The office at Glenwood Cemetery in Houston was decorated in a festive fashion on Christmas Eve Day.
There are poinsettias along the staircase and a wreath over the porch.
Life and death could not exist without the other.
Everything we need is around us each day and is accessible with hard work, imagination and luck.
Above is a picture I took a few days ago while at a bar in Downtown Houston.
In this picture I am outside looking in at people enjoying a gathering of some kind inside the bar. I was out on a porch.
I’m sure the folks in the picture are very nice.
This image made me think of people who may feel depressed or on the outside during the holiday season.
If you know such a person in your own life, you might consider reaching out to them during the holiday season.
And–of course–we should recall that folks can be lonely at any time of the year. Life is very difficult.
The tables of hope, self-respect and respect for others are set.
They are always set.
The question is will the people show up?
(Picture taken at the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati.)
Here is a picture of supplies, parts, and tools that will be used for building and putting together things here in Houston.
I came across these items as I walking a few days ago.
This blog is a big believer that everything we need to understand the world is all around us each day—And that it is up to each us to make use of these tools.
Life is about everyday stuff done in a hard-working, creative, and hopeful way.
The work of creativity, getting things right, and justice is up to each of us.
Circumstance matters and we will likely need the help of others in what we hope to accomplish.
The role of circumstances beyond our control and the fact that we are all connected is central to the liberal and progressive view of the world.
We won’t always find the parts and tools that we need just laying out on the street corner and ready to go like we see in the picture.
The tools needed won’t be the same for every person.
But what we need to view the world in a creative and hopeful way and to move ahead is found each day in our relationships, in knowledge that is available from many sources, and from our own reserves of hard work and decency.
I am very much at home when I am in motion.
Here is a picture I took a few days ago on the commuter train from the Chicago suburbs into Downtown Chicago.
On a train such as the one I was on when I took this picture , or when I am driving, or when I am taking a walk—-I have many productive thoughts.
The place where we return each day after our work—or where we return after a vacation—has many virtues.
Being in motion also has many virtues.
When in motion we see new things and we are energized.
The Earth is constant motion around the sun.
Without neglecting the fact of the underlying brutality of this wicked society— everyday and every place has great value.
There is a trail in this park that runs along Buffalo Bayou.
Walking on this portion of the park, I saw across the bayou the demolition yard you see in the picture above.
In a big industrial city like Houston, demolition is as natural as a stroll in the park.
In the whole of existence, stuff is created and destroyed. There is no contradiction to be found in this fact.
How could we have a walk in the park if there was not a recycling of the elements?
If the elements were not recycled, how could anything exist?
Every part of life and death—and of beginning and ending— serves a purpose.
Interesting And Expansive Definition Of Life—No Matter How Stupid Everything May Seem, We All Have The Ability To Think Deep Thoughts
I recently read an interesting definition of life in New Scientist magazine.
New Scientist is a challenging and accessible weekly that I subscribe to in print and on-line.
We all merit things that both respect our intelligence and that are accessible.
This definition of life was put forth in an interview by a Australian cosmologist named Charlie Lineweaver.
Here is a portion of the interview from New Scientist–
So how would you define life?
To the extent that the question makes sense, as a “far-from-equilibrium dissipative system”.
What do you mean by that?
A system that feeds on the free energy associated with the gradients in the environment. For example, a hurricane is a dissipative structure because it feeds on the free energy of air pressure, humidity and thermal gradients. Hurricanes dissipate the free energy – they undo the gradients and bring the environment closer to equilibrium. That’s what life is. We take chemical energy and undo it – move it closer to equilibrium.
By your definition, a hurricane and a star are both alive. Are you really saying that?
If you want to chain me to a black and white view, then yes, I am. The distinction between far-from-equilibrium dissipative systems and near-equilibrium features is clearer than the traditional boundaries that people put on life and non-life…
I’m far from being a scientist af any kind. I’m a lowly blogger. But I’ve been thinking about this definition of life for a few days now.
