Monday, August 31, 2009

Wait a minute!

I am a natural grump.  Not only that, but all male primates (that’s me, too!) tend to get grumpier as they age.  I could refer you to a passage by Loren Eisley, biologist, if you want a citation.
 
I would like to believe that the human race and the planet I love and the country, state and locality I love are not going to hell in a handbasket but it is a struggle.
 
The American Buddhist writers like Jack Kornfield, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Sylvia Boorstein and Phillip Moffitt have given me a new tool in my minute-by-minute struggle to stay on top of moods and such.  It is the simple step of waiting a minute.  Yes, those guys I just read about in the news are idiots but wait a minute!  Maybe there is more to the story, maybe there are other views.  In a minute, I won’t care very much.
 
The writers assure me that the Buddha and his predecessors and successors see life inextricably including suffering.  For one thing, any good may be something I don’t want to let go of, something I don’t want to end.  So, good can deliver me a little suffering, too.  I learned in logic class that “if A, then B and if also not-A, then B”, then B is, as we might say, really on.  If suffering comes with the bad things and it comes with the not-bad things, then suffering is there.  You can count on it.
 
Like the Buddhists, I want to escape suffering, leave it, side-step it as much and as soon as possible.  I find they are quite right.  Suffer consciously for a sec but realize that my attention, my moods, my thoughts and my business change all the time.  I mean all the time.  So, wait a minute.  Look out the window.  Have a drink of water.  Then, check again.  See? Now I don’t care or I am more willing to look at the matter or my leg hurts or something else is on the agenda. Just wait a minute.
 
 

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Encore!

If you watch a movie you have already seen, you will almost certainly see, hear or understand things you didn’t the first time or missed the first time.  Someone told me that a film class he took required three viewings: basic experience first, story, plot, character details the second time and finally technical aspects of shots, timing, effects, etc.  There is always more to what is going on than one exposure can take in.
 
Same thing with reading.  C.S. Lewis in “Experiment in Criticism” pictures a middle-aged fan of mystery stories standing in front of a library bookshelf trying to remember whether she has read the book in her hands or not.  His point is that if it were good writing, she would remember.  Maybe, Clive.  I am older now than Clive Staples lived to be and my opinion is that the experience of deciding that one has found a new treasure by a admired author only to discover half-way through the 2nd chapter, that the whole story and one’s initial reaction comes roaring back is not always pleasant.
 
I say it may be better to actually locate a book that one knows one has read and purposely sit down and read it again.  Like the later viewings of a movie, one may find surprising things in the book the 2nd time through.  I haven’t done that very often, I admit.  I am too impatient and too childishly eager for a new experience to get myself to try re-reading.  I did do it with Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”, more than once actually, and Barzun’s “The House of Intellect”.  In my course Personal Reading for Professional Development, I had grad students go through the stress of naming 10 of their most favorite books.  Both “Mere…” and “House…” were often among my choices.  I read them in college and I read them later. 
 
I often found that a book I loved years earlier seems a bit weak now.  Still re-reading can be fun and very enlightening about your younger self.  I have found time to re-view some movies: The Russians Are Coming!, In the Spirit, Ruthless People, Love Potion No.9, Shirley Valentine, Oh, God, and others.  Movies or books or music, encores can be wonderful.
 
 

Sometime-alternative to Crutches

 
 
For some crutch needs, this rollator device can be a wonderful alternative.  I know four people including me who have found that foot or ankle or some lower leg injuries can be dealt with better with this device than with standard crutches. 
 
If the problem is well far up the leg or if the knee on the injured leg cannot be bent, the device may not be applicable.  Also, the surfaces over which the injured person wants to move need to be level and relatively smooth and free of obstacles.  We bought a pad made for a chair seat and tied it to the seat.  Then the knee of the injured leg can be put on the shelf and you can scoot with the good leg.  In that position, a person can sometimes travel across a room faster than most people can run across it with two good legs. 
 
Keeping the weight off the injury helps it heal while using the hips and thigh is closer to what the body is built for than trying to get the shoulders, arms and hands to take over such heavyweight functions.
 
The rollator has brakes much like a bike: squeeze to apply, to stop the wheels.  The added feature is that pressing down on the levers just below the hand grips locks the wheels without needing further attention or hand pressure.  Pulling the locked levers up returns the wheels to free movement.
 
The device will fold for easier carrying and storage in a car trunk or back seat.  The basket is important, too, since both hands are needed for guiding movement and small objects can be carried along.   There are several models on sale from Amazon.com.  The link above goes to the least expensive one I saw on their rollator page.  Our local center for aging loans a rollator and wheelchairs for short periods for free.  You can probably get one of your own for less than $70.  Don’t forget about the possibility of this device when you or someone you care for needs crutches.
 
 

Friday, August 28, 2009

Frenemies

Frenemies -this word in an Amazon Books blog entry by Lauren Nemroff was a new one on me.  It is used in connection with Cayla Kluver, a 14 year old who is becoming a genuine writer.  She is now 16 and continues to write.  She is from Wisconsin, naturally.
 
As soon as I saw the word “frenemies”, I recognized the idea of friends who are also enemies and enemies who are friends. (It’s not all that new.  There are over 180,000 references to it that Google links to.)  It struck me as the right note to capture girls and their shifting contests, rivalries, alliances and friendships.  But then I thought about the phenomenon that often seems to amuse women and girls: guys in a physical fight who wind up being friends, sometimes immediately after the last blow is struck.
 
I learned much from “Fighting for Life” by Walter Ong, a Jesuit scholar known worldwide for his insights into the effects on humans and their societies of the invention, spread and use of writing.  We tend to take for granted that writing, and the ability to decode it, are part of being an educated human but of course, most of the time there have been humans, they did without writing.  Even speech is not all that old.
 
But in this book, Ong focused on the development in the West of the levels of education we now think of as high school and college.  Historically, those developments were pretty well limited to males, for various reasons.  Ong does an unequaled job at showing how typical characteristics of young males relate to educational ideas and procedures.  The subtitle of his book is “Contest, Sexuality and Consciousness” and that first word ‘contest’ hits the target. 
 
Ong says that all subjects were taught at Harvard, Princeton, Yale and such schools in the 1700’s by means of the procedure we recognize today in our courtrooms, basically a contest between opposing sides.  In the old days, the instructor might put a thesis on the board: ‘Darwin’s ideas are incorrect’ or maybe ‘Men are emotionally insensitive’ or whatever.  The class was divided into affirmative and negative teams who then set to work supporting their mission and attacking that of the other side.
 
I think it is part of the humanness of our natures to recognize that some of those people in the opposing group are pretty smart.  We may well go away from such a debate with the opposing points reverberating in our brain.  We are then developing frenemies.
 
