Tales from outer turnip head...

Tales from outer turnip head...

Sunday, June 10, 2018

We're Allies...

"We're not marauders. We're allies." -- Enfys Nest

Solo: So I watched Star Wars: Solo this weekend. I will refrain from doing an in-depth review it until I have a time to digest it more. I will say this; I was not offended, nor was I blown away... 

Fun and a little shallow: There is a lot to chew on, fun story telling, no real major missteps, and a few nods to the fans of the larger story that are meaningful. Characters were fun and the action constant, leaving little time for the development that we rabid fans have come to crave in the Star Wars universe. But for me there was a clear and winning moment--an unknown actor (like so many of the greats in Lucas' world), a compellingly strong character, a complexity of potential storyline, (but sadly), not enough development. Although this is true for most of the characters, Enfys Nest seemed to deserve more... 

Glass Breaking: Erin Kellyman plays Enfys Nest, a marauder who fights with the confidence of a seasoned warrior, but who is in fact young, scrappy, and purposeful. I would have loved to see much more of her story than most of what was offered in Solo... Elusive through most of the film, and reveled late, her presence makes me want a sequel, but I am not terribly interested in seeing more of Han Solo or his childhood girlfriend. I AM interested in following the path of this new warrior with clarity of purpose. Sigh... But still... Thank you Star Wars for offering another strong female character who is worth looking up to. Next time, give her a little more bandwidth please...

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Their Lonely Betters

Getting my hands in the dirt: My garden had grown run down. Years of leaf mulch made it acidic. A construction job some years ago damaged a corner of it, and the rocks of its walls made digging and planting the edge a bit rough. I have plans for a small patio and a better fire pit, and so I signaled to those concerned a desire to recondition it over this summer, and decided to not plant this year...

And then I was gifted a plant. A single yellow tomato plant. A gift from a friend who has offered care and food when I was hungry. The gift-plant needed a home indeed. A pot would have done perhaps, but it would not grow enough to yield the many tomatoes that my soups and pastas desire. So it was the incentive for me to put my hands in the dirt.

Here is a picture of a new garden that has already drawn in two beautiful swallowtail butterflies. And then I offer a lovely poem from one of my favorite poets (whom I learned about from Morrie Schwartz)...

Their Lonely Betters

As I listened from a beach-chair in the shade
To all the noises that my garden made,
It seemed to me only proper that words
Should be withheld from vegetables and birds.
A robin with no Christian name ran through
The Robin-Anthem which was all it knew,
And rustling flowers for some third party waited
To say which pairs, if any, should get mated.

Not one of them was capable of lying,
There was not one which knew that it was dying
Or could have with a rhythm or a rhyme
Assumed responsibility for time.

Let them leave language to their lonely betters
Who count some days and long for certain letters;
We, too, make noises when we laugh or weep:
Words are for those with promises to keep.


Sunday, May 27, 2018

A Buddhist still life: smiling

Smile today...

"Life is both dreadful and wonderful. To practice meditation is to be in touch with both aspects. Please do not think we must be solemn in order to meditate. In fact, to meditate well, we have to smile a lot." -- Thich Nhat Hanh
Even though life is hard, even though it is sometimes difficult to smile, we have to try. Just as when we wish each other, "Good morning," it must be a real "Good morning." Recently, one friend asked me, "How can I force myself to smile when I am filled with sorrow? It isn't natural." I told her she must be able to smile to her sorrow, because we are more than our sorrow. -- Thich Nhat Hanh

Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful moment.

--Thich Nhat Hanh

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Something Eternal

This weekend I watched some seniors of mine (and their cast 'n crew) perform a play. It was student directed. And it was very good. It is a play I am quite fond of, Our Town. If you have the time this morning (of course we do not think we ever have the time), but if you can find the time to realize you might spare the time, perhaps you can take a few minutes to read the opening few pages from Act III of Our Town by Thorton Wilder. No commentary today beyond the title of the blog entry. Just Wilder's words:

During the intermission the audience has seen the STAGE-HANDS arranging the stage. On the right-hand side, a little right of the center, ten or twelve ordinary chairs have been placed in three openly spaced rows facing the audience.

These are graves in the cemetery.

Toward the end of the intermission the ACTORS enter and take their places. The front row contains: toward the center of the stage, an empty chair; then MRS. GIBBS; SIMON STIMSON.

The second row contains, among others, MRS. SOAMES. The third row has WALLY WEBB.

The dead do not turn their heads or their eyes to right or left, but they sit in a quiet without stiffness. When they speak their tone is matter-of-fact, without sentimentality and, above all, without lugubriousness.

The STAGE MANAGER takes his accustomed place and waits for the house lights to go down.


This time nine years have gone by, friends—summer, 1913. 

Gradual changes in Grover's Corners. Horses are getting rarer. Farmers coming into town in Fords.Everybody locks their house doors now at night. Ain't been any burglars in town yet, but everybody's heard about 'em.

You'd be surprised, though—on the whole, things don't change much around here.

This is certainly an important part of Grover's Corners. It's on a hilltop—a windy hilltop—lots of sky, lots of clouds,—often lots of sun and moon and stars.

