Poem: murmurs and glimpses of eternity

Aside

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.

OUTLOOK
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.

Holding up Moses’ Arms

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
Author Unknown,
(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.

What we don’t know to miss (yet) about the federal government

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.

Why I now drink mi yerba like a Paraguayan

Tereré: Paraguay’s Social Tea | Good Sht | Ozymandias.

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).

 

Simple Pleasures: The General’s Cedar Pointe 333

I take all my work notes in pencil. I have used and loved Palomino Prospectors, Helix Oxfords, Mirado Black Warriors, and Dixon Ticonderogas will do in a pinch. All are American made pencils from real American incense-grade cedar with real rubber erasers. But by far my favorite is the General’s Cedar Pointe 333.

Since it is unfinished you can see the cedar grain and its color compliments the black eraser and ferrule. The feel of it in my hand, the sound and feel of writing with it, the smoothness of the lines it lays down.. All these make it a joy to use.

So I may be a bit of a pencil geek, but I am drawn to the wonder of ordinary things. I am not a guy drawn to fancy gadgets, cars, toys, or fashion. But the mundane stuff of life, I believe, is where you can get the most value and utility from insisting on quality. Life is too short to wear cheapo shoes, sleep on lumpy pillows, and write with crap-composite mass market pencils!

Just had to record this for future me to read and shake my head. Sent this actual message to one of Aaron’s teachers today. This is the result of that curse where my Mom said “I hope you have a kid just like you when you grow up!” So I got a kid with ADD. And I send letters like this on a fairly regular basis.

 

Ms. Looper,

 

A week ago Sunday I found a packet in Aaron’s backpack with a handwritten title sheet that read “Aaron Clark – Missing Work 2nd per” in red ink. Most of the work was from much earlier in the month. Even though it looked like the date had long passed I made him sit down and do every sheet in the packet for good measure.

 

Is this the packet of missing work you are referring to? If not, what does the packet look like?

 

Also, he’s been carrying this completed work with him for over a week. I have no idea why he does not turn it in. None at all. It’s very frustrating. Can you help me figure out what I can do to increase the probability that his work will make it the last few feet from his orange backpack into your grade book? Any clue will help. I have none.

 

As we speak I am having him fill out something about the path of food through the body which I found crumpled and blank in his folder. I am also having him label a picture of a digestive tract on a legal sheet of blue paper. He will also complete a blank sheet about the urinary tract. I have no idea when these things are due. But I swear they will be in his backpack when he leaves our house. Is there some way we can coax him to give these to you whether they’re due or not, just so he can have the sense memory of turning something in? And if he can get a grade for any of it, even better.

 

Thanks for sending the feedback home. It is still chaotic, but the feedback helps. Especially in our nightly game of “What is this paper? When is it due?”

 

Appreciate all you do,

Aaron’s Dad

Poem: Indulgence

Tonight I somehow had the luxury of having time to read some, write some, in silence. No TV, relatively few demands from he outside world. With three kids at home this is a rare thing indeed!

So I had time to add some lines to a few that came to me on my drive home tonight:

Tonight I request the pleasure of your presence. And nothing else.

Not your considerable charms. Not the entertainments of your smile.

Just the You of you. Here with me.

To do Nothing In Particular. To be blessed and idle.

(How indulgent! How extravagant! How deliciously deviant

would be a night of nothing shared with you!)

No silence is awkward if it is welcome.

It is not Boredom if you don’t call it so.

Every empty space need not be filled.

With me on one side and with you on the other,

Such blessed space is all I need.

Poem: The Preferable Fire

Found something I wrote a year ago that I forgot. I wonder how many pieces of myself I’ve left out there, unremembered and uncataloged. Anyway it’s a piece of poetry I’m almost not too embarrassed to share:

I can offer you only my life.

Having been with you longer than not

My life is as much yours as it was ever mine.

I have nothing else to offer, nothing

that is not made cheaper by saying that I own it.

My love for you is a friction between the man I am

and the one I am becoming for you.

Love demands friction, which

sparks the glow of my better nature.

St. Augustine says a man’s heart can never truly rest;

he cannot escape relentless desire.

So if indeed my soul must burn,

Yours is the preferable fire.
— Cody Clark, 2011

Aw geez, pro-lifers, can we talk?

Pro-life people, can we talk? Especially you Pro-life politicians out there.Please stop talking about rape. Seriously.

Why do you let Pro-choice folks lead you into those waters? They know those waters are murky and full of traps. Don’t you see that? You’re like one of those people at the start of the slasher flick who leave the safety of the lighted room to check out that noise. You’re gonna get killed!

Besides, you keep the conversation about abortion in this country focused on the wrong things. The cases of rape and incest (and for that matter pregnancies the life of the mother) concern only a tiny portion of abortions. Why not, for now, just cede those cases and focus on the vast majority of abortions?

The base assumption that justifies abortion on demand in this country is about when life does or does not begin. Pro-choice positions on abortion depend on distracting us from that very basic question. So please don’t play along. Don’t start speculating on whether a pregnancy resulting from a rape is God’s Will or not. Don’t speculate about legitimate rape or whether a woman’s body can prevent pregnancies from rape.

Focus instead over whether there are one or two persons in a pregnant woman’s body. My view, the Catholic view, is that the fertilized embryo should be regarded as a person and here’s why:

  1. Catholics do not know exactly when the soul enters the body. Science cannot tell us for sure.
  2. But we do believe that conception is the earliest point at which the soul could enter. The new life does not start developing until fertilization.
  3. Since we have deference to all life, especially lives of the weakest and most vulnerable persons, we think that we need to take the most cautious approach in determining personhood. If it may be a person, we need to treat it as a person and consider its rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness alongside the the mother’s.

At that point, you have the abortion conversation where it needs to be — how to balance the rights of two persons occupying the same body. Does a woman’s right to privacy, self-determination, etc override the right of a smaller, weaker person’s rights to continue to exist?

Now that’s the conversation we should be having. Pro-lifers have wasted another entire national election splitting hairs over exceptions like rape. Maybe next time we can have a real conversation?