Tuesday, October 17, 2017

This business of being human

The title of this post is suggested by the famous poem by Rumi (1207-1273).  I don't usually get to write dates in the 1200's.  The poem is usually called "The Guest House" and my friend mentioned it the other day.  It is referred to more often in writings I read than any other poem by that poet and it basically says to welcome what comes along in life and learn to appreciate it.  The poem can be found here


If that link is a bit too long and complicated, use this shortened version made at Goo.gle, the Google shortener: https://goo.gl/QMwrGA

As meditation and mindfulness, secular or part of any religion or spiritual activity becomes more and more recognized for the valuable tool that they are, our society, with its free expression and its critical thinking, naturally turns to examining the practice of meditation and the conscious awareness of how our minds are being used.  Criticism, doubt, ridicule emerge as well as salutation, application and realization of the value of 10 minutes a day.

I suppose in Rumi's day, quiet, boredom and dullness were a major problem.  They can certainly still be so today, too, but social media, new gadgets, faster news delivered in more frightening or even misleading forms, endless swarms of medical procedures guaranteed to make me young, strong and handsome create forces that can overwhelm me.

I agree with my friend and with the poet that welcoming all comers and all events and even all challenges can make for an enhanced, engaged, enriched life, up to a point.  Too many people, too many deals, too much activity, even overwhelming fright, joy or thrills and I may have to shut my door for a while.  It is still my job to watch over me and keep myself in balance.  From the ancients to today, a little moderation is still a good idea.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Let us care for you

The October 9 volume of the New Yorker (black and white cartoon cover) includes an article by Rachel Aviv entitled "The Takeover".  It is non-fiction and is about a corruption of legal guardianship for senior citizens.  As we age, we may get into a state where we don't make good decisions and need help.  However, we may not.  But a colluding mess of judges and others can change me into a ward of the state with a given person selected to watch over me.  Aviv's article focuses on a professional guardian who had over 400 "wards".  The guardian has complete access to the ward's bank accounts and authorization to sell any and all property, to decision where the ward must live and similar controls.

In the case of children, mentally impaired adults and seniors who truly need help, the arrangement makes sense.  In the case of older citizens with funds, property and good health, it totally does not.

You may be able to read the article here:


Rachel Aviv has other worthwhile and protective articles here


Sunday, October 15, 2017

Who is going to be chosen? What will be selected?

Not long ago, I felt fed up with competition.  I thought it would be nice if everyone tried to see the good in themselves and others.  We could all appreciate each other's motives, hopes, disappointments.  What do we need competition for, anyway?

Then, I read Eagleman's "Incognito" about the large part of my brain that is incognito, unconscious, inaccessible to my conscious mind.  One part emphasizes the idea that I can have contradictory desires and drives: eat a chocolate but refrain from added sugar.  So, the author's image is that of contradictions being kicked upstairs to the executive office of the conscious mind for resolution.

I realize that if I want the job and you want the job, we are going to be competing.  I see that I benefit from having several companies design and sell computers so I have a choice and they don't have sole control of the market.  But I didn't realize that I can find competition right inside my own mind.  So, it is not just all those knights vying for her hand and it is not just all those Cinderellas competing for the glass slipper.  Struggle and opposition is even inside me.  

I should have seen it coming.  A long time ago, I wrote my dissertation on decision-making.  Even Ben Franklin had to make a list of reasons for and against something when he had a tough, tricky, almost balanced choice.  When two or more cities want a new Amazon plant in their area, there is going to be competition.  Each meal is a competition between foods.  Each book or movie is a choice from a set of possibilities.

I have trained myself to have a red light go on when I hear about "the best".  It doesn't much matter whether it is the best warrior, the best poet or the cutest baby.  Getting the best just about requires some arbitrary and debatable decisions about the criteria for superiority.  I am quite aware that changes in the criteria bring different "best" whatevers.  Best baseball batter?  What bats?  What stadiums?  What hours of the day or night?

But I do see that there is only one now.  Just now, I can only choose this or that.  There is one me only and I can't go in two directions.  It is not just arbitrary choices.  There are fundamental choices and in many of them, only one of us will win.

