Sunday, September 12, 2010


I feel so clever.  We have been married for 50 years and she is 71.  So, with just a little arithmetic, you can see that I snagged her at a young age.  That was a lucky break for me.

Take tonight.  Because she really likes variety, the standard restaurant meal bores her after a while.  She is also trying to lose weight.  I need to lose some too
.  I am going to lose my status as a sex symbol if I don't do something about my emerging belly.  So, here on Sunday night, smarty pants proposed dinner at the Whole Foods market.  They have an unmatchable menu of exotic salads and endless luscious choices for dessert.  Ok, if we split a tiny cheesecake, it might not cause too much damage.

She had a really tasty black quinoa and another of mango and shrimp.  I had chicken apricot salad and another of raw kale with a great lemon oil.  We had a glass of skim milk each and split that little cheesecake.  Total cost of a superior and very quick dinner for two = $19.27.  See, I am clever.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

politics and work

For those who are interested in politics and political marketing of opinions and content, you might be interested in this article about a pair of billionaire brothers using big funds against Obama.  I thought it might be of interest but it can be depressing and scary, depending on your views.

I am not very much into politics but as a supporter of public and truly helpful education, I find the article worth reading and being worried by.  It happens I am also listening to an audiobook by Matthew Crawford on the nature and history of employed work since about 1900.  It is "Shop Class as Soul Craft" and provocatively covers the nature of work from the days of carriage making for horses up to today, including both manual work and desk work.  Crawford evidently runs, or ran, a motorcycle repair shop after getting a PhD in political philosophy from the Univ. of Chicago and finding that work in the world of finance was not satisfying. 

As the son of a tool-and-die maker and the stepson of a pipe-fitter, I am interested in how people get into one job or another.  It is not a random process, being subject to educational and guidance pressures as well as supply and demand of goods and services, as well, of course, as individual tastes and abilities and idealized pictures of kinds of work

Monday, September 6, 2010

suffering with the Christians and the Buddha

Several people I know were brought up in Protestant households.  They had occasion to conclude that Christ suffered and that good Christians do, too.  They do not report being actually told explicitly that suffering is to be sought after, but they quietly imbibed the idea that it is rather noble.  Maybe, suffering is to be sought.  Pretty clearly, those who have suffered much are to be respected for what they have undergone.

One friend was told by an elder that "life is suffering" and it does seem that life inevitably includes such experience.  That is the same thing that the Buddha started with: Life is suffering.  But unlike the strategy of facing it or even relishing it, the Awakened One sought both to avoid or lessen suffering and also to find a teachable message that would enable others to do the same.  Somewhat as Mother Theresa advised, the Buddha and those who pondered his puzzles found that there is much pain and many unwanted course changes in life but it does lower the irritation level if one can accept what life gives, especially in areas where we are not able to make a change.  Craving something different than what actually is often at the root of suffering.  Accepting what is, is often surprisingly effective at lowering the pain level, the frustration level, the dissatisfaction level.

Dr. Epstein found that many of his patients tried, consciously or unknowingly, to foresee pain or disappointment coming and tried to steel themselves against it.  If sufficiently vigilant or determined, they may increase the steeling, the tensing and even the forgetting to the point where they not only feel very little disappointment but also feel very little joy. 

Many of the American Buddhist teachers, therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists
say that having the ability and the courage to sit alone and still and see how one feels is a much better way.  Even very great fear, rage or shame can often be faced calmly and quietly, to the point where they lose their power, diminish and vaporize.  It seems we can learn to taste life, all of it.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Upstarts, downstarts, overturns but continuity all the while

One of the fundamental principles of Buddhism (and much else) is that "everything changes".  I am not arguing with that.  Clearly, we leave in an ever-changing world inside of ever-changing bodies in an ever-changing society.  However, one of the mistakes in life is to see change where there isn't much, or any at all.  I was hard put to convince 20 year olds that the 15 year olds they knew did not grow up in different times, that the emphases and fashions they themselves knew and dealt with were about the same as the younger group knew.

True, I am aging but I am still alive and kicking.  True, the earth is probably getting a little tired from the machination of humans digging, drinking, paving, and harvesting and I don't know how long we can find a living on the earth.  But as a friend recently said, what can we do but laugh at ourselves and keep on keeping on?

