Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Snow here now

We are getting snow.  We can drive around town but it is unwise to go very fast.  Stopping is not hard when going slow. We have mechanical aids that chatter the brakes, pumping them so that the speed is cut but the brakes are not applied long enough for the car to begin skidding.  It is good for us to get in the mood of slowing down and not being in a rush. Sometimes, that is not possible. When someone is bleeding or not breathing, we want to go in a hurry. Hurry these days equals friction: can the rubberish tires get traction on the road bed? We basically try to adjust needs as we can and take advantage of what the weather offers.

One of the benefits of snow:

One major benefit of a good snow cover is snow functions as an excellent insulator of the soil. Without snow, very cold temperatures can freeze the soil deeper and deeper. This could lead to damage of root systems of trees and shrubs. ... Snow also helps conserve soil moisture over the winter.

 We don't think about our trees and bushes much until we lose them.  This fall, winds took many trees in our neighborhood. It is hurts to lose a good tree that gave us shade and fall color so having a blanket for the roots is a gift.  

Sometimes, it is irritating to say "the snow is so beautiful" but it is true.  There is bascially nothing else that makes the whole visible world one color. It is not just the color - it is also the light.  The sky is covered in a layer of clouds but plenty of light still comes from the sky. The pure white snow reflects that light with gusto.  Looking out, there is one world.

Monday, December 30, 2019

CNN's year in pictures - News

Worth looking at slowly and completely.  Can be upsetting.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Memories and metrics

These two married people really have shared many things.  However, when we remember them, we often remember quite different aspects of the events.  The duet between Maurice Chevalier and Hermione Gingold, "Ah, yes, I remember it well", depicts the differences in a single event remembered by just two people.  Of course, differences and divergences are multiplied vastly when large groups are involved instead of just two people.  This morning, I read the words "according to our metric". I am glad to see those words and I hope more people will take them up and use them.

When comparing nations, groups, religions, writers or whatever, investigators often create "metrics", measures that are thought to be basic to the comparison. But already we are in the thick of it.  Why compare? To interest audience ? To feel superior? To challenge ourselves to improve? The purpose, even when it is not discussed, matters. Some other purpose would likely lead to a different investigation.  Already, opinions may differ on the value of making a comparison, and on which items to compare.

When people think about the way testimonies, histories and data analysis are structured, they improve their sophistication.  They tend to gauge the resulting judgments for adequacy, bias and focus. Remember Ferdinand the Bull? He was the bull who fictionally preferred to gaze lovingly with appreciation at the flowers in the fields instead of fighting and snorting.  So, the best field for Ferdinand might well be a loser of a field for the other bulls.  

It is quite American and modern to wonder who or what is best.  Are we #1? As the year ends, as the best menu items, novels and winter coats are being selected, the problem of the metric to be used gets highlighted.  Here are words from the New Yorker:

Every year, we publish a list of readers' favorite New Yorker pieces, and every year we encounter the same problem: there's no precise way to measure popularity online. Or, perhaps more accurately, there are multiple ways, and they each tell a different story. Unique visitors—the sheer number of people who have landed on a story—is the bluntest of metrics. For publications sustained by advertising revenue, this number is key, because each visit, no matter how brief, generates some incremental amount of revenue. But the number fails to capture whether these readers stick around and form any kind of loyalty to a publication. Engaged minutes, the term for the total amount of time that readers spend on a piece, is more helpful. But even this metric, however gratifying, doesn't fully capture The New Yorker's ambition to be a valued daily destination for news and cultural coverage, ideas and arguments, fiction and poetry, and humor.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

I get lost in my Pocket

The program (also known as an 'app') that allows me to travel around the internet and visit web sites is a 'browser'.  Chrome and Microsoft Edge and Apple Safari are all browsers. I like Firefox. It is free and reasonably independent. I use Firefox every day.  

Not very long ago, Firefox instituted a new service called "Pocket".  I like to have several web pages open at the same time. I understand that the record number is well over 200.  My poor little bottom-of-the-line computer can't really manage 20. Twelve is too many. Two or three is about right. I try to close a web page when I am not likely to use it again for a while.  That means that I am opening and closing web pages often.

