption? Only by answering such questions does the conscience
truly define itself.
Dull conformity separates us into birds of a feather who flock together.
often resulting in irrational or dysfunctional decision making and the
active suppression of dissenting viewpoints that isolates the group from
outside influences. At its worse, conformity can lead people to war and
other corrupt acts, which is why it is important to consider opposite
points of view in an effort to avoid subverting our moral sense of right
All Souls Unitarian Church is a socially diverse community of independently
minded persons from dissimilar backgrounds. I’ve mentioned before that
biodiversity is the sign of a healthy ecosystem and, similarly, social
diversity makes for a healthy community. To expand our horizons we need the
stimulation, checks, and balances provided by our partners in community who
disagree with us. The very last thing we need is to be told what we want to
hear. Living with social diversity can be bruising to the ego yet good for
Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated! Our telephone service was
very cheap pay-as-you-go. M uses less than $100 annually, whereas I
might do one or two $100 refills each year. All was well until the
service started to degrade to the point that it was almost unusable for
voice calls; SMS texts still
worked, though they would take several retries for a successful send. M
mentioned the possibility of using a smart-phone, so I got her a Samsung
Galaxy S4 with Straight Talk service.
I had intended to get two phones, one each for both of us. Wisely, I got
hers first and discovered that Straight Talk forbid use of the telephone as
a way to connect a computer to the network. I don’t see that it
matters how the 5-Gbyte allowance of data is consumed. Her LTE service works well and she now has
good voice connections; unfortunately, it is significantly more expensive
at $45 per thirty-day period.
For myself, I looked for an unlocked telephone and settled on a Motorola
Nexus 6 to which I transferred my existing
Go Phone service with a $40 per month data
plan providing a miserly 1.5 Gbytes. Still, AT&T aren’t bothered
by computer tethering which the Nexus 6 makes easy to accomplish either
through a wireless access point or
More troubling is the insecurity of these devices in service to
convenience. All I need now to complete my assimilation into the
Google-Borg Panopticon is one of those Borg attachments sticking out of my
ear. Every application on these devices has tentacles reaching into various
aspects of your life: your contacts list, your email, your photographs,
your usage, your WiFi connectivity,
your calendar—it’s appalling. How is it that Google can
populate my calendar with a recurring appointment that I have every
Wednesday morning at 10 a.m.? Not only that: how can Google insert a copy
of the business email in which though I am an addressee it is my business
email and not my personal email address? It’s outrageous, extremely
troubling, and a violation of the security principle of need-to-know.
Admiral John Poindexter may have lost his 2003 battle for
Awareness with Congress yet he won the war by metastasizing the program to
commercial companies beyond the reach of our elected representatives.
Given the total insecurity of smart-phones, they should not be used for or
be anywhere near anything in need of privacy or secure operations. They are
truly Trojan horses for Total Information Awareness.
Time for a change of title; I grew tired of Talking to
Myself. We are now operating under the banner Pensive Pensées Pensieve, which is the literary
equivalent of putting pink plastic flamingoes on the lawn in front of the
Pensive has the usual connotations, the appearance
of deep thought, though not necessarily melancholic. Pensées is from the French for thoughts.
Pensieve is the fictional magical device found in
J.K. Rowling’s stories about the life and times of Harry Potter; it
is used to examine and arrange thoughts that would otherwise be confused
when left swirling inside the head.
Traditionally, as an essayist I would use pen and paper. In this modern
age, when nearly everyone has a network device in their pockets and purses,
hardly anyone can be bothered with paper. So this blog is the Pensieve, and
place where I give the appearance of arranging my thoughts.
Today, Rev. Marlin Lavanhar talked about the need to present our authentic,
real selves instead of some version that we think necessary to the
situation. He said that the benefit of being authentic is that others are
more likely to respond positively and engage with us. Marlin spoke from his
own experience when he was the new Senior Minister to the All Souls
congregation fifteen years ago. These days, in his talks, Marlin does come
across as the genuine article.
Authenticity is in short supply today. Most public figures are inauthentic.
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton is a prime example of someone who
will tell you what she thinks you want to hear; to my mind she appears
false as do nearly all of her opponents. On the other hand, Democratic
challenger Senator Bernie Sanders has a truer ring even though some
consider him to be a faux socialist.
Never having been a real churchgoer, I don’t really know how to
behave in a church environment. Often I wish I would just shut-up and keep
quiet, but I’m predisposed to interject or heckle, especially when
I’m listening to a talk during Sunday Assembly. Today I felt a strong
urge to ask Marlin if he thought Donald Trump is a good example of a real
person. A big advantage of meditation is that it helps the practitioner to
observe the internal processes, so I succeeded in not heckling Marlin even
though I knew my question would elicit a cheap laugh from the audience.
Humanist Sunday Assemblies have a relaxed informality devoid of the
hocus-pocus and other religious trappings; The Point has a comfortable
sense of community. For someone who isn’t churchy, church environments are
usually uncomfortable places to be. When I joined the congregation in 2008,
I felt like I should make effort to attend some events to help me become a
part of the community. I have a military background and a penchant for the
colorful turn of phrase….
So, there I was, sitting in a circle with the Senior Minister and several
other church ladies and gentlemen being authentic, expressing our feelings.
