Thursday, March 31, 2011

Fwd: Fwd: Japan Update 3-30-2011 from Michael

Forwarded by a friend about situation in Japan

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Fwd: Japan Update 3-30-2011
Date: Thu, 31 Mar 2011 08:13:33 -0400

-----Original Message-----

Sent: Tue, Mar 29, 2011 5:53 pm
Subject: Re: Japan Update 3-30-2011 from Michael

Dear Family and Friends,

We would like to thank everyone for the concern and prayers that have come in from all over the world.  We really appreciate your offers for assistance.

We did finally get relatively official news and have made indirect contact with some family members up north. It was reported in the newspaper that Junko's town (Osu) was actually the only place in that region to escape complete destruction.  Her father was able to beat the tsunami by sailing towards the tsunami and taking refuge out at sea. It has finally been confirmed that many of her relatives are miraculously safe in Osu, a small fishing town closest to the quake's epicenter.

On the tragic side, in Ishinomaki, a bit south of Osu, her cousin was not as fortunate.  The cousin's teenage daughters were rescued from the sinking car, however the mother was not.  In addition her aunt and the aunt' husband also did not survive. We plan to get up there as soon as possible, however gasoline shortages and the nuclear disaster remain obstacles to travel. 

In Tokyo and Kamakura life has not changed that much compared to the horrific scenes of destruction up north.  There are rolling blackouts and stores close earlier than usual at times, however we have supplies. 

The geiger counter positioned due north of where we live is not, and has not reported any substantial increases in radiation at this point.

Thank you once again for being there for us and I will keep you posted.

P.S. Here is a blog with photos of what remains of the main town we visited each year. Ogatsucho and the surrounding mountains is one of the most beautiful places in all of Japan and always reminded me of Arcadia National Park in Maine. 


style or content

I am a big fan of Dr. Mark Epstein.  I haven't ever seen or met the man but I have read three of his books and am working on a fourth.  This most recent one is Psychotherapy Without the Self

Epstein says in the early pages that a fundamental difference between Freud's approach to the injured psyche and the approach of the Buddha is that Freud thought of digging down into the mind while the Buddha thought of opening to parts of life or experience that had seemed unbearable or too scary or shameful.  

Another way to look at the difference, the psychotherapist says, is that Buddha found ways to get into a different relation to one's memories and impressions while Freud thought of uncovering or excavating content of the mind that had been repressed.  Epstein emphasizes that toward the end of his life, Freud wrote Analysis: Terminable and Interminable coming to grips with the inadequacies of psycho-therapeutic analysis, which he had invented as a tool to help minds.  Epstein emphasizes that meditation can accomplish accomplish more quickly and completely some of the things that Freud often had trouble accomplishing with his patients but he also emphasizes that psychotherapy in its modern form can help people who are having trouble that meditation alone cannot.

Epstein mentions the difference in focusing on content, as in "my mother was mean to me", as opposed to obtaining a new relation to my thoughts and feelings as in "my mother was mean to me and I understand why and forgive her".  That difference reminds me of what my friend the communication professor told me about a debate in communication rhetoric theory that has been going on since the Greeks: style vs. content.  A good story is a good story because of the content or because of the way it is told -- which is it?  My mother and my wife and others have told me that HOW I say something affects them as much or more as WHAT I say.  I realize that another way to put the idea is that the timing and voice tone and vocabulary matters as much as the meaning.  

I have a friend who once went with his wife to the famous Masters and Johnson marital therapists to improve their marriage.  The first thing they learned at the clinic was to use "I" messages, stating their ideas and impressions about themselves instead of making accusations about their partner.  An elementary teacher just told me this afternoon how she was stressing the same idea to the students.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

thoughts and comments on the future

I am trying a table.  If it doesn't appear in a legible form, take a look at the web page:  for the blog.



