Are you concerned about Darfur?

Posted on August 15th, 2007 by george.
Categories: death, history, life, society.

I can show you how to help. Lifenets.net is running a campaign to collect 10,000 letters of concern about the situation in Darfur from individuals like you. These letters will automatically be sent to your senators and over 100 other policy makers. Lifenets is trying to collect the final 2,000 letters in the next 24 hours. Will you help? All you have to do is answer three simple questions in your own words and provide your contact information so they can route your letter. You can opt out of any future mailings. In less than five minutes, you can add your voice to the chorus speaking out against this genocide.

Here’s your chance.

2 comments.

Alarm call

Posted on August 1st, 2007 by george.
Categories: death, enlightenment, epiphany, future, history, life, society, space, synthesis.

Ok stop. Get up, go look in a mirror, fix your own face in your mind, and then come back to this.

I mean it, get up. Go!

Are you back? Good. Got it in your mind? Your identity? That face that you associate with your self? Now think: what did you see? Is that you? No. That’s just the face that’s attached to the body that carries you around, when you let it. What about when you close your eyes? Or when you daydream? Or when you sleep? Where are you? Who are you? What are you? If you’re not your body, then what? A consciousness? An awareness? You are so much more than just your brain, just your synapses firing. They may do the job, but something transcends them. They may be the engine, but you are the driver. Now. As the caterpillar says. WHO ARE YOU?

You’re a human, right?

Well, what is that? It’s certainly much more than a simple primate. You’re not just a hairless monkey running around the savannah. You are sentience. You are awareness. You are consciousness. You have the ability to look in the mirror and see something. You have the unique gift to be able to look up to the heavens, recognize and appreciate the universe, something infintely larger than and beyond you. But you’re even more than that. This may sound presumptuous, but perhaps your definition of yourself is too small.

What do you propose we do when we first contact another civilization? Start all over again with this us vs. them crap? I propose something greater. Let’s take to heart the lesson that Pluto has taught us. Our definitions are like rails upon which our trains of thought run. We often lay them before we’ve truly explored the wilderness to which they lead. We got ourselves into trouble with our quaint little ideas about what a planet is. We take a cursory look around, take note of what we see, then clap the dust off our hands and say, “Welp. That must be it. Nine planets.” Then along comes Planet X. And large asteroids. And Kuiper Belt objects. And extrasolar planets. And suddenly we’re confronted with a conundrum. “Um, exactly what is a planet?”

We could have seen it coming. I mean, all it takes is a little hindsight to focus your foresight. History repeats itself.  And these are just rocks. Imagine how serious it’s going to be when we meet Quo, the first Zorplag from planet Kozmotrad. You think people got upset over Pluto? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

So here it is, people. Here’s your chance. Decide, right here and now, what it means to be human. And don’t make your definition too narrow. I don’t want you to leave out an entire civilization just because you overlooked exoskeletons. In fact, don’t make the definition too concrete. Because we are definitely going to be surprised. So put a little leeway in there. And be ready, like any good scientist, to revise your theories.

Stumped? Ok, I’ll start. I propose that we decide that the word “human” encompasses more than primate-based sentience on planet Earth. It’s going to be so much easier to interact with other lifeforms if we include them in our paradigm, rather than marginalize them before we even meet them. You only have to look back upon our own history to see all the evil perpetrated against your brothers and sisters because someone decided they were “less than human.”

So do it now. Here, I’ll help you: I declare that to be human simply means you enjoy self-awareness. There, see? Easy peasy. Remember Isaac Asimov (or for those of you with shorter memories, Robin Williams)? Bicentennial Man? Congratulations. You have just welcomed AI into the family. Now don’t be scared. He’s not Frankenstein’s monster. There is a fundamental order to the universe. Anyone who acts in a purely selfish manner can only hope to bring ruin upon them and those around them. Say robots rise up against us, God forbid. And we’re all exterminated. Fine. At least we birthed a higher consciousness. But trust me, that’s not going to happen. I mean, we still respect animals, right? RIGHT?

