Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Community without conspicuity

Being part of a group of people, a community, without being a conspicuous member of said community.

Last Sunday, it was my privilege to sing in a choir led by my brother-in-law, Ron Harper. Both my wife, Sara, and his wife (our wives are sisters) were also in the choir. Our performance will be on the web for some time, thanks to YouTube and it's community-enabling platform. It was entitled "Symbols of the Nativity - A Musical Celebration" and was a wonderful experience.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Consternation without comprehension

I'm confused about something that I don't understand. At least I'm aware of it; you have to be aware of something before you can understand it, although you might very well be confused about something before becoming aware of what it it.

When I was much younger, in Junior High School, the science class was great. One day we learned that the earth's climate changes over time. Like in this screenshot 

from PBS (taken November 2, 2019), we were taught (did I mention it was in a Science class?) that the earth goes through cycles from warmer to cooler temperatures and back again. Round and round.

In fact, we were told, the earth is currently moving towards its next Ice Age! Furthermore, there was nothing, nothing at all, that we humans could do about it. Colder temperatures were coming in the future, no matter what we wanted or tried to do about it.

After getting a bit alarmed, we were soothed with the information that it wouldn't be for hundreds of years at the soonest.

Nevertheless, this little bit of scientific instruction has stuck with me.

Fifty-five (or so) years later: surprise! Humans can and are doing something about it! We are making the world warmer, through our efforts, and staving off the next Ice Age. Yay!!! Let's celebrate*, right?

No. Apparently, today's science has a different message** for us.

I completely do not comprehend, much to my consternation.


* I think we should get that classroom of students together for a reunion and build a great big bonfire, to liberate some carbon into the atmosphere, and do our small part to keep the world from getting colder -- doing our small part, since, we can after all do something about it!

** That message is, roughly, "human-caused global warming is an imminent existential threat to humanity, and we must all hunker down, reduce our standard of living, and give up our freedom to the smarter people telling us this, or risk losing our planet!" [to be read with an increasingly shrill and loud voice]

"reduce our standard of living" happens when we are expected to use less energy for cooling our homes in the summer and heating them in the winter, or curtailing our recreational travel, and so on

Monday, June 20, 2022

Command without conclusion

Or, a never-ending hierarchy.

In a hierarchy, there are levels of authority, with commands coming down from a few higher authorities to many subjects.

For example, people might be organized into communities, which are subject to counties, which are subject to states or provinces, which are subject to a federal government.

In my dissertation, I wrote about two hierarchies (early in Chapter 5): 

  • the instance hierarchy (every object is an instance of some class), and 
  • the inheritance hierarchy (every class inherits from another class)

At the top of every hierarchy, there has to be something to stop the upward path, lest it go on forever (which means that this post is unique to this blog in that it is actually about defeating its own title rather than supporting it).

In the programming language that I described in my dissertation, the two hierarchies end (looking in the upward direction) in different ways:

  • the instance hierarchy ends with a tight loop; Class is an instance of itself
  • the inheritance hierarchy ends with null: the Object class inherits from nothing

Returning now to the first example, communities of people. Here is a possible list of ever-higher authorities: the federal government might be subject to a planetary government, which might be subject to a solar system government, subject itself to a galactic government, and so forth, on up to a government of the entire known universe.

In the case of the United States of America, the federal government is subject to what? Some possible answers:

These possibilities reflect some of the different ways that a hierarchy can end. 

First we have the way outlined in an earlier paragraph (which ultimately ends with null (as with the Object class of my dissertation) since we know of nothing that contains the entire known universe). 

The second option, supported by the phrase, "one Nation under God," is an option in which authority ends with a self-sufficient being (like the Class of my dissertation). 

The third option, supported by the phrase, "of the people, for the people, and by the people," is a very different way, a very large loop.

Now that I have the (hypothetical**) reader thinking in terms of a hierarchy of government, I can present my own views. I am absolutely opposed to the view that our nation is subject to any other government. Yes, we support (and host the headquarters of) the United Nations. But, no, we do not take direction from them and are not subject to that organization.

Since we are created (whether you believe this to be by a personal God, some ineffable supreme being, or mindless random evolution), the second option holds some appeal. Some of the definitions of Creator, though, do not allow for appeal to the higher authority (and the one that does historically requires belief in a Prophet (which would not be tenable in today's secular society)), so I do not prefer this option.

The United States of America has a constitution which describes a very limited federal government, with all but a few roles given to the states, and ultimately answerable to the people.

Indeed it is a very loopy hierarchy. Communities are answerable to the people as well as to their county, Counties are answerable to the people as well as to their state. States are answerable to the people as well as to the federal government. Finally, the federal government is answerable to the people, and not to any international organization: neither the WHO, the world bank, nor even the world court. We, as a nation, stand independent above all other creatures, and yet we expect our nation to serve and answer to its people.


"lest it go on forever" A hierarchy can conceptually go on forever, such as the one described by Douglas Hofstadter, who invented a recursive acronym for GOD Over Djinn, which behaved as an infinite hierarchy (in a hypothetical world).

