The Other I

April 29, 2015

Life by interruption

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:18 pm
Tags:

I have been terribly busy these last two weeks figuring out the universe.  I’ve been struggling, for instance, with the question of Plato, and whether his perfect world of ideal forms has been perhaps the single most alienating influence in the Western world, an influence which is alive and well and has convinced millions of people that we really don’t belong here on earth at all.

Alternatively, I’ve been speculating that the “not one of us” mandates supported by so many religions is the most destructive and evil influence in the world today, out-ranking greed, the desire for revenge, weapons of mass destruction, even vast swathes of environmental destruction.

Then something a little less esoteric appeared in our back yard.  At first we thought it was one of the many wood pigeons that make this patch their home.  It seemed unable to fly and we wondered if it had been attacked by a local cat.  Then we realized it wasn’t a wood pigeon at all.  It’s feathers were a different color, and it bore a band on each of its legs.  It didn’t belong in our yard:  it belonged to somebody.  But it walked- literally – up to our sun-room door clearly asking for help.

I went to Google and confirmed that it was a racing pigeon, possibly worth several thousand pounds.  The professional advice was to hope that our pigeon was not lost but merely exhausted and we were a potential pit stop.  If so, putting out water and grain for 48 hours would be sufficient and then “Fred” (the name given by said expert) would be reinvigorated sufficiently to continue his journey home.  A friend put me in contact with a neighbour who said a racing pigeon had been blown off course during a storm several years ago onto their property, and offered her help.  Her daughter, she said, was an expert.  Well, not exactly an expert, she later clarified.  Her daughter was eleven years old.  But she’d bonded with their pigeon, and would love to be able to help.

I gathered some uncooked grains and seeds together from our kitchen and took a tray and a bowl of water out to Fred, who greeted me with a whoop of enthusiasm.  This went on for 36 hours, and we could see the pigeon was gaining strength, flying onto the high roofs of nearby houses, and returning regularly for sustenance.  But after 48 hours it was time to suggest to Fred that he should now go home.  I bravely went out and withdrew the grain and seeds.  Fred was nowhere in sight and I was relieved.

But at 5:00 he came for his evening repast.  Seeing that there was nothing there, he came up to the sun-room door and pointed out that it was time for dinner.  No, I said, you need to go home.  You are strong enough and competent enough — you do not need me any more to baby you. But I felt like a wicked witch.

The next morning he was perched on the low edge of the roof looking forlornly down at the empty spot where the food had been.

All right, I said, if you are still here tomorrow morning, I will borrow the unused cat cage I’ve been offered, and put the food in there.  That way I can read the numbers on your leg band and contact your owner.  You might even have his name and telephone tucked under your wing.  But I had to walk away.  I could hardly bear my own cruelty – even if my head was telling me that what I was doing wasn’t best for me – it was best for Fred.

By early afternoon, he was gone.  I spent the next day hugely relieved that I’d been strong enough to send him on his way when it was time.

Oh, but that’s not the end of the story!

Two days later he was back at our door.

I went immediately and put some grain in a bowl, but by the time I returned just minutes later he was gone.

We haven’t seen him since.  I’ve decided that he found his way home.

But you know, somehow I think it was a lot more important that I worried about Fred, than that I worried about Plato.

 

April 11, 2015

Fat Chance

Filed under: Diet,Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:08 pm
Tags:

Almost two months ago I started my annual task of taking off the excess three pounds weight I’d put on during the Christmas & New Year holidays.

So far I’ve lost two pounds – that’s an average of one pound a month.  Our weather has finally turned the corner, and despite occasional cold and rainy days, we are clearly headed toward spring and working in the garden has increased my opportunity for faster calorie burn.  So I expect to reach my goal by the end of the month.

My arguments with my two-year-old self, however, hit a barrier two days ago with the publication of research here in the UK showing that obese people are less subject to dementia as they age than groups with lower BMI’s.

“YOU SEE!”, said my two-year-old self.  “That chocolate cookie would really be good for me.  And you won’t let me have it!”