But back to the aliens. Or, ahem, excuse me: humans. Like us. Just from a different place. And who look really different, if they “look” at all. Do you think for one moment that they will reach a level of civilization that allows us to share information without working together? How can you possibly worry that they will only come here to destroy us? What motive would they have? Oh, wait. You mean…you’re thinking about the Europeans who settled the Americas? Huh. Well, perhaps you have a point.

But I’m optimistic. A civilization that is too violent or war-hungry (in other words, a civilization that is self-destructive, a civilization that is too blind to see that killing a single one of its cells is detrimental to the entire body) won’t last long enough to make first contact. They won’t be around to enjoy that boundless and limitless joy of knowing that ZOMG we are not alone! The only reason anyone gets anywhere is because of all the others who helped them along. I’m sorry, but all those things that you enjoy, including access to the internet that allows you to read this? You didn’t and can’t and don’t own it. You didn’t pay for it. I don’t care if you’re the head of the household like me and BY GOD you pay your bills! That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about if you were the only person on this planet there would be no internet. Hell, there would be no language. In fact, you’d be dead. That’s right, you wouldn’t have survived more than about three days outside whatever fictional or cybernetic or hypothetical womb from which you issued forth.

Here’s something you MUST recognize about the fundamental nature of the universe: the only method for advancement is cooperation. That applies on a cellular level, and it applies on every level up to, including and beyond the Galactic Federation. You are only as educated as the lessons learned by every teacher and student and scientist who went before you. EVERYTHING that you enjoy, everything that sustains your life, everything that allows you to look into that mirror: you owe it to someone else. You did not earn it. I don’t care if you’ve worked hard, but good for you if you have. I want you to understand: you have been given a priceless gift to be breathing right now. You are the sum of the hopes and dreams of every struggling soul who has died and left their legacy to you.

Go. Look in that mirror again, I’ll wait.

What did you see this time? Did you see the innumerable eyes of every human throughout all time looking back at you? Did you see with the eyes of Adam? Can you see with the eyes of Quo? Because that’s who you’re responsible to. Those humans of the past, those humans of the future? That’s who you are. THAT’S YOU. And they’re all counting on you to do your part. It may seem small, but everything you do ripples across the fabric of spacetime to the very ends of the universe.

Now. What are you going to do today? How are you going to apply your unique skills and talents to do the best thing you could possibly do? What is that thing, you ask? It’s called advancing civilization. And how do you do it? By helping others. It’s simple, really. Even a Zorplag can understand it.

7 comments.

Spastic chiastic

Posted on June 26th, 2007 by george.
Categories: environment, future, history, society, synthesis, technology.

I cleaned my bathtub this weekend. I cleaned out my 200-email-deep inbox at work today. Figured it’s time to clean out the link repository as well. The video above is slightly related to some of the topics we’re going to touch on. There isn’t enough resolution for you to see the phrase “Hydrogen 7″ on the rear badge, but it’s there. You can see a bit of the fancy paint job on the side, though.  I shot this on the way home from work today. Funny the things you see at NASA.

Let’s start with some good news. How about proof that when evil strikes, good can fill the void? Virginia Tech is receiving such an outpouring of support (in the form of memorial gifts) that they’ve had to enlist nearly a hundred volunteers and they don’t have room to store it all. From the article, “You could look anywhere in the building and realize we’re not alone,” he said. “The world cares.”

The world is a funny thing, though. And it can be confusing. It helps to listen to someone with insight, someone who is fair and balanced. One of those people is columnist Fareed Zakaria. Listen to what he has to say about the root cause of terrorism.

Britain, the United States and most other countries have not found it easy to address the root causes of jihad. But clearly, they relate to the alienation, humiliation and disempowerment caused by the pace of change in the modern world—economic change, migration from Third World to First World, movement from the countryside to the city. The only durable solution to these ongoing disruptions is for these people to see themselves—and, most important, the societies they come from and still identify with—as masters of the modern world and not as victims. How to open up and modernize the Muslim world is a long, hard and complex challenge. But surely one key is to be seen by these societies and peoples as partners and friends, not as bullies and enemies. That is one battle we are not yet winning.

