Friday, July 31, 2009

Can I have just a little space?

We are listening to Parker Palmer on the Sounds True audio discs An Undivided Life.  I enjoyed parts of his books The Courage to Teach and Let Your Life Speak, which is a small book and one of the most accurate and helpful individual psychology books I have read.
I used to wonder at my wife’s steady interest in discovering who she was.  I assured her that I could tell her but she ignored me, not for the only time.  Then, as we have grown older together, I found that once again, damnit, she is on the right track.  It is not only a sensitive and inquisitive emotional person like her who benefits from repeatedly reading or thinking about spiritual and psychological matters.  A hard-headed realist like me also needs re-immersion.  It’s like a picket fence, I guess.  A new coat of paint protects the interior from weathering, bugs and rot. 
I have lots of respect for Palmer and his thoughts and writing.  I have read his books and attended a live presentation by him at Buffalo Books in Montello, WI., courtesy of Dr. Sue Slick.  But I don’t usually feel that my life is wrongly divided or fractured so I wasn’t sure I would get much from An Undivided Life.  But he is paying off. 
Palmer has had difficulties with finding the right path for himself.  Even in high school, he was cool and good-looking.  He was popular and had a following among the others.  He was elected class president.  All the while he could tell that he was playing a role, one that lead to popularity and a kind of success but not to satisfaction.  He was divided between the way he really wanted to act and feel and what he did for the sake of appearances. 
Later, he suffered three deep bouts of depression.  He has not found a magic spell or potion to stop depression but heavy use of the Buddhist idea that EVERYTHING CHANGES has helped.  His discussion reminded me of The Mindful Way Through Depression by William et al.  Three British psychologists and Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn.  In both, taking thought that leads to seeing one’s feelings at a little distance is often the first step. 
Thinking that Everything Changes is thinking that my current pain, despondency, etc. is something other than me.  It is not me.  It is a state of my mind and that state will change.  That slight objectification of my thought is an enormous tool.  A little space between me and my thoughts, between me and my feelings gives me a chance to see what they are, to ask myself if I like them and their direction.  Then, if I don’t like what I see, I can begin work on a change.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Computer security and your valuables

I have been helping a friend with his computer.  We found that trying to update or install anti-virus protection kept failing.  That made us suspect the machine had a virus or other malware such as a worm that was stopping the update or installation.  Eventually, we found an anti-virus program that was able to be installed.  It was unpacked and run.  It found a couple of viruses and removed them.  Then, the AVG program, which we know better and use, could be installed and it was run.
My version of basic computer security software is an anti-virus program and an anti-tracking-cookie program.  The viruses side have aimed at destruction, damage and chaos.  The tracking cookies send info on your browsing to companies that sell the info to vendors who would be interested in sending junk mail or spam to you about their products that your habits tell them you might buy.
Key loggers can be installed on a computer that record each key you pressed and can send a record of your activity to others.  Your logons, passwords and messages can be extracted from the record.  Protection software has told me a couple of times that I had a keylogger on my machine.  I see that I can put the term into Google and find sites that will sell me keylogger software for very little.  Someone else can do that, too.  If I will just be so kind as to as to install in on my machine and arrange for it to be in the name of someone who wants it, that someone can have access to my email, etc.
According to this article on a blog, computer deviltry is reaching new heights of smarts and speed.  It is worth a look.

We are all Africans

As I've looked at results for Lynn and me from the National Geographical Society’s Genographic Project, I’ve been convinced that all of the humans are from Africa or from grandparents from Africa.  I think this is sadly hilarious, given the propensity of me and my more recent ancestors to assume that blonde is best, that cathedrals way outrank huts and spears, that trousers are superior to loincloths and that trumpets trump drumming.  Much in the stories of British activities in Africa, India and Australia shows the Europeans’ assumptions that their knowledge of the Christian story and lore placed on them the responsibility and the right to pound their ideas into non-Christian heads and make a little profit financially while doing so.  The British were not alone in these convictions and activities.  I recommend the film “The Mission” for a picture (note: a picture from American and British sources) of Spanish activities in 16th century South America. 
There was the interest and tension when Jesse Owens, an African American, won a record number of medals in the 1936 Olympics held in Berlin during Hitler’s attempt to convince the world of the superiority of everything German.  For a current (fictional) picture of life with low status and oppression for African Americans in post WWII Mississippi, take a look at Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. 
This link takes you to the excellent summary of the recent discoveries and thoughts “We Are All Africans Now”
The link goes to “More Intelligent Life” web site, a magazine put out by the staff of The Economist, a very highly regarded British magazine on economics.
Other interesting angles include the scientific fact that non-African humans, such as Europeans, are much less genetically diverse than Africans are.  Also, there is emerging evidence that in certain physical operations, Africans process oxygen a little differently.  Quite a while ago, I read in the New Yorker an article by a Black lawyer that something like the top 12 sprinters in the world were Black.  Maybe you remember Jimmy the Greek’s statement that Africans are superior athletes or the movie title “White Men Can’t Jump.”

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

From the creator of Dilbert's blog - Scott Adams

The Extra Legal Age
Jul 27, 2009 General Nonsense | Notify
Our laws recognize a number of legal ages for various activities. You need to be 16-years old to get a driver's license, 18-years old to enlist in the armed forces, and 21-years old to drink. One can argue that the various legal ages should be adjusted up or down, but everyone generally agrees that there needs to be minimum legal ages for some types of activities.

I think we need to extend that concept. Once you reach the age of 80, a new set of legal rights should kick in. Specifically, you should be able to imbibe any drug you want, and you should have the right to doctor-assisted euthanasia.

A typical 80-year old might need a little chemical boost to make life tolerable. There isn't much chance an 80-year old will join a street gang or shorten his lifespan by much. Perhaps the law could require a full-time nurse or family caretaker to be around if the oldster wants to drop acid. I could see some restrictions on the activity, but it seems cruel to force grandpa to have a crappy last few years when science provides options.