I watched a mommy change a reluctant little spinach eater into a rapid consumer of the leaves by merely offering a challenge that she could finish her portion before he did his.  Sometimes, I see little girls merely look at a mommy in wonder upon hearing such a challenge.  There may be a genuine difference but both groups have “frenemies”.
 
 
 
 

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Remembering accurately

In the movie Gigi, Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold sing a number together “Ah, yes, I remember it well”.  Lovely reminiscence of tender and lasting moments, except of course, the two of them don’t agree on what happened.  The latest research, I have heard, says that we alter our memories a bit each time we recall them.  Ok, so he remembers her dress being one color while she says it was a different one.  Does it matter?
 
Probably matters differently to different people.  They are feeling loving and tolerant toward each other, so it may not matter much to either of them.  Any adult children conclude their usual opinions that Dad doesn’t notice or can’t see or calls colors by the wrong names or that Mom usually remembers rightly and accurately.  I am pretty sure that they dressed well for the occasion and the love and attraction made both look good so I don’t care.
 
I find that the details matter to my wife.  We both tend to be lawyer-like arguers who search albums for evidence or appeal to others who were there to support one version or the other.  Lacking good evidence, we conclude our usual opinions that we often disagree and that evidence, if it is uncovered later, usually supports her, damnit. 
 
Once when we were playing cards, I needed a stake but was out of cash.  I offered a deal that my win would mean I was right 65% of the time but my loss would mean she was correct that percentage of evidence-free disagreements.  She won the game of course but I doubt I am actually incorrect very often.  Trying to write about this now, I can’t even recall which questions I accepted the label “officially wrong” on.  I’ve probably been so whipped and conquered that I forget I once disagreed.
 
I often think of the New Yorker cartoon where a couple is seated at a restaurant table.  The man asks his companion, “Which one of us doesn’t like salmon?”   He probably used to know but by now, they are so conjoined as a couple that their memories, even for tastes, have merged.
 
 

Still have the treasure

When I was 1020 days or 2.79 years old, my mother came home from the hospital with my baby sister.  I can remember looking eagerly into the back window of the car to see Mom and the new baby.  I remember being told to go into the living room and sit on the couch so I could get to hold her.  I did and I have treasured her over the decades ever since.
 
My sister is an amazing person.  I have rarely seen her angry.  She is a deliberate person who seems to know who she is and where she is all the time.  She thinks clearly and expresses herself well. 
 
One of the memorable moments a few years ago was when I heard her suddenly don her professional self and voice to talk to people in another state about settling my deceased mother’s affairs.  She has spent time on the phone listening to unhappy, irate and confused customers.  Listening to her deliberate and soothing tone, I almost wished I had a problem I could consult her over.  I am used to her friendly voice but I didn’t know about the knowing and consoling self she also has.
 
Our parents divorced when I was ten.  I still had my mom and my sister, though, and that was what was important.  I went to an all-boys high school but I still had my sister right across the way in the all-girls school next door and that was what was important.  I had married and moved to another state but I still had my sister and that was important.  A guy came along and she married him and they had three children and five grandchildren but I still had my sister and that was important. 
 
We are both in later phases of our lives now but I still have my sister and that is very important.
 
 

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Amazing how we deal with our plates

One of my current fascinations is the book “Mindless Eating” by Dr. Brian Wansink, professor of consumer behavior at Cornell U
 
I think the title is a bit misleading.  It mislead me.  I thought it was about pigging-out but it is actually about the psychology of eating, especially what makes us decide how much to eat.  His whole point is that your mind, senses and training will affect what you eat, mindful or not.  You can work about these factors but it takes deliberate effort beforehand, not self-control at the time.
 
Wansink gave a paper to the National Academy of Science and a critic huffed that the science would only apply to uneducated people who didn’t know the science.  [I recommend that you always take such statements warily.  I have seen some surprising information about probability experts solving probability puzzles poorly outside their office, where they forgot to employ their knowledge.]
 
Wansink was challenged and says the following:
“We’ll take 63 sharp, competitive graduate students at a top research university.
 
“We’ll devote a full 90-minute class session just before Christmas vacation to talking about the size bias. We’ll lecture to them, show them videos, have them go through a demonstration, and even break them into small groups to discuss how people could prevent themselves from “being tricked” by bigger serving bowls. We’ll use just about every educational method short of doing an interpretive dance. At the end of the 90 minutes, they will be sick of the topic, sick of the professor, and sick of school. Why? Because this is obvious and because they’re intelligent and informed.
 
“Six weeks later, we’ll see what they remember. In late January, we invited these students to a Super Bowl party at a sports bar, and 40 accepted. When they arrived, they were led to one of two rooms to get their snacks for the game. Those who were led to the first room found a table with two huge gallon bowls of Chex Mix. They were given a plate and asked to take as much as they wanted. As they got to the end of the line, we asked them to fill out a brief survey about Super Bowl commercials.
 
“There was only one empty corner of the table where they could put their plate while filling out the survey. What they didn’t know was that there was a scale under the tablecloth and that the amount they had served themselves was being weighed and recorded.
 
“In the second room, everything was the same except that the Chex Mix had been put out in four half-gallon bowls.
 
“What did our size-bias experts do? The students who served themselves from the gallon bowls took 53 percent more Chex Mix than those serving themselves from half-gallon bowls. An hour later we cleared away their plates, which had identification codes on the bottom. Not only did those who served themselves from the large bowls take 53 percent more, they also ate more (59 percent more).
 
“No one is immune to serving-size norms—not even “intelligent, informed” people who have been lectured on the subject ad nauseam. In the end, setting the table with the wrong dinner plates or serving bowls—the big ones—sets the stage for overeating.”
 
The book is brimming with amazing results.  I highly recommend it in print or Kindle format.
 
 
 

Enjoying the birdies

The Maryland flag has four colors and a distinctively medieval look.

So, it is only natural that the state bird is an oriole with its coloring

and the state flower is the black-eyed susan.

The funny thing is that I never saw either one until I moved to the Midwest.
Here I have also seen many eagles and bluebirds. There is nothing like seeing a bluebird and a cardinal in the same tree at the same time.
We see hummingbirds right up against our window many days when the dropmore honeysuckle blossoms.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Red yeast rice

I went to the store but they were out of red yeast rice.  Even the name is hard to remember.  What is it again?  Rice on which red yeast is grown so it is called “red-yeast rice”.  What good is it?  Given the blood and health profiles that my wife and I have, our doctor recommended the traditional dose.  That’s two capsules with dinner. 
 
The dietary supplement seems to be a mild form of chemicals that act in the body like a weak Lipitor, keeping the cardiac system healthy.  Since it is a weak, more natural form, it takes as much as a year to develop full results but it has given both of us good results for several years now. 
 
