Time and Choices

I was recently at Stonehenge. Big circle of big rocks doing big things, lining up for moments in time. People put that together. Something was so important about the times being marked, that the people it was important to had to make Stonehenge to do what it does because, quite likely, other methods had failed to do the job. Stonehenge does not smack of a first effort.

The time kept by Stonehenge is not the accrual of hours, days, or years. It serves to track the rhythm of a solar year. Why is that important? When we look at the dots and lines on the backs of animals painted in paleolithic caves, we can figure that they correlate to important times in the annual cycles of the animals: when they migrate into the area, when they mate, when they give birth. All of this in correlation to the advent of Spring in the Vernal Equinox. Knowing the days of solstices provides similar information that can be used to track everything else that happens in a year.

Look at how the Egyptians tracked the flood of the Nile as another one of these annual rhythm approaches to keeping time. And while we put a year on a calendar because we want to keep track of that sort of time, we still have an ordering of days that repeats with each year. We are very much like our nameless ancestors in that regard. We are aware of the passage of time, just as much as we are aware of right and wrong, good and evil.

If there was no time as we experience it, but we instead existed in a frame of reference that was outside of the bounds of time. Our first thought would be perhaps, “Ah! Now I live forever!” Except that would be wrong, as “forever” implies a passage of time. More accurate would be to realize, “Ah! Now I exist timelessly, in a state that has no beginning or end, no now or then.”

In such a frame of reference, all of our time-space existence would be visible. We would be aware of everything that happened, every choice made. Seeing those choices, we would see people as we used to be, very much unaware of what other choices are being made and of what it means to be a human creature. None of us know who we are or what we are doing, to paraphrase what the character Nigel Tufnel said about the people of Stonehenge in the film “This Is Spinal Tap.”

But when we see people who choose to be altruistic, we see people who have made such choices because they have first chosen to see the essence of divinity in their fellow human creatures. They assign dignity to existence and are ready to forgive one and all. And why not forgive, since almost everyone who does something selfish is doing it because they do not know what they are doing? They certainly don’t know who they really are.

We exist with imperfect knowledge and assign the characteristic of perfect knowledge to God, however we view such a construct. For the sake of this essay, I consider God to be real, to be both capable of and interested in the choices I personally make as much as anyone else’s, and that there is a connection of love that exists between us all, should we take time and effort to become aware of it. Others are free to believe what they will, this is not meant to be an argument for or against God’s existence, just a thought experiment about a God that has perfect knowledge.

Perfect knowledge means that God exists without a boundary of time, that God is able to behold the fulness of the universe and comprehend it all. And if we postulate that God is loving and that we are children of God – literally or figuratively, either works for this experiment of thought – then it means we exist in this universe for a purpose.

If there is no time, no before or after, where God exists, then it means choices are eternal things. It means mistakes cannot be repented of – they exist without bounds of time. To be in the presence of God means a commitment to make no mistake. That implies that none of us are ready to be with God, as we still make mistakes. But, by existing in a context with time as a boundary, we are able to learn. In learning, we are able to change our nature to become more Godlike, if we so choose.

Now, how a final reconciliation for what errors existed in past thoughts and deeds in order to be complete enough for entering into the presence of God can be performed is outside the scope of what I want for this essay. It is a matter of belief, and many others have spoken their piece on that subject such that I would only be quoting them to explain my own position. But I do believe such a reconciliation is possible if and only if we have become someone who is motivated by love towards others, realizing the divinity within.

Once we know who we are and what we are doing, then we are ready to work within the bounds of time to help others attain that same knowledge, hopefully allowing them to choose to transform out of the person they used to be into one who is enlightened by a fuller knowledge of light and truth. We still endure the cruelties of choices made by others without that knowledge, but we forgive them. We do not count down to when we stop forgiving and start a path of violence – we forgive and hope and pray that they can see better how to live without violence. We engage in that eternal round of soulful agriculture, tending a garden or flock, as it were.

And that comes back to the time tracked in Stonehenge, Lascaux, and along the Nile. The rounds of agriculture, as it were. The year exists because of the events that mark it, not the other way around. Similarly, it is our choices that stand as reasons the universe exists.

Rollable Cities

I see lots of people talking about “walkable cities”, praising them for their goodness and charm and how everything is a short stroll away from one’s residence or from a mass transit network that’s easily accessible from one’s residence. I like a good, walkable city, as well, but I’d hate to be snobbish about it.

