Thursday, May 31, 2012

the good part of having a monkey mind

People who use meditation to calm their mind and train their awareness of where their attention is often compare the usual mind to a monkey.  Or at least to a concept of a monkey, leaping around without focus or direction.  One of the surprises that people experience is how frequently the natural mind refreshes itself with a new topic, how much activity there is in the conscious mind.  Sitting sit for 10 minutes usually shows the mind's natural tendency to review, imagine, plan and daydream.

It can be refreshing to just experience body sensations and awareness of a sight and the sounds around one for a while without getting involved in any story.  But listening to "Where Good Ideas Come From" by Steven Johnson, I realize that the same nimble, jumping, jerky, tumbling, tossing mind enables me and the others in my species to invent language, transmit electricity and sell crops while exploring inner and outer space.  So, yes, quieting the mind, maybe especially an older mind that has plenty of memories and ideas stored in it, can be a very good idea.  But I am giving my nimble, energetic mind plenty of respect.  Its energy, movement among views, gliding along over my body is most of my experience of what and who I am.

Just as the eyes refresh themselves continuously, so does the mind.  New topics, new views, new worries are continuously being formed.  It is part of being a human capable of thought, invention and innovation.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Welcome surprise

Welcome surprise: avoiding wheat and dairy for blood sugar reasons resulted in small but welcome weight loss

My doctor mentioned Syndrome X (a.k.a. metabolic syndrome)  about ten years ago.  It is a mixture of symptoms: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, overweight, beginning heart/artery problems, all related to insulin resistance and waistline fat.  Recently, Dr. Martha Herbert published "The Autism Revolution".  She stresses the effect of the "beige diet", what I call the white stuff: white flour, white rice, and all the dozens of ways baked goods and bread stuff are made with sugar and fat but few vitamins and minerals, few basic nutrients.  Some people point to the fact that only in the last couple of hundred years did people such as modern Americans have access to so much food, much of it featuring high calories and sugar.  One comment I saw included an estimate that humans in pre-historic times ate 22 grams of sugar a year while modern Americans eat 150-180 pounds per year.  

It isn't just about sugar but about food energy intake and usage.  High energy foods that aren't burned are stored in fat, especially waistline fat.

My doctor has also mentioned that the current standards for "pre-diabetes" and diagnosis of diabetes are 10 points lower than a decade or so ago.  The newer definitions are blood sugar readings of 100+ and 126+.  I realize the body doesn't use strict numerical lines. Things in nature tend to be on sliding scales.  Looking over sources on the problem, I got interested in The Blood Sugar Solution by Mark Hyman.  

I haven't followed him strictly since I still drink coffee and have a drink of alcohol each evening.  For me, it boiled down to skipping wheat in all forms and to skipping milk and most dairy.  Breads seem to have some white flour mixed in and I can't be sure I am not eating substances that speed up digestion.   It is easy to recognize wheat products if I stay alert so I dropped them most of the time.  I see that my milk cartons say that 8 oz. of skim milk has 12 sugars so that, ice cream and other dairy goods have been skipped.  Mozzarella cheese sticks are labeled as zero sugar and they help with my appetite and calcium worries.

All I was trying to do initially was get my blood sugar reading on my home (inexpensive and non-professional) meter down.  I haven't been real successful but I intend to keep working at it.  Meanwhile, I have lost three pounds in three weeks, a very stubborn three pounds and I am happy to see them go.  If I can lose three more, I will have a body mass index of less than 25 for the first time in a decade.

I did a little modeling for art classes in college and have developed some vanity so I would like to be back in the vicinity of shapely.  Still, Lynn and I both agree that looking 40 or less at age 70 is spooky, not attractive.  I am pretty sure I don't have to worry.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

results of a much wider sample

There are several books on what the internet is doing to society.  Quite a few are clearly about negative aspects and I wouldn't be surprised if there are indeed many of them, some serious.  But the book I have been reading is "Too Big to Know" and it emphasizes the changes in attribution of authority: who we think knows what they are talking about and why we think that.  The basic effect examined is the broadening of conversations, assertions and arguments.  In more ways, more sorts of people can weigh in on a talk with their viewpoint, whether they know anything about the issue or not.

Well-known stat effect: the county champion may not be the state champion.

