Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Person behind these posts

The only person who has known me longer than Mrs. C. is my sister, who is a couple of years younger than I am.  Mrs. C. and I were in the 6th grade together.   Later, in the 8th grade, I wanted to go to the movies with a girl.  I thought of who seemed physically attractive to me and I thought of Mrs. C, way before she was married.  I had had a movie date with a girl in the 3rd grade but I don't think I dated any more until Mrs. C. and I went to see 'The Prince Who Was a Thief' with Tony Curtis and Piper Laurie.  

Mrs. C. was found by Mr. C. about a decade later and she and I lost track.  But we have always admired and understood each other and have thought fondly of each other.  As a surprise, on the very day of my 60th birthday, I received a post card from her giving an address, phone number and email address.  We have communicated at least once a week since that day more than 10 years ago.  She knows a good deal about my life and interests.

When I retired, I was looking for a way to express ideas, interests and experiences I have and slowly moved into writing these blog posts, daily when possible.  I am a geeky, nerdy, bookish sort of guy and I have lots of interests in mathematics, statistics, computing, philosophy and some fiction and literature.  I also love reflecting on my life, believing that the examined life lived consciously is considerably more fun that merely existing is.  So, I enjoy writing geeky, nerdy, bookish posts about math, computers, philosophy and such.  

But some friends, lead by Mrs. C. sometimes say that stuff is ok but how about last night's dinner, or current state of health, or family events?  How about YOU?

The people who receive these blog posts by email all know me personally and most are in pretty close contact.  They know what I look like, what I sound like and what I like.  Currently, everyone in my close family is healthy and reasonably happy.  Several of my grandchildren are eager for an improvement in the economy.  Even though my wife and I moved a long distance from the East coast to the Midwest for our life here, I appreciate the value of our community and location.  It's true that we often have fierce winters and spring takes too long to get here, the people and community spirit are excellent.  I am happy that my child and her husband and children and grandchildren have managed to stay in the area, giving me and especially my wife plenty of contact with them all.  

Personally, I like to stay in shape and enjoy doing so.  I have run about 2 ½ miles three times a week regularly for more than 40 years but have recently been deterred by pain in my left knee.  I am scheduled for surgery on that knee to see if the joint can be made smoother and less painful.  I injured that knee more than 50 years ago and it has done well so far.  Here's hoping for more! (the surgery went well).

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Wanna bet?

When the two of us visited the doctor recently, he told me the best way I could help my wife stay healthy was to "do everything she tells you to do".  We all three had a good laugh.  Like that's going to happen!

But it is not the first time the issue of whether she is the Rumpole counterpart in my life, the noted "She Who Must Be Obeyed"  has come up.  In fact, these days, like most things, it is a whole field of study: similarities and differences in typical male and female leaders and executives.  As a teacher of teachers, a person naturally is sensitive to basic tendencies in teachers and leaders that can be expected from their genders.  In general, it seems that males like stronger, more top-down leadership and females prefer more of a collaborative style.  

In the age of democracy (more or less), no one fares all that well without plenty of collaboration and consultation.  So, there is a tendency to appreciate and support mutual decision making.  However, there still needs to be both a strong enough force to keep some sort of order, if possible.  Besides, reflection makes clear that both some problems and some opportunities require a certain amount of daring, of risk-taking.

One of the fundamental risk-taking questions is "How many pills do you require to be on a desktop before you would agree to swallow one, if only one of them is deadly?"  Asked of men, I have heard various large numbers stated.  Asked of women, I have heard two answers:
  1. "No number would be high enough.  I would not take one at all."
  2. "What do I get out of taking one?"

In general, I think women are cooler and less likely to take a dare.  If you double-dare a woman to do something, she seems freer to simply ignore your statement and act just as she was acting before your utterance.  When I ask Lynn if she wants to bet about something, she will often say that she only bets when she knows she is right.  Normally, she does follow that pattern so if she says,"Yes, I will bet", I am immediately prepared to lose, durnit.  

Early in our marriage, we were strongly impecunious.  So, playing poker one night, I had no cash to put up as a stake.  Looking for something I did have that might be of value, I offered as a stake a recognition, in force in perpetuity if she won, that she tended to be right in all our many matters of dispute a full ⅔ of the time while I was to be considered right one-third of the time.  She won the hand but I won, too.  I have known all along that the odds of her being right are 9 to 1 and I am only right when she disagrees 10% of the time.  So, ha!

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Monday, August 29, 2011

Where the heck are they?

