8/21/2017

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I was born under a wandering star, the song said.

Actually I was born under 48 very stable stars.



The 48 star flag of the United States was used from 1912 until 21 August 1959, at which time I was a chubby little crumb cruncher working with a dozen or so teeth.


8/10/2017

I followed a truck all the way home from work

Some dude in some kind of Chevy or GMC 2005 plus or minus half a decade SUV ended up going my way for several miles.

His truck had wider-than-standard tires that stuck out beyond the fender wells by a couple of inches, which used to be a fix-it ticket offence in California. The front wheels tracked about three inches to the left of the rear wheels, like a one-eyed dog trotting down the sidewalk.  That's how I know it was a Chevy type product.  Never seen a Ford or a Dodge do that.  There was a throaty hole in his exhaust system somewhere, or a cut-out system, and the engine was at a stage that we used to call "Yeah she burns a little oil."

I pretty much merge toward the slow lane after the intersection of the interstates, and then I stay there.  It's not a long commute, so if I take a low key approach and let every merging vehicle in, miss every light, and end up behind every overloaded truck trying to make it to the dump before it closes, it still loses me very little time.  What's a minute and a half, three minutes?  So I don't press and don't stress.

The Chevy SUV took a different tactic.  He would roar up to the slow landfill-bound truck and tailgate for a while, then roar out two or three lanes and try to pass some people.  But every time, he ended up just one space ahead of me.  It was like going for a walk with a hyperactive retriever that doesn't know how to heel, but goes roaming around about and back with his tongue hanging out -- and trotting along with his front paws a bit to the left of his rear ones.

We parted ways just before I turned left on the Crowndot street of residence.  Somebody in front of Mr. Chevy turned up the hill, giving him a clear path ahead, and off he roared in a cloud of partially burned diesel and motor-oil soot.

Bottom line:  I don't want to hear a damned thing about MY carbon footprint.

6/20/2017

Summer Solstice, Midsummer, &c.

Where I reside, at approximately 38° North Latitude, the actual length time between sunrise and sunset is identical (within half a minute) from 15 June to 25 June (and maybe beyond that, I didn’t check). Namely we have about 15 hours 32 minutes between sunrise and sunset – it seems longer because of long morning and evening twilight and often a lingering glow from atmospheric conditions in summer. 
In modern astronomical terms, the solstice is defined in terms of the position of the earth in its orbit around the sun, as measured against the background of the fixed stars.  So in 2017, the solstice occurs at 9:24 PM PDT on 20 June.  
In ancient observational astronomical terms, the solstice is literally the apparent “standing still” of the sun at either end of its travel, over the course of the year, north and south on the ecliptic.  Seeing the sun come up in the same spot for ten or more days is remarkable, compared to the day-to-day changes in equinoctial seasons (more rapidly changing position of sunrise/sunset as well as many minutes per day longer or shorter time of daylight).  So the ancients marked the year with Midsummer celebrations at Summer Solstice, and with Midwinter celebrations (Yuletide) at the Winter Solstice.   
Let me beat my “First Day of Summer” drum.  In my attuned-to-ancient-Celtic brain, the first day of summer was the cross-quarter on Cinco de Mayo, more or less.  First Day of Spring is Groundhog Day (Lunar New Year, more or less, depending on whether you’re a sun kind of person or a moon kind of person). First Day of Winter is actually around Guy Fawkes Day, November 5, plus or minus.  And First Day of Autumn is August 6, Hiroshima Day – or if you prefer, the day on which the racist American President Lyndon Baines Johnson was dragged kicking and screaming and forced into signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

1/27/2017

American Patriotism is Exceptional

You can find this quote all over the internet (e.g., brainyquote):
Pervading nationalism imposes its dominion on man today in many different forms and with an aggressiveness that spares no one. The challenge that is already with us is the temptation to accept as true freedom what in reality is only a new form of slavery.
Pope St. John Paul II never said that, as far as I can tell.