See my page "Sample Size and Extremes"  This page shows a table of numbers.  It displays the most extreme score to occur in random samples of size 5, 25 and 625 scores.  The comparison was run 10 times and once in all 30 of those results, the most extreme score in the set of 25 was more extreme than the most extreme in the set of 625.  That's equivalent to the best team in the county managing to become the state champion.

I thought C.S. Lewis said something along the same lines: not until he spoke around the country about Christianity, did he experience the breath of opinion and expression that actually existed.  Previously, he had kept his discussions to his campus colleagues, who tended to use the same language and recognize the same argument steps and manuevers that he did.  

The same thing happened to me when I taught statistics.  I taught large classes of a wide variety of students: graduates and undergraduates, elementary teachers and secondary, math specialists and mathphobes. As the years rolled by, I kept being surprised by a new way to complete the assignments and a new way to misunderstand that I had never seen before.  As experience accumulates, the most extreme example seen before gets surpassed by something still more extreme.

It is rather calming to me to find that maybe the society I know about is not getting nastier but wider.  Not turning more barbaric and impolite but simply mixing together more divergent types of minds and backgrounds that have had opportunities to get together before.  It is only when journalists or cameras or writing on the internet's comments sections are present, do I get a chance to see interactions and read statements.  As those observing tools get more widespread, I get a chance to see things I didn't know about before.

As Weinberger points out, for a discussion or a parliament to take place, a certain amount of agreement and respect is needed.  If I think you are pure evil, I probably won't listen to a word you say.  I will probably dismiss your arguments and statements immediately.  We need a common language and some agreement on the format of a discussion to ever be able to understand each other.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

That book and I spent some good times together

Lynn was having a sneezing session each time she entered the office, where we have our main bookshelves.  It is spring, and that means loveliness and new life, including new pollen.  Under the right conditions, we can see waves of yellow dust coming off of banks of pines.  The cottonwoods can drop wooly seed pods inches deep on the edges of the road.

Time to give away some books and dust those that we keep and the shelves they sit on.  Okay, which ones do we want to give away?  We have already used the criterion of having read the book.  There are many books I have read that I don't feel I need so those can go.  But this is probably the 6th or 7th book culling we have done and many of those books were donated years ago.  

Our Kindle archives hold more than 750 books and those e-books take no space and no shelving and trap no dust or pollen.  We still have four shelves of books, three shelves of audio books and tapes and four short shelves of CD's, most of which we also have on our iPods.

But just as a place or a person can be a great reminder of a wonderful time, so can a book.  My students often agonized over the question of what book was their favorite.  With enough experience, I concluded that there are many favorites, depending on the weather, one's mood, and type of book.  My favorite math book is "Introduction to Finite Mathematics" (free at the linked site) but I wouldn't read it for thrills.  When I look over my oldest list of good books as well as look   at our shelves, I look for a book that serves as a souvenir of good times, important times, memorable times.  Here are some candidates:
    1. On Becoming a Person by Carl Rogers
    2. I, Claudius by Robert Graves
    3. The Fabulous Flight by Robert Lawson
    4. The Once and Future King by T.H. White
    5. King James version of the Bible
    6. Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg
    7. Mere Christianity by C.S.Lewis
    8. The Screwtape Letters by C.S.Lewis
    9. Teacher Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon
    10. Out of Control by Kevin Kelly
    11. The Tents of Wickedness by Peter De Vries
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Monday, May 28, 2012


It seems that we are often slow.  We haven't watched "Dancing with the Stars" while the rest of the country is fully familiar with the personalities.  We haven't watched any of the reality shows.  Often when a show is good but well over its live period, we get interested in it in rerun format.

The availability of movies for streaming has made many more shows available and we do like having a choice.  We have only used Amazon and Netflix for movies.  We still get DVD's in the mail since many excellent movies are not available for streaming.  Last night, we watched "Joyeux Noel", an excellent film about a real historic time in WW I when troops stopped fighting in 1914 to celebrate Christmas.  That film isn't available on Netflix for streaming, but is on Amazon.

There is no difference between watching a movie on DVD and streaming it except that you don't need a disc to see a film on a computer if it is hooked to the internet and is available in streaming format.  If two or more people are to watch a movie or tv episode together, it is much nicer if the receiving computer in a movie streaming can be connected to a tv.  There are a variety of ways a computer can be connected to a tv.  My favorite technology coach says that the HDMI connections are best.  Many recently made tv's have a variety of connections on them.