Likewise, euthanasia should be legal after the age of 80. The cost of keeping people alive in the last months of their lives is a huge part of overall healthcare costs, and a big deal to the economy. I say if you're 80-years old, and you want to spare yourself, and society, from a painful and expensive last act, that should be your legal right.
Did you check your unreadable message for readability?
There are 17 comments on Scott Adam's message above.  Click on the General Nonsense link if you want to see them.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Facts and feelings

Sometimes it is said that all religions have lots of common areas and beliefs.  Sometimes it is said that doctrine and meaning are secondary in religious practice and that what matters is the facts of getting together, feeling in common with and accepted by others in the group.  I read recently of the World Parliament of Religions, started before 1900 and still showing life and energy. 
I have more or less lived on the line between facts and feelings.  I often wondered which mattered more.  It has been clear to me that women have plenty of feelings and show them.  Men seem to show them less but I found that young males have tons of feelings too and that older males have found that holding their emotions in check may pay off. 
I was surprised to read that a person with the emotional center of the brain damaged showed no ability to make a decision or choice.  It seemed that there was no perceived weight for one alternative or another.  That fact has underlined for me that we humans can calculate and reason and plan but that our feelings and desires and hopes precede all that sort of rational thinking, underlie and support it.  Our reasoning is toward some end, purpose or goal and our feelings energize us to think and act to realize that goal. 
There are people who only tend to pay attention to fiction or non-fiction, I guess.  I find it very helpful and uplifting to try to feed myself both.  Something factual but incisive, such as Tim Taylor’s look at world economics or Bill Bryson’s look at the history of modern science can be riveting while a chance to live in the head of Fred Vargas’s French police administrator highlights terrors and desires.  I do better on a balanced diet but feelings really do matter.

Sample Vanishing message

Home page of the Vanish project:
Online window for using the software without downloading or uploading anything:
This online window is the place to paste the following message to decode it.  Paste in everything below the dotted line.  The code will be permanently unreadable after the stated deadline.  You can read the message (very unimportant one) repeatedly until the time stated in Greenwich Mean Time, the time in London and zero on the earth's time scale.  It is 3:16 PM Central US daylight time, I think.
This message will self-destruct by Mon, 27 Jul 2009 21:16 GMT.
Use to read this message.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Disappearing data

I learned about an interesting project the other day.  It is work being done at the University of Washington (the state) in their computing department.  There is a free download available if you want to experiment with what they have so far.
In order for email to get to the addressee even if there are equipment failures, most email is copied by the transmitting systems and kept for a while.  I have read that it can be for 90 days or more, maybe a year.  During that time, everything you sent and received has been copied.  Lawyers are increasingly aware of this as is, of course, the government.  They are aware that they can subpoena records and make use of them.  Not to mention other governments whose computer workers may find their way to the servers holding my files and read what I have sent out.  I doubt they are interested but you never know, do you? I have read that Cardinal Richelieu, the nemesis of the 3 musketeers, said that if any man would write just three lines on paper, the Cardinal would be able to find an interpretation of the writing that would result in the man being hung!  I'm not worried but maybe later.
The U of W project is Vanish and it makes electronic data with an expiration date on it, at which time, it VANISHES.  According to the bit of explanation I read on the website, it will not matter if the text is archived or cached, it will still self-destruct.  They say it will be unreadable.  If your computer gets mauled badly, experts can still recover much of all of what was on the hard disk, probably for a hefty fee. I suppose at least initially these computer science students have taken that into consideration.  Eventually, somebody will probably invent “Un-vanish” that will recover the data.
As they say at their website, their project makes email perform like a phone call in some ways.  We talk on the phone and exchange important information but we have to remember it unless it is recorded somehow.  I actually don’t have much that I think should vanish but I plan to try the system out.  I am writing on the afternoon of Saturday, July 25, and I expect to send this post out on the morning of Monday, July 27, about 6:30 AM.  Unless I want to put more time into learning Vanish, it is easiest to accept the default value of 8-9 hours, after which the text vanishes or scrambles badly.  So, about 7 AM, I will send a sample email that should become permanently unreadable about 3 PM that day.

Officer Lopez in Texas

It must have happened in 2005 when I visited my sister to help attend to the death of my mother.  My sister and I had been out to lunch and shopping.  We were going home and I was driving.  We were having an animated conversation when my sister began shouting at me, “Slow down! Slow down!”   I hadn’t changed my speed for some time so what was the big deal?  Her excitement made me aware now that all the cars around me were suddenly slowed to a crawl. Carol said,” This is a school zone!”  I glanced in the rear mirror and too late!  Red and blue lights flashing behind me. 
I pulled over and received the citation.  I found out that the school zone indicators were set back from the street .  Although they were flashing, I hadn’t noticed them.
I thought I would take care of the problem immediately.   We drove straight to the police department and got in line to pay the charge.   Sorry, this ticket cannot be paid yet since we have no record from the officer.  Come back later.  We had already stood in line amid noise and tension and didn’t relish another dose.  We drove home.
The next day, I tried phoning to see if I could arrange to pay by mail.  I still didn’t know the amount of the charge.  When calling, a mechanical voice said that the charge for going 1 mile over the speed limit would be such-and-such.  Two miles over the limit would be this.  There was no way to fast forward to my level, 19 miles an hour over the limit.  I just sat and listened as the amounts rose, wondering what it might be for me.  Finally, 19 miles an hour over the limit = $249.  Too big a chunk of the limited cash I had brought with me from Wisconsin.  I called Lynn and asked her to send the police a check for that amount.
I can still picture Officer Lopez skillfully moving through the slow-moving cars to fasten on me, cutting me from the herd.  He was polite and interesting but I don’t mind if I never see him again.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Owies and lawyer service

About two weeks ago, I wore my moccasins for quite a bit more time than I usually do.  Near the end of that time, my right foot got very sore on the bottom.  Yesterday, I wore them to the Y for swimming since they are quick to put on and off.  I wore them around town for errands.  By the end of the day, my left foot and ankle were very sore.  This morning, I have it bandaged and have been icing it.  But I have difficulty getting to the computer and sitting naturally for very long.
Last evening, Lynn had a root canal operation that was long and complex.  Later, while my sore ankle and I read to her aloud, she accidentally gave herself a small cut in the end of her finger.  The little devil would simply not stop bleeding.  She used pressure and waited but no luck.  We went to the emergency room and it took an hour and a half and a couple of stitches to get the bleeding to stop.
In a matter of a couple of hours, we went from two healthies to two invalids.  So we might not have normal communication and activities for a while.
On a separate but valuable subject, I wanted to mention Pre-Paid Legal.  A member of my summer Quaker workshop sold the service but was not licensed in my state.  I found a link at the site above and joined.  I plan to pay about $36 a month for continuous lawyer availability, much like health insurance.  I know that health insurance in our country is in turmoil and maybe some day insurance for legal matters will be, also.  The basic fee is $25 a month but I added $10 for identity protection. A lawyer told me yesterday that identity theft is a large and growing crime that is often unrelated to credit or credit ratings.  A big thing is medical identity theft where someone manages to get treatment and get the bill on your account.  Hassles, arguments and difficulties can accumulate in getting things straightened out.
When I first got the service, Lynn questioned its value.  I have still not used it so I am not experienced with the level of service I would actually get.  The story of the company is that a 1969 car accident caused the founder lots of legal expenses and worry.  He decided to look into European practices of small advanced billing to cover large legal expenses in the way his medical and car insurance worked.  The booklet that comes with membership says that now that you have a lawyer, make use of that fact.  I think it takes a lower middle-class guy like me to begin to recognize where a lawyer might help with everyday operations and plans.  The lower middle class level of my family of origin meant there was not a lot of extra cash so one avoided lawyers if possible.  I have done that and I will continue.  Still, suing and pulling legal tricks and throwing legal weight around are common these days and something like this might be helpful.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


