Sunday, July 31, 2016

Missing link from today's blog post

Modern words

I like to try to keep an eye on recent happenings and statements that seem odd to me.  I just read that a Japanese baseball player said that it meant something special to him that his first "Japan Night" in Yankee Stadium in California was held on his "bobblehead" night. I can imagine the conversation:
"How come you are in such a good mood, Honey?"
"I am just happy that my bobblehead night is being held on a Japan night."

Sure, sports is its own world and has its own language.  But bobbleheads are not just in sports. Bobbleheads deserve their own page:

When I look something up in Google Search, I often just start the phrase I want when the whole thing pops up in the suggested items.  I was surprised at how the caption in this cartoon stayed in my head.  I started to look it up one day and am still surprised that others have searched the same specialized item.  I thought that the caption on this cartoon that appeared in The New Yorker

stuck in my head only but since I find I can get a T-shirt of the cartoon, I can see that Charles Barsotti drew many cartoons and they did for others just what they did for me.  Made me laugh and put the nutty phrase "Fusilli, you crazy bastard, how are you?" deep in my head. Another conversation:
(They see each other in a bar and they are attracted and they both know it.)
After a few words, she says "What do you do?"
"I draw cartoons."
"Drawn anything I might know?"
"Well, I drew 'Fusilli, you crazy bastard'"

for nerds and further info, see this Trends page.  Be sure to scroll down the whole thing:

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Steady change

Most people can agree with the idea that everything changes. It is
not easy to notice what that really means. It means that you change
and I change. It means that we aren't exactly the people we were
yesterday at this time, much less the people we were in elementary
school or when I first wrote to you. We know that most of the changes
don't make much difference, at least by themselves. But if we have
good journals and photos, we can see that we are heavier now. We may
be willing to eat broccoli now instead of refusing as we used to.

But that steady change affects other things, too. If you are still my
friend and I am still your friend, we each have a different friend
from what we had ten years ago. That is ok, which is good, since it
is inevitable and unstoppable. We have always lived in steady change
and we have never experienced life without change. When something
happens that we don't like, we can resent the change and resist it.
We may try to remember what things were like before the unpleasant
change but normally we can't do a very complete job of that
remembering. I can remember that you didn't use to have that haircut
but I am not exactly sure what it was before. I do know that I have
decided I don't like your new haircut. I didn't used to dislike your
haircut. I wish you hadn't changed things.

I hope I can remember to dislike your haircut since I have decided I
don't like it. I hope I don't forget and become used to the new do
and start to think it is ok. I hope my opinion doesn't change.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Shocking news can be a habit-forming drug

I read "The Information Diet" by Clay Johnson a few years ago.  He explained that he worked hard in a group of staffers for Howard Dean's presidential campaign. He was stunned when his candidate did poorly in some state primary elections.  Later, he realized that for months, he had only read and talked to people equally ardent about his candidate and had essentially been in a news bubble that effectively kept competing information out of his path.  A related book by Eli Pariser called "The Filter Bubble" focuses on the way people can arrange what seems like a flow of information and news for themselves but that is actually personalized to the extent that only news of a certain kind gets to them. 

I have read that Fox News is a leading, possibly THE leading news organization and that it has advanced, at least in part, by focusing on the news some people want to hear.  As far as I can tell, there is no way around the problem of having only limited and biased information in your mind.  Many experts can list mental habits that contribute to producing a one-sided mental picture of things.  One of the most basic and commonly mentioned is "confirmation bias". 

To quote from a previous post:

We have a couple, Mary and John.  Mary is quite annoyed when she finds the toilet seat up, especially if she doesn't realize its position until after sitting down.  John is pretty much a sharpshooter but realizes he needs to raise the seat before firing.  He knows that he does and she knows he doesn't. 

Prof. N. makes clear that when the confirmation bias is operating, John notes with pride, satisfaction and some feeling of unfairly being persecuted each time he does indeed raise the seat and lowers it afterwards.  Mary notes with a feeling that she is a good observer who remembers accurately when she is treated unfairly each time she finds the seat up.  The professor's point is that instances that confirm the position of each are noted while instances that do not confirm the ideas of each are handled quite differently.  Each notes with pride times that confirm their own position while sometimes literally not seeing instances that disconfirm their picture.  

Of course, either or both could take the nerdy approach and make a chart to keep a record of toilet seat positions.  They might install security cameras that could supply data as to what happened when.  However, without outside and impartial aid, our couple might go on for years, each staunchly maintaining their view, all the while feeling that they have actual experiences to back them up.  Each is correct and both are wrong.