Have you lost something?  Not just a momentary misplacement, like your keys not being on the usual hook but really lost.  I wonder where such things go.  I mentioned lost things to Lynn and recalled the wind chimes we had before moving.  They were light but had a terrible sound, bamboo.  We called it the wind clack.  We could never locate them.  Not in the basement, not in boxes of housewares.  Never recovered.

We have recovered items.  Once she misplaced her keys.  When your car key is on the main ring, and you used them for driving, you pretty well know you had them when you came home.  The trouble was, I had been driving so maybe she left her keys behind.  She did one time at a restaurant, where we had switched drivers.  Now, this time, where were the silly keys?  Maybe left behind in that restaurant we stopped in for lunch yesterday?  Get on the problem!  She phoned every place we stopped.  No one had found any keys.  We searched under all the furniture, under all the cushions - nope.  

Several months she decided one day to do some yard work.  It was chilly and needed that gardening jacket on.  The keys!  Left in the pocket of the gardening jacket, which hung quietly in garage while we searched and wondered and stewed.  

But recently we had one of those lost objects that has simply not been found.  A different set of keys and a car remote.  Those little things are expensive and we have racked our brains but so far, to no avail.  

I have heard that St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost objects.  Maybe we can get his assistance for the wind clack, the car remote and the other things we know for sure we used to have but cannot find anymore.

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Sunday, August 28, 2011


Every now and then, I like to contemplate brie, the cheese.  With one of Nabisco's Triscuits, it is a very good accompaniment to a drink, whether it is a manhattan, martini or something else.  One of life's pleasures for older folks is a drink and a small bit of cheese, especially a tasty one like brie.  We recommend 4 PM but I guess the rest of the nation says 5 PM.  Our point is that one of the pair is the cook for that day and we want the buzz worn down in time to make the dinner by about 6 PM.

The same cracker with cheddar or colby is also very good.  Lynn once hypothesized that brie had more calories than cheddar, on the grounds that harder cheeses had less fat.  But the USDA database does not agree with that idea; brie has less. Besides, a slim bit is all you need for a great taste.

Lynn prefers to put cracker and cheese on a small plate and microwave it for 6 seconds or so.  

I suspect that in our search for food pleasures, too often cream and soft cheeses are forgotten.  Tiramisu makes use of a soft cheese very well.  Recently we bought a coffee cake with a soft cheese filling from an Amish farmer and found it delightful.  

Our local Sam's Club sold brie explicitly labeled Made in France and it was delicious.  But the Wal-Mart is closer and we tried what it was selling.  Definitely inferior.  Later, we tried again, same President Cheese Co. brand and it was just as good as Sam's. In visiting their web site, I read that they are the largest selling brie right in France.

Brie has an odd white rind that is actually a penicillin mold.  Wikipedia says this:

Several species of the genus Penicillium play a central role in the production of cheese and of various meat products. To be specific, Penicillium molds are found in Blue cheese. Penicillium camemberti and Penicillium roqueforti are the molds on Camembert, Brie, Roquefort, and many other cheeses. Penicillium nalgiovense is used to improve the taste of sausages and hams, and to prevent colonization by other moulds and bacteria.[17]

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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Squirrel! (from the movie "Up")

Google News today included a link to this 2009 article:

written by Sam Anderson of New York Magazine entitled "In Defense of Distraction".  Like the author, I have my doubts about predictions of death, destruction and dumbness from modern internet and computer/electronic-related machines and activities.  The article is very well written and I recommend it.

It refers to Winifred Gallagher's book "Rapt", which I have on my Kindle.  She has used being conscious of what she attends to as the main tool for weathering frightening breast cancer.  She quotes William James that one's experience is what one chooses to pay attention to.  

Anderson thinks about what gets our attention these days, especially electronically.  It is hard for me to find his level of writing quality.  Take a look at this opening:

I'm going to pause here, right at the beginning of my riveting article about attention, and ask you to please get all of your precious 21st-century distractions out of your system now. Check the score of the Mets game; text your sister that pun you just thought of about her roommate's new pet lizard ("iguana hold yr hand LOL get it like Beatles"); refresh your work e-mail, your home e-mail, your school e-mail; upload pictures of yourself reading this paragraph to your "me reading magazine articles" Flickr photostream; and alert the fellow citizens of whatever Twittertopia you happen to frequent that you will be suspending your digital presence for the next twenty minutes or so (I know that seems drastic: Tell them you're having an appendectomy or something and are about to lose consciousness). Good. Now: Count your breaths. Close your eyes. Do whatever it takes to get all of your neurons lined up in one direction. Above all, resist the urge to fixate on the picture, right over there, of that weird scrambled guy typing. Do not speculate on his ethnicity (German-Venezuelan?) or his backstory (Witness Protection Program?) or the size of his monitor. Go ahead and cover him with your hand if you need to. There. Doesn't that feel better? Now it's just you and me, tucked like fourteenth-century Zen masters into this sweet little nook of pure mental focus. (Seriously, stop looking at him. I'm over here.)