The New Page programming on Firefox includes this Pocket feature.  So each time I go to launch a new page, I find a set of suggested articles available somewhere on the web that I might want to read.  All I have to do to capture the article is do a right click and choose "Save to Pocket." Trouble is that at my advanced age, way past midlife, I forget what I was trying to open a new page to do. So, in looking over the choices Pocket tells me about, I get distracted and forget.  

On the other hand, I do find many excellent articles through Pocket's suggestions.  Because the suggestions come from all over, I have gotten interested in the sources of internet writing.  I write this blog and have heard of other bloggers. I follow a group on the web page for this blog, and I follow more blogs in Feedly.  Many of the Pocket suggestions I find interesting come for "Vox", the Latin for "voice". I don't know much about Vox or Politico or even HuffPost, but I am interested.  The effects of education for independence, for life fulfillment, for social cohesion make it likely that many people, of all ages, are interested in commentary and discussion and exploration of timely topics.

I am developing a slightly better concentration so that I realize that I have too many Pocket articles to read already.  I realize that I can't get what I want done if I let myself wander off every ten minutes. I can't help feeling that some of the suggestions I pass over and ignore would be valuable, but I am learning to let that feeling go.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Brain munching avoided

A friend complained that she wasn't feeling much in the way of gratitude.  It is totally understandable when I am tired, irritated, afraid, sad, to feel that the world is terrible.  Sometimes, I feel I could design a much better world than the one I am in. I wrote that I have a theory that women experience emotions more openly and fully than men.  Males are taught as well as being wired to suppress, cast under the rug, strong fears and many other negative emotions. 

I am not sure that women feel emotions more deeply or more suddenly than men but it seems to be that women accept their own emotions more willingly.  Therapists often advise that powerful negative emotions are best processed by facing them and experiencing them, instead of denying them or running from them.  I suspect that getting into a funk, feeling down, knowing that one is feeling negative may be a shorter, better path toward getting back to happiness.

Many men are convinced that they should feel nothing but bravery.  Some are so trained that when they are in the grip of a strong emotion, they don't even know it.  I wonder if women live longer than men, on average, because they lead richer lives of strong emotions, both positive and negative.  Common advice is that repression keeps the negative around to hound and re-hound.  

It can be fun to identify the emotion, realize I am afraid or repulsed or nervous or whatever, and having named the feeling, tell myself to get in deeper.  I am afraid of the bogeyman. Ok, I bet that particular bogeyman is extra demonic and has a hankering for my brain. I bet he is going to munch my brain slowly and painfully.  It only takes a second or two, before I realize I am silly. I am not in danger of having my brain munched. The situation was rather exciting there for a moment but it is over now.  Bye, Boogie See you later.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

A Wednesday Christmas Day

As a school pupil, I calculated that I got the longest Christmas holiday, with no school, when the big day fell on Wednesday.  But the Buddhists are always telling me that life is change, that change is happening and that the world is different every minute, much less the years and years it has been since I was in grade school.  Christmas Day has been fun and full of energy, with greatgrandkids running and jostling and playing Blank Slate. I didn't participate but I sat on the sidelines and observed. A fun game, where a player draws a word like "jet".  The word is announced to everyone and they all write an extension of that word such as "jetliner". If I think of an extension that is unique, I get no points. If I think of an expression that is duplicated by just one other player, we both get 3 points, the best possible outcome.  If more than two of us use the same expression, those of us choosing that wording get one point. Several players commented on the game being fun.  

Last night's Christmas Eve dinner also included a game, the one called Taboo.  The player needs to get others to say "Winter" but will be penalized if any word listed as taboo is uttered.  All the good words like snow, cold, seasons, fall, spring are taboo. The most common word uttered was "Uh" as in "uh, uh, uh…"

Both games were fun, the family is spirited and fun, the gifts were great but…

  • It can be tiring to have Christmas, which is not news but is still true

  • Having a weekend, then Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, with another weekend coming up is tiring and disorienting

  • We have activities scheduled by days of the week and having Christmas poke its nose in the middle of them creates chaos

I suspect the wisest thing to do is to suffer gladly and simply wait it all out, with a smile and forbearance.  I am revising my opinion that Wednesday is the best day for Christmas and substituting the notion that each day of the week has its advantages and downsides.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Season's Greetings

Merry Christmas!

Happy New Year!

Hope you have a marvel of a decade!