It is not real cheap but ok.  The other day, we were getting low and I went to the store and they were out again.  I asked the pharmacist about it and she directed me to a woman who stocks the shelves.  That person told me she can’t keep the product on the shelf.  I checked a couple more days and still out.  I went to the other pharmacies and they had some but were nearly out of it on the shelf. 
 
I ordered some by mail.  When something gets popular, it can be difficult to obtain.  My physician has many patients and he probably directs all of the older ones to try red yeast rice.  He explained that most foods and related items either stress the liver or the kidneys, both vital organs, of course.  So far, so good for us.  Check with your favorite doc to see if red yeast rice might be helpful for you.
 
Of course, as Woody Allen said,” I want to live forever.  So far, so good.”
 
 
 

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Smatterings

Here are a smattering of items that have come my way.
 
From the Mind Hacks blog, newly added to the blog list at mine:
“Good God there's a lot of scientific research on chewing gum. And I mean a lot.”  This is correct. Research on the impact of chewing gum on performance and what is the most valuable flavor, etc.  I have often found gum to be helpful if I need to drive but am sleepy.  Now, science backs me up.
                               
Helmet with brain on it - Odd question about an odd product
There is a biking helmet on sale that is painted on the outside to look like a brain.  The commenter asks if I would buy underpants with sex organs painted on the outside.  Hmm.
 
Plot complexity
Louis Menand is a professor of English and a good writer and commenter.  In a review of Pynchon’s “Inherent Vice”, he mentions moving a plot from a book to a movie.  He reports that once Howard Hawks was directing the making of The Big Sleep from Raymond Chandler’s novel.  The movie group was having trouble with an aspect of the plot.  It was clear who had killed the main victim but there was this other corpse in the story.  Who had killed that person?  Not clear.  So, they got hold of Raymond Chandler and asked him.  Now that the author thought about it, he didn’t know either.
 
Blog list
I keep finding more great blogs.  I keep directing people to give them a try.  I find that part of getting into new areas is to find and look at a blog’s previous posts, often called “related posts”.  Officially, there are ten blogs linked to mine but both Wired.com and Amazon.com each have more than a handful going at once.  Just looking at all the current one at either site is lots to explore.  The trick is to click on the headline just below the name of the blog.  It is often a much more valuable link that the blog name.
 
Trying to stay calm in the firehose stream
It is difficult to stay calm in the downpour of information, art, insight, challenge and such that tv, books, magazines, phone calls, emails and paper mail bring every day.  It was probably easier and safer to be gainfully employed and just have my mind set on my job each day.
 
Getting Greenberged
I am being Greenberg-ed.  This happens when a person falls under the spell of Robert Greenberg, musician, composer and historian of music who lectures for the Teaching Company.  He is witty and quick.  He is passionate and clever.  I have tried to avoid him because the descriptions sounded overblown.  But then we saw his series on the life and music of Mozart.  That I was interested in.  I listened and learned and laughed.  Lynn is enjoying him too and recently posted on Mozart’s first piece.  Now we are set to listen to him on Beethoven, Verdi, Mahler and Shostakovich.  Each set is expensive so if you are interested but don’t want to buy, see if your local public library will buy or borrow his discs for you.  I love listening in my car and find I look for excuses to run downtown and back so I can get a little listening in.
 
 

Friday, August 21, 2009

Tasting what is in my mouth

I would feel silly if every time, I ate a banana, I wished it were an apple.  Even more so, if I wished each apple were a banana.
 
When I sit down to enjoy The Mentalist, I don’t start by wishing I were watching As Time Goes By.  Many sources counsel me to enjoy what I have while I have it and not to ruin something good by wishing it were something else.
 
But aging, education, and conscience have been conspiring lately to give me thoughts of the poor each time I sit down to a well-set table.  Putting on a warm jacket, I think of those who are jacket-less.  The thoughts are momentary shame that I am fed and warm while others aren’t.  I have read that survivors of a calamity often have serious bouts of survivor guilt.  I suppose winners of the lottery sometimes ask “Why me?”
 
These diluting thoughts don’t feed others or warm them. I am going to start focusing my attention on the taste and the warmth I have while I have them.  It is silly to ruin each good thing, that will end or that others don’t have.
 
 

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Soothing, velvety love

When I had a serious operation a few years ago, I had to lie in the hospital and heal.  The famous queue of staff trooped in and out.  I needed them and I am grateful to them. 
 
Some of the women spoke to me in a singsong, melodious way close to what they might use with an infant.  Being over 60 at the time, I noticed.  Being male, I was dismissive of such an approach.  Here I was a manly man being treated like a baby. 
 
Then, I noticed that the stone-faced and silent ones were being labeled by me as more or less being part of the furniture.  Nice, handy, useful but dull and automatic.  I noticed that part of me looked forward to the singsong lady with her velvet and bell-like tone and trite, smooth inquiry about how we were doing today. I realized that I had a positive reaction to her manner, whether or not I thought I should have or needed to have.  I just did.
 
About the same time, I started yoga classes with Jenifer Ebel.  Over time, I learned that Jenifer often used the same very rich, soothing, there-is-no-problem-of-any-kind approach.  She knows her yoga, theory and practice both.  She also knows people.  I saw that she helped anyone, no matter how disabled, how stiff, how limited by age or injury, how worried, embarrassed or scared.  I have had other instructors since then.  I am the robotic, cognitive type.  My conscious mind and I tend to be comfortable with a no-nonsense vocabulary and a straightforward, flat delivery.  I get the feeling that for types like me that sort of personality works fine but not for me or for anyone when they are afraid and tense and wary.
 
Now, I have worked with Mary Elizabeth Raines, both in person individually and in a group and also by her CD’s.  If you look at the two embedded links, you will see that the site names these two women use include “smiling” and “laughing”.  When Rainey hypnotizes a person or a group, she uses the same sort of voice and words.  Not only is everything fine but the inner you will shine out happily and gladly to reach new heights and joys.
 
I am critical and doubtful so I like more than one source.  I could lose some weight and I noticed the book by Stephen Gurgevich and his wife on using self-hypnosis for diet and food awareness.  I have read several chapters.  I find the same “everything is ok” approach to teaching oneself to enter a trance.
 
It is the same sing-song that mothers use to sooth a baby.  Even though I am no baby, I guess I am still wired to respond positively, with healing and growth to such words, tones and images.  They might be a little embarrassing to a manly man but part of me goes for them.
 
 

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Denial for more happiness

I love Ogden Nash, sometimes called The Bard of Baltimore.  He wrote crazy poetry.  The poem I have in my head is
        When called by a panther,
        Don’t anther.
He wrote wonderful stuff on all sorts of topics.  I just bought another collection of his poems today.  The introduction by his daughter related a story she felt was indicative of the sort of person he was.
 