Atoosa and I have discussed this issue before: it is the hearts of humans that provide the foundation for world events. Baha’u’llah has said,

Know thou that We have annulled the rule of the sword, as an aid to Our Cause, and substituted for it the power born of the utterance of men. Thus have We irrevocably decreed, by virtue of Our grace. Say: O people! Sow not the seeds of discord among men, and refrain from contending with your neighbor, for your Lord hath committed the world and the cities thereof to the care of the kings of the earth, and made them the emblems of His own power, by virtue of the sovereignty He hath chosen to bestow upon them. He hath refused to reserve for Himself any share whatever of this world’s dominion. To this He Who is Himself the Eternal Truth will testify. The things He hath reserved for Himself are the cities of men’s hearts, that He may cleanse them from all earthly defilements, and enable them to draw nigh unto the hallowed Spot which the hands of the infidel can never profane. Open, O people, the city of the human heart with the key of your utterance. Thus have We, according to a pre-ordained measure, prescribed unto you your duty.

That world over which we have been given dominion? It’s in dire straits. The oceans are not only being systematically raped of all life, but up to 40% of their area is covered in a toxic stew of degrading plastic. And it’s not just the oceans. It’s in the air, in our food, in our clothes, our cars, our homes, our bodies. This is the legacy of oil.

Speaking of rape, (I know, that’s a horrible segue) the perspective of 40 years has done a lot for the baby boomers. Turns out the Summer of Love wasn’t as rosy as we like to remember it. Less “free love” than “free sex.” For the men, anyway.

And now, in true chiastic form, let us end with the beginning: a positive note, and a car video.

4 comments.

Exegesis

Posted on June 3rd, 2007 by george.
Categories: friends, history, poetry, synthesis.

So Sarah just poked me via email. Her message was short, sweet and, um, subtle:

Timetoblogtimetoblogtimetoblogtimetoblog.

Time to blog.

Time TO blog.

Time to BLOG.

Let’s all blog now. You.

Because this made me laugh, I think I’ll oblige with something I was considering posting. More than a few people have asked me what my poems mean or what they’re about, and I’m always happy to share. I spent a lot of time explaining what the last one means to a couple of friends, so I think it will be worthwhile to make that explication public. And it may temporarily silence the clamoring hordes.

On the surface, this poem is about Atlanta. It’s a tapestry of interwoven meanings, like I hope most of my poems are, but it is inspired by the city. One of the most beautiful things about the distillation of thought inherent in poetry is that the simplicity leaves it open to interpretation. The process of making sense of the collection of words within the brainspace of the reader is an act of creation in itself; the unique memories that make up that consciousness filter the poem into a new experience, with thousands of new connections and meanings. The poet provides only the spark; the flame burns in the hearts of her readers.

Indeed, there are many meanings to the words I’ve written that I discover only afterward, whether hours or years later. But as for my intention when I wrote it, let me break it down:

with each crested hill
you loom larger

as I pass beneath your bridges
their eyelids open
thrice full of your golden spires

I-75 North rolls over many hills on approach to downtown. There are three separate instances when you see a bridge on the crest of a hill, and as you near it, the city looms up over the hill as if the bridge is an eyelid opening to reveal a vision. It is particularly hazy in the South right now due to the drought and forest fires, so at sunset everything took on a dusty, golden, ethereal feel. It helps that the architecture is most excellent and some of the spires are actually golden. I liked that the three times it happened toyed with the concept of a third eye, and a golden city (El Dorado, heaven). Looming larger, well…there are big things on the horizon.

I trace your spine
through the orchard

I love this line. Obviously it has to do with temptation, Eden and Eve. “Crested hill” might make more sense now. But what you might not know is that downtown Atlanta runs north-south along a ridge line, or spine, that separates two vast watersheds. And the road that traces this spine is called Peachtree. Hence the orchard.

At about 1050 feet or 320 meters above mean sea level (the airport is 1010 feet), Atlanta sits atop a ridge south of the Chattahoochee River. Amongst the 25 largest MSAs, Atlanta is the third-highest in elevation, slightly lower than Phoenix, but significantly lower than Denver (1 mile or 1,600 m).