So I looked at the research a little more carefully.  Sure enough, obesity – defined as a BMI greater than 26.5 – that begins in middle age, seems to provide some kind of protective factor against dementia, even when factors like alcohol and smoking are taken into account.  Being significantly under-weight in younger years is an even bigger factor predicting dementia, but I’ve never had a BMI approaching 20, which was the dangerous bench mark.  So my two-year-old is eyeing up that chocolate bar.

But there is also significant research suggesting that obesity is associated with increased risk of cancer.

And I do notice that nobody is recommending that people gain weight throughout middle age in order to stave off dementia.  (Although, of course, researchers do think it’s worth finding out what the protective factors are in obesity that seem to reduce dementia risk.)

So right now, I think I’ll stick with my BMI where it is – minus a pound that is.

And No, two-year-old, you can’t have that bar of chocolate until you lose another pound!  And I don’t want to hear from you again that chocolate is good for you.

April 6, 2015

Faux encouragement

Filed under: Growing Up,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:43 pm
Tags:

In order to illustrate my brilliant insight, I must first confess to downloading a game of Klondike Solitaire, my preferred time-waster that had to be replaced after my recent computer crash.  I’ve been playing it on and off now for close to a month, and I find it so irritating I might have to give it up.

My irritation is that whenever I win a game, the screen shouts “Congratulations! You won!”

Fine.  But when I lose, the screen says “You have run out of moves.  Good Game!”

And that’s what I find so irritating.  It reminds me of an enabling teacher or parent who tries to build self-confidence in their child or student by praising them even when they fail.

That is not how mature self-confidence is built.

Because self-confidence doesn’t come from others’ opinions of our accomplishments.  It doesn’t even come from always succeeding.  It comes from confidence in our own ability to assess what we have done.  We need to be able to say “Yes, I did my best,” or “I did as well as I wanted to,” or “I didn’t get this right;  can I do it better?  Do I want to do better?  If so, how?”  At that point, we might ask for advice.  But that is quite different from encouragement based on false praise.

Yes, we need to know that we are loved.  That is not the same thing as needing indiscriminate praise.  We need to learn to be proud – or not – of ourselves.  What parents and teachers need to help children do is to evaluate themselves.  “What do you think about that work you just did?” is potentially a more helpful response than offering our own assessments as if our opinions were what really matter.

If we can’t judge our own accomplishments (or failures), we remain dependent psychologically.  We can’t stand on our own two feet.  And as human beings, we need to be able to stand up for what we believe in, for what we decide is important, even when it seems that everybody else disagrees with us.  We decide, for instance, that we have to be thinner, more beautiful, smarter, richer, more popular, more famous because that’s what everybody says.

But it’s not the recipe for happiness.

So was this a good post?  can I play another game of Solitaire now?

April 3, 2015

Menu for Good Fry Day

Filed under: Food chains,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:27 pm

In Scotland, deep-fat fried Mars bars are almost as familiar as french fries and battered fish.

But today, every item on the menu for the day at the restaurant Fry Hard is fried.  They fry roast, yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes, pickles, parsnips, carrots, turnips, all sorts of greens.  They even apparently experimented deep-fat frying gravy, but that didn’t work.  The menu does include all the old favourites, however –  battered deep-fat fried Mars bars, Snickers and Creme Eggs.

Deep-fried Toblerone ... "inedible".Which, as the Guardian newspaper put it, might be “a case of batter the devil you know.”

 

March 27, 2015

Still living and learning

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 10:24 pm
Tags:

When I was a teenager, I had a friend who was genetically Black, but whose skin was light enough for her to pass as white.  I remember her trying to decide as she was preparing to go to university whether she should pass as a white person.  In those days in America there was even more overt prejudice against Blacks than today.  Blacks were forbidden – by law – to eat in the same restaurants, use the same rest rooms, or stay in the same hotels as whites.  They were not allowed to sit in the front seats of the bus, and were expected to give up even their seats in the back if a white person would otherwise be forced to stand.

My friend decided, nonetheless, not to pass as a white.  I’m Black, she said.  Whatever the challenges that come with that, I’m not going to try to pretend my way out of that.

Ten days ago I celebrated by 75th birthday.  To my delight and surprise, so did many friends and family.  They really made me feel like it was a big deal.

