Still Water…

For The Sunday Muse prompt #180:

**

We come to water
to be washed and be reborn,
this hand cupping the curvature
of the face, the other dipped,
drenched in the very fluid
from which we come, the space
between the fingers of that hand
filled with the water, straining
against the strictures
of the hand.

We come to water
to lose ourselves in the beauty
of the simple things, to see
the dirt of our days and the detritus
of the night loosen, dissolving
until we see ourselves pristine
whole again, the way we
have imagined in our dreams
a lip, an eye, lingering still
in the mirror of still water.

Homecoming…

For The Sunday Muse Prompt #179:

**
The scent of life and of living
hangs heavy on this place,
Here, where the weight
of memory and first things
lose themselves in the labyrinth
of the mind.

First step, first walk, first smile.
First  words – garbled beyond
recognition but finding
the connection between
the proffered body
and sustenance.

First leaving, first returning
then leaving – the first steps
of a  lonesome journey
to a far country, of seeking
the wily welcome of the open world
calling – siren-like – from beyond
the walls that time has built.

The days have their dangers
and the nights their flights of fancy
but in moments of respite and clarity
I find myself here. Home.
Always returning.

System of Systems

In the news this week on the BBC:

Abattoirs have about a week’s supply of gas. It’s a chain: We have constantly got pigs coming out of the breeding herd that need to go in homes. Those homes need to be emptied.

Stumbled on this on the news recently which got me thinking of a couple of my interests of late – systems, resilience and system of system approaches to identifying deep dependencies and potential unintended cascade failures of supply chains. What is a world in which rising gas prices potentially affect the availability of meat via several fertiliser farms having to shut down if not incredibly fragile. 

Leaving…

For The Sunday Muse Prompt #176:

**
When in the stillness
of the night, sleep
slips away, slowly –
my eyes heavy
with the weariness
of deferred respite –
I remember the road
from there to here,
how it turns
upon itself, snaking
this way and then that
and then disappears.

I remember that leaving
is for the living –
those who have learned
to gift the blessing
of forgiving
and forgetting
to the past.

Between Theorists and Empiricists

Image Source: Caleb Jones on Unsplash 

**

It seems to me that the central distinction in Malcolm Gladwell’s latest offering – Bomber Mafia – is that between theorists and empiricists. To boil it down to a binary choice is of course an oversimplification, but it is one that helps frame the difference between Hansell and Le May, the two figures from either camp who loom large in the book. At stake here, as it turns out, were the lives of hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians who met a fiery fate in the aftermath of extensive fire bombings, topped off by the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In Hansell, we have the theorist who believed against the evidence – or bad luck – that precision bombing was the way to execute a war that limited deaths. Le May on the other hand comes across as an empiricist who allowed the evidence lead him down the paths it did, albeit with disastrous outcomes for those concerned.

Outcomes and motivations differ for the theorist and the empiricist. The theorist is wholly concerned with what might be  possible – subject to the constraints of his/her field (eg  Theoretical Physicists who come up with all sorts of currently unfalsifiable claims ) – as opposed to the empiricist or experimentalist who is concerned with finding evidence to prove or disprove the grand, elegant notions of the theorist.

If one accepts that the empiricist follows the evidence down a path that leads to a real world impact and desirable outcomes, there looms the question of what constitutes a good outcome. Is the loss of thousands of lives a good outcome if they are the lives of the enemy/ the other rather than ours? Is a good outcome measured in monetary terms, or is there a way to value non-physical outcomes? These are questions I do not think the theorist worries about too much, existing – at least to me – in that rarefied space of thought.

As I plod along, firmly ensconced in mid-career engineering, these distinctions are ones that weigh heavy on my mind, as they have the potential to inform what steps I take next. I am truly at a cross roads of sort  – the question being whether I follow the head into theory or the heart into real world applications.

