Sunday, February 28, 2010

quite cool

I posted a list of books I had read that I thought might be interesting enough to hold someone' attention, someone that doesn't read very much and wants to get more of the riches books hold.  Then, a friend wrote that there was a book she read and remembered, one I had also read and recommended, that was one to be added to the list.  It is the book "The Life of Pi" by Yann Martel.  She was quite right.  It is a memorable and interesting book and I have had reason to think of it several times lately. I include here a link to the Kindle version.  The book is rated 4 of 5 stars by 1,962 readers, the largest number of reviews I have ever seen.

I write about this because the Amazon Daily blog has an item this morning about Martel's next book and his interesting book project.  Martel noted that the prime minister of his country, Canada, didn't seem especially supportive of the arts and decided to send him a book every two weeks.  He has a web site/blog detailing his choices for a busy reader and the reasons for those choices. His first choice was The Death of Ivan Illyich, which I just downloaded to my Kindle from here for $1.00.

The conjunction of my friend's recommendation of The Life of Pi, the Amazon blog's note of Martel's 2nd book and his very interesting project of sending a book regularly to his prime minister and his recommendations and explanations seem to be a valuable set of coincident occurrences.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

big waste

We had a friend over for dinner.  The more we talked, the wittier his remarks.  He doesn't start off with much except a good ability to listen and comment sympathetically.  But as his ideas and choice of expressions got going, there were moments when I just wanted to hit the pause button and savor what he had just said.

He got me to thinking of all the people in my classes, in my town, that I meet on trips -- all the people who are often silent or speak only to their partners but who think very clever things or put ideas in such a delicious perspective.  I wish I could capture all those ideas in a well-made scrapbook and read two or three a day.  I would often need some help understanding their point.  They would often say things in such an original way that I wouldn't get the point.  Then, when I did understand, I would be struck.  I would be a little mesmerized.  I would be in neutral while I digested the humor, the notion, while I tried to add the new jewel to what I retain.  

It is a shame that so much gold is lost to the rest of us.  There is no way to find it, capture it, without frightening people or invading their privacy.  There is no way to note just the good stuff without also collecting confusions and cliches.  I just have to be patient, waiting for another zinger and glad of the arresting insights and gifts I do get.

Friday, February 26, 2010


Prairie Home Companion is selling "151 Best Movies You Haven't Seen" by Leonard Maltin.  I downloaded it and looked over the list to see I had already seen some.  I didn't recognize any but I read a few descriptions.  One was for the movie "Kill Me Later".  I thought it would be about someone trying to postpone his own murder but it isn't.  A despondent woman climbs to the roof of a tall building, preparing to hurl herself off.  Just before she jumps, a bank robber fleeing from the police hot on his trail bursts out of a door and grabs her as a hostage.  What a situation!  Will she try to get killed?  Will the police allow the bad guy to slip away, unaware they could kill two birds with one shot?  Lynn predicts the two will fall in love.  

I love these odd situations.  "The Ransom of Red Chief" was the first one I learned about.  The bad guys come to regret kidnapping a very spirited and unpredictable little boy.  Then, I read "High Wind in Jamaica" where similar regrets overtake pirates who don't do so well with children as hostages.  One of my favorites movies, Ruthless People, written by my favorite screen writer, Dale Launer (also "Love Potion #9" and "My Cousin Vinny").  For financial reasons, the villian plans to murder his wife but before he can do that, she is kidnapped and held for ransom.  The villain dislikes his wife intently but deeply, deeply loves every bit of his money.

The movie "Three Fugitives" includes the improbable but funny situation where a desperate lightweight played by Martin Short, takes as hostage a dangerous and experienced criminal who has just finished serving time and wants to go straight.  Short is small and light and tries to hold Nick Nolte around the throat as a shield as he exits a bungled bank job. Nolte is afraid Short's trepidation and sloppy threatening behavior will get them both shot.  While serving as a human shield in front of ready-to-shoot police, he snarls at Short to hold his gun up and act tough.

In the movie "Short Time", policeman Dabney Coleman thinks he has a fatal disease and realizes that if he dies, his family will have very little to live on.  But, if he is killed in the line of duty, the insurance for his family is a respectable amount.  Suddenly, Office Coleman is taking amazing risks while confronting bad guys.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

no thanks

I read "Mudbound" and it was good but I didn't like the violence.  There wasn't much but I got the feeling that it was to be an integral part of the work from the start. 

I was enjoying "Last Car to the Elysian Fields" until the white guards decided they were forced to cause extra pain and damage to a prisoner.

I have been enjoying episodes of "NCIS" and similar stories but their whole point is the danger of physical violence from killers and bad guys.

I know there can be good stories that do not depend on violence.  I realize that it is an integral part of all animal life, human and otherwise.  But in my own day-to-day life, I am not slicing throats, breaking arms or shooting bullets into bodies.  I know for certain that aging, disease, emotions from apathy to envy to sadness and ennui figure much more largely in my life and most lives than does violence.  I know that money and taxes and savings and deterioration of roofs matter more in my thinking and that of my family and friends than gunfire.  

I believe there are people in this country and others for whom violence and gunfire are personal or professional or both but I get tired of the heavy focus on that stuff in books, movies and tv.  