The first series that really moved us into being fans was "Ballykissangel", about an Irish town by that name.  Its characters, stories, actors and settings are excellent and for us, somewhat addictive.  We watched all episodes in 6 seasons.  The next one that hooked us was "Foyle's War", about a police detective on the east coast of Britain, dealing with crimes during WW II and the imminent possible German invasion of Britain.  The early episodes of "Grey's Anatomy" have also been imaginative and memorable.

Several people, like us, have Roku players.  We got ours through the mail after seeing an ad for them on a Netflix envelope.  They are also sold by Wal-Mart and Radio Shack and probably others.  If you have a wireless signal in your house, the player acts like a specially devoted computer and streams movies very nicely.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Sunday, May 27, 2012

Overnight trip

Last weekend, we wanted to take a little trip somewhere.  Wisconsin is a vacation destination for many but living here, we don't always take advantage of what we have.

We headed east to Lake Emily County Park, where we hadn't been in a long time.  That is the park my daughter and a friend decided to hike to, when she was a young girl.  The two hikers had plans to spend the night and packed canned goods in a backpack.  We wanted to take a picture of her as she prepared to walk over to her girlfriend's house.  She famously said,"Hurry up with that camera!  This thing is heavy!" You can imagine the difficulties that came up when she actually tried to hike the 15 miles.

Then on to lunch in Amherst. We kept driving east and stopped in Manitowoc, on the Wisconsin shore of Lake Michigan.  Manitowoc is home to shipbuilding and was the site of submarine manufacture and launch in World War II.  We toured a sub and learned about the 60 day tours submariners spend on duty, most of which time is spent on the water's surface.  Submerging takes battery power and puts extra stress on the ship and the 80 men aboard.  We learned that some

We drove to Kohler, WI, a well-known early planned American village related to the Kohler manufacturing plant, maker of toilets, bath tubs, sinks but has also made cannon and other implements to help American war efforts.  We had dinner at Cucina, an upscale restaurant in the little Kohler mall. Excellent dinner and excellent service.

We spent the night in the larger community of Sheboygan and the next day visited the Kohler Design Center.  Their thirty-foot high wall of toilets sounds gross but it isn't.  Besides, as we all basically know, a toilet is The Big Necessity (memorable book by Rose George). The whole design center brings to mind the value of careful, thoughtful and forward-looking design.  Ever since I read Daniel Pink's "A Whole New Mind", I have been thankful to designers who plan our clothes, houses, autos and implements, including computers.

Finally, we visited Sheboygan's John Michael Kohler Art Museum.  Naturally, the museum is famous for its highly decorative and artistic bathrooms.  There are two men's rooms and two women's rooms and one family bathroom.  The practice is to knock and ask if the room is unoccupied before entering for touring purposes.  We did and saw all of them.  Impressive and memorable, much like the restrooms at Shoji Tabuki's Theater in Branson, Missouri.  Scroll down this page to see pictures of his.

The highlight of the whole trip for me was Anna Hepler's memorable inflating sculpture.  We also bought and are using a Buddha board, allowing us to paint with water that turns black for a short time to be admired before the whole thing dries away to nothing.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Saturday, May 26, 2012

Meditation always goes wrong

I know a very muscular, ex-Marine physician who told me he doesn't like yoga.  His experience of the practice was that it was a form of self-torture.  All adults understand that many good things and worthwhile achievements are attained only with steady effort, that is often unpleasant and difficult.

I am sometimes fascinated by the concept of incarceration.  When did humans first understand that confining a child to a given chair or a felon to a cell was a form of reminder, rehabilitor and punishment, strong enough to have an effect? How can a fence or walls, so inanimate, still and dull, affect the mind, memory and behavior?

As with anything, we want to use our tools to good effect, achieving what will be good.  So it is with meditation.  

Meditation is sometimes described as "simple, but not easy."  At least two highly educated and mature men, scholars and fathers and well-traveled, have complained to me that they can't meditate properly.  The most common complaint I read that meditation teachers hear is that the mind of the meditator won't be quiet.  I have a feeling that observing the unquiet mind, coupled with the "sit still" part of meditation, results in a discomfort that the meditator wants to escape.  What's on tv?  How about a snack?  How is the garden doing?  Shouldn't I call a friend?

