Educating M.T. Suit
By John Taylor; 2006 December 28
Over Christmess I caught some kind of fluey sleeping sickness and am
still only half recovered. Let us write something quick and easy for
now. Silvie asked me to explain this morning's Dilbert comic strip,
which goes like this: A new character is introduced with a nice suit but
no body. He says, "Hi, I am M.T. Suit. I am a man without substance. I
compensate by using buzzwords and attending meetings." We are then shown
a meeting where he demonstrates what he means. He spouts this
buzz-phrase, which was I believe first popularized by IBM: "We need to
sell solutions, not products." The boss looks on admiringly, thinking to
himself, "I like his style." I explained to Silvie the basic concept,
that this is a satire of the superficiality of business in particular
and the world of work in general, that a buzzword is a nice sounding
idea that after repetition not only loses its meaning, it actually
obstructs meaning by allowing unreflective non-entities like M.T. Suit
to shine in the eyes of others without having paid their dues by living
a sincere, reflective life.
Of course I do not need to explain that to Badi' list readers, do I? I
would though like to comment on why I think today's Scott Adams satire
is so scintillating. It looks at the same problem that the first and
most fundamental Baha'i principle addresses, the need to investigate
reality, seek truth, and never accept buzzwords or any other thought
substitute. How often do plans and accomplishments with real merit get
swept aside for what sounds good? How often do buzzwords and fake wisdom
elbow out reality? Very often, which is why the globe is heating up and
everywhere Adolph Nobody has so much sway, in spite of the fact that we
have more power and knowledge at our command than at any time in history.
A while back my bud Peter and I went into a new ginseng store on Upper
James and Rymal Road and got talking to the Japanese entrepreneur
running it. When it became evident that he had experimented for years
with the process of refining the ginseng featured in his establishment,
I said admiringly, "So, you are an inventor! That is wonderful." I was
surprised at his reaction. He was not only not pleased, he was genuinely
embarrassed. A Westerner would feign modesty, but this Easterner reacted
as if I had torn off his clothes. Later I recalled reading that
Easterners in the business world here are routinely passed over because
they truly value modesty and deprecate their own accomplishments. If you
fail to promote yourself and exaggerate your accomplishments in our
cutthroat business environment, you might as well kiss your career
goodbye. Buzzwords win out over reality every time.
Our educational system conditions us to competition from the day we get
out of Kindergarten. We are judged by a scale, and set upon one
another's throats. Cooperation skills count for nothing, just
comparative excellence. Trouble is, all that judging and marking we
undergo is time consuming and is getting very expensive. So now computer
programs have been devised that actually mark essays; not just multiple
choice exams but entire essays. How can a machine assign a mark without
ever having understood a word of what is written? Apparently, all it
considers is diction, how that student's choice of words fits in
statistically with older, model essays deemed by human markers to have
answered the question well. For a couple of years SAT scores and essays
written at the college level have been marked without ever being read by
I find this gut-wrenchingly astonishing, perplexing, for the same reason
that Silvie found it hard to believe that a suit without a body could
impress a boss by spouting platitudes. If the trend continues it will
soon be possible for a student to enter the work world conditioned
throughout their education by machines, not people. Each will truly be
an empty suit, able to spout the correct buzzwords in the right order.
It will be a generation of word choice experts highly skilled at
pretending to know. I find that deeply, deeply disturbing. An entire
graduating class with cap and gowns but no bodies at all, much less
souls. "What profiteth it a man to have gained the world...?"
I suspect that the entire scheme of examinations and marking throughout
school is fatally flawed, every bit as flawed as the boss's assessments
in business and the world of work. Marks are subject to the fallacy of
false precision, demonstrated by the old joke of the student summer-term
museum tour guide who declares to his listeners that a fossil is a
billion years and three months old. Why? Because it was a billion years
old when he started working there in the spring... Similar false
precision implies that a student with a mark of 73 percent is somehow
better than one with 72 percent, and both are better than another with
71 percent. All that proves is that the marker, like the museum guide,
is an M.T. Suit.
How would a cooperative, non-competitive system work? How would it teach
reciprocal principles like, "Judge not that ye be not judged"? Some say
that that teachers should give only pass or fail grades, leave it at
that, and not attempt to judge finer than the human eye can see. Leave
the fallacy of false precision to computer teachers and markers. Go
ahead, use automated teachers and markers, but only to be sure that all
prerequisites are complete, that every student who walks into class at
the start of the course is prepared and qualified. Once students start
dealing with human beings, let all be cooperative. Let overall
performance of the class be judged, not individuals.
After all, that is how it works most often in the real world. Entire
companies profit or go bankrupt, and large laboratories make discoveries
or do not as corporate entities; rarely are any individuals entirely to
blame or worthy of all the credit.
The overall goal of all educators, be they human teachers or software
tutors, should be to teach people how to create a workplace atmosphere
where a self-deprecating, humble Easterner will succeed and thrive
without being pushed out by a braggart or an M.T. Suit. I am not saying,
then, that artificial teachers and markers should be shut down once the
human-to-human classes start, just that at that point they should turn
away from suits and turn to persons -- or, in Jesus' terminology, from
washing the outside of the dish to purifying the inside. That is, the
cyber-tutor should then turn to teaching virtues and assisting with the
cooperative skills needed for teamwork.
A good education would teach students to work out conflicts one-on-one
before they affect group progress. It would teach them to teach one
another by setting the brightest students to helping the slowest, since
all succeed or all fail, as a group, just like in real workplace
conditions. How to do that?
How about this. One's cybernetic tutor can be designed to interact
freely with the automated tutors of fellow students; it might, for
example, conduct surveys to find out what the co-workers working closest
with him really think about the student. How large is the disconnect
between what the student thinks he is projecting and what others really
think of him? If the programs are sufficiently well designed, a
dysfunctional student's own tutor would bounce him out of a course
before he retards the overall progress of the class. At the same time,
it would not be in any student's best interest to casually complain or
put down other students, even anonymously through the proxy of their
cyber-tutor, according to the principle, "judge not that ye be not
judged." Complaints and backbiting are like an autoimmune disease in the
body, the problem is not the outside threat but a tendency to overreact
violently. Yet no progress or improvement is possible without criticism
and stable defenses. A good marking system would take the need for both
I think that such dynamic, cooperative assessment in school is not only
the root of better education but also of good government. We all admire
the good aspects of democracy without realizing that in essence it is a
contradiction, utterly impossible.
"In the strict sense of the term, there has never been a true democracy,
and there never will. It is contrary to the natural order that the
greater number should govern and the smaller number be governed. One can
hardly imagine that all the people would sit permanently in an assembly
to deal with public affairs; and one can easily see that they could not
appoint commissions for that purpose without the form of administration
changing." (Rousseau, Social Contract, 112)
The few will always have to work on behalf of the many, and the many
will have little direct contact with them. The trick is to be sure that
it is the right few are dedicated to the good of all and know how to
serve them. A cooperative educational system would not only sort the
wheat from the chaff but also teach each and all early on how to sort
for themselves. It would raise up good teachers and judges by teaching
them how and when to criticize, and how and when to encourage and uplift
their peers. The invention of computers and open systems will soon allow
mediation without separation, something formerly inconceivable.
"He who makes the law knows better than anyone how it should be executed
and interpreted. So it might seem that there could be no better
constitution than one which united the executive power with the
legislative; in fact, this very union makes that form of government
deficient in certain respects, for things which ought to be kept apart
are not, and the prince and the sovereign being the same person
constitute, so to speak, a government without government." (Id.)
As you know, the commonwealth of Baha'u'llah does combine legislative
with the executive branch of government. This is because it envisages a
time when technology will allow us to both separate and combine in a
single creative process. This would allow guardians to guard the
guardians, and governors to govern themselves, by means of cybernetic
proxies. This, we are told by the Lord of Hosts Himself, is how God's
Word Itself works.