The Wisconsin motto is "Forward" Sometimes, this motto seems a bit brisk and in need of further definition and clarification.
Unitarians and others tend to say that we will work to improve in the future: "progress onwards and upwards forever". I learned slightly different wording that included "the progress OF MANKIND ..."
A favorite verse of the Bible in my Unitarian Sunday School was the first letter of John (1 John 3:2) "Now are we the sons of God and it doth not yet appear what we shall be"Here and in the affirmation, the language used explicitly mentions males.  I think we are all becoming more aware that such language unduly highlights men and undervalues both general and also specific contributions, insights, and viewpoints of women
Australian psychologist Cordelia Fine describes in lovely language the anguish, the complete collapse into mourning and despair her 13 month old son falls into when he experiences the total tragedy of having his mother take from him a ballpoint pen that is not really safe for him to handle.  Since the readers of this blog are older than the boy, they all know that in the near future, say, 3 or 4 years, he will not find the pen so exciting, so painful to not play with.Most of us can fall back to earlier stages at times.  At 16 or 46, we will experience the same sink into despair upon the first dent in our new car.
My favorite independent businessman just sent me this interesting, futuristic link With enough experience, record-keeping and analysis, the factory will probably get better, more efficient, cheaper.  See the Japanese technique "Kaizen" and W.E. Deming's writings, which have still to be recognized and applied widely.  I am keeping my eye on Brazil, Argentina, the Czech Republic, South Korea and others who are using their brains and trying their best.
As a person interested in education and its twin, training, I am always interested in what future twists and turns in our lives, abilities, habits and misadventures may be.  It occurs to me that in the cases of
  • trained athlete vs. natural, untrained
  • free web use vs. structured web site or service

we can see the result of human thought, experimentation and design.
Wired magazine recently announced the death of the world-wide web but it actually meant the narrowing of unbridled services into more structured [and possibly serviceable] individual websites.  Over time, with effort and thought, education and training improves athletes, web sites and services.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

About Face!

I very much admire the HBO award-winning movie "Temple Grandin", starring Claire Danes. That movie reminded me of the extreme importance in human life of faces.  I have read that no other animal puts so much value and information into the face.  That is one of the difficulties of being on the autism spectrum, the lack of attention to other people's faces and a lowered ability to read the face of others. I read a quote from the real Temple Grandin that the most difficult thing she ever did was believe that most other people could tell much of what others were feeling by looking at others' faces and using what we call "eye contact".  

In The Essential Difference, psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen suggests that autism is about a deviation of masculinity.  He says that human males are often more interested in things than in people while women are often more interested in people than in things.  Temple Grandin is quoted as saying that she could not believe how Claire Danes "became me" to portray Temple in the movie.  Watching it, you can see a special difficulty a girl might having if she were unable to read faces.  Danes holds her head at an odd downward angle throughout the film, not looking at others or paying attention to what their faces, bodies and the eye contact between others might mean to her.

Any special disfiguring of the face may have psychological consequences as well as social and romantic ones, especially for a girl in the adolescent and early adult years.  However, not only is Dr. Professor Temple Grandin extra-intelligent and articulate but she is a female.  That difference may help to explain her articulate and sympathetic ability to communicate and understand both humans and other animals.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Professor as blogger

I did my senior history paper in high school on Senator Joseph McCarthy.  I was looking for something of interest and it seemed to me at that age that the man's crusade to identify members of the Communist party serving in the US government was all the rage.  I hadn't paid much attention to the man or his efforts but I had heard about the Army-McCarthy hearings.  I didn't realize until writing this blog entry that the hearings took place in 1954.  I was working on my paper in 1957 and McCarthy's reputation had seemed to me to be falling all that time.  He died in May of that year.

I am not a very historically-minded person and might not have thought of the Senator, had I not read an op-ed piece from the New York Times that appeared in Google news a few days back.  The piece was written by a UW prof of history and compared the tone of the current Wisconsin governor to the tone set by McCarthy.  That professor is William Cronon.  A headline today in the same Google source mentioned a request by the Wisconsin GOP, under Wisconsin open meeting and information law, for Cronon's university emails within a certain date and containing certain specified keywords which relate to the recent efforts by the governor to pass a law removing many of the collective bargaining rights of public employees.  I read a post in another blog, maybe in Fortune magazine, that where a blogger had spent quite a lot of time reading news releases and statements concerning the GOP request and the professor's response. That reader found it all fascinating.