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Different answer

I opened up my Chromebook, which is normally sensitive and able to pick up the WI-Fi signal anywhere in the house.  I noticed the icon showed only two rings of signal. Lynn has a rule of thumb: less than three and things won't work. I tried anyhow.   "Not available" - right Gmail, with 1 billion users, is not available. I use Google, I use Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google Contacts.  My lovely Google, watching and memorializing my every move, selling my name and fame to Big Corp - can't be down!  

Must be my carrier.  That company is large but still, they may be having trouble.  Christmas is on Wednesday this year. Today is Monday and the local kids are home, not in school.  It is probably bandwidth. Every kid in every school in every grade is on the local servers. I bet that's it.  

Maybe the signal is better in another part of the house.  I moved to another part of the house - no dice. My carrier is big on using algorithms and robotic assistants.  I have called enough times to know that I am often told to re-start my modem. Not simply turn it off. Turn it and the router completely off.  Wait 60 seconds, Start up the modem with the router off. Wait until all the lights on the modem are on. Then, turn on the router.  

Ok, there is the modem.  Now, to turn it off. Wait, no lights on the modem.  How can I turn it off if it is already off? That's odd.  There should be some lights and a cord I can disconnect. There is the socket for the power cord but there is no cord.  What the heck? There is the power cord, the socket end lying on the floor. Aha! Dusting around it knocked power off. The power cord is not connected.  Not the local kids, not the carrier, Me! I killed my wi-fi.  

Turn off the router, re-connect the modem's power, wait for the lights indicating the cable signal has been found and connected.  Turn on the router. Yay! Full internet!

Monday, December 23, 2019

Forgetting (again)

It seems that the area of forgetting is part of the lands of the elders.  But forgetting is an interesting subject for anyone.

I read about the golfers who complained that their elderly caddy could not see well enough.  This time they wanted a caddy with good eyesight. "Did you see where that drive went, Caddy?" "Yes, I did."  "Great! Where is it?" "I forget."

The Dowager Countess, played by Maggie Smith, was once close to the manly Russian visitor, years ago.  "How close were you?" "I forget."

It is difficult to tell whether an assertion of forgetting is true.  Personally, I like the idea that as the decades slide by and more and more of life becomes a single stream, that even something as exciting and basic as a love affair might actually be forgotten.

I think there is speculation that every sight, sound, smell, touch and thought is hidden in the brain somewhere but that finding them and recalling them is iffy.  I have read that it is a good thing we forget so we aren't overwhelmed with thoughts and memories. I have also read that recent research indicates that the business of going into another room but forgetting why when you are there is triggered by passing through a doorway.  I keep meaning to remind myself of my mission before leaving the room but I forget.

I do enjoy some work on my habits, physical and mental.  I might focus on leaving the room deal and learn to pause before exiting the room to give myself a reminder.  I realize that I won't know I have failed to do that until I am elsewhere and puzzled but this is an old problem.  Back in psych grad school, we learned about Edwin Guthrie and his work on situations where training is aimed at changing behavior before an important event occurs.  Maybe I will put a sign on my doorways to remind me to pause and rehearse my mission before exiting a room.

There are people who try to outperform each other in Olympian contests of memory, such as memorizing the arbitrary order of a deck of playing cards.  Books such as "Moonwalking with Einstein" by Joshua Foer can help you get started in such activities if you are of a mind to. I am much better at remembering book titles, author and quotations than remembering family birthdays. I don't learn or remember the records of the outstanding and 'instanding' members of the Packer football team.

Just the other day, I saw a list of things we tell ourselves that don't hold up.  One of the items was "I don't need to write that down. I'll remember it." I do write things down more than I used to but I forget where the note is.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

On my mind

My goal with this blog is to write about what happens, to me, to people and things around me or people and things of interest.  That is a broad goal, good since things are always happening, not so good since so much is happening. I try to write somewhere around 300-400 words per post. So, I have to try and focus.  Quite a few friends read my posts so I want to avoid being too trivial, too revealing, too mundane and too all other poor properties and qualities.

Ever since I was in junior high school, I have boiled some eggs for breakfast now and then.  I did that this morning and doing so gets me thinking about diet, longevity, the health of my veins and arteries and yours.  I could write about that.

Once in a while, Lynn starts decluttering.  She is good at it and I appreciate her motivation, good judgment and results but not when she starts interfering with stuff I want.  I could write about a fight-ette we had over what is appropriately posted with magnets on our refrigerator. 