I don’t remember what it was we were talking about, but I do remember
feeling quite relaxed and responding to some aspect of the church that made
me feel uncomfortable: …well, it makes me feel like a spare prick
at a prostitute’s wedding…. To his credit Marlin, like the true
Thespian he is, kept going and didn’t break step though some other
faces looked a bit stunned.
Once my utterance had made good its escape I realized my faux pas.
Internally, I felt pretty shriveled. I might even have expressed surprise
at saying such a thing. I do remember a gentleman who, on departure, asked
me to repeat what I said; I did, laughed, and said that I must have been
feeling fairly relaxed.
For a couple of weeks I felt weird. Again meditation came to the rescue. I
remained present with these feelings until they faded and now I can tell you
this anecdote without blushing and ask: Was my authenticity going too
far? Whatever! It’s a story I couldn’t tell if I had been
more circumspect in my comments.
After the main meeting of The Point, Marlin asked us to stay and discuss
with him what it is that we like about the assembly. The thoughts and
opinions offered by those present converged on the main objective of All
Souls, which is to foster a real community of people who though they may
differ in their approaches to life, God, not-God, and spirituality, we all
agree to dwell together in peace, to seek the truth in love, and to help
one another. Marlin pointed out that we have a better chance of achieving
this objective than by trying to convert absolutely everyone to a single
One of my reasons for restarting this blog is to have somewhere where I can
exercise my thoughts about the inspiring talks I hear at All Souls Sunday
assembly, The Point.
Today, The Guardian newspaper
that the US
Government Justice Department and
FBI officials admit
stopping US and other citizens from
traveling based on the Government’s pre-crime predictive assessments
instead of on hard evidence. In a society where citizens are supposed to be
innocent until proven guilty, this is outrageous Government malfeasance. A
Government can only be democratic when it serves and is directly
accountable to the electorate.
An innocent person who discovers that they’ve been added to a no-fly
list or who has otherwise been branded as a pre-felon should sue the
Government for defamation of character. Since the Government won’t
say which department is responsible for the defamatory action and since
out-of-control Government bureacracies use Dickensian circumlocution to
avoid responsibility, it would be quite reasonable to sue the President or
Prime Minister since that person is ultimately responsible for all actions
of Government. For defamation there is case law stretching back centuries
to the time of Shakespeare, just ask Iago:
Good name in man and woman, dear my lord,
Is the immediate jewel of their souls:
Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing;
’Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands;
But he that filches from me my good name,
Robs me of that which not enriches him,
And makes me poor indeed.
Iago, act iii scene iii from Othello, The Moor of Venice, circa 1603 by
When you cannot get just recompense from a faceless bureacracy that tries
to shirk its responsibility behind secrecy or by stonewalling or by
buck-passing then apply to the single most visible entity, the President or
Prime Minister; the buck stops with the ultimate authority and a lawsuit
is what is needed to force a fair accounting.
Today, Reverend David Ruffin delivered an excellent talk on our global
existential crisis, human-induced climate change, preceded by a showing of
the U.N. Climate Summit film, What’s Possible, which you can see again here.
He recently returned from the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly that
was held in Portland, Oregon, where he spent a few days camping in Olympic
National Park, within sight and sound of the Pacific Ocean, awed and
amazed by the extraordinary and fascinating beauty of our natural world.
Ruffin’s talk closed the All Souls hot topics summer series
addressing the, literally, hottest topic facing humanity today…
Climate Change. The earth has a fever and it’s rising fast, along
with sea levels and the danger we face from extreme weather. From massive
flooding, to hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, heatwaves, droughts and
earthquakes, our climate’s feedback about our behavior isn’t
exactly… subtle. Yet, whether consciously or not, the vast majority
of us are still living in denial about Climate Change. Why are we being SO
slow to respond to the most massive security risk we’ve ever faced as
a global population? Are we really that dense? Or have we just gone crazy?
Reverend Ruffin rightly noted that our trouble is caused principally by our
disconnection from nature. In effect we have turned our back on Nature and
spend most of our time, about 90-percent of it, indoors. We live in an
engineered environment. We have forgotten that we depend on Nature. We live
on space-ship Earth, the only home we will ever have and we are trashing
it. We have forgotten that our role is to be good stewards of the Earth;
the recent encyclical
On Care of Our Common Home
by Pope Francis is worth reading in this context.
Why are we so slow to respond to the crisis? Are we dense, are we crazy, or
what? We are neither dense nor crazy; the problem is too big for us to
comprehend clearly though science can help us understand our failure to act.
33 Reasons Why We Fail to Act
Professor Robert Gifford is an evironmental psychologist at the University
of Victoria in Canada. He says that there are thirty-three reasons why we
fail to act which he details in the cover story of the 11 July 2015 edition
New Scientist magazine.
Gifford says that the barriers to action on climate change are not
structural, but psychological. These barriers are what he calls
…the Dragons of Inaction. In mythology, dragons take on a wide
array of forms, and Asian dragons can even be benevolent. However, as a
Westerner, I use dragons as a metaphor for these obstacles because Western
dragons always seem to be blocking humans from some goal or aspiration.
Perhaps another less obvious reason for this choice lies in the word
itself: these barriers are a drag on progress. Once one begins
looking, a large number of dragons can be found. Gifford has
identified 33 dragons, classified into seven fearsome
families…. Having identified the thirty-three dragons of
inaction, Gifford offers a prescription for slaying them:
What can be done in the face of this fearsome array? First, structural
barriers should be removed such as legislation and urban renewal, but this
isn’t likely to be sufficient.