Since I write a blog myself, I was interested in following up, at least some.  I found with some effort the professor's blog, "Scholar as Citizen" and his post regarding the governor's effort to pass a law and the GOP's request for the professor's emails.  I was even more interested when I read his statement that he had only just begun his blog but that the issues that had recently arisen had resulted in a million visits to his blog in 24 hours!  My blog here has existed for about 2 years and has had 4000 total visits, just for comparison.  Much of the energy expended by the GOP seems to relate to Professor Cronon's statements about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its influence on legislation in each state of the Union

Sunday, March 27, 2011


My friend is more politically active and passionate than I am.  He wanted to know why I lagged in being warm to the subject.  Thinking it over, I think it is because, like hemlines or tail fins, the fashions, the headlines, the hot buttons are so temporary.  It seems to me that voters in this country want the moon: more aid but lower taxes, less armed forces but more security, more freedom and less rules, better education without having an idea of what better education is. 

So hot and bothered and yet frivolous at the same time.  It never ends.  Listening to "The Invention of Air" by Steven Johnson, I hear the author make a distinction between transient political questions and longer-lasting questions about nature and science.  Much of the book is about a friendship between Benjamin Franklin and the English scientist and churchman Joseph Priestley.  Franklin was much older and considered to be one of the great scientists of his time.  Priestley was a natural investigator and very interested in the natural world.  His work lead to human understanding of the partnership between animals depending on oxygen and plants' production of oxygen.  Late in his life, Franklin was depended on to help with the Revolutionary War and its settlement.  Despite his hard work on obtaining self-government for America and a satisfactory arrangement with Britain at the war's end, he felt disgusted with men.  He complained in a letter to Priestley that men swelled with pride about warfare and killing and yet covered themselves in darkness while making babies, a more virtuous occupation. I can certainly sympathize with Franklin.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Good Woman Found

Reading this part of today's Writer's Almanac (Friday, March 25, 2011), I see that I have not paid due attention to Flannery O'Connor.  Using the link below and some Googling, I may try to remedy that.

It's the birthday of the fiction writer who didn't want a biography written about her because, she said, "Lives spent between the house and the chicken yard do not make exciting copy." That's Flannery O'Connor, (books by this author) born in Savannah, Georgia (1925). When she was five years old, she trained a chicken to walk backward, and a newsreel company came her house to make a film about it, which was shown all over the country. She said, "I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been anticlimax."

She spent much of her life on her family farm in Milledgeville, Georgia, raising poultry and writing novels and short stories: Wise Blood (1952), The Violent Bear It Away (1960), A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955), and Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965). This last book of short stories was published after her death in 1964, at the age of 39, from complications of lupus.

She said, "When we look at a good deal of serious modern fiction, and particularly Southern fiction, we find this quality about it that is generally described, in a pejorative sense, as grotesque. Of course, I have found that anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the Northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic. ... Whenever I'm asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one."

And, "Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher."

And, "I don't deserve any credit for turning the other cheek as my tongue is always in it."

She wrote in a letter to her friend Cecil Dawkins: "I'm a full-time believer in writing habits, pedestrian as it all may sound. You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away. I see it happen all the time. Of course you have to make your habits in this conform to what you can do. I write only about two hours every day because that's all the energy I have, but I don't let anything interfere with those two hours, at the same time and the same place. This doesn't mean I produce much out of the two hours. Sometimes I work for months and have to throw everything away, but I don't think any of that was time wasted. Something goes on that makes it easier when it does come well. And the fact is if you don't sit there every day, the day it would come well, you won't be sitting there."

Friday, March 25, 2011

painful freedom

The more I live as a retired person, the more I feel, and hear from others about, the pain of freedom.  People who are retired may be situated in some financial security, which gives them freedom to select what they will spend their time and energy on.  That can seem heavenly and in a way, it is.  

However, no matter what we choose to do, we could have done something else.  In fact, when we decide to do this activity, there is a nearly infinite set of things we could have done, things we rejected knowingly or in ignorance.  Within two days time, two energetic, intelligent and well-educated women said virtually the same thing:

"I really should read some of those life-changing and fascinating items. Dilemma: if I read THEM, then I can't do the other life-changing and fascinating things I get caught up in. Hmmmmmmmm." (Dr. Gyneth Slygh)

Our human and mortal limitations keep cropping up.  We can't be in two places at once.  Increasingly, research shows that even trying to pay attention to multiple screens or projects or variables makes performance on all the tasks suffer.