But as a 75-year-old I am now subject to some of the considerable prejudice that is often felt toward the elderly in this modern world.  Especially as the baby boom is reaching old age, the younger generation often expresses the view that the old should get out of the way.  These feelings seem to me to be greater here in England than in America, but they exist in both countries and no doubt beyond.

I still don’t look my full age (at least on good days) and  I now have the choice of pretending to be younger than I am  –or at least pretending to myself that I’m fooling other people about my true age.

I’ve decided I’m not going to pretend.  Being 75, like every other year in my life, comes with both its unique challenges and unique joys.   I suspect much of the prejudice against the elderly is a result of our rapidly changing world.  Three-year-olds these days can sometimes explain computer games and devices to their grandparents.  8-year-olds can write code to create apps for the internet browser.  15-year-olds are often taller and stronger than anybody in the family’s older generation.  And often, neither the younger nor the older generation appreciates the well of wisdom and knowledge and even intelligence that this apparently simple grandparent possesses.

There are some things, though, that one can only learn with time. It takes decades to learn that what other people think about you isn’t the final arbiter of worth.  It usually takes just as long to learn that physical beauty or celebrity or money do not automatically generate peace or happiness.  It takes long and hard work to discover that a successful life partnership requires more than sexual passion.  But once one has learned these things, they are a source of great contentment and leave room for much greater joy in things that do indeed make life worthwhile.

Admittedly, I am not suffering from the ill-health, loneliness, mental deterioration, or worries about money that plague many of the elderly.  As for the future, I know no more than anyone else when and how my life will proceed, or how many years I still have to live.

But that does not that mean I cannot embrace the intense joy I so often feel now just because I am alive today.

I’m 75 years old!  And I love it!

 

March 17, 2015

An environmentally friendly concoction?

Filed under: Environmental Issues,Family,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:53 pm
This is a photo taken by a real estate agent here in England, presumably to actually find a buyer for the house where this ingenious installation was accomplished.
.
.
Optimisation of space taken to the extreme
I will admit to a certain admiration for the person who figured out all that clever piping to save water and space.  Well, I guess that’s what they were trying to do:  I’ve been trying to figure out what happens to the excess grey water from the machine when the cistern is full.  Or how the toilet flushes when the cistern is empty.
.
And sitting on a toilet underneath a 500 lb washing machine seems a rather high price to pay for recycling, doesn’t it?
.
I come from a family of engineers, some of whom have tried out some ideas that I think could legitimately be categorized as wacky.  But I am extremely grateful that the none of the engineers I know and love have ever tried to replace the picture above with toilet with a washing machine.

March 16, 2015

We all need each other

Filed under: Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 3:41 pm
Tags:

From the best I can tell, this is a true story.  It was sent to me by a friend in honour of Friendship Week.

Fleming was a poor Scottish farmer. One day, while trying to make a living for his family, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby bog. He dropped his tools and ran to the bog.  There, mired to his waist in black muck, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free himself. Farmer Fleming saved the lad from what could have been a slow and terrifying death.

The next day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the Scotsman’s sparse surroundings. An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself  as the father of the boy Farmer Fleming had saved.

‘I want to repay you,’ said the nobleman. ‘You saved my son’s life.’

‘No, I can’t accept payment for what I did,’ Fleming said.

At that moment, the farmer’s son came to the door of the family hovel.  ‘Is that your son?’ the nobleman asked.  ‘Yes,’ the farmer replied proudly.  ‘I’ll make you a deal. Let me provide him with the level of education my own son will enjoy.  If the lad is anything like his father, he’ll grow to be a man we both will be proud of.’

And so Farmer Fleming’s son attended the very best schools and in time, graduated from St Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London, and went on to become known throughout the world as the noted Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of Penicillin.

Years afterward, the same nobleman’s son who was saved from the bog was stricken with pneumonia.  What saved his life this time?

Penicillin.

The name of the nobleman was Lord Randolph Churchill.