I think many of my friends who receive these posts read them in their email but rarely or never visit the blog site, where the messages are posted.  There really isn’t much of a reason to do so most of the time, as far as the messages go.  They can be found there and they can be searched there, too.
However, don’t forget the links there to several blogs I am following.  Blogs are much like newspapers.  “weB LOGS” are constantly updated and it is possible to anchor a “feed” into your own (free blog), blog reader or email and probably your browser so that you always get the latest version of the blogs you are interested in.  Currently, blogs are much like visiting the library – there is probably something in there for any interest.
There is a Google blog searcher and I sometimes use it to see what the talk on some topic is.  I’ve mentioned that there are currently 70 million blogs and all sorts of companies, organizations and individuals are posting all sorts of comments, links, etc.  It is a mighty large chuck of stuff and I imagine only a small fraction would be of interest to any one person.  But some of it can be very interesting.
A friend told me about a year or so ago not to send him any links to YouTube videos because he already spent too much of his life looking at the millions of short and not-so-short videos available.  The same holds for the ‘blogosphere”.  It is big enough that it can swallow you if you let it. 
One way of looking at blogs is that they are free soapboxes for anyone to use to talk to the world.  I tried first about three years ago and found that no one ever noticed in any detectable way all the wonderful words I had typed.  Then, I tried again and while doing so, I realized that people who accept emails from me could be sent daily blog posts while they were also posted on the site.  It may be fun to start your own blog.
I have created a blog for experimental use by recipients of these posts.  I think I have successfully inserted everyone as authors but if you try something and you can't get entry or success, let me know.
It is gaudy but may be ok for an experiment.  It is here:
Try going to it and posting to it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Many comments on yesterday's post

There have been quite a few emails regarding yesterday’s post. Rather than send them along as they came, I have put them all on the blog and I will add any others that come in.
I appreciate everyone’s comments. I do think that all the statements show care and careful thinking and sensitivity. I urge anyone who is interested to read the comments attentively and see if they can see clear evidence of that. As on many issues regarding life and death, there don’t seem to be any easy or obvious answers. What seems crystal clear to one thinker may be totally wrong to another.

Responses to "Bloodshed"

I have received a phone call and eight emails about today's "Bloodshed" post. The phone call said the recipients enjoyed the writing. They included the prediction that someone would call me a serial killer.

The emails said:
Bill…the answer is to get more cats….helps the litter business out.
I had to chuckle about this post. We, too, have critters running around our yard. Recently, we discovered trails into the grass coming from under the juniper bushes. A little research on Google told us we had a vole. There are no specific traps for voles - - - only for rats, mice, moles, and other rodents. But I did find out that voles can be caught with my trusty and well-used gopher trap purchased at Frank's Hardware for about $7.00 several years ago. It is safer for ME to use than a mouse trap and just as deadly, most of the time.

I loaded the trap with a mixture of peanut butter and oatmeal (per directions on Google) and set the trap perpendicular in the line of the trail. Within an hour, I caught the varmint. Since the information about voles indicated there would likely be more than one in the area, I reset the trap and the next day, found a gopher who had succumbed to the concoction. Next day, same thing!

My trapping total this summer includes: 1 vole and 7 gopher/chipmunks (I can't tell them apart)! I also caught a sparrow but it was still alive when I released it and, after taking a while to get over what must have been shock and perhaps a sore neck, it flew away.
Good for you. Those little critters can wreck a garden. You know someone is going to say that you don’t have a heart for killing those little critters.
I do enjoy your writings. Keep up the good work.
I feel a little less of a mass murderer knowing that you too have taken a stand as king of your yard. Our particular enemy are the chipmunks. Last year, we determined to be persistent and re-bait our quick death traps particularly since we decided to keep a kill count (our little Vietnam). By the end of last summer we had recorded 138. Funny, we have not seen any this season.....
I find the killings and the "amusing" responses sad and difficult.
Does this one bother you? Surprise you??
;-) Serial killer is a hoot! I am totally on board with no animals in the house, but my Gandhi side leaves them alone in the yard;-)
I agree, we don't want any in our yard either. But I also couldn't ever kill one. We bought a trap this year and in the first two weeks we've had it we have relocated 3 chipmunks. We drive them out across the bridge and let them go somewhere we think they can be happy, plus I'm pretty certain they won't find their way back across the bridge to our yard
That was inevitable. There is a PETAesque element sprinkled throughout society that has made animal worship a religion.
Well, somebody has to say something from the other side--and I guess it will have to be me. I know that all those little critters can be destructive and annoying. My heart sinks when I see a groundhog near my garden (and of course, some groundhogs are rather big critters.) I can offer no solution at all, apart from taking them far into the country and releasing them and I know that any nearby farmers might be annoyed--and not hesitate to shoot them themselves. Also, maybe the critters themselves will be so disoriented they won't survive, although they seem to me like a tough lot.

Nonetheless, I can't see killing animals like that--unless they are dangerous or in some way presenting more than an annoyance. It seems to me that they have as much right to be here as we do and that they want to live too. Think of the ingenuity and persistence of the squirrel trying to negotiate a squirrel-proof bird-feeder. I have to admire it!

You may remember that my seeing a lobster being dropped into the pot in 1978 turned me into a strict vegetarian for 12 years. If so, my reaction to the critter-killing is probably to be expected. I still feel strange about eating meat, and actually eat pretty little although I'm not a purist about this. In fact, I think that killing a squirrel (or a deer or a fish) to eat is different--although if I had to do that, I would probably become a strict vegetarian again.

