One Clear & Simple Thought

Trippingly Off The Tongue 

It was thrilling to watch the speeches given by the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School yesterday at the March for Our Lives in Washington, DC. The seventy or so people attending the St. Croix, VI march saw our students do a fine job too. The beauty of watching these young people speak either in DC on my computer, or at the gazebo in Christiansted was that they used the art of rhetoric so well. Their style matched the venues they were in and the audience in attendance. They all knew their audience.

Courage is essential for speaking in public no matter what the audience. A young girl sang a song at our local event while the sound system dropped out on occasion. She kept going, unfazed by the loss of her accompaniment. She had a single purpose which she accomplished with clarity. Given the nature of things here, post-hurricanes, she was doing what successful Islander’s do: carry on! She personified the people of St. Croix well.

Those students who spoke at DC represented the constituency of high school students well. They represented humanity well, too. I only saw four of the speeches on; they were superior to almost every speech university students gave in my Basic Public Speaking course over the years. They had to be. They addressed the world, not a classroom nor 75 islanders. Given the motivation and impetus of the occasion they came prepared. They were coached as anyone destined for this kind of notoriety would be rehearsed. The speeches were tailored for the individual’s concerns with the topics they had addressed in previous interviews and public comments. They were short and to the point. They made use of rhetorical flourishes appropriate to the speaker. Mr. Hogg was political, addressing politicians by name. Mr. Wind used the rhetorical trick of repetition with his, “you have chosen death” summations. The steely determination of  Ms. Tarr put the NRA on notice with intellectual force.

Then there was Emma González with the most daring statement of all, silence. As a rhetorical technique it was more theatre than public address. It took a chance most would never take. She began by discussing the six-minutes and twenty-seconds of gunfire, she reads a list of names of the dead, then abruptly stopped talking. The quite absence of words had a force no language could duplicate. Her slightly androgynous short-cropped hair, sedately flaired jacket and torn jeans added to the effect of her gutsy presentation. Her choice had no guarantee of success. She had faith in her choice; that makes her an artist. Whoever the editor of the live broadcast was understood what was happening. They showed the reactions of the crowd and her classmates on stage. The dramatic question on everyone’s mind seemed to change as silent time moved along. A brief chant begins and dies out. The tears, the occasional flicker in her countenance, the movement from one thought to the next was clear – it told the audience she was doing this with intent. We needed to wait to learn the reason behind this choice. You could see the questions in those reaction shots: Is she OK?, What’s wrong?, What is she doing? This is intentional isn’t it, but why? I’M GETTING NERVOUS. Please explain what is going on. The alarm goes off, she speaks again and there is a collective deep breath from everyone. She makes a simple declarative statement: “The shooter has ceased shooting and will soon abandon his rifle, blend in with the students as they escape and walk free for an hour before arrest. Fight for your life, before it’s someone else’s job.” then walks off stage. The camera follows as she falls into the arms of two friends who seem to say, “It worked! You did it!” I had tears in my eyes during the silence and as the video ended. It was powerful.

One clear thought. Short evocative statements. Clean and clear ideas.

Today the NRA is crying sour grapes about the march calling, “carnival” about the atrocities of children who want to live. The bitter, sour, old men look childish in doing so. To use that particular word with its latin derivation, ‘of the flesh,’ is grossly inappropriate. These kids watched as guns destroyed the flesh of their classmates and teachers in a brutal way. To use it here is sadistic. The Republican puppet master, the NRA, has devolved into the most sadistic force in society; whatever good may have been present at its inception has fled and taken all the common sense and morality with it.

Future Shadow

I have a little future that goes in and out with me, but what can be the use of it is more than I can see.

If people dealt with shadows the way they deal with their future, would they be any better off? If people dealt with their futures the way they deal with their shadows would they be any better off?

One thing that can easily be predicted is that when there is light, there is potential for a shadow. By making this prediction one implies the forward progression of time. Futures require planning, so do shadows; as a retired lighting designer I know whereof I speak. You can be dead and still cast a shadow, but your future is gone. There will be a future for your bits and pieces that rot back into the earth, but you are no longer present.