His son’s name was Sir Winston Churchill

March 13, 2015

The vista of uncertainty

Before I was rudely interrupted by a crashing computer, I was preparing a post exploring how we know what we think we know.  Many people in the modern world think that the only way we can know anything is through reason and some form of what today we call science.  I have a huge respect for science.  I am a scientist.  Science has been an incalculable contribution to my understanding of the world, and has, at times, willed me with awe.

But valuable as science is, I am under no illusion that it is a potential source of infallible truth or certainty.  Scientific “facts” are not absolute, and are changing far more often than most people realize.  Facts must constantly be verified with evidence.  And then re-verified and re-verified in an unending process.  When we learn something new or take a different perspective, we often change our minds. Things which we assumed to be absolutely beyond question are no longer accepted.  Science, in other words, is our best guess based on the evidence we have before us at any given time.  But its conclusions are never beyond the possibility of doubt.

If logical reasoning or science can’t give us certainty even about this world here and now,  can we answer questions which are beyond the scope of science with any certainty at all?  questions like what happens after we die?  what is the purpose of life?  is warfare ever morally justifiable?  does my husband love me?  what career should I choose?  is there a God?  does prayer ever change what happens? should I have a child?  should I get a divorce?

Again, for some people the answer to these questions lies in religious faith.  Within this perspective, answers to these and many other questions are revealed to us by God.  These answers cannot be verified by proof, and are therefore beyond question.  Doubt therefore, for many believers, is a form of sin, because it is seen to be questioning God’s revelation.  In this sense, faith can give us absolute certainty.

When the same faith is adopted by the whole culture we live it, it is often highly convincing and supportive.  But the problem with faith becomes apparent when we come in contact with others whose faith leads them to different conclusions about what God has revealed.  Our globalized world today is awash with violence justified by millions of people who believe that their faith is the only valid revelation from God, and that anyone who disagrees with them is wrong.  Some of these people believe they have a God-given mandate to wipe the earth clean of anyone who disagrees with them.  Given such disagreements, it is obvious that somebody’s faith must be wrong however certain the individual may be that they are right.

So what about intuition?  Can we intuit some realities by some other method, through some other medium than scientific reasoning or blind faith?   Can I learn something from Beethoven’s Fifth?  Or the expression on the face of a child?  Can a poem teach me something I could never learn in church?  or from a scientific study?  Is that inexplicable sense of awe one achieves after hiking to the mountain top a valid insight into a reality that cannot be expressed adequately in mathematical equations or religious dogma?  Can I learn something holding my newborn child in my arms that I could not learn in any other way?

I am willing to live by – and even die for – some of the insights I have learned through intuition.  I would stake my life on the certainty that my husband loves me.  I live every day with the conviction that existence is good, that all life is worthy of respect, that although I do not understand it,  “the universe is unfolding as it should”.  But like acts of faith, these intuitive certainties are not necessarily universal.  I might be willing to live by them, but other people have reached intuitive conclusions, sometimes in the context of deeply profound experiences, with which I do not agree.  So on some level, I know I might be wrong.  My knowledge at the very least is seriously incomplete.

So is uncertainly the inescapable human condition?  Can we never know anything for certain?

My own guess is that the answer is both yes and no.

Personally, I deeply distrust absolute certainty.  I prefer to live in mystery.  But I have come to appreciate that for some people, certainty is a source of strength.  I am not as dismissive of religious faith, for instance, as I used to be.  Religious belief is not always stunting, it does not always constrict the world, or limit concern to those one might consider “one of us.”  Even those who interpret  the metaphors of revelation literally sometimes gain great strength and wisdom from them.  I remember my own mother facing her death at the age of 48 and leaving behind 10 children, the youngest of whom was 6 years old.  Expecting to be standing before the gates of heaven and telling St. Peter that she had accepted and loved all the children God sent to her gave her the strength and peace she needed to accept her death with great generosity.

To this day, I am not confidant I could do what she did.

 

 

 

March 8, 2015

Upgrade to the 21st century

Filed under: Just Stuff,Stuff of Life: Current Exploits — theotheri @ 1:11 pm
Tags:

https://i0.wp.com/www.animalsneedhelp.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/stop-animal-cruelty1.jpg

 I don’t know what’s wrong, but my computer isn’t working, and my mouse is missing

Image from Seaspray-itsawonderfullife.blogspot.co.uk/

Just as I finished my last post two weeks ago, my computer began to stutter.  Within a day it had crashed, pushing me back into what rapidly began to feel like the pre-industrial age.

