Why I Left Google: Thoughts on Trading in Pride and Security for Authenticity | Ellen Huerta

After that conversation, I wandered away from the campfire for a few minutes to get a better look at the stars. The moon had never looked so big. I could hear old-school hip-hop from our camp in the distance, but I was surrounded by absolutely nothing and no one, and I felt free in the universe. It was that moment that I realized I was truly free to do whatever I wanted in this world and it was completely up to me to make it happen. It was my life, and I had to stop caring what people thought about it. If I wanted to bake, I should. If I wanted to write, I should. If I wanted to start a company, I should. If I wanted to do nothing, I should. If I wanted to fuck up for once, I should. I was probably only out there for a few minutes before someone tapped my shoulder to go back to the fire (it was so cold that night your pee froze as soon as it hit the ground), but it felt like an eternity. Maybe I would have reached this conclusion had I stayed in San Francisco, but I really believe it was the magic of being nowhere that did it. Being nowhere forced me to stay silent long enough to hear what I hadn’t wanted to admit: I wasn’t living authentically. When I returned to work, I gave my notice immediately. My explanation of what I was leaving to do (explore some hobbies, work on a few projects, bake more) confused everyone, but they were all fully supportive. Ironically and quite magically, the day I returned (which was also the day I gave notice), an award was sitting on my desk that I had won while I was out: “Most Likely To Build A Start Up In The Next 5 Years.”

via Why I Left Google: Thoughts on Trading in Pride and Security for Authenticity | Ellen Huerta.

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Career: Be a Monopolist, Says David Brooks

A competitive mind-set is productive only to a point. It’s important not to lose sight of value defined by other metrics. Peter Thiel’s argument for monopoly may provide an alternative framework. More . . .

April 23, 2012

via David Brooks – The New York Times.

Some skills of a monopolist (one who dominates in a “distinct market, niche and identity”) are “alertness, independence, and the ability to “reclaim forgotten traditions.” Brooks would also have the young re-examine the “status funnel,” a lemming-like obsession to compete for the best colleges, banks and companies.

Brooks does not develop his idea of reclaiming forgotten traditions. However, I would suggest that he hints at discretion being the better part of valor as one of them. If a pitcher has just suffered three home runs in one inning, for example, it might behoove him to take his bat and glove elsewhere. Perhaps he should find a blank space where everyone else isn’t. Take your sophisticated urban skills to a smaller community and make change where you have a chance or might be more appreciated. You might not even need a Stanford MBA.

American tradition honors wealth and success, but not always has America revered the drive for celebrity. Americans are an egotistical lot, but we have not always been narcissistic. There have always been people who wanted their photo and name in the newspaper, but not until the age of television, Internet and the plethora of electronic Media did we drool at the prospect of ten minutes of fame. Time was when a man or woman could feel wholly content and successful having tended well a relatively private garden in life.

Today we measure our own self-esteem against the best, the brightest, the “seen”ones. Often parents regarding the “status funnel” expect and often drive their kids into inappropriate careers and expectations — resulting in nothing but heartbreak. Some teachers belong in public school classrooms. They are called to it. One doesn’t have to be a university professor to be a good teacher and worthwhile human being. Life at the little end of the funnel is not necessarily a happy place. But, as Brooks says, when “the intensity of competition becomes a proxy for value, that’s what happens.” Knowing one’s self is very much a traditional value and that means knowing one’s league and being happy in it.

Steadfast and cautious,

David Milliken



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Theodore Roosevelt on the Issues of 2012

“. . . We must have complete and effective publicity of corporate affairs, so that the people may know beyond peradventure whether the corporations obey the law and whether their management entitles them to the confidence of the public. It is necessary that laws should be passed to prohibit the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes; it is still more necessary that such laws should be thoroughly enforced. Corporate expenditures for political purposes, and especially such expenditures by public-service corporations, have supplied one of the principal sources of corruption in our political affairs . . . ”

via New Nationalism Speech by Theodore Roosevelt.  This is a long speech by Theodore Roosevelt and written in a time before sound bites and ersatz opinion making.  My time was well repaid in the reading of it.  I hope yours will be, too.