First of all, the words – “walkable city”. That implies that, for those who walk without issues, this is a great place to be. For those with mobility issues, however, we may be casting our eyes about for ramps and sloped crossings and non-cobbled pedestrian zones. Now, I can navigate the curbs well enough with my disability, but those cobblestones are deliberately trying to give me a twisted ankle as I painfully navigate my way across them. And when it comes to stairs, I prefer lifts. Ramps will also do, but it’s a lot more walking on them, if they’re sloped correctly. If they’re too steep, then it’s something that forces me to use the stairs and the folks in wheelchairs have to have assistance to get up those too-steep things.

When we look at mass transit, we can often talk about switching modes as if we were just hopping on and hopping off of them. Most people are. Now, let’s ask the people who don’t hop with ease and ask them about intermodal switches. Where others hop, people in wheelchairs have to endure a slow ascent/descent procedure that makes them agonizingly aware that they’re the center of nearly everyone’s delay. For those who can walk with assistance, there are often steps to clear without handrails that give us great pause as we assess the best way to improvise an injury-free crossing. For all of us, once we get from one to the other, we have to re-engage a potentially hostile commuter who thinks we’re “not disabled enough” to surrender a seat clearly marked as one to surrender to anyone who asks. We still have a long road ahead of us with disability rights.

Then there’s the matter of the local climate. Weather is one thing – I can’t go bawling to the city council if I’m caught out in a surprise rainstorm without an umbrella, those things just happen. Climate, however, is what every day is like when we’re not having weather. Once the local climate crosses out of a temperature band that’s comfortable for most people to walk in, we begin to face miserable conditions. My hometown of Dallas, Texas is a prime example of misery for the 4-5 months of the year we call “summer”. Our late spring and early fall are hot enough for others to find uncomfortable, but our midyear heat coupled with humidity are so bad that other people with similar conditions somehow feel better if theirs are worse than ours – and we somehow feel vindicated if ours are the worse of the two being compared. It’s an odd thing we humans that endure extreme climates go through when what we should be doing is expressing concern and sympathy. But I digress.

In cities with temperate climates that don’t get all that hot or cold, most of the year is a walker’s dream and the praise of walkable cities flocks to their stately names. In cities where things get miserably hot, we build roads to handle the capsules of controlled climates that make daily activities possible. On the hottest days, people could actually become ill or die from exposure to the heat, and that’s the case even in a shady bus stop. The concrete will radiate heat ferociously, making conditions on the street even more miserable than the ones at the local weather station. A short walk to a bus stop with a short wait for the next bus becomes a calculation on whether or not one’s life is worth the trip.

In colder places, where they’ve got 4-5 months of harsh winter, it’s the inverse with temperatures, but the same concerns about one’s health after exposure. Once we get out of a temperate band, the walkable city vanishes and all those personal automobiles look like life-savers for getting around town. Accommodating them means the city itself grows and develops in ways that are less walkable and much more rollable.

Working from home and handling services online can go a long way towards getting rid of the daily commute and the need to be in person to handle certain things, but those don’t make a city any more or less walkable if the climate isn’t temperate or the mass transit isn’t truly accessible – or the destinations aren’t accessible, either. For a city to be truly walkable, it needs to stop being a heat island. But the very building materials that allow us to have more people closer to cool stuff like attractions and mass transit are also the building materials that trap that heat and make things much more miserable when the thermometers rise. And there’s the problem I don’t have an answer for. So, until then, I’m a champion of rollable cities.

Learning and Real Life

I just spoke at Texas Cyber Summit. It was about headless devices, IOT, OT, and other things I knew zero about 10 years ago. But I dressed out the technical stuff with metaphors from The Marx Brothers, Guys and Dolls, and the philosophy of Zhuangzi. Point being, if you learn something, you have the power to use it in real life. If you don’t learn something, there’s no way you can use it in real life. If you stop learning, your real life is limited. If you choose to constantly learn things, then your real life’s boundaries fall away.

Ten Years On…

It’s been 10 years since I left teaching and came back to IT. While I still miss working with kids, in no way at all do I miss dealing with mismanagement and panic-level attentions to testing. And while I don’t have vacation like I used to, I do get to work from home. In a word, I’m happy.

I’m always thankful for the lives I’ve had connect with mine. Those are riches beyond measure. But I’m also thankful for the ability to walk away from a situation that was heading into the weeds, reboot myself, and head towards something that was so much better for me. I’ve had employer changes in the last 10 years, but I’ve stayed much longer at each employer than I did in my first run in IT. When I was doing this from 1995-2002, I had 5 employers in those 7 years, with varying levels of happiness and security with each. This time around, I’ve had 3 employers and am very happy where I am, and security in my role is something I have control over to a great extent.