What this Lineweaver gentleman seems to be saying is that anything that draws energy from the environment–whether that environment be terrestrial or up in space—is life of a kind.
While the article does not address the subject, I wonder if this concept might make an airplane or an automobile a type of life. If that seems odd, don’t we often consider the idea that machines could at some point act in an autonomous way? Don’t machines more and more each day mimic what we thought before were things that only people could do?
(When I use the word “autonomous” I mean to the extent that anything is autonomous in an existence in which everything is interdependent on something else.)
The interview with Professor Lineweaver has gotten me to thinking about the value and nature of any entity or system that changes or has some impact of one kind or another.
Professor Lineweaver uses the term “chemical energy.” But for the purposes of our day-to-day lives why limit our ideas even to that broad framework?
We sometimes talk about situations and issues that “take on a life of their own.”
Maybe that common has phrase has more meaning than we realize.
There is such vitality all around us and this vitality is present every day.
All people have the ability to see the world around us in many unique and intellectually valid ways.
The expansive concept of life put forth by Professor Lineweaver can be used as a helpful point of reference in your own ideas about life, energy, change and existence. This can be so even if you have to read the interview a few times like I did to get a more clear idea of what he was saying.
No matter how idiotic so much of life is each day, we all have the ability to think deep thoughts and to apply our thoughts to everyday life.
I was walking around a few days back here in Houston and saw the scene you see above where one tree was still living and another tree right next to the living tree was cut down.
Who knows why stuff like that happens?
It does not remove any of the meaning from life to say that the only reason one tree made it and the other tree did not was simply blind luck and circumstance.
Acknowledging the role of blind luck and circumstance does not mean that we don’t have to work hard in life, and that we are not in good part responsible for the outcomes we get in life.
What making note of such factors means is that we have a role in helping others, and that a government that gains legitimacy only by the consent of the governed has a role in helping people who are also willing to help themselves.
I’m sorry to offer what may seem a pessimistic thought, but sometimes it is simply the case that troubled waters sometimes swamp the bridge.
It is so that there might be other ways around. Or maybe you have time to wait for the waters to recede.
You might decide it is okay for you to stay where you are.
Yet it may also be so that you simply have to cross and you are not able.
A core belief of liberal and progressive thought is that sometimes circumstance gets the better of a person.
At this point we can possibly offer a way across if we have the means to do so.
We might even be able to help build a better bridge across for the next time.
At least we might be able to do so if the funding for bridge construction has not been not cut off.
It could also be though that we have nothing to offer other than consolation and support.
I took the picture you see above a few hours ago in rainy Houston.
I don’t mind being by myself.
The picture above is meant to show being by yourself.
Being alone helps you think, and helps restore your energy to deal with others.
It is true that I took this picture when I was at a gathering with a number of other people, and that the glass you see in the photo above was not my drink.
That appearances can be deceiving would be a worthy subject for another blog post.
Though that appearances can be deceiving is something you already knew.
My initial point stands.
There is a great deal to be said for being by yourself.
At Core Far-Right Houston Councilmember Helena Brown Is Wasting Our Time—A Woolly Mammoth’s Perspective
The Houston Chronicle reports that far-right Houston City Council Member Helena Brown may have altered the time sheets of her City Hall staff so they would not be paid for all the hours they worked.
“Houston City Councilwoman Helena Brown subtracted hours from employees’ timecards in apparent violation of federal law, according to records obtained by the Houston Chronicle. The first-term councilwoman shorted an employee by more than three hours in a day in several cases. At least six times, Brown deleted enough hours from employees’ reported workweeks that it cost them overtime by bringing their weekly total under 40 hours.”
I was not going to write Ms. Brown and this issue because it is so depressing and so stupid.
Ms. Brown is a far-right extremist elected in a low turnout race. I expect little of her. There are so many hopeful things that we can respond to in life. And yet here are these people elected for no other purpose it seems but to harm the public welfare. I get tired of it.