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The Ticket-Buying Public Needs Hope

I’m not sure who the pundit was who punned on these lyrics from the musical “Anything Goes.” When it occurred, I was stripping the carcass of our turkey and listening to MSNBC’s palaver show with Chris Matthews et al. Anyway, I think that was the show. Perhaps I heard the reference between the umpteenth plug for Mr. Matthews new book and the umpteenth reminder that Eugene Robinson is a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist.  One tends to loose new information with the interference of monotonous, narcissistic litany of celebrities.  For sure it was somebody on the tube and I thought it rather clever.  In the musical the word is “hoke.”

Additionally while  I can’t recall the pundit’s name or the association he/she was making, I can fairly assume  the reference might have been to something from the tower of campaign babble which is mostly hokum.  (My wife can’t recall it either.  She was trying to coax the terrier in from the cold.  Our terriers are not hokum.  They are precious.)  All of this lends an opportunity for me to commit my own, more humble bit of shameless  self-promotion.

The last ticket I bought was for the movie “My Afternoons with Margueritte” with Gérard Depardieu and Gesèle Casadesus.  The film was filled with hope in the precious power of human caring and love.  Since then a few of my lesser hopes have been dashed when I watched the annual Ohio State – Michigan battle, but I am content.  Ohio State has had a nice run.  I was glad I did not have to buy a ticket in frigid Ann Arbor to see my hopes ended. Nothing about the Gator Bowl  gives me hope, even if I bought a ticket and flew to whatever stadium it occupies. My hopes in and for President Obama have also been dashed.  I don’t know whether or not or even in what way I may yet pay for that ticket.  No one has yet offered me a better prospect, so I won’t complain until after we elect one of the Republican bozos. I would at least buy a ticket to hear Jon Huntsman.

But there’s one thing of which I am certain.  Americans deserve some decent Hope and Hope is not hoke:

If the hero’s flustered Hit him with a custard

You gotta give the people hoke.

Do your best tour jeté From a classic ballet

And they’ll rush to the lobby and smoke

Add a tiny pratfall

And you’ll be running that ball

You gotta give the people hoke

Now the critics may say it’s trash

But trash or not, it’s a smash We’ve done it again

And the crowds are standing in line

— from “Anything Goes” according to Bing Crosby and Donald O’Connor.


Steadfast and cautious,

D. “Tortoise” Taylor

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Troy Davis, A Pause for an Execution

I confess that living in a metro area has made me a little calloused.  When I watch the nightly murder report, I see the weeping victims and the dutiful police.  Beyond my pity and thankfulness for good fortune in my own life,  I feel helpless and if I say a little prayer for all concerned there’s never an indication of prayer’s result.  I’m sorry, it all seems so deja vu.  In the case of Troy Davis in the mix of my pre-occupations and personal interests, I was vaguely aware that there was a controversy going on.  Where this time?  St. Louis, Los Angeles, Newark — where this time?  Someplace in Georgia.

As on every evening, I was seated at the kitchen counter having a beer, playing solitaire and half-listening to Chris Matthews and Lawrence O’Donnell as my wife prepared our dinner.  We were feeling grateful that our elder dog had returned happily from the vet.   All the networks were focused on eleventh-hour countdown.  Would a stay of execution be handed down from the Supreme Court?  I was tempted to watch the re-play of the Royals-Tigers game, but I didn’t.  An inexplicable guilt lay upon me.  Eventually the Media worked its hypnosis and I was drawn into the drama, the vigil outside some prison somewhere in Georgia.

I heard about the case that was twenty-two years old.  The convict had been in jail all those years, half of my working career. We  checked out one of the new sitcom debuts  and pronounced it not worth further consideration.  We had dinner and watched “Two Broke Girls” which made us laugh and seemed promising.  We finished our dinner and I went to another room and clicked on the ball game.

I watched half an inning of the recorded event.  I knew the Royals had lost.  I switched over to MSNBC where the Ed Show was running.  I passed the evening switching back and forth between the Troy Davis vigil and the ball game.  Gradually the time I spent on MSNBC increased.  I was tempted to try FOX to get another view, but, being the fair-minded creature I am, I decided I already knew their slant. Finally, in about the eighth inning I stayed on MSNBC.