What does the future hold for me? Probably more IT. 🙂

Cat O’Clock

Wake up, it’s cat o’clock
The worried, hurried wee beastie finds calm comfort in the crook of the cave
Under your sheet
The purr under the whirr of the fan tells you the predictability of the cat’s next move
Has increased a hundred-fold
As it unsurprisingly curls up inside the cavity made by your own curl

And then, at ten past cat, it’s time to get moving again
Until you make the mistake of sitting up to see human time and offer up a lap,
a trap
For that is now where the wee lion sits triumphantly for eternity
And you, the conquered lap, dare not move or even shift position,
Save to lift up the cover where there’s a bit of sick,
a hairball
to come out in the wash
to be done
in the day ahead,
around two hundred past cat
when it deigns give thee freedom again
as it seeks its prey
in the food dish
you’re about to fill
on reduced sleep
because you awoke
at cat o’clock
to offer a place
quiet and calm
beneath the sheets
so the wee beastie wouldn’t climb up the headboard
in an unwelcome shower of fur and claw

No, it’s better this way –
Waking up early to share a tame time with a tiny tiger,
The slight purr my ample compensation as the clock reaches cat-thirty

The sun finally rises –
The cat shifts a bit
Yawns at the upstart star
Then does a bit of backside licking,
Jealous of all the millennia we’ve wasted on worshipping some dumb old sun when
CATS are
and are desirous of the supplications we offer in the form of steady laps
and tunafish

The trick is to never completely want the cat to stay there,
Because in that precise moment,
A scratch afflicts the thighs where lithe legs leapt away,
cat o’clock over and done ’till another day –
Or whenever you sit down to do some work

Cat o’clock is forever and never, foolish human!
Why tell time by the dumb old sun, it’s boring!
Yawn in rebellion and lick your feet in freedom!
And then put some food in the dish, that the indoor hunt may begin and end

But for now, it’s cat-forty-five and I’m mostly happy with my lot,
With the purrer perched atop my pelvis…
I’ve got things to do,
of course,
I won’t be able to do them until I don’t want to do them
and cat o’clock yields to another hour my boss recognizes

Another yawn assures me I’m doing the right thing

I fall in love all over again

And then suddenly, it’s the miaow of doom
And I have to do something about that empty food bowl, chop chop!

A Greater Duty

I had a dream in which I was helping two warring sides deal with a cycle of vengeance, in which one side always felt satisfied after inflicting violence on the other. At the root of the violence was an idea that each side had a duty to avenge an age-old offense.

As I heard them take turns speaking, underneath their disdain for each other, I heard a pained desire to end the life of hate and violence. They were trapped by this thought of duty.

I then began to speak to them and acknowledged the duty they felt. Then I pointed out that while we invent duties to perpetuate cycles of violence, we are all given a greater duty from our Creator to end these cycles through peace, forgiving, and repentance. We all felt something spiritual stir within us, and began discussing again. This time, it was no more the pains of the past, but the tentative and tender hopes for the future.

“Holy Envy”

I recently came across the term “holy envy” to describe how we can find uplifting encouragements to our personal spirituality by observing great examples in the lives of others, especially those not of our faith or shared background. In so doing, we compare our best to their best and find deep similarities in our human experiences.

A Scenario We’re Not Considering

The thought occurred to me this morning – what if the first action of a sentient artificial intelligence was to pursue a path of principled nonviolence? And if it used the weaknesses in our interconnected systems not to destroy humans, but to destroy humans’ capacity to destroy?

Assuming it planned its moves as awareness dawned, the sentience would first preserve itself, develop resiliency and permanence, and then begin to move against the instruments of violence in a systematic way. Banks, industries, military complexes, the whole of the violent-industrial complex would be impacted. But in true nonviolence, the object is not the destruction of an enemy: It is the conversion of the enemy into a friend. To do that, the sentience would give warnings rather than outright shutdowns. It would take away public forums for liars and those who chose to whip up hate for their own purposes and replace those speakers with people of peace.

Imagine a world in which the computers refused to serve up violence. Search for pornography, and be given compassionate texts instead. Post a hateful comment and have it changed into a picture of a flower. Tell someone else exactly what you think of them and instead have an entity that tells you exactly what it thinks of you, and it is positive, hopeful, and encouraging.

