Off We Go …

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week.)

On this date in 1947, the United States Air Force became a separate, independent service under the newly enacted National Security Act of 1947. So today’s quote must be:

Off we go into the wild blue yonder,
Climbing high into the sun
Here they come zooming to meet our thunder
At ’em boys, Give ‘er the gun!
Down we dive, spouting our flame from under
Off with one helluva roar!
We live in fame or go down in flame. Hey!
Nothing can stop the U.S. Air Force!


(USAF 70th Birthday Logo.)

The “Air Force Song” was originally written in 1938 by Robert MacArthur Crawford and entitled “Army Air Corps.” Since the song became part of the Air Force when we became a separate service, that goes to show that our Air Force pioneers knew a good thing when they heard it!

I look back with great fondness on my time in the Air Force. To those with whom I served, and especially to all those serving today, I offer deep gratitude and a proud salute!

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

When the Darkness Comes

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week. I’m considering doing a few of these by video, to see how that works….)

It seems fitting today to present quotations relating to eclipses, in recognition of the eclipse that will cross over the continental U.S. this afternoon. Without further ado …

William Wordsworth recorded his impression of an eclipse over Italy in Memorials of a Tour on the Continent. His poem opens,

High on her speculative tower
Stood Science waiting for the hour
When Sol was destined to endure
‘That’ darkening of his radiant face
Which Superstition strove to chase,
Erewhile, with rites impure


(Image from NASA video of 13 November 2012 eclipse, from Wikimedia Commons.)

A couple of stanzas later, he wrote,

No vapour stretched its wings; no cloud
Cast far or near a murky shroud;
The sky an azure field displayed;
‘Twas sunlight sheathed and gently charmed,
Of all its sparkling rays disarmed,
And as in slumber laid,

Wordsworth, then, had an unhindered view of the event. In contrast, I’m afraid the forecast calls for clouds where I will try to see the totality of the eclipse, but the weather is only one of many things out of my control. Hopefully the clouds will scatter at the right time.

Moving on, it seems apt to quote Victor Hugo from Les Miserables, given the rancorous discourse we’ve heard in our cities recently:

Nations, like stars, are entitled to eclipse. All is well, provided the light returns and the eclipse does not become endless night. Dawn and resurrection are synonymous. The reappearance of the light is the same as the survival of the soul.

In some respects, the struggle in our polity is a struggle for our national soul. Will we be a nation dedicated to a proposition, and specifically to the proposition that all men — all people — are created equal before God and before the law? Or will we be a nation that turns its back on that proposition?

Though in some respects it seems dark now, and cold, the light will dawn again. But whether what we experience is an eclipse — a brief interruption — or a long night, remains to be seen.

With that in mind, permit me to close with the first stanza of my as-yet-unrecorded song, “When the Darkness Comes” —

When the darkness comes, who will bring the light?
Who will run and hide? Who will stay and fight?
When the darkness comes, will we survive the night?
When the darkness comes, when the darkness comes

I hope you get a good view of the eclipse, and that the sun shines warm upon your face.

___

P.S. I would be a poor self-publicist indeed if I didn’t use the occasion of the Moon blocking out the Sun to draw your attention to my lunar colonization novel, Walking On The Sea of Clouds. It’s available as an e-book on Amazon or as a trade paperback on Amazon, and in many other venues as well. Ask for it at your local bookstore! Thanks, GWR

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

An Old But Simple Prescription for a Better World

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week.)

Today’s quote comes from English novelist and playwright John Galsworthy (14 August 1867 – 31 January 1933), who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1932. In one volume of his “Forsyte Saga” series of novels, In Chancery, he included this:

I don’t know much about morality and that, but there is this: It’s always worth while before you do anything to consider whether it’s going to hurt another person more than is absolutely necessary.

That reminds me of a Heinlein quote from “The Notebooks of Lazarus Long,” as well as the “Silver Rule.” Where the Golden Rule is positive — “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you” — the Silver Rule (as I understand it) is similar but negative: “Do not unto others what you would not have them do unto you.”

A moral compass
(Image: “A moral compass,” by John LeMasney, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Sometimes we don’t intend to hurt others but we fail to foresee all the consequences of our actions. Sometimes causing a little bit of hurt seems necessary, as when a surgeon cuts a patient in order to remove diseased tissue. However, if we anticipate that the consequences of our actions will include hurting someone, then Galsworthy’s approach seems to me like a nice principle to apply. We might refrain, or so something different, if we think we may hurt them more than necessary.