My main computer is gaining weight - who isn't ? - and the extras are slowing it down while complicating it up.  My car continues to need gasoline and other oil products and it continues to age.  The human population of the earth continues to grow.  We are currently up to 6.8 billion and expect to reach 7 billion by fall of 2012.  So, there are more of us and more of us want adequate housing and food, cars and good transportation, good information and education and entertainment.  The book "Limits to Growth" came out in 1972 and we have been fearful of running out of all the good stuff since at least back then. 

Some in this country are up in arms as some always are, about something.  What's new about that?

I am still grateful for my friends, my possessions, my experiences and those that love me.  I am still grateful for all those I love.  I am still grateful for the knowledge gained by all the work and thought those before me struggled with.  I am grateful for the growing recognition that people everywhere have worth and intelligence and something of value to offer others.  I am grateful for the experimentation that proceeds all over the place to find better living quarters, less expensive transportation, happier fuller lives with less crime and disease and handicaps. 

To those who find comfort in seeing death and destruction, sadness and sin, frivolity and falsity in every heart, I say,"Keep up with that theme if it helps you."  But for me, I not only want tight, simple proof of the sky falling before panicking, I want speed and cunning to avoid the provers, if I can.

Saturday, September 4, 2010


I first thought "vanity" meant something to do with a person's appearance.  The only place I had heard the word was in "a vanity" or "a vanity table", a piece of furniture designed to facilitate the application of make-up to the face and environs.  So, having read parts of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament, I decided to read it all and pay attention.  That chapter of the Bible opens with a statement that the contents come from "the Preacher, the Son of David, King of Jerusalem" but scholars know by other means that King Solomon is not the author.  (In those days, I have read, it was customary to attribute a statement to someone famous and important in the hopes people would pay attention.)  The very next words are "Vanity, vanity, all is vanity." I was puzzled by these words.  Over time, I have realized they mean something like 'what's the use?' or 'nothing really matters, anyway'.

A very good friend of mine expressed a similar feeling when she said that there are many things that matter in this world but that she is tiring of them all.  The Preacher made similar points when he noted that a generation is born and a generation passes away and there is nothing new under the sun (and he hadn't even seen YouTube!).  Another friend who recently retired from a busy and pivotal position in a lively and energetic organization was totally shocked to wake up the next day with no phone calls, no requirements, no agenda.  What had happened, really?  Was life completely over?

Meaning, importance, value and commitment to people, projects and ideas vary.  Our age, mood, health can all cause a spike in the
perception of value, or a drop in it.  When I am very sleepy, nothing [else] matters but getting to sleep.  It is a difficult philosophical question to find what, if anything, REALLY matters.  Most things come and go in value and our commitment to them.

One thing that holds value deeply is parenting.  The person you are responsible for is the focus of value.  Our whole lives, we care about some people, certainly among them, our children.  It is well known that children require a lot of care and watching and serving.  Often, the question of whether they matter does not even arise. 
They are beyond considerations of value.  They simply matter, period.  This fact is put nicely in this past Sunday's Baby Blues cartoon.  The archives won't show that strip until two weeks after August 29, 2010 but it is well-done.  The little boy asks where his dad learned stuff like how to change a diaper and the dad answers in Dad School.  He says he enrolled in that school some weeks before the boy's big sister was born.  It is a tough place, where one is working 24/7.  When will you graduate?  Never.  "Want to help me with my homework?", Dad asks, picking up a football.  "Sure," Hammy says.  "Go long!" the father says.

Just this morning, my wife showed me the following video which is totally wonderful, exciting and meaningful about being the MOM, a tiring but valuable job:

Friday, September 3, 2010

pay time and saving money

I don't think I have ever held a job in which I was paid weekly.  Once every two weeks or once a month, yes.  As a grad student, (not a time of much wealth),  I was paid once a semester!  That was tough.  It ought to be fine.  You get $100 a week or $400 a month or $1600 for four months - what's the difference?  The longer the period, the more carefully, rigidly you absolutely must save.  At the end of a period, you are quite out of money and have been for days.  Suddenly, you are handed a good-sized sum.  It was hard not to splurge, at least a little bit.