This is one of those cases where being an old guy is actually an advantage.  I remember the speech. The quote above is somebody's mangled re-telling of part of the homily in Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland, on 29 September 1979.  Here's the original:

Pervading materialism imposes its dominion on man today in many different forms and with an aggressiveness that spares no one. The most sacred principles, which were the sure guides for the behaviour of individuals and society, are being hollowed out by false pretences concerning freedom, the sacredness of life, the indissolubility of marriage, the true sense of human sexuality, the right attitude towards the material goods that progress has to offer. Many people now are tempted to self-indulgence and consumerism, and human identity is often defined by what one owns. Prosperity and affluence, even when they are only beginning to be available to larger strata of society, tend to make people assume that they have a right to all that prosperity can bring, and thus they can become more selfish in their demands. Everybody wants a full freedom in all the areas of human behaviour and new models of morality are being proposed in the name of would-be freedom. When the moral fibre of a nation is weakened, when the sense of personal responsibility is diminished, then the door is open for the justification of injustices, for violence in all its forms, and for the manipulation of the many by the few. The challenge that is already with us is the temptation to accept as true freedom what in reality is only a new form of slavery. [emphasis added, and note I maintained the Vatican's British spellings -- that proves crowndot is not an evil nationalist!]
I seem to recall that at times our beloved late St. JPII spoke out against a mistaken patriotism or nationalism that excludes Christian charity.  But that's outside the scope of what I want to say today.

I have been bumping into right-hearted wrong-minded people since the selection of President Trump as the Republican nominee in 2016, whom I must present today only in straw form because of time (laziness), who denigrate all nationalism and all patriotism, even in America.

There are people all over the world who really do have a my-country-can-do-no-wrong mentality. I say that because it is clear from the bloody trail it has left through history that for radical Mohammedanism, every day is my-religion-can-do-no-wrong, plus for them "my country" equals "my religion" ergo my-country-can-do-no-wrong. If that is patriotism, then patriotism is nothing good. But that's not patriotism.

Patriotism seems to be the belief that other things being equal, the land of my birth or adoption gets a bye on close scrutiny in matters of economic advantage. So patriotism might be a bit intellectually lazy, but is morally ambiguous at worst. Say we're in France.  It's probably okay to talk and act like we have the best cheese, the best meat sauce, the best soccer team, the best climate.  But taking that to absolutes doesn't make sense.  For instance, take the French legal system. Monsieur, you are guilty until proven innocent -- how can you prove you are innocent?! Take communist China. Comrade, you live at the discretion of your political elite -- you can't even have a second child without incurring the wrath of your overlords!

What about the United States of America?  I'm not about to try to justify the Code of Federal Regulations, the IRS, or legal abortion.  But the American system makes possible the actualization of each person's potential as God intended, more than any other system ever devised.
1878 All men are called to the same end: God himself. There is a certain resemblance between the union of the divine persons and the fraternity that men are to establish among themselves in truth and love. Love of neighbor is inseparable from love for God. 1879 The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous addition but a requirement of his nature. Through the exchange with others, mutual service and dialogue with his brethren, man develops his potential; he thus responds to his vocation. (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Human beings develop their potential in the environment of maximum liberty.

America is still the shining city on the hill, the best place of most freedom. Is it the ideal? Of course not. Each of us is developing our potential. That's our vocation, the end of which is God Himself. As a nation we are supposed to be developing too. Something about promoting the general welfare and securing the blessings of liberty. God writes straight with crooked lines.  Hint: we are the crooked lines. What God hath writ in America, nice and straight, is, "The land of the free."

Material prosperity in America is a byproduct of the system of liberty. What is offered to the world is freedom; what the immigrant (legal and otherwise) seeks is unfortunately material prosperity. But that's a start, if they adopt the culture of liberty. If not, all they have taken on is the imposing dominion of materialism. (Side point: materialism is what Islam says it hates about us; what it actually hates is freedom. Discuss.)

As an American, it his hard to go wrong if you are a bit nationalistic and patriotic. That is natural in the land of the free. President Trump noted in his inaugural address, "When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice." He was talking about AMERICAN patriotism.





12/06/2016

Mental processes

When I was about seven years old (1964) the world, including my parents, was completely okay with little kids riding their bikes a couple of miles across the town to visit the variety store.

No helmets, no sunscreen, no hydration in the 110°F desert heat. And we left the bikes outside unlocked without a second thought.

To buy candy. Root beer barrels. Wrigley's Juicy Fruit gum at five cents a pack.

But I polygress.