When confined to a chair or a meditation cushion, the active, ok - fidgety American is quickly able to find reasons that meditation is not for him, clear-cut experiences that he isn't built for it, can't do it, etc.  Like muscle building, drawing, learning Italian, gardening, playing the piano and many arts worth learning, you just have to do it.  Here's one set of directions:
How to meditate - simplified basic directions

Sit comfortably

Don't move

Concentrate on your breath

Do this for a number of minutes according to a timer

The purpose for doing this is most fundamentally to practice repeatedly bringing your attention back to your breath.  The mind continually supplies thoughts and the attention has a tendency to jump to those new thoughts.  The most valuable aspect of practicing meditation is the increased awareness of what you are thinking about. Many people who try to meditate have the idea that no thoughts should come to mind.  All functioning minds have thoughts that arise in them all the time.  Don't fall into the trap of thinking you are doing meditation incorrectly if you find the stream of thought continues.  It should.  Just redirect your attention back to the target, your breath, feeling your breath, breathing deliberately.  Redirect over and over as needed.  Each redirection is valuable.

See more here:

It is easy to describe the action but not so easy to do.  It is worth doing but you will never know unless you try repeatedly.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Friday, May 25, 2012

What the eye doctor said

I have been wearing glasses since I was three years old, just about 70 years.  So, I have had many eye examinations and several ophthalmologists.  During my last eye examination, conducted with the same doctor I have been seeing for more than 5 years, I heard a comment I had never heard on a subject I had never thought about.  The doctor advised me to take time to attend the clinic's upcoming eye fashion show.  

I was very surprised.  Me?  Fashion?  I am not a fashion person.  I am not color-blind and have learned from a lifetime of living with an artist and color-fan to consider shades and hues and their harmony.  But basically, I have never learned to consider the extent of my beauty and its effect on my life.  My looks, often my whole self, gets omitted from my thoughts.  But since I respect the doctor and his ideas, I listened.

He told me that getting non-reflective lenses would allow people to see my eyes better and that seeing another's eyes is a fundamental part of trusting and liking and feeling close to another person.  All that sounded good.  I had seen what the local picture framer could do with non-reflective glass in art that hangs on a wall.  I went to the show.

The basic feature of the show was simply far more frames and frame styles on hand to try than the optical shop usually has.  The extra inventory was brought by a specialist in matching color and style to a face and body.  She looked at me, chose a frame and tried it on me.  She and the regular optician tried on several different frames but returned to the first ones.  I bought them.  So far, no one has exclaimed on my enhanced looks or said they found it easier to trust or like me.  What do you think?

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Highlighting passages in an ebook

Sometimes when people imagine using an ebook reader instead of a paper book, they think of highlighting passages of interest and doubt the process would be very good in an ebook.  With the Kindle, it is actually easier than with a marker and a paper book.  

If you are reading a book for a presentation or group discussion, you would want to mark the parts that seem important or worthy of comment.  If you use a marker and highlight the passages, you may be left with the problem of finding the parts you marked when you are all finished.  The regular Kindle, not the Fire as far as I can tell.  

The regular Kindle creates a text file of the highlighted passages or the first part if a passage is very long.  The user can look at the file from inside the book and move from passage to passage quickly and accurately using automatically generated links.  All Kindles collect the highlighted passages from a book and transmit them to a web site from which they can be viewed by the reader.

I have made highlights from the early pages of "Too Big To Know" and pasted them here.  

The blog-web site The Millions has this opening to one of its articles:

From the Library of Your Soul-Mate: The Unique Social Bond of Literature


The bond formed around a favorite novel is one of shared immersive experience, usually open to impossibly wide interpretations. When we meet someone else who's "been there," there's a biting urge to know exactly what the other person saw, what scenes remain strongest in her memory, what crucial knowledge or insight was retrieved, and what her experience reveals or changes about our own?

For me, soul-mate or everyday intelligent and experienced reader, this is just the sort of insight I like from someone who has read a book I like, admire or detest.  Highlights, especially from a Kindle, can furnish a great exploration of both a different view of a book and insights into a reader of interest.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Also animals

A good idea from a good friend:
Let's not forget our pets for those of us who do not have children. 

I checked out the link and it is worth looking at, whether or not you have children or have pets or work with animals.
Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Children and meditation

It is easy to meditate for a few minutes each day.  I have a Google Alert to collect items from the internet on the subject of "children [and] meditation" and I show the results of each weekly report on a single web page.  This is a subject that should be taught in schools.  It pays off medically, emotionally and in mental performance of all kinds.