I have a friend who avoids fiction because the strong emotions it tends to raise feel like artificial manipulation of the reader's mind.  I don't mind some emotion but I am drawing the line more and more strongly at violence, especially torture or deliberate pain inflicted on others for the sake of the pain.  I don't think it is enriching or helpful.  Some Buddhists and others emphasize the importance of being as careful of where you put your attention and what you feed your senses and mind as you are to have good food and not poison.  I am feeling that way about carefully and realistically depicted violence in words or images.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

3 retardants of healing

Once when I had had some surgery, a nurse asked me if I was nauseated or cold or in pain.  He said those are the three biggies that interfere with good healing. 

Hospitals now take pain very seriously.  They have reminders on the walls stating their pain policy and focus on lowering pain levels.  Subjective ratings, typically on a scale from 1 to 10 are recorded and considered all the time.  For children, they sometimes use pictures that range from a smiling face to a scrunched-up face in pain and ask which picture is most like what they currently feel.

Sometimes, before an operation, you are dressed in what seems to be a space suit.  After the operation, it is connected to an air system that blows warm air through the suit to keep your body warm.  Surgery rooms are somewhat chilly and the warmth of the suit is comforting and leads to better healing.  Us older people are famous for needing more heat.  Some nursing homes are kept at a higher temperature than is comfortable for younger people, especially visitors in the winter who come in wearing sweaters and long johns.

I guess there is information that there is some of separate mind or intelligence in our digestive systems.  I haven't read anything definitive on the subject but it makes sense to me that special detection and intelligence should be part of our food intake system.  We need nourishment and we don't want to be poisoned by biological or mineral agents that we can't handle.  Being nauseated can be quite arresting for one's attention.  It doesn't seem surprising that the body's discomfort with the digestion system might interfere with good healing.

I once read that we don't have to be cold if we can trap our body heat.  Thus, our clothing.  Ninety-eight degrees is more than we want around us most of the time so our actual need is for cooling, either rapidly or slowly.  No food or simple food or just liquids or water might assist in getting past nausea.  The many over-the-counter and more specialized pain medicines can help with pain levels.  I am not sure that we really need what might be called "healing" very often, although it is a word much used by therapists and the self-helpers.  Still, I remember the nurse's statement and try to watch out for cold, nausea and pain.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

They wrote for you

Socrates, Shakespeare, and Stevenson wrote for you.  True, they didn't know you and you were not born while they lived.  But, think about it.  Their writings are preserved and are avaiable for free on the internet and in libraries.  You can get many famous authors on your Kindle for free.  Just go to the Amazon web site, set the search for Kindle books and check out anyone you are interested in.  Check out someone you are not interested in and read them a little.  Try to find out why their writings have been preserved over the centuries and why they have the reputation of being great thinkers and writers.

The writing by Plato of what he said Socrates said at his trial in his own defense is available in several formats.  Shakespeare is available all over the place.  Many important classic authors are avaiable on Project Gutenberg, including The Bard.  Robert Louis Stevenson is also available there for free.  Similarly, has lots of famous literature available for free, too.  There are many other sites with these and other texts available for free.  There is comment, criticism and explanation available, too.

Don't have a Kindle?  If you have an Amazon account, you can download software that does a fine job of showing your books on your computer and, while the books, many free, may have a cost, the software itself is free.  In fact,for some books, such as those with diagrams, charts or pictures, the computer image is often superior to that on the Kindle.

I think a good rule of thumb is Give it a try if it interests you but if you read 50 pages or so and you find it is not appealing to read that, drop it.  Wherever you did the reading (book,computer, Kindle), you might want to keep that source for a while after deciding to switch to something more fun.  Some great writing grows in the back of your mind and you may be glad to be able to return to that book in a week or a month or a year.  Some people are too tenacious or too virtuous and can't drop a book that bores them.  There is too much good stuff in the world to waste your time on what doesn't satisfy.

Monday, February 22, 2010

memorable fiction

This is a reading list I made while trying to find memorable, readable books for my friend and I to read.  If you have memories of a book you read that really engaged you, let me know the title or author

I, Claudius -Graves  - Claudius was not favored by nature.  He was physically limited and scorned by the other Roman nobility.  But his intelligence, grasp of people's makeup and powers of observation served him well despite his lack of favor and presence.

Staggerford, Simon's Night - Hassler  Jon Hassler wrote 8 or so novels.  Many of them are excellent and these two have stuck in my memory.

The Scarlet Letter - You may have read this in school but you are older and wiser now.  Give the book another chance and you will be glad.

The Screwtape Letters - Screwtape is the undersecretary of Hell and these letters advise his nephew Wormwood on how to corrupt people and harvest souls for our father below.

The Godfather - Mario Puzo's tour of the world of the Mafia

Atlas Shrugged - Any Rand gives a respectful look at leaders in this novel

Freaky Friday - teen girl wakes to find she and Mom have transposed souls in the night.  Tough on them both!

Cyrano de Bergerac - read the play.  He was France's best swordsman and a knock-out poet but he had a big nose.  Movies with Jose Ferrer and Steve Martin ("Roxanne") are good and worthwhile but so is the play.

Rally Round the Flag, Boys - Max Schulman reveals how men and women work in this hilarious story

Walden - Thoreau went to the woods to live deliberately, not wanting to find at his death that he had not lived.  Read at least the first chapter.

The Once and Future King - T.H. White put this whimsical version of the story of Arthur and his knights, from boyhood with Merlin through the Round Table.

Maeve Bincy - all her books are very good. I fell into The Lavender Bus.  I liked "Quentin's" and "Hearts and Souls" but they are all good.  

Jitterbug Perfume - Prepare to have your sides split.

Lucky Jim - one of several good stories by Kingsley Amis.  English and all.

David Lodge: Changing Places, Small World, etc. - A writer who slings words well.  Look into him.