"I testify that no sooner had the First Word proceeded, through the
potency of Thy will and purpose, out of His mouth, and the First Call
gone forth from His lips than the whole creation was revolutionized, and
all that are in the heavens and all that are on earth were stirred to
the depths. Through that Word the realities of all created things were
shaken, were divided, separated, scattered, combined and reunited,
disclosing, in both the contingent world and the heavenly kingdom,
entities of a new creation, and revealing, in the unseen realms, the
signs and tokens of Thy unity and oneness. Through that Call Thou didst
announce unto all Thy servants the advent of Thy most great Revelation
and the appearance of Thy most perfect Cause." (Baha'u'llah, Prayers and
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Educating M.T. Suit
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Creation and the Wings of Birds
Last time, we discussed "winged words" as an analogy to prayers of supplication. Birds sing in the trees, and we humans in our own way sing out "winged words" to God our Creator and protector, begging His mercy and favor. Consider how the Qu'ran expresses this analogy of two wings of a bird in the most universal of relationships based upon reciprocal kindness, that of parent and child. After forbidding what we now call elder abuse It then prescribes the following prayer for parents:
"And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: `My Lord! bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.'" (Q17:24, Yusuf Ali)
The image here is of a God with two "wings" brooding over His young, creation, one wing being overlordship, triumph and majesty and the other wing His humility, kindness and mercy. The wings balance out to make a perfect Being, both proud and humble. Only God is Self-obsessed and utterly humble and selfless at the same time. But we are created in that image, and lives balance out in a similar way, though chronological, extended through our lifetime. We start off in utter humility and dependence upon our parents, then we mature gradually, and in the end we help them in their dotage. As the Qu'ran says, we should all the while be offering "winged words" on behalf of the two souls to whom we owe our very lives.
As with a bird in flight, both of the "wings" of God's perfections work together at the same time. Birds do not normally flap one wing and then the other, they flap them in tandem. God transcends our limits, and here is a hint of the full beauty of this most natural of analogies. We worldlings do not fly like birds, we walk upon the cold, dank earth. Unlike a bird in flight, only one foot touches ground at any one time as we walk. Similarly, we cannot hold pride and humility in our limited minds at the same time, or mercy and justice, or any other of the other apparent contradictions. Divine virtues only God can reconcile and work in tandem for perfection.
If we build our understanding upon one "wing" or the other, we become lame. Like a bird in flight, we need both legs to walk. In the terms that Socrates taught, to try only to build up an intellectual system with the mind alone makes us mere sophists. A philosopher, a lover of wisdom, on the other hand, balances the practical with the mental and spiritual. Our fundamental need to balance work in worship and to derive worship from work, Plato explicated in his master work, the Republic,
"The mistake at present is, that those who study philosophy have no vocation, and this, as I was before saying, is the reason why she has fallen into disrepute: her true sons should take her by the hand and not bastards."
"What do you mean?"
"In the first place, her votary should not have a lame or halting industry. I mean, that he should not be half industrious and half idle: as, for example, when a man is a lover of gymnastic and hunting, and all other bodily exercises, but a hater rather than a lover of the labour of learning or listening or enquiring. Or the occupation to which he devotes himself may be of an opposite kind, and he may have the other sort of lameness." (Republic, Book VII)
Our two legs are our inner consciousness and the outer physical activity of the body. Both must work in sequence if we are to walk forward efficiently. Unlike the soaring bird, using both wings at the same time, in this world we work one or the other, body or mind, rarely both at the same time. It takes a great deal of faith, steadfastness and love to unite the two harmonious, as Plato also taught:
"Evil is the vulgar lover who loves the body rather than the soul, inasmuch as he is not even stable, because he loves a thing which is in itself unstable, and therefore when the bloom of youth which he was desiring is over, he takes wing and flies away, in spite of all his words and promises; whereas the love of the noble disposition is life-long, for it becomes one with the everlasting." (Plato, Symposium)
A true lover, as Shakespeare said in The Two Noble Kinsmen, is one whose love grows even as his body corrupts in old age. In other words, love is one wing, justice is the other, for only justice pays due attention to the corrupting, unstable body without forgetting the eternal.
The origin of this polarity is deeply rooted in creation. The Jewish Bible portrays God starting things going by bringing them out of the void by a direct act of will. It starts off a dark, formless void and His light makes the first day and night. This is the first dichotomy, light and dark. The beginning of light separated night from the first day. Before, it was not a lonely chaos as in other creation myths, for even then God "hovered" nearby; in one translation, "the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters..." (Gen 1:2, KJV) After that creation continued, and in a seven day cycle still proceeds, but God never leaves, even in the day of rest. This first, primal dichotomy of light explains the fundamental difference between what we humans create artificially and what God makes, naturally.
We are limited, and what we make is dead, a mere implement, tool or utensil. In contrast, God creates natural, living beings, good in themselves, worthy of love, and He continues to guide their development. Only God creates a bird with its perfectly balanced wings enabling flight. Our tools and machines, on the other hand, wonderful as they seem, are not living, they lack an entire dimension that divine creation possesses. The inventor does not "hover" nearby. They cannot evolve intelligently because their creator is separate, distant, gone. God is not an absentee "clockmaker" who makes it, winds it up and leaves, as the deists fondly imagined. Natural things have their Creator ever with them, assisting and guiding every second. This observation is hardly new, even outside the Judeo-Christian tradition. It was made, for example, by the Roman stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius,
"Every instrument, tool, vessel, if it does that for which it has been made, is well, and yet he who made it is not there. But in the things which are held together by nature there is within and there abides in them the power which made them; wherefore the more is it fit to reverence this power, and to think, that, if thou dost live and act according to its will, everything in thee is in conformity to intelligence. And thus also in the universe the things which belong to it are in conformity to intelligence." (Marcus Aurelius, Meditations)
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
We moved to Dunnville on the banks of the
You know, crepuscule, that special time when the light is threatening to vanish, leaving the poor birds flying blind in midair. A frightening thought no doubt, if you are a bird. So that is the time when Burt Bird punches out his time clock and Bill Bat punches in, saying in a bored tone of voice, "Evening Burt," and Burt replies in kind, "Evening Bill." The birds come in from dispersal on shore, field, forest or wherever the heck it is birds spend their time during the day and congregate in their thousands in treetops along this left bank of the river. There can be so many in the branches of one tree that if you were near they would briefly block out the sun for you. The slightest scare and they are up and off, looking for another tree to roost for the night. And I have noticed that the saying is true, birds of a feather do flock together; it is all one breed crowding the tree branches, either starlings or sparrows, or maybe other birds that look to my untrained eye like starlings and sparrows.
Rarely do the flocks of sleepy birds come into town to pick a tree for an avian hotel room, but for some reason this fall they did, once. Burt Bird picked a couple of the large old maples across the road from us in
Anyway, this morning, since we have been discussing on this Badi' Blog Immanuel Kant's discussion of science in the Third Thesis of the Cosmopolitan History, I got to thinking about the question of birds, and wings of birds. As my readers know, Abdu'l-Baha compared science and religion to the two wings of a bird, in fact He used it for that polarity almost as often as for sexual equality. That is what got me going. I flitted about like a bird on the wing, using Ocean and my other research mechanisms, and discovered how very pervasive and ancient this winged example of nature has been on how we see the soul, and heaven and earth. In fact I flew around so lightly and airily from Eastern to Western thought that I began to think that we are wrong to call computer search engines “engines;” we should call them wings. Computer search wings, that is the ticket. For these are not clunky, supercharged, heavy old engines. No, they are wings to the bird of the mind; they allow a skittery researcher like me to soar into the sky and scan books, whole bodies of literature, nay verily, the entire Internet itself. They allow us to take on powers that no mortal reader, however assiduous has imagined possible until now. It is as if we have learned to fly, so why not call them wings?
One of the first things I noticed when I search winged ancient literature is that Homer uses the expression "winged words" dozens of times. Usually he is describing a message or prayer of supplication to the gods in dire distress, as "Then he uttered winged words and entreated her..." At first I thought that by winged words Homer meant that the words flew up high, like birds do, into the heavens. But then I flitted over to Eastern literature and found this surprisingly apposite bit from the world's oldest scripture,
"Here on the right sing forth chanters of hymns of praise, even the winged birds that in due season speak." (Rig Veda, Book II, Hymn XLIII)
This would seem to imply that "winged words" are winged not because a bird flies high but because they are the sounds that winged things make, that is, birdsong. The bird sings its mating song for its own purposes, seeking to reproduce its genes, but the music that it makes is universally beautiful. It pleases all ears, even ours, distant as we may be from them on the genetic family tree. What better definition that that of worship and prayer? Winged words, sung in the mating season out of love, and since love moves the universe, they move us too, and give our souls wings. And so it should be when we intone prayers and holy utterances. We can reciprocate their songs and with our voice charm the birds out of the trees.
