Tuesday’s Quotes – December 11, 2018: Solzhenitsyn

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”  — Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago.

Russian writer, and 1970 Nobel laureate, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn was born 100 years ago today. His experiences – in labor camps after having been accused of anti-soviet propaganda late in World War II,  followed by internal exile for several years, undergoing cancer treatment following  his release from exile – were the basis for much of his poetry, novels, and short stories. The only book that he had been permitted to publish in the USSR was One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in 1962. (a perennial college favorite). He opted to publish his subsequent works outside of the country. He was ultimately deported from the USSR in 1974, and did not return to Russia until 1994, where he remained until his death in 2008. The Gulag Archipelago, published in 1973, drew broad attention in the West to the conditions in the Soviet labor camps. It even inspired a song by the band, Renaissance – which I’ve helpfully included below (and strangely, I was at that 1976 concert – odd what you find on YouTube).

The quote above, though, is another of my favorites (and yes, I really did read the book when it was released, but yes, it took me quite a bit of time to wade through in fits & starts). A gloomy thought worthy of a Russian novel, but profound nonetheless.

1974 photo of Alexandr Solzhenitsyn in West Germany following his deportation from the USSR borrowed from Wikipedia.

 

 

 

 

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Grace Hopper

There are many things that I can (and probably should) be writing about today, but I’ve taken this weekend to free my head of clutter, and de-stress a bit. There’s always a ton of news to cover, some personal news to explore, relentless cold weather to complain about. But not this weekend. There’s always more time (and more news).

And besides, today marks the anniversary of the birth of Grace Hopper, one of the first females to achieve senior rank in the United States Navy, in 1905. Rear Admiral Hopper Grace Hopper, was also a computer scientist with a PhD in Mathematics from Yale University. She was very accomplished, and was responsible for many developments in computing, but my personal favorite, and what she is probably best known for, was the development of the COBOL computer programming language, and more importantly the compiler that turned the nearly plain english COBOL programming language into machine code. That compiler proved that computers were capable of more than mathematical calculations – that you could write code in a language that was easy to read and write, and run it through another program set to compile it – to take those high-level easy to understand instructions and create machine executable instruction sets (if memory serves, generally 5 -7 machine instructions per line of COBOL code). That capability simplified the march to automation for business back office operations. And since COBOL was one of my first programming languages (for trivia buffs the others were IBM’S Basic Assembly Language and FORTRAN)- and the most enduring one – I’ve always felt an affinity for Hopper, and been grateful to her during the thirty-plus years that I remained in IT.

Hopper retired from the Navy in 1986, and she died in 1992, but her work still lives on in thousands of corporations. Just like mainframe computers, the COBOL language has remained in use long past the point that most people expected. And there’s no quick end in sight for either.

Humans are allergic to change. They love to say, “We’ve always done it this way.” I try to fight that. That’s why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise. — Grace Hopper

Photo of Grace Hopper borrowed from http://mentalfloss.com/article/61416/grace-hopper-queen-code

Good advice

There seems to be too much fear in the world today – financial, political, physical safety. And much of it is actively stoked by those in power the world over. Fear often breeds hate. And when we allow ourselves to hate, we forget that one of the greatest gifts we have as humans is the capacity for kindness and compassion.

We must not allow ourselves to be so caught up in the media-fed frenzy of fear, outrage, and hate that we draw broad strokes across entire groups – Liberals, Conservatives, Muslims, Christians, Whatever. We need to remind ourselves that the only way to bring positive change, and to break the cycle, is for each of us, individually, to treat all others, and ourselves, with dignity, respect and compassion.

Now that the multi-cultural, multi-religious, holiday cycle,  which begins every year with Thanksgiving and continues past New Year’s Day, is underway, it seems an apt time to dust back off one of my favorite quotes from educator – and abolitionist – Horace Mann:

“Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves. We must purposely be kind and generous, or we miss the best part of existence.”

The whole is only ever the sum of the parts.

Have a peaceful weekend.

Cold rain clinging to the Japanese maple, November 13, 2018.

Tuesday’s Quotes December 4, 2018 – Thomas Hobbes

“I know not how the world will receive it, nor how it may reflect on those that shall seem to favor it. For in a way beset with those that contend, on one side for too great Liberty, and on the other side for too much Authority, ’tis hard to passe between the points of both unwounded.” — Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651

…Some things are so ingrained in human nature that they still ring true 367 years later.

On this day in 1679, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes died at the astonishing age of 91. He was often regarded as one of the founding fathers of political philosophy, and his best known work, Leviathan, was an early argument for social contract theory – and therefore politics in its truest sense.