You come up here, on a fine afternoon and you can see range on range of hills awful blue they are up there by Lake Sunapee and Lake Winnipesaukee … and way up, if you've got a glass, you can see the White Mountains and Mt. Washington—where North Conway and Conway is. And, of course, our favorite mountain, Mt.Monadnock, 's right here and all these towns that lie around it: Jaffrey, 'n East Jaffrey, 'n Peterborough, 'n Dublin; and

      Then painting down in the audience.

there, quite a ways down, is Grover's Corners.

Yes, beautiful spot up here. Mountain laurel and li-lacks. I often wonder why people like to be buried in Woodlawn and Brooklyn when they might pass the same time up here in New Hampshire. Over there—

       Pointing to stage left.

are the old stones, —1670, 1680. Strong-minded people that come a long way to be independent. Summer people walk around there laughing at the funny words on the tombstones … it don't do anyharm. And genealogists come up from Boston—get paid by city people for looking up their ancestors. They want to make sure they're Daughters of the American Revolution and of the Mayflower.… Well, I guess that don't do any harm, either. Wherever you come near the human race, there's layers and layers of nonsense.…

Over there are some Civil War veterans. Iron falls on their graves … New Hampshire boys … had a notion that the Union ought to be kept together, though they'd never seen more than fifty miles of it themselves. All they knew was the name, friends—the United States of America. The United States of America. And they went and died about it.

This here is the new part of the cemetery. Here's your friend Mrs.Gibbs. 'N let me see—Here's Mr. Stimson, organist at the Congregational Church. And Mrs. Soames who enjoyed the wedding so—you remember? Oh, and a lot of others. And Editor Webb's boy, Wallace, whose appendix burst while he was on a Boy Scout trip to Crawford Notch.

Yes, an awful lot of sorrow has sort of quieted down up here. People just wild with grief have brought their relatives up to this hill. We all know how it is … and then time … and sunny days … and rainy days … 'n snow … We're all glad they're in a beautiful place and we're coming up here ourselves when our fit's over.

Now there are some things we all know, but we don't take'm out and look at'm very often. We all know that something is eternal. And it ain't houses and it ain't names, and it ain't earth, and it ain't even the stars … everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that somediing has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you'd be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There's something way down deep that's eternal about every human being. 


You know as well as I do that the dead don't stay interested in us living people for very long. 

Gradually, gradually, they lose hold of the earth … and the ambitions they had … and the pleasuresthey had … and the things they suffered … and the people they loved.

They get weaned away from earth—that's the way I put it,—weaned away.

And they stay here while the earth part of 'em bums away, burns out; and all that time they slowly get indifferent to what's goin' on in Grover's Corners.

They're waitin'. They're waitin' for something that they feel is comin'. Something important, and great. Aren't they waitin' for the eternal part in them to come out clear?

Some of the things they're going to say maybe'll hurt your feelings—but that's the way it is: mother'n daughter … husband 'n wife … enemy 'n enemy … money 'n miser … all those terribly important things kind of grow pale around here. And what's left when memory's gone, and your identity, Mrs. Smith?

     He looks at the audience a a minute, then turns to the stage.

Well! There are some living people. There's Joe Stoddard, our undertaker, supervising a new-made grave. And here comes a Grover's Corners boy, that left town to go out West.

     JOE STODDARD has hovered about in the background. SAM CRAIG enters left, wiping his forehead from the exertion. He carries an umbrella and strolls front.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Buddhist still life: Self & Mu...


I sit upon my seat,
open my eyes to the wind,
and lean in on my frame...

I release on the left,
roll on with the right
and lean further in...

My eyes narrow down,
while the world peals away behind
each successive moment arrives...

and my soul sighs with deep content,
my mind follows the thought,
open, out, away, beyond.


I've been waiting...
for much of my life,
looking for what might come...
or what I might not have...
It is hidden from me.
I've been searching...
for much off my life.
seeking for what might be...
or what I might not know...
It is a mystery to me.
I've been thinking...
for much of my life.
puzzling on what has been...
or what I might have missed...
It is an enigma to me.

But it has arrived,
and I have been found,
and the answer revealed...

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Things may fall apart...

Thing may fall apart... and in time all things must come to an end... so, with that entropy comes change... and in that cycle of change comes the potentiality for so much new...

So when it is dark, do not despair... look for the light in the darkness, no matter how dim. When you feel there is no choice... quiet your soul and listen for the guiding voices in your life...

"for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt. We do not.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it--always.”
― Mahatma Gandhi

“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”
― Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Dreams

“Hope is a waking dream.”
― Aristotle

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Integrity, inspiration, and hope...

From Wikipedia: Black Panther is a fictional superhero appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. The character was created by writer-editor Stan Lee and writer-artist Jack Kirby, first appearing in Fantastic Four #52 (cover-dated July 1966) in the Silver Age of Comic Books. Black Panther's real name is T'Challa, king and protector of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. Along with possessing enhanced abilities achieved through ancient Wakandan rituals of drinking the heart shaped herb, T'Challa also relies on his proficiency in science, rigorous physical training, hand-to-hand combat skills, and access to wealth and advanced technology to combat his enemies.
T'Challa: If you weren't so stubborn, you would be a good queen.
Nakia: It is because I am so stubborn that I would be a good queen.