I make dinner every other night most of the time and last night I made tuna pasta.  The recipe comes from Joie Warner's "No-Cook Pasta Sauces". I have other posts that mention the book but it has been five or more years since I used that recipe, which was once the mainstay of my cooking.  I recommend the book and the recipe. I tried Banza Pasta made from chickpeas and it was good and satisfying.

My elderly friends asked me to help them re-learn how to use their DVD player.  They were also both curious and annoyed that they have a thumb drive but didn't know how to use it.  I helped them learn both and I think they reminded themselves what the file explorer in Windows operating system can do at the same time.

I am still reading lightly through Heal Thy Self by Saki Santorelli.  The book is a collection of short essays depicting group therapy sessions in the famous MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) clinic at the University of Massachusetts Hospital.  One of the essays reports a member of the group complaining about feeling empty. She meant mentally adrift, not feeling hungry. Sometimes, I feel dispirited or depressed but I have never felt like describing my inner state as 'empty'.  I intend to give a talk sometime on the value of running to Google (or Bing or Duckduckgo, if you prefer) with whatever bugs you. It can seem dumb or hopeless but nearly 100% of the time, whatever is on your mind has also been on the minds of many, many others.  Don't expect yourself or anyone else to have all the answers but describing what you are wondering about to Google or other "search engines" can definitely help. I got 630 million results on feeling empty but I won't read them all.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Better appreciating

It is not so much that I am in love with my mind, as it is that I am interested in both its powers and its limitations.  When I learn of a likely book, I look up the author to see what I think of that person's credentials and background. Doing so does not lead to perfect decisions but it helps.  I learned of "Heal Thy Self" by Saki Santorelli. Seemed worth pursuing but I couldn't find the book in the public or campus libraries and I didn't want to pay the Kindle price.  I may wind up doing that anyhow since it is so much easier and faster to copy highlights, make a computer file of likely passages and send comments to Goodreads and Twitter.  

The book "Incognito" helps me see that much of what goes on in me including moods, ideas and actions are totally or partially beyond my conscious mind.  However, there is a great deal that IS in my mind AND open to what I choose and what I reject. The Quakers sit in quiet, seeing what comes to mind and awaiting messages and inspirations that seem, upon reflection, to be important.  Jon Kabat-Zinn and his associates have worked with patients dying of cancer that has exhausted all medical avenues. Saki Santorelli headed up much of that effort.  

When his book came, I sat down to read some of it and was struck by the testimony of one of the 10,000 patients they have worked with.  He said,"I want to appreciate my life more."  Me, too. From my blog of March 29, 2008:

Views from the French bus 

Meditation, for me, is all about trying to rest and re-orient my attention. Attending to nothing at all and noticing when I am thinking in order to return to not thinking for a while gives me more awareness of where I have placed my attention.

The situation is best captured by my experience of a bus ride through beautiful French and Italian countryside. I was the leader of the group and responsible for day-to-day upkeep of financial records. The ride provided a chance to get all my records up to date and temporarily relieve my worries about getting behind and failing in my duties. But, the countryside was very beautiful and I would probably not be coming this way again. Much like life, eh?

I could see that I might end the day with balanced books but no experience of the views, the one-time chance to see those places, those scenes.

No matter what, we cannot attend to everything. There is always something going on behind me or in the next town or on the other channel. I am always going to pay "opportunity costs" for choosing this path or that target for my attention. Meditation enables me to feel blank, to notice what I am attending to and to switch or desist if I want.

I was struck by the relevance of that aim to my own life.  I do realize that my best way of living is a balanced way: appreciation, sure.  But attending to brushing my teeth, wrapping Christmas gifts and exercising, too.  When I pay attention, attend, am aware of what I am doing, I can appreciate what there is, and what I am managing to do at the same time.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Oh, good!

I have an impulse to write about a strange possibility.  I am not the first to think about it. The character Dr. Pangloss in Voltaire's (1694-1778) novel "Candide" thought and preached the idea.  Eckhart Tolle briefly discusses the idea that there is nothing to worry about, really. The author Tim Grimes discusses a similar experience to that of Tolle, realizing that the world is ok and that fear is not needed.