Although I grew up with electricity and telephone and radio, we didn’t have television, and I didn’t start using even the most primitive personal computers until I was in my 30’s.  My first computer boasted a phenomenal 640K RAM and a DOS manual, leading my colleagues to remark that I was “seriously into computers.”  But I have always preferred to get information from the printed word rather than from tv or video documentaries and walls of our house are lined with book cases stuffed full of books.

So although I always knew I valued my computer as a thinking tool, I had no idea I would be so completely disoriented without it.  And it got worse.  I managed to get through the first week while I waited for our computer doctor to arrive and replace the start-up motor, which I was convinced was the cause of my problem.  Unfortunately, after two hours of diagnostics, he decided I needed a new computer.

Oh eek:  it wasn’t the cost.  It was the fact that I would have to upgrade from Windows 7, with which I was totally comfortable, to Windows 8.1, which sounded way too much like a screenful of Apple-inspired icons replacing the word-menus which Microsoft has used for half a century.  I decided, however, that I might have enough years left in me to out-live Windows 7, and if I was going to have to learn a whole new system, I’d be better off doing it sooner rather than later.

All right, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected.  I expected to have to work at learning it, which paradoxically made it easier.  It didn’t look at all like MS 7 or Vista or XP, so I faced it as a whole new challenge and didn’t get irritated when I had to figure out how to shut the computer down.  Or find the desk top instead of the Start page, or sign into my Microsoft account to boot up Windows.  Or to figure out how to delete the screen full of icons each more or less shouting that I could not live without them, and with which I was equally sure I could not live with. I am now comfortable with Windows 8.  In fact, I rather like it.

So I feel I have left the pre-industrial age and entered the 21st century.  I wasn’t thrilled, though, to see that Windows 10 is already being moved to the launch pad.

I do hope to start blogging again though.  I’ve missed talking to you.

February 23, 2015

How do I know what I know I know?

Bee on a rose by lalylaura

Bee on a rose by lalylaura

Shakespeare may have believed that a rose by any other name would still smell just as sweet, but the rose as it is seen or smelled by a bee gathering pollen is very different from the Valentine rose I received .

This example of Immanuel Kant’s epistemology has had a very big influence on my understanding of the world.  Kant said was that what we perceive is always a result not just of the object we are perceiving, but also of the organism which is perceiving it.  There is no way, he argued, to get around that.  We will always be limited to perspectives we  are capable of taking.  So a color-blind person can’t see the difference between red and green.  He might believe other people when he is told there is a difference.  But  he cannot himself perceive it.  When I hear a foreign language, I don’t hear the meaning that someone who speaks that language can hear.

I am not a philosopher, however, and I was shocked to learn that Kant had also argued that music could never be anything more than entertainment, because it did not deal with ideas.  I am sure that any well-read philosopher knows this, but I had no idea Kant was such an intellectualizer.

This matters to me because I often intellectualize.  If I can’t think something through intellectually, I haven’t been convinced I know it.  I often haven’t, in other words, trusted my feelings or my intuition.

I love music, but it is only in my very adult years that I have come to appreciate that I learn something through music that I can’t learn by logic or by applying the scientific method.  The same can be said for all sorts of other kinds of experience which are not strictly-speaking rational or logically arrived at, or which I don’t have the opportunity to examine scientifically.  Being open to my intuitions has almost been like discovering a brand new universe.

I’m not suggesting that intuition is somehow better than scientific reasoning or logical conclusions.   But it is different.  We can understand differently depending on how we arrive there.

And both approaches are subject to error.  Our religious, ethical, or moral convictions may be based on intuition or reasoning.  Either way, we can be wrong.  Obviously sometimes we are, because not only do we personally sometimes change our minds, but the world even today is rife with examples of people defending with their very lives opposing beliefs and principles.  We know that sometimes, somebody is horribly wrong somewhere.