Mind you, this tendency to notice and note and remember data that confirms what supports our ideas is built into our minds.  That is why it makes sense for the reporters and their editors to fashion articles and headlines to confirm our suspicions that others are cheating, lying, dishonest rats.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Failed attempts

This is trouble:


This is a large bowl, like a bird bath.  It is clay that was formed in a large mold made of plaster of paris.  My very favorite potter tells me that she put a layer of goo of some sort on the surface of the mold but regardless, bits of the mold made it through the goo and stuck to the clay.  The bowl came out of the mold ok, whole and all, but those bits of plaster spelled the end.  Why not just put the bowl in the kiln for the first firing anyhow?  Because those bits of plaster would make for an explosion.  So the large bowl was squished and then squished again.

More trouble:

Each of these points should be all droopy.  But the kiln didn't get hot enough.  She is not sure why it didn't but we know she isn't happy.  As they say, life is short and art is tricky and demanding.  They also say that if you don't have failures, you aren't trying hard enough.  She seems to be buying that idea.IMG_0032.JPG


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Poem from the 1200's

Rumi goes by many names and was evidently born with quite a few. The
author of the Bible book of Ecclesiastes is another writer, poet,
thinker who comments are still quite relevant to our lives today. But
Rumi (1207-1273), born in an area of modern day Turkey is a stalwart
of Afghan poetry and his words speak to all classes and nations of
people today. If you look him up on Google or elsewhere, you can
quickly run into his work called "The Guest House."

"This being human is a guest house.
Every morning is a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an
unexpected visitor…
Welcome and entertain them all.
Treat each guest honorably.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door
laughing, and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide
from beyond."

Iqbal, Gabriel. Rumi Soul Healer: A Transcendental Story of Ecstatic
Passion and Mystical Love (pp. 37-38). Eureka Academy. Kindle Edition.

This blog is not a self-help column but sometimes I get in touch with
good ideas. Yesterday's post about the Zen master woman Sono and the
current preacher Peggy Senger Morrison urged us to be thankful for all
our experiences, both what seems positive and what seems wrong, nasty
and sad. Morrison and Sono urge gratitude for what comes and Rumi
urges extending welcome for what shows up. Between welcoming all and
being thankful for all, we should have everything covered.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Thanks for it all

Lynn has found the prayer introduced to us by Peggy Senger Morrison in
her talk and in her book "Le Flambeau Driving School" to be useful and
inspiring. Morrison says that she learned of the prayer from a
Benedictine nun but when I tried looking it up, I found references to
a woman Zen master Sono. The prayer is:

"Thank you for everything. I have no complaints."

In "Le Flambeau Driving School", Morrison explains her introduction to
gratitude practice by way of direction she got from a friend. Peggy
was nearing the end of a counseling practicum and her supervisor had
consistently found her wanting in every way. The friend was also a
counselor and listened to her counseling tapes. He found them totally
acceptable but advised Peggy to approach her closing evaluation
session with total gratitude, carefully and honestly expressed.

She passed her practicum but the point of Sono's prayer is to realize
and stand behind the value of the troubles, frustration, pain and
losses we get while living. When you stop and think about it,
separating the valuable lessons and the lucky connections that came
your way in life from the negatives and errors is not easy. You don't
really know which are which. Admit it: you have finite knowledge,
limited vision and uncertain memory. It would take another lifetime
and divine abilities to follow all the threads through your
development. Why, just the processes at work while you grew from a
fertilized egg to a born baby are beyond your comprehension and mine
and everyone's.

So take Sono's shortcut: don't even try to separate the threads. The
gifts are unending but unsorted. Give thanks for it all. The entire
set produced the marvel you are today!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Truth and talk

In a nation, in a marriage, in a single mind, there are changes and
oversights and emphases. One person is focused on the right hair cut
while another feels bad wearing shoes that don't shine. One person is
secure with the right bank balance while another is happy with a
loaded gun in the house. The only way we can all concentrate on one
idea, one symbol, one principle, one truth is to be forced to. Even
then, it is going to be lip service to the official line while
internally, minds and opinions go off in their own directions.

One of the most powerful forces is a group of open minds free to
object, add, subtract, modify. Group discussion is the tool of the
ancients and it is the tool of the modern scientists. The broader the
range of the group, the more encompassing the resultant conversation
can be. Let's say that a basic tool of men is challenge. I certainly
don't say that women avoid challenging others but for some women,
being nice, being supportive, being friendly is more basic and feels
better than challenge and opposition and correction. Let's say that a
basic tool of women is indeed supportive encouragement. I don't say
that men aren't supportive or good at being encouraging. They
certainly can be.

It makes sense to check out ideas, projects, possible changes in a
group that includes both sexes. Similarly, a group that includes
young people and senior citizens has a better chance of hearing the
reactions that matter. We are beginning to see that giving our two
cents and grasping the way people see things is more valuable when we
have contributors from all races, religions, political persuasions,
ethnicities and social classes. That is the strength of a house of
parliamentary procedures, whether it is a dorm council, a church
board, a corporate board or a state legislature. Yes, discussions can
lead to bullying, to ignoring the needs or fears of a minority and a
thousand other tricks and mishaps. But a group consideration is a
very powerful tool and it grows more powerful as the participants
learn to state their views and absorb those of others.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Not healthy but heavenly

I like to jot down with a pencil on scrap paper, five or so possible
themes for writing a blog post. Doing that gives me a reminder to
take a moment and notice what has been happening, inside the mind and
in my life.