As a little boy, he walked with his grandfather.  He didn’t realize they were on a walk to a trolley stop.  When they came to the stop, Ogden, in love with anything about trains, said,”Grandad, look!  Train tracks!”  His grandfather told him they were trolley tracks, not train tracks.  Ogden was very disappointed because he was hoping for a train.
 
“Well, maybe they are train tracks.”
“No, Ogden, they are trolley tracks and we are waiting here for a trolley to come along.”
 
Shortly, a trolley came.  Ogden muttered, “Naughty trolley, riding along the train tracks.”
=============================
Switch to lunch at my aunt’s house when I was ten.  My cousin announced before lunch that she would like jelly sandwiches.  Her mother said they didn’t have any jelly.  At the table, we found a plate of baloney sandwiches.  My cousin asked me to pass that "plate of jelly sandwiches".  I did and she took one and ate it happily.
======================
Sometimes, as Garrison Keillor said, one must stare reality right in the eye and deny it.
 
 

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What day will Christmas fall on this year?

 
What could be simpler?  You are arrested and thrown into solitary.  You know you will lose track of the days so you may a note on the wall, maybe with a little blood or something of the current day and time.  You note each succeeding day, too.  You have a little calendar.  Pretty straightforward.
 
Calendars are tricky.  They are simple and they aren’t.  There are at least nine widely used calendar systems today.  Plus several more that have been shelved, such as the one instituted by the French during their revolution.
 
In 1965, I was required to take a 1 credit course with the other fellows on NDEA scholarships.  The idea was to learn to use Fortran, a computer language.  None of us had seen a computer but we knew it was an advanced machine.  The one we got to use had something like a memory of 32K, so small that probably no object with memory today has one that little.  Early on, we got a tour of the computer center where we would deposit our programs for the operator to run on the computer, big decks of punched cards with one command per card.  Nobody cared what the problem was.  The course was to be about using Fortran.  The instructor made it simple.  He wanted to be able to give us two dates and have our program state the number of days between them.
 
Researching the problem, we discovered that advisors to the Pope informed him several centuries back that the calendar of the day was out of whack and needed to be adjusted.  He declared that such and such a day would officially be followed by a day about two weeks into the future.  There were riots.  People wanted their days back.  We tried to take that change into consideration.  Eventually, we demonstrated enough knowledge and impatience that after three years running, we got our 1 credit. We never tried to deal with millennia before the common era and such.
 
Lynn and I did read “Waiting for the Weekend” by Witold Rybczynski, a versatile professor of architecture.  He gives some sense of the struggle to get people to stop rising with the sun and come to work at the appointed hour during the Industrial Revolution.
 
I thought my email program was for sending and receiving emails until I considered switching to the free Mozilla email called Thunderbird.  Then, I realized that Lynn and I used the calendar to remind us of events and appointments.  I tried using the free but rather aggressive Google calendar but we are still using our standby.  Retirement brings lots of freedom and choices but that puts more strain than ever on the calendar since one never knows what tomorrow is scheduled for without looking it up.
 
 

Monday, August 17, 2009

Guest author on health treatment and costs

Bonnie and I have been friends for 60 years.  She is very knowledgeable about medical and political issues.  She has fought her own multiple sclerosis for more than 30 years and has helped individuals and organizations with this very severe disease.
=====================================================
Thanks to both of you for this! I will send it on to the "crazies" who have believed the myths and wrapped themselves in that flag.
My adult life has been medicine centered through education, and unexpectedly, through life experience. I have been following health care legislation since Hillary Clinton tried to push it through in the '90s. I could regale you for hours on the current waste through current mismanagement, hospital greed and pharmaceutical manipulation.
MS is misdiagnosed and mismanaged to fill the pockets of insurance and specifically, the drug companies. I'm currently working on a project to bring this to light. I seldom write about my work in the world in that illness and treatment are not inviting topics to read. Our friends, and the public at large, wants to believe that their doctor and hospital have their best interest at heart, and will heal them. In a few instances, this is true. They also believe that their insurance premiums will cover the cost.
The Emperor has been naked since the '50's.
My current example is the fee Bill's urology group is paid for changing his catheter tubing by a GED holder. The process takes 10 minutes beginning to end. Blue Cross/Blue Shield plus Medicare is charged, and paid, $385 every 4 weeks for this. By shining the spotlight on existing insurance payments and making care possible for the uninsured, this type of waste will come to an end if the current drafts tune into passed bills by the legislature.
We, the citizens, are paying for every catheter change directly or indirectly. We are currently paying an extraordinary price for every ER visit by the uninsured. A treated sore throat will cost approximately $400 in the ER vs. $60 in private practice. Hospitals absorb this cost and then charge the insured $1.50 for each Tylenol for in patients. At current cost, a three day hospitalization, without complications or surgery, runs $1,000/day for the Insurance companies. They, in turn, pass the cost onto us.
With appreciation for the article,
Bonnie
 
 

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What is real?

 
Every now and then, I read a statement that money and finance workers are not at the front lines of production and only deal with paper.  During financial downtimes, these kinds of statements are probably more common.  When we are stressed or afraid, one of the normal cries is “Back to basics!  Hard work!  Effort!  Virtue!”  These good things are indeed fundamental but I am here to underline the importance of spirit.  It is just as fundamental as calories.  In fact, calories in the form of heated and cooled homes, good food and good fuel often come from, or are increased by, good spirit.
 
The military and schools of business realize this truth.  Their calls for leadership and attempts to instill and nurture leadership traits are related to the realization that a mob becomes a team with a message or symbol that unites them.  For humans and modern complex life, it has to be a message or a symbol.  We need to rely on the individual intelligence and skills of each person in the operation and cannot spell out beforehand what each is to do.  So, inspiration and emotion are key.  Thus, poetry, photography, dance, music, song, graphic arts, speech, 20 second ads and sound bites are key to forming and spreading a message of what must be done and how. 
 
A Hagar the Horrible cartoon once showed a priest/scholar walking up to the front of an army.  The man mounted a little podium and began to whip up the crowd.  In short order, the soldiers were cheered and enthused.  As the man departed, Lucky Eddie said to Hagar,” He’s good, all right.”  These functions of inspiring, soothing, reminding, stimulating matter very much, just as much as good plumbing and good cooking.  How can song and dance and shapely girls matter in bloody warfare?  How can jokes enable badly wounded men to have hope and cheer?  Do the arts really matter?  Absolutely!  If you doubt it, take a look at this review of Bob Hope’s work with shows before American troops.
 
Sure, clean rifles, good boots and nourishing meals matter.  They are basic.  But so are smiles, songs and jokes in everything human, from family life to hospitals to church.
 
 
 
 

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Guest author today: Mozart

 Lynn Kirby, PhD, is my wife and an experienced musician and lover of music.
 
