Two quotes passed along on September 11, from my meat-eating Grandmother:
A USDA inspector reviews the carcasses of slaughtered pigs for our safety. Credit: Wikmedia Commons
“As long as there are slaughterhouses there will be battlefields.” –Leo Tolstoy
“We are the living graves of murdered beasts
slaughtered to satisfy our appetites.
We never pause to wonder at our feasts,
if animals, like men, can possibly have rights.
We pray on Sundays that we may have light,
to guide our footsteps on the path we tread.
We’re sick of war, we do not want to fight –
The thought of it now fills our hearts with dread,
and yet – we gorge ourselves upon the dead.
Like carrion crows we live and feed on meat,
regardless of the suffering and pain
we cause by doing so, if thus we treat
defenseless animals for sport or gain
how can we hope in this world to attain
the PEACE we say we are so anxious for.
We pray for it o’er hecatombs of slain,
to God, while outraging the moral law,
thus cruelty begets its offspring – WAR.”
–George Bernard Shaw
“The cure for Apple is not cost-cutting. The cure for Apple is to innovate its way out of its current predicament.”
I work for an Information Technology bellwether, which is both highly profitable and obsessive over maintaining its profit margins. Costs must always be contained. While we have a variety of interesting technology we are working to develop, we are presently completing our latest round of workforce reductions. I wish our leadership could be a little more like Steve Jobs:
“This is not a one-man show. What’s reinvigorating this company is two things: One, there’s a lot of really talented people in this company who listened to the world tell them they were losers for a couple of years, and some of them were on the verge of starting to believe it themselves. But they’re not losers. What they didn’t have was a good set of coaches, a good plan. A good senior management team. But they have that now.”
You know what John Chambers might say to that?
“The problem with the Internet startup craze isn’t that too many people are starting companies; it’s that too many people aren’t sticking with it. That’s somewhat understandable, because there are many moments that are filled with despair and agony, when you have to fire people and cancel things and deal with very difficult situations. That’s when you find out who you are and what your values are.”
House Republicans could have kept the debt ceiling issue wholly separate from the budget cut issue.
Instead, Republicans put the gun on the table. They raised the menace of deliberate default in a way it has not been raised before.
Then, having issued the threat, they discovered that their own core supporters would not allow the gun to be holstered again.
They issued demands they knew could not be met, for budget cuts much bigger than Republicans ever enacted when they had the power to enact them. They cocked the weapon. And now here we are: the demands are unmet and Republicans find themselves facing a horrible choice between yielding on their exorbitant demands or pushing the United States into financial upheaval.
David Frum was a speechwriter for President George W Bush.
Some article in The Atlantic about how President Obama has decided to stop being the reasonable guy who makes every last concession imaginable and then some and as of last night is now playing Chicken with the Republicans, daring them to screw the country over, since they’re likely to take the greater share of the blame. Yeah, anyway, this part got me laughing:
There’s an old Soviet joke that a friend once told me. An old man has been standing in line for bread for eight hours. His feet hurt, his back hurts, and he is faint from hunger. Finally, finally the door opens and the baker comes out. He starts to salivate. He fingers the rubles in his pocket.
“Comrades, go home,” says the baker. “There is no flour to make bread today.”
Something in the old man snaps. He has been waiting in these lines for decades, and he has had enough. “This is ridiculous!” he shouts. “I fought in the Great Patriotic War! I worked for forty years in the factory! Now you make me wait in line for eight hours when there’s no flour? You didn’t know this eight hours ago? I spit on you, and I spit on the regime!” And he spits in front of the baker.
A man steps out of line behind him. “Careful, comrade. You know how it would have been in the old days if you had said these things.” With his thumb and forefinger, he mimes a gun being fired at the temple.
Defeated, the man steps out of line and trudges home with everyone else. He goes into his apartment and sits down at the table. His wife walks in just as he pours the last of his vodka into a glass, and drinks it down in one gulp.
“Sergei, what’s wrong?!” she cries, seeing the look on his face. “Don’t tell me they’re out of bread!”
“It’s worse than that. Much worse.” he says heavily.
“What could be worse?”
“They’re out of bullets.”
Americans should maybe be stocking up on their dark humor.
“Even though bicycle commuting is on the rise all over the country, as cyclists we remain vulnerable. We’re like mammals in the waning days of the dinosaurs: far more adaptable and with much better long-term prospects, yet in the meantime still in imminent danger of being squashed.”