He also recognized another ploy of those who wish to retain power:

“If this superstitious fear of Spirits were taken away, and with it, Prognostiques from Dreams, false Prophecies, and many other things depending thereon, by which, crafty ambitious persons abuse the simple people, men would be much more fitted then they are for civill Obedience.”

Some things never change.

Portrait of Thomas Hobbes borrowed from Wikipedia

 

 

Never underestimate the power of the intellect

Overall it was a very good weekend – had a nice day with younger daughter for my spouse’s birthday yesterday (including a decent dinner at the Doctor Who themed “The Pandorica” restaurant), and a peaceful day today. Of course it wasn’t without challenges – our poor dog managed to get bitten by a neighbor’s dog  on Friday & is now on antibiotics (and the irony of our very dog-aggressive dog getting bitten unprovoked while being held on a leash & unable to bite back was not lost on us or her vet). But now the weekend is coming to a close and I have much volunteering to catch back up on, spouse and I need to focus on our home selling options so we can finish up the ‘choose a realtor’ process (plus some estimates to review for work we still need done), and the normal stuff that always needs to be done (car inspections, health insurance, bill paying, etc, ad nauseam). Another busy week is on the horizon.

Meanwhile, though, those unhealthy triplets –  selective memory, willful ignorance, and cognitive dissonance – have also been in evidence this weekend, which called to mind this quote from Albert Camus:

“An intellectual? Yes. And never deny it. An intellectual is someone whose mind watches itself. I like this, because I am happy to be both halves, the watcher and the watched. “Can they be brought together?” This is a practical question. We must get down to it. “I despise intelligence” really means: “I cannot bear my doubts.”

It has been the case throughout history that those wanting to hold onto power, or to achieve power, have opted to denigrate the ‘intellectual’. The reason is obvious – the ability to think frequently flies in opposition to the means of control. Are intellectuals always right? Of course not. But in much the same way that rolling stones gather no moss, the seeds of oppression cannot flourish in an open mind.

 

Albert Camus, photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson – borrowed from the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

Is the noise in my head bothering you?

…Right about now, I, personally, am finding it deafening.

In the wonderful film The Gods Must Be Crazy, there is a scene early on where the female lead sits down to lunch in her workplace cafeteria, and a women sitting next to her looks at her and asks “Is the noise in my head bothering you?”.   (That line is just about as perfect as an oft-repeated comment by a dear friend “that was so stupid even my hair hurts” – which I’ve also freely stolen.)

Loved it so much that I used it about 3 years ago in an earlier post. About willful ignorance, and manufactured outrage, but, while that certainly is a pet peeve of mine, and certainly is still relevant, that isn’t what inspired me to use the line once again. In a way, it’s also an appropriate film reference.

This was something  less interesting than cognitive dissonance, but perhaps equally disturbing in its own small way: Today I managed to run afoul of Facebook’s notoriously inconsistent ‘Community Standards”. Earlier this week, I’d posted an article from National Geographic about the situation with the North Sentinel Island’s isolated natives, and the risk that they may be under now that they’ve apparently killed an American missionary suffering from the hubris of those that believe themselves to be “endowed by Christ”, as he’d apparently written, and who chose to illegally go to the island in the hopes of converting the tribespeople. Unfortunately, said article also had a cover photo of the islanders on their shoreline that National Geographic photographers had taken 40 years ago. They were indeed naked, but not all that disturbingly so. Here is a link to the offending article – it’s definitely worth a read on its own merits. This afternoon I was surprised by a notification telling me that the post violated the Community Standards regarding “nudity and sexual activity”. I, believing this to be a hair-hurting level of idiocy, requested a re-review. Once again the FB morals squad determined the photo was offensive.

Screen Shot 2018-11-30 at 7.22.02 PM

I was so impressed that I actually requested another review, which took longer, but yielded the same result. Naked people in picture – bad. So, just for fun, I wandered over to National Geographic’s own FB page & was unsurprised to see that their own posting of the article was still available for all to see. Since I was not going to get past the morals bots (after all the picture, as you can see, does have naked men), I marked the post private to get it off their radar, and I took Facebook up on their offer of providing feedback (so that they can continue to improve – haha). In the feedback I advised them that they were wrong in that there was nothing remotely sexual about the photo or the article, and that they were applying the standard inconsistently since the same article and photo were available elsewhere on FB. I assume they will ignore me, as they usually seem to do when I attempt to help them improve my experience by providing feedback.

Hopefully the weekend, which includes my husband’s birthday and a celebratory dinner at a nearby Doctor Who themed restaurant, will help free my mind of FB’s intransigence.

Have a great weekend!

Cover photo of the Rockies taken July 2015.