You can take some steps though. Identify your own main dragons, which
should help begin the process of slaying them. You can also look for
opportunities to join and promote social networks that spread the adoption
of climate-positive behaviour. [climate positive
behavior through social networks was something recommended by Reverend
Other steps need to be taken by researchers from both the social and
technical domains, often working together. We need to better understand how
people can overcome their barriers. We need to create better measures of
the carbon cost associated with various behaviours, so that people know
where to put their efforts. We need to better reward those whom I
affectionately call the mules: people who are carrying the load for the
rest of us by already doing everything within their power. We also need to
smile upon the others—I call them honeybees—who engage in
climate-positive behavour for non-climate reasons, such as the cyclist who
rides to work for health or the person who chooses not to have children.
Finally, we need to improve understanding of those who oppose policies and
technologies for limiting climate change.
The dragons of inaction can be overcome, although it will take time and
will never be complete. This must be done expeditiously: we may not have
four or five decades to ease our profligate spewing of greenhouse gases and
return to a balanced climate.
Addressing climate-change is a huge task that can easily overwhelm, but
like any large project this dragon can be defeated by breaking the task
into smaller parts that allow us to mitigate the risks. It can and will be
done. Every day more and more people are aware of the global problem, but
at the same time acclimated to the message.
Are We Becoming Tired of Talking About Climate Change
Reverend Ruffin is aware of this tiredness. During his talk he asked the
rhetorical question: Are you ready to change the channel on me?.
The BBC World Service
a radio program in which experts spend twenty-three minutes analyzing a
pressing question from the news or, in this case, lack of news. You can
listen to it at the BBC
web-site or here
by using the audio widget above. Since the broadcast in which he identified
thirty-one dragons, Gifford has added two more to the list.
Oblique Approach to Discussing Climate
Joe Smith, the last expert presented by the BBC Inquiry, teaches geography
at the Open University in the U.K.; he
thinks that we are taking the wrong approach to talking about Climate
Change. Smith says that it is better, for example, when speaking to
business persons to talk about the business opportunities of renewable
energy; when talking to parents at school, about the health benefits of
their children using bicycles as transportation.
Interestingly, Texas now leads the nation in renewable wind power. In
Wyoming, conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz is trying to turn his
500-square-mile cattle ranch into the world’s largest wind farm;
unfortunately, he is being obstructed by bureacratic and regulatory
dragons; if you want to know more then see the cover story in July-August 2015
Pacific Standard magazine.
I think that Joe Smith makes a good point. We would do better to foster
care for the climate and the Earth by encouraging behaviors that directly
benefit climate indirectly. By working together, communicating with each
other more skillfully, we can reframe the narrative. Continual scare mongering
becomes increasingly ineffective. Excellent public transportation is of direct benefit to
everyone and a business opportunity, indirectly it reduces the number of
automobiles on the roads and lowers the pollution entering the atmosphere.
Local hydroponic growers provide fresh produce and thus directly reduce
on West 51st Street; directly reducing the transportation needed helps to
reduce pollution, customers receive fresher produce, and, indirectly, we
improve our environment. We are far better employed taking helpful actions
that ultimately improve our quality of life than standing immobilized,
wringing our hands in despair or ignoring the problem altogether and
continuing with business as usual.
On the strength of a couple of relevant blog posts, I was invited to
participate in the new Creative Team and so attended the inaugural meeting
today at All Souls. Being a minor connoisseur of meetings, I thought this
one was well-run by the Reverend Prose who drew a nice concept chart on the
white-board and listed the simple agenda on a large easel-mounted pad of
sketch paper. Discounting the obligatory weirdness of being requested to
imagine myself as a piece of artwork, the agenda was about the All Souls
communications tactics and strategy.
I attended the meeting not knowing what possible help I could be. As the
meeting progressed, I sensed that we’re going to become like all the
other media outlets on the Internet, causing me contemplate my own use of
the world wide web.
Almost all web-sites are hideously fragmented, overactive and annoying. I
have installed several kinds of software technology on my computers to
web-sites I visit regularly, are those under the
of which Wikipedia is a member. Wikipedia and the other wikis are
well-designed. Usually, when I want to find new information, I use the
search engines to locate the information directly, to save wasting time
trying to parse the visual noise. Even the new
All Souls web-site, though much
improved, is one that I only visit to find out what upcoming topic will be
discussed at the next Sunday assembly.
My opinion is that RSS or
periodic email topic summaries provide a better user experience. While the Guardian newspaper web-site is a visual
horror, their RSS feeds provide a simple summary of each article in my feed
reader, giving me the opportunity to follow a link to the full story. Truthout does something similar via
email; each topic has a headline and a short summary with a link to more
information. Most of the time it is only necessary to glance over the
headlines and read the summaries of interest to gain a sense of what’s
happening in the world.
When I do follow a link to the full story, FireFox web-browser is now
equipped with a reader view that can be opened with one click on the
address-bar icon to completely declutter the page into a single column of
text that can be resized for comfortable reading from top to bottom. I now
use this feature a lot.
There is too much information and not enough time. Succinct, compelling
presentation on a plain background are to me key criteria. Brief
presentation should be uppermost with the supporting data at successively
lower levels, detail increasing the lower the reader chooses to go.