Let us continue this theme another day.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Reason and the Third Thesis
Immanuel Kant began the third thesis of his Cosmopolitan History with this proposition:
"Nature has willed that man should, by himself, produce everything that goes beyond the mechanical ordering of his animal existence, and that he should partake of no other happiness or perfection than that which he himself, independently of instinct, has created by his own reason." (Kant, Cosmopolitan History, 251-252)
A Muslim, or a Babi or Baha'i, reading this statement would have no problem at all reconciling what Kant says about our total dependence as human beings upon reason. For us, reason is faith, and faith is reason; as Baha'u'llah said, "reason is the first gift of God to man." However the religious leaders of
"And what reason have you that you should not believe in Allah? And the Apostle calls on you that you may believe in your Lord, and indeed He has made a covenant with you if you are believers." (57:8, Shakir)
Service by the more fortunate to the poor is the logical result of reasoned faith, "And what reason have you that you should not spend in Allah's way?" (57:10, Shakir), as is service to the One who created everything, through reciprocal offerings of prayer and other devotional tribute, "And what reason have I that I should not serve Him Who brought me into existence?" (36:22, Shakir) This reasoned faith agrees completely with Kant's foundational proposition that human happiness only results from the use of God-given reason to overcome the obstacles that nature presents to us, as opposed to operating out of nature, that is, mere instinct, reflex or recycling borrowed truths.
Kant then follows up on this in the body of the third thesis, where he elaborates upon the bases of above general proposition. He begins with what the nature of things seems to be saying to us about our use of the gift of reason.
"Nature does nothing in vain, and in the use of means to her goals she is not prodigal. Her giving to man reason and the freedom of the will which depends upon it is clear indication of her purpose."
Let me try to paraphrase this a little clearer. Organisms tend to be economical in their use of resources. Biology now knows that this is because evolution, over long periods of struggle for survival, tends to weed out wasteful or inappropriate structures. Our legs do what is necessary to help us walk and run, and no more. They do not attempt to fly or dig as we walk. Presumably, then, our brains, with their powerful command of reason, logic and language, are not built wastefully either. We need that command of theoretical entities in order to survive, just as a frog needs its long legs to hop and swim as quickly as possible.
As always, Kant is himself a force of nature, for he is economical to the point of obscurity, for he also slips in here the idea that free will results from and is dependent upon the faculty of reason, and that the nature of things indicates that we as human beings can and must exercise our free will along with our reason. Consider how Baha'u'llah defines nature:
"Say: Nature in its essence is the embodiment of My Name, the Maker, the Creator. Its manifestations are diversified by varying causes, and in this diversity there are signs for men of discernment. Nature is God's Will and is its expression in and through the contingent world." (Baha'u'llah, Tablets, Lawh-i-Hikmat, 141)
This, if anything, is stronger than what Kant says about nature. Nature _is_ God's will, and the very fact that we can percieve God's Will in His creation is proof positive that we have wills, and that we are morally obliged to use them. Kant then proceeds to all but paraphrase the Baha'i definition of justice:
"Man accordingly was not to be guided by instinct, not nurtured and instructed with ready-made knowledge; rather, he should bring forth everything out of his own resources."
Okay, this is all a bit heavy, and I apologize for that. Let me break off for now and discuss a new addition to my library, "The Federalist Papers," by Hamilton, Madison and Jay. This was a series of anonymous letters to the editor in a
Though not influential as published in themselves, these papers were used as a sort of handbook for debaters. The ideas in the Federalist Papers furnished the intellectual ammunition for the down and dirty practical task of consultation, of changing the jaundiced view of leaders of the constitution, and the opinions of the public away from rejection, towards accepting the new constitution. The Federalist Papers came out surprisingly close to the time that Kant wrote the Cosmopolitan History. Since the unification of the 13 Colonies into a single federalist union prefigured the ultimate union of all governments into one, an event soon to be effectuated if we are ever to escape the tyranny of Adolph Nobody, we could think of the Federalist Papers as the practical or applied version, part one, of the Cosmopolitan History envisaged by Kant. If you doubt, consider how
"It ... seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. ... a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind." (Federalist Papers, 33)
Consider how close this is to the argument of Qu'ran, which asserts that this happens in every age. God gives us a set of reasons and arguments, and it is up to us to work it out in our artificial political forum according our original nature, not the nature of nature, which though it arised directly from the Will of God, is still an indirect reflection compared to what He created within our selves. Upon the quality of our response to our own original truth depends our survival.
"That was the reasoning about Us, which We gave to Abraham (to use) against his people: We raise whom We will, degree after degree: for thy Lord is full of wisdom and knowledge." (6:83, Yusuf Ali)
Sunday, December 17, 2006
The Gift, Voyage, Open House, and Adolph Nobody
What is the Gift?
On Thursday night we held our Philosopher's Cafe meeting, subject: "The Gift." This strange topic was suggested by a young woman of a mystic bent, name of Maryanne, at the previous meeting. It turned out to be a fortunate choice, intuitively chosen, and helped my ongoing investigation of property and private ownership. As various people (there were five men and two women present) gave their answer to what "gift" meant for them, it turned out that this idea is obliquely but surprisingly closely linked to property and to questions like, "What do we own?", and, "What can we give?" As always, Stu introduced the topic and set the ball rolling with his own perspective of what gift means. Bruce said that the greatest gift is our own life, and that was hard to argue with. Stan, the founder of this branch of the Socrates Cafe movement, pointed out that "gift" is closely tied to justice and the idea of reciprocity; one friend gives one gift, the other returns it in a different, not always comparable way. As Jesus said, "Cast your bread upon the waters and you will find it coming back to you manifold."
Mark, a teacher at
The question came up of whether bad things that happen can be thought of as gifts. If you are born blind, is that a gift? The blindness may be bad, but a person can make it into a gift by showing courage and resourcefulness in dealing with it. Others with less bad on their plate are inspired to take heart.
Maryanne backed the idea that the gift is not what happens outwardly but our reactions. She told of her bout with cancer. She knew before the doctors did that it was cancer, and then knew before the tests came back that the cyst was benign. Her gift was not so much the specific knowledge that her intuitive capability gave her but an iron assurance that this life is benignly purposed, that she would live on in a future life. She pitied her brother who was put through the same batch of tests with the same diagnosis, but he suffered oceans of stress, suspense and anxiety because he did not know what would happen, yes, but mostly because he considered that he had a great deal at stake, his life, the greatest gift, as we had already agreed life is.
Car Voyage to
Yesterday was Zamenhof Day, the time when Esperantists celebrate the birthday of Ludwig, inventor of the world's most popular artificial, or as Esperantist prefer to call it, planned language. The Toronto Club had an open house celebrating its first centenary. Tomaso and I drove to
Bracketing the horror was a street sign I had never seen, with two arrows pointing both left and right, with a bar through it. No left or right turns. You are committed when you come here, and there is no flinching, no turning away. Street after street we were faced with that dread sign. The few corners that did not have it had so many pedestrians walking by that it was impossible to turn anyway. At first I relieved the boredom my usual way, by taking photos of the bright lights and buildings as tall as you can crane your neck up to see. Then a cop car drove by and Janush asked that I put the camera away lest we be stopped. The cop pulled to the side at a corner milling with several police officers on foot, arresting a drunk in handcuffs. Thomas, looking on in the back seat, saw his first arrest. When we passed this incident I thought the traffic might speed up, but no difference was perceptible. Anywhere else an arrest with cops all around would snarl and slow up the pace of traffic, but here it made no difference one way or the other; it was the ubiquitous volume of traffic taken to its ultimate extreme.