This web page now includes the results of 5 alerts.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Saying good-bye to Tom

My good friend Tom died yesterday.  He was ten years older than me but still might have lived longer.  A few years ago, he experienced a 'stroke in his spine', a new concept for me.  From then on, he could not walk or even stand.  He was bed-ridden for about 3 years.  He had a good spirit during that whole time.

Tom was deeply loved, respected and admired by students, colleagues and friends to an extent I have not seen with any other teacher.  He had a PhD in counseling and he counseled all the time, with anyone anywhere who needed professional ears and guidance.  I will miss him, along with many others.

A few years ago, I wrote this about him:


As usual for me, another good friend that is very tall.  I am short so my tendency to make friends with quite tall men emphasizes the difference in our heights.  My college roommate was also my partner at a Scouting outpost a few years earlier.  In the woods or on the campus, we looked like Schwarzenegger and DeVito together. 
Whether it is Don or Perry or Tom, there is little me and big him. But Tom has been a special friend.  When I landed in this small town, he gave me a place until my family got here and our house was ready.  That was more than 40 years ago.  Off and on, since then, we have been in each other's lives.  He again gave me a place to stay 20 years ago when I was teaching and living in two places.
I am very confident that there have been times when he got a little irritated with me.  Most people I know have found me bothersome one time or another.  But he has never shown any such feelings.  He is a counselor and a good one.  Despite our differences in background, outlook, habits and area of specialization, he has always seemed empathetic and understanding. 
Tom is a cultured and scholarly man.  He loves good art, music, jewelry and literature.  He loves languages, especially ancient ones. 
It is definitely not just me who finds him to be that sort of person.  Literally, hundreds of people for all walks of life and from all the decades of his life feel the same way about him. That includes people on several continents, too.
It is a little difficult to write a salute to Tom since the feelings of so many people about the guy are on the level called "love".  That would not be a good description for most men but it is quite true of Tom.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Monday, May 21, 2012

Google Chrome and Chrome apps

Many of my friends dislike Wal-Mart but I read "The Wal-Mart Effect" by Charles Fishman and came away thinking the company does many good things.  Besides, that store is closer to my house than any other and it saves expensive gas to shop there.  Similarly, many of my computer friends don't like Google: too powerful, too sneaky, too likely to record everything I do.

Again, I feel differently.  Google has provided me with several blogs and more than 1000 free blog posts.  I use its email "Gmail" many times a day.  Of course, I use the Google search engine all the time and have pounded into my head the idea that every puzzle and difficulty should be checked in Google Search to see what comes up.  Quite often, my puzzle is solved after reading just a few of the entries.  I like the Firefox browser and use it as my main one, even though the Microsoft browser, Internet Explorer (the blue "e") has gotten steadily good reviews about its security and usefulness.  

I realize that with Google Docs (now Google Drive) and its free word-processing, spreadsheets and drawing, I need the usual parts and programs on a computer rarely.  However, since Google operates on web pages, it made sense for Google to create its own browser, called Chrome.  I don't know much about just what a browser actually does but I can see that the options available are contingent on how the program was written.

With the advent of cloud drives, where my files are saved somewhere out in "the clouds" of the internet and the related web-based tools such as Google Docs, what is actually needed on a computer to do what I want is quite minimal.  Google realized that and has the new sort of computer called a "Chromebook".  The hugely successful iPad is a similar device in that it doesn't need much memory, although there are probably important differences for the user between the Google design and the Apple design.

Chromebooks are run by the "Android" operating system, a version of which runs many smartphones.  Making use of the open or semi-open approach that resulted in hundreds of thousands of extensions and little program additions and modifications called "apps" (from "application", a common word for what I learned to call a program), Google-Android also has apps.  Looking through the app store for both Firefox and Chrome, I looked for something that might actually enhance what I want from my computing.

I found "Google Similar Pages", which is free and in "beta" or still-experimental form.  I used that app to go to the page of each of the blogs I follow on my main blog page and let Google Similar Pages find similar pages.  Sometimes it couldn't find any similar pages but I found and bookmarked several, too many actually to pay steady attention to but still of interest.  Here is a web page of the links I found interesting:

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Drying up slowly

If you want to worry about something, try the subject of water, plain old H2O.  Look up the portion of water on earth that is drinkable, that is, not salt water.  Check into the number of humans currently alive that don't have access to clean, drinkable water.  It's a bad situation and every indication is that it will get worse over the next century.