Before we retired from jobs, we paid attention to the demands of the job.  Now, without one, we have that durned freedom.  It is good, but avoiding selection anxiety and selection regret isn't easy.  The same fret can arise over career or marriage choice, in fact, over any choice we made.  We made a great many and it is unlikely that all of them were optimal, with no errors in the set.  Still, long-range choices that involved big commitments and decades may be easier to mentally label as "fate" or "over with and done".  But starting a carpentry project or reading a novel feels more arbitrarily open to error.  Maybe I should swim more instead of sawing or cook more instead of reading. Such questions can haunt us cogitators.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Books on my Kindle

Yesterday's post gave a link to my Kindle Wish List, items that I might be interested in purchasing sometime.  Today, I am posting a link to the Kindle items I currently have.  We have some items that are games on the Kindle and some items from other sources, such as  We have some books that I despise as especially poor writing and some that are too gruesome but basically, I like the collection.  It may be of interest to you.  A friend wrote yesterday that she spent half an hour looking at some of the items on yesterday's Wish List. 

I took a random sample of the list and counted how many of the sample I have read.  I used a loose definition of "read".  As a colleague found, I can often talk knowing about a book that I haven't read by any definition.  Normally, I wouldn't buy a book without having some idea of what it is about and some idea that I would enjoy or benefit from it.  Based on the result of my sampling, I estimate that I have read about half of the books on my Kindle.  Just in case you want me to tell you how I liked one of them.  I might know something.  If I do, I will gladly tell you.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Fwd: Bill Kirby has an Wish List to Share

I am forwarding a link to my Kindle Wish List on  I am working on various aspects of the problem of finding good books to read.  There are tons of them, of course, but I find as I get older that it is not easy to find fiction I like. 

It is easy to find non-fiction titles that sound intriguing and sometimes, I have the extra knowledge that the author has written one, or even more, books that I like.  I do pay attention to the ratings and comments on books made by others.  One of the helpful features on an page is the little graph that shows how many raters gave a book each possible rating.  You can click on any number of stars and immediately find the comments for that type of rating. 

I have a profligate habit of buying books.  I tell myself I do it to avoid totally forgetting a book that sounds good and might be an asset to my life.  I have learned many things from reading, listening and watching and I know a good book, fiction or non-fiction, is a genuinely valuable addition to my life.  I got my first Kindle in April of 2008.  As of today, we have 362 books on our Kindle.  That accumulation has occurred over a period of 1065 days, for an average of a new addition every three days, year in and year out.  (For statisticians: I think we can assume my buying is a Poisson-distributed process, rather like getting flat tires or other irregular events.  The poisson model predicts that I would buy 2 or 3 titles at a time, with about 45% chance on any given day.

Lately, I have been stemming some of my buying urge with the use of an Amazon Wish List.  I actually have several lists but have come to concentrate on the one I titled "Kindle Wish List" .  When I learn of a book that I am confident that I might want to be able to find in a store or a library, I add the title to that Amazon List.  Since I have many books in both electronic and paper form that I haven't read, I don't want to buy a book without a good likelihood of reading all or part of it fairly soon.  Normally, I will buy in Kindle format instead of paper, since it is usually cheaper and always faster and less trouble to store and handle the book in that form.  Right now, my Kindle Wish List has 325 items on it so you can see that I add items rather often and have almost as many on the List as on the Kindle.

If you feel like it, visit my Kindle Wish List and look at the titles that interest me.  They may interest you.  You should be able to bookmark the page and come back to an updated version at any time. I think Amazon hopes you will buy me one of the listed items but I hope you don't.  Please don't.  I will buy my own. 

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, Mar 20, 2011 at 10:52 AM
Subject: Bill Kirby has an Wish List to Share Wish List
A Note from Bill Kirby:

Explore Bill's Wish List: Kindle Wish List

View Wish List
Items from Bill's Wish List: Kindle Wish List
> See Bill's Wish List: Kindle Wish List

Sunday, March 20, 2011


Weather  is big all over the world.  Rain, sun, wind, cold - all contribute to  our joys and sorrows.  In Wisconsin, we are very conscious of the weather.  I was surprised when I put "weather" in Google and got nearly  half a TRILLION results!  Clearly weather is a big topic all over the  planet.