Esperanto Open House
The open house was pot luck. Do not get me started on pot lucks. But at least we got a meal, albeit a mixed one. Hoss from
Thomas kept interrupting me to play tag and a game we made up on the spot -- his shoes had come off, as usual, and I would fling them at him and try to wing him, and he would try escaping. Fortunately, he was not hurt and nothing was broken. It was a long trip, so anything to keep him active while he is out of the confines of his car seat. Then a young fellow in a green starred sweater invited him to draw something in his sketchbook. This kept him active for a while. Then another fellow sat down at the grand piano and staged a sing along. My favorite was "Esperanto, estas la lingvo por mi, por mi." I remet Bernard Leach, who learned the language in
There is a relaxed, friendly atmosphere at Esperanto meetings that you do not find at any other sort of group I have experienced. Feminist, anti-racist, and other human rights meetings are invisibly backed by the spirit of the Baha'i principles, but the activists there usually have a negative mindset. There is a feeling of being united more against than for something. Baha'i get-togethers are loving, supportive and spiritual, but there is often a sense of being pressured and tense. We are concerned and the concern shows, for the weight of both this world and the world of spirit are weighing down hard on our shoulders. Esperantists, on the other hand, are very much for something, they hold up no villains, nor is there any pressure. There is just a neutral language to uphold and use as much as we can to communicate with. So you meet people and talk, and there is no feeling that you should be doing something else.
That said, my feelings attending this centenary meeting were also tinged with nostalgia and sadness. My Thomas was the only one there under thirty years old, and most were older than me. Unless there is a major shift in regime and public opinion, it is very unlikely there will be even a memory of this movement a century from now.
Adolph Nobody, or, Why even bother with Esperanto?
For me, the answer was in the snarled traffic. On the way back an entire highway had been shut down with everything blocked up behind for many kilometers. Finally, crawling by, we found the reason the Gardiner was a parked garden; a wrecked car lay precariously on its side in the middle two of six empty lanes. Think of the staff hours wasted. Busy lives made busier, spending several hours a day waiting for traffic, working to pay for their vehicles, to insure them, repair them, and in a thousand other ways to pay for blood spilled on the streets, and illnesses resulting from the pollution.
All this is intolerable.
All is the direct result of the tyranny of Adolph Nobody, running a beautiful world into Nothing. Adolph decreed that manufacturers continue producing as many cars as people are stupid enough to buy. He pays our so-called leaders to look the other way. And we all churn away at his vile idea free ideology, to the tune of seventy billion tons of poisonous puss pumped into the air each day. Adolph rules insanity, and his native language is English. Anybody whose native language is not Adolph's can just join the oppressed majority who are paying for it all, and be the first to die when the crunch comes. When his rule starts running with blood and millions (if not billions) begin starving and dying -- and it is just a matter of time before that happens -- maybe then people will start thinking about a sensible infrastructure, a world government to take Adolph Nobody's place, and starting to speak an alternative, truly neutral language.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
To Man the Plan of Man
Completion of the Second Thesis of Kant's Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View
If we allow what Hamlet called our "godlike reason" to "fust away in us unused" both our past and future will snuff out. The alternative is to plan. Plans are the proof that we have learned the lesson of history. Plans are history in the future tense.
Al Gore in "An Inconvenient Truth" warns that if we do not act soon to solve the climate crisis we will become like the frog in a pot of lukewarm water that is gradually heated to the boiling point. If it is suddenly thrown into scalding water, its reflexes kick in while the frog is strong. But gradual heat enervates, and as the heat increases it waits beyond a tipping point; after that, it can only float, stupefied, indolent, passive, until finally its strength and life ebb away. Our problem is something similar, we look at the headlines about the climate crisis, and each one seems exaggerated. Nothing happens that we cannot easily survive.
It happened in
However, as Gore points out, this is to forget that there is a step in-between, action. Dire as the situation seems there is much to hope for. We know the problem, but we also know the answers to the climate crisis. Thank God, they are clear and straightforward. We just have to lower the planet's thermostat by cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions. All we lack is political will. Gore at this point declares to wild cheering, "Fortunately, in
The parable of the frog in hot water illustrates an important truth about praxis. Knowledge alone is not enough. Even action alone is not enough. William Osler, the great physician, said, "Fullness of knowledge does not always bring confidence; the more one knows the more timidity may grow. (Hence) the Hippocratic dictum: `Experience is fallacious and judgment difficult.'" (Michael Bliss, William Osler, A Life in Medicine, 372) What we need to overcome these shortcomings are all of the renewables, faith, science and democracy, working together in a coordinated way. The way we bring them together is by planning. Planning means that first we understand where we have been (that is, we study history), then we devise a plan of where to go in future. We act on it, and finally we review the plan. We refer back to it and revise it. This is the method of reason, and the first step to learning it is to read history in a cosmopolitan way.
There is no way around it, experience is fallacious, and judgment is difficult. We need a plan designed to overcome our basic limitations. This is why I am moved to return to Kant's cosmopolitan history again and again.
We left off last time at the second thesis, which we noted is convergent with the Baha'i principle of the oneness of humanity. Briefly, this principle of unity of humanity is born in God's Oneness and proceeds to its reflection in creation and in us. Our gift of reason acts like a mirror; we reflect in it His image of Oneness, both individually and collectively. The human being, both in microcosm and macrocosm, is designed to make One of many, as was summed up in ancient times in the Latin motto, E Pluribus Unum.
Unfortunately, the first thing we notice when we look at the life of the individual is that her useful lifespan is just too short to be of much use. We hardly have time to begin to accomplish anything. As Kant puts it,
"... a single man would have to live excessively long in order to learn to make full use of all his natural capacities." (Kant, Cosmopolitan History, 251)
Our natural capacities seem boundless, and reason is infinite, so the only life that would satisfy our potential would be an endless existence. But mortal existence is far from endless. Hobbes had famously said that life in a state of nature is "nasty, brutish and short." Even should progress and enlightenment change us all into angels and philosophers, Kant realized, and even if one day we were to cease to live a nasty and brutish existence, still, life would always remain short. At most we live not much more than 120 years. Today a there is a strong consensus among gerontologists that our entire genome seems designed from the double helix up to live only long enough to reproduce and then not long afterwards to expire. Thus each generation has little time to catch up with what its fathers and mothers knew and turn around and pass the fruits of experience on to its sons and daughters.
Because of life's extreme brevity, science cannot reside in the hands of any one individual. It is and will always be a collective, cooperative heritage, never complete, ever being perfected. Biology does not reside in one biologist, or physics in any physicist. Each body of knowledge is tentative, improved upon a little by many minds and then passed on quickly to the next generation. Therefore education is not an ornament; we must depend upon it for our very survival as a species. As Kant says,
"Reason itself does not work instinctively, but requires trial, practice, and instruction in order gradually to progress from one level of insight to another."
This is the scientific method, patient, selfless dedication by many lovers of knowledge to advance a common cause. Each body of knowledge applies reason systematically to a complete, holistic area of endeavor, as Aristotle points out,
"In all arts and sciences which embrace the whole of any subject, and do not come into being in a fragmentary way, it is the province of a single art or science to consider all that appertains to a single subject." (Politics, IV, 1)
Kant realizes that history is just such a complete study. History is a cosmopolitan whole, and we need to treat it as a science. He was aware that there had never been until then a history of the entire human race. His Cosmopolitan History was his attempt to draw up a first draft, just as his Sketch of Perpetual Peace was his early draft for a world constitution. He had no illusions that the history had been even begun, and even today, to our peril, it is still hardly begun.
"Since Nature has set only a short period for his life, she needs a perhaps unreckonable series of generations, each of which passes its own enlightenment to its successor in order finally to bring the seeds of enlightenment to that degree of development in our race which is completely suitable to Nature's purpose."
History, lots of history, is needed for enlightenment. We may not know it, but we are crying out for such a history. We need it to understand ourselves as a complete human totality. Even the most advanced individual is not enlightened without familiarity with cosmopolitan history, for we must understand our history to plan and order our world.
Of course the only one qualified to commission such a universal history would be a united humanity itself. And like all sciences this cosmopolitan history would have to be written and perfected by many bright historians whose torch is passed on through many generations. Kant continues:
"This point of time must be, at least as an ideal, the goal of man's efforts, for otherwise his natural capacities would have to be counted as for the most part vain and aimless. This would destroy all practical principles, and Nature, whose wisdom must serve as the fundamental principle in judging all her other offspring, would thereby make man alone a contemptible plaything."
To rephrase his convoluted expression, each of us is working against the clock not to be "man alone." If we fail to connect to the unity of man, and then man the plan, life will be truncated, existence robbed of meaning, and having renounced reason we will end up a "contemptible plaything" to forces beyond our control. Our frog will be cooked.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Even More Inconvenient Truths
By John Taylor; 12 December, 2006
By John Taylor; 12 December, 2006
A little bit of several things today. First, some tidbits transcribed from the film, An Inconvenient Truth. The following was requested by the esteemed Betty Frost. It is played in playful letters during the closing credits, and since it reads lyrically, I will call it here the closing credits poem.