Forty-five minutes and counting.  I couldn’t understand why there had to be a long wait for execution after the Court declined to intervene.  It seemed to me that ten minutes max ought to have been sufficient to inject and kill the man — mercifully at least.  As I waited I was pulled into the suspense that only the Media can create. I tried to imagine what it would be  like to be Troy Davis.  Was he in an adjoining room?  Was he in the death chamber strapped already to a gurney?  Had they loosened the straps a little for the interminable wait?  Had he taken last rites?  Had he eaten?  And what if he was truly innocent? What did he think about?  And this was no sitcom or sports event.  This was reality.

There have been certain perpetrators whose guilt could not possibly have been doubted — men who forced their victims into oral sex before the beating and killing.  These guys,  it seemed to me, deserved the injection.  Drawing and quartering doesn’t seem inappropriate either.  But the news commentators in their incessant drone had certainly convinced me of reasonable doubt, but then it was years ago.  Seven witnesses recanted and appeals from all over the world had been made, including from the Holy See.

I know there was nothing Holy about what happened last night. I could not rationalize the process in any way.  I also know that society cannot be blamed forever for the conditions that may or may not cause a man to kill another.  And while I sympathized with the victim’s family, I could not imagine a pure expiation coming from our justice system.  A loved one had been brutally killed and because I have never experienced such an act, I could not judge the family for wanting closure.

Except, except . . . what if the man was innocent?  Or did we once again, feed a monstrous beast last night?

Steadfast and cautious,

D. “Tortoise” Taylor

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Book Review: Harford’s Adapt

Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, Harford, Tim, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2011.


Can flip flopping possibly be the sign of a sound mind at work in the body politic? As the quadrennial silly season grows more and more inane, Tim Harford in Adapt seems to say yes, absolutely; but I’m sure he would exclude excessive, spineless, wishy-washiness. Assuming the President made a mistake, what would happen if President Obama said, “Okay, I’ve learned something. I should have done jobs before I did health reform. My tack in these past four years was ill-chosen and now I’m going to change, come about and do what I should have done in the first place. I am declaring a national economic emergency. We are going to find short-term work designed to create long-term job growth.”

Was it lily livered of Senator Kerry to say “I voted yes before I voted no.” Or was it the other way around? What if Mitt Romney said, “I lied. I am proud of my Massachusetts health initiative and I take responsibility for it — especially since it is full of Republican ideas. It’s not perfect. It needs tweaking and perhaps even some major repair, but I’m sticking with the plan as a national model. Oh, and by the way, trial and error, tinkering here and tinkering there, is as American as Old Glory. Trial and error lies at the heart of American ingenuity. Oh, and one thing more. While I have been knocking my own brainchild just to appeal to primary voters, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to do it anymore. You, the American People deserve better of me.”

Americans’ collective partials and dentures would fall from their mouths. Next, another round of nit-picking would ensue — but maybe not. Maybe the public would hail a new reign of candor and realism. The problem, says Harford, isn’t electing the wrong leaders. The problem is our simplistic notions of what a leader can do. Expertise and experts come under heavy scrutiny in Adapt — including research that supports the limits of specialized insight. Honesty about the complexity of modern problems has gone begging in the public debate and policy making. The pathology under study here applies to the private sector and individuals as well.

A recurring illustration throughout the book is the Russian engineer Palchinsky. He was assigned to analyze two massive projects in Stalin’s first five-year plan, the monstrous Lenin Dam and Magnitogorsk. He had the temerity to inform Stalin that his big project would be a disaster. There had been no hydrological studies. He warned that the river would be too slow to generate hydro-electricity and flooding would cause severe damage to farms and farmers. Because of drought the plants would require backup coal fired operations. He was proven dead right after the megalo-maniacal dictator plunged ahead because he wanted an epic scale project. Much smaller scale plants would have served far better. Palchinsky wanted wanted a step-by-step approach. Stalin ordered the relocation of ten thousand farmers.

The steel mills at Magnitogorsk were supposed to outproduce the entire steel output of the UK. Again, Palchinsky recommended more analysis, more caution and a step-by-step approach. Over three thousand died during construction and the iron ore ran out in 1970. Palchinsky was a brilliant thinker who had three principles which Stalin ignored: 1) Seek out new ideas and try new things. 2) When trying new things, do them so that failure is survivable. And finally (3), seek out feedback and learn from your mistakes as you go along. Some three thousand of Russia’s ten thousand engineer were sent to Siberia for similar professional behavior and Palchinsky suffered a secret death.. In short Harford is no hare counting on speed and grandiose imagination. Tortoise-like trial and error still prevails.

