Alternate solution

In another solution to the equations that define the universe, President Clinton addressed the nation in a somber tone as she grieved the lives lost in the journey to today's announcement that infections were now at a manageable-enough rate to declare the pandemic under control. A semblance of normalcy on the horizon! While there was still discomfort at the draconian extent of the isolation measures that had been enacted, most agreed these had prevented an unfathomable disaster.

Thank you for being part of the solution

Heroes don't always wear capes or get featured on front pages. Sometimes heroes are those who show courage and bear hardship for the common good. They're the ones who reach out to help the powerless or the vulnerable. The ones who do what is right even if no one notices. All of you who are abiding by the coronavirus precautions: thank you. You are facing inconvenience and disruption, uncertainty and isolation, in order to protect those directly at risk and to preserve the health care system so it can continue to respond to emergencies for all of us. You are saving lives and saving society. It is no trivial thing, and you should be proud of your civic duty. Thank you. To all the front-line workers—the doctors and nurses and emergency personnel, the scientists and public health officials: a double thank-you for putting yourselves on the line, for taking very personal risks so that we may all be better off. To all the people who are keeping our infrastructure lights on---the p

Technology Provides Tools, Not Panaceas

I take issue with Keith Spencer's clear implication in his Salon article that technology has no role in the elections. Two of the three objections he cites to the "computationalist mindset" are actually objections against the use of computers: "First, it enables malfeasance and incompetence.... Pen and paper, on the other hand, are tried-and-true tabulation methods that are not hackable. Second, computers are opaque...A layperson cannot audit the code of an app or website and determine if it is being manipulated." This is missing the point. Technology offers tools which in many cases can be put to good use, but which are just easier to employ in short-sighted or nefarious ways. It is often the human systems which design and use these tools that are not carefully planned and thus enable vulnerabilities, accidents, or malfeasance. The lack of care in establishing these human processes may indeed be partly due to the fetishization of technology as an automatic

Allies on the Inside

I was delighted to read Kwame Anthony Appiah's opinion piece in The New York Times , Stonewall and the Myth of Self-Deliverance . He raises a point that I have been making privately for a while: social movements need allies on the inside. If you're willing to seize the reins of power by force, maybe you don't. You simply forcibly remove those who oppress you, and voilĂ ! You're done. Except, of course, it's not that easy. Violent revolution involves collateral damage—including both direct victims of that violence and unforeseen consequences, such as abuses of power, should it succeed. It also requires substantial moral and physical support from a public that may be unwilling to sacrifice whatever comforts it now enjoys (including peace!) for a hypothetical future gain—a support that may be particularly hard to get when that gain is one that directly benefits only a subset of that public. Most modern social movements, at least in the Western world, are not looking

A Growth

The metaphor of the earth as a self-contained organism, a metaphor once considered the domain of out-there hippies, has been slowly gaining mainstream acceptance. The idea that Mother Gaia is the emergent system composed of all the organisms and ecosystems on the planet, including us humans and our societies, provides a useful framework for us to grasp the interconnectedness of life on earth, the subtle balances that are necessary to keep the whole system in equilibrium. And indeed, who is to say that the emergent system isn’t more than a metaphor? There is no reason why parts of an emergent system should have an obvious experience of the system as a whole. We should count ourselves lucky that we are self-aware enough to conceive of the possibility. Let’s approach this as a metaphor, at least. Just like an animal has different tissues and organs, Gaia has different species and ecosystems. Just like an animal’s organs must work within well-orchestrated parameters for good health, so t

Leaving on principle or staying for change?

In our viciously polarized political climate, we face a steady stream of situations that test our moral values. Many people are moved to reject the status quo and are wondering whether they should just pack up and leave—leave their jobs, leave their neighborhoods, leave their country. It’s tempting, of course. Governments are pursuing actions that are morally repugnant and unethical. Corporations are enacting policies that degrade the common good or refusing to take a stand on political issues that affect their workforce, their consumers, and their communities.  Neighborhoods are witnessing acts of hate in various forms. That there is disagreement at all is not surprising: any time people get together, the group will take actions that not everyone endorses. The these disagreements are in such stark contrast to our deeply held values is a consequence of these particularly divisive times. The question to stay or leave is a natural one that we should  be asking: it speaks to our relucta

Choosing to give

I've found a use for that little pocket-watch pocket in the front of my jeans. Every time I put them on I try to make sure that I have at least two neatly folded bundles of a few dollar bills each. The reason? So that when I come across a panhandler, I have change ready to give them. Giving money to panhandlers is a habit I've been trying to develop the past few years. Growing up, my training was the complete opposite. My parents thought that the only way to alleviate poverty was via systemic change, through government policies that took care of the needy fairly and equitably, and not through random acts of piety contingent on people's paths crossing. Not to mention that there was no way of knowing how a given individual would misuse the money that we worked so hard for! That's how I learned to quickly look away and ignore the beggar trying to get my attention, and not think too hard (or at all) about the dirty, smelly nuisance disrupting my own busy life and hard-ea