Closing Credits Poem
Are you ready to change the way you live?
The climate crisis can be solved.
Here is how to start.
Go to www.climatecrisis.net
You can reduce your carbon emissions.
In fact you can even reduce your carbon emissions to zero.
Buy energy efficient appliances and light bulbs.
Change your thermostat (and use clock thermostats) to reduce energy for heating and cooling.
Weatherize your house, increase insulation and get an energy audit.
If you can, buy a hybrid car.
When you can, walk or ride a bicycle.
Where you can, use light rail and mass transit.
Tell your parents not to ruin the world you will live in.
If you are a parent, join with your children, save the world they will live in.
Switch to renewable sources of energy.
Call your power company to see if they offer green energy.
If they do not, ask them why not.
Vote for leaders who pledge to solve the crisis.
Write to congress,
If they do not listen, run for congress.
Lots of trees,
Speak up in your community.
Call radio shows and write newspapers.
And join international efforts to stop global warming.
Reduce our dependence on foreign oil;
Help farmers grow alcohol fuels.
Raise fuel economy standards;
Require lower emissions from automobiles.
If you believe in prayer, pray that people will find
The strength to change.
In the words of the old African proverb,
When you pray, move your feet.
Encourage everyone you know to see this movie.
Learn as much as you can about the climate crisis.
Then put your knowledge into action.
In the update to his slide presentation a year after the documentary was made (this is only available in the DVD's extra features section) Gore offers the following quote to do with the population explosion, from Julius K. Nyerere, of
"The greatest contraceptive one can have in the developing world is the knowledge that your children will live."
For those who like the featured song in the film, it is called "I need to wake up," by Melissa Etheridge. The producers were amazed that she actually worked the title of the film, "An Inconvenient Truth," into her lyrics. At one crucial point in the film Gore quotes Mark Twain,
"What gets us into trouble is not what we do not know but what we do know that just ain't so."
Al Gore compares himself and the climate crisis to Winston Churchill and the looming Nazi threat in the 1930's. The comparison is tempting, and I do not think that too many viewers go out of the cinema thinking that Gore is being at all megalomaniacal. The climate crisis is a very serious threat, as was Hitler. On
"The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays, is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences."
The commentary explains that they considered as a candidate for title to the film: "A Period of Consequences," based on the above. I like that title better, myself. Anyway, I would add something else Churchill said in 1936, "Weakness is not treason, though it may be equally disastrous." Pretty much applies to everybody with power in this age of consequences. He actually said that about the dithering of the French after Hitler seized the
"The British and French submission to the violations of the Treaties of Versailles and
My friend never seemed to recover from this shock. He took it too much to heart. After all, one can always go on doing what one believes to be his duty, and running ever greater risks till knocked out. Wigram's profound comprehension reacted on his sensitive nature unduly. His untimely death in December, 1936, was an irreparable loss to the Foreign Office, and played its part in the miserable decline of our fortunes.
When Hitler met his generals after the successful reoccupation of the
from: The Gathering Storm, Winston S. Churchill, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1948, pp. 198-199
Monday, December 11, 2006
Down With Sole Proprietorship!
Last night I helped with the technical setup for our Human Rights Day celebration, a projected showing on a big screen of "An Inconvenient Truth." It was the third time I had seen this documentary film about Global Warming since the DVD was released a couple of weeks ago. This time around my thoughts while watching it were of a historical bent. At the heart of this crisis, it seemed now, is not just the folly, corruption and avarice of a privileged elite. True, their ambition provoked the climate crisis in the first place, and their further refusal to wake up and listen to criers in the wilderness like Al Gore is letting the climate crisis spiral out of control. But the real, underlying problem, it seems to me, runs much deeper than we imagine.
To explain our suicidal turpitude the denial of a few or even the despondency of many cannot cut it. At the heart is a pandemic refusal to listen to and act on informed advice. The doctor hands us the diagnosis, but we do not recognize his qualifications, or we cannot be bothered to fill the prescription, or we fill it and then lose the medication, anything but actually do what must be done for our own good. I came to believe while watching yet again these conclusive proofs of global warming that listening to the advice of climate scientists alone is not going to be enough to save us. We must form a new habit of listening and obeying not just these experts but everybody in the know. In other words, we need to learn to become fully scientific about everything that matters, and not just what concerns the welfare of our planet, essential as that is.
And when I say scientific, I am not using the narrow modern sense of the word. I am talking about a broader search for truth that used to be called natural philosophy, and which boils down to one word, wisdom. Wisdom is the application of justice in everything we call "yours," "mine" and "ours." Consider how the most glorious of Jewish kings started out. He began his reign, we are told, with a humble wish in a dream on the night before his accession to the crown. Here it is, as recorded in the Bible:
"Your servant is in the midst of your people which you have chosen, a great people, that can't be numbered nor counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding heart to judge your people, that I may discern between good and evil; for who is able to judge this your great people?" (1 Kings 3:8-12, WEB)
I was prompted to look up this passage again by a headline in a news magazine asking this question about a candidate for leadership of the Liberal Party in
But the point about arrogance, taken generally, is a crucial consideration for voters and those voted into office. For truly, the people are holy, since God Himself created them. If one person is to be loved because God created her, two are twice as lovable, and many that much more. Groups are holy and mysterious and inscrutable just as God is. Only a leader who reveres and loves the people above all has any right to be in a position of prominence. This, the Master taught. Abdu'l-Baha reasoned that if it is bad to put down a single person, how much worse is it to denigrate an institution? After all, an institution is a group of persons. What is more, they are dedicated not to their own good but the interests of others. Yet many, even some Baha'is I have known, are happy to exclude institutions, especially government, from their definition of backbiting. Abomination on abominations!
There are many groups and institutions that we should respect and revere, and the greatest of all is the biggest and most inclusive, the human race. This is why Margaret Thatcher's denial that there is any society other than individuals or families was such a primal, heinous betrayal of her mission as leader. That is why we have her, and those who think like her, mostly to thank for the mounting climate crisis. Anyway, here is the "report card" that God gave to Solomon for his request in his dream, recorded above. This is one of the few explanations in Holy Writ of God's side of the prayer equation, and it is therefore something we should bear in mind constantly, whenever we judge or make a value judgment, whenever we are praying or preparing to cast a vote:
"The speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing. God said to him, Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked for yourself long life, neither have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice; behold, I have done according to your word: behold, I have given you a wise and an understanding heart; so that there has been none like you before you, neither after you shall any arise like you."
I am calling this essay "Down With Sole Proprietorship!" because that, it seems to me, is what Solomon was renouncing and God was confirming here. That is, God is saying what Solomon was to get to have as his own. Remember, Solomon did not ask for any property or outer fruit of providence, either for himself or others. He did not want it, and God does not give it to him. But, as a result of his purity, God gives him the "understanding to discern justice," and a "wise and understanding heart." Recall, Solomon had already promised to use such an ability to discern between good and evil to "judge the people." In other words, since selfless judgments are disinterested they would benefit the people and not Solomon.
What did Solomon get out of it? He got a pure heart that would make it "so that there has been none like you before you, neither after you shall any arise like you." In other words, uniqueness. As Abdu'l-Baha said, those who imitate the past are doomed to repeat the past endlessly. The soul who, like Eve, reaches out to take the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil by the shortcut of imitation, initiates a fall from grace of epic, climatic proportions. Solomon would do the reverse, his wisdom would bring about a return to grace, he would be given the power to bring something new into the world. Nothing, no possession is more valuable than that.
Which is why Solomon's name and glorious reign are still known today, so many ages later, and even why its achievement is immortalized proverbially in the first Persian Hidden Word, addressed to all "people who have minds to know and ears to hear," saying, "O messenger of the Solomon of love! Seek no shelter except in the
The Queen of Sheba saw a return for us all to innocence and grace, a way out of the fall caused by false imitation of past understanding. And that was just what God had promised Solomon in that night before his crowning, uniqueness, innovation, what Bacon later called Instauration, what Baha'is now call Badi', and paid for it with his blood. Badi' or instauration mark true progress, revolutions mere tumbling, for it is based upon a humble search for truth and justice. Badi' was the name of the young roué given the job of delivering to the tyrant Baha'u'llah's Tablet to the Kings. O messenger of the Solomon of love, indeed.