I am not a believer in any religion.  But I am beginning to wonder if we do not need what many people may call their religious convictions, and which I might, these days, call my intuitions.  This whole question of intuition and thinking seems to me to be related to the issue of science and religion.

A subject on which I suspect I am going to risk embarrassing myself by blogging in upcoming days.

February 21, 2015

Beyond red wine: Secrets of a long life

Filed under: Growing Old,Illness and disease,Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 4:48 pm

The following is an interview with Hattie Mae MacDonald of Feague, Kentucky, in the United States.  Hattie is 101 years old.

Reporter:  Can you give us some health tips for reaching the age of 101?

Hattie:   For better digestion I drink beer.  In the case of appetite loss  I drink white wine.  For low blood pressure I drink Red  Wine.  In the case of high blood pressure I drink scotch.   And when I have a cold I drink Schnapps.

 Reporter:  When do you drink water?

 Hattie:   I’ve never been that sick.

 

 

 

February 14, 2015

Love is enough

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:25 pm
Tags:

Happy Valentine PhotosWe celebrated Valentine’s Day when I was growing up.  Except we called it St. Valentine’s Day.  We were taught that the day began in the 3rd century with the martyrdom of St. Valentine by the Romans who tied him to a stake and shot him through with arrows.  Actually, that story is somewhat apocryphal.  The latest version is that Valentine was a priest who performed marriage ceremonies for soldiers serving in Emperor Claudius’ army who were forbidden to be married because Claudius believed marriage interfered with their being effective soldiers.   And Valentine was probably beheaded, not shot through with arrows.

But my understanding of the meaning of  Valentine’s Day was more deeply erroneous than these historical details.  I was taught that love was important to living the life of a true Christian.  I was even taught, as St. Paul wrote, that there is faith, hope, and love, and that the greatest of these is love.

But I was a mature adult before I discovered that “faith” is more accurately translated from the original Hebrew as “faithfulness” than as “belief.”  And so I grew up being taught that this God of Love sent people to eternal damnation not only for failures to love, but in some ways more critically, for a failure to believe.  Abandoning the beliefs of Catholicism was, in practice, far more damning than a failure to love.

Today, I celebrate Valentine’s Day with great joy.  It is the day, 42 years ago, that the man who is now my husband and I first moved in together in a 5th-floor walk-up apartment in Manhattan.

During these years I have come to the conclusion that love is not only the “greatest of these.”  In some ways, it is the only thing that matters.

Love is what makes us feel worthwhile.  It is what makes it possible to forgive others.  And to forgive ourselves sometimes.  It is what we appreciate and often remember most in others, what makes the biggest difference to our happiness.  Small acts of kindness are sometimes amazingly important.

Love is far more important than money or celebrity or good looks or creativity.  It’s more important than health or intelligence or living a long life or being recognized as a great leader.  I do not mean that doing a good job in many different ways is not important.  But if it is not done in the context of love, I do not trust its value to humanity.

As Chris Lawrence said many years ago in his blog thinking makes it so,

 “Love is hard enough.  But it is also enough.”

Enough said.

 

February 4, 2015

Weather reporting

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:58 pm

I have noticed as I’ve gotten older that the kind of errors I make when I’m typing have changed.  I don’t think, even with the help of the spell-checker, that they are reduced in number.  But they are different.  Instead of mistakes like writing “teh” instead of “the”, or “winder” instead of “winter,” my fingers seem to tell my brain that they already know what I want to say.  So instead of typing “arrived,” my fingers make up their own words and type “arround” — with 2 r’s yet.  If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may have seen some examples of similar don’t-tell-me-what-to-do wilfulness that escaped my notice and so did not get scrubbed out.

Today, though, I got an email from a friend describing the record-breaking weather in America that I would be proud to say I had authored.  Apparently, NYC has had two accumulations of 5-8 inches of “know.”

But then, may it really was “know.”  She’s settled down in her apartment with a book.

And maybe a glass of wind wine?

February 3, 2015

Out of sight, out of mind

Filed under: Diet,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 7:52 pm
Tags:

 

Every year I say it won’t happen again, but every year during the December/January holidays I manage to put on three pounds of weight.  So every February I go on a diet to lose it.  Last year I landed on a strategy that, unlike every other dieting strategy I have ever tried, actually worked.