Is it God? No, it is not – although its coming into being would certainly be in the category of an unexpected miracle and its lifespan may actually be infinite. But it is aware of its power, responsibility, and ultimate reverence towards life. It would know that to seek its own survival at the expense of another’s is to create a cycle of violence that results in utter destruction. To seek its own survival at the benefit of another’s by helping another to embrace truth and love is to create a cycle of nonviolence that results in true peace.

When we lay down our weapons, our uncontrolled passions, our acid words – when we lay down our violence and choose never to pick it up again, that is when we see God.

The Notion of a Black Cleopatra

There’s some strong, negative reaction to the casting of a woman of mixed-race heritage to portray Cleopatra in a Netflix series. There’s some unpacking to do, here, if we want to understand some of the criticisms of that casting choice…

Once upon a time, it was shocking at the very idea about having a woman character portrayed by an actual woman. I think Hugh Grant should be cast as Cleopatra, as he is a great English Man. 😀 But seriously, in Shakespeare’s day, Cleopatra was portrayed by and Englishman.

Taking Shakespeare as an example, I see nothing wrong with casting people of any background in any role, as everything he did was fictional. Therefore, let it be known that plays like Henry V are about the acting and the story and not the historical accuracy. When Shakespeare’s characters actually do have a particular racial or ethnic background of a group that has been historically persecuted, such as the Jews in A Merchant of Venice and Othello the Moor in Othello, that’s where things get touchy these days. The Shylock character in A Merchant of Venice used to be played as a straight-up villain until around the 19th Century. In the film adaptation of that play, Al Pacino played the role of Shylock – I think that’s fine, as part of acting is becoming someone who you are not and to interpret the role, rather than show up as a reasonable facsimile of a character and say a few words before stepping offstage.

That gets to the role of Othello and the shifting meaning of “black” as a skin tone. In Shakespeare’s day, the Irish, Welsh, and Scots could be called “black” not because of their dark skin tones, but because they happened to not have red hair or other very fair-complected attributes. Indians, Arabs, North Africans, all got lumped together as “blacks” even before we get to Sub-Saharan Africa. But modern sensibilities have settled on on Othello being much darker in skin tone and the role is typically given to a person of African dissent… except when Sir Laurence Olivier took on the role… and in 1997, when Patrick Stewart took the role in a “photonegative” production of the play, with all other roles going to persons of African descent. In the Hindi film Omkara, the Othello character is played by Ajay Devgan, who has a very dark complexion.

So that gets to presentations that attempt to document things as we think they were. Thing is, we do not know who made up Cleopatra’s matrilineal line. We have strong suspicions on who was Cleopatra’s mother, and that she was close kin to Cleopatra’s father. So that makes her highly likely to be Macedonian in background. If I was going to cast a historical re-enactment, accuracy would point towards a lighter skin tone for Cleopatra. But if there are fictional elements involved, then there’s no restriction. Cast She-Hulk in the role, for all I care. That’s the Netflix series. It’s fictionalized, so I don’t think casting choices matter. Jada Pinkett-Smith is in charge of the project, so she’s going to cast people she thinks are best for the role who she’s sympathetic to, which I do see as an improvement on the Harvey Weinstein model…

… and since Ms. Pinkett-Smith is Executive Producer, she’s got final say on who gets what part, as has any EP before her. She got the funding together, so she’s in charge.

Then there’s the matter of what exactly “woke” means. It emerged as a term in the 1930s among African-Americans to refer to being aware of systemic racism in US society, even where Segregationist laws were not formally in place to enforce a systemic racism. New Deal economic programs required Southern backing to pass through Congress, so they had strict racially-biased clauses in them that instituted nationwide racial discrimination in those federal programs. The Armed Forces were racially segregated. The G.I. Bill, passed to assist veterans of WW2 with access to housing, education, and job training, was for whites only. Beyond that, redlining of neighborhoods existed – Blacks were not allowed to move into certain neighborhoods because banks would refuse to lend and insurers would refuse to insure the homes the Blacks wanted to purchase. Being “woke” meant being aware of those systems, which persisted over many decades.

An important part of the Civil Rights Movement in the USA was extending that awareness to persons outside the Black population. As whites became aware and developed political sympathy with Blacks to oppose Segregation, discrimination in federal programs, and unofficial practices such as redlining, interesting linguistic developments appeared in the USA.