Today is a day Marie has choir practice and I get to take care of the kids. So instead of an essay today, I include the following chilling bit of techno-cheerleading, submitted directly from the industrialist’s publicity machine to the editors of a children’s publication designed to introduce young people to the wonders of science, and published unchanged in 1922 (which means that the copyright on the article has expired, so this is one of the few of my little extras that I would not have to seek permission to reproduce should these essays ever be published). In other words, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. A good percentage of the gadget articles in Popular Science will probably seem just as chilling a few decades from now; some already do, especially those touting the wonders of nanotechnology. I wonder how much was known even then about the possible deleterious effects of asbestos, and was being suppressed? Reading this article now, eighty years later, I see not just a close parallel to nanotechnology, but I see that the asbestos problem is precisely the same story, only chapter two. The little strands of asbestos are just as indestructible as carbon nanotubes. The best bit of humor about asbestos that I have seen lately is in an episode of the animated series Futurama. It is the year 3000 and in New New York old houses are being sold at a premium, advertising that the “original asbestos is still intact.”
The Story in a Lump of Asbestos
(from: The Second Book of Wonders, Rudolph and Amelie Willard Bodmer, The Wonder Book Corporation, New York, 1922, p. 313)
A Curiosity That Became a Wonderful Necessity.
For centuries asbestos was but a curiosity. Today it is a recognized commercial necessity. Developed by the efforts and the resources of a great business institution, this curio of ages now contributes to the world's progress and makes life safer and more complete.
Had someone championed asbestos earlier, had someone the vision and foresight to realize the possibilities of this mineral fifty years ago, the world today would be further along. The
What Is Asbestos?
Asbestos is one of nature's most marvelous products. It is a nugget of rock, as heavy and dense as marble, yet composed of silky fibers which can be carded, spun and woven as easily as wool, flax or silk.
Each fiber of this mineral is as light and feathery as thistle or eiderdown, yet it is so rugged and strong that for the millions of years it has existed in the earth, the forces of time have neither broken its slender thread nor marred its silken sheen.
So little is asbestos affected by the influence of time that for untold centuries it has remained in exactly the same state as it is today, while the hardest kind of rock in which it was imbedded was slowly worn away.
To look at a bunch of asbestos fiber, one would think that it would blaze up at the touch of a lighted match or dissolve when brought into contact with acids --yet it resists high temperatures and practically all commercial acids.
It looks delicate, yet it can be spun into very strong yarns. The rock is heavy, yet the fibers can be woven into cloth weighing less than sixteen ounces to the square yard.
One of the most valuable properties of this mineral is its indestructibility, which enables it to resist decay and destruction under almost every condition of heat and moisture. Compared with other materials, this property possessed by asbestos is unparalleled. Wood burns -- asbestos is uninjured by flame or temperatures to 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Stone disintegrates -- asbestos defies erosion. Steel rusts -- asbestos is immune to climatic or atmospheric conditions.
How Asbestos Was Formed.
While many different theories have been advanced to account for the formation of asbestos, the most generally accepted is that its origin is volcanic; that the deposits took shape during the prehistoric cooling of the earth's surface and that either water or steam is responsible for the breaking apart of the original rock formation and its rebuilding under pressure into its present fibrous state.
Asbestos is closely related to talc and soapstone. A chemist would describe it as silicate of magnesia. It has but slight traces of other minerals.
In external appearance and chemical composition, different types of asbestos fiber are much alike. The difference between them is the difference between good and bad asbestos, and will be perceived at once when the fibers are subjected to tearing, twisting and bending between the fingers.
Chrysotile, which is the fiber having the greatest commercial value, will give out silky threads of considerable length, which lend themselves to the various spinning processes necessary to the manufacture of this mineral into various products. Other forms will split up into harsh and sometimes brittle fibers which occasionally break when rubbed between the fingers.
Where Asbestos Comes From.
While asbestos occurs in some form or other in nearly every country in the world, it is never found precisely alike in any two countries. It differs not only in appearance, but also in physical and chemical characteristics according to the locality from which it comes. Some few sections of the world yield asbestos which can be used for a surprising number of purposes, but in most sections the rock, either because of its coarseness, or the ruggedness of its texture, is practically useless commercially.
In no other country has the mining of asbestos attained such proportion or success as in
The most important of other producing countries in point of quantity is
Its Earliest Uses.
The ancients living in what we call "the "Dark Ages," held asbestos in awe, and wonderful tales about this mineral grew more wonderful with each telling.
It is related that the great Emperor Charlemagne, who ruled over a large part of
About the year 1250 A. D. Marco Polo, the famous explorer, was making discoveries in many new lands of the
The Growth of the Asbestos Industry.
Though the properties of asbestos were known to the early scientists, it was not until about 1870 that the first experiments were made for using it on a commercial scale. At about the same, time the first specimens of a very fine asbestos from
The good quality of Canadian asbestos and the ease with which it could be spun and woven, however, attracted sufficient interest to induce some enterprising capitalists to investigate this Canadian asbestos further. The more these men investigated it, the more apparent became its possibilities, and busy mining camps soon sprang up around
Experiments were begun to speed up the mining operations and bring down the cost of this mineral. Many experimental machines were instal1ed, discarded and remodeled before satisfactory results were obtained.
The difficulties to be overcome were many, as the aim was not only to replace hand labor with machines wherever possible, but also to separate the asbestos more thoroughly from the rock in which it was imbedded than had hitherto been possible.
After years of persistent effort these difficulties were overcome, and the present-day efficiency of asbestos mining and production was obtained.
How Asbestos Is Brought From the Mines.
To appreciate the size of the task of making asbestos serve civilization which has beep so successful1y mastered, one has only to take a trip through an asbestos mine. While asbestos has been mined in
As practically the whole mass of rock has to be mined, the operations are carried on in open pits or quarries. In view of this fact; the expense is largely increased when severe storms of rain or snow prevent the carrying on of the work in these open pits. Due to the severe weather conditions in Canada, there is very little production during the months of December, January, February and March -- at which time all mines are operated at a loss -- as it is necessary to remove the snow from the pits so that mining operations may be resumed as soon as the weather permits.
In order to produce 100 tons of fiber of various grades, it is necessary to quarry, blast, hoist and put through the mills 2,000 tons of rock. To handle this quantity of rock requires twelve locomotives, four steam shovels, twenty miles of track, twenty-two derricks, 300 cars and 3,000 electric horsepower to operate the machinery in the mills, which represent an investment of almost two million dollars.
How We Get Asbestos.
Asbestos mines are operated practically in the same way as large stone quarries -- the operations being carried on by a series of steps or benches, which enable the miners to dislodge large quantities of rock at each blast. The rock is so hard that it is necessary for it all to be drilled and blasted. Electricity and compressed air are used for operating the drills. The drill holes are usually put in from eight feet to twenty feet deep. The drilled holes are filled with dynamite and exploded by electric batteries, the blasts being set off at and night when the men leave work.
After the blasting, a number of men, known as cobbers, go into the pits. They examine all the rock that is blasted, and pick out the rock having veins of one-half inch and longer of asbestos, which they can easily dislodge from the rock with small hammers. This material is then taken to a cobbing room where it is further cleaned and sorted into three grades.
The balance of the rock in the pits is either loaded into the cars by means of steam shovels, or is hoisted from the deepest part of the pits in buckets to the surface, and from there conveyed to the mills, about a quarter of a mile from the pits. There the rock is dumped into large bins, and from these bins into very large crushers which reduce it to pieces the size of a man's fist. These pieces are then conveyed to rotary dryers in order to dry the rock. From the dryers the rock passes into "cyclones," which crush (not grind) it into very small particles.
This crushed rock containing the asbestos fiber is then taken by conveyors and passed over shaking-screens six feet wide and twelve feet long. As the fiber is much lighter than the rock, the fiber comes to the surface when the screens are shaken, and is lifted from the screens by air suction into large revolving cylinders, known as graders.