So, all I can say is "I don't like that." I have no solutions or arguments. (I realize that this is kind of like the Republican stand on healthcare proposals.) Anyway, reading about killing animals makes me feel sad.
Wow. I'm sure with this 5th response. My stomach churned all day. What terrible thing have these tiny creatures done to you
Since you just had this blog post about traping animals I had to share our adventure from tonight with you. I was sitting upstairs at the computer, and I heard something out in the trap. My husband went down to check it and thought he saw a black squirrel, but he got a flash light to check it before he put it in the car. We were glad he did, because it turned out to be a skunk! We flipped up the levers holding the door down and it left on it's own.
Since you just had this blog post about traping animals I had to share our adventure from tonight with you. I was sitting upstairs at the computer, and I heard something out in the trap. Justin went down to check it and thought he saw a black squirrel, but he got a flash light to check it before he put it in the car. We were glad he did, because it turned out to be a skunk! We flipped up the levers holding the door down and it left on it's own.
I think it might partly depend on context for how one feels about this. I feel strongly against killing any outdoor creature as they have as much right to be there as us, and it is not their fault we built our home there. So, my initial reaction to your post was one of 'Oh my goodness - people really do that?!?' However, as I thought about this today, my context is living in a rural area. I have never lived in a suburb or urban setting in which one is trying to maintain a presentable lawn for themselves and their neighbors. I don't know what kind of social or other pressure one may feel to dispose of said creatures as they are ruining our beautiful (human defined) yard. As a rural resident, I have many creatures that interfere with what I want to do on my property: A fox eats the chickens, the deer eat my garden, the squirrels and chipmunks eat my birdfeed, the chipmunks sleep in my care engine, etc. My solution is to either use barriers to prevent the creatures from accessing what I don;t want them to....or provide enough for both of us. I LOVE watching squirrels, so a put out feeders for them as well. I also feed the chipmunks outside my bedroom window to wake to each morning. Deer love pumpkins and strawberries, so I plant some outside of the fenced garden for them. Rodale's gardening books provide many natural strategies for keeping critters out of the way without resorting to killing them. rules do change when inside the house. Once it gets cold out, I have mice that find my home more comfortable than their natural homeland. They urinate and deficate in my home, eat electrical wires and other such problematic behavior. they also reproduce very rapidly. I try to reason with them to leave my home, but it does not work. So...I do trap the cute little things and drown them. Spiders are allowed permanent residence in the home and any other creature is carefully carried outside. This does upset my family as I move bees back outside as well even though I am allergic to them. I have gotten quite good at trapping a bee with a cup and sliding a piece of paper underneath to take it outside. I have tried to find a more humane way with the mice..but not yet. There is a device on the market that makes a high pitch that humans cannot hear, but drives mice crazy. However, it only works in mild climates, as it gets so cold in the north, the mice would rather put up with the noise than freeze.
So.... there is my 50 cents.

Thanks for getting back to me on my comment on chipmunk removal. I think that it is man's nature to hunt, basic to feeding the species, but in the evolution of time that instinct should have evolved into hunting for the right job, the right environment, the providing of food through other matters.
I realize there is overpopulation of many species, including deer, and the throng must be thinned in some manner. After all, I am a realist. As far as garden damage by the little creatures, there are many ways to head them off by special plants, scents, and deterrents found in garden magazines.
All life is precious and perhaps I am more attuned than need be as it is such a struggle to maintain life for my husband and me.
We are off to the hospital this morning, hopefully to easily correct an non raining urinary catheter, but in his vulnerable state, small things so easily escalate to larger problems.
Thanks for listening to my perspective.
Thanks! You can kill all the chipmunks and I wouldn’t care. They carefully demolished our beautiful crop of beets. I am mad at those little critters.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bloodshed in the backyard

I admire the beauty of a little field mouse and the cuteness of a chipmunk.  I admire their reflexes and senses.  But I don’t want too many little animals too close and I want zero of them inside the house.  When a squirrel came to the deck door and knocked gently for entry, I reached my limit. 
I bought a more powerful bb rifle.  The Red Ryder model was reminiscent of childhood but rabbits just looked annoyed if the bb managed to reach them.  The pump Crossman can shoot pellets instead of bb’s but so far, the bb’s are all I use. 
I bought 2 Havahart traps, one that was larger and heavier and a smaller version.  I have caught a squirrel, a couple of mice, and several chipmunks.  I caught the first animal last summer when gas was $4 a gallon.  I’ve heard of places, such as city parks, where people think it would be a good idea to dump live-caught animals and have created a bad over-supply or worse.  My friend caught a chipmunk and took his grandchildren to watch its release in a field.  The chipmunk took off out of the trap and immediately, right in front of innocent little eyes, a hawk swooped out of the sky and grabbed the chipmunk. 
I have been putting the entire trap underwater for about 15 minutes and throwing the carcass away.  Today, I caught a chipmunk and a 13 striped ground squirrel, this last with a snap mouse trap baited with peanut butter.  Soon after disposing of them, I saw a healthy and horny looking little fellow on the deck.  Another snap trap is waiting for him.
I have found that patience and repetition pays off.  The ground squirrel took a cashew, then an almond, then some peanut butter all without getting caught.  But on the follow-up visit for the rest of the peanut butter, he did get caught.
I was surprised to spot a neighbor’s cat crouched beside an area of prairie in our yard the other morning.  The plants are very dense and there is no line of sight very far into them.  However, the still cat kept twitching and rotating its ears to pick up every sound it could.  A little later, the cat was out of its crouch and chewing something rigorously. 

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hiya, Cousin

A couple of years ago, Lynn and I submitted our DNA to the National Geographic Society’s Genographic Project.  The cost of the submission kit is currently $99.95.  Each submission results in a report of information about either a person’s maternal or paternal ancestors and the path they took out of Africa.  If you are a male, you can submit two kits, one for each gender of your ancestors.  If you are a female, you can only have your mitochondrial DNA checked for your female line.  You have to get a male relative to submit his inner-cheek scraping to see about your male line, since you don’t have any of the Y chromosomes in your body.
It is quite quick to take the kit’s object that looks like a toothbrush without bristles and scrape it against the inside your cheek.  It doesn’t hurt,  You drop the object into a small tube, put it in the padded envelope provided and mail it.
Most of the paths pass through modern Egypt and most of the people I know have ancestors who traveled north around various obstacles into what is now Europe.  Some of my relatives are very interested in the history of their families going back into the 1600’s and further.  There are more and more resources, both online and other, for finding and studying who one’s ancestors were and what they did.  However, the Genographic Project and the book “The Seven Daughters of Eve”, by the Oxford professor of genetics Bryan Sykes, made it clear to me that we are all (maybe modified) Africans and all us humans are one big family. 
There is a passage in the writings of Thich Nhat Hahn where he advises us to learn to see flowers when looking at a manure pile and to see manure when looking at flowers.  He means the same thing as the Zen saying “We are one” meaning the whole world is connected together.  All the parts of the world are connected to all the other parts.  So it is a bit shortsighted of me to see only other humans as my relatives since birds, trees, sand and sky are also connected to me.  I can’t help but be influenced by my senses and I see physical and emotional similarities between me and other humans that don’t work for other parts of the world.
Since pondering the pathway charts and reading “Before the Dawn” by Nicholas Wade, thinking about humans 50,000 and 100,000 and 200,000 years ago, I have lost much of my interest in whether my great grandfather was a thief or a judge (or both).  I can see biologically, psychologically and historically that you and I and all us humans are cousins.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Health care and death