Weather  has been on my mind lately.  We had to dodge about and modify our route to get from Texas to home without being trapped by flooded or icy roads.  I saw that Firefox, my favorite browser for its privacy settings, was not available in version 4.0 RC.  Those last two letters stand for "release  candidate", or "nearly ready for everyone."  I like to try new things and  switched to 4.0 but I found that my favorite add-on (from the Weather  Channel, the one that keeps me informed more or less steadily about the  weather) is not available in that version of Firefox.  So, I removed it  and re-installed the latest full release.

Now,  another winter storm threatens to interrupt our plans even though we  don't want it to do that.  Mark Twain, like the Greeks, has a word about  the subject.  He said that everyone complains about the weather but  nobody does anything about it.  In the sense of causation and control, I  guess that is true.  I haven't heard of much starting or stopping of  weather by people.  However, there are other ways to do something about  the weather and one of them is prediction and warning.  

Most  of my life, disparaging jokes about the uselessly inaccurate weather forecasts have been ongoing, something that most of us can agree on and  chuckle over.  I was just told recently that some expert or other had  stated that weather predictions more than a day or two into the future  are very chancy.  Of course, the movement is complicated so that a storm  over there may or may not get over here.  However, knowing that there  is a storm over there at least gives me a warning of the possibility of  it reaching me. Doppler radar and visual predictions of changes of the  national weather pattern certainly give me something to think about  while I am waiting for the sun to come out.

Shrinkage and stretchage

Unhappily for a guy who never actually achieved much physical height, sometime  during these recent late-life years, I have lost a little height.  Not so much that you would notice, I think, but enough to make me think of  shrinking all over the place.  From the age reached by several  relatives, I expect to have close to 20 more years to live, a figure  that keeps shrinking.

Our  financial adviser told us that we can give away money that we have without paying additional tax on it to the government, up to a lifetime  total of 5 million dollars.  We don't have one million and what we have  keeps shrinking so we don't feel that we are likely to hit the pay-more  line.  However, he did say that the limit of what can be "gifted" (a  verb) might shrink.  Since government debts are not shrinking and politicians and treasurers are responsible for keeping the enterprise going, they must keep trying to find new ways to get funds.

The number of hours I can sleep keeps shrinking as does the period I can sleep without waking up.  I wake at unexpected sounds but even without  them, I wake up much more often than I used to.  The amount of food I can eat keeps shrinking, too.   It seems that my appetite is not  shrinking, at least proportionately, since my weight and my waistline are not shrinking.  In fact, they are stretching and stressing my pants.   

I live right about the mid-point between the equator and the north pole.   At this latitude, days and night shrink and stretch all the time.  We  are especially aware of this fact right after daylight saving time begins.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Relative funds

In today's world, it makes sense to expand my thinking about wealth.  I have a modest house and modest cars.  I realize that many people don't have enough to eat.  I also realize that quite a few people have quite a bit of money.  However, having money doesn't necessarily make a person rich.  I know that sounds crazy but think about debts, obligations and liabilities.

If I have an income of a million a year but bills that run two million, I am not rich.  Well, maybe for a short time but the bills are going to be there and I am going into a financial hole.

If I am obligated to maintain a business or a school and it is going under, spending more than it earns, I am not well-off.

So, when I hear about  a millionaire who is having financial difficulties, I am going to avoid sarcastic laughter and withhold judgment.   The situation is probably not one I understand or have faced and a complicated one.  On occasion, the saying "Give a man enough rope and he will hang himself" has some merit.   With so much money running around the planet, a person might well have more troubles, more debts and liabilities, given enough funds.

I remember what happened to King Midas.  It doesn't really matter whether everything I touch turns to gold or books or beef steak, my life needs a balance to it and variety.

Friday, March 18, 2011

site for Japanese assistance

Just received this.  If not you, maybe someone you know.


Dear Magdeburg families of 2010,

I hope none of you will take it amiss if I use the 2010 email list to
inform you of some efforts by some of last year's Magdeburg students to
help out victims left homeless by the earthquake in Japan. Robert
Neumann and Mathias Baumann who were both in Stevens Point with our
program last August, set up this website
<>: Please go to
the website if you can offer temporary shelter or donate money for flights.

Otherwise, I have just begun working on the Magdeburg program for 2011.
I've sent forms to several of you so far, but not quite everyone. If you
haven't received one and don't want to, just respond to this email. Thanks!