Saturday, October 14, 2017


I am not a total fan of technology but I realize that my life is quite different from that of my grandparents and their grandparents.  There are many differences but I think the biggest difference is in the area of electricity.  Amazon or somebody made me aware of the book "Electric Universe" by David Bodanis.  It really is a very good book.  While reading it, the book "Electricity in the Human Body" by Dame Frances Ashcroft.  ("Dame" is the British honorific for women and is equal to "Sir" somebody, a Knight).  Prof. Ashcroft is a professor of anatomy and physiology at Oxford University.  She is a specialist in ion channels, special proteins in human cells that allow only some substances to pass into or out of the cell.  

The ion channels manage their work by making use of electrical forces and are fundamental to all the body processes, including all the senses we have.  

The ancients were, in some cases, aware of magnets and of lightning but rarely thought there was any connection.  If you have never read the story of how the telegraph, the telephone, legs of dead frogs and bodies of executed criminals lead to more research and more thought about what electricity is, it is very worth going through.  Both of the books mentioned above related the story but Ashcroft's veers a little more toward the body while Bodanis includes more about machines and engines and in nature.

You may have been in a cabin or camping and experienced life for a while without electricity.  The Colorado town that had its own little generating station under pressure and leadership of Stanley of automobile fame has a sign on it that says when it was built, nobody expect anyone would want electricity 24 hours a day.  Yet, in today's America, we do for the most part want electricity all the time.  Refrigeration, television and other communication, those depending for life on special machines such as iron lungs, operating room illumination and many other aspects of life today depend on a steady supply of electrical power.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Shared from BBC:A new way to look at emotions – and how to master yours


​I don't want to pester you to death but this article from the BBC Futures area is worth looking at.  Bill​

Review of recent trip

Maine and Vermont figure in my family history and my own experience.  My high school teacher ran a summer camp in Vermont and invited me to work there.  I did for two summers and had a very good experience.  Later, in college, I worked in a summer camp in Maine.  It was from there that I launched a bus trip from Portland, ME to Orlando, FL after my girl friend (now my wife of 57 years) complained of the pain and despair we both were feeling and asked me to do something about our job-based summer separation.  

From what I can tell, my grandfather's family was based in Maine before some of them moved to Baltimore, much farther south.  It may be that bits of speech and accent habits still linger in me from my New England roots.  

We visited central Maine.  The state has a very irregular ocean coastline and many islands in its waterways and off its shores.  Wisconsin does not have any ocean boundaries but we do have the gigantic Lake Superior along the north edge and the equally gigantic Lake Michigan along the eastern edge.  Lake currents are not in the league of ocean currents but the latitude of the two states is quite similar.  The forestation is similar so the fall colors of the leaves is similar, too.

I saw plenty of houses and businesses that looked like they were having financial problems.  Recent data suggest to me that the median income in Maine is not very different from that of Wisconsin but it is true that the reported figure for Wisconsin is higher.  

The people we spoke to, both casual and impromptu, and when conducting real business were forthright, cheerful and fun to talk to.  Much of my typical day relates not to people or surroundings but to books du jour.  I looked for something in my Kindle books that seemed a little different from my recent fare and chose "The Accidental Universe" by the physicist/ humanist Alan Lightman.  Lightman turns out to have summered in Maine for decades so I felt on track with him.  One of my favorite writers and essayists is E.BWhite and his Maine background is famous.  

Our car was a Nissan Altima and one of the models where the remote only needs to be inside the car for the engine button to start the car if in the right gear and a foot is pressing on the brake.  Modern cars can be different and we started driving at night.  Lynn likes to drive and she is appropriately cautious while being a quick learner.  I don't mind if she drives and I use the Apple Maps app to get us where we are headed.  I did drive a little but she did most of it.

Maine, of course, is famous for lobster.  They even have the lobster on their license plate:

I had a lobster roll, chunks lined up in a hot dog roll, and a lobster quesadilla.  We learned that lobster is now considered a high-class food but about 1850 was considered the "cockroach" of the ocean.  It was plentiful but looked down upon.  Some of the improvement in its acceptance came from cooking the live lobster in boiling water instead of killing it and then cooking it.  It is a high protein food and was fed to the state's prisoners so often that there was a riot over too much lobster. So much of it served was called "cruel and unusual punishment". The legislature passed a rule that lobster could not be served to the incarcerated more than twice a week. Lobster has come up in the world since then.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Might be of interest to anyone