Ok, I am going to die.  I face it, I know it, I accept it.  My hope for you is that you feel the same about your death or will be accepting of it as soon as possible.  Life is easier if you can face the fact that you will eventually transform from your current state to a more disorganized one.
Beyond that, if I cut myself, I still have a desire to stem the bleeding.  If you cut yourself, I will try to stop your bleeding.  I hope if something begins in your body that is a malfunction, you get help from someone who knows how to help you. What is a malfunction?  That depends on who you are.  If you are a European living 50,000 years ago, you might consider some disabilities or body accidents everyday events that are fate or natural and not something to bother about.
Years ago, Lynn read an article given to her as part of her hospice training.  It said that there is a difference between the way different nationalities feel about health, healing, medicine and what one does about an injury or sickness.  Some nationalities avoid paying attention to a body problem if at all possible.  Some tend to be quite excited about every symptom and invest lots of worry and care on any problem.  This interesting article by editor Jacob Weisberg says similar things about medical care today.  What we find to need healing is, to some extent, dependent on where we grew up and what society we live in.
I like the way Weisberg accepts that the Americans might not ever accept, say, the Indian view of what needs medical care, how to get medical care and what effective care consists of.  They might not be able to accept plans and procedures that other countries use in the context of their view of life, health and death.  The debate about what is moral, what is possible, what our duties and expectations are or should be is raging right now. 
The little bit I know makes me think that however we arrange matters, we should be able to find a way that every person in the country gets some sort of care when they need it.  I hope we can but I realize that defining what needs care and what care consists of is tough.  Best wishes to all engaged in the effort!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

5 science cliches that need to be blackholed

Avoid these science clichés:

Getting books you want

Many people who get these posts regularly are well-read and good readers.  Still, I have been wanting to review the subject of getting books for a while.  Ever since I got a Kindle in April of 2008, with its ability to download a book as though it were getting a cellphone call, I have been aware of books flying through the air.  It is hard to believe but it is true.  Right now, about 310,000 books are available in Kindle format.  If a new book is published in the United States, it is quite likely to be available for the Kindle. It is easy to check by looking at the Amazon site.
The standard Kindle book price is $9.99 but many books cost more and many cost less, including quite a selection that are free.  (Current price of a Kindle is $299, down from the initial price of $359.)
So, if you have a Kindle and what you want is available in that format, either with the device itself or a computer hooked to the internet, you tell Amazon you want the book and bingo!  You have it.
Many paper books are available from Amazon or Barnes and Noble or Powell’s books in Portland, OR but are not available for the Kindle.  Still, a book can be purchased online and mailed to you within a couple of days, often even faster if you want to pay extra.  The list price might be more than you have to actually pay for a new copy if you buy from one of the large online sellers. 
Amazon, as well as Barnes and Noble increasingly, runs a very large used book operation integrated with its own sales.  If you just want a copy for reference, it may pay to look it up on the Amazon site and look carefully at all the used options for that book.  Many books that used to be popular are available for 1 cent, plus $4 shipping.
The author Steven Johnson reviewed the Kindle for the Wall Street Journal and in it, he mentioned the ‘dark matter’ of the knowledge-sphere, the enormous amount of printed matter in libraries where it can only be read right on site.  But the controversial Google deal where it is digitizing books that exist but may no be in print any longer may come to your rescue.  Even books that are currently for sale are often partially available and the part you can see might answer your need.
Kindle books are often less expensive but their cost can still add up.  Buying paper books costs money but also costs trees, shipping fuel and space.  A couple of years ago, Lynn and I got rid of 700 books and we don’t want to rush back to having overflowing shelves.  So: libraries! 
The ones near enough to get to regularly are probably searchable online.  If you find what you want and it’s in, you can put a hold on it to avoid a fruitless trip for a book that was checked out before you got there.  Local universities and colleges will often allow a non-student to borrow their books and their catalogs are online, too.  If the book is not in, you can put a hold on it so it will be kept for you when it is returned.
There may be a site that will search all the libraries in your area or your whole state and tell you what libraries could lend you what you want.
Finally, just ask a librarian.  Trained professional librarians are amazing to us ordinarys and they can often find a book faster that we can.  They have tools and thought patterns we don’t know about.  They love a juicy search challenge.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Fred Vargas

Yesterday, the blog mentioned that Fred Vargas won the Dagger prize for crime writing for the 3rd time in 4 years.  This time the competition was Nordic: Swedish, Norwegian and Icelandic.  Since we are reading “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (translated from Swedish) right now, the notice caught my eye.  I usually look things up on the Amazon site to see if they are available in Kindle format.  It is almost always cheaper than paper and very quick to download like a cell phone call to my Kindle.  There was nothing by Vargas available in Kindle.  I checked our local library which has 4 by Vargas.  I stumbled on the information that Fred Vargas is a pen name for a French woman anthropologist, historian and writer Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau .  Her novels are available from Amazon in both English and French but currently, not for Kindle.
I like Kindle since it keeps all my books in one very compact place, where they are portable, searchable and convenient.
I read the first few pages of “Wash this blood clean from my hand” (Vargas, 2004, 2007 in English) and I feel that I have found another Louise Penny, the Canadian woman author whose “Still Life” we enjoyed recently.  I know it is poor policy to mention a book before having read it all through but I am doing it anyhow.  As I have mentioned, too much gore and reliance on sex and fear for excitement drop writing’s rank in my estimation so I will have to see what I think toward the end of a fat book.


“Eat locally” some of our dieticians and nutritionists say. Theoretically, local could be good. Local honey may have pollen from local plants and offer benefits that honey from across the continent or from some other continent won’t bestow. Local farmers will benefit from buying and eating local foods.

But coffee, sugar, wine and some other great foods aren’t made near us. Tea isn’t local. Chocolate comes from far away and I want it. Same with bananas, especially in winter, about 8 months of the year in Wisconsin.

I took a short course in Chinese language and learned that the Chinese or some of them maybe, have a long tradition of believing that certain foods should be eaten at certain times of the year. For them, eating watermelon is winter is unwise and unhealthy.

Local plays, news and opinion columns, artists might not compare well to the best to be found in a large city or in a nationwide competition. Athletes from a large city or even a large school are often better than those from small schools, simply because of sampling. The best of 1000 is likely, but not certain, to be better than the best of 100.

A German woman wrote a master’s thesis on strawberry yogurt. She found that, all within Germany, the strawberry fields, the milk, the processing plants were located in such a way that strawberry yogurt ready for purchase and eating in a store had traveled 5000 miles here and there before being finished. Her point was that proper relocation could have made the whole operation a local one.

Of course, it makes sense to try trade with local businesses. That way, they benefit and you get to know what is going on locally. Not only that, but local businesses and artists may be exempt from some national craze or silliness that you want to avoid.

Still, it is quite easy to see what is going on in France or South Africa or Sydney. More and more, we are traveling to all spots on the globe. “Local” is getting to mean “this planet”, at least until we run out of oil.