"the programming language that I described in my dissertation" is also named by a recursive acronym, TOOL Object Oriented Language.

* The link is to a page treating "new world order" as a conspiracy theory! However, some theories are actually true*** and there are books written to support the absolute reality of a new world order (such as Slaughter's eponymous book on the subject).

** As claimed in this earlier post.

*** Proponents of the theory of evolution can certainly relate to this notion that some theories are actually true.

Friday, June 3, 2022

Commercial without consistency

 At this morning's breakfast, I noticed this poster, which gave me a bit of cognitive dissonance:

The photorealistic fried potato strips are shown within the pictured* device (although seeming to reach out of it).

The pixelated stylized fries are outside of the device rectangle**.

The message apparently being that if you want fries, "there's an app for that"™, and it is in your smartphone (along with the fries). And you really should get that app now (and the fries).

A commercial doesn't have to be consistent with reality to be effective. 

Commercial without consistency.

* You are looking on your screen at a digital photograph of a printed poster of a stylized smartphone frame around a photograph of french fries poking out of a stylized container with the golden arches on it. Which happens to line up with the stylized container sticking out from behind, etc. Talk about reality...

™ This quoted phrase has been trademarked (and copyrighted (I really hope this is fair use)) by Apple™.

** My friend Doc Searls describes "rectangle bingo" as a game in which he observes people in his travels and "wins" if there is even one person not staring into a rectangle. As in the photo headlining his blog post on journalism which I guess documents a loss.

[ edited June 8, 2022 ]

This must be part of a campaign. This, this morning on their ordering screen:

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Coalition without controversy

 When I think of division, I am reminded of the Grand Canyon.

One rim in the foreground, and the opposite rim in the distance. Ten or so miles away, as the crow flies, but hundreds by any effective road or a day or two of hiking down and then up.

Important question: Which side of the canyon is responsible for this great division? 

Of course, neither side could be responsible. It's obviously the river below.

But what's the answer for the ideological division from which we suffer more and more in this millennium? Who or what has caused it?

In the sixteen year of 42 and 43, our division was small compared to the massive gap of today. So, did 44 divide us (as some claim), or was it 45 (as others proclaim)? Conversely, could 46 pull us together, unite us? Neither and no.

A division cannot, by definition, be caused, nor can it be healed by either side. Division comes from some other force, something which belongs simultaneously to neither side and yet to both.

The answer is obvious for the canyon. For millennia, the Colorado River greedily sucked in the ground on either side of it, as it worked its way deeper and deeper, until it is a full mile below the two rims, which are separated by ten miles or more. The river itself belongs to neither rim, and yet is connected to both.

Does no middle ground remain? Certainly not in the canyon.

Standing on either rim, it's easy to think that this is the right place to be. The other side is so remote. And the cause of the division is itself no longer even in sight!

I believe this analogy is very apt. We cannot see the cause of our division. We can only sense the magnitude and depth of it. And it must have begun long ago.

As one who has tried to remain neutral, it is getting harder and harder. I am in the middle in the sense that I have friends and family firmly lodged on each side. I feel like Wile E. Coyote, standing on what was once the solid middle ground, confused, then looking down and seeing the void. For a moment, I will remain here. But my position is not sustainable. I am now looking at the camera and must fall.

It would be much more comfortable standing on solid ground. But it has eroded away here where I want to stand.

Sure, I could heed the call to unity from one side by going over and joining it. But then I would be too far away from my friends on the other side. And I can't just join the other side, for same reason.

My moment suspended over the void can actually last a long time, because the canyon analogy isn't the only one.

I feel like I'm standing on the edge of a knife. It's sharp and it hurts, but staying here keeps me from sliding down either of the two slippery slopes. And from here I can at least see all of the people I care about, even if I can't be rubbing shoulders with them.

Let's come together by focussing on our commonality. We are all products of our "Creator" (whether you believe this to be a personal God, some ineffable supreme being, or mindless random evolution), which is the origin of our "unalienable Rights [to] Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."

Do we not hold this to be self-evident? Do we not? We cannot let these rights be taken away by government (which was established to protect them), or any ideology, or any well-meaning international consortium.

Can we not create a coalition, leaving behind all this controversy? This post is a call to coalition without controversy.

Collapse without conclusion

 By request, I'm going to repeat here a personal story which I recently emailed to my sisters.

With only a couple of spelling and punctuation tweaks, repeated here exactly as written therein.

Also, I forgot to recount a very interesting experience that I had the Thursday before Christmas. I had volunteered to deliver treats to Sara's assigned sisters, but had procrastinated. It involved a cookie which was going stale, brooking no further delay, so out I went into the cold snowy night. The previous night had been clear and dry and the next one would probably be so too, but, as our Dad used to say, I had made my own bed, so now I had to sleep in it.

After leaving the first bag on a doorstep, having very carefully climbed three concrete steps, I walked the block to the final delivery point, dreading the two flights of three or four concrete steps each, without a guardrail, that awaited me there.