Even though I have background in technology, I favor simplicity, economy of
expression, minimalist design, and I tend to a jaundiced view of wondrous
new technology. My Luddite inclinations are obvious when you see the layout
of this web-site and the changes I wrought as editor of the Tallgrass
I would like to see All Souls get ahead of all the boring, migrain
inducing, run-of-the-mill web-sites by deploying a startlingly radical and
innovative design that is cleanly simple, inspiring and easy to use.
Perhaps it would be possible to use a mapped infographic as the front page
from which all else depends; I don’t know, it’s a suggestion.
Whatever we do, our vision should be to lead the way instead of following.
Last year, I contributed to an Indigogo campaign to raise venture capital
that enabled launch of Linux Voice magazine by Graham Morrison, Andrew
Gregory, Ben Everard, and Mike Saunders, erstwhile editor and writers for
Linux Format magazine. Their plan was to produce a publication that is
beholden to the readers only and to: (1) give 50% of our profits to a
selection of organizations that support free software, decided by a vote
among our readers; and (2) No later than nine months after first
publication, we will relicense all of our content under the Creative
Commons CC-BY-SA license, so that old content can still be useful, and can
live on even after the magazine has come off the shelves.
Even in the Digital Age there is room for high quality paper magazines.
GNU-Linux is a wonderful open-source computer operating system and set of
tools. For more than ten years I have used Linux on all my computers.
Stability and security of operation is unsurpassed and cannot be matched by
Microsoft Windows products. The price is right too—Free.
Main problem with GNU-Linux is that it is a vast subject with a steep
learning-curve. A magazine is essential for maintaining one’s learning and
for finding out about things that one wouldn’t normally encounter. I have
given the paper copies of Linux Voice to my mentee, so that he can learn
about the Debian-based Linux installation running on his netbook computer.
I actively spread the word about the benefits of Linux and have managed to
convinced some persons to abandon Microsoft Windows. Now I can direct
these people to a reliable source of Linux information.
Having re-activated this web-site, I think I have a convenient place to
store the relicensed issues of Linux Voice where they can be given broader
redundant distribution, freely down-loadable by anyone interested in
knowing more about the world of Linux. The open source issues of Linux
Voice magazine can be found in the
Today at the All Souls Sunday assembly for humanists, The Point, guest speaker Mayor Dewey Bartlett said: No
matter where I go or who I talk to about the City of Tulsa, when I ask them
what are the issues most important to them, after the condition of Tulsa
streets of course, they say public safety and education. It is not economic
development, water in the river, or big ideas that result in big and
expensive capital projects. They want to be safe and they want their
children to be safe at school and well educated.
On public safety, Mayor Bartlett is concerned about attrition of police and
fire service personnel. He said that the city covers more than two hundred
square miles and has expanded eastward. Overtime among the police and fire
service personnel is high and there is a need for more, as well as
replacement, staff who take six to nine months to train. Bartlett said that
the City of Broken Arrow has been filling gaps in police and fire service
coverage at the eastern edge of the city, but this cannot continue
On education, Bartlett said that Tulsa has something like a 65-percent high
school graduation rate. During his first term in office, Spirit Aviation
told him that they couldn’t find qualified employees in Tulsa to work in
one high-tech part of their company and that they were going to move that
part of their operation elsewhere where there is a better supply of
qualified workers, since then Mayor Bartlett has been working to prevent
similar losses of jobs.
Tulsa has very good vocational-technical schools. Mayor Bartlett has worked
to create a high-school at Jones-Riverside Airport that incorporates the
normal high-school curriculum with vocational work that replicates similar
successful efforts elsewhere in the country. Initially it will have about
forty pupils who will be able see the relevance of what they learn in
school and how it applies to the job market beyond school.
Not everyone is university material or even wants to go to university. A
colleague of mine is an articulate, intelligent man who prefers to work
with his hands and is a skilled machinist. He became a machinist because he
was seen as trainable by the man running the machine shop at the place
where I work. Basically, my colleague was hired as an apprentice and
mentored by the manager of the machine shop to become the excellent artisan
he is today.
Children should be schooled to be employable, which means that they must be
literate and numerate. Early guidance and exposure to a wide range of
employment is important. Many children don’t know what they want to do. I
made a point of discussing different professions with my mentee very early
in our acquaintance, arranged for us to visit different businesses, and
tried several business related activities; net effect of this is that my
mentee gained a clear idea of what he wanted to do when the time arrived
for him to decide in which university courses he wanted to enroll. At
enrollment, I noticed that
has a kind of general studies course for those who
have no idea of where they are going; fortunately, my mentee knew exactly
what he wanted to do and is doing it on a full scholarship.
For the less academically inclined there used to be wood and metal work
classes and other vocational activities, but these have declined due to the
expense and fear of legal liability. In days gone by there used to be
apprenticeships for school leavers. There are lots of things that
graduating students can do if they receive proper guidance and are
stimulated by enthusiasm for a particular line of work.
Being employable is important, but there are other aspects to a
well-rounded education. In fact education doesn’t and shouldn’t
stop with school. Persons who are active in a number of hobbies or
interests will pursue them during their leisure hours. Some hobbies turn into
satisfying work. The practical business of getting a decent living from
enjoyable work supports leisure that can be enhanced by a cornucopia of
arts, crafts, literature, sports or social activity.