These graders separate the fiber into three different grades, one called long spinning fiber, which is used in the manufacture of various textiles; a medium grade, which is used for making asbestos felts for roofing, firefelt for sheets for heat insulating purposes, etc., and the third grade, or short grade, is usually used for the manufacture of millboard, cements, etc. The fiber is packed in bags of 100 pounds each, and is shipped in this manner to the factories.
To convert asbestos rock into the various forms in which this mineral is now used requires millions of square feet of factory floor space, special machinery and thousands of employees.
The crude long-fiber asbestos which is used in the manufacture of various textiles is first run through heavy rollers which crush the rock without destroying the fiber. The partially broken up mineral then passes through separating machines, which automatically remove every particle of rock from the crushed mass of asbestos, leaving the asbestos fiber clean and ready for the next operation. Other machines then open up or crush it into a fine mass. It is then ready for the dusting machine which blows the fiber about and automatically takes out all of the fine dust and any remaining short particles of fiber. The resultant product is a long clean fiber ready for spinning.
Carding machines for asbestos are the result of many years of study. When you take into consideration the fact that this machine is the basis of all twisted asbestos and the starting point of all asbestos cloths, packings and roofings, etc., you can easily realize the importance of having the yarn coming from these machines correct in every detail.
The carding machine automatically weighs out the exact amount of fiber per minute, at the same time placing this fiber on a traveling apron which. feeds the machine automatically at a certain prescribed rate per minute. This machine takes the mass of fiber fed into it, straightens it out and then feeds it through another portion of the machine, which automatically twists the fiber into strands of fine yarn. The size of yarn depends entirely upon the number of strands of fiber delivered every minute by the automatic weighing attachment. It is because of this feature that a uniform quality of yarn can be assured.
These yarns are woven into cloths of various weights, thicknesses and density of weave, according to the mechanical purposes for which they are intended. They may be plain or asbesto-metallic, the former being composed solely of asbestos; the latter consisting of asbestos yarn, twisted around the strands of fine brass wire, woven into cloth.
The plain asbestos cloth is made into many different useful things, but the most important of these to our civilization are packings. Now the average idea of packing is one thing, but the kinds of packings asbestos fabric is used for are quite different. A packing, mechanically speaking, is a device generally shaped like a ring, to prevent leakage of steam, water or other fluids. A well-known instance is in the locomotive stuffing box, where the glistening, powerful piston-rod shoots in and out, moving the whole train. That stuffing-box contains a set of packing rings mostly made of asbestos cloth, which squeeze the rod all the time so as to prevent escape of steam and loss of power.
Asbestos cloth used in packings is coated, or, as technically called, frictioned with rubber compound and rolled up to required diameters round, or calendered where square packing is required. These packings are furnished in coil, spiral or ring form, according to the requirements of the engineers, and are thoroughly lubricated and graphited, ready for use when supplied to the trade.
The cloth with wire interwoven in the strands of asbestos is fractioned in the same manner as in the case of the packings and may be used flat for all jointing purposes and folded into gaskets for all sorts of conditions. A gasket is a sheet of flexible material put between flat - surfaces like pipe flanges to prevent leakage. In this field of packings and gaskets, asbestos has made the use of high pressure and superheated steam a success. Its great heat resisting properties successfully withstand the high temperatures, without in any way affecting its serviceability, whereas the old form of rubber, cotton and flax packings would soon be charred into uselessness.
Fire Escape Ropes.
A novel application of asbestos is in connection with ropes used by firemen and the like. Such rope is made entirely of asbestos and also of asbestos with a steel wire core. A rope with a steel wire core and three-quarter inch in diameter was found capable of carrying nearly 2,000 pounds with only one strand of the seventy or more broken. Asbestos rope made without the steel core is sufficiently strong for the ordinary applications made by the firemen.
Asbestos cloth, plain or wire interwoven, preferably the latter, is generally used the proscenium openings of stages, as a positive barrier to the spread of flames from the stage and a protection to life and property. In this connection, it is interesting to note that
Asbestos is one of the greatest known filters and is used extensively in all filtering processes, either in fiber or cloth form, more especially as a fabric, because in this form it is more tractable.
Chemical plants use it in filtering acid solutions where fabrics made of vegetable fibers or of the hair of animals would be destroyed. It has made the many wonderful electrolytic processes possible. Here it is used as diaphragms in the cells or compartments.
Most of the large portable filters for drinking waters are based on the use of asbestos. Water, no matter how discolored by dirt and sediment, can be made as clear as crystal by one or at the most two filterings. Further, asbestos cloth in one of the most prominent types of filters, has been proved greatly to reduce the number of disease-causing bacteria, by straining them from the water passing through.
Clothing and Domestic Uses.
Asbestos cloth is made up into gloves; coats, trousers, leggings, etc., for the protection of workmen in electrical furnaces, blast furnaces, glass plants, etc. For domestic purposes, into pads for protecting table tops from hot dishes, palm covers for hot irons; stove polishers, etc.
Asbestos Insulating Materials.
The medium length fibers are formed by various processes into all forms required for the insulation of heated surfaces, such as pipes, boilers, heaters, air ducts, ceilings, flues, stack linings, etc. Also for insulating refrigerators, etc., where heat must be kept out.
First. Felted Insulation.-- In this form the fibers are felted together by natural felting process with the addition of sponge or certain inert cementitious materials, which in themselves possess insulating values and are fireproof. These are used to give added mechanical strength. The material thus felted is molded into cylindrical half sections for pipes; sheets and b1ocks for larger surfaces, and rolls where a flexible material is required.
Second. Magnesia Insulation -- In this well-known form of insulation, asbestos fibers are molded as a bond with carbonate of magnesia in proportion of eighty-five per cent magnesia carbonate and fifteen per cent fiber, into forms as above described, with the exception of the rolls. Carbonate of magnesia is used because of its lightness and the fact that like sponge, etc., in combination with asbestos fiber, it produces a structure with an infinite number of dead air cells, the basic principle of all insulation.
Third. Cellular Asbestos Insulation. This form is built up from asbestos felt or paper, later described. The felts are corrugated through regular corrugating rolls and wound over a mandrel to the required thickness for pipe covering or laid up in sheets or blocks, fastened together by means of fire-proof glue, a silicious fire-proofing material. These cellular products in the cylindrical form for pipe covering, may be formed with the cells running lengthwise with the section or circumferentially, the latter being the higher insulation, because each cell is closed against the adjoining one, preventing the free transmission of air and the loss of heat by radiation.
There are other common forms of insulation materials made from asbestos which are known as ordinary molded coverings, composed of gypsum or plaster of Paris, bonded together with fiber. These, however, are the older and more primitive forms, and because of low insulating value and inefficient mechanical strength, when applied to heated surfaces, are being abandoned by the engineering profession.
Some years ago, it was discovered that asbestos possessed unusually high frictional properties and its introduction into the lining of brakes had a great deal to do with the increased efficiency of automobiles, as well as stationary machines, such as hoists, cranes and other types of machinery where friction clutches or brakes are used. It has unusual advantages over organic linings as well as iron in that it withstands the temperature caused by the friction, without breaking up, and is immune from destruction from water or oil.
As above stated, certain grades of short fibers of asbestos are felted into paper that is afterwards built up into asbestos roofing. A specially selected superior grade of shorter fibers, free from grit, is used; made on a regular paper-making machine into thin felts, which are saturated with a bituminous material.
For this purpose, the very best results are obtained by using a natural asphalt with non-volatile oils, and it is these two basic materials on which the great value and durability of asbestos roofing depends.
Asbestos is not subject to rot, rust or decay, therefore it possesses all of the much desired requirements for a permanent roofing felt and all that it needs to give it an indeterminate life without cost of upkeep, is a proper waterproofing element. Man-made asphalts, combined with highly volatile oils, while they may be used in the manufacture of asbestos roofing, do not make a satisfactory product. Therefore natural asphalts are used in the best types of asbestos roofing.
Asbestos fiber is peculiar in that unlike wool or other fibers used in roofing felts, it is non-tubular, therefore it does not take the oil into the fiber tubes as in the case of organic fibers, but each fiber is individually coated on the outside and the mass so amalgamated that with the natural asphalt and non-volatile oil, the water-proofing life of the roofing fabric is prolonged indefinitely, and it is not affected by the loss of the waterproofing element by capillary attraction or the effects of the sun and air, which is the case in the ordinary felt roofing, where the water-proofing element is drawn out of the tubes and evaporated into the air, leaving the body felt to be readily oxidized and disintegrated by the elements.