Sleep, breath and water all interest me.  As a kid, I thought they were free.  I hadn't heard of air pollution, although I know now that London in the age of Dickens and early British manufacturing had bad air conditions.  I hadn't experienced much insomnia and when I couldn't sleep, it was due to my level of excitement anticipating some big event, such as Christmas.

Somewhere along the way, I learned about hydration for the body.  Wrestlers and other athletes didn't have bottled water in all vending machines and they certainly didn't carry individual aluminum or plastic water bottles.  Many athletes and coaches thought that doing without water would toughen them.  Andrew Weil, a physician and health writer, said that every time he got on the subject of drinking water with someone, he found that they said they didn't drink as much as they should.  The book by Morehouse and Gross, "Total Fitness in 30 Minutes a Week", was nationally popular and contributed to the idea that staying properly hydrated was helpful in keeping one's energy up, as was "Eat to Win" by Robert Haas, advisor to Martina Navratilova, an outstanding tennis champion.

The Mayo Clinic Health letter featured information about the digestive system.  The article stated that all the parts and contributors to the process of digestion slow down and lose some of their function.  We both thought the idea of our stomachs becoming less elastic was interesting.  That may well be part of our feeling that we have less appetite and can eat less.  Both of us have experienced some eye discomfort or difficulty which our doctors say is due to drying up a bit at our age.  The pancreas and other parts of us seem to be losing some of their capacity to hold and use moisture.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Blue Sweater extract on poverty and genocide in Rwanda

The Blue Sweater extract about poverty and experiencing the tribal genocide in Rwanda

The head soldier turned and ordered the rest of his makeshift squad to kill the women and children.
"I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit then," Honorata said, her eyes turned downward. "I yelled to everyone to drop to the ground. The soldiers kept shooting, shooting, until they thought we were dead. Then they left, not checking to see who was alive. They didn't take our possessions. Maybe they knew we had nothing to take."
The rain pounded, drenching bodies and bloodying the street. Lying under a pile of corpses, Honorata thought she was dead. For what seemed like hours, no one moved. Out of nowhere she heard a young, high-pitched voice asking if anyone was still alive. Honorata laid in shock, unable to utter a word in response. Another child shrieked, "Those who are still alive, try to save us."
Her daughter shook her and pulled her hair, crying, "Mother, Mother!" She could do nothing but stare at her sister, Anunziata, lying next to her, hit by two bullets and barely alive. Every other adult was dead.
Seventeen children were still breathing. Two were critically wounded: Honorata's 13-year-old daughter had been shot in the breast, another son of a close friend, in the thigh. But before she could think of helping the children, she had to somehow accompany her sister in her final moments. That was all that mattered. Together the sisters prayed: "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do." Honorata asked the children to join them. Together, they recited the prayer three times.
Honorata told me, "Of all the adults, I was the least maternal and the least courageous-I was the wrong person for God to have left alive. But there I was with 17 children in my care. So I told God that our fates were entirely in His hands." As she turned her focus to the children, the prayer of forgiveness and surrender gave Honorata a strength she had never known before.
Where to run? The churches were no longer secure. Thousands had sought refuge at chapels and cathedrals previously considered safe havens. Priests and nuns had turned over their congregations to die.
With the children in tow, Honorata stumbled back to Anunziata's house, now littered with papers, food, chairs, and mattresses. By the time she returned to her twin sister, Anunziata, was dead. At dawn, workers from Doctors without Borders found Honorata holding her twin, keening and sobbing at the site of the massacre. She accompanied the two wounded children to Butare's hospital, where a MASH unit had been set up. Throughout the day, terrified, Honorata shuttled between the hospital and Anunziata's home, where the children were still hiding.
By the end of the first day, after community members learned what had happened, an old acquaintance found Honorata at the hospital and gave her $20, now all the money she had in the world. Other friends offered to take her children into hiding with them. Even strangers shared whatever they could to help her buy food for her children.
When I think of how aid agencies characterize Africans as desperate for handouts, I think of Honorata and her support system, still functioning and generous in a brutish world gone mad. For the better part of 6 weeks, Honorata remained at the hospital, comforted that the other children were safer outside town. "The soldiers would come into the hospital, see my children, and say, `These children are offspring of Inyenzi [cockroaches]."' Other Rwandans came to the hospital to give her and other survivors whatever they could spare for medicines and food. In turn, Honorata did what she could for other patients, comforting them and praying with them. By June, Honorata felt safe enough to brave another journey, this time to the refugee camps in the French-controlled Turquoise Zone near Cyangugu.

