Monday, September 9, 2013

ai thwarted: peregrinate on

after much wanderinf from office to office, and being told I was being enrolled in the ai course of my dreams 'even now (then?)', it was full. every chair. so i decided to try for cosmology,  which needed an override from the instructor.  he said he would be happy to have me in the class, but he never signs overrides. so, analytic philosophy.  frege and wittgenstein. fascinating enough folks, who along with sufi literature and a history of interior design should keep me out of trouble.

but. being a student gives me access to the university of arkansas libraries.  re-enter bruce chatwin, whose songlines made me feel less weird as a walker and a nomad even before i met chad. i've been reading nicholas shakespeare's biography of chatwin along with his books and letters. what surprises me most is how much of chatwin's own life i missed when i was first reading his works back in the 1980's and 90's. all writing is autobiographical in many ways.  it is the way chatwin revealed himself by hiding himself that i am finding most helpful this time around. chatwin's works are making me look at what i reveal about my own life in what i veil.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

ai: 1. brazil

my koan from pascha 2012, 'what is life? ', has been rolling around in my pocket ever since, and since life and intelligence are sometimes related,  it seemed like a potentially helpful idea to take advantage of being an old fart and take an a.i. course at the university of arkansas. this post was to be called brazil at first becaue of the architecture of the j. b. hunt center, where the class will be held. and it was going to be an encouragement to me to blog more regularly. not that the unexamined life isn't worth living; more that the examined life can be fascinating.

but, I have spent rwo afternoons roaming the walks and halls of the university of arkansas with sheets of paper (!) in my hand, more or less--well, always less actually--like the form that generates the ploy of terry gilliam's movie. I had thought I could register for the class on monday. wrong, it was friday, I was told by lady at desk a. but if I gave class information to lady at window a, she would probably just enter it early. lady window a said my course has a prerequisite, and I must take form 00-67582/3 to professor for signature, and that the computer engineering department could take care if the whole rest of my registration.

that's when I discovered the brazilian architecture of the j. b. hunt building. said professor was not in office. so I emailed him, and he said if I left form 00-67582/3 with department secretary at desk b, all would be well. lady desk b said all would be well, but form 00-67582/3 was all wrong, and 'generated form 00-67585/4 for me to sign. and, what was my student number?

. . .

cut to the end of the chase. back and forth, with trips to the card room finally found me in front of a huge apple screen re-registering. now I await email confirmation. but, I at least have an application number.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

the troubles of abundance

The northern end of my default bicycle ride in Fayetteville is Starbucks.  Like nearly everyone else there,  I sit and sip my coffee--and unlike many of the others,  mine is plain coffee--while touring the world on an electronic miracle device. I can look out the window and see blocks of stores selling items that didn't exist fifty or even fifteen years ago. A century ago most of the area around this shopping complex didn't have electricity. Although a random and unscientific survey I've been taking of the people here reveals that most of us consider ourselves part of the 99%, we are wealthy beyond the dreams of the 1% before the quite recent past.

And the good news is that although northwest Arkansas is a particularly wealthy area, where the prosperity has grown at a remarkably rapid rate, we are not alone. Although much of the attention of the news is often on poverty and catastrophes, the whole world is getting richer. The United Nations Mellinium Project is ahead of schedule in most areas.  It is expected that as early as 2030 no one will be left so poor as to go hungry.  One thing I find really amazing about this expectation is that critics abound to say it's not enough. Now, the United Nations and the World Bank certainly do not see this as a final goal,  but at no previous time in history has even this level of abundance been attainable.

Why do I call this a problem?  Because we still think politically and morally as if we live in the times of the famine in the land of Canaan, when the Egyptians have all the food. People who have gracious plenty are jealous of those who have even more. We still think we need to rob Peter to feed Paul.