We are fortunate to live in a spacious and open garden city that is in
process of being revitalized. Generally speaking, Tulsa is a pleasant place
to live; though not without its troubles, it is a cosmopolitan community
with a broad range of arts, entertainments, and activities within easy
reach. Living in Tulsa, I have experienced more arts and entertainments
than I would have done elsewhere; there is something here for
Mayor Bartlett was elected to be the jobs gettingest mayor. Pope Francis
in his recent
makes many sensible observations and
recommendations. Here’s what Francis has to say about
The Need to Protect
Employment, beginning on encyclical page 36, paragraphs 124–129.
124. Any approach to an integral ecology, which by definition does not
exclude human beings, needs to take account of the value of labour, as
Saint John Paul II wisely noted in his Encyclical
According to the biblical account of creation, God placed man and woman in
the garden he had created not only to preserve it (keep) but also to
make it fruitful (till). Labourers and craftsmen thus maintain
the fabric of the world. Developing the created world in a prudent way
is the best way of caring for it, as this means that we ourselves become
the instrument used by God to bring out the potential which he himself
inscribed in things: The Lord created medicines out of the earth, and a
sensible man will not despise them.
125. If we reflect on the proper relationship between human beings and the
world around us, we see the need for a correct understanding of work; if we
talk about the relationship between human beings and things, the question
arises as to the meaning and purpose of all human activity. This has to do
not only with manual or agricultural labour but with any activity involving
a modification of existing reality, from producing a social report to the
design of a technological development. Underlying every form of work is a
concept of the relationship which we can and must have with what is other
than ourselves. Together with the awe-filled contemplation of creation
which we find in Saint Francis of Assisi, the Christian spiritual tradition
has also developed a rich and balanced understanding of the meaning of
work, as, for example, in the life of Blessed Charles de Foucauld and his
126. We can also look to the great tradition of monasticism. Originally, it
was a kind of flight from the world, an escape from the decadence of the
cities. The monks sought the desert, convinced that it was the best place
for encountering the presence of God. Later, Saint Benedict of Norcia
proposed that his monks live in community, combining prayer and spiritual
reading with manual labour (ora et labora). Seeing
manual labour as spiritually meaningful proved revolutionary. Personal
growth and sanctification came to be sought in the interplay of
recollection and work. This way of experiencing work makes us more
protective and respectful of the environment; it imbues our relationship to
the world with a healthy sobriety.
127. We are convinced that man is the source, the focus and the aim of
all economic and social life. Nonetheless, once our human capacity for
contemplation and reverence is impaired, it becomes easy for the meaning of
work to be misunderstood. We need to remember that men and women have
the capacity to improve their lot, to further their moral growth and to
develop their spiritual endowments. Work should be the setting for this
rich personal growth, where many aspects of life enter into play:
creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our
values, relating to others, giving glory to God. It follows that, in the
reality of today’s global society, it is essential that we
continue to prioritize the goal of access to steady employment for
everyone, no matter the limited interests of business and dubious
128. We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that
technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be
detrimental to humanity. Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life
on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfilment.
Helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the
face of pressing needs. The broader objective should always be to allow
them a dignified life through work. Yet the orientation of the economy has
favoured a kind of technological progress in which the costs of production
are reduced by laying off workers and replacing them with machines. This is
yet another way in which we can end up working against ourselves. The loss
of jobs also has a negative impact on the economy through the
progressive erosion of social capital: the network of relationships of
trust, dependability, and respect for rules, all of which are indispensable
for any form of civil coexistence. In other words, human costs
always include economic costs, and economic dysfunctions always involve
human costs. To stop investing in people, in order to gain greater
short-term financial gain, is bad business for society.
129. In order to continue providing employment, it is imperative to promote
an economy which favours productive diversity and business creativity. For
example, there is a great variety of small-scale food production systems
which feed the greater part of the world’s peoples, using a modest amount
of land and producing less waste, be it in small agricultural parcels, in
orchards and gardens, hunting and wild harvesting or local fishing.
Economies of scale, especially in the agricultural sector, end up forcing
smallholders to sell their land or to abandon their traditional crops.
Their attempts to move to other, more diversified, means of production
prove fruitless because of the difficulty of linkage with regional and
global markets, or because the infrastructure for sales and transport is
geared to larger businesses. Civil authorities have the right and duty to
adopt clear and firm measures in support of small producers and
differentiated production. To ensure economic freedom from which all can
effectively benefit, restraints occasionally have to be imposed on those
possessing greater resources and financial power. To claim economic freedom
while real conditions bar many people from actual access to it, and while
possibilities for employment continue to shrink, is to practise a
doublespeak which brings politics into disrepute. Business is a noble
vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world. It can be a
fruitful source of prosperity for the areas in which it operates,
especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its
service to the common good.
To stop investing in people, in order to gain greater
short-term financial gain, is bad business for society. It is
bad for Tulsa because the city relies, mainly, on revenue from sales tax to
fund its operations. High levels of steady, well-paying employment is to
the benefit of everyone—tax revenue supports our city and its quality
of life. Pope Francis’ encyclical is worth reading in its entirety.
It is a wise, thought provoking document.
Attorney Marvin G. Lizama, Esq., specializes in immigration law and was the
speaker today at the
Sunday assembly for humanists, The Point. His
thesis was that the American Dream is what we make it and that it is
hobbled by misguided legislation that has corrosive effect on the country
as a whole, symptoms of which are the appalling
remarks uttered recently by
Donald John Trump, Sr.,
candidate for the Presidency of the United States of America.