A man stood up in the final Quaker gathering, held in a beautiful and
impressive chapel at St. Benedict's College and sang "Annie's Song" in
a moving solo. I could write about the skill and courage standing up
and singing alone into an immense space filled with silent
worshippers. The song was written and recorded by John Denver and can
be heard on YouTube. It is a love song that tells a woman how she
fills up the senses of the singer but the words and meaning can apply
very well to a worshiper's feelings about God or a hiker's feelings
about nature.

I am near the end of the audiobook "Fear Itself", a history of the US
during the Roosevelt and Truman administrations. The author is an
older historian and he emphasizes the questions that arose about 1939
in both the US and Europe as to whether a squabbling, argumentative
democracy was capable of dealing with the organized, swift, obedient
forces massed under dictators. It seems clear that our country was
unified, electrified by the challenges of the war. I was only a baby
but as a little kid, I remember the amazing moment. My father was
outside the dining room windows on a ladder and my mother was in the
kitchen. All of a sudden, they both went crazy. I later came to
understand they had heard an official announcement on the radio: the
war was entirely over!

But I don't want to write about either of those things today. I want
to write about a cinnamon roll with sour cream icing. If that doesn't
sound appealing, good: there will be more for me. We have a little
coffee shop hidden away on the edge of the college campus. It is easy
to miss but I advise you to locate Zest and have a cup there. Have
whatever you need to allow yourself to buy such a roll and take a
bite. You may tremble, you may feel yourself temporarily in paradise.
We both know we don't need more calories, especially not in the form
of sugar and white, wispy dough. It ain't healthy but it is heavenly.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Longtime nursing and parenting

I think that some fish and amphibians create babies by squirting large clouds of eggs or sperm into the water and letting physics mix the two.  For them, that's it as far as sex, procreation and parenting goes.  When you contrast that with 20 years of direct parenting followed by another 20 or so of worry and wonder about the kids and where you might have gone wrong with them, you can see that humans have developed an oddly taxing way of reproducing.

I have a longtime interest in nutrition and it has led me in recent years to the subject of cooking.  Cooking, like parenting, is a big deal with humans and scientists like Richard Wrangham (see his "Catching Fire" but his book, not the Hunger Games novel) have charted out the ways that the adoption of cooking affects humans.  It does so in many ways, from supplying more calories and nutrients in less eating time than the other animals can manage with only raw foods.  But of course, cooking and table settings and table manners and table conversations and coordinated meals do much more for us and to us than just lessen chewing time.  As I mentioned, in some primitive societies, sex together is one thing but being offered food and accepting it is a way bigger deal and equals getting married.

If you think about what we normally call "childhood" and contrast that with the baby frogs or baby alligators who move about unsupervised at birth and live by luck and instinct, you get a glimpse of another very human and special way of doing things.  You can see nature films of young wildebeests being born and managing to stand within minutes.  They can run awkwardly and stay with the herd right away.  They nurse from their mammal moms standing up.  Watch "Call the Midwife" (PBS and Netflix) and see the help and assistance human babies need for months.

Whether a parent or not, we all were squalling little bundles and we would all have died without years of support and nursing and care.  Speaking and understanding speech is a basic mark of being human but so is upright, two-footed walking around.  We take years to master those skills and that is only when everything goes optimally.  We don't even start to get our adult teeth for 5 or more years.  Then, the years of elementary and secondary education and life during that time.  So, maybe at age 17, we get college or apprenticeship or a beginning job.

Much of our lives and activities are built around the extended human childhood.

Friday, July 22, 2016

White privilege

At our recent Society of Friends Gathering (with a capital G), there
was talk, and interest and concern with white privilege. I was
interested in what sort of things showed the existence of special
treatment and such for the great majority of those attending. They
looked "white" to me, although nobody is actually white. I looked up
the books that seemed to be related to the subject of special breaks
for white people and I chose the book by Lena Williams called "It's
the Little Things". Since I have been listening to an audio copy of
"Fear Itself" by Ira Katznelson, a historian with good credentials, I
heard about efforts by many members of the US Congress during the
1930's and 40's to try to keep conditions, laws and rules arranged to
favor whites and give blacks more obstacles and limitations. The book
"Fear Itself" about the Roosevelt and Truman years, from the end of
the Great Depression, through World War II and into the Atomic Era.

