Tag Archives: knowledge

Vision

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Focus down to the tiniest speck
or gape across a billion years,
but how, exactly, how?
Irises, corneas, rods and cones
are light, not sight,
the question of the question remains.

It’s patterns, I think,
it’s all about patterns—
we are pattern machines
and patterns rule our world:
edges and curves, light and dark,
colors that rise to surfaces
and memories that play
through and throughout.
It is all sight unseen, memories akin,
up and down, round and around,
moving one side to the other until,
effortlessly, we see ourselves
in the illusion we are sure surrounds us.

He is—don’t you see—the Cause of causes,
not the cause. That is the pattern for us.

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Thank you for reading Vision. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken on a walkabout photography day in Boston, Massachusetts. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

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There, but for the grace of God…

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Will-o’-the-wisp, trick of the eye,
why this, why that, why me?
So many questions—too many questions—
but the best to ponder is this:
What is it, this ‘is it’, ‘to be’?
Me, I have this nagging sense
that if you can pose an answer,
you’ve missed the question altogether.

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I am reading Why Does the World Exist? by Jim Holt. It is a fascinating book and I am enjoying it immensely. In a practical sense, the question seems as relevant as the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin, but let’s be honest: no one ever said that metaphysics had to make practical sense. (Just don’t say that to anyone who has got themselves caught up in the topic. It can get ugly and very, very boring.)

What fascinates me is the range of responses from a wide variety of disciplines and the degree of passion aroused in the answers. And throughout it all, as much as I am enjoying the journey for an answer—because let’s face it, there are no definitive answers, just definitive opinions—I do have this nagging feeling that whenever it comes to something that is really important, that there is hiding, off to the side, at 90 degrees from where we are looking, the real question and answer that we should be pondering. There are times when, while I cannot see it and I cannot say it, still I know it’s there, in the corner of my eye, and I almost have it, but not quite, not quite…

The quotation, There but for the grace of God, go I, is attributed to John Bradford, an English protestant jailed by the Catholic Mary Tudor, and  was said as he watched a group of prisoners being marched off for execution. His own turn was coming, however; he was burned at the stake on July 1st, 1555.

Thank you for reading There but for the grace of God… I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken in Pennsylvania and is the reflection of a tree in water. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

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Knowledge and volition


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Wither goest thou, little boy, little boy,
to play, to sup or to bed?
‘I go to my Master’s house,’ he said, he said,
‘although I’ve lost the way.’

How can it be there and then be not,
with no idea to where it had got?
Wouldn’t you have felt it,
that loss in your chest,
and know it had slunk away?

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Thank you for reading Knowledge and volition. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph is entitled They don’t make ‘em like they used to and was taken in the Poconos as we waited for a family to return to their house and and sell us some of their local honey. In the end I got the photograph, but no honey, and while I am not discontent, I’d have preferred both. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

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The sad, dark tragedy of Fritz Haber

Take blood from kith and kin
and add nitrogen, chlorine and gold
and you’ll have all the elements
of a wicked good story, tears included.

Lift up, fall down, cut and combine,
put the pressure on and never let up;
push for this, grasp for that
angle to be arrived at,
to be more than just ‘me’, a ‘him.’
As for the rest,
dulce est decorum est
the darkest of the darksome roads.

He thought it was about knowledge,
I can hear him now:
Only Eden matters, it’s where I am going
and taking me and mine—
just there, just now, just watch me, see?
I made it, me alone, I made it…that’s me!
That’s him.

This poem was written in response to the tragic and horrific Fritz Haber story, told in brief below. It deals with the consequences of being willing to pay any price for knowledge and for personal advancement and recognition. True in the Book of Genesis, true in Faustus, it is still true today.

Dulce est decorum est pro patria mori (DOOL-kay eh de-KORum eh pro PAtree-ah Mor-ee) is Latin and means, it is sweet and right to die for one’s country; they are the opening lines of an ode by Horace. Widely quoted in Britain in the run-up to, and during, World War 1 (and with derision thereafter) Dulce est Decorum Est, which deals with the utter horror of chemical warfare, is a brilliant and moving poem by Wilfred Owen, a young British poet who experienced it first hand and sadly, did not survive through to the Armistice.

The Sad, Dark Tragedy of Fritz Haber

At the beginning of the 20th century, the world was in a quandary: where would it get the food to feed its exploding population? Plant cell walls need nitrogen to grow, but there just wasn’t a sufficient natural supply of the element available. Haber, a German physicist, developed a process to synthesize nitrogen from the air, where it is abundant, by using a high pressure containment vessel. The product, ammonia, in turn went on to be the base for both the agricultural fertilizer business and the manufacture of explosives.