You’d imagine that at some point Americans would wake up to the fact that they’re being sold a very expensive illusion of safety that is in fact killing them and opt for practicality and efficiency over sheer size, but until that day there’s nothing illusory about city streets filled with light-running SUVs driven by a gentry who are more or less free to maim with impunity. And when it comes to cycling for transportation, the fact that your safety–indeed your very life–is not a consideration is what you might call a “barrier to entry.”
We all approach this barrier differently depending on our dispositions. Some of us hop it as adroitly as a cyclocross racer and ride undaunted. Others step over it with considerable trepidation, riding only occasionally or strictly for recreation. Still others simply go around it by opting for other modes of transport. And of course millions of people buy gigantic “safe” automobiles and just drive through the fucking thing while jockeying their smartphones, with two or three cyclists pinned to their bumpers.
As far as the larger-cars-are-safer myth: more massive vehicles need greater stopping distance to break or perform emergency maneuvers. Having more tons of metal surrounding you helps only if you assume you will get into an accident, possibly because your vehicle is bulky and awkward and you have a false sense of security which lowers your vigilance. Then you end up killing the other guy, in the smaller, more fuel-efficient car or bicycle. If you drive an SUV you get bonus points for driving a top-heavy vehicle vulnerable to flipping, which, as a light truck, is unencumbered by the Socialist mandate of rollover protection. Live free and die an avoidable fatality!
“We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using Nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy — sun, wind and tide . . . I’d put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don’t have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that.”
“The universe is probably littered with the one-planet graves of cultures which made the sensible economic decision that there’s no good reason to go into space–each discovered, studied, and remembered by the ones who made the irrational decision.”
The market has been doing well lately, but even I am surprised.
Back in March 2009 when things were looking their bleakest, I scratched together less-than-my-usual-amount of cash and bought shares in a market index. On that occasion, QQQQ (Nasdaq 100) at $28.17/share. Today I noticed that, at $57, that stock has more than doubled in value since I bought it.
Three things come to mind.
1) Yay me! (Though, I have seen plenty of my money evaporate in stocks, so I won’t get too smug.)
2) Warren Buffet’s advice, to “be greedy when others are scared, and scared when others are greedy.” Since people are getting greedy, I shouldn’t feel too bad selling stock at this height to cover wedding expenses.
3) My perpetual ambivalence about the stock market as a gambling parlor that doesn’t reflect true economic value, but is really a bunch of rascals trying to trick each other. The real value in our economy is in the workers and the planet, and the stock market on a good day is an ethically blind attempt to influence the direction in which the workers will direct their work.
Several years ago I watched a Japanese film titled “Unagi” which is the Japanese word for “eel.” The film was one of those 1960s-type free-form free-spirit no-plot-really affairs, where the protagonist one day comes home early to find a guy schtuffing his wife, murders his wife and her lover, then reports himself to the police. He serves his time as a model prisoner, and although prisoners are not allowed to have pets, he was allowed to feed the eel in the prison pond, and the warden gave him the eel to take home with him at the end of his sentence.
That is the beginning of the movie. First five minutes or so. After that, there’s not much plot. At least, not that I recall. The movie then lingers on a bunch of folks in his town who don’t have much going on. But the protagonist, Yamashita, did leave a quote I still adore:
“Nobody knows your father, but you’re still a fantastic eel.”
I used to believe . . . that growing and growing up are analogous, that both are inevitable and uncontrollable processes. Now it seems to me that growing up is governed by the will, that one can choose to become an adult, but only at given moments. These moments come along fairly infrequently — during crises in relationships, for example, or when one has been given the chance to start afresh somewhere — and one can ignore or seize them.
I think that is a fair description. I think that for a long time I chose to be swept along with the current, without taking much responsibility for my destination. In the past few years I have gained a better understanding that the crises are “growing up” opportunities, and that I have successfully “grown up” from some of these experiences. Still, it is easy enough to be swept along and fail to learn lessons, and I have surely missed the opportunity to grow as much as I could have from some of these crises.