Katznelson documents the voting in the House and Senate along with
amendments to bills. I don't know much about the motivation for the
steady efforts to create conditions more favorable to whites than to
blacks. One example that stuck in my mind was passing appropriations
for agricultural research to be done by colleges and universities but
not those that were black. World War II called for many soldiers and
how to get them and motivate them to risk death and injury while
maintaining what had been the customary segregation was a steady
problem. WW II had the whole country employed and humming economically
and the federal government had agencies and powers aimed at keeping
high employment after the war. A common strategy was to try to
complain about federal power and to support states' rights. Most of
the time, when a program or a law was administered by the individual
states, some sort of difference between rights and possibilities for
whites and blacks was instituted by some states.

One example is a continuation of the previous practice of advertising
"white" job openings in a separate newspaper list from "black" jobs.
Some administrators would purposely offer a lower level job to a
black, knowing that person had much higher skills. Once the black
rejected that job, a way would be found to deny that person
unemployment benefits.

Lena Williams has been a reporter for the New York Times for more than
40 years. She is black and knows both black and white life in the
north and in the south of the US. She opens her book with the
business of long, flowing hair on women. She explains that many black
women have hair that doesn't lend itself to the typical white young
woman's hairstyle of long hair. She says that black women accept
their weight more often than white women but obsess about their
hairstyle more than whites. Many young black women have been
conditioned to believe their hair is never right or beautiful by ads.

Williams gives many examples of different sorts of law enforcement for
the two groups. Police and others, such as gas station operators, may
be quicker and more severe with rule and law enforcement with black
people. For instance, many gas stations require that some form of
payment be completed before refueling begins. If a white begins
refueling without having paid, they may be allowed to continue while
in some cases a bigger, louder, more humiliating deal is made when a
black does the same thing.

The black woman law professor who spoke at our Gathering mentioned
that when she shops with her sons, she cautions them to behave
themselves and to stay close to her. She does not want them accused
of theft or of preparing to steal. She certainly doesn't want them
stopped or stalked by a store detective or arrested.

I recommend "It's the Little Things" but it is not pleasant reading.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Moving toward better consideration

Rex Ambler is a British Quaker who has oriented certain groups toward
a better practice for thinking about their lives, plans and problems.
His book "Light to Live By" available from Quaker books and in paper
from Amazon is a translation of a lecture he gave in German to the
German Quakers. By the way, I have been told that the country with
the most Quakers per head is Kenya. Surprising, huh?

Amber has several books and he founded the "Experiment with Light"
program of revitalizing and focusing on the best instruction in the
use of Quaker consideration and contemplation. In "Light to Live By"
he explains the parallels between what he has found in writings of
George Fox, the founder of the Society of Friends (official name of
the Quakers) 350 years ago, modern Quaker and secular quiet
contemplation and the work of Eugene Gendlin's program of "focusing".
In much the way that modern advocates of meditation advise, the basic
ideas are to sit quietly but comfortably with little or no excess
movement or fidgeting and simply see what comes to mind.

The Buddhists, longtime specialists in meditation, also advise that
any problem that is bugging the mind should be considered honestly and
openly. If one's worries or needs are too frightening to be looked at
squarely, wait until they are more face-able. Virtually all coaches
of mind use advise trying to face what is happening, what has happened
and what is desired in the future, near or far fully. Not running
from guilt or anger or fear or disgust can be very helpful. Looking
calmly and clearly and deeply enlists all sorts of strengths and casts
the famous light on possibilities and stances that one can use.

Ambler's book "The Quaker Way" emphasizes that the Quaker way is more
of a procedure and less of a series of statements to be believed or
followed. You can imagine how much trouble such a stance got the
early Quakers in when it became clear that they were advocating a
direct relation with God instead of one that used a priesthood or
governmental authority.

You can download The Quaker Way for $7.99 from Amazon and you can see
quite a bit of Gendlin's book "Focusing" in Google Books.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Landlines and answering machines

Sometimes, Lynn or I want a nap. I would say 25% of nap attempts are
interrupted prematurely by a phone call, most of the time from an
organization asking for money or our vote. We still have a landline.
So, we have an answering machine. I don't want a phone ringing, a
voice saying "Leave a message" or any other loud sound when we are
trying to take a nap. So, I unplug the phones and the answering
machine., That may be harder than it sounds if the phones have backup
batteries or other ways of continuing to allow incoming calls and
rings or other alerts.

I want a master switch to cut off all incoming sounds but I don't have
one. I go around the house disconnecting our landline phones and the
answering machine. I could set that machine's volume level to zero
and maybe now I will.

Lately, the answering machine hasn't been cutting in. Most of the
charity and political calls are machine made and those machines can
detect when an answering machine has turned on. They end the call
when that happens. But lately, the answering machine hasn't been
turning on. We have had that machine for more than 20 years and I
thought it might be getting old. I tested calls several times and it
failed to work. I went to the store and got an up-to-date machine
with a nice price and good looks. Came home and started putting it in
place. I found a cord dangling from the machine in a loop. Both ends
of the loop were plugged into the answering machine. I am not an
electrical guy but I am pretty sure that no cord is helping if it runs
right back to the machine it is hooked to.