King T'Chaka: [to his son] You are a good man, with a good heart. And it's hard for a good man to be a king.

-- from Black Panther
"My son, it is your time": I loved Black Panther. Not a standard action hero movie, it has a level of depth and self awareness that I have found lacks in most other DC and Marvel cinema adaptations of their respective pantheons. [I still like the Batman trilogy best; I am super biased to the lack of Batman's super powers, and the darkness of his near perilous dance with vengeance vs justice compels me.] Black Panther is a close second.

The nobility of the positive leadership is refreshing. When so many stories give us moral ambiguity in the portrayal of "interesting" characters (read corrupt, corruptible, or flawed), the core positive characters of Black Panther are unyieldingly, straightforwardly, awesomely, good.

At the heart of this is a question of leadership, and neither stubbornness nor a lack of goodness is what makes T'Challa and Nakia (amounts a few others) good leaders. Edmund Burke said "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." King T'Challa is a good man who was willing to something. Driven by desire to serve and improve the lives of people, he is unwavering in his focus, and therefore offers what all great leaders offer in time of difficulty, hope.
T'Challa: Wakanda will no longer watch from the shadows. We can not. We must not. We will work to be an example of how we, as brothers and sisters on this earth, should treat each other. Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Ogdred Weary...

“If something doesn't creep into a drawing that you're not prepared for, you might as well not have drawn it.” ― Edward Gorey

“Books. Cats. Life is Good.” Edward Gorey was an illustrator and author. First-most he liked to refer to himself as a person, a person who liked to write and draw. He most frequently used pen and ink, and stylistically placed much of his nonsense in Victorian or Edwardian settings. Dark (but not evil), quirky, and a little surreal, I place him in camp with Tim Burton and Shaun Tan; I love them all. I visited an exhibit of his work this weekend in Hartford and found it delightful. Much of my aesthetic in art overlaps his, as the exhibit displayed not only his pieces, but other accumulated art from his collection that ostensibly served as influence on his aesthetic. What a treat to be able to peer into the personal life of this person who happened to like to write and draw...

A is for Amy who fell down the stairs.
B is for Basil assaulted by bears.
C is for Clara who wasted away.
D is for Desmond thrown out of a sleigh.
E is for Ernest who choked on a peach.
F is for Fanny sucked dry by a leech.
G is for George smothered under a rug.
H is for Hector done in by a thug.
I is for Ida who drowned in a lake.
J is for James who took lye by mistake.
K is for Kate who was struck with an axe.
L is for Leo who choked on some tacks.
M is for Maud who was swept out to sea.
N is for Neville who died of ennui.
O is for Olive run through with an awl.
P is for Prue trampled flat in a brawl.
Q is for Quentin who sank on a mire.
R is for Rhoda consumed by a fire.
S is for Susan who perished of fits.
T is for Titus who flew into bits.
U is for Una who slipped down a drain.
V is for Victor squashed under a train.
W is for Winnie embedded in ice.
X is for Xerxes devoured by mice.
Y is for Yorick whose head was bashed in.
Z is for Zillah who drank too much gin.
                             ― Edward Gorey

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Deep, dark chocolate tones and a bold flavor...

Sunday Morning Ritual: I've been reading poems about coffee this morning while I sip my own and listen to ferocious winds rip through the tall pines of the Taconic mountains. The chimes rattle closely, and in the distance the last snows of the northern faces stubbornly hold onto their cold. I can see and hear this from my morning perch, and I sip slowly, letting the warmth of awareness in...

Here's a poem I found that I particularly like:

[Over a Cup of Coffee]
Over a cup of coffee or sitting on a park bench or
walking the dog, he would recall some incident
from his youth—nothing significant—climbing a tree
in his backyard, waiting in left field for a batter's
swing, sitting in a parked car with a girl whose face
he no longer remembered, his hand on her breast
and his body electric; memories to look at with
curiosity, the harmless behavior of a stranger, with
nothing to regret or elicit particular joy. And
although he had no sense of being on a journey,
such memories made him realize how far he had
traveled, which, in turn, made him ask how he
would look back on the person he was now, this
person who seemed so substantial. These images, it
was like looking at a book of old photographs,
recognizing a forehead, the narrow chin, and
perhaps recalling the story of an older second
cousin, how he had left long ago to try his luck in
Argentina or Australia. And he saw that he was
becoming like such a person, that the day might
arrive when he would look back on his present self
as on a distant relative who had drifted off into
uncharted lands.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

"When you have nobody you can make a cup of tea for, when nobody needs you, that's when I think life is over."

“Some people will tell you there is a great deal of poetry and fine sentiment in a chest of tea.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Some time ago in the dark of the waning year, a lovely deva from afar made me a cup of tea. It was a Celon brew steeped with ginger, served with honey and cream, and offered with a smile that could tame demons; it tasted like a Nepalese morning in the courtyard of Thamel's Pumpernickel Bakery, a sweet and warm sanctuary from the earthy briskness of a Himalayan day. Now, ordinarily I thrive on morning coffee, but afternoon tea can be better, when it is brewed and served with care and a touch of magic, by another...