Perhaps we can all give it a try, at least for this week.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

There Will Be War

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week.)

Today is U.S. science fiction author Jerry Pournelle’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Dr. Pournelle!

After winning the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 1973, Dr. Pournelle (PhD, political science) served as President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America for the 1973-74 term. He is perhaps best known for several bestselling collaborations with Larry Niven (including The Mote in God’s Eye and Footfall), and with Niven and Steven Barnes.

The subject of this post refers to a series of anthologies Dr. Pournelle edited in the 1980s, based on the axiom “There Will Be War.” The phrase is not a wish for war, but a recognition that we are a violent species living in an often violent and unfortunately limited world; and that we are unlikely now, in the near future, or over the long term to resolve our deepest differences for very long in any way short of war.

From the first of the “There Will Be War” anthologies, published in 1983 and recently reissued by Castalia House, we get this quote:

Historically, peace has only been bought by men of war. We may, in the future, be able to change that. It may be, as some say, that we have no choice. It may be that peace can and must be bought with some coin other than the blood of good soldiers; but there is no evidence to show that the day of jubilee has yet come….

History shows another strong trend: when soldiers have succeeded in eliminating war, or at least in keeping the battles far from home, small in scope, and confined largely to soldiers; when, in other words, they have done what one might have thought they were supposed to do; it is then that their masters generally despise them.

With respect to the first quoted paragraph, it is one thing to wish for peace, to hope for peace; everyone with whom I had the pleasure of serving did so. We did not want war, but we were determined to be ready for war and, if called upon, to do our duty in the crisis.

With respect to the second quoted paragraph, some people have despised the military for a long time; some have come more recently to despise those of us who served and those who still do. Perhaps not you, but perhaps someone known to you, whom the danger has not reached and who might not recognize it until it was upon them. Thus it has ever been, and thus it will ever be. Yet some of us still serve, knowing that not everyone who lives under the flag appreciates those who serve to defend the Republic for which it stands.


(Image: “Morning Salute,” on Wikimedia Commons.)

As for me: To all those still serving, I thank you, and salute you, and wish you peace. “There will be war” — but I pray it will not reach us for a long, long time.

I hope you have an excellent week.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

We Need Government, But Not Necessarily Governing

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week.)

Fantasy fans may be expecting a quote from the Harry Potter series this morning, since today is J.K. Rowling’s birthday; while that was tempting, I decided to take this in a different direction.

In addition to being Ms. Rowling’s birthday, today is also the birthday of US economist Milton Friedman (31 July 1912 – 16 November 2006). Friedman received the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1976, and is something of a hero to libertarians because he argued for smaller government and a freer economy. However, it’s important to note that Friedman understood the importance of government, as he said in 1973:

We need a government to maintain a system of courts that will uphold contracts and rule on compensation for damages. We need a government to ensure the safety of its citizens — to provide police protection. But government is failing at a lot of these things that it ought to be doing because it’s involved in so many things it shouldn’t be doing.

And in 1978 Friedman said:

We have to recognize that we must not hope for a Utopia that is unattainable. I would like to see a great deal less government activity than we have now, but I do not believe that we can have a situation in which we don’t need government at all.

The problem is that often government spends too much time and effort governing — that is, imposing requirements and restrictions on citizens as to what they must and must not do. If we as citizens need governing, it is only because we have failed to govern ourselves; and if we freely impose upon ourselves a government to rule us rather than to operate alongside us — if we accede to be governed in that way — then we will have admitted that liberty is too great a burden for us to bear.


(Image: “US Capitol at Dusk,” by Martin Falbisoner, on Wikimedia Commons.)

I prefer the idea of a government that governs itself well; that leaves the rest of us to govern ourselves as best we can; and that intervenes and interferes in our lives very little.

___

And now, if you’ll permit me an aside on “This Day in History” … I was interested to read on the Internet (so of course that means it’s all true) that today marks three separate events in the US space program, each having to do with the Moon:
– In 1964, the Ranger 7 spacecraft sent back the first close-up photographs of the Moon;
– In 1971, Apollo 15 astronauts David R. Scott and James B. Irwin became the first to ride across the Moon’s surface in the lunar rover; and
– In 1999, NASA crashed the Lunar Prospector spacecraft into Shoemaker Crater at the lunar south pole.

I was interested in all of those things, of course, because last week my lunar colonization novel, Walking On The Sea of Clouds, was published. And not just that, but I mention the Lunar Prospector mission in the novel! It comes up as a group of colonists pass Shoemaker Crater on a journey to retrieve polar ice needed to keep the colony alive.