Genuinely too old

I often hear people say that we are only as old as we feel.  I have seen college wrestlers after a match so exhausted that I am sure they felt very old at the time.  I do believe that attitude matters in the matter of aging, as it matters very fundamentally in just about everything.  Yesterday's blog included a link to a study on getting goose bumps and that article mentioned the importance of a person's attitude and state of mind in promoting or retarding the goose bump reaction on one's skin.

Still, I do think there is a possibility of being genuinely too old.  Last summer, my wife and I hosted a young man from Europe for a few days while he got a little more familiar with the US and the English language.  It was fun and he was a delight.  However, the two of us could clearly see that because of his age as much as anything else, he lived in a different world from the one we now live in.  

I have never been much of a user of what is called "night life" and at my present age, I have much less inclination to dance, drink and so forth than I used to.  The two of us found that we just didn't think as he did, although his interests and drives were something like we felt as his age.  

About 10 years after my last college wrestling match, I went into a training room with the idea of maybe helping some beginners a little bit or something like that.  After a half hour of watching them strain and groan, I felt strongly that I wanted to advise them all to shower and go find their girl friends and enjoy life.  I knew that any words against the stress and pain would not be welcomed by the ambitious young men and their coaches so I just left, realizing that I was too old.  

Just as equipment can become obsolete, I think for given applications of our time and energy, we may really be too old, too different from what is called for or expected.  As a friend said when we discussed this theme, I tend to start thinking of bed about 8:30 in the evening, not night life.  I can push myself but I don't feel like it.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Some authors can pour it in

Some authors can pour it in.  John Kemeny did a good job in Finite Mathematics but, for me, a fabulous job in Finite Markov Chains.  It can be quite handy at times to know a little about various branches of mathematics.  For me and my time, math meant arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus.  John Kemeny, a young PhD in Germany, saw that more math had been created since the birth of calculus than before it.  However none of it was in the school curriculum for most students.  He changed that with his well-know book on the subject, which he invented.  But his book Finite Markov Chains really stood out for me.  I knew that a finite Markov chain is a math concept but "Finite Markov Chains" just laid the rudiments of the subject out so clearly and smoothly that it felt as though it was simply flowing into my head.

C.S.Lewis can pour it in, as can Jacques Barzun.  See Lewis's "The Screwtape Letters" or "Mere Christianity."  See Barzun's "The House of Intellect" or "Teacher in America."  E.B. White can pour it in.  See "Charlotte's Web" or "The Second Tree from the Corner".

I think it pays to go from author to author until you find understanding pouring into your brain.  I think this applies mostly to non-fiction.

The equivalent in fiction to full understanding is pleasure.  The fun of good word usage, such as Richard L. Evans telling his reader that Miss Snow found her two potential lovers had died in the war.  He could have just written what I have in italics.  Instead, he actually wrote  "There were only two men who had a chance at her heart.  Ten years ago, she had taken a train to Washington, D.C. to find their names on the Vietnam Wall."  See how much understanding he packs into that sentence?  His words tell us she was open to a man or two, but she lost them both to death in war and that happened quite a while ago, long enough that we know she has known about their fate for a decade.

Very satisfying words are nourishing, much like a great pass by the quarterback and a great catch by the receiver.  An act of beauty, grace and elegance.  A pleasure.  Finding and reading all the works of a author that just pours understanding and satisfaction into your head is worth the effort, sometimes quite a lot of effort.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Emergence -

The name often given to the phenomenon of a property being present in the aggregate or mass which is not present in any single individual in the mass or group
No-self -

A fundamental Buddhist tenet that there is nothing at the heart or soul of each of us that is the actual self.  Not our heart, not our brain, not our voice or fingerprints, nothing.  We are just a lovely bunch of atoms working together for a while.  (From my amateurish point of view, this is a complex idea and issue and not one Westerners can grasp fully without help.)
Business cards, logos -

When people design a business card or a logo for themselves or their firm, they try to express quite a few different things: the kind of business, the philosophy it uses, its spirit or nature.  Of course, they try to express those things in a form that is attractive and memorable.
Colors, songs, totem animals, shields and banners - ditto
Vanity car license plates - also ditto
Our plates are "NJOY NOW" and "VERSION"  I have written about the first before.  I found that in the freer time of retirement, I want space, room, action and exploration.  In both my web site and this blog, I purposely try to leave the door open to any thought, any comment or sort of comment, any subject.  These days, I can also add "any medium" since I can add pictures, videos and sounds, too.