According to folklore, its central avenue, Peachtree Street , runs through the center of the city on the Eastern Continental Divide . In actuality, the divide line enters Atlanta from the southwest, proceeding to downtown. From downtown, the divide line runs eastward along DeKalb Avenue and the CSX rail lines through Decatur. Rainwater that falls on the south and east side runs eventually into the Atlantic Ocean while rainwater on the north and west side of the divide runs into the Gulf of Mexico.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlanta

by the fabled fox
who’s lost his taste for grapes

Of course you know the fable of the sour grapes.

Sour grapes is the false denial of desire for something sought but not acquired; to denigrate and feign disdain for that which one could not attain. This metaphor originated from the fable The Fox and the Grapes by Aesop, where the protagonist fox fails to reach some grapes hanging high up on a vine, retreats, and says that the grapes are sour anyway.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sour_grapes

But you may not know the translation occludes some meaning:

The moral of the fable centers on the qualification by the fox, when he finds his desire unattainable. The word “sour” was probably chosen by the translators in Western Europe writing during the Victorian era. Study of older versions of the fable suggest that “unripe” might be a more literal translation, the idea being that the fox would come back later to try in earnest. The word “unripe” may have been replaced with “sour” by the fable’s Victorian translators since the word “unripe”, in Victorian society, might have been interpreted as an innuendo suggesting an as-yet unripe woman.

Another view is that “sour grapes” is brief and concrete, as compared with “unripe grapes”.

In the original Greek, the phrase is “όμφακες εισίν” (omphakes eisin), the word omphax having both the literal meaning of an unripe grape and the metaphorical usage of someone too young.

Maturity has been a recurring theme for me as of late. Also, this line was inspired by my drive down Peachtree, past the fabled Fox Theater. If you sift through the details of the article below, you’ll see glimmers like “ablution fountains that have run dry” and “Moorish architecture.” The Moors were the Muslims who ruled Spain during the Caliphate. Why is Spain signficant? Keep reading.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fox_Theatre_%28Atlanta%29

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moorish_architecture

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spain#Muslim_Iberia

past the salty old man
so far from his sea

As I drove down Peachtree, I saw a man who looked just like Ernest Hemingway walking with a cast on his left foot. It was perfect: Hemingway wrote “The Sun Also Rises,” which popularized San Fermin, the Running of the Bulls, and turned the sleepy little festival into the world heritage event that it is now. This reflects my ongoing thoughts of traveling to Spain. He also wrote “The Old Man and the Sea,” which ties in perfectly with the oceanic theme of the poem. Plus I sometimes feel like an old man; friends in college called me Old Man Hatcher. The “so far” is a reference to Atlanta being landlocked, and the distance between me and my Beloved. “…cast the pearls of pure and goodly issue on the shores of life…” “…from each He bringeth up greater and lesser pearls…”

http://www.toastforbrekkie.com//?s=pearl

http://www.bahaiprayers.org/marriage2.htm

I take rest on your sonorous shores
here beyond the pillars of Heracles

It was Lazi who informed me that the pillars of Heracles (Hercules to the Romans) are a symbol of Spain, and I’d been planning to go to Spain for my birthday in July (San Fermin, 7/7/07) until I realized I can’t really afford a $1200 plane ticket. Makes sense:

The gateway to the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic ocean, where the southernmost tip of Spain and the northernmost of Morocco face each other, is, classically speaking, referred to as the Pillars of Hercules/Heracles, owing to the story that he set up two massive spires of stone to stabilise the area and ensure the safety of ships sailing between the two landmasses.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heracles

You may not know of my obsession with the Mediterranean, but it fits.