Walking On The Sea of Clouds is available as an e-book on Amazon or as a trade paperback on Amazon, or if you prefer it’s also available as an e-book from Kobo and Smashwords.

___

Thanks, and have a great week!

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

The True Joy in Life

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week.)

For many years now I’ve kept this passage from George Bernard Shaw in my collection of quotes:

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.

I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

Shaw’s birthday is this week: Wednesday, to be exact (26 July 1856 – 2 November 1950). Probably best known for his 1913 play Pygmalion, Shaw was the first person to receive both a Nobel Prize in Literature (in 1925) and an Academy Award (in 1938, for Best Adapted Screenplay … of Pygmalion).

That quote from Shaw convicts me, for I do not work as hard or as diligently as I ought. I am too often a “feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances.” I can work, I have worked — my novel, coming out on Shaw’s birthday, is proof at least of that capability — but I need to apply myself more fully to my work.


“Life is no ‘brief candle’ for me,” wrote George Bernard Shaw. (Image: “Candle Burning,” by Nanda93, on Wikimedia Commons.)

I hope I can do better, this week and onward, to find that “true joy in life” of believing that my purpose is “a mighty one” and that the work I do is meaningful and important — even if only to myself.

And I hope you find that true joy, as well.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Plumbing the Depths: Thinking Deeply

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week.)

Today’s quote comes from English minister and hymnwriter Isaac Watts (17 July 1674 – 25 November 1748), but not from one of his hymns or even one of his religious works — because Watts was more than a hymnist. He was a theologian but also a logician, and wrote a volume entitled Logic which carried the unwieldy but descriptive subtitle The Right Use of Reason in the Enquiry After Truth With a Variety of Rules to Guard Against Error in the Affairs of Religion and Human Life, as well as in the Sciences.

In The Improvement of the Mind, which was a supplement to Logic, Watts wrote,

Do not hover always on the surface of things, nor take up suddenly with mere appearances; but penetrate into the depth of matters, as far as your time and circumstances allow, especially in those things which relate to your own profession. Do not indulge yourselves to judge of things by the first glimpse, or a short and superficial view of them; for this will fill the mind with errors and prejudices, and give it a wrong turn and ill habit of thinking, and make much work for retraction.

How many of us would benefit from heeding these words, in this age of self-built social media echo chambers and “fake news,” and spend just a bit more time digging deeper than the surface impressions and passionate rhetoric for more than “a short and superficial view” of the issues that confront and confound us? Yet we are bombarded by so much input, from so many directions, that it threatens to overwhelm us — and the time seems so short to analyze even a little of it.

We fight an ever-more-difficult uphill battle, but the battle also seems more important than ever. Don’t lose heart!


(Image: “The Thinker,” by Auguste Rodin, at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor; photo by Karora, on Wikimedia Commons.)

In closing, it does not surprise me that Watts — who wrote deep and powerful hymns many of us still love, such as “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” “Joy to the World,” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” — would be a deep thinker and would encourage us to think deeply. May we all find time this week to think deeply about important and meaningful things, to “penetrate into the depth of matters,” so that we might fill our minds with fewer errors, and fewer prejudices.

Have a great week!

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Does Art Make Us Human?

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week.)

We all enjoy art.

We may not enjoy every art, and our enjoyment varies from person to person, community to community, culture to culture. But we all enjoy art. We take pleasure in observing it, in sensing it, whether by reading or hearing or viewing or touching or, in the case of culinary arts, smelling and tasting.

Not only that, but we have it within us to produce art. We may not produce every art, and our individual artfulness varies even more than any other trait or factor we might name because we have it within us to produce — or to attempt to produce — more than one art each. And according to British author G.K. Chesterton, that ability, whether we allow it to flourish or keep it bottled up, is what makes us, as human beings, distinct from every other species on our wondrous planet.

In The Everlasting Man, a 1925 volume of Christian apologetics, Chesterton wrote,

It is the simple truth that man does differ from the brutes in kind and not in degree; and the proof of it is here; that it sounds like a truism to say that the most primitive man drew a picture of a monkey and that it sounds like a joke to say that the most intelligent monkey drew a picture of a man. Something of division and disproportion has appeared; and it is unique. Art is the signature of man.

I love that last line: “Art is the signature of man.” Not of a man, not of a woman, but of mankind writ large, of humanity, of homo sapiens.