Jim Harrison: Brown Dog stories - Brown Dog is a man of ill-repute who lives and mis-adventures in a low life way in Michigan's upper peninsula.

The War Between the Tates: Lurie - Allison Lurie nails marital tensions and academic pretensions

Skinwalker - Tony Hillerman's stories of the Navajo Tribal Police and the crimes they work on take you into a different world

Proof - Dick Francis - He died just days ago.  A former British jockey, the guy could write and had a ton of books with many different backgrounds that all related to horse racing

Anything Considered - Peter Mayle  Mayle retired from London to the south of France.  His "A Year in Provence" is a classic but his novels are a delight.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Showdown in Quebec City

I had a tough time getting promoted.  When the American Educational Research Association scheduled its annual conference in Montreal, I knew I needed to attend.  I did and presented at the conference to better my next application for promotion.  I liked the city well enough that I wanted to go there with Lynn.  We had already driven to St.Louis and then across to New York and New England.  We did get to Montreal and liked it.  We were reluctant to head back home too soon and got the idea of visiting Quebec City, which was not far away.

We had been spending lots of time together in the car.  We weren't getting much exercise and were running up expenses.  In those days, we got into a fight with each other fairly often.  We had gotten into so many fights that we were both just sick of them.  Walking around the fortress of the city, we reached a mutual point of despair.  Too much fighting for too many years.  We faced each other and admitted we had been fighting more than 20 years and that was clearly a sign that we just weren't suited to each other.  It was time to face facts.  We needed to get a divorce.  We were far from home but we agreed between us that we had tried a marriage and failed.  We promised to get a divorce and we meant it.  

We were serious and we both knew that. Ok, then it was settled.  During the next four or five hours, we both tasted and re-tasted the beginning of absence from each other.  We had been exasperated with each other and thought we would find relief but we found desolation.  We were sad and getting sadder.  It took no more than those four or five hours for us to realize that we were wedded and, exasperated or not, we needed to stay that way.  We still have tons of disagreements and but less serious and less frequent arguments but it is now 50 years and we realize that the showdown in Quebec City showed us we are together until death parts us.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

painting our lives in better colors

We can do it if we want.  We can enrich and beautiful our lives, at least some. 

That article in Mind Hacks says that insincere compliments can still affect our feelings positively.  I wrote I thought everyone on my blog mailing list was looking extra good this morning.  My friend, a good poet and a man sensitive to humor and the odd twists and ironic turns of life immediately got into the game.  He thanked me and ventured to compliment me on my dapper appearance today.  Since we hadn't seen each other today, being about 1100 miles apart, we were both "making it up".  

But that is the beauty of human life!  We can make it up and once made up, something new exists.  I have been told lots of things but I don't think "dapper" has ever been applied to me before.  But still, short, out of fashion, a bit nerdy, well past the middle of life, damn if I am not a bit more dapper now than I was at breakfast.  I have been told that experts at makeovers can work miracles.  I read that Cindy Crawford said, "I wish I looked like Cindy Crawford", referring to the difference between what she looked like upon arising in the morning and after several hours of being made up and coiffed.

I read some of Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh and he described his disillusion with being the army in bitter terms of falling out of love in a marriage.  I pitied the man who believed in the external qualities as verities.  He was a very sharp writer and as such, he might have actually known love is created and enhanced by thought and purpose and action.  It is a garden to be cultivated, made and re-made, not a range of mountains beyond human control.

Here's to compliments, skillful and imaginative flattery and accurate observation of the tiny bit of dapper in us all.

Friday, February 19, 2010

word inventions

Each day, you can look at my blog and see the latest post on 17 other blogs I follow.  That page is a handy place for me to look over the headline and a snippet of each of the blogs I am interested in.  I try to be a little conservative and a little cautious about adding another one to follow.  But, as with books, movies and music, there is way too much to be sure I have those that are actually the best for my needs and interests.

Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac has given me something good more often than any of the others.  He always has one poem and biographical information on people born on or otherwise connected to the day.

On Feb, 15, he had a poem by Nick Lantz.  The poem is called "Postmanterrorism" and is a marvel. I had never heard of Nick Lantz before reading the poem but I have taken note of him now.  His web site says he is a poet and writer who lives in Madison, WI.  I added his blog to the list of those I am following.  

His poem strikes me as the sort of wordsmanship that poetry is all about.  I have often felt a little fright as I approach my mailbox and wonder what bills, what notices of missed deadlines, what jury duty I am going to find there.  Lantz creates wonderful words throughout the poem.  Two stuck in mind.  One is "glocal" as in "glocal village".  It is easy to see that the so-called global village is quite vocal today.  We hear about things from all points of the globe almost as quickly as they happen.  The other memorable word for me was "infornography".  I have seen the word "infomercial" for a tv program that is a 30 minute advertisement.  Sometimes, I am glad to learn about a new product and to see it used.  But, often, what is telecast is "infornography", an attempt to seduce viewers into believing the product is too wonderful not to have, so important for living a good life that only desolation and darkness await the poor suckers too stubborn to shell out the cash for it.  His poem has many other excellent inventions in it that might get your poetic juices flowing.  Take a look

Thursday, February 18, 2010

not meant but still has effect

I thought you look especially nice today and wanted to send you this.


a triplet of oddities

Triplet of oddities
Oddity #1 - Why would a nice new car have a west coast license on it when it had just been purchased a few days before in an east coast city and has only be driven around town?  Answer: because the owner, an impecunious grad student has landed a job on the west coast and really needs to replace his heap before driving wife, kids and a few belongings to the new location.  His state slaps a big extra tax on the purchase of a new car and he can't afford that.  He contacted the motor vehicle dept. of his new state and they sent him plates for the small, more manageable fee that place charges.