Bill
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 I am currently listening to a series of lessons on the life and music of Mozart. Did you know that this gifted person wrote his first piece of music when he was 5? His music was catalogued in chronological order by Koeche; this particular piece was K.1  They played a bit of it in the lesson, and I realized that I had had that piece in piano lessons when I was in high school. I went and found my book, and there it was. I can't play it well at all anymore, but I am going to re-learn it. It amazes me that this piece that has one sharp and several triplets and trills in it was written by a 5-year-old. And I believe he could play it flawlessly.
 
Somehow, knowing a bit of the history of that piece of music makes me feel very attached to the past in a strange sort of way. There have been times when I've listened to Mozart's clarinet quartet that I could imagine myself in the King's court, sitting there and listening completely peacefully, with nothing pressing calling me away. But the feelings I get from this little minuet are much stronger. Not only am I attached to the music by that little boy, but it also brings back my own younger me.
 
Lynn

Attack and reaction

 
Doris was feeling devilish.  She rarely did so how could we have known?  Or, maybe it was just the irresistible pie.  This was years ago, in the college cafeteria.  We had just sat down at the table with our trays to eat dinner together.  Dessert that day was lemon chiffon pie. 
 
Our pieces of pie sat unprotected on each tray.  Do (‘doe’) quickly reached out and stuck her finger into each piece in turn, leaving a round, shocking hole in each dessert.  She assaulted our lovely sweets so quickly, with so little warning, that we were taken completely by surprise. 
 
Do foresaw retaliation from her neighbors and spread her hand over her own dessert to protect it from hole-punchers.  Joe simply pressed her whole hand into her pie.  Yow!  A handful of an ex-lovely piece of lemon chiffon.  Do smeared her ex-pie over Joe's chin.
 
Joe was quick.  He immediately picked up his knife and began “shaving” himself while looking into his napkin as a mirror. 
 
The table exploded in applause for the devil and the wit.
 
That happened more than 50 years ago and I am still enjoying it, with help from my wife on some of the details.
 
 

Letting ourselves show

Betty Edward’s book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” showed me how limited I keep myself.  I don’t have lots of trouble talking or writing in public but she said,” All well and good but how about singing?  How about drawing?”  By extension, how about dancing or cooking?  What is good enough to let show?  What, out of decency or shame, ought to remain hidden?
 
I guess there is an alternation between letting a few of my drawings or photos be seen and getting a little praise or demand or satisfaction out of the showing.  That might lead to a few more being created and shown.  I have always heard that Emily Dickinson wrote some great poems but kept them closed in a drawer all her life.  In her actual case, I am not sure of the motivation but I can imagine that people might make something for other purposes than praise or money.  Developing a skill or a collection might go better without distracting comments or reactions of others.
 
There is no way that I can fully grasp the reaction of others.  Even the others themselves change over time.  Seeing a play this evening, I might have a very different opinion than I form after listening to someone’s comments about it tomorrow.  I am charmed by the “life of the object”, the adventure that the physical creation has after its birth.  A book or an afghan has an existence, a story, independent of its creator.  Somebody might have a long memory of reading or using the object without its creator having an idea of that person even knowing about the creation.
 
So, I am making a plea that we let ourselves be shown, be known.  Our songs, our brownies, our carvings are extensions of ourselves and our lives.  We make each decision about the design.  Those decisions are old-fashioned, or up-to-date, or exemplary or weird only in a context and each of us furnishes our own individual context.  Our creations are signs and portents of who we are and they enrich us and others but even more so if we let them be known.
 
 

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Good practices

Two good ideas from Phillip Moffitt
We are reading Dancing with Life by Phillip Moffitt.  He owned Esquire magazine and worked hard and successfully at the business.  Something in him required him to sell the magazine and bail out of that life.  He became a Buddhist teacher and meditation instructor.  He says that new life has suited him very well.
 
There are four well-known statements that form the basis of the Buddha’s teachings:
  • life always includes suffering,
  • suffering occurs when we are trapped with an event or a pain or a disappointment we deeply don’t want
  • we can let go of suffering
  • with right living and mindfulness (awareness), suffering can be abandoned
 
Moffitt discusses each of these using a background of decades of personal practice and experience teaching others. He has made two points that have struck us so far.
 
He has quite a bit of experience that people, especially Americans, have trouble admitting they are suffering when they are.  Why would that be?  In a way, it is shameful.  It is an admission of defeat.  For some, it is like the old Protestant idea that prosperity is a sign of God’s blessing so if you admit to being impecunious, you are admitting that God frowns on you.  Moffitt goes out of his way to stress that suffering, from little forms such as irritation with a tv ad to big forms such as incurable debilitating disease, is always guaranteed to occur in life.  So, it is going to pop up.  Further, and this is important, it is ENNOBLING.  So, Lynn and I are going around trying to outdo each other with a list of irritations we are each suffering and being ennobled by.
 
His 2nd point is that the complete facing and being with suffering is essential to letting it go.  Part of that fully facing suffering is a close and intimate answer to the question “How does it feel?”. In an American movie, that question is asked by a therapist trying to find out what emotion is registering inside a client.  But Moffitt and the Buddha advise a different interpretation.  They direct us to answer in an extremely detailed and body-based way.  What physical feelings does the suffering create?  Where are they in the body?  What are the feelings like?  Steady, intermittent, sharp, dull, cyclic?  Putting the attention as directly as possible on the signals of suffering is surprisingly powerful for passing through and beyond them.  We have tried this and are impressed. 
 
 

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Ken Macrorie 1918-2009

I found out today that Ken Macrorie died recently.  He wrote the book called Telling Writing and others.  He was a professor of English at Western Michigan University, among other things.  He is the author of the book, Uptaught.  One of the two books that most grabbed me as I thought about teaching.  That book and The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey are both worth reading, whether you are a teacher or some other kind of human being. 
 
I respected John Holt very much.  His “How Children Fail” and other books were hot items for teachers and those thinking about schooling.  The book What Do I Do Monday?  was especially helpful and interesting as I began my college teaching.  It was filled with quotes from a book called “Uptaught”.  I found the book and started reading.
 
The ancient Greeks developed an idea that a well-educated person [read “man”] would be a good speaker, with a trained voice to carry across a crowd and a trained mind that could think fast, someone who know rhetoric.  Then, along came the new technology of writing.  Today, we expect an educated person to be able to write well, fluently, correctly, persuasively.  So, we have English classes for high school and college students who can already speak and write English but are expected to demonstrate their skills to teachers.
 
The book “Uptaught” shows how the English class can shut a mind down, persuade its owner that big words show intelligence and that more words are better than fewer.  Many classes show students that such tactics bring high grades while pointing students away from direct, clear thinking, speaking and writing.  “Uptaught” is a wonderful book for making clear how this chilling process works, from high school to graduate school.
 
You can find inexpensive copies available from Barnes and Noble or in some libraries if you are interested.
 
 

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Where are we in life?