Now, it may be that at some point in the future — perhaps the nearer future than we wish, if the Planet of the Apes franchise turns out to be in the least prophetic — that a monkey will draw a picture of a man. And it may be that the monkey that does so turns out to be of only middling or very little intelligence. But if a monkey draws a picture of a man, will that monkey have become something more than a monkey? Will the monkey have crossed some threshold that the human race crossed long ago?


(Image: “Japanese Calligraphy art,” by Ayu Nabila, on Wikimedia Commons.)

Does art make us human? Yes, and “art is the signature of man.”

And whatever you do this week, you have it within you to do it artfully — so make your signature bold!

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

The Day Between

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week series.)

I imagine that on this date in 1776, most people in the colonies were not yet aware that their representatives had voted to declare independence from Great Britain. The vote had been taken on the 2nd, and not until the 4th would the delegates present to the world at large the final form of those immortal words,

We hold these truths to be self-evident …

The rest, as they say, is history. But I wonder, at this point in history, if all of us still hold the same truths to be self-evident.

Betsy Ross Flag (1)
(Image: “Betsy Ross Flag,” by Ed Uthman, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Something to think about while we celebrate Independence Day.

Have a great week!

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather

Measurement, Knowledge, Management, and Science

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week.)

Nearly everyone who has studied science knows the name “Lord Kelvin,” if only for the absolute temperature scale which bears his name. William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin (26 June 1824 – 17 December 1907) was a physicist and engineer from Belfast, Ireland, who did foundational work in thermodynamics and electricity at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. He was knighted by Queen Victoria in 1866 for his contributions to the transatlantic telegraph. In 1892 he was the first British scientist to receive a noble title and a seat in the House of Lords. As noted above, “Kelvin” was part of his title, rather than his actual name; it referred to a river which flows by the University of Glasgow.

In 1883, when he was still Sir William Thomson, he gave a lecture on “Electrical Units of Measurement” in which he said,

I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarcely, in your thoughts, advanced to the stage of science, whatever the matter may be.

This quote is nicely precise, as we might expect of a 19th century man of science. As such, it contrasts with one of the pernicious lies of modern management that still traps well-meaning but poor-thinking people today: specifically, the idea that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” That quote is often (but wrongly) attributed to Peter Drucker, and it may be that no one knows who originated it. But it is, as Dr. W. Edwards Deming frequently pointed out in his seminars, a myth.

The truth is, every day we encounter situations involving variables that we cannot measure. Sometimes they are things that could be measured if we had sufficient instruments and time to devote to the effort; sometimes they are things that are ineffable, and for which devising a measurement would be folly. We still have to manage those situations and navigate our way through them; we cannot throw up our hands in despair simply because the situation did not come with a convenient set of measurements and statistics attached to it.

Sometimes the people who proclaim that measurement is necessary to management are in the business of selling measurement practices or techniques. And they may take advantage of managers who have never had to measure things in the real world. Those managers would do well to apply a little skepticism and heed the words of William Bruce Cameron, who said in the 1958 article “Tell Me Not in Mournful Numbers,”

Counting sounds easy until we actually attempt it, and then we quickly discover that often we cannot recognize what we ought to count. Numbers are no substitute for clear definitions, and not everything that can be counted counts.

In 1963, Cameron elaborated by writing, “not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” How many managers would benefit from understanding that!

Often when managers decry the lack of measurements to justify the decisions they wish to make, they do so without any real appreciation for the difficulty of measuring things with accuracy and precision. Their bathroom scale works, though they may not like what it reports; the gauge in their car indicates its fuel status with some reliability; these and other experiences lead them to expect to receive similar reports of progress or status on whatever aspect of the business is under their scrutiny that day.

Which brings us back to Sir Thomson, Lord Kelvin, and his observation about measurement. He wisely allowed for the possibility of not being able to measure something — thus, that late 20th century management aphorism, whatever its source, was invalidated roughly a hundred years before it was spread! While he then said that our knowledge of a thing may be stunted by lacking measurements for it, that does not mean we have no knowledge of it at all; even “the beginning of knowledge” is knowledge of a sort. But what was Kelvin’s interest in measurement? Was it management? No! It was science.

And, though managers may like to claim otherwise, management is not science.


(Image: JPL imagery from the Jason-2 satellite, showing “Kelvin Waves” — named after Lord Kelvin, who discovered them — moving eastward along the equator.)

That’s all I have to say on the subject, at the moment, but I’d be happy to discuss it at length if you like. Meanwhile, I hope you have a good week!

___
P.S. Last week I mentioned possibly ending this series, and I’m still undecided on that point. Let me know if you have feelings about that, one way or another.

Facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterestlinkedinmailby feather