Harford works his thesis through Rumsfeld’s disasters and many other examples, finally discussing the adaptive organization and the adaptive individual. Harford concludes that honest mistakes made honestly are far better than chasing losses and denials. Harford seems to be saying that the allure of meteoric success, the brilliant idea flaming overnight into success is only one way. The other requires uncelebrated, painstaking, trial and error, starting, stopping, perhaps turning about, but never quitting. But it also requires a communal tolerance for the late blooming in life like the poetry of Robert Frost. In our slap-dash, everything-on-the-fly culture of celebrity, I think of France which required eleven centuries or so to become a democratic republic. Afghanistan, if we’re lucky, has just begun. No wonder we’ve failed after a mere ten years there. Harford’s vision of adaptive evolutionary success would be revolutionary in America. Such a revolution would do wonders for the self-esteem of millions of Americans slogging it out in the unsung mundane. This is a book to own.

Steadfast and cautious,

D. “Tortoise” Taylor


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The Tortoise and the Writer, a Fable (Corrected and Revised1/4/12)

Just around noon a tortoise and a writer met along a creek bordering a meadow.  The tortoise had felt the writer’s presence from the vibrations of heavy foot steps.  The tortoise, hidden as well as possible near rocks and bushes, quickly pulled his tail and legs into his shell and his head, too;  except that he left just enough of a gap to spy on the intruder. He noticed when the writer caught sight of him, slowed his pace and quickly acted as though he hadn’t seen the tortoise. Then the human sat on a rock, pretending to ignore the tortoise.  He began unwrapping a sandwich and opened his water bottle.   Tortoise watched, waited and determined the vibrations to be friendly.  Slowly his head, limbs and tail emerged.

“What are you eating?” said the tortoise.

“Goose liver.”

“Good, one of my forebears had a bad experience with  flying geese, you know.”

“So I’ve heard,” said the writer. ” The geese dropped him mid-air.  Splat.”

“Not very sensitive on your part, but yes, he died.  But you got the story wrong.”

“No, I know the story.  The tortoise should have kept his mouth shut even though the humans jeered and mocked him. It wasn’t the geese’s fault. The tortoise couldn’t take the ridicule. Everyone knows that.”

“He was angry, just trying to save some pride.  We have as much right to pride as any human. ”

“Why bother? There’s nothing wrong with a little humility.  It just is.  Humbling passes and besides, humility can be the start of new experience if you apply a little effort. You have to do something with humility. Humility comes before meaning.”

“That sandwich smells good.”

“You’re an herbivore.”

“You’re misinformed. Who are you anyway?”

“I’m a writer, an absurdist.”

“What does that mean?”

” An absurdist doesn’t believe life has any inherent meaning.”


“I mean that life has no essential meaning.”

“I don’t understand you. I can’t ask such a question, let alone answer it,” responded the tortoise.  I just eat, poop, pee and procreate. I bask in sun and rain alike.  Oh, I hold on to life for dear life, but I know there’s an end.  I’ve seen tortoises die —  sad vibes when life is over,  like one day the light never comes.  In the meantime I enjoy a warm flat rock in the sun. I fight for as much of these things  as I can.”

“What do you do for meaning, Tortoise?”

“I can’t do for meaning, don’t you see.  I do for doing. I’ve tried to tell you that. I like pleasant scenes,  especially in the meadow, but that’s a risky trip to the meadow.  I go anyway.  I’m cautious in the meadow — and watchful. Good vibes give me pleasure.  Simple stuff satisfies me, but you’d have trouble sharing my vibes.  Vibes are tough to communicate to a human. We could rub each other’s neck, I suppose.”

“Maybe later.”

“I have good vibes right now — about you I mean.  Put your finger just below my head.”

“Well, okay.”  The writer put his fingers on Tortoise’s neck.  “Hmmm,  hmmmmmmmmmm!  Feels good.  I can’t get any meaning from it.”

“Isn’t feeling good enough,”  said Tortoise.  What’s this “meaning?” You got pleasure, didn’t you? I like to be stroked by a human. That’s the best I can do for you, but I don’t want to go home with you and be your pet. I like being a wild tortoise.  You’d know if I sensed you were bad, believe me.  I don’t get bad vibes from you.”