Magick charge and goddess bless
This potion brewed for happiness
Tears of sadness be erased
Tears of gladness take their place

― Celtic Book of Shadows: 

So on that winter day in the not-so-distant-past, a cup of tea was made for me with care and taste. The water was heated in the coolest clear-glass plug-in carafe that had electric blue under-lighting. It was a rolling-boil lava-lamp-like appliance that made the kitchen look like something out of Bladerunner. The loose tea was held in a clear one-cup dispenser that released its contents when placed upon the lip of the cup intended for drinking; the amber honey, local; the splat of cream, organic. Good god, it was excellent!

“Who would then deny that when I am sipping tea in my tearoom I am swallowing the whole universe with it and that this very moment of my lifting the bowl to my lips is eternity itself transcending time and space?” 

― D.T. Suzuki, Zen and Japanese Culture:

I was gifted one of those one-cup dispensers, and after Christmas, I bought myself an electric carafe. Although mine does not have the see-through glass body with sci-fi under-lighting, it does allow for six different temperatures for optimal brewing, and a liquid-blue illuminated volume indicator. You see, delicate teas are best brewed at 160 degrees. Green teas do not get bitter if allowed to sit in 175 degree water. White teas, with their subtle flavors prefer 185º while Oolong gets its own temperature setting at 190º. Coffee is exquisite when brewed in sub-boiling water around 200º. And of course Black tea needs a full boil (212º). And the taste improvement of variable temperatures over boiling-water-for-all is noticeable. And, BONUS, it turns out that my new machine is efficient in a way that my stovetop is not...

“Tea ... is a religion of the art of life.” 

― Kakuzō Okakura, The Book of Tea:

I noticed that my water seemed to be ready faster in the carafe than when I would put a kettle on the stove. I assume that the heat element is more efficiently putting its energy into the water than with a stovetop element. So I conducted a quick experiment. I prepared my water in the carafe and also with my old kettle on the stove. The carafe is a 1500w appliance and took 3 minutes to heat my water. The stove-top is a 2600w coil and took 4.5 minutes to bring my water to just shy of boiling. I currently pay an average $.23 per kWh ($.10708 per kWh for generation, and the balance in fees and transmission costs). The carafe thus makes my morning beverage for $.01725 at current price, and the stovetop for $.04485: a savings of $.0276 per use. The carafe cost me $80, and so should be paid off after roughly 3000 boils (5-10 years) 😂. What a deal! So, while I patiently wait for my financial return I will invite my friends to sit at my table, enjoy the taste of a well prepared brew, and find a little smile with each pour...

Sunday, April 1, 2018

"You have it in you to shout"

I am not in his club, but I like this pope... This Easter Sunday I offer his words that I found in a Reuters article from Palm Sunday...

Keep shouting, don't become anesthetized, pope tells young people by Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Pope Francis, starting Holy Week services leading to Easter, urged young people on Sunday to keep shouting and not allow the older generations to silence their voices or anesthetize their idealism.

Francis spoke a day after hundreds of thousands of young Americans and their supporters answered a call to action from survivors of last month’s Florida high school massacre and rallied across the United States to demand tighter gun laws.

He did not mention the demonstrations. Catholic News Service (CNS) said Gabriella Zuniga, 16, and her sister Valentina, 15, both students from Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, where 17 people were killed in February, attended the service with their parents.

CNS posted a photo of the two holding up signs in St. Peter’s Square, with one reading, “Protect Our Children, Not Our Guns.”

The 81-year-old Francis led a long and solemn Palm Sunday service before tens of thousands in the square, many of them young people there for the Catholic Church’s World Day of Youth.

Carrying a woven palm branch known as a “palmurello,” Francis led a procession in front of the largest church in Christendom to commemorate the day the Bible says Jesus rode into Jerusalem and was hailed as a savior, only to be crucified five days later.


Drawing on biblical parallels, Francis urged the young people in the crowd not to let themselves be manipulated.

“The temptation to silence young people has always existed,” Francis said in the homily of a Mass.

“There are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible. Many ways to anesthetize them, to make them keep quiet, ask nothing, question nothing. There are many ways to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat and dreary, petty and plaintive,” he said.

“Dear young people, you have it in you to shout,” he told young people, urging them to be like the people who welcomed Jesus with palms rather than those who shouted for his crucifixion only days later.

“It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders, some corrupt, keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?”

The young people in the crowd shouted, “Yes!”

While Francis did not mention Saturday’s marches in the United States, he has often condemned weapons manufacturing and mass shootings.

Palm Sunday marked the start of a hectic week of activities for the pope.

On Holy Thursday he is due to preside at two services, including one in which he will wash the feet of 12 inmates in a Rome jail to commemorate Jesus’ gesture of humility toward his apostles the night before he died.

On Good Friday, he is due to lead a Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) procession at Rome’s Colosseum. On Saturday night he leads a Easter vigil service and on Easter Sunday he delivers his twice-yearly “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) message.

Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Of things to come...

A Prayer in Spring

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers to-day; 
And give us not to think so far away 
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here 
All simply in the springing of the year. 

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night; 
And make us happy in the happy bees, 
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees. 