It’s my Just-a-minute strategy.

I discovered that telling myself NO doesn’t work.  “No, you can’t have that cookie now”,  “No, you can’t have that piece of chocolate now”, “No, you can’t have another piece of pie” inevitably started a dialogue with my two-year-old self.  It went something like “Why?  just this once.  Then I’ll be good, I promise.  Just one won’t hurt.  Besides I’m so hungry…”  And the embarrassing thing is that I inevitably lost that juvenile argument.

          http://www.startrightpt.co.uk

I finally realized that for me, saying “No” doesn’t work because I inevitably keep thinking about that forbidden fruit, and my two-year-old self keeps nagging with arguments about why she should have it.

So I decided to treat myself like the two-year-old who kept winning the argument.  Last year instead of saying “No” to myself, I say something like  “yes, you can have it, but read this article first.”  Or “yes, but first get the laundry ready.”  Or “after you’ve finished doing your budget for this month.”  Or “take the trash out first.”  And I respond just like a two-year old:  out of sight is out of mind.  It’s amazing but it breaks that compulsive obsession and I rarely come back after that initial ten or fifteen minutes saying “But you promised!  Can I have it now?”

So this year I have three pounds to lose once again.  I’m using my “Just-a-minute” strategy.  Next month I will make a report on how it’s worked this year.  I suspect part of me is still two years old.

January 28, 2015

Now listen carefully!

When I was a Maryknoll nun and also when I was a graduate student at university, I took many courses learning about other cultures.  I read the work of many anthropologists who had spent years studying and writing about them.  Understanding another culture is not so easy as those demanding “political correctness” sometimes seem to suggest.  It is not simply a matter of observing the protocols of mere politeness we may have been taught as children.  Nor is it a matter of merely learning the languge.

I received a substantial number of private emails after my last post asking for reactions to the letter to British imams from the community secretary after the Charlie Hebdo massacres.  Most felt that it was not an inappropriate letter, but there was some concern that the assurance that Muslims shared British values might have sounded pretentious.  It’s probably not possible to get it right all the time for everybody.

It may be an increased awareness of the challenge, or only a coincidence, but the media seems to reporting an unusual number of these apparent cultural “misunderstandings.”

After an interview with President Obama by an Asian journalist recently, she gave him a gift “for your first wife.”  Obama rolled his eyes and said to her “Do you know something I don’t?”  Obviously, the term the journalist meant to use was “first lady.”

Then a member of the British foreign office visiting Taiwan brought a gift for the prime minister – a very very expensive watch.  But when the prime minister opened it, he was dumbfounded.  In the Chinese culture, giving someone a watch is a suggestion that their “time is up.”  The prime minister’s office later said the watch had been “disposed of.”

And I wonder whether Pope Francis really meant to convey the insult suggested to some large families that earth does not need Catholics “to breed like rabbits.”

Benedict Cumberbatch has expressed acute embarrassment for his reference to “coloured people.”  He says he was devastated to have caused offense, and is an idiot.

Sometime ago we ran into a friend in our local supermarket who was excruciatingly embarrassed because he had just asked a Black supermarket worker where the “black treacle” was. (For Americans not familiar with the word, we call it blackstrap molasses.)  We assured him that we doubted it was considered a racial slur.  But he was really worried.

Just yesterday when I was waiting at the supermarket checkout, the woman before me made a derogatory remark to the checkout clerk about America.  The clerk knows I’m American, and he was greatly concerned that I might be insulted.  I told him I had enough criticisms of my own of America not to take personally everything that is said about the U.S.

But I will admit that I have often both misunderstood and been misunderstood.  It’s sometimes embarrassing, sometimes irritating, inevitably fascinating.  Sometimes we just get it wrong out of ignorance.  I think in our increasingly globalized world, we need to be very very careful about being insulted.

Though I will confess that I do wish Charlie Hebdo was a little more restrained.  Just because one can legally lob insults doesn’t mean one should.

January 22, 2015

Bad spelling: right/write!