“Get off it. Bad vibes make me uncomfortable, wary, defensive.  Worse case, bad vibes would tell me if you were more interested in turning me into soup than enjoying my company.  I can be a companion, not like a dog, but I can be your friend.”

“Just pulling into your shell wouldn’t stop me from killing you.”

“Sure, you’re the dominant dude in these parts. . . Yikes! There’s more humans headed this way from up the path. I’m not getting good vibes at all.  Excuse me,  my friend,  while I sljp this mobile home into the brush here.  Keep those folks busy, okay?”  Whereupon the tortoise crawled back into  the brush. The writer rose and walked toward the strangers.

He noticed that the men  carried fish nets, clubs, fishing poles and tackle boxes. Their eyes scanned the water and creek bank.  One of them waved at him.  Quickly the writer emerged from the brush and faked fiddling with his fly and said,”Hi, men, caught me in the act of nature.  What are ya fishin’ for.”

“Catfish here in the stream and snappin’ turtles if we can find ’em.”

“Not a fisherman myself.”  He glanced carefully back at the bushes while he closed his zipper and noticed the dark, brownish rump of the tortoise mostly concealed in the bush and was amazed at how much like a rock he looked.  He walked closer to the fishers knowing they’d love to club a large tortoise.  Without being obvious he tried to obstruct their view of the tortoise posing as a rock behind him. After more pleasantries the fishers moved on.  The writer walked the opposite direction up the path, long enough for the men to disappear; and then he  returned to the tortoise.  He was still tucked inside his shell. He spoke to the tortoise, but heard no reply, nor did he come out of his shell.

For some time, perhaps an hour, the writer waited, speaking occasionally to the inert lump before him. He sat on the tortoise and felt the same vibrations as when he’d stroked his neck, only more intensely.  He thought long and deep about this accidental  event in his life.

The writer struggled in his head for the meaning of what had happened.  The vibrations from Tortoise, like a purring cat told him he was quite content. In the end the writer decided that the only meaning he could bring to this happening was the pleasure of fooling  men with  nets and clubs.  Acting to help a threatened, humble creature can be a good adventure.

David Milliken



ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This weblog contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this weblog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author.

Email: david@thetortoisefactor.com



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Democratic and Republican Attitudes


Perhaps the reason there’s so little  comity in Congress stems from the basic similarity of Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee share only a need for re-election. The problem is that we really have a Congressional stew of governmentalists, libertarians, social democrats, tories, whigs, independents and know-nothings — strains we’ve had since the Founding.   We probably need a total re-alignment, if it were not for the fact that we need moderate Democrats to counsel the ultra-left.  And there are no moderate Republicans.  Everyone is  trying to make a two-party process work because we can’t have a six party system.  Because we’d never get a majority. pretend we have two. And everyone,  for the American people which is also equally splintered, emains that Democrats  and Republicans dabble in each other’s territory.  (Where are you Nelson Rockefeller when we need you?  We could sure use a little Clintonesque triangulation, you know?) Everyone is compromised despite his or her dogma. No one is purely anything except scared as hell of a second  Great Depression.

There may be value in looking at the seemingly simple to understand or remind ourselves what the two national parties represent.  Ostensibly the GOP represents the forces of free market capitalism, though the Republicans frequently compromise “free market.”  They have no problem profiting from huge government contracts, especially military — nor do Democrats.  Neither camp has a problem with stable, conservative investment havens  in public utilities.  There have been few better uses of public capital than turnpikes and the inter-state highway system.  It was a win-win for everyone except the small towns that died.   Most likely an infrastructure bill will be the next bogeyman for partisan bashing.

In capitalism jobs and workers are  instrumentalities.  Good, solid productive  jobs take time.  This is a real burden for Republican candidates. Jobs develop after land, capital, product/service and market are “firmed up.”  Certainly, Republicans are human beings with families to support; it’s just that slow development doesn’t sell well to voters.  That’s why “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!” sounds odd on Republican lips.  They would more sincerely chant “Profit, Profit, Profit!” because that’s the nature of capitalism.  Jobs will come in time — or not.