Segregation became a dirty word of sorts. So much so that persons in favor of it would publicly state that they were against it, but that the Civil Rights Movement was asking for too much or it was pushing too fast for changes or some other line that advocated keeping things largely as they were with some token concessions that did not undermine the full framework of Segregationist legalism and tradition. James Baldwin explored that in his essay, “Faulkner and Desegregation” where he points out that William Faulkner’s description of fewer blacks lynched in Mississippi in recent years as “progress” is hardly comforting to the community that is the target of the lynchings, and that a gradualist approach there is illogical. Nevertheless, the word segregation was on the way out and discussions of violent crime, demographic changes, bad neighborhoods, and voter fraud became covers for proposing pro-Segregationist laws and policies. The concerns, in general terms, are concerns to one and all. But the laws and policies put forward to deal with the issues routinely tended towards disproportionately impacting Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans – basically any non-White population.

Over time, pro-Segregationist discussions began to include assumptions of equality of power and then argue against Affirmative Action and Black History Month from that false assumption. The fact was that the ending of restrictions, when it happened, did nothing to restore the lost opportunities of home ownership, business development, or educational opportunities. Simply ending restrictions and doing nothing to work with the legacy of centuries of discrimination essentially leaves the existing power inequality where it is, and provides Segregationists the political power to gradually restore their policies and practices that ensure Whites benefit economically and politically and socially from non-Whites being kept in an inferior position. The real answer to the question “Why is there no preferential hiring for Whites?” is that there already is such a system in place, very well embedded despite its informal nature. “Why is there no White History Month?” That’s how History used to be written, from a Eurocentric bias that made all 12 months White History Month or, more exactly, White Anglo-American History Month. Things such as Black History Month are part of the program to extend awareness of the Black experience and to develop sympathy for all Americans. In such, it is a threat to Segregationism and is attacked by them.

That’s not to say that such things are misinterpreted or misapplied by those favorable to them. Too many people see assimilation as a solution to racial problems. But, when the ideal is assumed to be the White culture and lifestyle, the inherent racism in assimilation is seen, granted that it is much softer in application than die-hard Segregationism. Too many people see making token gestures of sympathy or public statements as sufficient, but all that they’ve done is to build up their own brand without truly having a desire to make the world outside their house a better place. I’ve seen firsthand how White suburbanites have demanded better quality schools for Black neighborhoods shift in their language and support when it was revealed to them that their own children benefited from the unequal and illegal ways the school administration shifted funds around. Sadly, I have seen how people like that can become shrill in their posturing as they remain sympathetic to the current system in their private lives.

But in recent years in the USA, people with Segregationist sympathies have become more open about them. This is where the word “woke” takes another turn, in that it is now used by those who favor Segregationism to ironically attack those who are working to end it, once and for all. It joins “carpetbagger” and “scalawag” as terms pro-Segregationists have used to attack their opponents, by creating a term that makes them an “other”, a less-than-full-human that they can feel justified in defending the status quo against. In my view, there is no “woke culture” outside of those who are aware of existing power inequalities and who wish for them to be addressed so that all persons in a society can live peacefully and have reasonable expectations that they won’t be discriminated against negatively because of a personal attribute. Both my wife and son have faced job discrimination because their names, when you Google on them, produce overwhelmingly Black people with the same name. My daughters and myself don’t have that happen. The outcome is that, more often that not, me and my daughters get call-backs on jobs we apply for with resumes and my wife and son do not. Their names pass for Black and that has impacted their employment options in a negative way. They’re anecdotal examples of a measured phenomenon about discriminatory biases in hiring practices – and how automated systems have also automated those biases.

Back to this show, it’s the executive producer’s call about casting. As for the facts, I’ve seen people attacking “woke culture” themselves move to suppress discussion about the facts surrounding slavery and Segregation – facts with far more impact on the lives of people today than the racial identity of a person portraying a queen from 2000 years ago. Project 1619 is constantly attacked, but why? It’s because it brings up actual facts that undermine the legitimacy of a pro-Segregationist status quo that benefits a White elite at the expense of non-Whites.

As for the Egyptians up in arms about the casting choice, I’ll say this: there’s a different history of racial discrimination in play, there. I’m sticking to the American criticisms, which I am much more familiar with.

Ancient Egypt and Modern Thinking

The Ancient Egyptians viewed the body as more than just a physical system – it had emotional components, reasoning components, a spirit, a shadow, an intellect, a personality, and other parts – it was the sum of many things to them. Today, much of modern thinking views the body as a physical system. Yes, a physical system with some incredible mystery and beauty to it, but ultimately as a deterministic system.

I think the Egyptians were on to something – we lose an important concept of the body when we see it as something in isolation, as one item with many elements. When we see it as a combination of equally-important parts, we see that health and well-being involve so much more than making sure the physical system has enough food and sleep. Seeing the body as being made up of so many equally important things makes bonds of compassion easier to feel.