Both Tolle and Grimes describe what is maybe a personal breakdown of some sort, a very brief intense feeling of crisis and climax that lasts a day or two, followed by a more or less permanent feeling of very deep calm and acceptance of every aspect of life and death.  I don't feel that I have had anything like that happen to me. I do think that a regular practice of meditation more or less encourages a calm and happy acceptance of the days and events of life.  

It seems rather silly to assert or even consider the idea that all of life is good.  I realize that there is plenty of fear and hatred and confusion and anxiety in people and that there are many events and ongoing conditions that only an idiot would describe as good or acceptable or gifts.  I suppose that the only way there can be so much suffering and crime and misbehavior in a good world is if the negatives stem for mis-understanding and mistaken convictions.

Maybe there is some chance of explanation and understanding through the area of concepts.  If I have the concept that everybody outside of my county is evil, I may see them and their actions through a dark and twisted lens.  If I still smart from being accused by my parents of wasting my allowance, I may carry guilt and a dislike for myself without even knowing that I do or where the guilt/dislike habit came from.  It has been interesting to live through this period of "false news" since it has highlighted for me how many of my opinions and beliefs are based on what I have heard or read.   

I am interested in what the mind and brain do in our lives, as well as social and political forces such as believing that members of a group are inferior or superior to me.  I usually quote the title "Cure" when asked for a reference on the subject of mind over matter or placebos or the personal power of belief. I recently found the statement that "pain is an opinion" and I find that those words lead to some sources that seem reliable and solid.  

I am convinced just now that trying to have only happiness and bliss is silly and a waste of time.  I find that Kemps "Cow Tracks" ice cream put me in a blissful state but only if I foregone the dish sometimes.  If I eat it at every meal, it gets boring and eventually repulsive. The best way to tap into the most happiness seems to be to look carefully at what I find in and around me.  Often, the beauty, the wit, the cleverness, the blessings feel complete. They seem to be as positive as I can stand. I still wonder about actual starvation and that volcano explosion in New Zealand.

Thursday, December 19, 2019


We are having a sunny day, which is a pleasure.  We have plenty of cloudy days and the sun and the shadows it casts make for varied interesting lighting.  

This is the time of the year we and many before us think about the sun.  The days have gotten shorter. The sun is busy warming the southern hemisphere and has left us get out in the cold.  It is 5℉ now and that is 2 degrees below today's predicted high.  

Happily, our furnace, stove, microwave and socks, shoes, long pants, sweatshirts and fleece jackets are keeping us warm.  Clothing of the old-time kind keeps us warm but only because it traps our own body heat, as Robert Heinlein taught me years ago in his book "Stranger in a Strange Land."  Clouds or not, we know that in a few days, we will reach the winter solstice. Google tells me the exact moment of least heat and light for my hemisphere will happen at 10:19 PM on Saturday, Dec. 21.  

I expect the earth will continue on its orbit and move around to where we get more sunlight.  I understand that our sort of star has a lifetime of about 10 billion years but half of that is already used up.  The actual scoop is worse: https://phys.org/news/2015-02-sun-wont-die-billion-years.html  The details are such that well before the sun dies or even before it expands and includes the earth, conditions here will not support life as it is now.  So, salute the sun while you have a chance and enjoy the right amount of its light and heat. Happy solstice!

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Making some progress

I hear and read scary opinion.  I imagine some writers are just trying for a dramatic headline, an attention-getting slant. But despite environmental and social problems, I do see signs of movement toward greater peace and wiser living.  

If you read Fear Itself by Ira Katznelson, you can get some idea of the burden African Americans have borne,even in the 1900's.  It wasn't fair and it isn't now but we seem to be getting there. Barack Obama did the US plenty of good.  Michelle Obama's book Becoming has been on the bestseller list for months.  And consider this:

This year marks the first year that the winners of Miss America, Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, and now Miss Universe are all black women. 

One of the areas that Americans could improve is patience.  It is difficult for a young nation and for young people to take a long view.  Between our history, our love of achievement and successful business, we have traditionally looked at short periods of time.  I am glad to see the book list I mentioned in Monday's post https://fearfunandfiloz.blogspot.com/2019/12/a-good-list-of-books-of-decade.html

is an attempt to look at longer periods of time.  The ending of the year 2019 is a very good time to consider not the previous year but the previous decade.  Books, careers, legislation, health trends over a ten year span can be more meaningful and more indicative that simple one year trends.