Oddity #2 - Why do the red-blooded males from 18 to 80 suddenly become much better informed on local news than ever before?  Answer: because a local tv station just hired a very attractive and well-built young woman to handle the local news items in their broadcasts.

Oddity #3 - Why do some practitioners of Zen and related disciplines feel a small jolt of satisfaction when they become aware they are being petty or overly critical or sensitive to some childish fear or worry?  Answer: because they practice sharp scrutiny of themselves and they have learned to note and face each little false step or wayward emotion in themselves.  Their practice has shown them that noting and facing, almost savoring, their internal negatives very often leads to clearer understanding and appreciation of themselves, those around them and life in general.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

always changing

I am back to reading some of "Everyday Zen" by Charlotte J. Beck.  

A key idea in the Buddha's teachings is that everything changes.  When we have a lovely moment or a lovely friendship or there is a lovely sunset, we have a natural tendency to want to preserve that loveliness.  It is natural for us.  We want to stay alive, to stay happy, to stay in charge.  We want things to be as they are when we like them and only to change when we don't.  Buddha warned people that they had a natural desire to hold on things but that desire is not going to be satisfied very often.  Moments pass, friendships pass, sunsets lead on into night.

The poem by Theodore Tilton "This, Too, Shall Pass Away" is a good one for a lyrical tour of the many aspects of our lives. Lynn wrote a poem about after this or after that, there is another day, a new deal.

Charlotte Beck emphasizes that the good of life comes from the constant change, the steady renewal, that life is life only with change, death, new days, new life. With training or without it, we are not going to be able to steady embrace change.  We are going to want some things to stay as they are.  Noticing our wants and accepting them and temporary aspects of our lives and the good things in them may help.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

cyberwarfare in the second grade

Animosities arise all over the place.  Somebody takes your favorite seat in a restaurant or church and you don't like it.  Then, you see the same person talking to someone you want to talk to but can't since your intended is engaged at the moment. 

We like to think that we adults can see our little distastes or internal pouts for what they are.  But it is only to be expected that little kids have much to learn about manners, ethics and self-mastery.  We all know which of the two genders is more famous as action-oriented and aggression-disposed.  So, it will not come as a surprise to learn that a certain 2nd grader looked for ways to get back at classmates who put him down and picked on him.

This little smartie looked at the logons used on his classroom computer system.  He realized the logon and and password were a simple function of the initials and names of students so he then knew how to sign on as another member of his class.  He did such a logon and opened a test that student needed to take.  He took the test for the student, making sure to do badly.  Doing badly on purpose requires that you know how to do well and this guy did and that was what he avoided.  After performing poorly in another's name, he logged out and repeated the process in the names of a few others who had been picking on him.  Then, he shut down the entire classroom computer system.

Cyberwarfare in the 2nd grade was uncovered and our hero was sent to the principal where he received instruction in morals and proper computing procedures.  If he were mine, I would want that to happen to him but I would also be impressed at his powers of observation and abilities.  I would keep an eye on him, too.  As he ages, his powers and his value are only going to increase.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Dealing with airlines

Here in Alabama, they had a snow and ice scare and that caused many cancelled flights.  We have had occasion to deal with airlines.  No doubt, it is a nightmare to deal with the public when many flights have been cancelled but still….

Sent: Thursday, April 22, 1999 7:41 AM This is really the posting date that I originally saved this email - clearly this is an old problem

Subject: Dealing with airlines
Customer: Hi. How much is your paint?
Clerk: We have regular quality for $12 a gallon and premium for $18. How many gallons would you like?
Customer: Five gallons of regular quality, please.
Clerk: Great. That will be $60 plus tax.
Customer: Hi, how much is your paint?
Clerk: Well, sir, that all depends.
Customer: Depends on what?
Clerk: Actually, a lot of things.
Customer: How about giving me an average price?
Clerk: Wow, that's too hard a question. The lowest price is $9 a gallon, and we have 150 different prices up to $200 a gallon.
Customer: What's the difference in the paint?
Clerk: Oh, there isn't any difference; it's all the same paint.
Customer: Well, then, I'd like some of that $9 paint.
Clerk: Well, first I need to ask you a few questions. When do you intend to use it?
Customer: I want to paint tomorrow, on my day off.
Clerk: Sir, the paint for tomorrow is the $200 paint.
Customer: What? When would I have to paint in order to get the $9 version?
Clerk: That would be in three weeks, but you will also have to agree to start painting before Friday of that week and continue painting until at least Sunday.
Customer: You've got to be kidding!
Clerk: Sir, we don't kid around here. Of course, I'll have to check to see if we have any of that paint available before I can sell it to you.
Customer: What do you mean check to see if you can sell it to me? You have shelves full of that stuff; I can see it right there.
Clerk: Just because you can see it doesn't mean that we have it. It may be the same paint, but we sell only a certain number of gallons on any given weekend. Oh, and by the way, the price just went to $12.
Customer: You mean the price went up while we were talking!
Clerk: Yes, sir. You see, we change prices and rules thousands of times a day, and since you haven't actually walked out of the store with your paint yet, we just decided to change. Unless you want the same thing to happen again, I would suggest that you get on with your purchase. How many gallons do you want?
Customer: I don't know exactly. Maybe five gallons. Maybe I should buy six gallons just to make sure I have enough.
Clerk: Oh, no, sir, you can't do that. If you buy the paint and then don't use it, you will be liable for penalties and possible confiscation of the paint you already have.
Customer: What?
Clerk: That's right. We can sell you enough paint to do your kitchen, bathroom, hall and north bedroom, but if you stop painting before you do the bedroom, you will be in violation of our tariffs.
Customer: But what does it matter to you whether I use all the paint? I already paid you for it!
Clerk: Sir, there's no point in getting upset; that's just the way it is. We make plans based upon the idea that you will use all the paint, and when you don't, it just causes us all sorts of problems.
Customer: This is crazy! I suppose something terrible will happen if I don't keep painting until after Saturday night!
Clerk: Yes, sir, it will.
Customer: Well, that does it! I'm going somewhere else to buy my paint.
Clerk: That won't do you any good, sir. We all have the same rules. Thanks for painting with our airline.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