Honorata is alive and well later in the book, which is non-fiction.  But she faces several more very daunting obstacles to continued living

Jacqueline Novogratz. "The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World" (Kindle Locations 2281-2303. Kindle Edition.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Adventures with voles

I am not deeply in love with my lawn but having it look nice is better than not.  So, when three holes appeared in our backyard, I wasn't pleased.  Besides the holes there was a depression in the ground located in the center of the area outlined by the holes.  We have had experience with voles and fingered that animal as the culprit right away.  

We called two different local exterminators because we had had no luck catching, trapping or otherwise ridding ourselves of the problem previously.  One said he didn't work with vole problems and the other assured us we didn't have a vole problem.  He was clear that voles don't live this far north.

I did what often helps me: turn to Google.  I put "vole" in the search window and immediately got the suggestion of "vole control".  We watched this video on vole control and got some good ideas of what to do on our own.  In the last two days, we have "harvested" five of the voracious little grass eaters/burrowers.  That video was a great help.

The man in it starts out saying, "That is VOLE, with a "V", not "mole".  Many people have not heard of nor seen one.  Here is a link to many images of voles, little mouse-like creatures without much of a tail that look rather burly and fat.  We are considering calling the local exterminators and exhibiting our carcass collection to further their education.

Moles are blind and I read they eat grubs and worms found in the soil.  Voles are not blind and eat the roots of grass. 

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety


Thursday, May 17, 2012

New blog

I started a new blog that will be used as a sort of running set of notes on ideas and activities.  It is for me as much as anything but you may be interested from time to time.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Quiet, sneaky troubles

I continue to get great value from the book "Too Big to Know" by David Weinberger.  He is also the author of "Everything is Miscellaneous" and some other intriguing-sounding books that I will probably get to eventually.  The other day, I read a comment that was very satisfying:

This is vital because, as Lakhani's study of InnoCentive discovered, "the further the problem was from the solvers' expertise, the more likely they were to solve it."28

(Weinberger, David (2012-01-03). "Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room Itself" (p. 56). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.)

This is a topic that always interests me: difficulties from the system itself.  
  • We have roaming gangs of marauders?  We set up a legal/law enforcement/military system but then that system oppresses us.  
  • We have bugs and germs hurting us?  
  • We set up a medical system of physicians, clinics and hospitals but then that system incubates, harbors and spreads disease.
  • We and our children need to learn about the world? We set up schools and train teachers and send ourselves and our kids to schools but then the schools convince some attenders they are inferior or think badly. Some convinced they must shun learning new things.
  • We want a place to deposit small amounts of money to accumulate savings?  We set up banks but they lead society into financial troubles.
Just as the French and other post-modernists could so clearly see, difficulties from the system itself are quiet and difficult to even detect.

Systems aren't perfect and they cause troubles of their own.  What's the answer?  There probably isn't just one answer and there will probably not be a perfect system of knowledge, training, information system and transfer, health or anything else.  It does seem to me that collecting examples of system failure and system impedance of function and progress, say, every year or two, can reveal the need for corrections, alterations or the creation of an anti-system that tries to proceed differently, or compete with any system we have.

Of course, trying such modifications can be dangerous or shocking or both.  I have heard of Dutch, German and maybe other towns that have tried removing road signs and other controls on their roads, only to find a fall in accidents and mishaps.  Evidently, others have heard of this subject too, since putting "roads with no signs" into Google resulted in over 63 MILLION (!) hits!

As an academician, I have seen repeatedly examples of fear, tradition and politics impede recognition of intelligence, bold and valuable innovation and out-of-the-box thinking.  I come from a lower middle class liberal background and never learned to treasure conservative values very much but I can understand that they have value.  

"Too Big to Know" is making it even easier for me to understand the value of quite wide diversity of opinion of all types.  One of the jobs of education is to enable children to become adults who have opinions, know what those opinions are, express them effectively and also value diverse opinions.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

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