And make us happy in the darting bird 
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill, 
And off a blossom in mid air stands still. 

For this is love and nothing else is love, 
The which it is reserved for God above 
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfil.

--Robert Frost

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Garth: Look, we don't know nothing about children, so if you need something... Hub: [interrupts] -find it yourself. Better yet: learn to do with out.

Typographical Art by swesomesauceexp
Hub: We're fix'in to die anytime, so if we kick off in the middle of the night, you're on your own: So I watched one of my favorite movies again for the umpteenth time this weekend, Second Hand Lions (2003). Two old men, Hub (Robert Duvall) and Garth (Michael Caine), have lived adventurous and interesting lives. In their later years they have taken to sitting on a porch in Texas and shooting shot-guns at traveling salesmen while sipping tea surrounded by a pack of adorably lounging and watchful dogs. Their disaster of an opportunist niece drops off her young teen child, Walter, as she heads west to con out an existence, and hoping her son can sniff out a reported fortune of hidden cash in the McCann brothers possession. Her son, the focus of the film, is an innocent, just trying to find a place to find some support. It is a sweet, exciting, schmaltzy, satisfying, humorous, family film; just quirky enough to make it light, and just poignant enough to offer real lessons about relationships, this film hits a sweet spot with me despite a lower Rotten Tomatoes score of 59, an Ebert score of 3/4, and an IMDB rating of 7.6/10. [90% of Google users like the film though.] The following is a bit of script that I particularly like:

WALTER (Haley Joel Osment)
Those stories, about you, about Africa: they're true. Aren't they?

HUB (Robert Duvall)
It doesn't matter....

It does too! Around my mom I hear so many lies I don't know what to believe in....

Dammit, if you want to believe in something, believe in it! Just because something isn't true, that's no reason you can't believe in it!

Walter blinks, confused. Hub SIGHS....

HUB (Cont'd)
There's a long speech I give to young men. Sounds like you need to hear a piece of it....


Some times the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good. That honor, virtue, and courage mean everything; that money and power mean nothing. That good always triumphs over evil. That true love never dies.

Walter's eyes are wet. Perhaps, so are Hub's.

HUB (Cont'd)
Doesn't matter if they're true or not. A man should believe in those things anyway. Because they are the things worth believing in.

Walter thinks, finally nods: he understands. They both watch moonlight ripple the water, both lost in thought.

That was a good speech.


Sunday, March 11, 2018

"Like an antelope in headlights."

America, we have a problem: We have issues with race in America. We have a race problem, for sure. It's part of our fabric, and although we strive to improve, we clearly have this problem, still, and have since our beginnings. We have "racists," and people who are "race-conscious," and people who try to be "race blind;" we have folks who are ignorant and behave in a way that projects that ignorance in ways that create conflict, and we have folks who are just driven by a much more base values/beliefs that promote hate, and anger, and fear, and, and, and...

Am I allowed to draw attention to how we should pay less attention?: While I cannot profess to know how to fix our four-hundred year problem, I do know that sometimes when we try to fix a thing, in all our good intentions, we over focus on that thing and it spawns its own new set of problems. Part of what I suspect will help us deal with some of our race issues, and I am hesitant to even weigh on of this subject, is to merely be more mindful of what we take for granted as "normal"...

Q. What color is Marge Simpson? A. Yellow: A student who was watching a Japanese anime film in my classroom asked why most of the characters looked white if it was a movie about Japan. I had not thought they looked particularly one thing or another, but understood where the question came from. I had heard it before and not had, nor looked for, a good answer. So I googled it. I came across a blog that I found well written that mentioned an anecdotal study where Japanese students were asked what ethnicity these same "Western" looking characters were. The Japanese students replied that the anime characters looked Japanese. BB chat rooms are filled with similar discussions, many of concluding with statements that they just look "anime," neither white nor Asian. The premise is that we often attribute what our "normal" is to a neutral subject. The thing that is normal is not focused on too much, nor is it ignored. It just is. Allow me to offer a different analogy that might transfer...

Like big eyed children attending their first circus: How do you identify a "country mouse" visiting the city for the first time? They are always looking up. We city mice (rats if you will), do not forget the buildings are there, and we even look at them from time to time, but it is not the gawking, staring-up-while-walking-into-things type of looking. I still appreciate awesome rooflines and architectures, but the height of buildings does not amaze me, nor freak me out. I like them as part of a normal "landscape" of cities. The country mouse often feels overwhelmed by the pressing skyline, or is enthalwed by it such that it becomes a distraction of just expeicneing the city in a free-flow way. Only after spending some meaningful time in a city does that person become more open to cities as just one more type of space where people live. In fact, over time it's the individual city cultures and towns', and villages' that take on unique identities, rather than being "types" to be separated and categorized...