I actually wanted to use "EDITION" but that word was already taken.  I have often been impressed with the differences between different editions of a book.  Different versions of what is supposedly the same software can be startling unlike each other.  Just compare an early version of Microsoft Word with the one in Office now.  People have asked why the plate says "Version", I have realized it suits my
Walter Mitty dreams.  I am fully capable of watching Arnold demolish scores of armed enemies and then walk out of the theater changed into a muscular chunk of a hero.  In my head, at least.  Versions of me are not limited by my actual being.  I can be Underdog or the woman whose man is not coming back.  Sometimes, I live in other centuries or was born on a different continent in a different race or ethnic group.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fighting the paper deluge

I try to remember when I find a pound or two of paper in my mail box or inserted into my newspaper that each is a call from people trying to make a living.  I would like to be sympathetic to their needs and hopes but I am having trouble breathing under all the advertisements for HD tv's and shampoo at just a fabulous price.

I try to shred everything with personal ID information on it but it takes patience.  It might take less with an industrial shredder but I don't have one.

Even the sheer amount of paper that seems important, or possibly important, can be quite daunting.  I used to get both angry and depressed whenever my wife wanted to dust.  So many papers to go through, so many items that had to be decided on and filed!  And all had to be done NOW  if she was going to be able to get her work done without being held up by me.  Harold Taylor's advice helped me very much:

Don't agonize.  When trying to clear a desk surface, clear it into a box in great chunks.  The surface will be cleared quickly.  The papers can be gone through later.

It is true that in How to Get Control of your Time and Your Life by Alan Lakein, the author advises simply emptying a desk drawer of papers into a box and storing it.  If you don't ever need to paw through the box, after a month or two, throw it all out, box and contents, too.  

I have never been much of a neatnik, thinking that working on a project or a duty was more productive than cleaning, straightening or filing.  I am still much that way, but I have discovered that a really bare desk, coffee table and kitchen table are quite stimulating and pleasing.  Really cleared, they calm my soul and give me energy and confidence.

I have also discovered that while some objects and some files mean a great deal to me, they typically are not all that valuable or irreplaceable.  In fact, I may feel bad if I lose them or destroy them or throw them out, but after a short bad feeling about a "loss", I don't ever think of them or need them again.  That knowledge helps me not be too concerned about keeping all the knickknacks, photos, letters, etc.  I don't want to spend too much time storing them, culling them or cuddling them.  Those activities don't appeal to me as a good use of my time  here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

From bursts of flame to steady flow of heat

I like classical music.  Some of the well-known Mozart pieces wear very well in my brain.  So, looking over the choices for a ringtone for my dumbphone, I grabbed at the chance to have Wolfy's Eine Kleine Nachtmuisk (A Little Night Music) sound off whenever I get a call.  But I got a slightly more modern phone the other day and found the memorable tune of Voi che sapete (You know what), Mozart's aria in "The Marriage of Figaro" where a young man, just experiencing the first delights and pangs of being in love, asks some of the women around him whether the mysterious and oddly delightful malady he suffers from is really love, about which he has heard but not felt before.  All this telephony has put that character, Cherubino, in mind, along with the subject of young love and older love.

I remember burning with love and desire.  After a year of dating the hotty I currently live with, I thought I might have a heart attack as the train pulled out of the station bearing her away from me for a whole, entire, endless, agonizing summer.  I think of that moment of very great pain as I brew coffee in the morning.  Brewing just the right strength coffee and carrying the carafe and a mug into the lady while she is stilabed is a great pleasure.  I have much less need to tear off her clothes now but much greater and deeper delight feeding her, brewing the coffee, mixing the evening drinks, sharing our fortunes and memories. 