We are living in a worldwide movement toward recognition of and advancement of women.  We still depend on women for our next generation and producing that generation is a very big job.  Still, we are finding ways, all over the world, to use women's brains, women's intuitions and tendencies and tastes and philosophies in our affairs.  Citizenship, voting, science, administration of all kinds needs all human intelligence and we seem to be finding ways to recognize and use women's abilities.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Books that stand out

I taught a graduate course in which mature and experienced teachers tried to list all the books they could remember reading.  Many lists were 300 to 500 titles long. Some students hardly read and had short lists. Looking at each other's lists was a popular activity and often reminded someone of a book they had read but not recalled.  Yesterday's blog post referred to a list in which seasoned writers and readers mention one book per person as one that stood out for that person during the last ten years.  

The list and its aim intrigued me.  I have been writing this blog for about ten years and I wondered what books have stood out for me.  I memorized long ago the names C.S. Lewis and Jacques Barzun as authors that charmed and armed me with good ideas and language.  I have benefitted from the writings of John Kemeny and many others. Still, I find I can't recall many books without some aid or prompt.  I looked through my blog archive and my web site, at https://sites.google.com/site/kirbyvariety

There are many pages on that site about books.  I found this list of fictional characters that I have read at least two books about:


I read "Incognito" within the past two years and have found it surprisingly helpful in thinking about my mind, my actions and those of others.  I read "Educated" aloud to Lynn and have participated in a discussion of the book with others. I read "Leaving the Witness" by Scorah aloud and watched her TED talk.  Those two books do show good examples of personal and important education, sometimes blooming only after schooling ends.  

Buddhism and its American cousins as well as natural maturing process shows that we are different people at different times in our lives.  What I find, delight in, and remember from "The Once and Future King" can be quite different when I am 20 or 50 or 80.

Monday, December 16, 2019

A good list of books of the decade

A good list of books:


Things to notice about the list

  1. Many authors

  2. First statement addresses the difference between a book speaking to a person's mind and the book's more external reputation.  Often a book that really matters to one person is totally forgetable for someone else.

  3. The article has multple personal statements, often the best sort of testimony and recommendation.

  4. Article avoids asking What is best and asks instead what had stayed with you, what have you recalled several times? Asks what has mattered to you.

  5. Article is aimed at one's reading over a decade, more than a single year of reading

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Unusual events

Our local family consists of exactly half males and half females. The "girls" include one member who is especially enthusiastic about escape rooms, those amusements for groups to be enclosed and solve puzzles to get out.  The girls in the family used their skills, wits and patience to get out of a local escape room, but not long before the time was up and they would have been let out. Whew!

When Lynn comes home, I can hear the garage door being raised.  As I heard that sound, I got a phone call from her. She is in our driveway and she is calling?? I answered and she asked if I could see her.  I went to a window and looked. Not hard to spot her car with a police car pulled up behind and the red and blue lights swirling. She had not stopped at the stop sign on the edge of our property and had been pulled over.  She got off with a warning while complaining there was no need for a stop sign where that one was. The officer advised her to take up the matter with her alderman.

Despite being of advanced age and being open-minded, I am often surprised at unusual events nearby, events that I never expected when I was a boy.  I did picture myself involved in espionage or being a sheriff like Longmire. I envisioned being a physician and treating scraped knees and broken collar bones.  But women's groups trying to escape carefully constructed puzzle rooms and finding my sweetie the subject of a man woman hunt never came to mind.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Schubert, Vivaldi, Donizetti

I meet often with several highly educated men. They are intelligent and sceptical about any hypothesis but, much like the tricky handoff in The Music Man, give them a snippet of a great old hymn and suddenly they are energized, enthusiastic and united.  I witnessed them breaking into "Stand Up, Stand Up, For Jesus", a capella, in the student union.  

I have heard 

"Music has charms to soothe a savage breast." Music has the power to enchant even the roughest of people. This proverb comes from the play The Mourning Bride, by William Congreve, an English author of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

From what I have seen and heard, many different civilizations completely understand the power of music, trumpets, drums, choruses, and rhythm.  The musical written and directed by Lee Hirsch "Amandla!" and the CD "Maori Songs" show the power and joy available in music in any culture.