Many small enterprises never get to the point of hiring help because profit never materializes; again, a fact.  Enterprises frequently die first.  So, we should never ever forget that net gain and profit must come first in business. Always. It’s a law.   Period.  Being passionate about business makes a business person seem “cold” and “calculating.” Must likely it’s only worry and caution because some entrepreneur has hocked his house. Hence, the Republican Party must thrive in the same culture.  It’s hard to hurry up and build a factory for jobs needed yesterday.  It’s impossible to be honest with the electorate about business realities.  Hard to talk this way in public.

Many Democrats are capitalists, too.  Democrats can make a profit.  So can a Frenchman or a Swede. Democrats are far more inclined to see the economic role of wage and salary earners be they public or private.  Democrats have a weakness for soft jobs, often  grant-based ones that die.  Good teachers are productive, but not in a way that appeals to capitalists. Artists are even more marginal — until they make a bundle on a best seller. Teachers and artists are absolutely essential as are doctors, lawyers, dentists, pharmacists and hardware store owners.  For some capitalists, teachers teach because they cannot “do” anything else.

Salaried folks and wage earners are mere necessities — essentially costs — which fall victim to the economic cycles. Ask any contract engineer.   That’s why on occasion, however not recently, the stock market goes up when unemployment rises.  Up to a point unemployment reduces costs and drives higher profits. In the same way business will employ a machine in preference to a human being. (As latter day Luddite, I am dedicated to never using the self-check out.) Businesses  will also go off shore. It’s a business law.

Perhaps this focus also drives Republican politicians who receive their pay and health insurance from tax revenue.  They play the role assigned, but it must seem a little hypocritical to the more empathetic among them.  In the end, even for them, government is a good employer.  They forget that economics looms far larger than business alone.  The worst of them, the anti-government faction, will never understand that government and education cannot be businesses.  Only a part of education and government can be a business.  It’s a law.  Whatever shall we do?  Admit all this and reason together? Yeah, right.


Non-partisanship really should come  easily since the business ethic has triumphed in America — perhaps even in the whole world.  Everyone must be a marketer or die. Global capitalism is alive, just ailing a little.

David Milliken

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Wanted: Convicted Moderates to Stop the Anarchy

What rough beast slouches toward Washington?  Pundits, politicians and citizens have their own opinions; but I cannot believe that anyone doubts, as the poet Yeats writes, that “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Only the radical, right fringe is convicted. They alone are willing at all cost to see their dogma realized, step by ugly step. Sweet reason has gone begging. Again in the poet’s words, “Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

No one voted with passion.  Aye votes were painstakingly drawn from those at the least risk of losing votes back home. Others waited for a comfortable plurality to hide beneath — voting as late as possible and hoping for forgiveness back in Peoria. Many voted  “necessarily” to stop the madness — hardly the stuff of true belief. The liberal left cast its inconsequential votes, but partly to  prevent default.  The ultra-right and  the ultra-left made strange bedmates. It remains to be seen whether or not we have squashed the tyranny of  minority views, Tocqueville’s greatest fear for the survival of the republic. Effectively we got a taste of multi-party politics in the form of factionalism.

Now, the rough beast will come in the form of the Committee of Twelve, carefully stacked to continue the same polarization, six to six, between democratic socialists and libertarians. It’s beginning to look so much like European history that I wonder when the fascists will appear — fascism being the triumph of the military industrial complex, i.e. money and might. In the meantime deadlock will occur and the triggers will be pulled and we will be off again into the madness, trying to correct not having dealt with the Simpson-Bowles Commission Report. Simpson-Bowles was our last shot at reasonable tough love and sweet reason.

The poet’s wisdom must be heard. Yeats’ “Second Coming” should be required homework for Americans. Things have fallen apart. The center has not held. The 2012 election must bring victory for  a new center — a center that can hold. Nothing is more important now than convicted moderates in large numbers.

Steadfast and cautious,


D. “Tortoise” Taylor


William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?



ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This weblog contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this weblog may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author.