The ways in which your future and your shadow are alike or not:

-As a matter of practicality you cannot touch either of them. They are illusions that have been given names for the sake of convenience so that we may discuss them.

-You can see a shadow, but not a future.

-Both may be changed constantly for a multitude of reasons.

-Neither are moral, they are merely natural occurrences without moral intent or purpose.

-The sun provides most shadows and has the greatest influence on our future. No sun, no future, no shadow.

-Future sublimates into the past not pausing in the present, while shadows exist at the speed of light. They are modified by the addition or subtraction of even a single wavelength of the visible spectrum.

-Light, the defining element of a shadow can be every color: white, or a combination of wavelengths of color, while a shadow is devoid of color: black. The future seems inclined to follow this trend.

-Shadows are a result of the eternal nature of geometry and wave theory; they follow rules. The future is an element of time that we can only experience in the present moment. We recall the sequence of present moments and call it the past. Our experience of possible futures is limited given the vast nature of the universe and the short time of humanity’s presence in the Universe.

-We can anticipate where a shadow will fall due to the consistency of geometry. We can anticipate a future in less precise terms. For example, the illusion of the sun rising in the East and setting in the West seems to be as consistent as geometry. Is it? The sun may burn out or explode, a volcano or nuclear winter may obscure the sun for years, the Earth may change poles or shift to a different axis. Our whole existence could be thrown into upheaval, but the geometry for a point-source of light to create a shadow will never change as far as we know. We have a very clear understanding of a temporary area lacking illumination from a particular source of illumination.

-Our primary tool for understanding the future is the example of the past. We use our understanding of science, the laws of physics and geometry and math, etc, to anticipate the future. Billions of human brains have worked to improve our understanding of the rules of existence. The more we learn the more we find we need to learn. We will become extinct before we understand everything. So far, we can calculate a shadow, and construct a skyscraper, but not predict the future with accuracy. The only things that prevent an accurate prediction of shadow projection are the variables of the future. Will enough elements of the past remain viable in the future to reliably accommodate the use of accumulated knowledge from the past? Architects design buildings that last for decades based upon this expectation.

-So, in anticipation of retirement one is advised to save money using economic investment plans. These investment are like believing in one of the 2300 gods mankind has invented since history has been recorded; the plan is an article of faith. Some new plans are created, some fade away into obscurity and you have to believe in one of them strongly enough to put your life savings into it to prepare for the future. The choice of an investment plan is nothing like the certainty of predicting the nothingness of a shadow or an architect’s engineering knowledge. There is no certainty similar to the maths of geometry or physics that guide this enterprise. There is only soul-less accounting ruled by those who honor greed as a virtue.

-With confidence in certain studied aspects of science a building can be built. This is a marked contrast to the economic bubbles our economy is using as a foundation. The building will still stand, but I would rather put my faith in the empty void of a predictable shadow than an economy under this immoral speculative gamble. The past shows that banks lie, cheat and steal. Wall Street bears and bulls itself constantly. Tariffs on steel and aluminum will begin a trade war. Fine print, hidden fees and deceitful salesmanship are as scary as any natural element of the future. Reliance upon any of these bubbles may be futile. Money itself is a bubble.

-As I write this the US East Coast is preparing for yet another winter hurricane/northeaster. My Island will take years to recover from the two record-setting back-to-back Cat 5 hurricanes last fall. Across the globe weather is changing and scientists have been telling us about it, but we have ignored them. We seem to have stopped learning from what we know; we have chosen ignorance, similar to the Evangelicals, Rush Limbaugh and commercialism. Consequently we are stuck with a know-nothing President running us headlong into natural disasters unheard of in our short history. Scientists, engineers and architects build for what is known, we are causing a spectacular unknown with the climate, and yet we expect structures and society to survive based upon what? The void of a well-described shadow?