Remember the Future

Masha Gessen ends on a somewhat positive note in her Nov 2016 essay Autocracy: Rules for Survival | The New York Review of Books:

Rule #6: Remember the future. Nothing lasts forever. Donald Trump certainly will not, and Trumpism, to the extent that it is centered on Trump’s persona, will not either. Failure to imagine the future may have lost the Democrats this election. They offered no vision of the future to counterbalance Trump’s all-too-familiar white-populist vision of an imaginary past. They had also long ignored the strange and outdated institutions of American democracy that call out for reform—like the electoral college, which has now cost the Democratic Party two elections in which Republicans won with the minority of the popular vote. That should not be normal. But resistance—stubborn, uncompromising, outraged—should be.

Why you might want to make phone calls for Hillary

If you’re like me, the main outcome of the upcoming election you want is to prevent the election of Donald Trump. To give myself a productive activity to work to defeat Trump, I’ve been making lots of phone calls
for Hillary via Right now, we’re focused on recruiting other volunteers. Soon enough, we’ll be focused on GOTV (get out the vote) activities.

This is something you can do from anywhere you have internet access and phone access and is made up of lots of discrete tasks. It’s even fun and inspiring at times, when you connect with other people in the country wanting to contribute to our society. (Most of the time, no one picks up the phone, which I used to see as frustrating but now I see as relaxing in a funny way.)

I encourage you to join me in phone banking for Hillary. I’d be very happy to talk to anyone interested in learning more or phone banking with you folks. (You can also find events in which other people will be making calls. Sometimes it’s easiest to get started while surrounded
by others making calls too.)

Magic of Morning Moleskining

This morning, after a long break from writing journalistically in the black Moleskine I carry around in my backpack, I scrawled:

Stand back to see where my handwriting hand leads me right now. Early morning writing can sometimes be downright magical, illuminating hitherto dark spaces of the mind and heart.

What followed was a trance of fluidity that I rarely have when writing on my computer. What do we know about the difference between writing in a paper journal and on a computer?

Writing on a personal blog when there’s

Isn’t it positively quaint to hope that I will write in any meaningful way on this blog when so many of the cool writers on the web have migrated to Medium?

I’m actually inspired to get back to writing on this blog because Dreamhost, the current host for this blog, has made it free and easy for me to use HTTPS on my site (via letsencrypt.)   As silly as this may sound, I feel much more at home now on this blog, now I can write over more secure channels.   (yes,  I know: Medium also support HTTS –> so HTTPS cannot be the determinative factor in whether I write here.)

What we can do in response to the Oil Spill? (Running Notes)

What crowdsourcing activity has there been?  A blog post that has a pretty good analysis of the idea. — allows one to track and report incidents — based on the Ushahidi platform. — Android + iPhone apps to report where oil spill is. is not a bad place to start a deep dive.

Trying to get the real scoop, I am inclined to trust ProPublica, which has published a FAQ list:


Had no idea that the official site of the Deepwater Horizon Command is If you have a good idea, you might try calling: TECH/SUGGESTIONS (281) 366-5511

Lectionary readings in a new context

Over the last year, I’ve been attending services at The Church of the Redeemer in Pittsburgh and more recently, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley.  I have found  much needed refreshment in the worship services, leavened as they are with the  solemn beauty of written and spoken word, from the Bible and from the Book of Common Prayer.  The scriptural readings are scheduled according to a lectionary (the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), I believe though I’m still a tad confused on these matters.) As a practical matter, this means that I have a ready-made schedule of texts to study:  either to look ahead (so I can prepare this coming Sunday) or to review (so that I can reflect on what we meditated on last Sunday).

Happily, I have found online sources for the Sunday lectionary readings, including:

Ultimately, I’d like to find sources of daily readings too. In the past, I’ve overreached in my Bible reading ambitions.  Now I plan to start with the Sunday readings but then add daily readings as I get more regular and proficient in my Bible reflections.  So when I’m ready, I should take a look at Book of Common Prayer Daily Office Lectionary (ESV Bible Online).  I took a quick glance at Reading Plans –, hoping to find lectionaries tied to this online Bible and community. I’ll want to figure out how the Episcopal order of reading relates to that of the PCUSA for which I can get daily readings provided by the PCUSA (e.g., today’s reading is  PC(USA) – Devotions – Daily readings for Friday, January 29, 2010)

P.S. A post on the lectionary won’t be complete for me if I don’t mention how I can ultimately geek out on it. The Lectionary points to a spreadsheet that “has the RCL, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Methodist lectionaries keyed to Bible passages.”  With this key, I’ll be able to computationally generate multi-denominational Bible readings for different days in different forms.  Lectionary mashups, here we come!

True Enough for Training Trust?

Recently borrowed from the Berkeley Public Library is  Farhad Manjoo’s  True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.  (Wiley, 2008),  which seduced me with the promising subtitle  “learning to live in a post-fact society.”  I think a lot about how to  understand what’s actually happening, how to grasp the truth, if you will.  Almost everything I believe about the world came from sources beyond my own immediate experience; even direct experience is hardly an infallible source of knowledge.  And though I could critically examine any given assertion for its  veracity, most things I have to take on trust.  I have to build upon so many other cognitive pieces that I’ve already accepted (for the time being at least) to be true that most of the time I’m working more on faith and trust than on naked reason.