I think it is surprising how much less genital and fleshy love is at 71 than it was at 21.  Love now involves thinking and doing far more than the feeling and longing it did then.  We didn't consciously plan any of the change.  It just quietly grew from one state to another.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Go with him twain

The way I heard it, ancient Roman citizens could legally compel a Jew to assist with the carrying of a burden.  They could require a Jew to carry the burden for up to a mile.  In the King James version, the Bible says in Matthew 5:41 that Jesus advises his followers to "go with him twain."  Go an extra mile, not just the required one.  Just to do a little more.  In my language, I might say one should do the extra thing, as a voluntary item, just for the freedom of doing so, just for the "hell of it", as I put it.

We do seem to develop extra strength if we practice doing a little more.  Of course, if we always go the extra mile, the enforcer may well come to expect that extra.  But, a little extra does seem to help make a task better: done better, finished better, to count for more.

In some of the southern states in the Gulf area, we ran into the word "lagniappe" (lan yap).  We had never seen or heard the French-looking word before but it was the name of a store or two and it popped up in print.  I was told just what is says at the Wikipedia link: that the word means a little gift, the 13th roll or doughnut that the baker gives the customer buying a dozen. The passage also introduces Mark Twain's comments on the word and its use, including his idea that the word itself is worth going to New Orleans for.

My stepfather was not given to much advice but he did once advise me to read and apply a short piece by Bruce Barton stating three rules for success.  They were
  • Be thorough
  • Be accurate
  • Stand at the head of your class in English
I still remember them and I have more or less tried follow that advice.  My great grandson shared his current view of the rule for success in his studies: "do what you are asked and do it the first time."

Going the 2nd mile, giving an extra roll, being thorough, doing something fully at once all point to the value of a good job done well and checked for completeness, errors and oversights.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Historical Me and Historical Us

When we return from some weeks away, we have a great deal of mail, mostly ads for things we don't want.  But much of the weight of the stored-up mail is magazines.  We don't get all that many different publications but Time and Discover and, to some extent, The New Yorker and Wired, all deal with current events and issues.

Since we have several weeks of Time, I skim through them, a rather pleasant task, in a way.  Many of the hottest questions have been answered by the subsequent weeks of events by the time I get to them in a magazine several weeks old.  Good or bad, I often know that the tsunami has subsided, the market has somewhat stabilized or whatever the worry that week was.  

It is rather comforting to read the news as history instead of as worries and scares.  The April issue of Atlantic Monthly just sailed into my Kindle and as usual the cover article is memorable.  It is about the current state of the media and changes that have taken place since the 80's and are continuing.  Recent statements by politicians and others emphasize the value of the media in keeping citizens abreast of what is happening from multiple viewpoints.

I just read a statement by an Egyptian who appeared to be worried about the divisiveness and lack of coherence between the multiple political parties that are emerging in that country.  I can sympathize with that idea but I know that we need multiple viewpoints and will have them if people are free to express themselves.  Even between two people I know very well and who have lived together, we just about always have multiple viewpoints.

The media article includes a statement by president Obama in response to a student question asked after a speech at a university.  The question was what surprised the president about the job of being president.  He said he had difficulty knowing where to begin but that one aspect was how hard it was to keep himself and his teams on the task of the longer view.  He said that he found that that the news in Washington was always about what was happening this minute.

One of the joys of reading recent but not current news magazines is that it is fairly easy to see a little bit of how things turned out.  For instance, I know which film was voted Best Picture now.  (The King's Speech, and it is indeed wonderful.)

I didn't have much of a feeling for the subject of history as a high school or college student.  But like many others before me, I have steadily developed more interest in the full story as I have aged.  I realize now that things don't really turn out, in a final sense.  They just continue to unfold on and on.  

Trying to take a longer view is actually easier these days.  Just yesterday, I downloaded This Fleeting World: A Short History of Humanity by the Australian historian David Christian.  That book and that author, as well as others, have begun realizing that the best known facts and perspectives on the entire history of humans, even including some thought of the beginning of the universe and of our planet, make up our full history.  Known as "big history" or "deep history", attempts to think about the whole story as currently supported by our best knowledge and theory are being made.  No doubt, they will continue to be.

Moving from fearful news to a telling of our story, or parts of it, we move from nervous alert and tension to consideration in a calmer, more balanced mode.  One of the many advantages today is that the story can start much earlier.  Until I was visiting England at age 34, I had not felt historical age earlier than America.  So, hearing that I was passing a stone shelter from 900 AD gave me quite a start.  Similarly, since Christian's history discusses humans during the last 250,000 years, I am interested.

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