This is Google's new effort to make useful information available to those who want to improve or grow in some way. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Just sent to a friend

I don't know what you are reading or thinking about but it seems to me that if you are looking around for new directions, there are two books that might be worthwhile. One is "Incognito" by Eagleman and the other is "Electric Universe" by Bodanis.  Maybe not your usual material but very eye-opening and thought provoking.  Bill

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Fwd: U.S. Political Landscape, Automation, Guns in America

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Pew Research Center <info@pewresearch.org>
Date: Thu, Oct 5, 2017 at 2:39 PM
Subject: U.S. Political Landscape, Automation, Guns in America
To: olderkirby@gmail.com

56% of Americans say they would not want to ride in a driverless car.
Is this email not displaying correctly? View it in your browser.

October 05, 2017

The partisan divide on political values grows even wider

Partisan divisions over fundamental political values, which grew during Barack Obama's tenure as president, have continued to widen during Donald Trump's presidency. Democrats and Republicans particularly disagree on government aid to the needy, racial discrimination, immigration and global involvement. Read key takeaways from the report.

Covering President Trump in a polarized media environment

Coverage of President Donald Trump's first 100 days from news outlets with a right-leaning audience differed from those with a left-leaning or mixed audience when it came to positive or negative assessments of Trump and the number of source types cited in their stories. But all mostly framed their coverage around character and leadership rather than policy.

Automation in everyday life

Advances in robotics and artificial intelligence have the potential to automate a wide range of human activities and to dramatically reshape American life. Though Americans expect certain positive outcomes from these developments, they are concerned about these technologies' implications for society as a whole. Read key findings from the report.

America's complex relationship with guns

Our June report took an in-depth look at Americans' attitudes toward and experiences with guns, including their views on gun violence and gun policies. Among the findings: About seven-in-ten Americans say they have fired a gun at some point and 42% currently live in a gun-owning household.

Key trends in social and digital news media

Digital news and social media continue to grow, with mobile devices rapidly becoming one of the most common ways for Americans to get news. As journalists and others in media gather for the annual Online News Association conference, read 10 key findings about today's digital news media landscape.

Many countries favor specific religions, officially or unofficially

More than 80 countries favor a specific religion to some extent. Islam is the most common government-endorsed faith, but many governments give privileges to Christianity. Most governments around the globe, however, are generally neutral toward religion. Read key facts from the report.

After record migration, 80% of Syrian asylum applicants approved to stay in Europe

Syrians filed more than twice as many asylum applications as any other origin group during Europe's record migration surge in 2015 and 2016. In all, more than half a million asylum seekers from Syria had received permission to stay in Europe, at least temporarily, as of Dec. 31, 2016.

Republicans' optimism about future of GOP declines

The share of Republicans who are very or somewhat pessimistic about the future of their party has nearly doubled, from 20% in December 2016 to 39% today. This decline in optimism can be seen particularly among college-educated Republicans.

Hispanic dropout rate hits new low, college enrollment at new high

The Hispanic dropout rate was 10% in 2016; just five years earlier, that rate had been 16%. Meanwhile, 47% of Hispanic high school graduates ages 18 to 24 were enrolled in college in 2016, up from 32% in 1999.

Public attitudes toward human rights organizations: The case of India, Indonesia, Kenya and Mexico

Early coverage of the Trump presidency rarely included citizen voices

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To learn about other giving opportunities such as planned gifts or institutional grants, please contact Andrew Ansel in Philanthropic Partnerships at aansel@pewtrust.org or (202) 540-6264.

Media Mentions

Americans more divided along party lines than ever


Democrats, Republicans see eye-to-eye on almost nothing, according to an extensive new poll


Will your job be automated? 70 percent of Americans say no

The associated press

More than 70% of US fears robots taking over our lives

The guardian

News Coverage Of Trump More Negative Than For Other Presidents


Islam Is Most Official, But Christianity Is Most Favored Worldwide

Christianity Today

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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Better attitude

She asked me how I was and I said,"Fine".  She said,"Well, you seem fine but you seem SO fine that I am suspicious.  Maybe so fine covers up feelings that are not really that fine."