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Text:     Dear Friend: —  If I was sure of thee, sure of thy capacity, sure to match my mood with thine, I would never think again of trifles in relation to thy comings and goings.  I am not very wise; my moods are quite attainable; and I respect thy genius; it is to me as yet unfathomed;  yet dare I not presume in thee a perfect intelligence of me, and so thou art to me a delicious torment.  Thine ever or never.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841

In a crass, profane age of advanced species endangerment, global warming, 16% real unemployment and constant threat of economic collapse worldwide, surety is indeed a rare and precious commodity. Paralyzed leadership and dysfunctional government clouds our hope even more.    My best friend tells me this quotation will be unfathomed by at least 90% of the American public; alas, she may be correct — judging from our current cultural mess.  Nineteenth-century prose and syntax puts us off and tries our patience in the digital age.  And yet, who doesn’t still need a friend.

In his essay Emerson cautions the reader that “these fine pains” in regard to friendship are for curiosity, not for life. We should not indulge these high-minded notions lest we “weave cobwebs and not cloth.”  Emerson was an idealist but he knew the place of idealism:  — examining the conduct of life against an ideal. In the Twentieth Century JFK”s New Frontier and Johnson’s War on Poverty come to mind as examples of idealism’s limits. Another contrast is the inspiring rhetoric of JFK contrasted to the plain-spoken realism of Harry Truman.  We are sadly lacking in both these days.

Assuming that sure people make sure leaders, I want surety not only in my leaders but in my friends.  When I see a potential friend approaching, I am immediately cautious, guarded, ready at any moment to withdraw my head back under my shell.  However, I also want to stick my neck out, take a risk with a new acquaintance in the hope that some bond may be built between us. I want surety in my friend

I do not  claim to be all wise. I try not to be dogmatic despite apparent evidence that may challenge my set beliefs. I often fail in this.  My beliefs do not go willingly into doubt and then into renaissance.  As a true liberal I have a little dogma myself, but I am not worthy of liberal mindedness if I don’t try to know my own prejudices.  I’ve got blind spots in my vision as do all men and women.  I must keep an open mind, for example that libertarians and conservatives can be right.  I must at least entertain the possibility that Michelle Bachman can harbor a thought worth considering.  And she and anyone, politician or not, must have the same openness to me — if America is to succeed.  I expect a friend to listen.

Regarding “perfect intelligence” of another, I don’t possess it. I have no radar or sonar that can reveal the truth to me about a potential friend approaching me.  Late at night in the middle of the Pacific when my ship steamed alone in unlimited acres of water, we came across  other ships.  Depending upon whether the blip “closed” us or seemed intent on its own course, we in the radar shack were more or less curious.  At some point we could use  IFF or identification friend or foe.  If the contact responded with the correct code, we were assured of a bogey and not a skunk.   Human beings apply the same technique when they take fine pains.  Trifles indeed can be excellent warnings if they are confirmed.   The more trifling thoughts we can dismiss regarding another, the greater the potential of safe passage or encounter in the darkness. Without this process, we are naive sitting ducks. We must presume in others the same intelligent facility of us.  Thus begins the delicious torment.  The mutual sniffing begins.

Unfortunately we often  refuse even to sniff around, to check each other out, to even participate in trying to understand another person and his opinion.  It is quite unnatural to behave this way.  Animals instiinctively perform this ritual that ends up in coitus, play or battle.

We no longer quite understand genius as the spirit of a person or a place.  We think of it as bright IQ.  Nothing can be more unfathomable to one person than the spirit, largely intangible and powerful, of another.  Truthfully we do not fully understand our own spirit, our own genius, but it remains our essence.  The best we can do with the genius of a friend is to love it, to befriend it without question.  Of course, we must have decided it is a genius worth respecting.  More often than not,  liking a friend will be non-rational if not irrational.

All of this goes on whether we have a personal agenda or not.  So when Emerson says, “Thine ever or never,” he means “I apprehend your genius and I determine that it is good and at least compatible with my own which you must also see in me.  When we do this we cease to make of our friendship “a texture of wine and dreams.”  Instead we weave “the tough fibre of the human heart.”  And he adds, “The laws of friendship are austere and eternal.”

“Twitting” and “friending” on the Internet are nothing more than the sniffing when two dogs meet — assuming we don’t leap into a bad deal.  Children and young kids are incredibly vulnerable to predators because they don’t understand the virtues of coyness, camouflage, watching the back trail, reserve. playing hard to get, checking things out, even those trifling thoughts.

Steadfast and cautious,


David Milliken




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