where to flee

Dave thinks it is very odd to be snowed in here in Pensacola.  One does't expect to travel to the Florida Panhandle and the Alabama Gulf Coast and find snow.  Not finding snow is one of the main reasons for coming here.  Downtown Pensacola has not had snow since 1977.  Of course, all the tv people and those they interview are excited and amazed by the lovely blank of white seen a little north of us.

We Badgers like to think that we know about snow and driving in it and we do.  But north or south, nobody can drive a car if there is no friction between the tires and the road surface.  So far, it is only rain here, something the area gets lots of.  I remember the low we experienced last year as being 28° and we may get to that temperature tonight here.  People are worried that we will get snow during the day, it and any melt or rainfall will freeze to an icy surface tonight.  All predictions are that the whole problem will be gone in a day or two but it is both exciting and an interference for now.

I realize that Baltimore and Washington, D.C. have gotten incredible amounts of snow recently and that their amounts are way bigger and more bothersome than a half inch or so.  

At this time, cental Wisconsin is reported to be cold (about 0°) but completely clear and nice for driving.

I have been thinking about posting on the question of whether the Alabama coast or Wisconsin is colder.  Sounds like a dumb question until you factor in what people are used to and what clothing and equipment they have.  Our front door faces directly north.  When a wind blows from that direction, we feel it since there is no weather stripping or seal around the door.

Once we were with our friends in Key West, near the southermost point of the continental US and we were in a cold spell.  They told us not to worry since if it got colder, they would press the big button on their weather control panel for the house that said "Heat".  It got colder and they pressed the button.  Nothing happened.  We were all shocked.  They had no idea that the button did nothing having never needed to try it before.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

What's the Password?

We watched the dolphins cavort and fish.  We watched the pelicans dive into the water for food.  We took a ferry ride and visited the Naval Aviation Museum.  But nothing compared to the side-splitting laughs we got from playing Password. It's that game where you say a single word to your partner and try to get them to say the key word for that round.  If your partner's response is not the sought word, the other team gets to try.  This process is repeated until the key word is spoken by one side or the other or until each team has had five tries. 

Say the key word is "lemon".  If you say "sour", the first thing that comes to your partner's mind will not be "lemon", unless you are very lucky.  You can try building from one try to another by saying "yellow" on your first try and then "sour" on the second and "fruit" on the third.  But your partner may not realize what you are doing, may not remember the three connected clues or be distracted by the other team's clues.  There is a very good chance that all four players will have many times when they are struck by funny ideas or contrasts and one or more players will have to wipe the tears of laughter out of their eyes to be able to read the game words.  It can be way better than NCIS or Twitter.

Friday, February 12, 2010

just the right word

Personally, I think requiring a specific number of words in a communication can be a mistake.  I am thinking of those sorts of assignments when a teacher requires 500 words on a topic.  One of my very favorite books about writing and education is "Uptaught" by Ken Macrorie.  It is not an easy book to find these days but it is worthwhile.  Right in the beginning, this experienced teacher of writing and English quotes from student essays that show a tendency toward more words instead of less and bigger words instead of straightforward language, tendencies learned in our schools where such strategies often lead to higher grades in language.

One of the things I have admired about Twitter, even though I have not visited the site yet or joined the several hundred million (!!!!) users is that posts (tweets) are limited to 140 characters.  I find that nearly anyone equipped to speak English (knows the language, can see and think and speak or write) has interesting things to communicate, unless they are forced to pad their actual comments with stuffing designed to meet some artificial length requirement.

I am confident that teachers could cut their reading and marking load by requiring a severally limited communication for most assignments.  One word might be a good required length, with extra points for a very clever or apt word used.  

I admire Michael Pollan's Food Rules for its brevity.  I admire a good poem for the same reason.  A good joke or folk saying or proverb or rule of thumb underlines the value of a few well-chosen words.  

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Grandma Ida, beauty and cultural learning

Listening to an anthropologist, I learned that some humans learn in their society to think of gods when they get sick.  I learned to think of physicians and medicines.  Maybe one god or another is angry with me when I have a tummy ache or a sore back.  Maybe I need to appease that god to stop the pain.  But that is not what I learned as a kid and it is not what comes to mind first when I am feeling some kind of sick.

Not long ago, Lynn and I were comparing notes on interior design and decor.  We felt we like this and not that.  Some art and some colors please and make us feel that we are in the presence of beauty.  Then, I thought of pictures of Grandma Ida's little house and pictures I have seen of the inside.  I imagined asking Ida if she preferred a given design scheme or what she had, which was very simple and maybe severe, with little or no art objects in sight except for photos of relatives and family.  