I am not blind to the real possibility that some of the problems we face,  particularly global warming and religious chauvinism, will dash my rosey expectations.  But I nevertheless hope we will be willing to let go of our fears and look around at what's really happening here, and be thankful.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

de rerum natura

it's been a while since I've posted anything to this old blog, but that doesn't mean I haven't been walking around. it was tempting to write a follow-up to my lenten post, hanging out as I do with so many churchy-types, about the general inanity of the church. but the general inanity of the church is widely recognized, so I'll leave that dead horse lie and abuse another cliche, the baby in the bathwater. there is wisdom often, I would suggest, in places we scorn, places of which we are afraid.

as silly as it is in the 21st. century, there is still perceived to be a conflict between religion and science. silly, I suggest, because the conflict is not between two modes of knowledge or relating to the world, but between two groups of people who often shut ourselves off from one another in fear. indeed it seems to me clear that science is indeedva religion. many of my friends who are scientists object strenuously to that suggestion,  but many of my friends who are christians insist that christianity is not a religion.

whatever we call our favoured way of organizing our knowledge, it needs to correspond to the nature of things if it is to be helpful to our life as individuals and a species.

this has been a long-winded way to introduce my pascal koan forvthis year: he is alive, and to set it in context. what does it mean to say someone, something, is alive?

this question has a long history, but it has taken on a new dare-I-say? life recently with our confrontation with artificial intellegence and genetically engineered foods, two loci of consideral conflict between folk coming from self-identified 'religious' or 'scientific' viewpoints.

so, for my purposes I want to suggest a definition, in the strict sense of de-fining, what is natural and avoid ptoscription for description: if it is possible, it is natural. things unnatural are also impossible.  it is also perhaps helpful to avoid the use of 'natural law', despite its long and sometimes honourable history. rather than law, i will use tao. there is the way things are.

so, it's off to see what life is. please wish me luck on the journey.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

walking in lent 2.0

this day's walk was in cassville, missouri. cassville is a typically ugly mid-western town that makes one wonder what the ozarks hills possibly could have done to deserve it. downtown, what isn't occupied by the huge first baptist church,  is filled with second-hand stores and insurance offices. on the south side of town is the walmart.

i am glad i find cassville so uninspiring, because it provides no rose-coloured glasses with which to view today's ponder. many years i have said i was giving up religion for lent. this year i am very seriously considering not taking it back up.

to abandon religion would mean i would have a lot of redundant books, but their elegant sophistry and writing style would allow me to continue to appreciate them as literature. it might also result in some of my friends finding me redundant. i could only hope that the sheep would have compassion on an old goat.

my feelings have nothing to do with modern science, which i find quite compatible with traditional christianity, nor with the pseudo-historical ravings of folks like john spong or bart ehrman. rather, there are two sources of my discomfort, one theological and one ecclesiological: big words for god and the church.

as usual, out of devotion or habit, i read the daily office. last sunday's readings included the sixth chapter of the gospel according to john, as beautiful a piece of writing as i know, ending with everyone's abandoning jesus but the twelve. jesus says, 'do you also want to go away?' peter answers, 'lord, to whom shall we go ?' usually i read these words and think, 'to whom indeed?' but  this year i stumbled on an earlier part of the story, when the jews talk about the manna in the wilderness, and my mind remembered an image of a syrian woman in the wilderness, fleeing from the fighting there, and i wondered, 'where is her manna?'

no, i know the classic solution for this is that we are made in the image of god, his hands in the world, &tc., and that if god fed all the starving folks we wouldn't have free will. but, i wonder, what sort of a sovereign would abandon his realm to a bunch of greedy and frightened ninnies like us--us being mankind in general and the church in particular.

i admit i can find a few fragments of the church who  seem to live to her high calling: moses the black amongst the desert fathers, some whose faith is known to god alone, even an occasional parish. (st. john the wonderworker in eugene would be my nominee.) but in my experience the church and her priests are  very little different from any other organization and it's officers, even if the older denominations have better architecture and drag. the lutheran idea of the church as invisible and spiritual seems about as helpful to me as gravity did to einstein.