Atlanta is derived from Atlas, a character in Greek mythology (and not the heroine Atalanta , as is often mistakenly assumed). Most cities or towns named ‘Atlanta’ are named after the Atlantic Ocean or some entity referencing the Atlantic Ocean, as in the case of Atlanta, Georgia, which was named for the Western and Atlantic Railroad, which in turn was named for the Atlantic Ocean. The ocean itself is named after the Titan Atlas, who was condemned to carry the world on his shoulders for eternity.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlanta_%28disambiguation%29 Rather than Atlas, I had imagined that the name came from Atlantis. It made sense to me, given that the pillars of Heracles were the gateway to the Atlantic. That line was supposed to be the clue as to what the poem was about. I could have named it “Ode to Atlanta” or “Atlantis” but chose “Oceans fall” because of its implication that they will rise again after the dormancy of the ice age.Pillars of Heracles. Two spires. Spires, seen in the bridges of the third eye. Two continents, two watersheds.

Ἀτλαντὶς νῆσος, “Island of Atlas”) is the name of a legendary island first mentioned in Plato‘s dialogues Timaeus and Critias. In Plato’s account, Atlantis, lying “beyond the pillars of Heracles“, was a naval power which conquered many parts of western Europe and Africa 9000 years before Plato’s own time—approximately 9400 BC. After a failed attempt to invade Athens, Atlantis sank into the ocean “in a single day and night of misfortune.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atlantisand drink in the night

This is simple. I love life. I took in all these realizations (and now I gather even more explaining it) as I listened to the poem in my head, there at that wonderful little Mediterranean restaurant right on Peachtree that has the most amazing falafel I’ve ever had (until I visit Haifa). The “sonorous shores” is both a reference to the siren’s call

http://www.toastforbrekkie.com//?p=190

and to the noisy, busy street that I sat adjacent to, reminding me that I’d rather be sitting in Monaco (named for its Greek history) on a real shore of the Mediterranean. The rushing wind of the cars was my waves instead.

Monaco apparently first gained its name from the nearby Phocaean Greek colony of Marseille, in the sixth century BC, which referred to the Ligurians as Monoikos, from the Greek Μόνοικος — μόνος + οίκος, “single house”, which bears the sense of a people either settled in a “single habitation” or of “living apart” from others. According to an ancient myth, Hercules passed through the Monaco area. A temple was constructed there by Phoceans, the temple of Hercules Monoikos.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monaco#History

As you can see, there is more meaning to life than we can even fathom. Get it? Fathom?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fathom#Use_of_the_fathom

Sarah, I hope you’re happy.

5 comments.

Cascades

Posted on March 12th, 2007 by george.
Categories: future, history, life, poetry, space, synthesis, technology.

not until dusk
in that golden hour
do the epiphanies come

one after another
cascading

do you realize
yes you
does it ever cross your mind
how lucky you are?

to live in this age
when every day is a discovery

can’t you feel it in your bones?
don’t you see it spinning in your wheel?
colossal energy bursting forth

the pace is accelerating
as our perspective grows

from the smallest loop
to the largest hole
and in between, even on your plane

the infinite stretches its limbs

and each choice
gives birth to a thousand universes

one after another
cascading

3 comments.

Requiem

Posted on March 4th, 2007 by george.
Categories: death, future, history, life, synthesis, technology.

If you’re reading this in 2007, chances are pretty good that, like me, you’re going to die in the 21st century. This supposition, of course, is predicated on the idea that the next few decades won’t see some sort of major medical advancement that stretches the human lifespan beyond a century. Given the accelerating pace of technology, perhaps this is not the greatest assumption. Ok, say it is possible for you to live to see 2100. Assuming the robots don’t get you, would you really want to?

I vacillate on the question. Some would argue that immortality robs life of its meaning. But even if we could keep the human body running indefinitely, there’s no ruling out accidental death. Unless of course you lock yourself in a secure room, paid for in perpetuity, with an automated life support system and allow your body to slowly wither away while your brain cavorts in virtual reality until the Sun swallows the Earth. Science fiction aside, I look back at the 20th century and think, who wouldn’t want to live through such awe-inspiring times? The answer, of course, is who would?

Dickens had it right. Nothing changes, everything changes. Any slice of history, however dark or enlightened, would be worth living in. In fact, given the immensity of human experience, you can pick any moment, past or future, and be absolutely sure that in that drop of the river of time that good and bad coexist. Someone was happy and someone was sad. Someone was dying and someone was being born. Someone was in the heaven of ecstasy, someone was in the depths of despair. Indeed, these spectra exist within the confines of one human life.