Grandma Ida lived on a small farm in northern Michigan.  As a widow, she raised 7 boys there on very little.  I could imagine her feeling uncomfortable with some of the interior design ideas that we like.  She might feel she was surrounded by ugly colors and bothersome design layouts, maybe about the very arrangements that we felt most happy and proud of.

Far more comes to us and our habits from our experience and the times we grew up in than we can easily know.  What is right, true, sacred, beautiful, inspiring may seem fundamental or obvious or set in stone when actually, they are relative, temporary and personal.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


We usually hear "Aw" in connection with a cute little kitten or a cuddly baby.  But "awl" has a different connotation for me.

My little daughters were about 6 and 4 years old.  Lynn was working and we had dropped her off at Sears fabric department for a stint selling cloth.  We needed to pick up something at the hardware store on the way home.

I left the girls in the car for a minute while I just ran in the place.  There was a table filled with awls on sale, a good price.  You never know when you want to poke a hole in leather or something needing an awl.  I couldn't resist and it only took a second to add an awl to my purchase.  It was put in a paper bag.  When I got to the car, I tossed the bag onto the seat and got in.

The butt of the awl inside the bag had lodged against the back of my seat with the point inside the bag pointing straight up and out.  I got in and sat on the point, which immediately penetrated my buttock.

I couldn't believe what I had done to myself, all by myself.  I looked in the rearview mirror at my little girls and told them we unexpectedly had to go to a doctor's right away.  I had no idea how clean the shaft was and I figured I had a nice deep puncture wound in my backside.  I was not in great pain and I was not disabled in any way.  Just embarrassed, just chagrined, just angry at myself.  

The doctor's visit was quick and quite satisfactory.  He said it had bled enough that I need not worry and that it would heal quickly and cleanly.  It did.  I  have tried to be more careful what I sit on since.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

fighting diabetes

We watched Oprah's show with Dr. Oz on fighting diabetes. 

Our doctor goes by the American Diabetes Assn. definition that a blood sugar reading of 100 or more is prediabetes, a condition where one is wise to start eating right and exercising right.  A reading of 126 or more means the actual disease.  Heart attacks, blindness, blocked circulation leading to amputations of toes or legs are all possible outcomes of diabetes, along with other nasty results I don't know about yet.

The business of helping people get to the point of working on the problem in less than one hour is an interesting matter of education, advertising, and psychology.  Of course, the emerging worst disease nationally is likely to be difficult to handle, no matter what, but it is certainly important to be aware of the problem.

I think it was in one of the Mayo Clinic books on diabetes that I read it is a disease of too many calories, not just of sugar.  That has been a helpful concept to me since it helps to explain some of the warnings and strategies that otherwise are obscure.  Dr. Oz, like my own physician, emphasized the special role of belly fat in blocking the normal function of insulin and blood chemistry.  So, you can see that fried chicken or anything breaded and fried with plenty of calories helps overload the body with more calories than it can burn.  That is the situation where the extra energy intake is stored, often in the belly fat but also in the "love handles", back of the arms, thighs, face, etc.

As a high school and college wrestler, I had good opportunities to learn the irritating truth that all the satisfying foods have lots of calories in them.  A chicken breast or a piece of cake with icing or a bowl of pasta with meat sauce might easily contain more calories that my aging body can burn without damage in half a day or more.

Another piece of the diabetes puzzle is digestion speed, also called "glycemic index".  The South Beach Diet makes clear that beer and bananas as well as the famous whites of white flour (all those lovely rolls, cakes, biscuits, doughnuts and Danish), white rice, and table sugar are very rapidly digested so their sugar content and calories can be dumped into the blood stream quickly, often overwhelming the insulin conveyor and leaving the excess circulating in the body.  A little fat like butter or oil can slow the process down a bit but they are the highest calorie substances of all, the fats.

I am building up belly fat as is just about everyone I know.  I often hear that our modern life, with no wood to split for heat and with cars to transport me instead of walking along with being able financially to afford steaks and tiramisu as often as I want assist me in gaining weight.  But human psychology and body wiring and evolution and social procedures such as feasts and holiday dinners also combine to make it difficult to burn as much as I take in, even if I were still 22, which I am not.

It is actually a pleasure to learn about what can be done and I find several sorts of satisfaction in moderate exercise.  Restraint in eating and drinking also helps but maybe the disease will get me in the long run.  I was first warned by my doctor about 4 or 5 years ago with a blood sugar reading of 113 and today it was 111 so things are probably not out of hand yet.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Japanese emperor or French king

When we were in Hawaii, we learned about several waves of ethnic groups that came to work in sugar cane fields and elsewhere: Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese.  In Louisiana, we learned about the Acadians traveling from France to Acadie (Nova Scotia) where they settled in a better life until the British deported them forcibly and in mass.  

The contrast between the two stories I heard was strong.  The Japanese emperor was asked if he would allow his subjects to emigrate to Hawaii and he agreed they could.  He designated a diplomat in his administration to move to Hawaii and inform his government of their conditions regularly.  This was in the latter 1800's.  Much earlier, prior to the French revolution, in the period of severe oppression and exploitation of the peasantry, French seeking a better life agreed to emigrate to the emerging colonial empire in what is now Nova Scotia, the other Canadian maritime provinces and other nearby lands.  When certain British colonial authorities decided they didn't like French in their lands and expelled them, some returned to France while others were deported or drifted to various eastern seaports, like Boston and Savannah.  Many were jailed or oppressed.  Some did travel more directly to southern Louisiana, the heart of the present Cajun ('Cadian) community.