He raises some very intelligent questions later in the article, including one that asks if in future years, we will be working on those people who can't move their attention around.  He asks if we will be treating them for a disorder:

The deep focusers might even be hampered by having too much attention: Attention Surfeit Hypoactivity Disorder.

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Casting out nines

You are sitting somewhere and a question of calculation comes up.  You owe this much on an account and there is this much pending to be added.  What is the total?

You own calculators and you know where one is but you are not interested in disturbing yourself to get up and get it.  You want to add two numbers or make some other arithmetic calculation.  You want to be fairly sure you have worked out the answer correctly.  What do you do?

You "cast out nines."  I was rather looking forward to explaining just what doing so is, but I try to train myself to check with Google to see what it can turn up on any subject I am thinking of.  Sure enough, a fine example, nicely worded and nicely laid out, is here

I believe some users of this blog are reluctant to click on any link for fear of what doing so might unleash on their computer.  I urge people to experiment with links, learning which to trust and gaining experience reading and decoding them.  One tool is to copy the link and insert it in the Google search window.  Google and other internet companies are on the lookout for bad links.

Ok, back to casting out nines.  The basic idea is to get a substitute number for each one in the calculation, including your version of the answer.  Do the calculation with the substitutes and see if that answer equals the substitute of your answer.

Like this:  312 x 45  = 14040  Get substitutes for all three number by casting out the nines in each, that is, simply add the digits of each number and keep on adding digits until you are left with a single digit.  So, 312 = 6 when the 3, the 1 and the 2 are summed.  45 = 9 when its digits are added but casting out nines, means that all nines are immeditately zero.  We have 6 and 0, when multiplied, result in 0.  The answer I have 14040 also sums to 9, which we cast out, leaving 0.  

Using casting out nines results in my thinking I have the correct answer.  I do not have a perfect proof that I am correct since I could make corresponding errors, read the numbers incorrectly, etc.  But it is a pretty good check.  If the answers do not match, there is an error. This subject relates to error checks, detection and correction.

The method works with addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  
  1. Get substitute figures for each one in the calculation.  
  2. Perform the calculation with the substitutes and
  3. See if the substitute of your answer = the answer of the substitutes
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Thursday, August 25, 2011

power of a woman

I don't always admire Fox News but sometimes, you must pay attention:

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Some concepts and terms

  1. Two types of meditation: (1) single-point emptying the mind and (2) observation of own thoughts as they pass by
  2. Sources of the idea of meditation: Hindu practice, Buddhist practice, American psychology and medicine
  3. Terms and descriptions: Eastern meditation, relaxation response
  4. Purposes:
      1. originally, perhaps, to sacrifice and to restrain natural tendencies for religious discipline and glorification of god(s)
      2. also religiously, to be open to the entry of divine into one's self
      3. American psychology and psychiatry
        1. self awareness, self knowledge
        2. mindful awareness of what thoughts one is harboring in the mind
      4. Other American physical medical purpose: elicit the relaxation response, balancing the flight or fight response in the body and dealing with stress

In recent days, I have written about ideas of meditation from Prof. Herbert Benson, author of The Relaxation Response and The Relaxation Revolution.  For knowing your mind and self, meditation is a great tool.  But just what is meditation?  I am referring to the idea of sitting still and quiet for 10 or 20 minutes and attending carefully to the state of your mind.  During the meditation period, you watch what you are thinking.  As soon as you realize that you are caught up in thoughts, gently put them aside.  That is all you do and doing that reaps big benefits.  Not immediately but over a couple of weeks of daily practice.

If you look at the popular literature on meditation, you will find two types mentioned.  Practicing as I just indicated will start you with mind-emptying but over time, that leads to more observational awareness of what your thoughts (and feelings) are.  Doing the practice leads to more awareness of your mind, both during the meditation and at all other times.