there is much more i could write, but i don't want to be demeaning to anyone. my dear uncle frank often said, 'people just do the best they can'. or perhaps my favourite line from oscar wilde's de profundis is more appropriate: 'the only real sin is lack of imagination.' whatever. i rather feel like there's no going away, but i want to do better, and imagine a better way of holding my thoughts and experiences together than what the church and her idea of god have given me.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

a dream: how crazy is it out there?

i finished reading margaret barker' remarkable book temple spirituality this morning at about 5:30 because i had wakened at 3:30. i had wakened at 3:30, t seems, because of a bizarre dream. in my dream, i was living in washington, d.c., the capital of these disunited states, in a rambly old apartment building across a park from an archives of some sort. i was wandering across the park to visit the archives when an older man dressed as if he were introducing some techy device--a suit fancier than necessary but no tie--started waving a nickel-plated .45 automatic at people from the far end of the park. there was a policeman at the other end of the park, who raised his gun, but then disappeared. (it's a dream, remember.) i had crossed the park and sneaked back to the end where the policeman had disappeared by hiding behind columns, and i thought i would be able  turn to my apartment, where i would lock the door--something i never do. but the gun-waver was running quickly through the crowd, herding them to my end and telling everyone that he was tired of tourists and wanted to protect the wildlife. that's when he dream started turning surreal. people began arguing with him in the random manner of facebook conversation 'threads'. some pointed out that the were locals, not tourists. others argued that here was nothing  about the life in a national park. i was thinking of commenting to ask him if tourists had less right to live than locals when i turned to find he was about five feet from me with the gun aimed at my leg. i was thinking 'o shit' and pondering lunging at him to knock the gun down when i woke, made some coffee, and started reading.

what i find so remarkable is that i, who can't remember another unpleasant dream for years, would have such a dream now. i didn't feel particularly frightened in the dream. i just thought 'me, too' and 'here, too'. but i do find it remarkable that such images would come up in my dreams.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

walking in lent

 it has been an outrageously beautiful day and i have been on a peregrination, fancy talk for wandering around mostly aimlessly, looking at plants and the sky and rocks. i've been thinking about my and others' pretensions to being celtic. genetically i'm celtic, but the upheavals of the industrial revolution and migrations has made the l connections pretty weak. this  especially true  we claim some sort of celtic christisn orthodoxy. there's a whole industry of celtic christian books, and pricey pilgrimages to holy islands, but not many of us recite the psalter  up to our nipples in the cold sea water or a creek. i am given points for living in a tent, but it's a tent with carpet snd wifi.

so, i have to admit that my celticness is largely nostalgia. i like oat meal, and i'm no luddite. if i were, i wouldn't be writing on a kindle fire. i do agree with mcluhan that all our inventions are extensions of ourselves, although i don't find all the parts of ourselves h extending. my tablet seems to have advantages  scratching a message on rocks, but eureka springs is full of fat people, who extend their already bloated bellies with bloated suvs. i've extended my feet to wearing shoes, but i don't want to pass the plants and sky and rocks too fast to see them. even my bicycle seems too quick many days.

this is one of those days. some folks say lent means spring, in which case this is a very lenten day. i have for several years now had a lenten koan to chew as the days get longer. this year from psalm 117 (118): 'the stone the builders rejected, the same became the chief stone of the corner). and to help me chew i've been reading margaret barker's temple books. of the many theses about what 'original' christianity was and how it's changed/been perverted, i find hers  most compelling.  of course what  theories have in common with all the others is the lack of continuity of what we call christianity now and what jesus had in mind.

yet, this morning i began the day with morning prayer with the historic english liturgy of thomas cramner and miles coverdale, with readings from the authorized version of the bible. and, i asked myself, is there any value to my doing this beyond the nostalgic beauty of it? despite my and thousands of others repeating these prayers, and they are prayers with which i am in profound agreement, nothing much seems to have changed.