So it looks to me like the Japanses emperor watched out for his subjects while the French king oppressed them, including those who temporarily returned to France when expelled after about a century of living in the new world.

Whether it is the schools or the government, citizens can be viewed as fodder for manipulation, or as valued people to be cared for.  Sometimes, it is said there are two views of human nature, X and Y.  One is that humans are devils and sluggards and in constant need of correction, punishment and scrutinizing.  The other is that humans are intelligent and good sources of ideas and effort.  Of course, an organization can include proponents of both views, which sometimes oscillate in the same mind.  But these views are about the nature of people.  There can probably be two (or more) views about the nature of government and administration, too.  One view might be that it is the right of the governors to extract every ounce of sweat, allegiance and taxes from the people they can.  Another might be that the government is the steward and assistant of the people, who ought to live better because of the government's effort, not worse.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

heel or ball: living in an age of research

The other day, I read that sprinters who run barefoot have fewer foot injuries than those who wear shoes.  Depending on what you mean by 'human', we are at least a couple of million years old.  For the vast majority of that time, I guess we wore nothing or very little on our feet.  I, on the other hand, have been strongly against being barefoot since I was about ten years old.  I once stepped on a dead or dying wasp and got a small sting in my foot.  I stepped on a piece of glass and it cut me while breaking off in the cut.  It took longer to heal that I wanted.  I decided barefoot was not for me.

Then, I read that our balance is probably altered by always wearing shoes and depriving our feet of the chance to read our footing and sense the ground.  I noted that maybe a bit more barefoot should be in my life.  Jenifer and other yoga teachers recommend barefoot practice while doing postures.

What got my attention was the statement in the barefoot sprinter article that the lower injury rate was attributed to the fact that barefoot sprinters meet the ground with the ball of the foot while shod runners first strike with the heel.  Ye gods!  About 20 years ago, I realized in my jogging, I tended to strike first with the ball and I got the idea somewhere that it is better to first land with heel.  I practiced and carefully trained myself to use a heel landing.

Like a lot of other older people, I have been having trouble with my toes.  Especially the ring (4th) toe on the left foot.  It tends to slide under its middle toe neighbor and gets stepped on, which is painful.  I have been using various foam toe separators and moleskin taping to try and keep the little thing out of trouble.  The sprinting article and obvious pleasure of some of my friends who are barefooters got me to thinking about the beach.  I have begun a little practice of walking and running on the sand in the hopes that the unshod freedom and exercise might get my errant toe on the right path.  It's too soon to know if my hope is being borne out but it feels good.

Living as we do in a worldwide research culture, we have to expect reversals and twists in opinion, evidence and conclusions as ideas and experiments constantly come and go. It is a little trying to think you have something straight and then be told to backtrack or take a still different direction but that is life in this era.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Puggy's magnanimity

My friend and I decided to read "Big Trouble" by Dave Barry together.  It was the funniest book I could think of and I thought he would enjoy it.

The story opens with our meeting Puggy, a guy who has been down on his luck all his life.  He has been wondering around, doing very little and just seeing what comes up.  Soon after hitchhiking to Miami, where he had heard it is warm, he was asked by organizers if he would like to make $10.  That is a good sum of money for Puggy and more than he usually has access to.  He can earn $10 if he accepts a ride to a polling place and votes for the person he is told to vote for.  Sounds good to him and he accepts.  

Guess what?  He even has more chances to repeat the process and earn more ten dollars.  He happily repeats twice more.  He is offered a 4th chance to vote but is told this time, he will only earn five dollars for participating.  

Puggy is favorably impressed with Miami.  He has never voted before, ever.  Now he has voted and earned quite a bit of money.  He feels it is ok to give something back to the system by voting this final time for only five dollars.

This story seems plausible to me.  I imagine people do get to cast votes repeatedly and do sometimes get paid for doing so.  But to me, that doesn't matter so much as Puggy's feeling that he has enriched society by being willing to vote for less.  This is fiction.  There is no Puggy but we can all be lured by good fortune and happenstance into thinking we have achieved something when we haven't, when we have done the very opposite.

Friday, February 5, 2010

emotions and decisions

I was surprised to read that a person whose brain injury knocked the ability to have emotions was left unable to decide anything.  I wrote my dissertation on decision theory and while working on it, I wondered if there could be a time or place or situation where I could not make a decision.  I thought I could always decide to follow the dictates of a tossed coin or choose the option the cost the least or had the shortest name or something.  Sure, I knew I might later find some other choice might have been better but I am very used to that.

It seems that the person with the brain injury could research and note and weigh choices but could not care enough to make a selection.  I've carried a crude picture that some people are rational and careful thinkers while others are emotional types with a sudden hankering for chocolate or a movie or a trip.  I guess we all have the ability to want, desire, pursue if we have fully working brains.  Who would have thought that emotions, the very essence of not being rational, would be necessary for a decision?  Who would have thought that not just those driven by whim but all of us need our emotions to function, even intellectual function?

I guess a good example of the idea and some research that emotions are needed for decision-making is "Descartes' Error" by the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

courage in design

Thanks, Kym

I was impressed with a chapter in Daniel Pink's book "A Whole New Mind" on the importance of design, the competition to get into good design classes and the emergence of the subject as a whole.