When I was young, I used to read about savings and investments.  I was unhappy with myself for not saving more but at the same time, I felt saving $5 a week or $20 a month was pitifully small.  I have never been in real poverty but I do now realize that when I made sufficiently small amounts, there wasn't much point in saving.  Having a little bit aside is always important but any real savings probably needs to wait until the income is adequate, or close to adequate.  Certainly, thinking of myself as a failure before much saving is a good possibility is not called for.

The best saving we ever did was with our credit union.  We arranged for a reasonable deduction to be made before we even got paid so that deduction was just one of the others, such as taxes and retirement.  There was nothing like online accounts then and to get any of the money, we had to make a special trip to the actual building, which was not on any of our usual routes.  We never felt that we "had" the money since it was gone before we received the check.  We naturally planned to use what was left as a matter of course.  That worked very well.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

more things I can't do

My limitations are growing.  I struggle to do a single pull-up or very many push-ups.  I had to have my granddaughter whisper in my ear what the target Password was since I couldn't make it out in the low lighting of the lodge.  I have trouble hearing what others say, even though I know they have spoken.  So far, my memory is not too bad but I am getting practice in finding some alternative expression for what I can't remember.

I read Seven Sins of Memory by Daniel Schacter of Harvard's psych. department.  He says that remembering names is more difficult than some other types of things since often the name is not associated with much else.  Thus, worrying the memory and trying to approach it from a different angle is not of much use.  There may not be many different angles.  Schacter himself found that he suffered as many older people do from high levels of automaticity.  Making coffee or doing some other everyday task usually involves automatic routines which are done so efficiently that they leave no conscious memory.  So, if you try to recall whether you used decaf or regular, you can't tell. 

Schacter usually puts his car keys in his golf bag.  He was placing the bag in the trunk of his car when he suddenly thought to check that he had his keys before shutting the trunk.  They weren't in the bag!  Where could they be?  Then, as he stood in front of the open trunk, he thought.  If I opened the trunk with a key, they must be somewhere about.  He looked at the open lid and saw the keys still in the keyhole for the trunk.  Automaticity!

I often go downstairs and then simply cannot remember what I was after.  Usually, if I resign and trudge back up the stairs, I will recall before getting to the top of the staircase.

I figure that by 70 years from now, all of my abilities will be gone.  What do you think?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Complaints about freshman English

I know freshman English is a broad topic.  There has got to be a wide variety of incoming freshmen, from those who have little skill with writing to those who are currently reporters, novelists and essayists.  I have read that one of the first ideas of what an educated person should aim to be was the model of a speaker.  In the pre-microphone days, a speaker who could be heard over a crowd and who could speak without notes and give a meaningful, rousing statement was a person (male, probably) who mattered.  That was actually in the days when writing was a technical skill that was mastered by only a few, maybe like engine or tv repair today.

It is still a technical skill but is now considered one that close to everyone can master.  As noted for me in the memorable book "Style: An Anti-Textbook" by Richard A. Lanham,
reading is basically a type of input into our brains and arithmetic, the third of the famous 3 R's, is usually presented as a chore of calculation to be completed by the learner, but writing is an art.  It is a delivery from the person's mind to the outside.

Even 20 years or more ago, many colleges and universities (and I am sure, high schools and others) focused on writing as a personal creation tool that any student could use to explain mastery of content and ideas.  Such a student could also write a statement of personal feelings, questions, criticisms and reactions to issues in a way that revealed something of the sort of person the writer was.  That focus is often called 'writing across the curriculum' or something similar.

Thus, freshman English is often considered a doorway through which the competent writer can enter into many different studies. 

The problem is that in today's world, we often combine speaking and writing into a presentation.  Modern presentations are often given beside a large screen onto which the presenter can project whatever is relevant.  Therefore, all the trick and tools of Hollywood, Bollywood, sound tracks, timing, fade-outs and other transitions can and often are used in a presentation.  So, today it does matter if a person can write 500 words on the state of the country, but being able to tweet 140 characters, embed a video on a web page or post to a blog are also matters of everyday power literacy.  Let's move on!

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