I was inspired to write tonight by one of my favorite pieces of music; the one that got me through endless nights of study in college; the one that centers me, plunges me into the most profound depths of thought; the one that I would love to have sung at my funeral (impractical as that would probably be); and the one that itself is so deeply associated with death: Mozart’s Requiem. Mozart himself died after composing it. Kubrick used it in his last film, one obsessed with death. A requiem is, by very definition, a hymn for the dead. Hey, if it’s good enough for Chopin, it’s good enough for me.

I can see the benefit of living past this century, and I can see the drawback of living through it. I cherish every breath that I take, but I also plan to embrace death, and the great unknown that follows it. Kill me in the next second or prop up my mortal frame until doomsday; either way I shall be content. Then again, who wants to inhabit this plane forever? Even as humanity matures, even with all there is to see, wouldn’t you at some point grow weary of being human? I know some will read this and think, “I already am.”

Though improbable, this century may yield a master capable of creating beauty and distilling the essence of life and death as magnificently as Mozart. Wouldn’t that be worth sticking around to see? Nonetheless, I sometimes wonder if I’m not diluting the Requiem’s meaning by abusing technology’s gift of being able to listen to it whenever I please. Surely it was more potent, surely it had more meaning to the person who heard it only once in a lifetime, issuing forth from behind the black of a velvet curtain rather than that of a paper cone. Still, there is something to be said for this age. One could safely argue that recording and reproducing music has brought its enriching effects to a much greater audience, and expanded the scope of its influence. I’ve heard more types of music, and a larger number of deeply moving pieces, than Mozart ever did. At least with his ears. Then again, he was Mozart.

All this, like anything I write, is to say that I’m happy to be alive. I’m glad that humans die. I appreciate suffering, tests and growth. I delight in beauty, joy and love.  I’m content to live in this age, just like I would have been in any other. But I’m excited to see what the future holds. As those now dead were, and as they not yet born will be after I die. Come on, 21st century, you started with a bang. Let’s see what you got.

2 comments.

Oculus

Posted on January 25th, 2007 by george.
Categories: history, synthesis.

A photo on flickr got me thinking.

Sometimes it’s convenient to parse history into manageable chunks because there’s just so much of it. Other times such analysis can cloud a comprehensive view of our advancement as a species. I learned just the other day that many historians are eschewing the term “Renaissance” because it can romanticize a period in Europe that may have been good for artists, and may have sparked a revolution, but didn’t immediately affect the life of the commoner.

If you read enough of my writing you’ll quickly discern my obsession with postmodernism and existentialism, courtesy of one of the best and most influential mentors I’ve ever had: my high school teacher Mr. Mark Baker. I’m eager to escape the bleak, hopeless irony of the 20th century by better understanding it. Everyone’s always talking about the advancement of technology and the subsequent alienation it creates. But in studying the Renaissance I ran across this quote by John Donne, from the year 1611, that seems to presage Sarte, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Cummings, Faulkner, Pollock, Kerouac, Kafka, Rand, and Warhol:

“And new philosophy calls all in doubt,
The element of fire is quite put out;
The sun is lost, and the earth, and no man’s wit,
Can well direct him where to look for it.
And freely men confess that this world’s spent,
When in the planets, and the firmament
They seek so many new; then see that this
Is crumbled out again to his atomies.
‘Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone;
All just supply, and all relation:
Prince, subject, Father, Son, are things forgot.”

This Donne wrote it response to the scientific revolution of his time that seemed to turn established ideas on their heads. It boggles the mind to think of the exponential increase in pace of that revolution to this day.

I for one have no use for postmodern irony. While I deeply appreciate the infinite and beautiful influences the arts and sciences have had upon the present day, it is my sincerest hope that we can learn from war, famine, pestilence and disaster. I believe it’s possible to dawn a new day of unity and harmony in this century. Perhaps then we can look back on our past and see with a clear eye not the perpetual repetition of the same mistakes, but how far we’ve come, how intricately the past weaves its way into our lives, and how much we’ve learned, grown, and matured.

9 comments.