What is good art?

I once had a conversation with a British professor of art.  I was about 35 at the time and wondered at all the time and energy that some modern artists put into creating things that really didn’t turn me on.  I voted for paintings and statues of women, since that did turn me on.  What good was the focus on the ugly, the cruel, the dirty, the smelly, the chaotic?
I knew then that art is about all of life, not just what nature has wired us for.  Food, warmth, pleasantness, love, sex, good memories – all have a place in art, to be celebrated and appreciated, to be analyzed, criticized and eulogized.  But hunger, despair, terror, pain, rejection, nausea and cold are also part of everyday life.  I can certainly see they have a place in our lives and in our thoughts.  I am deeply convinced that noticing, experiencing, remembering, reflecting on our lives and experiences and those of all people of the past, present and future enriches us, broadens us, improves us.
But, what is with the gore?  Recently, we read a “mystery” to which the answer to a mild but vexing problem was new shoes.  Providing new shoes was the solution.  Now we are reading a celebrated mystery that seeks an answer to Who was the murderer?  The story takes us on a review of grisly murders perpetrated on nubile women.  What a surprise!
There is a place in the writings of C.S.Lewis where he explains his tiredness with sexually provocative art.  He suggests a switch to a tease that is not a strip but rather an uncovering.  He depicts a table filled with very tempting and beautiful foods, like our typical Thanksgiving dinner.  He suggests slowly and teasingly removing gauze coverings from the table until it is totally bare, at which time the lights go out. 
I enjoy occasional good writing about sex or love or violence.  But I truly wish more writers could find the imagination to get us interested in other problems than ax murderers and similar gore.  I am confident that if my livelihood depended on book sales and I found that the gory books, with lots of details on just what the hammer did to the eye sockets, sold better, why then I’d write more of that.  I fear that our basic instincts are such that picturing a nasty doing really naughty things will keep us more riveted and buying more rivets than questions of who took the daisies from the back garden. 
I remain on the lookout for good stories that raise interest in us by other means than repeated blows of the blunt instrument of blood, pain and agonizing death.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


“Eat locally” some of our dieticians and nutritionists say.  Theoretically, local could be good.  Local honey may have pollen from local plants and offer benefits that honey from across the continent or from some other continent won’t bestow.  Local farmers will benefit from buying and eating local foods.
But coffee, sugar, wine and some other great foods aren’t made near us.  Tea isn’t local.  Chocolate comes from far away and I want it.  Same with bananas, especially in winter, about 8 months of the year in Wisconsin.
I took a short course in Chinese language and learned that the Chinese or some of them maybe, have a long tradition of believing that certain foods should be eaten at certain times of the year.  For them, eating watermelon is winter is unwise and unhealthy.
Local plays, news and opinion columns, artists might not compare well to the best to be found in a large city or in a nationwide competition.  Athletes from a large city or even a large school are often better than those from small schools, simply because of sampling.  The best of 1000 is likely, but not certain, to be better than the best of 100.
A German woman wrote a master’s thesis on strawberry yogurt.  She found that, all within Germany, the strawberry fields, the milk, the processing plants were located in such a way that strawberry yogurt ready for purchase and eating in a store had traveled 5000 miles here and there before being finished.  Her point was that proper relocation could have made the whole operation a local one.
Of course, it makes sense to try trade with local businesses.  That way, they benefit and you get to know what is going on locally.  Not only that, but local businesses and artists may be exempt from some national craze or silliness that you want to avoid.
Still, it is quite easy to see what is going on in France or South Africa or Sydney.  More and more, we are traveling to all spots on the globe.  “Local” is getting to mean “this planet”, at least until we run out of oil.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Judgers and Perceivers

Katherine Briggs and Isabel Myers were mother and daughter and they collaborated to produce the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.  The test categorizes people into four binary groups
        Extrovert – Introvert
        Sensor – iNtuitive
        Feeler – Thinker
        Judger – Perceiver
That last pair is about those who come to a decision (called Judgers) and those who gather information (called Perceivers).  I am a Judger and I like to make a decision quickly, whether it is based on enough information or not.  Perceivers like to gather information and then gather some more.  They tend to put off coming to a decision. 
It seems that people are often attracted to someone for marriage who is different from them.  Even when a married pair are similar on some variable, it is unlikely that they are exactly equal.  Over time, the partners become quite aware of which one of them tends to make decisions and which one wants to gather more information before a decision. 
A couple I know are quite different from each other on this J-P continuum.  As they entered a mall together, she looked across the whole mall and spotted an item in a shop on the other side that would be a great gift for his nephew.  That she would make up her mind so quickly was insulting to him and his love for his nephew. 
Personally, I enjoy making up my mind quickly and I have learned that there are few times when I feel I made a mistake.  Actually, there are few times when I even remember making a decision and I usually feel that regret is a waste of energy.  Sometimes, a decision turns out to be so regrettable that I can’t avoid facing the fact that it did not work out to be the best choice.  However, I know from experience that such a result does not necessarily mean that some other choice that was available would have definitely been better.  I might have even more regret with another choice. 
Since I can’t go back in time, I support the idea that regret is to be avoided if possible. 
I am not sure why but it seems that Judgers like to know what time it is.  Many have reported that they usually know the current time even with a watch.  I think Perceivers often find Judgers and their speedy decisions both trying and childish.  Quick decisions may be a sign of immaturity and lack of appreciation of the delicacy and complexity of the situation or so Perceivers tend to state, when pointing out the shortcomings of the way Judgers tend to act.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Simply Saying Something

As a student myself and later as a 5th grade teacher and college professor, I have been intrigued by the power of simply speaking out.  I have something of an Anglo-Saxon, British background where it is not cool to yak on and on.  The strong silent man who doesn’t need to speak is the model. 
I saw a scene in a Rambo movie.  Rambo is male and then some.  The bad guys had him tied to a metal box spring and were sending nasty jolts of electricity through him.  He writhed in pain.  A beautiful Vietnamese woman, complete with sheath dress split up to her lovely thigh, burst into their lair, spraying death accurately around the room from her machine gun held in one hand.  With the other, she cut the hero loose and the two bolted for the jungle.  They ran swiftly and cleverly outdistanced and outthought their nasty but hapless enemies.  Finally, in a sunlit clearing only they knew about, they drew up to catch their breath.  Rambo fixes her with a masculine and handsome eye and manages to grunt out, “What you did back there…thanks.”
I feared for the life of their relationship.  I hoped he learned to talk, to express gratitude more completely and more memorably.  Speaking out helps. 
In class, in families, at work, saying something, maybe with a little twist to it to be more complete, more imaginative, more accurate can be a big help.  Somewhere Guy de Maupassant, a French author, said that any difficulty can be borne if a story can be told about it.  In today’s word, difficulties can be lightened, lives and methods can be improved, memories made sharp, joy can visit if someone says something.
I have urged my students to speak out in class but I have not been very successful at getting the more quiet ones to speak out.  I am not sure why they can’t see the value of their contributions.  I have often had the experience of asking for comments or questions or criticisms or reactions and had silence, only silence, in response.  Then, I will look at my roll and pick a student and speak that person’s name and ask what that person thinks, only to hear a lovely, valuable, brilliant comment by the person I selected.  I have never attacked or screamed at the student but I can’t figure out why they didn’t say their great statement without being targeted.  I can’t stop wondering what my whole class is missing when the owners of the other minds present fail to make their contributions.