It is fair to say that at least half, and perhaps up to 70%, of the current world’s population could not be fed without this process for the production of artificial fertilizer. One hundred percent of all ammunition gunpowder also uses it. For this work, Haber was awarded the Noble Prize in Chemistry in 1918.

Both Fritz Haber and his wife, Clara, were Jewish-German and born in what is now Poland. They converted to Lutherism early in their careers (Clara was also a physicist and one of the first women to be awarded a PhD in Germany) to open up academic opportunities. For his work, and despite his rather nondescript personality, poor social connectivity and religious background, Haber was appointed the head of a prestigious research institute.

It was the advent of World War 1 (1914-1918) that turns the Fritz Haber story so dark. Passionately patriotic and wanting to grow into his new social status, Haber convinced the German High Command—in contravention of the Hague Convention of 1907, to which Germany was a signatory—to implement chemical warfare. He not only developed the chlorine gas used in the first chemical warfare attack at the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915, but personally played a role in its release. Caught unawares, six thousand Allied troops died a horrible, sickening death and opened a series of tit-for-tat chemical attacks and counter attacks (for the Allies quickly retaliated in kind) that saw tens of thousands on both sides die horribly.

For this act, Haber was personally awarded the rank of captain by the Kaiser, a rare honor for an aging, non-military academic. However, returning home for a day of rest, Haber had an argument over his actions with his wife Clara, who accused him of losing all moral credibility. Late that night, in grief over his actions, she committed suicide with his new service revolver. She was found the next day by their only child, Hermann, a 13 year old boy. Hermann would later immigrate to the United States and would himself, in 1946, also commit suicide over the shame of his father’s chemical warfare work. Unrepentant, and despite his wife’s suicide, Haber left that same day for the Eastern front, there to again participate in a test chemical attack on Russian troops.

If only the story ended there, but it doesn’t. Haber returned to work after the war, and in an attempt to quickly re-pay the humiliating German reparations demanded by the Allies, worked on a process to purify gold from seawater, a scheme which was held out with great hope at the time but which was eventually proven to be a total failure. Later, in protest over the firing of Jewish academics under his patronage, and also because of his own own heritage, Haber was forced out of his academic position and leadership by the Nazis. Haber left his homeland and immigrated to England, where, owing to his background in chemical warfare development, he received a cold reception. He died in 1934 of a heart attack in a Basel, Switzerland hotel while en route to taking up a teaching post in Israel.

It was after this that the final chapter of Haber’s full legacy played out. In the 1920s, at his research institute and under his direction, his team had developed Zyklon A, a cyanide (chlorine plus nitrogen compound) gas pesticide used as a fumigant. Years later, and because of its high toxicity, the Nazis requested that this gas be reformulated to remove its artificial, warning smell. It was, and Zyklon B went on to precipitate the Holocaust as the gas used in the concentration camps and was, in the end, responsible for the death of millions of people, mostly Jews, but also Slavs, Gypsies and some political dissidents. Many of Haber’s relatives from his home region, and certainly many of his friends, were part of the roundup and sent to the camps.

All because what Haber really wanted, I suspect, was to be accepted.

Thank you for reading The sad, dark tragedy of Fritz Haber. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2013 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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Another day of fasting

At the end of a day of fasting
it takes so little to satisfy me.
Is that the point?

When a lamp is lit the light must first
beg forgiveness of the wick,
the wick the forbearance of the oil,
and the oil the patience of the sun.
I know that without struggle there is
no merit in victory, but at night, still,
I lie awake thinking: without struggle,
how do we keep the night away?

I am foolish, I know,
I should leave it to our children
to figure it out. Now is rightly time
for me to beg the patience of my Sun
and turn off the light and sleep.
Tomorrow is, after all, another day of fasting.

The Bahá’í Fast—when Bahá’ís refrain from eating or drinking from sunup until sundown—lasts from March 2 through to the 21st. March 21st, generally the date of the Spring Equinox, is referred to as Naw-Ruz, or New Year, and is the first day of the Bahá’í Calendar. This holiday actually predates the Bahá’í Faith and is an ancient celebration held throughout much of the Near East, generally, throughout the area that once marked Alexander The Great’s empire.

At the beginning of the fast period, I had the pleasure of posting an incredibly beautiful poem called The Copper Tree Tops, by Lyn, my wonderful and long suffering wife. Today I get to bookend that effort with my own much lesser effort on fasting, Another Day of Fasting.

It is indeed a privilege and an honor to take part in the fast. I can honestly say that the effort required, which honestly is not a lot, is far outweighed by what one gets in return: a sense of accomplishment, of joy and of humility.

Thank you so much for reading Another Day of Fasting. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

© 2013 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. This poem, either alone or with the notes that accompany it, may be printed and distributed—in part or amalgamated with other works—as long as the copyright notice and the address,https://bookofpain.wordpress.com, are also clearly printed with it and there is no fee charged.

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