Also, many Top Houston and Texas political bloggers have written about this issue already. Brains & Eggs, Dos Centavos, Bay Area Houston and Off The Kuff all have something useful to say about Ms. Brown. What could I add?
But as I thought about it, I recalled that I have my own Helena Brown material. I do try to use my own stuff.
The blog reading public merits no less.
Below is a picture I took of Ms. Brown last April reading a proclamation at a parade in Downtown Houston honoring Iraq War Veterans.
(The woman in the red dress to the right of Ms. Brown is my terrible State Representative Sarah Davis. Ms. Davis has done all she can to work with Rick Perry to decimate educational and environmental funding in the Texas state budget. Ann Johnson is running against Ms. Davis in 2012 to represent Texas House District 134. Here is the link to send Ms. Johnson a few dollars.)
How about that flag shirt Congressman Al Green is wearing!
The Chronicle story was not the only news about Ms. Brown this week.
The Houston Press ran a story about Councilmember Brown and a man named William Park.
The Press says that this Mr. Park is an advisor to Ms. Brown who exerts a great deal of influence on Ms. Brown and her right-wing agenda.
Read it and make of it what you will.
Here an excerpt from the Press story—
“Park circulated business cards…with the City of Houston seal. The cards advertised Park as Brown’s “chief adviser.” City Attorney David Feldman later stopped Park, saying the city emblem couldn’t be used on a volunteer’s business cards.”
I found this interesting because I once briefly met Mr. Park. Councilwoman Brown and I ran into each other at the Iraq veterans parade. We had met once before. She said she’d like to to meet with me again sometime soon because she felt that I had not accurately characterized her in previous posts I’d written. Mr. Park was with her and he gave me his business card. I recall Mr. Park as a tall man with a cowboy hat. (Ms. Brown and I never did have that conversation.)
You see that this may be one of the business cards that Mr. Park was handing out after he was told to stop using the City of Houston emblem.
I really don’t know where we get all these people.
A Woolly Mammoth is very good at taking the long view.
He says that trouble never stops coming, and in the end the issue will be did you make your case in the time that you had and with the resources at your disposal.
All we can do is stay the course.
I’ve been reading The Age of Homespun–Objects And Stories In The Creation Of An American Myth by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
It is about the role of women, and importance of the crafts and creations these women made in Colonial and post-Revolutionary America.
The author notes the role of women working together to spin clothes and needed textiles that could not be taxed by the British. The author says–”While New England’s Sons of Liberty indulged in rum, rhetoric and roast pig, her daughters worked from sunup to sundown to prove their commitment to “the cause of liberty and industry.”
The book discusses both the role of women in the time and the many limits to the lives that women could lead in early America.
“The American pastoral, with its central signifier of clothmaking, is the subject of a remarkable new book by the Harvard historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Ulrich is a supremely gifted scholar and writer. And with ”The Age of Homespun” she has truly outdone herself. Venturing off in a new and highly original direction, she has put physical objects — mainly but not entirely textiles — at the center of her inquiry. The result is, among other things, an exemplary response to a longstanding historians’ challenge — to treat objects, no less than writings, as documents that speak to us from and about the past.
”The Age of Homespun” is loosely but effectively organized around 14 specific objects, including two baskets, two spinning wheels, a yarn winder, a rug, a tablecloth and ”an unfinished stocking.” If this list seems unprepossessing on its face, the point is all that Ulrich makes of it through a deeply creative process of analysis and contextualizing. In fact, her objects become meaningful only when they are joined to the experience of the people who produced, owned, used and preserved them. It is, finally, the connections that make her investigation so unusual and rewarding.”
Much of what we need to understand the world can be found in everyday objects and everyday life. These objects can be studied and interpreted in ways that are both precise and creative.
We can can look at everyday things and see the connections that exist between the people who made these things, the purposes these objects serve, the materials used, and the metaphoric value that objects hold when we consider possible ways they could be perceived by people.
There is a whole big world right out in front of us each and every day. This world is founded on both fact and imagination.
There is nothing in everyday life that the average person cannot understand and think about on a deeper level.