So where did this practice come from?  The earliest records indicate Hindu practice.  The idea seems to have come from sacrificing for religious purposes.  Fasting or celibacy for the body and the cessation of thought for that restless organ, the mind.  In some cases, stopping thoughts seemed to open a person for visits by divine presence or guidance, much as Quakers tend to believe today.  In truth, versions of meditation are present in all religions.  See Lost Christianity by Jacob Needleman  and many other sources.

Prof. Benson tends to emphasize the physiological results of quiet sitting and its value as a de-stressor.  Personally, I find that the mindful awareness of what I am thinking, a more mental result of practice, is more important and more valuable.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Rivalry and honor

I hadn't thought much about the subject of honor before finding the book "Honor: A History" by James Bowman.  Reading some of it brought to mind comments in "Fighting for Life" by Walter Ong, a Jesuit scholar.  One of those sources made clear that some honor systems are very much related to class.  It is a deadly insult to be challenged to a duel by someone who doesn't have the credentials for doing so.  If I challenge you without having the proper rank, I can expect not an answer or a visit by your second, but an ambush in the night by your friends or henchman or gang or soldiers.  That would be the expected fate for someone so uppity.  

Among boys in many environments, a natural rivalry often develops.  An all-male residential school, a Scout troop, a team of athletes will be a place where one boy assesses the competition, often without even planning to do so.  The "houses" at Harry Potter's Hogwarts school are a typical arrangement of teams and more or less official rival groups.  Rivalry for honor, prestige, rank and, of course, admiration by girls is an important subject of thought and effort.  This sort of competition seems similar to that between young males of many mammalian species.  Apes, bears, bison, deer are all likely to have arrangements that draw males into competition with each other.

Among humans, it can seem as though only males fight, plot and compete.  But in the age of equality or before it, girls and women are also fully capable of very serious competition, all the while smiling their lovely smiles and being their (required, expected) lady-like, genteel selves. I imagine girl and women athletes can try as hard to out-do each other as males.  

In training for getting a teaching license for elementary school, I was in classes where all the other students were women.  Later, I taught courses of a similar nature to similar students.  I was quite surprised to find that the women seemed to focus on how they could best be liked by their students.  As a teacher and a father, I had very little thought of being liked or loved.  I pictured success for myself as a result of excellent students, knowledgeable and confident.  Quite a bit later, more complete laws on sexual harassment were put in place.  I was again quite surprised to find that one aspect of such laws was what is referred to as the workplace environment.  I read of women getting lawyers and going to court because they felt strong negative tension in the workplace.  I read accounts of women being upset and anxious day after day because they thought that one or more persons, often male, didn't like them, steadily disliked them.  

At the same time, I knew that many men stay motivated in business or sports by the existence of those other bastards that simply must be defeated.  Each day, such men get out of bed looking forward to the possibility of putting one over on the other team, the other firm, the other somebody.  "Oh, Lord, deliver me some semi-competent enemies."

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Regularly brushing your mind

Remember how you are actually the CEO of a sprawling, complex organization? It pays to take a quick tour of the whole place each day and to review the reports your department heads write each day.  That tour and review of the entire Y.O.U., Inc. can be enhanced with mindfulness, which is best developed by meditation.  Here are some tools and words of advice to improve your C.E.O. reviews:
  1. Karen Maezen Miller's column from the 18th "The Knock at the Door"
  2. How to Meditate from Dr. Herbert Benson's (1972)The Relaxation Response
  3. Engaging in other relaxing, non-mentally engaging activities as listed by Benson in The Relaxation Revolution
    1. Repetitive aerobic exercise.
    2. Eastern meditative exercises. You may already be engaging in such practices as yoga, tai chi, Qigong, Transcendental Meditation, or mindfulness meditation...But with these techniques, remember that scientific studies have established that the anti-stress physiologic response—the relaxation response—does not depend primarily on any particular belief system. Rather, the capacity to experience the relaxation response is biologically innate, built into every human mind and body and accessible to all by the appropriate techniques.
    3. Repetitive prayer. In Western religions, repeating words, phrases, or longer passages
    4. Progressive muscle relaxation.
    5. Focus during the entire 12-to-15-minute session on relaxing different muscles and muscle groups throughout your body and also on your own steady breathing.
    6. Playing a musical instrument or singing. Some find that playing memorized sequences on an instrument can trigger the relaxation response. Others may prefer chanting or singing.
    7. Listening to music. Soothing music—either instrumental or voice-based with chanting or familiar, repetitive phrases—can be effective in achieving the desired physiologic responses.
    8. Engaging in a task that requires "mindless" repetitive movements. Such activities may involve gardening, tinkering on a machine such as an auto, woodworking, knitting, or doing needlepoint.
    9. "Natural" triggers. People have reported the relaxation response experience after lengthy, quiet exposure to water, such as floating in a calm pool; lying for a similar length of time in a full, relaxing bathtub; or simply standing under a shower. Others have the relaxation response experience while sitting alone in the woods and contemplating natural sights; lying on their back and looking up at the sky; or sitting by the ocean and watching and listening to the steady drumbeat of the waves.
    10. The Olivia CD. Used for 15 years by Mass. General Hospital Mind-Body Institute