I checked out the logic and wiring and reconnected the wires the way
they are supposed to be. I guess I disconnected stuff for a nap and
failed to pay attention to what I was doing. You guessed it. Old
machine works perfectly. Back to the store and returned the new

Watch how you plug up them machines!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Smoke gets in your ears

A friend loaned me a copy of "Deaf Sentence" by the British author
David Lodge. It is about suffering deafness. Evidently, the hero and
maybe the author suffered loss of good hearing in his late 40's or
50's. Lodge is witty and observant so when he goes through scenes
describing the difficulties of not hearing well, of mishearing without
realizing one has misheard, he creates a full catalog of the
associated problems.

The book opens in a noisy cocktail party where an attractive young
woman is unloading a long story of woe to the hero. He tries hard to
grasp at least an outline of her message. He has not understood her
name nor what she is saying. After a long speech by her, he is
reluctant to state that he has no idea what she has been talking

The author mentions the common idea that blindness is worse than not
being able to hear well. He considers a song "Drink to me only with
thine ears" and the revision entitled "Smoke gets in your ears". He
explains the burden on a marriage when most of the wife's utterances
are misunderstood or unclear. Worse, they are sometimes wrongly heard
by impaired ears without the owner of those ears grasping he has a
incorrect idea of what was said.

The author seems to know quite a bit about having weak hearing. Just
the difficulties of keeping new hearing aid batteries at hand and
getting the tiny, slippery little things into the right slot without
having one fall to the floor and roll out of sight under the couch are
exasperating. More important difficulties can come from the fact that
some spoken sounds, "t" and "p" for example, are created with a little
burst of air that makes a high-pitched sound. Lost hearing often
shows up first in the high pitches so a person who has lost some of
his hearing, like me, can hear some utterances that simply don't make
sense. The realization that one's wife is too intelligent and
clear-thinking to have actually said what seems to have been heard
imposes a burden on both members of the couple. Many "What was that?"
and repetitions of previous comments are exchanged throughout each

Monday, July 18, 2016

Subtle forces

When we are fasting, I can take careful account of my actual hunger.
What I call the sensation of hunger only comes in interrupting
flashes, warnings or requests much like a pain that also warns or
calls for attention or rest. So, when I am fasting, I get such flashes
but I know they are quite temporary and can be ignored. I am sure
that if it were the 8th or 10th day of a fast, they would be more
severe and less kindly and short. After all, when you are dealing with
food intake, you are working with one of the very basics of life,
along with air and water.

What I find is that there is another force or two that drives this
animal to keep the calories coming. It seems to be a combination of
habit and routine, maybe a bit of some deeper part of the brain or
body that rebels against skipping meals. I can check for actual
hunger and I don't have any, no sensation or ache for food at all.
But, but, how about a glass of milk anyway? How about a piece of

Similarly, I often find when I wake up that my natural tendency seems
to be to develop a grumpy mood. Without conscious guidance and
examination, I can ask something along the line of "What has life done
for me lately?" I seem to have a part of me that aims for moodiness,
mild negativity or surliness. Just as I can let myself drift toward
the crackers or nuts, I can let myself drift toward a downcast mood.
Just as I can test out my hunger, I can weigh my mood. I can sense
the tendency and ask myself why I am heading in that direction. Do I
want to take a stance of ingratitude and resentment? Maybe. Maybe my
life deserves a grade of D or F. Maybe I am truly the recipient if
not the victim of bad luck, bad breaks, poor health, etc.

I can get all philosophical, inquisitive and rational about the
justification for any feelings but I do wonder where or why the
initial impetus is the way it is. I have gone over the logic of the
appeal of negative headlines several times and I think I understand
that reports of beauty and calm don't have the draw that calamities
and outrages do. But inside me? Is there some reason to be pulled
toward sneering at life? Each day is a new one so why should there be
what feels like an inborn tendency to label today as just a dull
repeat of previous days? Why a tendency to be down on a day that
hasn't even had a chance yet to show what it is made of.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Looking down on our schools

I suspect you can't expect those who look at our schools to be
positively impressed. It is probably like asking thinking and
thoughtful parents of a 20 or 25 year old man if they think he is
terrific. It seems that most of the time one or both parents will
have complaints. He is too much like his dad or his grandfather or he
isn't enough like them. He is too roughhewn or too much of a dandy,
too interested in music or money. He doesn't eat his vegetables or he
drinks too much beer.

It is easy to find something to complain about the young (or the old
or the middle-aged, for that matter) but with the young, we pay good
money, well, money in any event, to have them schooled. Imperfections
and underdevelopments are the school's fault, right? People care about
their children and take responsibility for them, especially for their
positive qualities. Frequently, I tend to feel that my son's positive
sides are inherited from his wonderful dad, maybe some from his
mother. Troubles, dropped stitches, weak math skills, holes in his
knowledge of history -- that stuff probably came from having poor
teachers. A British legislator recently stated his opinion that
dyslexia is the result of poor instruction.

It isn't difficult to concoct a version of schooling failure for any
trouble at any point in an individual's life. We have had a tendency
to blame a person's mother for personal or other difficulties
throughout life and a similar tendency can give schools a thumbs down
for difficulties in the life of graduates. If your child is doing
pretty well in school, congratulations. If not, work with your child
to find ways to improve but don't overdo it.

It is a secret that very little in today's curriculum is really
essential for a good life. Pick any subject or skill and you can
probably find adults who lack it but are doing well in life. After
schooling, most people have or find a few things to concentrate on,
whether it is dance or journalism or carpentry. What occupies people
throughout life may or may not have been taught or even introduced in
school. It is usually far more valuable to keep your eye on the
child's strengths and your love and support for that child than his
ability to name the members of Lincoln's cabinet.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Fwd: How to grow a tiny forest in your backyard

TED talks are available from a computer and other devices.  There are 1000's.  Short, ad-free, they usually include a transcript that can be consulted to get spellings and clarify comments.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: This week on <>
Date: Sat, Jul 16, 2016 at 9:08 AM
Subject: How to grow a tiny forest in your backyard

Give nature a helping hand. Open this newsletter in your browser
This week on
July 16, 2016

Shubhendu Sharma: How to grow a forest in your backyard

09:11 minutes · Filmed May 2016 · Posted Jul 2016 · TED@BCG Paris

Forests don't have to be far-flung nature reserves -- you can grow one right where you are, even in a small city yard. Eco-entrepreneur and TED Fellow Shubhendu Sharma grows ultra-dense mini-forests in urban areas, by using some engineering tricks that encourage the plants' own natural growth. Follow along and learn how you can get in on this tiny jungle party.

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9 TED Talks • Total run time 2:36:20

This week's new TED Talks

Throughout history, speculation has spurred beautiful, revolutionary science -- opening our eyes to entirely new universes. "I'm not talking about science that takes baby steps," says Eric Haseltine. "I'm talking about science that takes enormous leaps." In this talk, Haseltine passionately takes us to the edges of intellectual pursuit with two ideas -- one that's already made history, and the other that's digging into one of humanity's biggest questions with admirable ambition (and a healthy dose of skepticism from many). Watch »

How do you define "nature?" If we define it as that which is untouched by humans, then we won't have any left, says environmental writer Emma Marris. She urges us to learn a new definition of nature -- one that includes not only pristine wilderness but also the untended patches of plants growing in urban spaces -- and encourages us to bring our children out to touch and tinker with it, so that one day they might love and protect it. Watch »

Professional Arab women often juggle more responsibilities than their male counterparts, and they can face more cultural rigidity than Western women. What can one woman's success teach us about tenacity, competition, priorities and progress? Tracing her career as an engineer, advocate and mother in Abu Dhabi, Leila Hoteit shares three lessons she's learned about thriving in the modern world. Watch »

Adam Savage makes things and tells stories -- and he uses costumes to add humor, color and clarity to the stories he tells. Tracing his lifelong love of costumes from a childhood space helmet made of an ice cream tub to a No-Face costume he wore to Comic-Con, he explores the fascinating world of cosplay and the meaning it creates for its community. "We're connecting with something important inside of us," he says. "The costumes are how we reveal ourselves to each other." Watch »


Oceans: 5 reasons it might be okay to be optimistic about the ocean »
A look at the big picture reveals some surprising good news

Society: How to keep the ultra-rich from becoming aristocrats »
"I think capitalism has stopped working for the middle class today."

Art: The multi-dimensional beauty of day-to-night photography »
Gorgeous photos that show the same scene over 24 hours

Photo: Steven Wilkes

Quote of the Week


Let's give you a story. It's a rainy election day in a small country -- that can be my country, but could be also your country. And because of the rain until 4 o'clock in the afternoon, nobody went to the polling stations. But then the rain stopped, people went to vote. And when the votes had been counted, three-fourths of the people have voted with a blank ballot.

And the government and the opposition, they are simply paralyzed. Because you know what to do about protests. You know who to arrest, who to negotiate with. But what to do about people who are voting with a blank ballot? ... Basically they went to the ballot boxes to say that they have nobody to vote for.

This is the opening of a beautiful novel by José Saramago called Seeing. But in my view it very well captures part of the problem that we have with democracy in Europe these days. On one level nobody's questioning that democracy is the best form of government. Democracy is the only game in town. The problem is that many people start to believe that it is not a game worth playing."

Ivan Krastev
Can democracy exist without trust?

what makes us ... us?

For thousands of years, we've pondered the question: Who are we? We asked a philosopher, a scientist, a psychologist and humorist Ze Frank to share their ideas on what makes us ... us. Listen to TED Radio Hour on iTunes »


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Email formats

There are basically three formats of text. Plain text is the
simplest, the most spare. HTML is the most complex, has the most
options. Rich formatted text is between the other two: simpler than
HyperText Markup Language (HTML) and more complex and with more
options than plain text.

Over the last few weeks, I have been trying to get my blog posts
emailed by Gmail to about 100 recipients. Most spammers are trying to
sell something and a common approach is to insert a link to pictures
and more enticing text to convince people to buy. I am not selling a
product and have been trying to send posts in plain text format. That
means no font options. All letters have one shape each and besides
that, one size each. So, if the writing is too small to see
comfortably, change the format or copy it all and paste it in Word or
Google Docs. It is probably fastest to hit "Reply" and then work on
my original message to enlarge or change the font used.

When writing has internet links embedded in it, it is often referred
to as "hypertext". The links can be a handy tool or an enticing
diversion. If I write in plain text, I can insert the letters to make
up a link but you would have to copy them and paste them in a URL
window (address window) of a browser like Chrome or Firefox or Safari
or Microsoft Edge.

I get fewer bounces using plain text. I am also aware that using
Google's Gmail and Google's Docs and Google's Blogger (web pages of my
blog posts, available all over the world) all for free is a
combination that is attractive to people everywhere who want to make
money over the worldwide web. So, spammers who send out unsolicited
email can be a pest. There was a cartoon in the New Yorker magazine
the other week of a clerk saying to a customer "and what is your email
address so we can email you every day for the rest of your life?"

I also get fewer bounces if I do not send right at dawn. Most
continuous ads and "deals" and shouts to buy ME are sent in the
predawn hours.

Google Think is about insights and practices Google uses or sees being
used on the internet. That group and its Monday newsflashes has
steadily focused on the change by a large segment of the population
from using computers to using smartphones. Smartphones are smaller
and may not be as convenient to use to manipulate text. If you tend
to get messages on a smartphone, maybe it would be easier to find a
way to have the messages spoken aloud. Or, for greater privacy and
less annoyance to others, it may be possible to enlarge the print if
you need to.

Friday, July 15, 2016

AARP and video on aging

As we age, we realize that we are winding down.  Whether we are running slower or walking or moving less, we are feeling and seeing deterioration.  Whether it is the cartoon "Pickles" or the sport of Pickleball, we are developing sagging skin and wrinkles where we used to be smooth.  You can pickle foods to keep them from rotting and pickling does extend shelf life.

If you are so inclined, you could inquire about time and aging.  At what age should we expect pickling, deterioration, slower performance speeds and maybe less awareness, sharpness and memory?  As usual, the answer is "It depends".  Maybe you are lucky.  Maybe you are exceptional.  You might have aged more rapidly than many, or more slowly.  It does depend on luck, nutrition, desire, and even denial all enter into the final result.  Not only that, but if you are a northerner who is sensitive to heat and humidity, the type that flakes out at 90° and 90% humidity or a southerner who cavils at -40° and windchills of 25, the weather or your spine or your digestion might just be having a bad day. The luck of the draw and specific conditions of a particular day can skew things quite a bit.

The humans have not ever lived as long as they are doing now in today's numbers and they are just getting a handle on longer lives.  Yesterday, as I flipped through the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) magazine, I saw that AARP has its own YouTube channel and that one of the videos they have put up is about younger people and their ideas of aging.  Remember when you were in your 20's and thinking about doubling your age to the 40's?

In this video, you see "millennials", young people explaining the ideas of what age people are old.  Then, they meet some older people.  Finally, they answer again what age is old.  Worth watching.  The video is 4 minutes long.  You have time for that.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

You and I are not experiments

I understand that the astrophysicist Neil Tyson DeGrasse said recently that humans might be an experiment run by aliens.  I doubt that he was serious and I don't really care one way or another.  I have a PhD and I have taught statistics and experimental design to many reluctant students.  Before getting my doctorate, I taught the 5th grade for 4 years.  I didn't enjoy the college courses meant to prepare me to teach and I thought that learning scientific and statistical procedures might lead to ways to improve education.

For me, those studies didn't seem to help much.  As an undergraduate and while getting a doctoral minor in psychology, I felt that C.S. Lewis, an Irish/British professor of literature and a very famous Christian and children's author showed lots more insight into human life, behavior and principles than the rat psychologists and the behaviorists ever did.  I realize that experimenters were trying to establish fundamental truths based on more or less incontrovertible evidence.  Working that way, it is required to totally prove and persuade doubters and critics as to rightness of methods and procedures.

But over time, I have concluded that Lewis and my other favorite author, the French/American Jacques Barzun, were and are now in fact better guides to thinking and living than psychologists and social scientists.


Experiments on people or children take time.  Critical thinking may well be too slow and too controversial to assist students toward their goals.  Just as a mother may have to use her observation and her unverified insights to understand, support, guide, comfort and inspire her children, so teachers and others in the business of helping people have to constantly use their best antennae and intuition to grasp the worldview and reactions of students and learners.

You may have run into examples of artificial intelligence as depicted in the movie "Her" or in the forerunner program called Eliza. I wouldn't be surprised if a good artificial intelligence computer program was found to be a very big help in education and counseling at some time in the future. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

People and person

Educators spend plenty of time thinking about "individualization".
They wonder how to tailor lessons and curricula to different students'
strengths and interests. The notion of individual strengths and
interests is related to the notion of maturity. Also, to personal

I often mention to young people looking for a place in life that the
US dictionary of occupational titles listed 41,000 job titles. The
basic counseling point is that many people have no knowledge of the
existence of fields of work they might like or be well suited for.

Lynn and I are reading the book "Inheritance" by Sharon Moalem, MD,
PhD, which is about genetics and emerging knowledge about the
individual human's genes and what they mean for that person's life.
He makes the point over and over that my genes and those of my
sibling, even those of my monozygotic brother, conceived from the same
egg as me, are not identical. Further, his genes and mine diverge
steadilyy through our lives since he and I have different experiences
and they affect the expression of our genes steadily.

It sounds good to individualize but there are other considerations.
Thinking involves similarities and differences. Categories help us
carry knowledge and organize our lives and our materials. Male and
female differ and while one male is not identical to another, we still
make progress knowing about the similarities and expecting them.

I have heard of the development of the concept of the individual.

I read or heard that a single young Chinese woman alone in a farmhouse
in a previous age would have told a visitor that nobody was home and
she meant that literally and exactly. We today would say nobody of
importance or authority or of age was home but that young woman did
not consider herself an individual. Maybe she would later.

Tom Rath and Donald Clifton of the Gallup organization have done quite
a bit of research and writing on the subject of finding a person's
strengths and using them effectively somewhere in an organization.
They started their work with evidence that most organizations
advertised for a person with X,Y and Z characteristics and sought
someone to fill that position. Their work showed that a better
approach was to find a likely team member and then explore that
person's strengths. They advised then placing that person where those
individual strengths would pay off best for the organization.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Resuming blog

We are back from our week in St. Joseph, MN at the Friends (Quakers)
General Conference, held at St. Benedict's College. This women's
college is nicely designed, especially for walking around the campus.

Lynn and I both attended John Calvi's workshop Abandon All Weariness,
physical touch, energy work and massage applied to the body for
creating mental peace and fighting stress and any trauma. The man has
years of experience helping people who have been tortured or raped or
beaten. He showed us a very loving and supportive atmosphere where
the right touch with the right pressure and purpose can help such
people and anyone who wants to live joyfully and participate in
vigorous and demanding activities.

We heard from Rex Ambler, a British Quaker and theology lecturer who
has found his own daily mental life deeply enriched by carefully
studying and reconstructing the lives and ideas and practices of the
founding Quakers such as George Fox and William Penn. We heard from
Nekima Levy-Pounds, a black woman professor of law, born in Jackson,
Mississippi and now a professor of law in Minneapolis. She is an
activist in civil rights. We heard from Peggy Seeger Morrison, a
woman Quaker preacher and founder of a church in Oregon. Her book Le
Flambeau Driving School is about her adventures as a thinker, leader
of Christians, and lone motorcyclist traveling around the West.

More about all of this and, of course, other things in the coming days.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Refrigeration and air conditioning

Seems like a good time to give a nod of appreciation to the
refrigerator and its companion, the air conditioner. I was surprised
to read in the Wikipedia that artificial refrigeration dates back to
1750. That is well before we were a nation.

We have a refrigerator and a freezer. One keeps foods below 40° F
(4.4 C) and the other cools down to below 0° F (-17.78 C). There are
many foods we don't want to freeze, often for convenience and
palatability rather than food safety. I often think it odd that we
have these little boxes in the house, compartments in larger boxes
really, that are arranged to have heat pumped out of them until the
desired temperature is reached. It seems surprising that we so often
want to chill or freeze our food. Lynn's lasagna or soup can sit in
the freezer usually on a paper plate inside a zip plastic bag for
immediate use in the microwave for months or more. Then, zap! Ready
to eat. I was surprised when our daughter visited us and zapped
frozen chicken breasts into delicious servings so quickly and with no
time spent on thawing. We do have a pantry of canned foods and dry
foods like crackers and cookies. But with milk, vegetables and
fruits, we almost never have a meal that doesn't have one or more
ingredients from the refrigerator or the freezer.

The idea of pumping heat out of something fascinates me. I enjoyed
the parts of "Where Good Ideas Come From: the Natural History of
Innovation" by Steven Johnson that discussed the invention of air
conditioning. Again, we get the idea of heating with unwanted heat
and then cooling somewhere else so that the interior of the house or
school or theater gets cooled. If the earth is going to heat up, we
will be happy to have the techniques and the machinery to make use of
our knowledge and cool things down.

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