Attorney Lizama’s talk would have benefited from concision and
sharper focus. He is a naturalized citizen of the
U.S. who was born in
Honduras. At the age of twelve, he was suddenly transplanted from the
natural jungle of his Honduran home to the concrete jungle of Bronx, New
York. Like many immigrants, he arrived unable to speak English. His boyhood
ambition was to become a professional soccer player. At school in the
Bronx, he received active discouragement from the authorities. Yet, despite
this, his natural intelligence enabled him to prevail over the odds stacked
against him. Instead of a rap-sheet he has accumulated a list of academic
qualifications and accolades a yard long.
Immigration has been contentious since the time of the Pilgrim’s
landing at Plymouth Rock onwards through successive waves of immigration of
different nationalities, all of which were met by discrimination, violence,
and punitive legislation. What is needed is a change in attitude. Instead
of continuing to pursue policies that have a long history of failure, an
enlightened policy would be to welcome migrant workers by giving them each
a social security number so that they can work legally, pay tax, and be
eligible to receive the accompanying benefits. Lizama displayed some
figures tabulating the eye-watering amounts of money generated by immigrant
workers whose tax revenue would go a long way towards reducing or
eliminating the national budgetary shortages. Immigrants spend money,
helping to boost the local economy in which they live.
Just as an ecosystem is healthy and strong when biodiverse, so is a nation
healthy and strong when it is socially diverse. Immigrants are not sent or
dumped by foreign governments, they are voting with their feet and come of
their own accord because they see opportunity for a better life than they
can have at home. They come to work hard and to participate in the
the national ethos of the United States, a set of ideals in which
freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward
social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in
a society with few barriers. Immigrants bring new ideas and new ways of
thinking that ultimately benefit the country as a whole. At present, we are
afflicted by a political madness that keeps doing the same things while
expecting a different result. Yes, there are stresses and strains and some
people who come here are genuinely undesirable, but eventually the bad
persons are weeded out. Overall the good far outweigh the bad.
Except for the Native Americans who have lived on the continent since
Neolithic times, every person in the country is an immigrant.
Meditation, does it work? Specifically, does it work for the average person
who isn’t an adept for whom meditation is just one facet of the larger
Buddhist way of life? Meditation and mindfulness are integral parts of the
eight-fold path towards a virtuous life advocated by the Buddha to promote
peace and relief from suffering. Taken in isolation without skillful
guidance, meditation can lead to confusion and mental turmoil. Short answer
is that I don’t know. But….
First some background. Like many persons, I started meditating to calm an
anxious, turbulent mind. In 2007, in response to several stressful events
that coincided with each other, I developed hypertension the primary symptom
of which was elevated blood pressure that I noticed as a more florid
complexion than usual. During development of this, anxiety would come in
periodic flashes then eventually full-time. To regain my normal composure, I
attacked my trouble on several fronts.
A visit to the doctor for a health check revealed hypertension. Instead of
taking the prescribed medication, I chose to try overcoming my ennui,
anxiety, and associated mental state by treating the root cause instead of
the symptoms with exercise, meditation, and more involvement in community
that would turn my focus outward away from myself. Basically, I took an
engineering approach to solving my problem. Lack of exercise caused high
blood pressure followed by mental distress.
Monitoring my morning blood pressure showed that exercise caused the biggest
improvement; the change was most significant when I moved from walking my
neighborhood to riding my bike for ten miles every day. My experience shows
that aerobic exercise seems to be the best prophylactic for general health.
Community I found by joining All Souls Unitarian Church. Doing so refocused
my attention outward and helped to reestablish a positive outlook on the
world. Meditation was one activity provided by the church. Oddly, meditation
is an inward looking awareness turned outwards. By looking inward, we can
turn outward to embrace everything and everyone with open-hearted
After attending meditation every week for several years, the leader of the
group departed to pursue other interests. A new leader was found by the
person running the adult education program for the church, but it only
lasted for one season. Eventually, I was asked to lead the meditation each
week, yet I see myself not as a leader instead a mere facilitator.
Though I’ve been meditating for several years, I still don’t
know if it makes any difference. On the other hand, just making a decision
to do something changes the future. Just sitting with the intention of
positive change is effective. In short, we are our own placebo. My
multi-faceted approach to a cure for my personal troubles became
self-fulfilling. My positive attitude worked and in a way so does meditation
even though I can’t produce proof other than the restoration of my
Meditation is just one personal management strategy in combination with
others. Sitting in meditation allows the mind and body to settle, enabling
the meditator to observe and be in touch with mind, body, and the
surroundings. Taken to extremes by inexperienced unguided persons,
meditation can be unsettling enough to stir up unstable mental states yet in
moderation it is helpful, a useful tool in one’s personal toolbox.
Attaining to a state of contented equilibrium is accomplished by adjusting
one’s lifestyle, by setting oneself up for success. To this end, see
for some aspects of equanimity, ideas that you can try yourself, but
remember that you are your own authority and should do what works for you,
stop doing what doesn’t.
Once upon a time vocation and calling were equivalent. Now a vocation is usually
understood as a strong affinity with a particular career or occupation
whereas a calling is more usually seen as a divinely inspired urge to serve.
As a humanist I have experienced both. I follow my vocation in the work I do
for a living for which I experienced a strong feeling of desire and
suitability as a child. My calling wasn’t divinely inspired, but it became
more urgent in 1999.