I like to think that my attitude and my moods are more or less open to my choice.  Sure, with sudden food poisoning or a painful broken foot, I am not going to be fine or act fine or say I am fine. But much of the time, I can get the feeling, the attitude I want.
I am experimenting with breathing exercises, mostly using "Conscious Breathing" by Gay Hendricks, PhD as a guide.  Dr. Hendricks and his wife Kathlyn, who is also a PhD and also an author and a dancer, have written several books that have helped me.  They have "Conscious Loving" and "Conscious Living", too, as well as many other books, that are written in straightforward, accessible language.  Because of my experiments with the breathing exercises in the book and from reading "Joy on Demand" by Chade-Meng Tan, I feel somewhat able to detect a low mood, or unhappiness and modify myself to be different if I want to.

For $11.99, you can download Conscious Breathing from Amazon to a computer, Kindle app or Kindle reader and read it as often as desired.  Gay Hendricks reports that he meditated and did breathing exercises regularly for decades and feels strongly that he benefited.

Sometimes, I don't want to move away from unhappiness.  Several of my friends have died recently.  To honor them, to participate in their funerals, to accept and be part of my own mortality, and to harmonize with the feelings of those grieving loss, I don't try to remove my unhappiness.  But I am increasingly able to do so when I want to.

I am intrigued with the fact that I can exhibit such a positive attitude, genuinely honest and rooted, and yet elicit suspicion that I am playing or hiding my real feelings.  I am not especially interested in communicating my moods accurately but I like to be able to fit smoothly into a crowd if I want to.  So, I may experiment with achieving or displaying less cheer in order to be seen as having a better attitude.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Where is it?

Oh, if you're looking for the oximeter

, look in Lynn's end table.  That's where we usually keep it.  I keep my book of easy Sudoku in the other end table.  Not the bigger one, though.  That's where I keep a couple of heating pads.  The binoculars are in the shelves in the broom closet but the exercise bands and the tennis balls are in the bottom of the coat closet.

The ceramic knives all go in this mug but the metal knives go in this drawer.  That's where the 8-part apple corer goes, too.  We keep the hot pads, the pot holders and the gloves for hot pans on top of the microwave.  The ordinary glasses go on this cupboard shelf, one upside down and another on top of it.  Those wine glasses go up on that shelf but the red wine glasses are here and the white wine glasses are there.

We usually keep the car keys on these hooks, if we remember to put them there.  The key to the shed goes here and extra keys go here.

It's all pretty simple, really.  Now, where are the scissors?

Sunday, October 1, 2017


I don't know if you have heard of "Adam Ruins Everything" a series of telecasts that may have started out on YouTube but now seem to be part of "TruTv".  Any comedian who attracts me, a 17 year old, and a couple of senior citizen is worth knowing about.  

My great grandson showed me an Adam Ruins Everything video before the last presidential election.  Adam Conover is listed on the web as an "investigative comedian" and he really is.  The particular video that got my attention is about gerrymandering.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zd5rul6EdF0

I read that Governor Gerry of Massachusetts in 1812 saw a way to draw voting districts so that most members of his opposition were in a single voting district while drawing several districts around his supporters.  The result looked quite suspicious and somebody said the overall result looked like a salamander.  Somebody else said, no, it was a "geerymander".  

Adam ran through his explanation a bit too fast for me but he did alert me to the possibility that district drawing can change a minority into a majority using only district boundaries as a tool.  This graphic from the Washington Post shows how to take a 60-40 split between two sets of votes and allow the smaller group to win.  Take a look.  It is all in the way you slice the pie:


The League of Women Voters and the Supreme Court both are paying attention to geometric gymnastics aimed at making the lesser the greater.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Internet Scout and Banned Books

The Internet Scout report comes out every Friday.  The report can be subscribed and delivered to your email inbox and you can also visit it online

https://scout.wisc.edu/report/current There is a surprising difference between getting it individually and trying to remember to take a look at it in a browser.  Even if you delete the email without opening it, you get a reminder of the Internet Scout service by seeing it in your stuff.

This week's edition is all about banned books.  That is roughly the same topic as information restriction or censorship.  Lynn was an elementary school librarian, a high school librarian and a professor of school library studies.  I just asked her if she had any sort of book she thought should be banned.  She thought a while and mentioned "slash porn", books about hurting young women, usually naked and usually beautiful ones.  I asked her why she might ban them and she agreed that she thought not having such books to look at might tip someone away from acting out criminal, cruel behavior.  She has been professionally involved with books and libraries most of her adult life and is completely aware of the different sides of the issue, including the possibility that civil, respectful and compassionate discussions about internal drives and desires are often more effective than keeping secrets and denying feelings.