I grew up on TV from the 70s and the 80s. It's only just now starting to get better: So part of the solution for our "race" problems is for the normalization of "race" (what a bonehead misnomer  "race" is by the way). I remember watching Friends, a story about six white kids who worked (did they actually work?) and lived in New York City. They owned lots of nice things in their large apartments, and hung out in a coffee shop all day. They were pretty funny to watch, but I was always distracted by how everyone was white. It didn't seem normal. And then there was Martin, same problem. Or All in the Family, or Different Strokes... So many shows seemed to either loudly ignore race or trumpet its presence in stereotypical ways, each in their own way exasperating the problem of normalization. (Or was that never a goal?) Survivor was a show I enjoyed watching until they chose tribes by skin color. How messed up is that, unless the sensationalism was the whole point... oh yeah, ratings and controversy makes for great television (sarcasm implied)...

Hollywood and their ideas about what will sell: And then there are our superheroes movies. Overwhelmingly white despite 100s of characters of color over the last seven decades of comic book writing.
John Stewart debuted in Green Lantern vol. 2 #87 (December 1971/January 1972) when artist Neal Adams came up with the idea of a substitute Green Lantern. The decision to make the character black resulted from a conversation between Adams and editor Julius Schwartz, in which Adams recounts saying that given the racial makeup of the world's population, "we ought to have a black Green Lantern, not because we’re liberals, but because it just makes sense."[1] The character was DC's first black superhero.[1]
There were screams of "Green Lantern cannot be black!" by folks who felt a character that had been white since 1940 could not somehow be different. Why not! It seems so stupid that it makes my head hurt. Enter Black Panther...

Black Panther 2018: The less said by me at this point the better. I need more time to properly review this film that has defied Hollywood conventional wisdom about race. In has become a phenomenon. It has cleared a billion dollars at the box office in under 3 weeks (3/4 billion in the US alone).  It is flooding entertainment and financial news and my social media feeds have been touting its awesomeness since day one. It is a movie with a predominately black cast, set predominately in Africa (with side trips to the US and South Korea), and written by black screenwriters. It could have been a racially polarizing film; in fact polarizing race features in much of the plot line, yet I did not feel the film polarizes at all. It is exactly the sort of normalizing I could have hoped for in anticipation of its release. I have yet to fully digest it, but for a guy who is maxed out on superhero movies this one is a Ten, ranking with the Batman trilogy as my favorite in the genre. But somehow I spent much of the film recognizing the skyline so to speak, but not gawking, head turned upward to the sky. Despite being an action superhero movie, it was refreshingly not as formulaic as some much from Marvel and DC in recent years, and I cannot wait to see it again...

Sunday, March 4, 2018

ἀπὸ μηχανῆς θεός...

ερωτήσεις: So today I am asking questions. I am interested in Artificial Intelligence. I am interested in Mind. I am interested in Soul. I am interested in Creation. I am interested in "Man's" need for Gods, and the problematic need Gods have for us. (I suspect the later logical construction is a failure of our own, in writing our thoughts about the former... but that truly is not the subject for my questions today.) Mind you, I am not going to argue for the equation of Machines and Humans, I am interested in the differences... one being deliberately created by the other... (Perhaps a side question: Was the Creator created?) But for starters, let me take it back to the basics, switches...

δυάδικος: A switch can either be on or off (what role does variable switches play here? I am not sure yet.) We make switches. I can use a series of switches to create more combinations of complexity of on and off and can even attribute meaning to the various outcomes: on=Yes, off=No and I use a more complex set of values: integers-to-letters, and use a system for integers-to-switches, then 011110010110010101110011 can literally (and symbolically) be yes (albeit with no emphasis)... Give me enough switches and I can communicate very complex ideas. And I can employ logic to develop option-trees, conditionals, operators, etc... If x then y, else z. I can nest these options into very intricate series of possibilities, and with large amounts of observable data, create a machine with abilities to... well... I could make an  interactive illusion of sorts...

ψευδαίσθηση: Can I teach my machine to ask questions when facial recognition software observes a strained look on my face? Can I teach my machine to speak a question of concern If my temperature indicates a chemical change in my brain that is linked to sorrow? Can I teach my machine to "like" solving puzzles and develop the ability to create new code in its algorithms when presented with a new challenge that allows for the synthesis of older solutions into something effective (and therefore new)? The illusion could be made to seem quite real...

ο άνθρωπος: My brain is not made of switches. My option-trees are not simple logic, but are formed by far more experiences and feelings and personality and events than a computer program could even process... ... ... BUT perhaps I am just a measure of complexity... a superior illusion. Perhaps it is just about scope... If I made a machine with a billion billion switches such that it could not be distinguished from a person when interacted through a terminal... and then raise that number of switches to the power of a billion, could I make something so complex that it simulates a wide spectrum of inputs to create a seemingly (to my limited brain) infinite amount of subtle end results? Can I create lenses with the ability discern objects, and create code to attach meaning, and create algorithms to approximate preference, and processes of code based upon outcome such that the program can learn to "like" or "dislike" certain objects, and furthermore allow for the change of that designation "like/dislike" with loops back on the initial preference, based upon further algorithms of experience? Where does the programmed nature of a thing become indistinguishable from me?

"There is nothing more human than the will to survive.": I watched ex machina this weekend, Alex Garland's cinematic rendition of a Turing test variant, where programmer Caleb Smith must decide if an AI named Ava has consciousness. Caleb has been hired by his boss, Nathan, to spend a week interacting with Ava then report back to her creator his finsdings In the next scene, Caleb has been exposed by Nathan for having developed an affinity for Ava: an achievement of brilliant god-like creation...