The bike ride was on streets except for one place where you could save about half a mile by cutting across an undeveloped lot.  There was a beaten path along a minimum-length diagonal from the one boulevard to the back of the drugstore parking lot.

All was well until some construction-type asshat needed to get rid of about three yards of sand.  He went out into the middle of the path in the middle of the lot and dumped a mound of dry sand.

So there I am biking along and thinking of the money in my pocket and its value with regard to things like Brach's cinnamon hard candies vs. green army men vs. plastic model glue (and yes any kid could buy it in those days).  Turning across the vacant lot and up the path, I see the lump of sand.  No problem.  But...

There is a reason you don't see too many bicycles at the beach.  The pounds per square inch on bicycle tires make you sink into dry sand way deeper than a footprint.  I ended up slogging down to a complete stop about one and a half bicycle lengths in.  Hm. Time to get off and walk it back to the beaten path.

Where was I going with this?  No, not the drugstore.  I mean, yes, the seven year old me was going to the drugstore.  I think a squirt gun claimed my money that day.  Shaped like a Colt 1911, fit my had perfectly, never leaked -- you could fill it up and keep it in your pocket for emergencies.

I meant where was the present me going.  Only this: some days, some times, my whole mental/verbal ability is down to about the level of trying to bicycle through dry sand.  Your mileage may vary, and it probably depends some on the width of your tires.


12/02/2016

Ever notice

Every competitor in a new field simultaneously tries to maintain complete start-to-finish and top-to-bottom control of their niftiestness, and tries to become the standard to which all other competitors will have to comply.

VHS vs. Betamax?  19th century railroad gauge conflicts? Phillips vs. Pozidrive deck screws? JIC vs. SAE vs. DIN?  Apple vs. Microsoft?

The plum to be plucked in some of these conflicts is government contracts. "MIL Spec" can be a golden ticket for a company, such as when Break-Free CLP met the "Un-meetable Spec" for a Pentagon-approved firearms lubricant.

Competition is a good thing. Open Sources is also a good thing -- giving rise to even more competition and creativity for after-products such as Androd apps.

But the .gov influence can get in the way of development, don't you think?  I'm thinking of, say, how MIL-Spec ECWCS polar fleece stays expensive and crowds out development once it's THE spec.








12/01/2016

Welcome to politics as devised theater

When the United States was just a gleam in the Founding Fathers' eyes, there had already been a generation or so of discussion about the way the then-colonies should be governed. A lot of discussion but little agreement. What they more-or-less agreed on was not what they were FOR but what they were AGAINST.  Look at the Declaration of Independence.  It is mostly a litany of the harms inflicted by the king and his agents. The debate of the time (see Federalist Papers) centers on how to avoid the significant harms visible through history and in their own time.

Here's the question: how do you constitute a way of government that avoids the harms (see Declaration) while making sure that you "... establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty ..." ?

Well, at some point you have to stop arguing and start making. I know they call it Political Science at our failing universities, but it ain't Science. It's Art. In fact it's Theater.  Specifically, it's Devised Theater.

Wikipedia says: "It is very hard to pin down exact methods for devising, as every group of collaborators will have different ways of approaching the creative process. One very common method is to begin by focusing on form, and then extract thematic ideas and work with them retrospectively." (emphasis added)

Well hot Wiki damn, whaddya think the original Americans did?  They got all focused on the form of the government.  What the Constitution constitutes is the form.  Aside:  What was the world before God spoke in Genesis chapter 1?  Anybody?  That's right, a formless void.  Anarchy of potential.  The world came into being as God spoke and set limits.  Earth, meet Sky.  And it was good.  Back downstage: America came into being as the words of the Constitution attempted to set limits on government.  The Founders believed in freedom.  (God does too, by the way, He even risks losing you to wrong application of your freedom.)  The American experiment devised a system by which the governed also do the governing: limited self-government!

Devised Theater came about because some theatrical experimenters believed that the actor (Wikipedia again) is "...  a creative artist in their own right, as opposed to a functional worker there to carry out the wishes of the writer and director ..."  See what I'm thinking?  In America, a free person is an agent of his own destiny, working with others, within limits.  We're living Devised Theater. America.  The biggest show on or off Broadway since the 18th Century, and it's not top-down, it's Devised.