I have three great grandchildren so I am in a position to remember my own grandparents, my parents, my sibling, my childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age and later years.  In addition, I get regular chances to observe the words and actions of older people, adults, and children.  I have memories and impressions of three generations since me and the interactions between them.
 
When I think of the young parents of a child, I can remember being such a parent myself.  Am I the ex-child or the ex-parent of a child? I am both, of course, and I find it to be fun to mentally move back and forth between memories of the two roles.  Moving back and forth like that makes me wonder about my mother’s childhood.  When I picture my mother as a child (I have seen photos of her at that age), I can see her mother and father in the picture.  That sight leads me to picture her parents as children.  You can see whether this is going.  In the words of my great grandson standing in a grave yard of people who died at all ages, “the action never stops.”
 
When I think of the action of the generations, I usually picture a series of individuals in a line, each at a different stage of human aging.  That is an easy picture but the truth is much more complicated.  Each individual in the picture is also someone who used to be at the earlier stages and will age into the later stages.  So who are they, really?  What are they, really?
 
I have heard the basic story of “Tuck Everlasting”, the difficulties we would run into conceptually if we were to stop aging.  But there are difficulties with grasping who we are inside the aging process, too.  I am definitely not the 10 year old I once was.  I can cite differences between that person then and me now.  Same with the 20 year old and the other ages up to now.  In heaven, which of my ages will be the one I am permanently given? 
 
It is tempting to say I am all of the ages I have been but since the ages differ from each other, that idea doesn’t hold up.  Maybe I have to say I am now this age but I won’t be tomorrow. There really is power in the Now.
 
 

Monday, August 10, 2009

Adventures in many tongues

I were smarter and more energetic, I would not be bound by English.  There are many languages in the world but I am only comfortable in one of them.  I have studied others.  Latin for two years in grades 9 and 10, French in grades 11 and 12.  An all-boys class with a strict woman PhD teacher still had some snickers over the Latin for “sheath” [vagina].  I have since remembered the Latin for “baggage” many times.  We need our baggage but it is impedimenta, too
 
Both of my daughters did so well in French that they received credit for a semester of college French from their high school studies.  My wife studied French and liked doing so.  My great grandson speaks French.  Well, one word only, but to hear a young boy suddenly exclaim, “Voila!” in the midst of his conversation is arresting.  He also speaks the Spanish for water, uncle and aunt.
 
In graduate school, I was informed that an educated person reads two foreign languages.  My friend had worked with the Maori people of New Zealand and wanted their language to be one of his PhD requirements but he was refused.  I, too, needed modern languages that had a research literature that I might be required to study someday.  Ok, I had studied French so that was one.  I had heard that German was a cousin of English so maybe I could pass the exam in German.  After all, I could look at the words “maus” and “haus” and tell what their English equivalents were.  My major was research and testing and I knew the theory of multiple choice tests.  That might give me an edge. 
 
I did pass the required grad exam in French but was told I needed to confer with the foreign language testing office.  They informed me that I was 2 standard deviations below the mean in German, ranking in the lowest 2.5 % of those taking the test.  That simply wouldn’t do.  I was required to register for German 0, the 8 AM class for doctoral students trying to pass the German exam. I attended, faithfully, as I remember.  Took the exam a second time.  Told I needed to confer with the foreign language testing office.  They informed me that this time, I scored only one standard deviation below the mean, above about 16% of the class.  Not great but such progress that I was to be listed as passing the German exam.  Auf Weidersehen, Herr Kirby, und viel Gluck!
 
Later, I was entrusted with shepherding 40 students for a stay in London, where I knew much of the language but had some difficulty understanding its spoken form, especially as spoken by those from Glasgow.  On the tour of Europe, I got a chance to see just how much French and German I knew.  Approximately zilch.  Standing in a bookstore where everything was in Dutch, another cousin of English, I realized I couldn’t read a thing.  Looking at a sign in the Czech republic that read “xxx Z xxx”, I realized my language studies had not given me a clue about a free standing Z.  A little diacritical mark above it was no help.
 
Since then, I have had a little instruction in Spanish and 6 classes of Chinese.  I have not learned much from either but it is my fault, since I didn’t study or practice.  My wife’s grandmother was born in Cuba so my mother-in-law could surprise the pants off her 2nd husband several years into their marriage when she began holding a conversation with a stranger in Spanish.  The other grandmother spoke Finnish so I know that ‘musta’ is Finnish for ‘black’. 
 
I very much admire Italy and Italian and have listened to several sets of that language.  I can say,”Come stai” [how are you] properly, I think. 
 
 
 

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Erasure dust dangers

 
Nearly all my life, I have mentally labeled puzzles as time-wasting.  I have heard of the idea that crosswords and sudoku and acrostics and such are good for the brain but I didn’t care.  Mostly, I still don’t.  On a cruise a few years ago, Lynn and I started doing the ship’s daily sudoku together.  She is a big puzzle fan and can do four at a time, a pencil in each hand and held between the toes of each foot.  Since she is obviously very sharp and had consistently good judgment, I figured it was time to learn a bit of how to do the 9x9 number puzzles. 
 
For about a year, I have done one a day.  Once in a while, two in a day.  My friend told me that she likes sudoku but considers crossword puzzles to be better for her.  Her interesting criterion is that after doing a sudoku, she can’t remember it but she can remember words and definitions and clues from a crossword puzzle.
 
I learned that one way to start a sudoku is look at the 3x3 in the upper left.  Select the first figure that is given and check whether that same figure appears in either of the 3x3’s below.  If it appears in all three 3x3’s, go to the next figure.  If it appears in two of the 3x3’s but not the third, you may be able to see which is the only cell for that figure.
 
Using that approach, checking for two of three occurrences in vertical sets and then in horizontal sets is a good start.  Checking each 3x3 for patterns that will allow verified placement of a missing figure is a good next step.  For a long while, two of three and each 3x3 separately were my main steps.  Over the last couple of months, making use of the fact that each 9-cell column and 9–cell row must contain exactly one of each digit has overtaken the other methods for speed and power.
 
Yesterday, I worked on an easy sudoku for a 2nd hour.  I had stared at the dumb thing for an hour the previous day.  But the end of the 2nd hour, I asked my resident puzzler for help.  I have consistently done only officially labeled “easy” sudokus on the grounds that the diabolical ones aren’t fun but torture.  When Lynn does them, she needs her special automatic pencil and her large eraser at the ready.  She must use little erase-able notes in difficult cells.  Once the notes reveal that say, a given cell can only contain a certain figure, all other such notes must be erased and the figure is place in that only possible cell.
 
I have ordered a breathing mask, an automatic pencil and a large eraser.  I may descend into the wilderness of eraser dust and try those little notes.  In five minutes, my advanced partner showed me how the notes broke the logjam and made clear what goes where, five minutes after two fruitless hours. 
 