NATHAN (CONT’D): You feel stupid. But you shouldn’t. Proving an AI is exactly as problematic as you said it was.

CALEB: What was the real test?



NATHAN (CONT’D): Ava was a mouse in a mousetrap. And I gave her one way out. To escape, she would have to use imagination, sexuality, self-awareness, empathy, manipulation - and she did. If that isn’t AI, what the fuck is?

I cannot reveal more, because although the film is not a "spoiler," the nature of Ava's awareness/or not is clearly part of the fun of watching, much like watching the use of language in Denis Villeneuve's The Arrival, a film about first contacts with alien life...  

συμπόνια: So how is Ava different from me? Does she actually have empathy, or does she know how to approximate it? If she creatively uses empathy as a means of manipulation, is that different from a child saying "I'm sorry" to sooth a parent's anger in order to affect a better outcome than feelings of guilt and having anxiety over worry about acceptance? (How tied to empathy is compassion, and is compassion a variant of love and how could a program ever know that?) Why are the bullied so often, empathetic; and why are the the bullies so often, not? While I know I am not switches, I also know that I am who I am, because of the myriad of events and conditions that I have experienced... ... ... and I imagine now, this morning, that I am intellectually in a sort of mousetrap of my own... 

So at some point, I have to ask the question that has been on my mind from the start: "With ever increasingly complexity, and as the number of programmed variables and options exceed the limits of my intellectual and emotional capacity, does the Illusion become Real?"

And the Buddhist-me over in the corner laughs at the programmer-me who spends his time thinking thusly...

Sunday, February 25, 2018

9 Dots, 5 Arrows: no parentheses...

123 • 225 • 2x3 • 7 • 23 • 32 • 2x5 • 11 • 22x3 • 13 • 2x7 • 3x5 • 22x2217 • 2x3219 • 22x5 • 3x7 • 2x11 • 23 • 23x3 • 52 • 2x13 • 33 • 22x7 • 29 • 2x3x5 • 31 • 22x23 • 3x11 • 2x17 • 5x7 • 22x3237 • 2x19 • 3x13 • 22x2x5 • 41 • 2x3x7 • 43 • 22x11 • 33x5 • 2x23 • 47 • 2x23x3 • 72 • 2x52 • 3x17 • 22x13 • 53 • 2x33 • 5x11 • 23x7 • 3x19 • 2x29 • 59 • 22x3x5 • 61 • 2x31 • 33x7 • 23x23 

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Cryptonomicon hook...

Starting a new read and I am excited: Corporal Robert "Bobby" Shaftoe is the first character I have met in Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon (1999). I have just begun this book, only having turned a few pages—The Prologue—while eating Sunday morning fried eggs seasoned with Tajin and dill-weed. I'm hooked already! Shaftoe seemingly loves to write haiku, and while careening along the streets of Shanghai in a truck speeding by money-crate carrying laborers, is composing them in his head...

"Coolies" (offensive): Corp. Shaftoe's truck is on two wheels as a hard turn is taken to avoid pedestrians on a 45 mph race to the waterfront to deliver filing cabinets filled with code books. Money carriers are delivering boxes of paper money to banks all over the financial district to exchange for commodity currency. These boxes are carried by two handlers each via a long bamboo pole, each end held on a shoulder. They sing to each other to help keep step, each pair competing in volume with other carriers on the street...

Two tires fly. Two wail.
A bamboo grove, all chopped down
From it, warring songs.

Spy Stations: The race originates from Station Alpha, which Shaftoe describes as a "mysterious claque of pencil-necked swabbies who hung out on the roof of a building in the International Settlement in a shack of knot-pocked pallet planks with antennas sticking out of it every which way. If you stood there long enough you could see some of those antennas moving, zeroing in on something out to sea."

Antenna searches
Retriever's nose in the wind
Ether's far secrets

A gunboat in the harbor shells their approach and money goes flying: "Shaftoe peers up through a blizzard of notes and sees giant bamboo poles soaring and bounding and windmilling toward the waterfront."

The leaves of Shanghai:
Pale doorways in a steel sky.
Winter has begun.

And the Prologue ends, and Chapter 1: Barrens, begins...

From Wikipedia:
Cryptonomicon is a 1999 novel by American author Neal Stephenson, set in two different time periods. One group of characters are World War II-era Alliedcodebreakers and tactical-deception operatives affiliated with the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park (UK), and disillusioned Axis military and intelligence figures. The second narrative is set in the late 1990s, with characters that are (in part) descendants of those of the earlier time period, who employ cryptologic, telecom, and computer technology to build an underground data haven in the fictional Sultanate of Kinakuta. Their goal is to facilitate anonymous Internet banking using electronic money and (later) digital gold currency, with a long-term objective to distribute Holocaust Education and Avoidance Pod (HEAP) media for instructing genocide-target populations on defensive warfare. 