except the speed of change in the world. i also read today an interview with al gore, o is part of the growing chorus who notice the great opportunity humanity is facing for breakthrough to the plenty and justice prayed for in the book of common prayer and for systemic collapse and chaos. i look around and find only evidence that he is correct. gore says he's optimistic. maybe because i'm walking around  eureka springs, which prides itself as being a town where time stands till, i confess to difficulty sharing his optimism. and i am challenged to consider whether my indulgence in nostalgia is part of the force for collapse and chaos.

Monday, January 7, 2013

that they turn not again unto foolishness

i am a creature of habit and ease. once i made a regular habit of blogging, not because i thought the world was waiting to hear what i had to say, but because i found it a disciplined way for me to listen to what was going on, to be obedient.

facebook has become such a set of ears on the world that it has been easy
to skip blogging. still, sometime in the middle of a cold night in the middle of the advent fast, i made the above photograph, intending to blog about the darkness of the world into which we were expecting, once again, the light to shine. i have protestant friends who were preparing to hold 'blue christmas' services for folks who weren't expected to get so many of the world's goodies as average in fat rich america, or who had been unable to deny recently that all men are mortals. i find the 'blue christmas' movement yet another example of how thin the gruel of meaning has become in what passes for christianity these days, in which the twelve days of christmas are twelve days of overeating and overspending in which we more or less pretend all is well, and ignore the phrase from the anglican morning canticle, the venite, 'for he cometh to judge the earth, and with righteousness to judge the world, and the peoples with his truth'. (the revised book of common prayer has of course removed this reminder of judgment.)

ah, but in my seeking the life of ease it has become my habit to read morning prayer online from a  convenient site ( ) which posts the propers from the 1928 prayerbook with the readings from the 1943 lectionary. oh. my. once again that great psalm of the incarnation, 85, with it's call to obedient listening, 'i will hearken what the LORD god will say;* for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints, that they turn not again unto foolishness'. and from isaiah, chapter 42: 'behold my servant . . .: he shall bring forth judgment to the nations. . . . i the lord have called thee to righteousness, and will hold thy hand and keep thee and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the nations;  to open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.'

then i checked my news feed on facebook, and pulse. we still don't seem to have headed the message of the angels to 'fear not'. leonard peltier is still in prison less he scalp the speaker of the house, i guess, and guantanamo remains as a monument to our fear. one of my facebook friends has just learned of our drone attacks in yemen, and thinks if more people knew of them, we would end them: ah, the hopefulness of youth. and another facebook friend reported on the lacklustre sermon he had heard on epiphany, having 'the overall sense that the minister was ready for it to be all over'.

ah, there's the rub of this whole incarnation thing, isn't it? if it's true what isaiah says about the holy one, that 'he . . . created the heavens, and stretched them out; that he spread forth the earth, and that which cometh out of it . . . ', then it isn't all over. we who claim the benefits of the birth in the manger, even if 'it was a long time ago now', as t. s. eliot reminds us, are still called to live fearlessly, to seek that righteousness which can let prisoners free, which can indeed free us from the dungeons of darkness in which many of us live rather than let the light shine in all the corners of our lives.

i, and many of my friends, are happy nerds. it's hard to recognize that the birth--and yes, the death, our own baptismal death--that the magi sought might be even  ore important than the upcoming consumer electronic show in las vegas. but i think it's safe to suggest that our ultimate happiness will not depend on whether we are running windows 8, or have downloaded the newest episode of the doctor, or--well, you can fill in your own favourite distraction. rather it will more likely depend upon our willingness to 'abide in the fields by night'. again, eliot says it as well as anyone:
'Quick now, here, always--
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manners of things shall be well
When the tongues of fire are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.'

it's not all over. it's here, now, always, and costing not less than everything.