From looking at True Enough‘s  table of contents, I surmise that most of the book is about why people believe so many divergent things,  based on different universes of “facts.”  What I’d really like to know is how not get trapped in the ruts of our well-worn ideological frames — and secondarily, how to help others do the same.    I couldn’t resist turning to the last page of the narrative to find “Choosing means trusting some people and distrusting the rest.  Choose wisely.”  OK, Mr. Manjoo:  teach me how to “choose wisely” or at least how to learn how to choose wisely.

When I taught high school students in  my course The Nexus of Newton and Nietzsche, I  placed a lot of emphasis on looking for areas of disagreement as a way of sorting through complicated matters.  Focus your energies on getting to the bottom of what people fight over, and you’ll get some real insight.  Now, I wonder whether I had put too emphasis on disagreement.  We should look hard also at what everyone seems to agree upon, asking ourselves:  “just because everyone seems to say it’s so, is it really so?”

An immediate objection is “certainly, overthrowing commonly held assumption is the stuff of revolutionary science, but will it help me with daily life?” When you add up what people disgree about and what they seem to agree about, well, that’s a lot of stuff to examine.   I’m still needing to define a practical methodology about where to spend my energies.

As I mulled over Manjoo’s book, I kept thinking of a popular article in The NY Times from late last year: Barbara Strauch’s  “How to Train the Aging Brain” (Dec 29, 2009)  The essential point of the piece is that people with middle aged brains  (40s to late 60s) should focus their learning on not so much accumulating more facts but challenging, stretching, and enriching what we already have learned.  Here’s some key quotes from the article, which is worth reading in full:

If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can.

Educators say that, for adults, one way to nudge neurons in the right direction is to challenge the very assumptions they have worked so hard to accumulate while young. With a brain already full of well-connected pathways, adult learners should “jiggle their synapses a bit” by confronting thoughts that are contrary to their own, says Dr. Taylor, who is 66.

…continued brain development and a richer form of learning may require that you “bump up against people and ideas” that are different.

…get out of the comfort zone to push and nourish your brain. Do anything from learning a foreign language to taking a different route to work.

Jack Mezirow, a professor emeritus at Columbia Teachers College, has proposed that adults learn best if presented with what he calls a “disorienting dilemma,” or something that “helps you critically reflect on the assumptions you’ve acquired.”

These observations seem right to me as someone in my early 40s. But I wonder whether they apply to younger adults, say in their 20s — the age of most of my graduate students. (A question for the Berkeley teach-net list, methinks.)

Reflecting on those lonely days

Many years ago, I came across a famous quote of Albert Einstein’s that has since stuck in my mind:

My passionate sense of social justice and social responsibility has always contrasted oddly with my pronounced lack of need for direct contact with other human beings and human communities. I am truly a “lone traveler” and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart; in the face of all these ties, I have never lost a sense of distance and a need for solitude.

From my earliest days to well into my thirties, I often felt achingly lonely, an oddball.  Einstein was my childhood idol.  It was his life story that inspired me to start down the road of becoming a physicist.  His self-description as a “lone traveler” was  solace for me.  I used to hope that one day I’d grow up to be as special and singular a figure as Einstein.  (No lack of ambition there, eh?)

Part of growing up for me is to accept that I am no Einstein (nor even a journeyman physicist for that matter).  A side effect of  self-acceptance:  I no longer feel so lonely.   I am really like the people around me. I’m also so blessed to have the love of family and friends who accept me for who I am, in spite of  my unrealized ambitions.

Heavy rain as the semester starts

With forecasts of massive storms for the next week or two, it behooves me to concoct ways to stay cheerful in the face of gray skies and heavy rains.  At least it’s not snow, I say to myself.   Rain speaks to the limitations of life in the Bay Area, whereas sunny days  inspire in me the prospects of unlimited opportunity.  OK:  slight exaggeration — but I’m already looking forward to the first sunny day after the storms.

CACM’s “Mightier Than The Pen”

Because the Communications of the ACM has so much surprisingly good writing, it has become one of my favorite periodicals.  (I say surprisingly because CACM is a technical journal.)  Though the journal is aimed primarily at computer scientists, much of the content is accessible to a wider audience.  Take, for example,  “Mightier than the pen.” Communications of the ACM 52, no. 12 (12, 2009): 112.  [closed access, alas], Joe Haldeman’s essay on how the complex relationship he has as a writer with both the computer and pen and paper.   I got such a kick out of the essay that I was moved to submit the following comment to the piece:

I identify very much with Joe Haldeman’s “collaboration between pen and computer”.  I had to think twice about whether I’d make the same hard decision of computer over pen if one had to choose one and concluded that yes, I’d do the same.  I would have wanted to read more about what Mr. Haldeman thinks a world of computers without “a fountain pen [writing] into a bound blank book” would be like.  It was only after a family member gave me my first Moleskine journal that I rediscovered what I had lost when I wrote almost exclusively on a computer.