Asbestos Lumber and Shingles.
Certain grades of shorter fibers of asbestos have of recent years been used very extensively in combination with Portland or hydraulic cements in the manufacture of fire-proof lumber and roofing -- the fire-proof lumber in the shape of sheets and the asbestos roofing in the form of shingles of various shapes and sizes approximating the thickness of slate.
The most approved process of manufacturing these products, and in fact the only manner in which the most durable and mechanically correct product of this nature can be made, is by mixing the asbestos fiber and the hydraulic cement dry-molding under enormous hydraulic pressure, saturating with water in order to give the proper set to the hydraulic cement, and repressing and trimming to the desired shape.
Sheets of asbestos lumber have been extensively used for large area roof coverings on steel and wooden roof structures and also for siding and partition work. The great fire hazard found in wooden shingles, the scarcity and increased cost of lumber from which these shingles are produced, and the weight and brittleness and other points of unreliability of slate, have brought the asbestos shingle into marked prominence immediately upon its being offered to the public. The asbestos shingle is light in weight, absolutely fire-proof and indestructible.
Neither of the materials used in their make-up; asbestos fiber and Portland cement, are affected by fire, temperature or exposure to elements, and the asbestos shingles will last as long as the structure upon which they are used.
Asbestos shingles differ from slate in that they will withstand a very high heat from neighboring fires, and while hot, may be wet down with water without in an way injuring them. Slate, of course, under these conditions, would crack, and wooden shingles would be readily consumed.
Asbestos fibers are used as a bond with certain high temperature-resisting clays and certain forms of graphitic carbon, for the purpose of forming linings for stoves, ranges, furnaces, brass melting furnaces, setting up of fire brick, etc. While fire clay, even of the very best quality, under high temperatures will fuse and become brittle and lose its binding qualities, these asbestos fire-resisting cements, according to their various grades and ingredients, will withstand temperatures up to 3,000 degrees and somewhat over without being affected, thus prolonging the life of the apparatus which they line or the brick construction where they are used as a bond.
These cements are furnished in dry form for mixing with water or in plastic form all ready for use.
Fire-Resisting Molded Materials.
Certain forms of the fire-resisting cements above described are capable of being molded under hydraulic pressure for various conditions where high temperatures are to be met, such as carrying-in paddles, bottle rests and many other articles known to the glass manufacturing and electrical industries. Asbestos in this form is especially adapted for use in glass manufacturing in place of iron, because the absence of any great amount of expansion and contraction, as compared with the great amount of the same in iron, does away with the tendency found in the use of iron to cause considerable breakage in handling hot glass articles.
These pieces are also used in the jewelry trade for melting and soldering purposes.
Asbestos Used in Electrical Trade.
Asbestos fibers of different lengths, both long and short, are used in molding of pieces of innumerable designs and sizes, where a material with considerable "dielectric strength," combined with fire-resisting qualities is required. The fibers are mixed with various insulating compounds, pressed in molds into various forms to be used in electrical machinery or apparatus, such as controller linings, arc deflectors, etc. In this field alone, asbestos has gone a great way to assist in developing electrical apparatus to its modern high state of perfection.
A material which has been in use for some little time, but is taking an unusually prominent place in the electrical world is known as "ebonized asbestos wood." It is especially used in place of slate and marble for switchboards and panel boards and it has practically fifty per cent greater dielectric strength than either slate or marble, and unlike these two materials it is not brittle and easily broken, but has great mechanical strength to withstand the shocks of transportation and service.
Some of the largest power plants have equipped their switchboards throughout with ebonized asbestos wood, with the most satisfactory results in point of saving in operation, the original cost being but slightly more than slate or marble.
Where a material to be molded on the job" is" required, various forms of cements in "dry form are' furnished. These cements are composed of a percentage of asbestos fiber of length and quality according to the demands of the. trade and price which it is desired to pay, mixed with cementitious fire-proofing materials, which require only the addition of water and can be applied and troweled on in much the same manner as Portland cement.
Asbestos Paper Felts.
There are certain grades of the shorter fibers which are used in the manufacture of paper felts. These fibers are mixed in a beater in very much the same way as wood pulp and other fibers, passed over a standard type of paper machine adapted to the handling of this particular fiber and made into felts of thicknesses from one-hundredth of an inch up to one-eighth of an inch.
The paper felts are used as above described, in the manufacture of cellular asbestos insulation material, fire-proof paper for lining floors, partitions, etc., of frame buildings and in the manufacture of asbestos roofing. The short fibers are also mixed with certain cementitious materials and made into asbestos boards of various thicknesses and density, in practically the same manner as cardboard is made, on what is known as a board or wet machine. These card boards vary in thickness from to one-half inch and are used for various forms of fire-proofing.
Asbestos Ribbon and Tape.
Asbestos paper in the form of ribbon or tape one-hundredth of an inch thick, together with asbestos yarns, is used for the covering of electric wires and cables in connection with insulating compounds, affording a high electrical resistance with fire-proof qualities.
Thin woven asbestos tape has in the last few years been produced for winding of armatures, etc., in various types of electrical apparatus, as well as the covering of wires, cables, leads, etc.
One important development of asbestos is in the fire-proof covering of individual cables running from a large power plant, where a blowout in one cable would result in the destruction of the insulation of the cables next adjoining. Here asbestos roll fire felt with cloth backing one-eighth or one-quarter inch thick, in strips three inches wide, is wound spirally around each cable, and treated with a hardening or waterproofing compound.
Asbestos Plaster and Stucco.
The very lowest grade of asbestos fibers, especially those which still contain a large percentage of serpentine rock, has found a very large use in the manufacture of plaster for exterior as well as interior purposes. There has been an unusual development of the stucco house both on terracotta blocks and wire lath over wood boards, and while there has long been a desire for this particularly attractive style of construction, it was never formerly popular, because the only available materials, sand and Portland cement, had a tendency to crack and discolor.
Asbestos stucco, however, has overcome these objections and thousands of tons are now used. In fact, it has made possible a durable stucco house of pleasing appearance. It is mixed with Portland cement and water-proofing material, in proper quantities and applied in exactly the same manner as any Portland cement mortar. It has also entered very largely into use for the interior plastering of the largest public buildings, and is now, because of its fire-proof qualities, being generally recognized throughout the large cities as a most desirable addition to fire-proof building materials.
It is almost possible to build a fireproof asbestos bungalow. At any rate, the ordinary house may be walled, ceiled, floored and roofed with asbestos boards, shingles and felts, while all fireproof roofings have a basis of asbestos. Asbestos is used also as a siding for bungalows, garages and other small buildings.
Asbestos today is an industrial, architectural and domestic necessity in the strictest interpretation of that word. There is no substitute for it. No other known material possesses the fire-resistance, durability and adaptability of asbestos. It can be woven, spun, pressed, matted, molded, in fact made up in almost any form, either alone or in combination. with other materials to produce the desired results.
Pictures and story of Asbestos by courtesy of the H. W. Johns-Manville Company,
Caption: Switchboard made of asbestos wood, a product which has greater strength to resist high voltages than slate or marble, and is almost unbreakable.
A molded fuse block composed of asbestos shellac and mica. This material• has very high electrical resistance.
Caption: An asbestos theater tire curtain designed to prevent a stage fire, no matter how fierce, from passing into the auditorium.
Caption: A complete suit of asbestos worn by worker exposed to flying drops of molten metal, sparks or corrosive liquids. Asbestos, of course, is a complete protection as it is unaffected by intense heat and acids or alkalis.
Caption: Set of brake blocks made of asbestos fiber, strong wire and special binder, molded and vulcanized under enormous pressure, which grip instantly and require smaller braking surface and less effort than most non-asbestos compounds.
Caption: A handful of asbestos fibres before they are carded and spun into yarns. In this state, asbestos is very silky and beautiful.
Caption: A folding asbestos table mat protecting woodwork from being injured by hot dishes, lighted cigarettes, etc. There are also smaller table mats to put, under individual dishes, as well as stove mats with which housewives are familiar
Caption: Parts of electrical apparatus made of "electrobestos," a material composed principally of the finest asbestos fiber and therefore used for heating devises, rheostats, arc lamps, etc., where there may be intense heat.