 

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Struck from behind (1948)

In the summer between 4th and 5th grades, my sister was sitting in a dead-end part of a street that was never used.  The paving was broken up there and there were loose stones and pieces of cement.  She had a large glass jar sitting beside her and she picked among the stones, placing the more interesting ones in the jar.  Butch and another kid were standing around talking and laughing.  One of them decided it would be fun to roll a stone over to where my sister was.  I guess they wanted to see it they could influence her selections.  I could picture the glass jar being struck and shattering. 
“Hey, don’t do that!  Sis could get hurt.”  Immediately, Butch rolled another stone over, even closer to the jar.  I repeated my warning to stop.  He repeated his action.  I went over and punched him.  We got into a fight.  His friend picked up a tree branch behind my back and struck me in the back of the head with it.  I was enraged at the sneakiness and charged at him.  He decided to take refuge in his house.  I chased him to the building, through the kitchen door, and up  the stairs to a second floor room where his mother was ironing.  As she found two boys charging into the room, one a stranger, she naturally started calming us down.  “Whoa! What on earth are you doing?”
I tried ignoring her to pounce on my prey but she separated us and demanded an explanation.  It became apparent to all three of us that I was bleeding from the back of my head.  Who had done what to whom quickly came out.  She sympathized with me and dabbed at my head with a damp cloth.
I don’t remember any further contact with that kid or his mother but I remember that incident.
 
 

Friday, August 7, 2009

Alien psychology

One of my heroes was taking a bath.  He began to wonder how it would be to pull one of the full-sized bath towels into the water.  Watch it and all.  Pretty interesting.  How about the other towel?  He is four.  His mother was quite irritated.  She was irritated the other day when he did this and maybe more so this time.
 
Mommy just can’t understand.  She had explained what a mess and a waste the towel experiments are.  They accomplish nothing and require extra laundry.  They are without purpose or value.  What makes a nice, bright, loveable little guy do something like that?
 
A friend of a friend is exasperated with her son, who is 12.  She just has to ride him constantly to get him to do his chores, to pull his weight in the household, to make his contribution.  At the same time, her son is making quite satisfactory progress on his summer project of learning to play the guitar.  He shows imagination and skill at finding YouTube videos that show how to play.  He shows diligence at practicing the guitar.  Why can’t he show those qualities with helping do his part for the house and the family?
 
A wise woman friend once spoke in one of my classes as a guest.  She began with the statement “Men wear blinders.”  I was puzzled.  They do?  They don’t seem that way to me.
 
As time goes by, I think I begin to understand.  A boy wants to play Wii or swim or watch SpongeBob.  Those activities are fun and exciting.  What is fun and exciting is what he wants to do.  He is built to try and secure opportunities for fun and excitement.  Unfortunately for mommies and those trying to persuade and improve males, males are not especially built for get much fun or excitement from pleasing.  They do have emotions and they do want admiration and appreciation.  However, those wants generally have distinctly lower priority than fun and excitement. 
 
Note: their definition of fun and excitement is the one that counts.  When mommy or the teacher or the boss or the sergeant or the king announces a different definition, their own original definition still has priority.  Hence, the appearance of one wearing blinders, one who can only see his target.  It is difficult for the male to remember the additional, official definition – the one concerning the needs of sisters, groups, duty, etc.  It is almost as difficult to remember that there even was an announcement or an additional definition. 
 
When my hero takes another bath and remembers the fascinating way that last towel slowly sank, he may wonder what would happen if he blew on it a while.  Would that speed up the absorption and the sinking?  He may not be able to remember that it is the towels in the bath that upsets Mommy.  Upsetting her is not fun and he doesn’t enjoy her anger nor her displeasure but it is hard to remember it when he is thinking of the way towels absorb.
 
 

Monday, August 3, 2009

The gym teacher was not lazy

The 5th graders loved to play “Greek dodgeball”, a variant of more familiar forms.  It is played on two overlapping rectangles that allow most of each team to stand between two groups of opponents.  When the ball is in the hands of the A players, most of the B team is trapped between the A ‘enders’ and the rest of the A team.  An A player tries to hit a B with the ball. If he does, the B player must leave the center area and join the B ‘enders’.  But if the B player manages to catch the ball, it is now suddenly in the hands of the B team and they try to hit an A player without that target making a clean catch. 
 
The game can be very rigorous and exciting.  When possession of the ball changes hands, a good strategy is to strike an opponent in the feet.  The opponent is back-pedaling frantically and is not in a position to make a clean catch of a ball that strikes him in the feet.  We played on a nicely made court but it was close to a fence that separated the school playground from a neighboring farm.  Whenever rigorous play resulted in the ball being hit or kicked over the fence onto the farm, the gym teacher would walk to his car and drive to the farmhouse and retrieve the ball. 
 
I sneered at such laziness.  A gym teacher who drives short distances!  Laughable!  Pitiful!  One day, the gym teacher was sick and stayed home.  The ball managed to get over the fence.  The kids came to me and asked me if I would get it back for them.  No problem.  I walked to the end of the fence, turned around it and started walking toward the ball, which I could see.  As I got closer, an old woman, working near a barn, saw me and yelled something but I couldn’t make out her words.  At the same time, a black mastiff that looked about 130 lbs came around the end of the barn.  He was walking steady toward me and didn’t look at all friendly.  I suddenly realized why the gym teacher drove over in his car and what the woman had been yelling. 
 
I could see that I could not reach the end of the fence before the dog.  I jumped on top of a big wood pile.  The dog arrived snarling and growling.  The wood pile was high but irregular and I thought the mastiff might be able to scramble up it to me and my skin.  I picked up a short log and held it overhead to smack him if he tried.  By that time, the woman arrived and called the dog off.  I apologized and she seemed relieved that I was not hurt.  I didn’t have to retrieve any more balls but if I had, I would have driven over there first.
 
 

Ignorance can be better

We go to school to learn.  Schools for everyone were invented in America, the elementary school about 200 years ago and the secondary school about 100 years ago.  In many parts of the world, getting any schooling at all is a chancy thing if you are poor.  The elementary school was to teach the basic elements of reading, writing and arithmetic.  It is still not entirely clear what the secondary school should teach.  For a long time, many nations tried to sort the children into those with brains enough for a full education and those best off hoeing in the fields.  We are now in a time when hoes are used less and less and every citizen is most valuable with a good base of wide knowledge.
 
It is best if schools teach what is true but our knowledge of truth is always changing.  Adults have a rough time keeping up with the latest studies which seem to contradict other recent studies rather often.  New ideas emerge all the time.  This is a time when we are all familiar with a new way of doing something emerging and suddenly making obsolete what was recently thought to be standard.  Think of film-less digital cameras more or less supplanting film cameras or MP3 players and files substituting for records or even CD’s.
 