Benson, Herbert; Proctor, William (2010). Relaxation Revolution (pp. 96-98). Scribner. Kindle Edition.

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Monday, August 22, 2011

Dr. Herbert Benson on The Relaxation Revolution

(Dr. Herbert Benson is the Harvard medical professor who first launched me on the thoughts that started me blogging.  I wanted to write about simple, inexpensive and quick techniques that enhance our thinking, our lives, our fun and our worth to others.)  This is an excerpt from the preface to The RelaxationRevolution (2010) that explains the expanding role of meditation in health and medicine.

"A mind body revolution is under way in the medical world. This revolution is regularly punctuated by research breakthroughs, including our most recent findings that mind body strategies can actually "switch off" or "switch on" gene activity or gene expression associated with disease. My professional life over the past four decades has been devoted largely to furthering our understanding of the science and the exciting treatment possibilities of these mind body phenomena. For me, it all began back in the early 1970s with my identification of the relaxation response, the term that I coined to describe the physiologic reaction that is the exact opposite of the stress (fight-or-flight) response. The fight-or-flight response is a reaction that prepares the body to act upon fears and physical challenges through the secretion of such stress hormones as adrenaline and noradrenline. Since that foundational moment, much of my research—along with that of colleagues I have worked with at the Harvard Medical School, its affiliated hospitals, and other research centers—has focused on understanding the relaxation response phenomenon. Among other things, we have established the first effective therapy to counteract the harmful and pervasive effects of stress. We have also explored how the relaxation response relates to other mind body phenomena, such as the placebo effect, a mechanism that may produce healing through belief and expectation.

"In fact, we believe that mind body science has now reached a stage where it should be accepted as the third major treatment and prevention option, standing as an equal alongside drugs and surgery in the clinical medical pantheon. Hence, it seemed quite appropriate to call this book the Relaxation Revolution.

"But like most true revolutions, this one has taken on a life of its own. In the beginning, I never anticipated that the physiologic effects we were seeing with the relaxation response—including reduced metabolism, blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate—would be accompanied by molecular changes, such as an increase in exhaled nitric oxide. I had no idea that experts in fMRI technology would find a calming and "opening" of the brain to healing possibilities. I didn't foresee that scientific and treatment links would be established with other mind body phenomena, such as the therapeutic power of expectation and belief. Most recently, I was as surprised as many of my scientist colleagues when we found that the relaxation response can actually alter gene activity—the way that genes express themselves and thus influence the body. Although the genes themselves are not changed through this process, the genetic activity that we have discovered will almost certainly have profound implications for your personal health and our medical practice.

"Furthermore, this revolution reaches beyond the treatment of disease to the prevention of disease. In particular, mind body medicine has significant implications in the vast, burgeoning field of stress management; according to a growing body of research, stress has a huge impact in causing or exacerbating many diseases. The potential is enormous for preventing such stress-related conditions as insomnia, lower-back pain, hot flashes, premenstrual syndrome, and various types of tension and migraine headaches. Finally, there is the potential for a revolution in reducing the cost of medical care..."

Benson, Herbert; Proctor, William (2010). Relaxation Revolution . Scribner. Kindle Edition.

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Elicitation of wonder

My sister and brother-in-law don't come to visit very often.  But like our winter, their summer heat and drought create a strong incentive to travel somewhere else for a while.  Our spring and summer have had more rain than usual and the green and the cool around here have been much appreciated.  However, we all note that a few trees here and there are already showing signs of the approach of fall.  Our winter has not forgotten us.

Getting together with relatives, we had a chance to watch great-grandchildren at play.  Three of the four are preschool ages and watching them makes a clear reminder of the complexity and wonder of our lives and our world.  The total amazement and fascination that a three year old and a 1 year old can show for the task and activity of filling water cans, carrying the weighty cans to the blueberry bushes and dumping the water, occasionally actually getting some of it on or near the plants is lovely.  I was reminded of this passage in "Orthodoxy" by the famous Catholic British author and wonderful wit, G. K. Chesterton:

Mere life is interesting enough. A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door. Boys like romantic tales; but babies like realistic tales--because they find them romantic.

Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith) (1994-05-01). Orthodoxy (p. 34). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition. (Free! - please note)

I have a little theory that just as Herbert Benson posits a human "relaxation response" where we can develop faster, more complete relaxation of our minds and bodies,  we can develop faster and more complete recognition of the astonishing true facts of the world and the activities of living, breathing, digesting, healing and aging.  

So try a little wonder every day.  Take a moment to remember you are on a spinning ball, that you are living in an age when a smartphone is more powerful than last year's computer, where you can see and learn about events all over the universe, that your body is an ongoing miracle that you are only barely in contact with.

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Wonderful ever after

The human mind can imagine various sorts of infinities but it can't do so very well.  Many fairy tales and stories I heard as a child ended "and they lived happily ever after."  Those words satisfied me then and they are still pretty good.  However, "ever after" posits an infinity of time and I wonder if any couple actually lived, and lived happily, ever after.  

I am reminded of the writer Jasper Fforde (yes, two "f''s in a row - I think he is Welsh) and his books like The Eyre Affair , where nasties travel into a famous and beloved story, abduct a pivotal character for ransom.  I guess in Fforde's eyes, even "happily ever after" is not safe from threats and dangers.

When I hear about financial arrangements that will hold "in perpetuity", I have a taste of the doubts.  I have heard that the earth existed for 300 million years before conditions on it were such that life of any kind could exist.  I suspect that if the planet returns to such conditions, all deals about perpetuity are off.  Some scholar of financial and business history could probably track down the longest known financial arrangement and tell us how many generations, centuries or years it actually lasted.  I bet it might not be 300 years, which I admit, is more or less an infinity of time in some human activities and imaginings.

I am listening to Prof. Grant Hardy in his Great Course Great Minds of the Eastern Intellectual Tradition describe the idea of heaven or paradise as imagined in various religions.  That subject relates to another infinity that is hard to wrap the mind around.  Prof. Hardy was attempting to state some of the details imagined in a very nice place, a place that was even better than that: "It was just a wonderful place", he ended saying.  Maybe you and friends or relatives have tried to consider infinity pleasant places and what they would need to be like to make you really happy and content.  

It is about the same problem as creating luxurious arrangements here on earth.  We usually specify gorgeous scenery, wonderful food, some great drinks, clothing that we like and that makes us look really good, etc., etc.  But we humans are built for change and maybe for at least occasional adversity.  That scenery will become invisible eventually.  It will just seem everyday.  It will actually be everyday, as will the other lovely features.  So, the designers of heaven will probably have to arrange for some rainy days, some dry wells, some breakdowns of the air conditioning.  The entire specification is not going to be easy.

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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Sorry I'm Late (Friday's post)

Punctuality is a funny thing.  When I am punctual, I am on time.  But when is that?  In fact, what time is it?  As Yogi Berra said, "You mean, now?"  (What a neat question!  Can you imagine answering something like "No, I mean tomorrow at noon"?)

In Butterflies and Bamboo, Cambodian refugees learning how to live in California are perplexed at how American friends can travel across the city, manage all the variables of traffic and get to their house exactly on time.  When they understood the value Americans placed on getting to their house punctually and learned that they circled the block to avoid being too early, they thought it was the funniest thing they had ever heard.  

I know that many people feel that being late is a sin and an insult to those who were on time.  This belief seems common among some Americans of European descent, especially northern European.  I am mostly of that group and I am fascinated by clocks and time.  I take it as a challenge to estimate when I have to leave to be somewhere at just the appointed minute.  Whether others are also on time or not, I feel that I have won if I am very close to the right time and lost otherwise.  I tend to have a sort of clock in my head and I often challenge myself to predict the current time and then check my prediction.

Sometimes, time does get away from me.  I suddenly remember that I had an important meeting or a planned lunch and look at the clock.  Yow!  I am late right now!  Nothing I can do, no matter how fast I travel, will help.  I am already late now.  What a sinking feeling!  

There was a cartoon in the New Yorker not long ago showing a group of primitive men standing at Stonehenge at sunrise.  One of them is saying, "Now that we know how to tell time, I suggest we impose deadlines."

It is possible to love deadlines that are met and fear not meeting some.  But those not met are gone forever and will count against me in heaven.

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