Being Seen

For The Sunday Muse Prompt #175, and the shades of that garden it reminds me of:

**
I am dreaming again
of days gone by,
of nights  – heavy
with the weight
of solitude –  lightened
by the joy of discovery,
a light born of tumult
in an age of innocence.
This is what the
glow-worms in their
flitting feel,
each shimmer
of light a whisper
into the night
to see and be seen.

Cautionary Tales…

Image Copyright Sky News

**

Hailing, as I do, from a corner of the world in which colonization has left its mark in more ways than one, I cannot help but see the stark similarities between the Afghanistan story and that of my other country. Two podcast episodes from the Rest is History podcast (a general one and one specifically focused on the First Anglo-Afghan War) provided some context to the history of the country, dotted as it has been with inter-tribal frictions and the burden of being prized as a gateway location. The similarities appear to be more than superficial: both countries have had borders drawn on the back of envelopes splitting tribes between countries, have fairly well established Islamic insurgencies  and have significant deposits of natural resources. There is also the British (read East India Company / Royal Niger Company) connection too, the tip of the spear by which both regions were economically exploited.

The images coming out of Kabul are stark, and speak to a very desperate situation with the Taliban gaining the ascendancy in very short order after the American withdrawal. Inches of paper and columns of ink have been spent on weighing up the pros and the cons, making moral arguments for remaining and framing the withdrawal as effectively ceding control of Afghanistan’s rare earth metals to China  among other takes. Given its reputation for being the graveyard of empires, linked to all the aforementioned interventions which have never really ended well fore the occupiers, it is interesting that the powers that be have never really seemed to learn from history. The human tragedy is huge and, given the attack on the airport, only likely to increase as the Taliban gain ascendancy, which makes for very worrying times for those left behind, the regular folk who do not have the power of being visible working for them. One hopes that the noises being made by the Taliban have some substance, although given their priors, there seems little real hope for that. The question of just why the US and their allies have the right to appoint themselves the policemen of the world is a different one altogether but needs exploration.

The speed at which the Ghani government collapsed would suggest that there is a critical mass that supports the Taliban, for all the noise the public intellectuals make. The irony is that nothing has really changed, not in the last twenty years, and maybe  not by much in the last 200 either. Previous Afghan President Hamed Karzai is a direct descendant of the puppet the British installed, Shah Shuja. The Taliban come from the tribe that brought him down. Now and as it was then, deep fissures remain, and only by understanding the history and the local context can these widespread failings be prevented.

One take away from the two podcasts I listened to was that current president Ghani was a very different beast from Karzai, one that was seen as rude and snobbish, failing to keep the tribal leaders onside. That and the manifest corruption (case in point that  Instagram post) suggests that in the end, failing to make the country work for everyone perhaps made it unlikely that ordinary folk would stick their necks out and fight. A functioning state that cares for the ordinary person and imbues a sense of ownership in the ordinary citizen has a lot more heft than any outside influences propping it up, it seems to me. Given the state of Nigeria at the moment, and the increasingly disconnected ruling class from the ordinary citizen, I can’t help but have a niggling worry as to what fate might lie ahead.

Beauty

For The Sunday Muse Prompt #174:

**

The empty glass
catches the fading light,
its pale blandness
turned in an instant
into a merry band of colours
wending their way
around its rim.

In the still moments
of yielding to the night
we see, through heavy eyes
that in the brilliance of
the radiant light, and the shadows too
there is beauty, everywhere

Self-Potrait

For The Sunday Muse Prompt # 173: Self Portrait with Accordion, (original image by Guido Vedovato) and How To Paint A Self Portrait by Nicole Tinkham.

**

First form the silhouette,
press the mound of wet earth thin
till it yields, pliant, to the probing
of the finger and the thumb.

Place the eyes, in the space
between the first and the middle third,
let the ears and the eyes align: 
two eyes, two ears, one mouth

Because Light must fill the inward parts,
and breath is the flimsy thing
that turns earth to feeling flesh;
and the shadows too can be beautiful
in their strange, shifting symmetry

.