As the years pass I have felt an increasing instability in our civil society,
which seems to be founded on and maintained by violence. After the Columbine
on 20 April 1999, my inaction seemed less and less acceptable to me. Our
children are the future; how we raise them has a direct effect on the future
as they are the ones who will inherit it; and in any trouble, the children
are the first to bear the brunt. At the time, I had a subscription to the
paper edition of the Christian Science Monitor in which there appeared a
feature-length article on the Big Brothers & Big Sisters of America.
I wasn’t sure that I could handle the core program of the Big
Brothers, but the article also talked about their school-based program which
sounded much more doable to me. Having never done public service before, I
felt quite uncomfortable about actually putting myself forward as a mentor
to a young boy. Knowing that my mentoring activities would take place on
school premises during school hours and that I would be vetted and supported
by the Big Brothers organization, I volunteered and prepared myself to
follow through. Once started, quitting wasn’t an option; I imagined
how my mentee would feel if suddenly I quit early in the program. My
participation meant being utterly reliable, calm, and collected, even if I
didn’t feel so.
Since then, I have had three mentees. My last and I have been together since
he was nine going on ten at elementary school. We have graduated from the
Big Brothers & Big Sisters program. Soon he will start his second year as an
undergraduate in computer engineering at university. He is an intelligent person.
He goes into the future with the best start possible in life. He influences
those with whom he interacts. To make a positive difference to our society
one child at a time, that was the beginning of my calling that broadened in
December 2007 during an ice storm that plunged our part of the city into
darkness for nine days.
Periodically it has occurred to me that we are more divided now than we were
in the past. Yet we depend on each other. We cannot live as we do without
depending on innumerable others who help to provide the goods and services
we need. It became obvious to me that community is of the utmost importance
yet community depends on participation of individuals. In 2008, I decided
that I should formally join a community by becoming a member of All Souls
All Souls is a force multiplier. What I can do as an individual does make a
difference, but by being a member of a larger community my effectiveness is
amplified—there is synergy in community. I still think that the way we
raise our children is of the utmost importance and to do that we need to
support them. I make monthly donations to the Community Resource Bank
because they can make more effective use of each dollar through the
economics of their bulk buying program. By helping to feed families
struggling to make ends meet, the
directly supports the children of those families, helping them to get good
nutrition that will in turn help them to excel at school—a hungry
child cannot think properly or be attentive in class.
Since joining All Souls, I have become a Reading Buddy at an elementary
school where I visit for an hour each week during the school year to help a
child learn to read. We have the best opportunity to help the elementary
school children toward more positive development; those early years are
crucial to their future success. Unfortunately, there are many more children
in need of an attentive adult helper than there are adults available.
So despite being a humanist, I follow both a vocation and a calling. The
calling is in response to the iniquities and horrors of our society. We will
make a difference, but we need all hands on deck to do the good work
whatever that work happens to be. With all the shooting and other violent
nonsense, we must help our children to get the best start in life possible.
It will take a generation or two, but if we all work together as a community
then we will create more light than darkness in the lives of everyone. As a
community, we get the leaders we deserve, products of their childhood. I
could not sit watching as our civilization crumbles. I needed to take
action. I am committed and will press on regardless.
Pacific Standard Magazine,
in the May-June 2015 edition, published their list of thirty top young
thinkers under the age of 30. On occasion I wonder where the leading
intellectuals are these days and so I am gratified to discover that
intelligence is alive and doing well. Although this list is limited to
thirty persons, I feel sure that there are many more around the world. Erin
Hartman is one thinker who attracted my attention.
At 29 years old, Ms. Hartman is an accomplished political scientist who
developed new survey methodologies that are extraordinarily accurate at
measuring public opinion. She is reported to have said: Trying to
quantify anything when your data have free will is a fun challenge. A
fun challenge and a problem that she appears to have conquered.
Even so, this isn’t the focus of my attention, my focus is her
mother. psmag quotes Ms. Hartman: I grew
up in a place where the sky was the limit and being creative and
resourceful was definitely encouraged. Her mother always told her:
Try to say yes, and reserve no for when you truly
Yes! It is too easy to say no and to drop back into one’s rut. In
recent years I have been trying to say yes a little more often. Saying yes
to the idea of joining All Souls definitely moved me into a more
uncomfortable realm. Even though I would rather have said no, I said yes to
facilitating the Wednesday evening meditation sangha. The quotation from
Erin Hartman’s mom reminds me of a talk given by Reverend Victor
Parachin who used the story of how John Lennon met Yoko Ono.
Apparently, John Lennon went to an interactive art exhibit at a place
somewhere like London. Yoko Ono was one of the exhibitors. Her exhibit
consisted in a rickety ladder that the visitor had to climb in order to
view something very small on the far wall. At the top of the ladder was a
telescope pointed at that far wall. When John Lennon looked through the
telescope he had to hang on to the ladder with one hand and focus the
telescope with the other. As he adjusted the telescope a single word came
into view: Yes. In that moment, John
Lennon’s mind was blown.
By saying yes, we risk having our minds blown and our comfortable routines
upset by uncomfortable interactions with new people and new situations. By
saying yes, we become less static and more dynamic, moving along winding
paths of stony ground that lead to new vistas and new ways of being. In
process we learn and hopefully become better persons. Nothing ventured,
Having felt moved to write about Reverend Barbara Prose’ talk entitled No
Risk, No Reward, I thought it would be a courtesy to send her a link to
the article so that she wouldn’t be surprised by comments from elsewhere.