Monday, July 13, 2009

It's only a game, Honey

Females play all games on computers in greater numbers than men
Look at the ideas embedded in emerging games for girls
Quite a few years ago, Lynn and I attended a research presentation on female v. male tastes and practices in book and computer games.  In books, it was Harlequin v. Doc Savage or bodice rippers (bodice tuggers for younger girls) v. eye-popping violence.  At the time, there weren’t that many computer games for girls but research showed that violence was not an attractor for them.  It even showed that boys preferred basic contrasting primary colors in the display screens while girls preferred harmonizing shades with less chromatic contrast.
I wrote my dissertation in 1968.  I was interested in what is sometimes called decision theory .  I was intrigued by the fact that we all make decisions constantly and that they might be improved somehow.  The mathematical approach is pretty simple and basic.  I looked for some sort of situation where it might be applied to some use.  Gaming or simulations seemed like a natural.  I had read that the emerging computers could probably supply games for all sorts of purposes.  I found that research had been done in a semi-gaming format on a simulation of being a school principal and applied decision theory concepts to the pencil and paper exercise. 
I have read recently that the U.S. Army has made games that will appeal to possible recruits and no doubt uses all sorts of simulations in their many types and levels of training.
I have been carrying “Everything Bad is Good for You” by the respected scientific writer Steven Johnson around and one of these days I will read the book.  He marshals evidence that video games and computer games are improving the minds of those millions who use them.
There is clearly a connection between video/computer games and programming.  More and more universities are getting into the act by including game design and construction in their departments of computer science or creating separate departments or both.  Clearly, videography, sound tracks, psychology, marketing are all aspects of game construction, use and research that are also involved.
Certainly, my great grandson loves Wii and Harry Potter games as well as many others.  He remembers tricks and turns embedded and feels genuine elation when he reaches a higher level in a game.  Notice that many games are way too complex for a youngster to sit down and read a bulky manual about how to play.  Usually, experimentation, thought and inspiration are his tools.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

I've been feminized

In 2002, I was found to have prostate cancer.  I had an operation that removed my prostate.  During the operation, it was discovered that some of the cancerous cells were in my seminal vessels.  That meant that some of those little devils could have escaped into other parts of my body, to happily invade and disrupt whatever was going on there.  To forestall such events, a capsule was injected beneath my skin.  It exuded a chemical that tricked my body into thinking that my testosterone level was normal but really it was very low.  That low level deprives that sort of cancerous cells of an essential for their growth. 
A friend had exactly the same procedure done within days of mine.  About a month afterwards, his wife sidled up to Lynn at lunch and asked, “Does your husband seem a lot nicer now?”  Both women had noticed that lower testosterone levels mean smoother, quieter tempers in their men.  They were gentler and easier to talk to.
My doctor has had to remind me that I have been different chemically for seven years now.  Basically, I don’t seem that different to me.  However, my breasts are larger, I gain weight more easily and I have more trouble losing it.  I always chalk up changes to aging but I guess my calmer, more rational self is my feminine side being more in charge.
Next week, the current subcutaneous capsule will be removed but a new one will not be installed immediately.  The doc says that about a third of male bodies adjust to the low level permanently, removing the need for the $8000 capsule (down from $12000 originally) and the annual trip to the doctor.  When the capsule is removed this time, careful watch will be kept to see if my testosterone level starts to rise.  We’ll see.

What is best?

People these days are trying to figure out how to make money in today’s world.  Besides the old selling of food or oil or coffee, could the internet be used in some way? is a good model of one way as is Ebay, I guess.  (I have never been to the Ebay web site but I have friends who use it.)
Google is at the head of several lines of success.  One of the aspect of Google is its focus and simplicity.  Designers have long used the mnemonic “K.I.S.S.” or Keep It Simple, Sweetie [sometimes the last word is not Sweetie].  Authors and reviewers of Google’s gigantic success emphasize how clean Google has kept its home page.  Called the most valuable ‘space’ on the internet, Google has not succumbed to peppering ads all over it.
The eye can be overwhelmed with too much color, motion and razzamatazz.  The ear is probably not going to be mesmerized by yet another rock band track.
Since following some blogs over the last few months, I have been impressed at the power of simplicity and focused design on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac.  It is reliably the best blog I read and again, the simplicity and lack of clutter, along with good taste and excellent writing, of course, make it stand out.

Web computing and free computing

Google has announced it will offer an operating system for computers sometime soon. That will make four main contenders that I know about: Windows, Mac, Linux and Google. I downloaded Linux Ubuntu and found it is easy to install in an older Dell laptop and use it.
This announcement reminded me that most of what a person might want to use on a computer is available free in one place or another. For stand-alone computing tasks, the branches of Microsoft Works are a basic guide: word processing, spreadsheet and “flat” database. Throw in a drawing program and something to handle photos and you have basic unconnected computing.
Connected to the internet, you want a browser, email and some protection.
There is a slight difference between free computing and web computing. With Google Docs, for instance, any computer connected to the internet can be used to get to and edit a document you made with that program. With Open Office, you have a model using the old conception of a stand-alone computer. So, either you have to store an Open Office file on an internet source or send it some place where you can get it. Otherwise, you may have to get to the machine the file is saved on if you want to edit or use it without a copy on a pocket jump drive or something similar.
Word processing Google Documents Open Office
Spreadsheet Google Documents Open Office
Open Office
Drawing Google Documents Open Office
Photo Google Picasa
Browser Firefox
Email Thunderbird
Protection - virus AVG
Protection - tracking Ad-Aware
Presentation (Powerpoint) Google Documents Open Office
Web site Google Sites
Blog Blogspot, etc. Open Office
Operating system Linux Ubuntu Google - later