Volume 23 Number 39 includes access to lists of the most banned books of the past year in this country.  All documents I have seen on the subject emphasize that many challenges, requests or demands for suppression get expressed only to a local librarian or bookseller. Here is a link to the American Library Association's page about the subject of banned books


Looking over the list on the ALA's web site, it seems that a great many of the cited books refer to either homosexual or transsexual thoughts, information, tales, reports or stories.  Since each of us exists because of the sexual activities of our parents, a Martian visitor might assume that all aspects of sex would be a very humdrum subject for humans.  I assume that looking over the history of banned books, I might find books on the horrors of war, the honor of war, the righteousness of war and also books about the badness of some laws and social practices.

It seems to me that for most of us, homosexuality and transsexual problems do not occupy much of our lives.  Subjects, new possibilities and fears arise and fall all the time.  These days, many people can read but find television and other sources of visual and audio information preferable.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Halloween is coming!

It may not be as bad as it looks.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

What will fit in an hour?

I have been thinking of giving a talk on freebies.  I can lose track of what is free and what isn't but I know I get the TED talk weekly summary free. I get Internet Scout.  Many days, I get 6 to 9 emails from Amazon, most of which are about books, mostly ebooks.  I get Maria Popova's Brainpickings, several newsletters from the Brookings Institute and some from the PEW research people.  I get plenty of other free stuff, too.

The lawn and bushes need care.  The grass needs to be cut.  The car needs an oil change.  Bills need to be paid.  I want to go to lunch with my friends.  We haven't seen the kids for a while.

I am not going to spend unlimited time on email, whether it is free or not, whether is exciting, "must read" or not.  I might spend an hour on seeing who is doing what, but I might not, either.  

Below is a picture of the Gmail inbox.  Inside the black ring is the selection box, showing an empty square and to the right, an arrow head.  That arrow head gives the dropdown box that enables selection of All, None, Read, Unread, Starred and Unstarred.  When I am more determined to write, or read, or cook, or exercise or just take a drive, I can quickly select the batch that came in and delete the whole thing.

Gmail selections.png

It is not just email, of course.  Physician appointments, home repairs, car repair, organization meeting, people in need, people I love, people I'd like to befriend, Facebook, blog, web site - just about anything at all can swell up to an unmanageable size.  I only have so many hours left before mortality gets me.  I don't plan to abdicate my position as executive of my life.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

A new story

She was out for the evening.  I tried several movies on Netflix.  Nothing gripped me.  Nothing even squeezed me lightly.  How about reading?  Not the nerdy stuff.  Not the helpful, healthful stuff.  Something lighter, quicker.  I started last night on "Young Jane Young" by Gabrielle Zevin. I am now 70% done.

Getting into a light story, something that does not call for much mental effort, something with a bit of wit and sensitivity.  This story qualifies in my opinion.  Getting into something that has nothing to do with the mind, self-knowledge, psychology or advanced topics sounds good at times, especially if the material is well-put together.

I have read that it is not a story until something bad happens.  Quite a few people these days say they feel that they don't want to hear about anything bad happening.  We have enough bad happenings in the news.  But I think if you try it, you will find, as have others before you, that your interest is not really engaged until there is a bit of "dramatic tension."  You know how it goes: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl.  Without that center part, no taste, no challenge, thus too little interest.  When the storm strikes, the villain vills, the heroine is left crying on the dock, the beautiful monument is swallowed up, the rook flies away with the ring, that's when we get a squirt of adrenaline.  That's when we get a surge of strength and determination and resolve to see things made right.

I know that when you are past 60 years of age, you have heard many tales.  You are not as likely to be excited by the wickedness of the witch and the boasts of the bad guys.  That is why it takes a bit of searching to find something that appeals.  That is why several movies, made at genuine expense by talented people with hopes of strumming our heartstrings, didn't work.  I don't say I am uniquely sensitive or have high-level tastes.  I just find that the wrong comment, the wrong facial expression and I am off looking for something else.  I do say that searching and tasting and maybe eventual fatigue are often required before I can get satisfaction.

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