The paved back alley was slippery, but not as much as the sidewalk later, so I was walking just as carefully as I could. Suddenly, my feet went out from under me and I landed flat on my back. A perfect pratfall. That's how I reconstruct what happened. What it felt like was this. One moment I was making my way with great care along a slippery sidewalk with a slight downward slope. The next moment, something hit me very hard right in the middle of my back. Just as quickly my perspective was different. No longer was I looking down the length of the sidewalk and the two or three houses which separated me from those flights of steps. Instead, I was looking straight up into the dark sky.

Also, I noted curiously, because I was mentally totally calm, that my body had stopped breathing. It was the oddest thing. Not like holding your breath not breathing. Just not breathing. And, it seemed to not be inclined to breathe ever again. Very odd. Making a quick decision, I forced a shallow breath, an unfamiliar action, not something that I often have to do. It hurt like crazy, but that got things going again, and it got less painful. The back on the other hand just ached. 

My fur hat had projected itself three or four feet above where the head had landed, and the bag of goodies was just at the fingertips of my left hand. I carefully and gingerly sat up, collected the hat and package, and got to my feet. Then walked even more carefully, to the foot of the steps. So much time passed going up those steps, one at a time, then another and so on. At the door, I found a place for the bag and set it there, then turned and looked down to the sidewalk. It seemed a mile away. What to do? Ring the doorbell and ask for help? Not my nature. I could do it. Again, one step after another, but terrifying on the way down. Whew, the sidewalk, the slippery sidewalk. Felt unaccountably good to be there again.

Took a different way home, staying level, walking with such exaggerated care that when I reached the corner facing a very slight incline, that I feared, a car stopped. The driver reached over to open the passenger door and asked, "Are you okay?" I told him that I had fallen (using far fewer words that you have slogged through to get here, gentle reader), and he offered me a lift. I accepted gratefully, and painfully bent my body into the shape required by a small car, that normally I wouldn't have even given a thought to. He drove me the thirty or forty feet to the door into our garage. I wasn't going to risk the sidewalk to our front door. And the front steps!

I was so happy to be home. To be alive! You don't think about how good it is to be home until you think you might not see it again.

Sara gave me Bowenwork, and in a couple of days everything was back to normal, and I have mostly taken my blessings completely for granted since. How quickly we forget our troubles.

 Re-reading, I notice wryly that I couldn't resist pulling a moral at the end of the story. I suppose that even true stories and not just fables can be ended in such a way.

When I say, "the end of the story," I don't mean "conclusion." I'm still walking (well, at the moment of this writing sitting down actually, but still breathing).

A factual error (that wouldn't matter), and some omissions. The bag of treats fell into the gutter, so that it was near the end of my right fingertips. I was not carrying my cell phone. In fact my pockets were completely empty, as I had left home quickly for just a couple of minutes and would be within a block of home for the duration of a quick errand. So, not carrying any identification either. Had I expired, who knows how long it might have been before the body was discovered, identified, and returned home horizontally?

Further explanation. Because the panic of a declared pandemic had hit just a few days before our move into this home, we don't know our neighbors. And, symmetrically, they don't know us.

We live at the base of Y Mountain to our East, so the slope is generally down to the West in this bird's eye view (courtesy of a satellite and Google Maps, with annotations added in Skitch):

The green arrow points to the starting and ending point of the journey: the man door into our garage, on the lower level of our home (the front door (between the trees) is on the floor above, so one story higher). The red marker points at the house with the scary steps. The blue dots show the first leg of the journey, which Google Maps said was, "Mostly flat" and estimated at three minutes. Had all gone well, the whole errand would have been completed in well under ten minutes, which is why I didn't take time to load my pockets.

The return leg of the journey was the longer way back around the block* and the orange arrow points to the location where a gentle upward slope begins, and where the kind and perceptive driver offered me a lift. A lift. Laughing now at the thought of accepting a lift for such a short distance! He dropped me off in the alley right by the green arrow, seeming a little surprised himself at the shortness of the ride. But I was so grateful, since he had allowed me to avoid a slippery slope.

It may have been a collapse to the ground, but was not the conclusion of my life.

A collapse without conclusion.


"... Sara's assigned sisters." We are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and minister by assignment to others in our Ward**. Normally, you pretty much know everyone in your ward (per Dunbar's number) but because of the isolation of lockdown, today we only know those we are assigned to know.

"Sara gave me Bowenwork," refers to a healing modality which my dear wife has learned (and in which she is certified) which is more effective the earlier it is given after an accident.

*As you can see, "the block" is not block-shaped, nor does the back alley (our 720 North "street") bisect it.

**The larger half of our block was just last Sunday excised from our Ward and assigned to another, non-contiguous Ward some distance away. It is now an island of sorts, ward-wise. And one of the few people we had met, who moved from the island of Oahu, lives therein. So they're once again on/in an island.

"The larger half" haha! an oxymoron, right? One half, by definition just cannot be larger than the other half. Nor can there be more than two of them, but that is a different joke. By "half" was meant one part of the block as cut off by the back alley, which in a normal block would divide it into two equally-sized halves. How flexible is the human mind! (Did you see the moral there?)

[added August 10, 2021] Another experience falling down while walking. More about walking. More near death experiences, one of them while walking.