Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Clean Air and Water

Sometimes, a message must be delivered in a certain package in order to have impact.

Despite ubiquitous reminders to protect the environment, it can seem at times like the earth has a limitless supply of clean air and water, and an inexhaustible capability for cleaning itself.  I think this image packages the "environmental message" in a way that may help debunk those notions of limitlessness and inexhaustibility.

If the earth's atmosphere was spread with equal density from sea level outward, it would be a mere 5 miles thick. This means that if the earth were the size of an apple, the atmosphere woud be about as thick as an apple's skin. As shown above, the amount of air on earth, relative to the earth, is quite small (and already somewhat polluted).

Even more shocking is the amont of water that is spread thinly over the planet's surface and scattered through the atmosphere.  That small amount of water is arguably more polluted and harder to clean than the air.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Light at the End of the Tunnel

I was swimming in the Pacific this morning at dawn when suddenly, this big wave broke over me just as the sun came up.  Luckily, I had my iPhone in the pocket of my bathing suit so I pulled it out and snapped this shot.  Hope you like it.

Friday, November 22, 2013

On the 50th Anniversary of JFK's Death

John Fitzgerald Kennedy (May 29, 1917 – November 22, 1963)

He presided over such a tumultuous time in American history: the cold war, civil rights, Vietnam, the space program, all that crap with Cuba, and the birth of an all-time high in political activism. I think his speech at the Democratic Convention was prescient, and I love the philosophy of citizenship and self-determination that he summarized in this line about the new frontier. 

For the problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won—and we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier ... But the New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises—it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them.

Now is a time when the public needs to remember this message.  Our government was not formed to care for us, but to govern the process by which we care for one another. The government won't solve our problems; the hope is that it will enable the implementation of private solutions.

Rest in peace JFK.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gettysburg Address

It was 150 years ago today that Lincoln delivered his speech at Gettysburg, arguably the most famous speech in American History.

While many of us studied, or even memorized the speech as school children, I think some important context from the address is not commonly transmitted in 5th grade history classes.

I refer to the fact that a series of distinguished speakers were invited to the event for the purpose of addressing a crowd that could sense the end of the war. Each did their best to infuse the ceremony with importance which, for most, meant that they spoke for a very long time. They searched for the words and conjured the metaphors that they felt would best resonate with the historical significance of the day.

As the President, known for powerful oratory, and delivering the final words of the day, Lincoln took the podium facing enormous expectations from the crowd. They settled in, ready to have their emotions stirred during a long, hot soak in the tub of verbal eloquence.

Rather, he dismissed the ceremony as more or less meaningless compared to the honor already bestowed on the grounds at Gettysburg by the brave soldiers who had died there. He spoke for about 2 minutes and then took his seat.  The crowd was stunned.

I find this context fascinating.  If you are also intrigued, here is a great summary of background information that went into his development of the Gettysburg message.

Also, if you re-read the address (below), it is easy to see why the other speakers went home, shaking their heads, and muttering "Why didn't I say that?"
Lincoln's Address at Gettysburg
November 19, 1863

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. 
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Specifically Incompetent

I’m not against progress. However, I am aware that some gains are connected to unfortunate losses. 

I don’t think many would argue that, throughout history, the division of labor, into many smaller and more specific tasks, enabled specialization and tremendous gains in productivity. Once we decided that not every man needed to be a self-sufficient island, quality of life rose by leaps and bounds. We let the farmers grow the food for all, which enabled doctors to devote their time to become better at dispensing care, and soldiers were free to improve their ability to protect us. Such developments have left the rest of us much more time to contribute in our own special ways, like watching YouTube videos and playing fantasy football.

But as specialization has gone further and further, our individual survival has become entirely dependent on the persistence of the social machine. I can tell you right now, if the manager at my local supermarket loses his keys and cannot open the store, I will perish within a week. I am not capable of catching or growing a single morsel of edible matter.

Worse yet, I think the specialization movement is accelerating. Here’s my evidence: Since most of the adults in my neighborhood are like me, earning a living at some hyper-specialized task that produces essentially no social value, we have enough time on our hands to don costumes and stroll the neighborhood with our kids on Halloween (only the farmers, doctors, and soldiers need to work dependable schedules). As recently as two years ago, I recall the mobs of children moving in an orderly and systematic fashion, up one side of a street and down the other, hitting each street in sequential order, and effectively canvassing the neighborhood. 

This year? I saw the little brats engaged in an exercise of ad hoc randomness, wandering from one lit up house to another, zigzagging, doubling back, and missing a great many houses all together. What do I blame? Google, of course. They have specialized "search" and reduced our dependence on organization.

The gains of “search capabilities” have come with the loss of ingrained, organized thinking and systematic intellectual classification. Prior to search, we had to keep track of information like which houses we had looted, and therefore, we approached Halloween festivities in a systematic manner. Today, kids are clearly not learning to store information in an organized way because they can just search for it.

Pretty scary Halloween for me.