Friday, July 10, 2009

Movies that have enriched our lives

It is always difficult to pick favorites: books, movies, foods, etc. The choice depends on your age, your memory, what has happened recently, etc. Still, we have a list and these are among our top rated ones.
Yes, they are comedies. There are a few thrillers and tragedies that seem to enrich us. According to Walter Kerr, the famous drama critic, Greek theater invented tragedy way before comedy. But I think that is because good comedy is a higher form.
3 Fugitives - Steve Martin, Martin Short Funny
4 Weddings and a Funeral - Hugh Grant, Angie McDowell Tender and satisfying
All that Jazz - Roy Schneider
Breaking Away - famous bicycling film Tender and satisfying
Cold Comfort Farm - excellent and funny Tender and satisfying
Enchanted April - poignant and beautiful (Lynn favorite)
Tender and satisfying
Hero - Dustin Hoffman, unusual Tender and satisfying
In and Out - Kevin Kline, Joan Cusack Funny
In the Spirit - Marlo Thomas, Elaine May (Bill favorite)
Moonstruck - Nicholas Cage, Cher Tender and satisfying
My Cousin Vinny - Joe Pesci, Merisa Tomei Funny
Ruthless People - Bette Midler, Danny DeVito (Bill favorite)
Strangers in Good Company - Canadian women (Lynn favorite)

The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming (Bill favorite)
True Lies - Arnold, Jamie Lee Curtis Good, funny, violent

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Meditation and Hypnosis

The way I see mind states, there are sleeping, normal wakefulness, meditative states and hypnotic states.  In all of these, a person might be alerted by a sharp sound, such as a telephone ringing. It seems probable that such states are not totally separate but that we pass from one to another.
How we fall asleep, wake up, suspend our stream of thoughts and suggest or concentrate on thoughts is mysterious to me.  My reading of
  • The Relaxation Response by H. Benson
  • The Wise Heart by J. Kornfield
  • Coming to Our Senses by J. Kabat-Zinn
  • The Mindful Brain by Daniel Siegel
  • The Brain That Changes Itself by N. Doidge
  • The Self Hypnosis Diet by S. Gurgevich
and other sources, combined with my thinking and recent workshop on self hypnosis, give me a picture of these states.
Let’s assume we know what sleep is, even though we don’t really.  Clearly, infants sleep much of the time as do other baby mammals.  Those who are sick and the elderly may spend much time sleeping.  Clearly, as adults, we wake up.  Equally clearly, we can carry ideas, impressions, fears and images from sleep to wakefulness and in the opposite direction.
When we are awake, we may still be in various states of wakefulness.  For instance, when aroused by anger, fear or sex, we are in a somewhat different state from what we are when not aroused.  As we get older and have experienced thinking and emotions, we may come to a time when we are interested in suspending the stream of thoughts.  Just exactly where thoughts come from and why one thought arises instead of another seems a bit of a mystery.  In Candace Pert’s “Everything You Need to Know to Feel Go(o)d”, she refers to thought production mechanisms but doesn’t go into much detail.  [Pert is a highly credential scientist.]  It seems clear that our thoughts are related to our lives and experiences.  We don’t get ‘stray’ thoughts in a language we don’t know nor in subjects with which we aren’t familiar. 
In general, meditation is for reaching out, beyond ourselves, our usual thinking.  The ancient Hindus wanted to empty their minds to receive God.  They practiced this way long before Gautama’s birth and his becoming the Buddha.  There are many Christian practices, too.  Meditation is usually sorted into two classes by procedure: fixed-point calming and insight observation.  The fixed point concentrates on a sight, sound or other target and puts gently aside any perceived thought that comes to mind.  Insight observation allows thoughts to parade across consciousness but simply observes them, sometimes labeling them for a bit of increased objectivity and distance from them.  Both types aim at avoiding getting ‘hooked’ or ‘caught up in the story line’ as one does when one gets involved with thinking things through, reminiscing or planning.  The evidence is piling up that regular brief practice of meditation improves health, self knowledge and one’s ability to enjoy life.
My hypnosis teacher, Mary Elizabeth Raines, likes to say that all hypnosis is self hypnosis, since any person can ignore guided imagery or lulling talk or mock them or do other things to avoid being hypnotized if they don’t want to be.  Meditators often try to stay fully alert and aware while hypnosis involves being in a trance state.  Despite the Raines statement, when I am coming out of deep hypnosis, the experience is much like awaking from an especially delicious sleep, particularly so when Rainey induces the trance. 
Aside from hanging out and passing time in a relaxed and refreshing state, a main use of hypnosis is to program the mind.  Suggestions to the mind while it is in a suggestible state can increase the likelihood that thoughts of one sort or another will arise or emotions of a desired type will be felt for a while after the hypnotic session. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Weird and colorful words

Slang and idioms are with us all the time but easy to overlook, if you know the language.
Lynn and I took Spanish lessons last year.  One day, our teacher said she was going to devote the lesson to how to say "yes".  I immediately thought that was a silly focus, something so easy.  But then she started pointing out phrases we use like "You bet" or "Couldn't agree more" or "I can't argue with that" or "Sure thing" or even "No shit, Sherlock".  All of these can express agreement or a positive answer but involve words a non-native might not expect or understand. 
Because of an email from PBS, I learned of the book "I'm Not Hanging Noodles on Your Ears".  The title refers to a Russian idiom to express what we mean when we say "I'm not pulling your leg", another idiom that might require a little help in decoding.
It seems the author speaks English English, American English and the English used in India.  His name is Jag Bhalla and the book is published by the National Geographic Society.  There have got to be some interesting stories there.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

What Do You Want?

You can use concentration, self hypnotic trance, sticky notes, emails to yourself as reminders but what will they say?  What will they remind you of?  What do you want, anyway?
It is the problem of the three wishes, the genie, the fisherman and his wife and so on.  We can have what we want but what is that?  What might really add to our lives, really help?  Maybe we really don’t need anything additional.  We could wish or work for simple continuance of the ways things are now.  Maybe we would benefit from a high-definition tv or an iPod.  Maybe we would be better off knowing Italian or Texas line dancing.  Losing weight or working on sharpening the memory might be good.
But that is the thing.  There are lots of possibilities.  American advertising will be glad to help you with dreams and desires.  Shame at not exercising or impatience with slow, error-prone typing suggest possibilities for goals.  Of course, quitting smoking or too many hours gawking on tv inanities might furnish goals we can really work for.  
It is possible to keep hemming and hawing about what to focus on to the point of making indecision a pastime.  But listing 5 or 10 goals of interest, including some that have been tried before is a start.  “Changing for Good” is a scientific look at making a change in one’s self and that group found that aiming for something and failing to reach it was a sign of eventual success.  Each time, a person focuses on a goal, that alone starts a concentration and an awareness of both the goal itself and the desire to work toward it.  So, don’t count yourself or someone else out if they have tried and failed.  That may simply be a stepping stone to reaching the goal.
The same researchers put plenty of emphasis on getting ready to try to reach the goal: thinking about it, preparing to try.  That preparation stage and consideration of the coming effort is often omitted or rushed.  The mind and the self are worthy of respect and quiet preparation.

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