Glad to see my old friend Kurt Mahler is blogging! Eloquent, eclectic, and thoughtful as always. He’s my find of the day.
I’ve not been a big fan of Archibald MacLeish, but I stumbled across this poem and found it encouraging. A balm for these hectic times.
Not to be conquered by these headlong days,
But to stand free: to keep the mind at brood
On life’s deep meaning, nature’s altitude
Of loveliness, and time’s mysterious ways;
At every thought and deed to clear the haze
Out of our eyes, considering only this,
What man, what life, what love, what beauty is,
This is to live, and win the final praise.
Though strifes, ill fortune, and harsh human need
Beat down the soul, at moments blind and dumb
With agony; yet, patience–there shall come
Many great voices from life’s outer sea,
Hours of strange triumph, and, when few men heed,
Murmurs and glimpses of eternity.
For me, poetry is one of those “great voices from life’s outer sea” from which come “murmurs and glimpses of eternity.”
And I found a pretty neat new (to me) poetry site — Poetry Genius.
In my men’s bible study today we were reading from Exodus 17 where Aaron and Hur had to help Moses hold up his arms so that the Israelites could fend off an attack from the Amalekites (yes, I had to look that up). I’ve read this reading dozens of times before and usually associated it with the “persistence in prayer” lesson of that particular week in the liturgical calendar.
But today it hit me harder. It’s probably where I am right now, but I was filled with compassion for Moses. Here is this great leader. He is in charge, poor guy, with the very lives of people depending on him and his strength. Then he’s in this situation where the very lives of people seem to depend on him holding up his arms. When he drops his arms, in the story, his people, his charges who depend on him, lose their lives.
It’s a hell of a thing to realize that your personal weakness – your inability to hold up your own damned arms — puts others in harm’s way. I’m not too proud to accept help when I am faced with an extraordinary task or problem, or if I know that what’s needed is not in my set of God-given gifts. But having someone to come help you do something so ordinary as holding up your own arms so that the people you are supposed to be taking care of aren’t hurt, that’s pretty humiliating.
So translate this story to the life of a parent, a spouse, etc. Some daily discipline, something personal, something that anybody could and should do on a daily basis, if neglected out of weakness, can put the people you have vowed to love and protect in harm’s way. This is one of the main motivators for starting a moderately successful diet this year — I realized that my bad food choices put my family in harm’s way. And I had to ask for help to hold up my damn arms. Turns out that’s not the only personal discipline area where my weakness puts my charges in harms way. So I need to be held up in many ways.
So God, not one to let me wallow in self-pity for too long, reminded me of this old poem, which I now have printed out and posted front and center.
A CONFEDERATE SOLDIER’S PRAYER
(Attributed to a battle weary C.S.A soldier near the end of the war)
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy;
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life;
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed.
Words to live by. I’ll never read Exodus 17 the way I used to again.
So let me tell you the story about how I came to work for IBM as a futurist. In the summer of 2005, some folks in the Supply Chain practice of IBM’s Global Business Services were asked to help the Army logistics planners anticipate disruptive technologies. And, like any group of whip-smart MBAs, IBM consultants went off and produced a well-researched market and strategic analysis. The Army yawned. They had already thought of all that stuff. They wanted to look farther, wider, deeper. They wanted to know about the stuff that nobody knew about yet — way more “high woo-woo” than IBM was used to thinking.
So, ultimately, IBM contacted a few members of a loose network of futurists I was a part of with a very intriguing proposition. Help dream up new technologies that could revolutionize military logistics in the next four decades or so (which is FOREVER in technology years) and (here’s the kicker) NOTHING was too far out. NOTHING.
Clients never say that. Every futurist has scenarios we just share with other futurists because every futurist knows to dial it back with actual paying clients because they tend to get, well, a bit freaked out. The Army was asking us to freak them out.
And so we did. And it was a freaking blast! I can’t go into any details, or even into any categories of details, but let’s just say that I was contemplating a tin-foil hat by the time we got done with the ideation phase of that project. But the real work was the research. Start with what was basically science fiction and work backward. What was impossible? Why was it impossible? What breakthroughs, enabling technologies, research initiatives would be needed to make these technologies happen? What are the current states of the technologies, how fast were the various technology progress indicators moving, etc.
The project was just sooo cool. And apparently so successful that they hired three of us futurists to offer that service — anticipating technological possibilities — to their other clients.
But that was the problem. IBM’s customers were mostly corporations. Thinking 30 years into the future is a hard sell to a corporation focused on the bottom line. Thinking 30 years into the future is necessarily messy, impractical, and expensive. Sorting though the forest of potential possibilities over a long time horizon is not a profitable activity.
This is the big thing that government does that the market cannot — solve problems that are not profitable to solve and anticipate problems that don’t exist yet.
To create markets for a technology that is not profitable (yet), someone has to dream it, nurture it, and seed it with investment and infrastructure. That’s what America does so well. We turn inventions into global industries.
I had a hand in the early part of the process of nurturing several technologies I may not get to see in my lifetime. I betcha anything that there was a similar group a few decades ago that was tasked with envisioning new communications technologies, like a “headless” global computer network that was self-routing, that could not be taken out by a single strike, that would enable robust communications in times of disaster or war. The technologies that ended up being what we call the internet.
The revolutionary technologies we love today started out as impractical, crackpot, back of the napkin ideas. Then they became clunky prototypes. The first computers that used desktop “windows” OS were awkward. They failed. Anyone remember the Xerox Alto? The Apple Lisa? Yeah, me neither. The road to tech revolution is littered with the corpses of initial efforts toward good ideas.
Along the way to profitability, we need people who encourage the development of fledgling ideas. They are government people, because the government is supposed to have the long view in mind, independent of a profit motive.
At some point, when the technology is mature enough, the government can hand it off to the private enterprise folks to run with. I get the privilege of helping NASA to do that with the technology of Low-Earth Orbit Human Spaceflight. It’s exciting to me, this mind-numbing, painstaking work of doing the same thing only with fewer resources so it has a chance of being done profitably by the private sector in the future. It’s gotta be done, but it’s work that only government can afford to do.
So, we won’t miss that function for a few weeks, months, or maybe even years. Until the Scandinavians, Brazilians, Chinese, Indians, or whatever become the drivers of global innovation and the United States of America becomes the new Taiwan, feeding American talent and resources into the new global engines of innovation located elsewhere.
That silence you hear, the hush of America not crashing down immediately because of the federal government shutdown, is troubling to me. To me the silence is eerie. To me it is the sound of the planners, the visionaries, and the solvers of not yet profitable problems, doing nothing.
The Paraguayans know how to drink the yerba.
First of all, like in Paraguay, it’s HOT here in Houston. Most of the year I want cold drinks. In Paraguay they drink the yerba cold.
Which makes it quicker and more energy efficient to make.
I can also carry less “equipo.” I don’t necessarily need a thermos (termo) since there are many places that offer cold fresh water where I work.
And it’s safer for the lips and tongue. Near boiling water through a metal straw (called a bombilla, that’s bom-BEE-yah)… youch.
And it’s just more fun to say. Terere (pronounced teh-deh-DEH, with soft, flick-of-the-tongue d’s) has so much more flair than mate (MAH-tay).