Sunday, February 11, 2018

A Buddhist Still Life... nowhere and nothing

What is the sound of moss growing?: Many years ago my college mentor exposed me to a book in the course of our studying an introduction to the experiences of religion; The book: The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. It is one those books that changes you for the better having read it, enough that you wish to share your changes with others. The funny part about this book was how little specific "information" I remembered after reading it the first time. I couldn't quote a thing, or even point to much specific evidence at all despite having thought time and time again how cool/cute/profound a particular passage was.

It is a book about Taoism, a religion/philosophy that ironically would value the change I had experienced especially without analysis and label applied to trhat change. Funny... that I saw the ironic nature of my lessons and waited a long while before reading it again, that time in order to take notes. I never did take notes. The idea of documenting it seems to spoil my experience of the book, but I have read it several times since, each time learning something more about... "things"... from Pooh and his friends. Over the years I have gifted this book to friends and students who seem to "get life" and who might enjoy a moment of receiving a good read from a mentor. Here is a tidbit from the beginning of the chapter "Nowhere and Nothing" that I particularly like:

The Tao of Pooh
by Benjamin Hoff

"Where are we going?", said Pooh hurrying after him and wondering whether it was to be an Explore or a What-shall-I-do-about-you-know-what.

"Nowhere," said Christopher Robin.

So they began going there, and after they had walked a little way, Christopher Robin said:

"What do you like doing best in the world, Pooh?"

(And of course, what Pooh liked doing best was going to Christopher Robin's house and eating, but since we've already quoted that, we don't think we need to quote it again.)

"I like that too," said Christopher Robin, "but what I like best is Nothing."

"How do you do Nothing?" asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time.

"Well, it's what people call out at you just as you're going off to do it, What are you going to do, Christopher Robin, and you say, Oh, Nothing, and then you go and do it."

"Oh, I see," said Pooh.

"This is a nothing sort of thing that we're doing now."

"Oh, I see," said Pooh again.

"It means just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering."

Sunday, February 4, 2018

First 10: Kernels of helpful words...

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step" -- Lao Tzu: Last year I got a day-by-day calendar with "life quotes" to offer inspiration for me. I have chopped roughly 180 pieces of elongated paper in such a way that I can retain the quotes from the bottom; they're like slips of paper from fortune cookies. [There are another 180 or so awaiting attention.] And I have trimmed the calendar dates from the top, leaving the remaining scraps to be beige and white squares for origami quiet moment material...

First 10: Here are the first ten scraps form the top of the pile that caught my attention today. Like tea leaves you may read into them what you will, but ideally you just enjoy the mix of true wisdom and gimmicky advice they offer...

What is the meaning of life? To be happy and useful. --Dalai Lama

Be so happy that when others look at you they become happy too.

Every time you are able to find some humor in a difficult situation, you win.

We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance. --Japanese proverb

Today is life—the only life you are sure of. Shake yourself awake. Live today with gusto. --Dale Carnegie

The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts. --Marcus Aurelius 

Ask yourself this question: "Will this matter a year from now?" -- Richard Carlson 

Every day may not be good... but there's something good in every day.

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. --Eleanor Roosevelt

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. --Dalai lama

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Computational thinking: purposeful enterprise

"Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes." --Edsger Dijkstra: I have dipped my toe into computer science recently. I have always been a computer user, for as long as I have had access to one, starting in the seventies. I have used, abused, broken, and repaired my machines, but never really understood what was actually under the hood, so to speak. So last spring I joined some of my students at a local college for a dual enrollment high school college introduction to Java programming. I had to get special permission from my boss and the bosses at the college to parallel enroll me as an adult along side these 15-18 year-olds. I enjoyed it enough to take another course in the summer, this time in the programming language Python. I loved it! Meanwhile I was in a crash course to get trained to instruct an introduction to computer science. Eighty hours of training later and countless nights reading and rehearsing curriculum I have learned a fair amount. And it is by far some of the most fun I have had teaching in a long time.

Computer Science is not just about "geeks" and programming code. Computer science is not just for "math-minded 'smart' kids". Computer science is not a single discipline with a specific focus. It is about algorithmic thinking, and logic, and crosses over into almost every discipline as a useful tool for more purposeful ways of dealing with anything associated with "crunching data." Computer science can encourage inquiry learning in an equitable environment. Computer science is creative and relevant. Computer science can lend support for a much more democratized society if we make sure we are purposeful about access to CS learning for all.

A paragraph that I like:
The word "algorithm" comes from the name of Persian mathematician al-Khwarizmi, author of a ninth-century book of techniques for doing mathematics by hand. (His book was called al-Jabr wa'l-Muqabala—and the "al-jabr" of the title in turn provides the source of our word "algebra.") The earliest known mathematical algorithms, however, predate even al-Khwarizmi's work: a four-thousand-year-old Sumerian clay tablet found near Baghdad describes a scheme for long division.

But algorithms are not confined to mathematics alone. When you cook bread from a recipe, you're following an algorithm. When you knit a sweater from a pattern, you're following an algorithm. When you put a sharp edge on a piece of flint by executing a precise sequence of strokes with the end of an antler—a key step in making fine stone tools—you're following an algorithm. Algorithms have been a part of human technology ever since the stone age.
--Introduction from Algorithms to Live by, Brian Christin and Tom Griffiths

A video about what might be the next step for my students. Creating apps that change the world: