Thursday, August 31, 2017

3-rium and 4-rium

I twisted the Latin a little.  Trivium and quadrivium are old terms for components of curriculums past.  The history of what is to be taught is not a thrilling subject.  We have no science or proof of what our kids or we ourselves 'need to know'.  

The ancient Greeks had no public schools.  Writing was slow and laborious and most people couldn't read anyway. You may have heard that wise and critical thinker Socrates expressed distaste for this new stuff "writing", predicting that the practice would weaken peoples' use of their memories.

The city-state was not enormous by the standards of our population sizes but still a crowd could gather to listen to a speech or a plea for a collective action or to elect this person.  Not so easy to project your voice over a crowd and for many, not easy to decide off-the-cuff what to say.  So, public speaking, persuasive speech and good thinking emerged as important skills.  Later, maybe a thousand years, the quadrivium of important subjects emerged, the set of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.

So, some thinkers thought the liberal arts were those subjects "worthy of a free person".  There were often said to be seven such arts: grammar, rhetoric, logic and the four parts of the quadrivium.  

Of course, all those subjects were quite different from today's version.  For instance, the arithmetic skills of multiplication and division were developed in the Middle Ages and for a time, were only available at the most advanced Italian universities.  

When the Pilgrims started schools on this continent, they were very intent on teaching children to read the Bible.  The famous reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic foundation of an education emerged.  The trio of elementary, secondary and post-secondary levels took a long time to emerge and are still questioned for various reasons in various parts of the world.  Part of the impetus came from the leading religious institution in the West, the Catholic church.  Training priests and scholars couldn't really begin until the students were mature or nearly so.  Around the year 1000 AD, colleges and universities began to emerge.

It is worth noting in today's terms that most of the curriculum was aimed at learning what the wise (men, mostly!) had written.  I didn't hear today's key word "research" until we got to the American settlers moving into the Midwest.  They called for universities, smart minds and RESEARCH to explain why their animals got sick and how to make more crops grow.  

The subject of what to teach, how to teach it and how to test for learning is still up in the air.  Watch for changes amidst a world that sees more and more clearly that learning, updating, revising and researching is never going to be over.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Gals and guys

This is a time of change in many things.  For one, people of one sex are changing physically and mentally to the other one.  


At one time, I heard more than one engaged couple firmly state that they were going to be sure their boy children avoided play with toy guns.  There has been strong speculation in the past that boys are the way they are and girls have their ways only because of the family and surrounding society.  I don't think so.  Not that I deny some associations with one sex or the other are social and artificial.  Pink for girls and blue for boys could probably be successfully changed to spring green for girls and red for boys.  


Back in the mid 1960's, I read research that said crawling boy babies tended to cover nine times the floor area covered by girl babies.  One study seated a mom near her baby and then a gate was closed between them.  I remember a photo of a boy who objected to the separation wedging his shoulder between the end of the gate and the wall, struggling to break it down.


I have read that it seems that female humans are built to be more sensitive to the emotions and needs of others since they may have to intuit why an inarticulate baby is crying.  I often hear women laugh at men's overfocus on sex and coupling but they can forget that when conception occurs, nine months of body change are beginning for the mom while the dad continues to watch sports.  


A couple of weeks ago, I talked to a very intelligent woman PhD who felt down because others around her let her know they didn't especially like the way she performed her job.  I remember how surprised I was to find that laws regarding sexual harassment can stipulate that a person has a right to a reasonably calm atmosphere at work while some women feel upset to find implicitly or explicitly other workers don't like them.  Guys may feel that the world is right when they can count on the opposition by other men, especially if that opposition gets defeated.  A major motivator can be anticipation of a struggle, a battle, a war even, with those other bastards.  This may be the day that I leave those others in the dust, that I am a total hero!


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

I may be running low on boredom

I blame meditation but it might also be aging.  I guess as I read, think, experience, learn more, it becomes harder to be bored.  I am interested in boredom.  I wrote about the subject here and here:

I like to think that if I stay alert and look carefully, there is always something interesting to experience, think, see, do.  But nearly all my efforts are about avoiding boredom.  What if it is valuable, helpful, healthy?  I don't mean all the time, of course.  But since staring out the window at the rain comes so easily, maybe being bored furnishes some rest or inspiration or refreshment that I benefit from.

The first link above leads to a poem of sorts by Ogden Nash that describes a fictional couple who spend their lives seeking boredom.  I suppose that boredom junkies can be satiated by normally boring things and have to up the dosage or the intensity to achieve a high level of boredom.  The idea of deep pleasure or ecstasy from boredom is an intriguing one.  Maybe I have been missing out.  Maybe I have been doing boredom wrong.

Bertrand Russell wrote about the brain cooking an idea on the back burner.  He recommended shaving as an activity likely to bring about an "Aha!" moment in which the talk or the deal or the puzzle settles into a useful form, one that makes clear how to proceed.

We watched Manoush Zomorodi give a good TED talk about the uses and value of boredom and Michael Corballis of New Zealand has his book "The Wandering Mind".  Zomorodi explains that modern smartphones and parenting kids are both activities that keep the mind focused and cut down on the glazed-eye staring that we used to pass the time with.  

Google offers 52 million results for "Is boredom good for you?"

Monday, August 28, 2017

Two interesting blowhards

Oh, yes, we have had blowhards around for centuries.  They are not just a recent bunch.  I admit that my blowhard could be your hero.  I guess a blowhard tends to be male.  Sure, a stunning body coupled with a stunning face in a stunning dress may induce a bit of bragging but in general it seems to be a male strategy to boast.  Wealth, power in both physical and social forms, unlimited confidence, perhaps joined to limited sensitivity, are often hallmarks of a male blowhard.

You can put a "Y" into your browser, maybe a "Yo" and get a link to YouTube if you don't already have a bookmark link to it.  Once there, you can find The Elixir (medicine) of Love, an opera by the prolific composer Gaetano Donizetti, written in 1832.  You can see a full production on YouTube.  It is based on one of those stories, a young man is deeply taken by a village beauty but he doesn't impress her and he has limited means.  He is offered a chance to purchase a powerful elixir of love, guaranteed or your money back !, to make the babe fall in love with him after just one sip.  

Enter Blowhard #1, Sergeant Bellcore.  Good-looking, brash, the sarge helps us by pointing out that a) he is easy on the eyes and b) "what's more, I'm a sergeant".  As he eyes the village babe, he admits "I can feel your passion growing stronger."  Our hero, Nemorino, can see that Adina is interested in the show-off and is of course dejected by this turn of events.

Yay!  Blowhard #2 shows up.  Dottore Ducamara explains that he is famous and valued throughout the "universe and other places", in part because of his powerful elixir, guaranteed or your money back!, which cures all ills and induces deep and lasting love for the first person met after just a little taste.  Nemorino has no funds but is informed that were he to enlist in Bellcore's troop, his meager pay would just cover the cost of the juice.  

I won't spoil the ending for you but I will admit you won't be disappointed.  If you are looking for models of blowhards, these two, one military and shiny and the other, scientific and knowledgeable, might do.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Taking credit for the cruise

I was interested in David Eagleman's "Incognito", a book about the unconscious part of our minds.  Eagleman is a neuroscientist at Stanford and elsewhere.  

My own favorite reminder of my own unconscious is when I turn and toss a ball of scrap paper at the place where the trash can used to be but isn't now. I have only read 2% of Eagleman's book but I did see up ahead to his example of the driver finding his own foot on the brake before he quite recognizes there is a car up ahead backing out of a driveway.  

The first book on the mind I trace in my learning about meditation was The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey.  Gallwey makes lots of use of giving the conscious mind something to keep it busy.  He has the student call out "Bounce" as the ball meets the court and meanwhile the rest of the student's mind and body can relax and give the ball a nice, coordinated, accurate hit..

I have a suspicion that my initial, quick glimpse of my internal reaction to a person or a subject is my primitive primate mind and body's uncensored and basically unconsidered opinion, probably based on very little evidence.  Eagleman mentions that programs in my head, in my cells have me liking symmetrical faces, feminine voices, the scent of roasting meat and friendly people way before I have had a chance to think about what I feel and why.

He has an excellent picture of a cocky passenger on a large, complex ship taking credit for the journey, despite the facts of the captain, the crew, the engines, the pilot, the navigational charts that are the actual forces and skills that make up the journey.  

It is frustrating to think that I don't always know what drives and impulses are in me.  I do think that steady practice of meditation helps me get some clues sometimes.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Never seen before, never felt before

I like to look for little miracles, honest things I don't usually take time to appreciate.

Eating a banana, I break off a piece and look at the cross section.  No eye has ever looked at that particular sight before.  The banana has its own symmetric beauty.  I realize it is quite like many other bananas I have seen, you have seen, but in its own individual way, it is new.

It is indeed unique.  It is getting to be ok to use degrees of uniqueness but I don't like that.  We have degrees of all sorts of things.  I want to avoid degreeing "unique".  That particular sight, the banana cross section is not MORE unique than the one I saw before.  It is unique, not more so, not uniquest.  There is only the one banana just like that and only the one view of its cross section at that point.

Sometimes, people get interested in mirrors, duplicate universes, doppelgangers.  There may be another banana that is indistinguishable from this one in all ways: taste, color, etc.  I doubt it but even if there is, it is not right here in front of me, right at this time.

There seems to be a high probability that this message is not going to light up your life.  You may feel unexcited by my having a special view of that never-before-glimpsed part of a banana that has now been completely eaten.  But like the new, never previously observed bit of fruit, that feeling of a little excitement, or of ho-hum lack of interest, like the fruit itself, is unique.  That feeling at that time in your special head has never existed before, ever.  Ever!

Sure you have had similar feelings before.  Some of my other exciting blog posts have turned you on, or turned you off, in a similar way.  But right now, just at this moment in the history of the universe, you are having a moment of excitement or boredom or banana appreciation that neither you nor anyone else has ever had before and will never have exactly, precisely again.  Enjoy!

Friday, August 25, 2017

Short and satisfying trip

We are back from our trip.  We drove to the Christine Center, out in the country.  Lynn has been there many times but it was only my 2nd time.  The place was a Catholic retreat center run by nuns but now it is generally spiritual but not specific to any religion.  I don't consider myself a follower or any particular religion but I respect the power, the history and the place of religion in life.  

The drive from there to the city of LaCrosse on the western edge of Wisconsin was surprisingly hilly and the roads twisted and turned in genuine switchbacks, something we are not used to.  Lynn used to be faculty member at UW-LaCrosse and had her own apartment there for a while.  I continued teaching at Point, about 120 miles away. After a while, we gave up that arrangement and she resigned to live in Point, too.

Moving back to Point meant we needed to find a house.  Our son-in-law has a construction background and built our current house, which we have now lived in longer than either Lynn or I have ever lived in one place anywhere else.

We saw some old sights and ate at a fine restaurant right on the Mississippi River.  The LaCrosse waterfront park is quite scenic and always makes me think of the painting by Seurat "Sunday in the Park".  There are paddleboats that tour the wide areas of the river and bigger, more powerful ones that travel from New Orleans right on up with LaCrosse as one of the stops along the way.

The next day, we drove north along the River Road, first along the Minnesota side of the river and then we crossed to the Wisconsin side.  We stopped in Alma, Wisconsin and in Stockholm, Wisconsin.  We looked at art, and had coffee and ice cream.  We picnicked in a state park on the river, using the excellent leftovers from The Four Sisters restaurant in LaCrosse.

We stayed last night in Red Wing, Minnesota, a town we have stayed in before.  The Corp of Engineers was having a special meeting in town and took up many of the rooms available.  The Corps is very important to all the towns, businesses and properties in the flood plain that gets hit one way or another each spring with snow melt.  We did find a room and ate in a local restaurant last night.  

We had satisfied our desire for new sights and drove home.  Nice trip and gorgeous weather.  Lynn likes to set our Apple and Google Maps to avoid highways.  We did the whole trip with minimal interstate driving and lovely back roads and farms.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Negative reactions to Heaven

I figure there is a chance I can get into Heaven sometime.  I imagine it will be close but there may be enough in the credit column and maybe if I explain some needed skills, maybe if I am willing to take whatever jobs are available, I may be admitted.  But I can see it now: I am going to complain.  

The book "Stumbling on Happiness" explains that most of our minds are put together in such a way that we tend to be more alert at the moment to things that are wrong.  But, we often retain pictures of our past that get edited to be mostly right. Let's go out to the ballgame.  It'll be great.

But it's hot, very hot.  Crowded, quite pushy and close.  The hotdog vendor will not look this way.  I spill mustard down my front.  Yuck.  Damn.  But we won and you were funny.  Three years later, I can't feel the heat, the crowd effect is gone, I just had a fine lunch so hot dogs are irrelevant.  I remember that great catch. I remember that we won.  I remember laughing at your jokes.  

So, I expect to have initial discomforts and some negative reactions to the layout, the rules, the ways of doing things in paradise.  Given who I am and what I am like, I am likely to be less than charmed at some of the ways of Heaven.  I am not that good at grasping advanced thinking but I know my reactions.  All that peace and serenity!??!  All that glory and love?!?!  Sweet smiles and joy.  More sweet smiles and joy.  How much can I take?

If I don't get kicked out, I'm sure I will adjust.  Ok, a bit of scowling, maybe a little grumbling.  Some timid embarrassment at being angelically beautiful.  But if I can last through two or three years of white clouds and gold harps, I will fit right in.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

50 years together

Some good friends invited us to be part of their celebration of their 50 year marriage. If you glance at them too quickly, you might mistake them for a couple of around 20 or 25 years together.  Most of us who have been married for quite a while are surprised at the audacity we all show when coupling up with a partner in our 20's.  

We say "Til Death do us part" but we say many things.  We say that I promise to love and obey her.  As a relative said, young people don't know what they are getting into.  Very true, but think about it.  We liked each other very much, we found comfort and joy in each other's company.  We took on ourselves the mantle of a married couple and we did that joyfully.  But who knew what was ahead?  Literally, nobody.

I lost my temper repeatedly over small things.  We had very little money.  We had not really figured out what expenses we would have or probably have. We didn't figure on the need for insurance of various kinds.  We knew we were not of the same religion.  Neither sets of our parents were all that thrilled with the relationship we were building.

We both had a good amount of experience of dating and that probably helped quite a bit in knowing if we had really found someone we liked.  We had another tool that has been quite helpful: a natural practice of re-making the partnership every day, every month, every year.  

A basic faith in ourselves and each other has opened the door to real communication, honest exchange.  The large amount of evidence that self knowledge matters supports the idea that we could each recognize our own feelings and needs, fears and hopes and talk about them clearly enough that our partner understood.  There was the time, after days of driving together as a lone couple, that we simply got too fed up.  We tabulated the spats and the irritations and it was clear. The only thing to do, the only thing that offered release and relief was divorce.  At around 11 AM, we faced the truth and agreed to divorce.  By 5 PM the same day, we had had time to really face the future without the other.  We each saw bleak and bad days ahead.  We scratched that divorce business and haven't tried that again.  We are now working on our 2nd 50 years together.  

I will say that having each other gets more valuable all the time.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Is the quality of our scams falling?

I have heard of confidence men and scam artists of old.  They are still around but maybe the quality of the pitch has fallen.  Maybe, on the other hand, we are still too gullible to withstand the dangers that lurk today.

I have heard of an elderly woman getting a call that informed her that her beloved grandson had been arrested in a far-away country and needed a couple of thousand dollars for bail.  She is reported to have replied,"Well, I don't have a grandson but I'd like to help out."  The story did not go on the reveal just what happened after that.  Seems possible that a wily older woman might have found way to involve the police in quashing the practice.

I still wonder about how clearly scammers are thinking these days.  I got a message from somebody identified only by a first and last name that I didn't recognize.  The message said,"It is very important that you call this number immediately."

What kind of scam is that?  C'mon!  At least we should be able to muster decently made scams!  Suppose a guy comes up to you on the street and says,"Psst - call me immediately".  You never saw him before.  Are you going to call?  Is it even as likely that you will call if you get an anonymous, unsolicited email from somebody you never heard of that you should call this number? No wonder that scamming is a dying occupation.  

You might think "What harm can making a call do?"  Maybe none but in general if crooks are involved, I don't like to cooperate in any way.  I have heard of a scam where a voice asks if they are speaking to ---------------.  The Yes voice answer got recorded and then got misused to agree to some misbehavior or dishonest charge.  I realize it is hard to make a dollar these days, much less enough dollars to make a decent living.  But I still think what with the failures, the exposures, the bunco squads, there is not a promising future in swindling.  Sure, your occasional unusual person is going to make out ok but in general, there are better lines of work.

Friday, August 18, 2017

New forms of ambition and failure

I see that some high schools are teaching a course or two about entrepreneurship.  Probably some community colleges are, too.  Everybody should go out to the garage and be Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. When I was considering what line of work I wanted to head for, I looked at teaching.  I like ideas and the problem of conveying them to others.  I was confident that I could not produce a good class of 25 or 30 students, especially not semester after semester. I needed a whole school system to join. Besides, who needs teaching the most, the rich and well-off or the poor and discouraged?

The excellent TED talk by Ernesto Sirolli outlines three main functions a start-up company must fulfill: product, money and advertising.  You have to have a good product or service.  These days, you need to pay steady attention to ways what is offered could be improved, profitably expanded or profitably shrunk.  You have to keep track of income, outgo, debts, taxes and such.  And you have to think about marketing. 

I heard some years ago from the financier and author Robert T. Kiyosaki that a fast way to higher wealth was to create a good company with a good product, good finances and good marketing and sell the whole operation.  The valuation of a successful company with good achievement in all three areas can include likely future earnings and those can add up. So, I guess every other young person hopes to be another Mark Zuckerberg.  

I imagine more venture capitalists exist these days and of course they are on the lookout for good ideas and hard working and energetic young people to carry them out.  However, with more history, more competition and better communication, everyone is more aware of the possibilities and the downfalls lurking about.  If your nephew and his energetic girlfriend get something going but unforeseen obstacles trash their dream, help them re-group and keep the long term in mind.  Life goes on for many decades and has all sorts of tricks and turns.  Just because of a stone in a shoe, there is no reason to forget the long and broad view.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

I have to read what you have read????

I have now seen more than once a statement that someone has no right to an opinion in opposition to mine if they haven't read the documents I have read.  I think that is quite wrong, ridiculous even, but in some cases, I feel I can see how and why someone might arrive at that position.  

Suppose you are an expert on the US constitution, its construction, its amendments, the modifications it has undergone over the years, the way it has been interpreted in various courts and lawmaking bodies. Suppose I am an uneducated, opinionated person who happens to be sitting beside you and your friend in a local bar. You have spent your life reading, digesting, comparing information and opinions about the constitution and have several books, published about every five years on the subject of the US constitution.  Your books have been published by popular book publishers and some by academic publishers.

I don't like your looks and I feel intuitively that you are the sort of person who holds opinions opposed to mine.  I don't know about your credentials and I don't care to.  You can be pretty sure that if you inform me of your lifework or even a small portion of it, I am not going to feel that I don't have a right to my own opinion about human rights, the free press, the right of assembly and whatever other rights that might be tucked away here and there in the constitution and other laws.

If I have to get my highly educated wife involved, she might come to my rescue.  She and her philosophical friends might ask if other constitutional experts exist.  She might contact them and check their positions and show that some disagree with your statements.  I might ask my minister and my rabbi and my iman if I have a right to my ideas without being a lifelong reader of constitutional articles and books. 'Course, I might just laugh at you and repeat that you are wrong, disgusting, and not my sort.  

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

New computer

My computer has been misbehaving lately. I am not sure what makes it simply stop responding. It often says I am not connected to the internet when I am. It seems to be some sort of clogged up. I click on a different open web page and totally zero happens.

So, today, a new computer arrived. The old one is an Asus and the new one is an Acer. Both are Asian laptops and both have high ratings for the products. Of course, I had the old one plugged in and working all day long and it behaved perfectly.

I like to use Gmail, Google Docs and Sheets (like Word and Excel), and Google Voice for texting from the computer to people's phones. The nice thing about Google stuff is that it all uses one logon and password and it is all available on any computer connected to the internet. That means that after downloading Chrome, Google's browser and Firefox, a non-profit browser not part of any of the big computing companies, I am more or less ready to go.

Quite a few of my friends have a Gmail address (which you give yourself for free) but they don't realize that it opens the door to all the services I mentioned above plus Google Earth, famous for detailed pictures of all parts of the planet, and Google Photos, which can upload all iPhone and other smart phone and tablet pictures, allow editing of any and all and store a large number for free.

I have tried my Mac, Chromebook and Windows but I still prefer a mouse and Windows to the other systems. I have a 2010 of Office and I use Excel, Word and Outlook. Excel is my main spreadsheet although the free Google Sheets is a good alternative. Word is still the most convenient of the programs I have tried to read my typing back to me, to see if it sounds right and Outlook is both our mutual calendar and my connection to my former university employer.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Kashi, carbs and grains

I thought that equivalent calories would have an equivalent effect on my body weight and fat.  Now, I am doubting that.  Some particular foods or formats seem to make their own special difference.  I mentioned reading in Gina Kolata's "Rethinking Thin", a quote from Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826).  He was a French lawyer but was deeply interested in food, good cooking and good eating.  He was a founder of the genre we now have as foodie writing.  Kolata's quote has the man noticing that those who eat flour and sugar gain weight.  

Lynn and I have been practicing very limited added sugar and flour, as directed and encouraged by Dr. Susan Peirce Thompson and her Bright Line Eating.  When I told our friend about those guidelines, she immediately said,"That is everything I eat."  That is the reaction that many people have, even those who eat meat, fish, drink milk, eat eggs, fruit and vegetables.  Even potato chips fit with those rules. Some people think that carbohydrates are the foods they want to avoid but that category seems too broad.  Foods that are not fats or protein are carbs. Processed foods are almost always carbs, true, but they don't qualify unless made with flour and/or have added sugar.

I guess the explanation might be that sugar and flour of any grain are foods that the body absorbs so quickly that their calories have to be stored.  They come too fast to be burned by activity.

We have grains such as barley, millet, quinoa and even wheat berries.  We make up a batch, eat some, freeze the rest in appropriate serving sizes and thaw what we want in the microwave.  Today, I tried cooking a batch of Kashi, the grain pilaf.  I followed the recipe carefully but I still burned it without cooking it.  Lynn has cooked that stuff many times and she cooked us a double batch.  We like to add powdered chicken bouillon for flavor.  She had to cook it 10 minutes longer than what the box says to get the soft, expanded grains we like.  I plan to serve some tonight and cook another batch to learn to do it right.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Story of a trip

I am reading "The Jew in the Lotus" by Roger Kamenetz.  A friend gave me a paper copy.  I misread the title for quite a while and thought the book was called The Jewel in the Lotus.  Then, I thought the actual title must be about the JuBu phenomenon, the large number of Jewish people who have been attracted to Buddhist thought.  But it is actually about the Dalai Lama being interested in the history and practices of the Jews and their demonstrated ability over 2000 years to remain faithful to their traditions, their culture and their beliefs despite strong and even deadly opposition and dispersion.  A group of Jewish religious and thought leaders, writers and teachers made a group trip to Dharamsala, the town in India to which the Dalai Lama fled from his native Tibet. The Chinese army invaded Tibet in 1950 and the Chinese have worked steadily at undermining Buddhism and the native Tibetan government since then.

Whatever the reasons for meeting, Jewish and Buddhist people have plenty to offer each other.  The book by Kamenetz is well-written and offers open-eyed observations about what intelligent and interested observers saw and felt about the trip, the people, the culture and ways of getting along.  I have been inspired to make several tweets of passages from the book.  The party of 20 or so flew from the US to India and landed there at 4 AM local time.  Even at that hour, they were met by a large, loud and active crowd of beggars, including children and very disabled people, seeking anything they could get.  

Seeing the poverty and the masses of people, the author realized that a Jewish tradition that it is the mission of the Jews to "repair the world" might be too ambitious:

My exposure to India, though brief, had been staggering. I had traveled extensively in Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, so I knew what third world poverty looked like. But nothing could have prepared me for the total density of suffering. The immense need of the people, the vibrant anarchy of their lives, and the variety of costumes, physiognomy, and activity had left me drained. Certain images kept returning with an absolute force: the leper's finger stumps thrust into my face, the mother holding her infant up to our cab, and from our first hours, that corpse surrounded by a circle of white stones. My heart was torn and tender. I believe in tikkun olam—that the world can be repaired. And that belief requires action: being a Jew means put up or shut up. In my own life that made sense. But in India, the idea that any individual could grasp, let alone modify, such a vast quantity of suffering felt absurd.

Kamenetz, Rodger. The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet's Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India (Plus) (pp. 36-37). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Onion slices in the breakfast cereal

I am usually up for some culinary adventures and new tastes but I don't know if slices of onion in with the shredded wheat is a good idea.

Oh, no, they aren't onions.  It's that fruit that we met in the Hilo, Hawaii Chinese market: rambutan.  Sweet but weird.  The good part is inside.  I actually bought these in the local Wal-Mart.  Don't let it scare you.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Aging kids

My kid says she is getting older and doesn't feel much like a kid anymore.  She has gray hair, her husband has retired and she has grandchildren.  Maybe she is right.

When your children and your grandchildren are competent, well-functioning adults, one of the primary drives, to reproduce, can be checked off as completed.  Of course, I can worry about my grandchildren's children, their future prospects, the sort of world they will live in.  But every time I start doing that, I see that the great-grandchildren will marry and have children.  I don't want to start fretting about still another generation.  

I have experience with older people like me feeling sure that everything is going downhill and there is everything ahead is dire, dangerous and damaging.  I have read "Sapiens" by Harari and I am reading his book "Homo Deus" (Man, the God).  I know the old fear that invariably people, especially men, can get the idea that they have everything bagged, conquered and under control.  I do realize there are many dangers and problems in the world.  But I also know that virtually all old people focus on what has deteriorated, what has "gone downhill", what has changed for the worst, and fear for the future.

Even the professional futurists tend to underestimate the flexibility, imaginativeness, and adaptability that humans are capable of.  You may have heard of the horseshit hypothesis, that the city of New York will drown in horse manure once its population gets high enough.  This idea seemed to a problem without a solution when transportation meant so many horses per one hundred humans.  The math was impressive and the city went way past the density and size where it seemed a problem but the trick was that horses were virtually eliminated.  

If you want a shot of optimism, take a look at Harari's books.  Or look at Steven Pinker's "The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined."  Our history has been unfolding toward better lives for quite a while now.  Take a look at the early 1800's in "What Hath God Wrought" by Daniel Walker Howe to see how miraculous the railroad and the telegraph were. Consider better education today and better recognition of the need for good education as well as a better grasp of what a good education is.  

I think the kids are doing well.  They have lots of promise.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Take a deep, slow breath

I think I understand basic meditation and the values of increased awareness that 10 minutes a day of meditation brings.  A typical focus of one's attention with such mind training is the breath.  A conscious inhalation and an equally deliberate, conscious exhalation gives the meditator something to anchor attention.  That way, drifting off of conscious breathing into thought of what to make for dinner is more easily noticed.  That noticing is what is being sharpened, noticing what is on one's mind, deciding if that is what is desired at this time.  Returning attention to the breath over and over increases awareness of the mind's activity, which is mindfulness.


However, the breath itself is a powerful and interesting part of our lives.  "The Breathing Book" by Donna Farhi and many other books are about improving mood, overall health with better breathing.  I have often found that the psychologist Gay Hendricks and his sometime co-author and wife Kathlyn write in my language and offer good assistance, support and ideas.  Their book "Conscious Breathing: Breathwork for Health, Stress Relief and Personal Mastery" contains enthusiastic references to what can be done with the breath.  Hendricks is a practicing psychologist and his wife is an experienced dancer.  Their books "Conscious Living" and "Conscious Loving" are helpful for Americans who are interested in adapting ideas and practices from other cultures and from scientific research when there are benefits to be had.  


I have had the "Conscious Breathing" book in the back of my mind since I read some of it a few years ago.  At the time, I was interested in the fact that being as fully aware of my breathing as I am able is something I can do without looking weird or exotic.  I can do it with my eyes open and I can close my eyes and completely relax, all the while staying with my breath.  The book "Joy on Demand" by the Chinese American Google engineer Chad-Meng" Tan repeatedly refers to concentrating on breathing as a tool for meditation.


"Conscious Breathing" is so enthusiastic about careful, full breathing as a tool in itself for both mental and physical health that I gave the practice a bit of a workout today.  Some people can do anything by itself, but I have something of an obsession with time and duration.  When meditating alone, I usually use 8 minutes on my favorite timer, the one on the clock on the first page of apps on the iPad.  Today, I wanted to try more breathing and try it in several ways.  Gay Hendricks emphasizes, as do many breathing instructors, the value of belly breathing.  When extending the belly instead of puffing out the chest, the lungs actually get fuller, better filled.  Hendricks says that some people are so afraid of having a bulging belly that they are reluctant to breathe fully.  I'm not.


I did four very conscious minutes on a hard chair and four more each on a reclined recliner, a meditation cushion, a different cushion, and standing.  I intend to give myself more trials but it seems as though my general mood gets elevated without my trying to raise it when I really fill my lungs slowly and slowly and thoughtfully exhale.  I read that the body actually extracts oxygen from the air on the exhalation so maybe better breathing gives me an oxygen boost.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Rousing talk

I think my experience of movies is rather limited and one-sided.  It is somewhat the same with literature.  Over the years, I have picked up informal acquaintance with Moby Dick (it's about a whale) and Jane Eyre (it's about foggy moors).  I am interested in seeing some of the great movies I have never really watched.  Which movies?

I learned about "Movies for Grownups", a feature of AARP, the American Association of Retired Persons.  I am a retired person and reasonably grown-up.  I have seen my share of buildings being blown up, cars being blown up and people being hurled backwards while being blown up.  I am to the point where I find "Learning to Drive" a much more satisfying movie than more things being blown up.  I guess it was on the Rotten Tomatoes website that I saw a link to a list of the 100 greatest movies.

I am interested in the theories and technology of evaluation.  Deciding on the best this or that involves judgment of many sorts, starting with which variables should be used.  I have a friend who is a specialist in movie music and soundtracks.  I get the feeling that elementary kids are warned these days against making a movie or a video without a soundtrack, preferably played incessantly and irritatingly, obscuring any talking or narration.  I looked up "100 best movies" and found several lists, which, of course, don't agree with each other.  I have heard that "Citizen Kane" is usually considered a great movie.

Last night, I watched some of it.  I learned somewhere that it is based on the life of William Randolph Hearst, a newspaper publisher who lived from 1863 to 1951.  I often recall Lynn's experience in a graduate course that explained the phenomenon of the all-knowing male narrator.  The first part of the film is a newsreel as was played in American movie theaters before television news.  It reviews the life of the great man Kane but is delivered in the "be impressed if you have any brains at all" tone that makes me feel I am being shouted at by a big pushy person holding the labels of my jacket.

Just a couple of years ago, I did give Moby Dick an authentic try, authentic by my definition anyway.  No go.  Last night, I gave Citizen Kane a try but got fatigued by the phony impressiveness and the phony tension and never made it all the way through.  We did visit the Hearst "castle" in California a few years ago and I left feeling somewhat sad for the man.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Anti Autoplay Blues

I love having Netflix and Amazon video ready to stream.  I have watched some great shows and I plan to watch more.  But, I want to explore, read the descriptions and decide.  I strongly dislike the autoplay feature on Netflix where all I have to do is pause on a show's icon and it starts to play.


I have heard of binge watching but I don't like to binge anything.  Mindless consumption, what I suppose is slack-jaw gaping at whatever pops up on the screen is not for me.  I want the chance to look, to consider, to ponder even.  I used to be able to move up the screen above the links to what I have been watching and look at possibilities without having them instantly begin playing. Now, I find that the upper area of categories has the same dumb immediate play feature I fled from below.

I watched a TED talk by Tristan Harris, former Google employee with a responsibility for ethics.  His talk focuses on the control of opinion that gets exercised by Facebook and other computer features.  He mentions that some sort of autoplay is part of Facebook, which I don't participate in.  But, he says, once Google, Instagram and Twitter see what Facebook does, they want to do it, too.  I guess this autoplaying stuff is an example of a feature hopping from program to program.

Please join the World Anti Autoplayers (WAA) and petition your national, state and local government, your local churches and news outlets to work against this sneaky thief of individual choice and consideration, this unAmerican practice.  It's a gateway drug to more binge watching and will ultimately destroy our world and our cherished way of life!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Oh goodie!

I realized that I get impatient with some speakers.  They seem too slow, too reluctant to say what the hell they are trying to say.  Then, with a little nudge from Buddhist practice, I asked myself  Who is impatient?  And, I threw in the additional question, Why?  No surprise: It's moi!  And why?  Because I, I, I decided the communication was too slow.

I am not the greatest at loving and showing appreciation.  I decided this arbitrary impatience should be worked on.  I do believe that virtually anything can be improved.  The idea is to put my attention on a specific sort of improvement and work at it.  Practice!  And while doing, also take a look at what the internet in general has to say about it, and what Amazon can download to my Kindle and what is waiting on YouTube to help me. Amazon showed me "Patience" by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin.  Nice little book.  Each page or two is a short piece on an idea of patience.

One of the first pages was about the present.  I took to the idea right off.  When I am feeling impatient, I can simply drop the feeling, shelve it for now,and visit The Present Moment.  Right now, this instant. I have read "The Power of Now" by Tolle and his "Stillness Speaks".  I understand that a big chunk of my thoughts have to do with the future: later, tomorrow, when I grow up, etc.  I have practiced letting go of imaginations of the future and sitting happily in the present. It is fun and also refreshing to just sit there, breathing the air of Now.

Rabbi Pliskin and others have made it clear that my picture of any part of the future is only a picture, not reality.  I have some good pictures of the past and of the future but I don't need to take them too seriously.

Meanwhile, my broadband has been slowing down.  More and more, I find that I click on a link and get the message that I am not connected to the internet.  But I am and I know I am.  It is my local connection that is slow or missing or otherwise occupied. Ha!  Heaven-sent opportunities to be patient.  Random moments of patience lessons just for me.  I don't feel really called on to make some contributions to my internet provider above and beyond the healthy bill I pay each month.  But I think I should actually call the local office and thank them for the way they are slowing down my service, giving me good chances to pay attention to heaven-sent opportunities to redirect energy from impatience to patience, to gratitude for the patience lessons. Just as I expected, I am beginning to savor those messages that the server cannot be found, that I am without recourse and need to just continue trying and trying, patiently, happily.  I am actually getting better at honestly doing that.

Monday, August 7, 2017

What did I do yesterday?

Friends ask me what I have been doing.  I don't know.  I can't call up yesterday and I didn't make any recordings of the day.  It bugs me that I know I lived through the whole day and I must have spent it somewhere doing something.  I ate breakfast, I am pretty sure.  I looked at my email.  I probably had some fun experiences or insights but I can't recall any.

So, I decided to try journaling.  I bought a notebook at Staples that looks just like our composition notebooks back before the present age.  They looked like these:  Well, only the black and white ones.  This is all before the days of color.  Now that I think of it, there was a time before color and I know it has been noted and researched.  No color tv, only a few colors for cars, no green or blue hair and our notebooks were black and white. We had no tennis shoes in neon colors.  Oh, it was stern!

It turns out that when I purposely record notes about yesterday, I have trouble.  I can't stop writing.  Suddenly, I recall this which leads to a total recall of that which totally deserves several comments, several of which are just begging for an additional witticism or flippant remark.  As my 8th grade girl friend remarked recently, some academic types feel the need to footnote everything and supply bibliographies.  One day, I may well appreciate having sources and references that pertain to some of the wild claims I make. I have difficulty just asserting something without pointing to affirmative evidence for my statement.

A question that comes to mind as I am grinding out words is "Am I ever going to use all this writing?"  I actually have tried journaling before, many times.  We both have notebook stacks, all the times we tried to make a diary before.  I start off with a bang, writing away.  But then I get sick or have to take a trip and leave the book at home or simply get tired of writing. In no time, a description of what I bought in the supermarket yesterday gets trite, even to write, much less read five years from now.  Every notebook of a previous journal attempt is empty for the last 75% of the pages.

I plan to keep at it for a while, watching my brain.  My main purpose is to increase my awareness of the highlights of the day before.  I want to be able to respond intelligently about what the heck I have been doing.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

What should they learn?

My friend and I are scheduled to discuss an old question in education: is it better to try and give an education that tries to cover everything or better to train specifically for a particular occupation or specialty? Both approaches have well-known downsides.

It is well-known that if you start studying on the very day you are born, you won't have covered everything by the day you die.  So, of course, the liberal arts/humanities education can only "hit the highlights."  So, whether your physics instruction was limited to high school or you have a full physics major from college, you still don't know all that much about physics.  Get a PhD in physics and you will know more but you will also be much more aware of what you still don't know.

You can go the other way and get training for a very specific job and forget about broad knowledge.  That can and does work quite well, but it can also leave you confused and fearful, with big gaps in your understanding of the world and both its possibilities and its dangers. You may also find that the very specific job you have trained for has become obsolete and is no longer needed. The way things are going these days, you will almost certainly find that new learning and skills must be mastered, no matter what sort of work you do.

Most of the discussions about broad education vs. specific are about young people, say 20 years old or less.  However, as society and its ideas change, and as longevity is achieved by more people, education and exploration of ideas and subjects attracts more people of older ages. I often think that romantic or blow-'em up movies can become repetitious and real subjects gain attraction.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Getting new insights and besides, it's fun

I don't like to overdo sending information but some things are quite impressive.  Here is an example from the American Association for the Advancement of Science: 

Goats, bookworms, a monk's kiss: Biologists reveal the hidden history of ancient gospels

At Oxford University's historic Bodleian Libraries, books are such privileged objects that scholars are forbidden to bring in pens, purses, sharp objects, or drinks. But scientists have recently figured out how to sample books for ancient DNA and proteins without damaging them. Such studies are revealing the organisms that interacted with ancient books, from the animals whose skins are preserved as parchment to the bookworms and people who once lingered over the pages. Researchers can even isolate the microbes spewed on manuscripts when people kissed, coughed, or sneezed.

Tea and systems

In the 1980's, there was interest in W. Edwards Deming and various ways to increase the quality of processes and manufacturing. Maybe you have heard of "Six Sigmas" and other programs aimed at studying all sorts of mistakes and failures, often in machine performance but also in people's work and behavior.  The name refers to attempts to find ways to avoid even very rare mistakes or types of failure.  The title "quality control" is sometimes used for the statistical and psychological study of how to lower the probability of errors and increase satisfaction and level of service.

As in the areas of genetics and also traffic accidents, we can work on making better systems of manufacturing and of training but regardless, the world, any systems or operations we work and we ourselves are always changing.  There is good reason to believe we humans change faster and more totally than just about anything else on earth, except maybe the weather.  On top of that, many people in the world are currently charmed with the picture of innovation.  How about if I retreat to my garage and invent a new and wonderful gadget?  Others have done it and with imagination and grit, have become rich, while changing the world.

As you may have experienced, some people can find intense pleasure in outlining and carrying out what seems like a perfect plan.  If I can get some venture capitalists to believe in me and my plan, I can finance the construction of my new, great gadget and launch into a new and better life.

The thrill of having a knock-their-socks-off plan, a system that I have tested and examined, improved and perfected can get overwhelming.  If only there weren't so many younger, stronger, smarter people trying the same thing. Plus, as soon as I get my system absolutely, totally perfect, the public's habits will change and my ideas will become obsolete. I have got to hurry!

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