I suspect that good design and good editing take a certain courage and ability to stand pressure and handle risk.  If you decide to add cinnamon to a dish or use a certain color in room, it takes a little courage to go ahead and do that without adding every other spice or color in an undisciplined attempt to cover all bases.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Kym <>
Date: Thu, Feb 4, 2010 at 8:14 AM
Subject: [fear, fun and filoz] New comment on too much of a good thing.

Kym has left a new comment on your post "too much of a good thing":

Google's main page is a popular example in design courses, and rightfully so. Besides the pleasing aesthetic, it has accessibility and transportability advantages.

Posted by Kym to fear, fun and filoz at February 4, 2010 8:14 AM

too much of a good thing

The ancient Greeks thought a major key for good living was "moderation in all things."  The rule has survived millennia because it is actually helpful.  But, in an advertising and competitive culture, the rule often gets put aside.  

I think of this when ever I visit a restaurant, especially the many who" seem to follow a rule of "the more the better.  At one time, vanilla ice cream was probably considered an excellent flavor.  I guess it got so popular that it was everywhere.  It became the standard.  Then, it became "plain old vanilla".  So, vendors try to enhance the standard, go beyond the standard, 'break through' to something new.  How about chocolate or strawberry syrup on top?  How about both?  

Mayonnaise was a genuine enhancement to a meal at one time.  Also catsup and mustard.  Now, we want sandwiches with all three condiments but we also want Tabasco sauce, too.  Maybe we will get to the point where we just eat the condiments and seasonings.

I am pretty sure I saw a menu that announced both hollandaise and bernaise sauce on the same dish.  I know it is difficult to find ice cream in a cone shop that does not contain some sort of dough or bits of pretzel or 'cookie'.

I noticed when it was pointed out that Google's stark main page is simple and uncomplicated but I wonder when others will realize that less is often more and splurging in moderation is better.  We can only be excited or aroused or frightened or touched up to a point.  Beyond that is not 'better' in some way but 'over the top' and we get turned off or alienated.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

living in an aerie

We are on the 14th floor of a 14 story building.  We look out over the Gulf of Mexico and over some lovely sounds and bays.  

Sometimes, humans are said to live more or less 2 dimensional lives, moving about the surface of the planet but not changing their altitude very much.  Yes, we climb mountains and drive up hills now and then but we don't change our distance from the center of the earth momentarily with the freedom of the birds or creatures of the seas.  When I do get a chance to be up a little higher, it is surprising what the changed view does to my consciousness of the world and my location in it.

I am too chicken to take flying lessons.  I don't see much point in sport parachuting. But I am interested in aerial views.  "Earth from Above" is one  of several books to show what we might see from our flights or our rocket ships.

The eagles, ospreys and owls steadily see things we don't but would enjoy.  Maybe in another life.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

the big empty is nearly full

We were a little fearful of retirement.  We discussed it and we paid a visit to a counselor to see if she noticed anything we might want to work on before finding ourselves more or less full time in each other's company.  We have been at it for five years now and doing ok.

It was pretty clear to me that it would be different to not have a job to think about regularly.  Retirement can take a rather well-functioning person and drop him in what seems emptiness.  So, organizations and individuals are tempted to try enrolling the retiree in their activities.  The recent retiree can be tempted to take up their activities and can certainly be enriched by doing so.  For me, however, it was clear that I had never been free to spend time, money and energy at what I wanted when I wanted.  I did not want to sacrifice the opportunity lightly.

Depending on one's health and other circumstances, retiring can seem a lot like winning the lottery: one is suddenly independently wealthy, a rich opportunity and a danger.  The lottery is famous for cramming too many dollars into a life not prepared for it and thereby seriously damaging or totally wrecking a person. Retirement could cram too many dollars or hours and be a burden and a danger.

Most people retire after living a full life and that life, with its habits, interests, frustrated desires for travel or language or arts or crafts or skills serves as a surprisingly rich guide to spending the gifts retirement brings.  The fear of being lost in an empty land with 'nothing to do' now seems baseless.  There are tons of opportunities all the time.  It still seems the main problem is a balancing act between commitments/plans and open freedom.

Monday, February 1, 2010

trial and death of Socrates

The trial and death of Socrates is a famous and inspiring event in our history.  The statement Socrates made in his defense, called an apology or explanation of his philosophy and world view, is a fairly short document that makes for good reading.  This most famous version is written by Plato, Socrates' most famous student. Socrates is famous as the most known member of the group of philosophers ('lovers of wisdom') and the one who is well-known as the questionner and one who faced his ignorance squarely.  It is often stated by people as they learn and age that the more they learn, the more they realize how much they don't know.  Some people suspect our schools have been too correct-answer-oriented and thus responsible for helping people be uncomfortable with saying "I don't know".  

400 years before Christ, Athens had had a long war with Sparta and had been victorious at a heavy cost of human life, property damage and despondency.  Some in the city wanted to find out who was to blame.  The blame game is a very popular with people and they looked around for the cause of the difficulty in winning.  Socrates was about 70 years old at the time and had been well-known for years as a teacher and inquirer.  His questioning seemed to many to undermine unity and clear thought and doctrine and he seemed to be the possible cause of weakness in the city-state.

He is famous for saying that he was an annoyance, a gad-fly, which the citizens should treasure.  He was one whom it would be difficult to replace and they actually needed him.  He was charged with corrupting the youth (instead of teaching them to obey) and with introducing false gods while failing to show respect toward the usual ones.

According to Plato, his devoted friends told him that they could get him off or spirit him away without difficulty.  However, he steadily supported his own duty to accept the sentence of death (by drinking hemlock) and did so.There is a famous painting by David of the end in his cell.

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