I also remember John Chambers, Cisco’s CEO, recounting advice he had received during the dot-com boom, that you really only have a great company after you have survived an existential threat. After you have had to “grow up” and see what hard decisions you make when it comes time to make those hard decisions. John recounted with a grim face the large number of layoffs that Cisco chose to make in order to survive the dot-com crash. Today, Cisco pays well, and hands out bonuses, but although it has billions in the bank, it is also religious about managing expenses, which can be frustrating at times. All the same, I prefer to work for a company that can sometimes feel frustratingly stingy, if it means my job is less likely to be axed in the next recession. I like to think that this “stinginess” is the mark of a “grown up” company which is keen to reduce the risk of future crisis.
There is a well-worn adage that those who set out upon a great enterprise would do well to count the cost. I am not sure that this is always true. I think that some of the very greatest enterprises in the world have been carried out successfully simply because the people who undertook them did not count the cost; I am much of the opinion that . . . the most instructive consideration for us is the cost of doing nothing.
Thomas Henry Huxley
The cost of doing nothing? Global Warming springs to mind. I have talked myself down from a lot of ideas because, for example, I have a better and better understanding of the costs of building a service on robust and scalable architecture. For the most part that is a good thing: great ideas should be able to wrestle down their opponents. But sometimes you just have to charge forward, and in the words of Buckminster Fuller, “dare to be naive.”
I just posted a comment on a friend’s Facebook status:
I think the Death of Paper Books has been predicted with the advent of newspapers, radio, television, microfiche, books-on-tape, CD-ROMs, the Internet, portable computers, e-books readers, and smart phones, but it still hasn’t happened yet.
I like books, I like holding them in my hands, and I like stacking them on shelves along the walls of my apartment. I suspect that this love of books will be transmitted to my children, much as it was inherited from my parents. I doubt we’ll have an “unabridged dictionary” or a set of encyclopedias like when I grew up, but hell yeah, as long as I and my descendants have the money to spend, paper books aren’t going to die out.
I think eBooks will serve a particular role, especially in lightening the load in school backpacks. For my normal routine of reading one book at a time, though, and then palming it off to a friend or family member, I am fine with having the pulp copy to thumb through, though access rights if I later want to search the book digitally would be nice.
A comment I made on an e-mail thread that was well-received:
Intelligence is the product of basic brainpower, passion, and education. The brain is like a car engine: whether you have a little two-stroke or a V-12 you still aren’t going to get anywhere without some passion fuel, and the going will be really tough without some nice, smooth educational asphalt to help guide you to where you want to go.
Also, to those endlessly debating nature-versus-nurture, the answer is usually “both” . . . you start with a certain genetic baseline, then a childhood you don’t have much control over, and you make of your life what you will. Some folks receive a terrible start in life and are going to have it hard whatever they do, but most people have something they can work with, and with the right sort of ambition, positive attitude, and tenacity, can achieve some sort of success in life.
I am presently enjoying an old thick history book. A footnote in the first chapter says:
“Biologically considered, the distinguishing mark of humanity was systematic developmental retardation, making the human child infantile in comparison to the normal protohuman. Some adult human traits are also infantile when compared to those of an ape: e.g., the overdevelopment of brain size in relation to the rest of the body, underdevelopment of teeth and brow-ridges. But developmental retardation of course meant prolonged plasticity, so that learning could be lengthened. Thereby the range of cultural as against mere biological evolution widened enormously; and humanity launched itself upon a biologically as well as historically extraordinary career.”
W H McNeill
“The Rise of the West”
I was thinking that domesticated animals are similarly developmentally retarded relations of their wild kin. Dogs mature to a wolfishly adolescent level. By remaining in a younger, more affably co-dependent state, they more easily get along with humans. From what I have seen, a lot of adult humans could be described as childish, and while the usual concern is that they are less effective for their childishness, they also subordinate themselves more readily to more ambitious leaders, and this facilitates collaboration.
Or, I guess, domesticated humans and animals fall more naturally into packs, for better and for worse.
I was at some sort of lecture for really smart people, and a precocious young woman asked a technical question of the speaker, who answered back with some Math, and the questioner apologetically asked for a moment to run the Math through her head before she could follow-up. The speaker replied that she should take her time, because after all, “this is an open forum, not scramble time at a methadone clinic.”
And I was like where the heck did that line come from?!
Later in the dream I was looking for my car in a parking garage and found it not where I thought I had parked it but a little ways away where I had actually parked it earlier in the dream. I was like “this dream has a great continuity” and then I had to pee so I was looking for a toilet in the parking garage. That is when I got up to pee, and realized that I had slept really soundly this night. I was glad the sun was managing to peek through the clouds.