I am fascinated by cases where the knowledge of the day impeded thought or worse.  The story of Semmelweis, the physician who found that washing physicians’ hands saved lives of women giving birth shows that arrogance combined with ignorance can be very difficult to overcome.  The 1939 book The Saber Tooth Curriculum emphasizes the investment that society makes in instruction and the difficulties of modifying that instruction even when all the saber tooth tigers have died.
 
There is a video by Joel Barker called The Business of the Future that shows three examples of new, superior, cheaper technology being ignored or shut out by entrenched methods and ideas that did not want to be displaced: Xerox machines, quartz watch movements and changes in auto or golf-cart type vehicle design.  Garrison Keillor’s blog today tells the story of Koichi Tanaka, born in 1959, the only man to win a Nobel Prize in a science without a post-bachelor’s degree.  You can read the story of how his ignorance of chemistry helped him solve an important chemistry problem.
 
 

Hit by a storm

I was hit by a negative emotional storm the other day.  I am not sure what brought it on.  Normally, I feel happy and connected to others and the world.  I usually see the whole enterprise of life as merry and worthwhile.
 
I realize that everything is not all peaches and cream.  I saw “Slumdog Millionaire” and have seen scenes and descriptions of the slums around some of the big cities of the world. I started a chapter of Amnesty International and I know a little of the misery visited on people for purely political and ideological reasons. 
 
I have been working on myself to stay alert and to face myself and the world openly.  I’ve been trying to let myself fully know what I actually think and actually feel, even if I am not pleased or accepting of some feelings, desires or thoughts.
 
The storm that struck was a bit vague but fairly strong and gripping.  I felt very sad but it was not clear why or about what.  I had been listening to Parker Palmer’s description of what bad, dense, clinical depression feels like.  I had visited my quite aged parents-in-law and witnessed their renewed realization that they are limited and hampered in everything.   I had begun “Schulz and Peanuts” and read of his icy mother and his worries about not ever really getting deeply loved by her.  I had been listening to the story of Mozart and his genius and frustrations it brought.  Maybe it was some combination of all that.
 
A friend asked if I have been keeping up on exercise.  Another said she suspected fear of death had crept into my mind.  Now, I seem to have lost the sadness, the feeling that nothing is worthwhile.  I feel again the futility of feeling that all is futile, of using energy to elicit or sustain gloom.  I can choose not to do that just now and I am exercising my rights.
 
 

Chipmunks falling

A 5th grader came into the classroom in the morning with a big smile and carrying a shoebox. 
 
“Hey, look what I have”, he said, as he lifted the lid of the box.  Instantly, a chipmunk leaped out of the box and onto the floor.  The previous night the janitor has polished the floor to a high shine and it was slippery.  The panicked animal ran as fast as its terror could charge it but it made no progress across the floor.  A ring of excited, noisy children closed around the desperate little thing to try and recapture it.  The boy who brought it was closest and reached to grab it.  It turned in a flash and bit his out-stretched finger.  He grabbed it nevertheless and put it back in the box.
 
His finger was deeply cut and dripping blood.  I took him to the office where they bandaged him and called a parent to come and get him.  They didn’t have a record of a recent tetanus shot.  Exciting beginning to a day in grade 5.
 
 

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Mercury rising

From the fall of 1961 to the end of school in the spring of 1965, I taught the fifth grade.  I had several adventures.  One dealt with science.
 
We had a workdesk that included clamps that could be used for demonstrations.  Each year, we had a unit on weather.  Making an old fashioned mercury barometer seemed promising.  I had a tall glass tube arranged so that I could pump mercury up the tube.  I planned to let atmospheric pressure equalize a column of mercury to show it could do so. 
 
I had the class sit near around the workdesk to watch.  But when I tried to pump mercury up the tube, nothing moved.  I could feel pressure from the pump so it seemed to be working.  I looked along the apparatus and saw a shuttlecock along it.  I realized the shuttlecock was closed and that was my problem.  I opened it. Much bigger problem right away!  The good little pump was holding the pressure I had put in it and the open shuttle allowed the pressure to shoot mercury clear through the open tube near the kids watching the demo. 
 
I really didn’t know much about mercury but I sensed it was not good to fool with.  I sent the class outside on an impromptu recess.  I scooted around the area with a trash can and some index cards.  They were very good at shoveling the mercury into bigger globs and into the trash can.  As I was getting it cleaned up, I realized I had some on my wedding ring.  I thought I remembered something about mercury hurting gold.  I took the class encyclopedia and found an article that stated that it did and that one could separate the mercury off by heating it.  I put the ring on an asbestos stand and put the flame of a Bunsen burner on it.  I was just wondering how hot I had to get the arrangement to vaporize the mercury when I saw the side of the ring melting.  I immediately removed the flame and let the whole thing cool.
 
Later, I showed the ring with its slightly collapsed side to Lynn.  Except for the melted part, we had identical rings.  She took it to a jeweler and asked him to restore it some.  He asked if her boy friend was a mechanic.  I am wearing that slightly collapsed, slightly restored ring right now.
 
 

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Words and pictures

When I was growing up, I found that the adult books did not have pictures in them while the children’s books did.  I learned that many excellent stories were contained in the words but I still enjoyed the funnies and comic books.  I heard the statement that a picture is worth a thousand words.  I found that words only in radio programs such as Inner Sanctum, The Shadow and Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons could frighten me deeply without any illustrations or color, just speech.
 
I am confident that more people in a population can learn to write than to draw but that may be incorrect.  The memorable and inspiring book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, showed me that I could learn to draw if I worked at it.  If I spent as many hours learning to render a face or a scene as I spent in all the hours of my schooling working with printed words, I bet I might be halfway decent at drawing in a representational way.  The drawings of Charles Schulz for “Peanuts” and of Scott Adams for “Dilbert” make me think I could turn out cartoons without being able to render well.
 
In today’s world, I might advance my ability to depict with little or no words better if I forgot about pencils and pens and spent my time with Photoshop or some other graphic program.  These days, computers are famous for their ability to make such realistic pictures that they cannot be proved not to photographs. 
 
Traditional teachers usually hold reading printed words to be a high-level and admirable activity while looking at graphic novels and comic books to be a lowly one.  Reading a classic is often held by such people to be far superior to watching a movie of it.  Yet, when the credits roll by and the number of people who contributed to the movie is made plain, it seems that movies, tv and theater are as powerful and important an influence as books, probably far more so.
 
In ancient Greece, the orator was held to be a good model of a well-educated and valuable citizen.  As writing and reading began to be widespread, the citizen who put words on paper was the model of the valuable citizen.  Most colleges still have freshman English courses in which a well written paragraph or report is the goal.  But in the age of ads, YouTube, video cameras with sound tracks, it seems that pictures as well as spoken words, not writing, are gaining importance in our lives.
 
 

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