Franz Schubert's "Standchen" was one of the first pieces of music that we both recognized as affecting.  Later, watching again one of Lynn's favorite movies, Strangers in Good Company, I was taken by the score of Schubert's music: Impromptu D. 899, String Quartet in C Major D. 956 and the lovely Nocturne D. 897.

Some of Vivaldi's music is captivating, too.  I realize that if one gets into virtually any music or any art or any activity or hobby, it can be captivating, fascinating and uplifting.  We have both been dancing through the dishes to Vivaldi's Concerto for 2 Mandolins P. 133 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTkl6m0IstU

Much of the fun of Donizetti's The Elixir of Love (1832) comes from the English translation, available on our old CD of the Chandos production, conducted by David Parry.  The love of the transfixed Nemorino for the gorgeous Adina is ok but the bluster of Sergeant Belcore (who can feel the ladies "passion" growing stronger but is not surprised - he is, after all, a sergeant, as he modestly reminds us) and the master quack Dr. Dulcamara's assurances of the power of his specialized aphrodisiac elixir are superior.  

For immediate performances, search YouTube.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Alice, Princess Andrew

We have watched "The Crown" on Netflix.  I didn't know much about being royal, but I have had a little experience that being in charge of others may not be fun or easy.  I knew that Edward VIII had abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson. As I watched the episodes about Elizabeth II and those in the series "Victoria", I realized that being born into a royal family would probably seem to me to be a terrible experience.  Philosophers like to debate the matter of the existence of free will. Children often dream of having great, maybe unlimited, power. They think that status would enable them to have all desires met all the time.

I have never been the king of anything, but I have had many experiences that tell me that Buddha was right about "everything changes".  I know that even the best monarch could make a mess of things, and that human ambition in oneself and others, as well as resentment, hatred and twists and turns of opinion could be difficult, maybe impossible, to avoid. 

I sometimes forget the words I use to describe my own ancestry: I am descended from cockroaches and algae.  I think the biologists would balk at the cockroaches as being a different line of descent but far enough back, I am confident the bugs, the algae and I had common ancestors.  It seems that a person is king or queen based on one's ancestors but not too far back.

Watching "The Crown", I felt I knew what was going on until I saw a Greek nun.  What? Who? Why, that is Alice, Princess Andrew. I bought Hugh Vickers' book about the woman, who turns out to be Queen Elizabeth's mother-in-law.  So far, I have learned that the woman was born in Windsor Castle, in the presence of her greatgrandmother, Queen Victoria. Alice was born deaf but learned to read lips very well.  Alice and her son, the husband of Queen Elizabeth, are also members of the royal families of Greece and Denmark.

Alice was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1930 (when she was 45) and placed in a sanitarium. Apparently, she was even treated by Sigmund Freud at one point, although (pretty standard for Freud, unfortunately) he said she suffered from sexual frustration and...induced early menopause in her.

After Alice recovered, she stayed in Greece, converted to the Greek Orthodox Church, founded an order of nuns against the wishes of her family, and devoted her life to religious work from then on.


Thursday, December 12, 2019

Commerce and the mind

There are tools, products, publications and teachers available for working with one's mind.  Since I was born with my mind and it developed over my lifetime, I don't feel that I need much help using my mind, feeling comfortable with my mind or facing what comes to mind.  I learned decades ago about practices using my mind that could be engaged in by myself alone. These practices are related to what religious people in various groups have done for centuries.  

If articles about the effect and the result of using one's mind and attention consciously are read, the evidence can be surprising how much concentrating on one's breath or on some place in view for a while can turn out to be so valuable and helpful.  Good mental practices can be understood and practiced at no cost. However, reading honest and balanced explanations of methods and results can be daunting. So, it is natural that people feel comfortable with a teacher or an activity. Doing mind work in a group, like doing yoga or exercise in a group, can be helpful, making a person feel correct, part of a group, ok.

There are many sources urging us all to get exercise.  I suspect there are fewer telling everyone to try meditation.  It is fashionable among some to sneer at business and look down on commercial efforts to direct good use of the mind.  However, practicing meditation for 5 or 10 minutes can pay off. In some ways, developing the habit is more valuable than lifting weights or aerobics since it enriches one's life and awareness for all parts of life, even if one is sick or unhealthy.  Practicing anything for five or ten minutes can seem too brief to matter, but it is not. Besides many people meditate for longer times. Magazines, such as Mindful, or books, such as "10% Happier", or videos, such as any of the dozens on the subject on YouTube, can all be helpful.