Strange how these things work! A plan is afoot at All Souls Unitarian
Church to start blogging about church doings. Suddenly, I find that I am
the first regular blogger for All Souls. Well, we’ll see where this new
adventure takes us. More later.
Retreat from self-hosting on my own box became necessary when I
discovered that it is unreachable from outside the domain of my
After examining the behavior under various conditions, I deduced that the
domain forwarding to the service that tracks the dynamic
address allocation is the cause of the problem. There may be some flags I
can set or some bit twiddling that will resolve the issue; instead
I decided to rent a host from the company lodging my domain name.
If, as sometimes happens unexpectedly, I discover the root cause of the
problem then I can always return to self-hosting and let lapse my lease.
Meanwhile, Talking to Myself has a new home that
is open to all comers in the year ahead.
Today Reverend Barbara Prose gave a talk entitled No
Risk, No Reward that I happened to hear, though not as it was
delivered from the pulpit as shown in the video embedded at right. It is a
talk built around those thought experiments that tend to make me think that
I must be a sociopath because I have no genuine answer to the question that
is posed once the auditor has been securely backed into a mental corner by
the speaker, whence there is no escape.
Here’s how the thought experiment works. You are forced to
make a decision between killing one person or killing multiple persons. A
significant number so questioned choose to kill one person in order to save
Fine! Then the one person is changed to someone you love like a member of
your family and you must decide to kill one or kill many. It changes the
statistics, unsurprisingly. Unless you are a cold hearted sociopath, many
choose to perpetuate their genes over the genes of strangers, even though
they know that four lives saved is better than one.
Being Unitarian, the Reverend Prose then goes for the jugular and posits
the situation wherein a transplant surgeon has four patients each waiting
for a different organ: a heart, a kidney, a liver, a penis. A new patient
arrives who is a compatible match with all four of the transplant
surgeon’s patients thereby raising the question: Should the
transplant surgeon kill the new patient and harvest the organs to save four
individuals in desperate need?
This is what Unitarians do for fun on a Sunday morning. As you will see and
hear in the video, there is some nervous tittering and shuffling by the
congregation. Don’t worry, they purposely employ the ministry to
be irritating gadflies; they like being provoked.
Don’t go to a Unitarian service without writing materials. You never know
when there will be a pop-quiz or a need to take notes. At this event, there
was a piece of card for each person on which to write as shown in the
figure to the right. The idea is to take the card and discuss the content
with a friend about the person you aspire to be—a better theologian, a
better human being.
Here’s what I think I know:
Allowing someone to die when it is within my power to prevent it is wrong.
Deliberately, killing someone to save others is wrong.
I imagine that I would give preference to my own children and allow others to die.
Along this line of inquiry the quizzing continues with: Why is it wrong
to allow someone to die or to deliberately kill someone to save others?
Now we start to see why Socrates was told to drink poison and we secretly
wish our interlocutor would follow his example.
Here’s my opinion in answer to these awkward questions:
I don’t know, but I am a product of my family upbringing and of the
culture in which I was raised.
If I happened to be raised as a cannibal then I would be the best cannibal
I could be by killing and eating my enemies. Right and wrong depends on the
culture and circumstances in which we grow to become adult.
As for the note-card exercise:
If I have a cherished belief then I don’t know what it is. It
isn’t something about which I worry.
I’m not religious, more spiritual, so I don’t have a rejected
belief. Though I suppose a general disregard for religion is a rejection
I grew up in a family of happy heathens who never worried about religious
community. I tend to agree with Groucho Marx and not want to join any
club that would have me as a member. Most religious communities are
exclusive clubs. I think I prefer communities that are inclusive.
Normally, I don’t struggle with ethical religious issues. To show
willing, this blog entry is a small tussle to invent some answers to
life’s persistent questions.
So, why is this exercise important? It is very much about who we wish to
be. Is it better to be a heartless utilitarian—that’s utilitarian not Unitarian—or an empathic communitarian living in
a supportive community? By thinking about these issues, contrived as they
are, we practice the what-if scenarios, helping ourselves to see our way
clear to more skillfully and ethically living our lives within our
I think it was Socrates who is reported to have said: The unexamined life
is not worth living. And Winston Churchill is supposed to have replied:
The unlived life is not worth examining.
Practicing these simulations helps us to see things from different points
of view. Perhaps we can start to rethink and correct our drift towards
video-game-war where real live persons are reduced to so much bug-splat on
the remote video monitors. Perhaps we can think about what the future holds
for us in which we have ceded our war-fighting ability to autonomous robots
that are by their nature extreme sociopaths. Perhaps we can recognize when
the law and bureaucratic regulations should be set aside in favor of more
compassionate action. Ultimately we can learn what is more right than wrong
and in the process become more skillful and wise in our dealings with other
persons and our community of people.
A few weeks ago, I decided to try doing a network installation of
Debian GNU-Linux onto an Israeli CompuLab Fit-PC v1.0. It worked well in
headless mode, meaning that there is no
GUI. Having got the system
running, it’s been sitting there doing nothing. I had been thinking
about using it for secure mail, but thought instead to try resurrecting
The hardware is quite limited when compared with the power available today.
Nevertheless, a 486-class CPU
seems to be enough power to run the Apache2 web-server. Actually, I’m