You may know there are multiple traditional types of meditation.  In one, the meditator keeps attention on a single anchor. Since our minds are always roaming, the meditator is not surprised or offended when she finds her attention has wandered off the anchor, her breathing or a point somewhere that she can see.  When she realizes that she is thinking about something, she returns her mind to the anchor. She does this until time's up.

Another traditional practice is to calmly observe the train of thoughts that come to mind. The difficulty with this approach is that it is easier to fall into the matter that comes up, considering what clothes to buy, or why you shouldn't have a cookie. Do either approach for 5 or 10 minutes every day for a week, and you may well feel that it is comforting and helpful.  If being in a class, following a leader or watching a YouTube helps get you launched, fine.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

What's old?

We humans are equipped to pay more attention to dangers than to pleasures. So, if you are writing to get attention, put a negative twist on your article.  If you are writing for the other side of the aisle, put a negative twist on the nefarious schemes and comments from this side. Don't write that about 90% of humans have enough to eat.   Write about 10% are inadequately fed.  

Try to find and document horror, pain and loss.  You want to get noticed? Show the bad. Think about it.  If you do a good job picturing what is going well and describing people and places that are living morally and successfully, the conclusion is logically that those people and places can be forgotten about.  It's the worst troubles that need to be highlighted. The conclusion then can be "Let's do something about this."  

But those connected citizens get notified of every wildfire, every shooting, every government outrage, every difficulty.  That leads to older people tuning out and younger people despairing of life. I realize that it is American and pioneer lore that each of us needs to stand on our own two feet.  Yes, that notification business, that ding every time an item bringing more bad news arrives, that needs to go. I do recommend looking at a news source or two daily but as the Greeks saw 2000 years ago, moderation is important.  Maybe mute the dinger until your favorite summative news hour rolls around and then check. I think the daily CNN newsletter is a good one and I am a fan of Google News but on the computer, not a phone. I am really not one to talk since I carry a burner flip phone that elicits snickers from the with-it group.  

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Book club inspiration

Six men suggest books that the group might enjoy.  Somebody suggested "Apocalyptic Planet" by Craig Childs.  I did what I always do: check to see if the book is available in Kindle.  It was and it is, but the cost is a little too high for my tastes at this time.  The group has made arrangements with the local public library (that blessed institution) to borrow several copies.  I dragged my reluctant self down there with ID intact to get one.  

Uf-da!  Oy vey! Big book to read about the environment, not a hot subject with me.  I know, I know, I should read fewer bodice rippers and concentrate on greenhouse gases.  Listen, Bob Artigiani and I read "Limits to Growth" back in 1972 and launched the course "Futures".  Even before that, we noticed that the seconds tick by, we can't use gasoline forever and we are all going to die.  I am a chicken, I am lazy and I prefer reading jokes or bodices. But then, I noticed the cover of the borrowed copy.  Subtitle: "Field Guide to the Everending Earth". That is not what I expected.  

I had boasted to the librarians that I would zip through the book and have it read by 3 PM.  Nope, too good. Too unexpected. One of those books that alternates between real-life scenes and scientific explanation.  The subtitle is correct: author's premise is that Earth has "ended" many times, with heating and cooling too much, with volcanoes and earthquakes, with seas rising and shrinking back and forth.  Whole civilizations withered away and we have the solid evidence, not just a notion.  

(I compose my blog posts in Google Docs and store on Google Drive.  I don't have a set limit for a post but at this point, I just turned on the option to have the computer continuously display the number of words in my document.  That last sentence was 315, in case you are wondering. I am not being entirely frivolous. Some people are looking for an integrated, low-cost way to write, publish, communicate and manage their time.  Gmail and its related services can help easily, quickly and on any connected device.)

Ok, back to Apocalyptic Planet.  The table of contents is helpful, listing various threats

  1. Desertification

  2. Ice collapses

  3. Seas rising

  4. Civilizations failing

  5. Cold returning

  6. Species vanishing

  7. Mountains moving

  8. Cataclysm strikes

  9. Seas boil

If you are looking for a healthy, witty rundown on the whole sets of problems, take a look at the book.

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