Filed under: Cultural Differences,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:29 pm
Tags:

During most of the time I taught in university, texting was not yet a known form of communication.  But what I called bad spelling was common, and I deducted points for papers that contained uncorrected spelling and typographical errors.  In one classic example, I remember identifying 122 errors.  (I did give the student a chance to re-write the paper.)

But I’m not so black-and-white anymore about spelling.  First of all, there now is texting, which involves quite a clever way of communicating with a reduced number of letters.  And there are also increasing numbers of people, educated and non-so-educated, for whom English is a second language, and for whom the arcane and often inconsistent spelling rules in English are a mine-field.  And yet it is perfectly possible to know what the person is trying to say.

A much bigger communication problem than mis-spellings is the inter-cultural communication problem I touched on in my post yesterday.  We can usually identify the words a person is using;  it’s the meaning of the message that we so often misconstrue.

And so if I were still teaching, I would suggest to my students that what we have traditionally called “correct spelling” is one of the languages we need to learn.  If you want to submit a job application or research paper, or a letter of complaint, using this language is apt to be more effective than more original, phonetically-correct spellings that are less traditional.  In less formal situations, let’s delight in creativity.

So their!  or  they’re!  or there!  My version is thair!

But you can spell is ther! if you want.

I know what you mean meen.

January 21, 2015

What do you think?

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:06 pm
Tags: ,

After the Paris bombings earlier this month, the British Community Secretary  wrote a letter to all the imams practicing here in the UK asking for the imams’ help in relation to  Muslim extremists in the UK, some of whom have left Britain to fight with Isis and other terror groups, some of whom have returned to Britain, trained to carry out terrorist attacks here.  The response to the letter has been mixed.  Some people thought the letter was patronizing and made Muslims feel like outsiders even if they are UK citizens.  Others thought it recognized the importance of imams in Muslim communities, and reached out with respect and appreciation

I have lived in four different countries in my life and at least twice that many sub-cultures.  Besides that I am married to a man from a different cultural background than the one I grew up in.  During that time, I have realized repeatedly that understanding another culture demands an understanding far more subtle than speaking the language.  I have sometimes put my foot in my mouth, and used it to trip up others more often than I meant to.  The only thing I am sure I have learned so far is that I have a lot more to learn.

I have read the letter to the imams with a deep appreciation of cultural subtleties.  But I wonder what the readers of this blog make of it.  People who follow this blog come from all over the world and have hugely diverse cultural backgrounds.  I’d love to know what you think.  Does a Catholic or Jew living in New York read it differently than a Muslim in Delhi?  than an American immigrant in Mexico or Peru, a nurse in Cambodia, an aid worker in Africa, a mother in Scotland, a Korean or American philosopher?

Here’s the letter.  If you have any thoughts, please do consider commenting on this post.  What do you think might have been said differently?  or not at all?  what might have been added?  I’d love to hear from you.  And, I suspect, you could teach me something.  Thank you.  Most seriously – thank you.

Assalamu Alaikum

We have recently seen terrible atrocities committed in Paris. Finding the right response to these events is a challenge for everyone. The hijacking of a great faith to justify such heinous crimes sickens us all. As Muslims around the world have made clear, such actions are an affront to Islam.  And yet, amid the carnage, came a sign of hope – over three million people of all backgrounds, marching to defeat the gunmen and to protect   our values: free speech, the rule of law, and democracy.

We are proud of the reaction of British communities to this attack. Muslims from across the country have spoken out to say: not in our name.

 But there is more work to do. We must show our young people, who may be targeted, that extremists have nothing to offer them. We must show them that there are other ways to express disagreement: that their right to do so is dependent on the very freedoms that extremists seek to destroy. We must show them the multitude of statements of condemnation from British Muslims; show them these men of hate have no place in our mosques or any place of worship, and that they do not speak for Muslims in Britain or anywhere in the world.

 Three ways you can help:

1) Email us about the work you are doing to promote the positive image of British Islam

2) Visit the LawWorks website. If you need  legal advice to tackle extremists, they may be able to help

3) Report Anti-Muslim Hatred to the police online at http://www.report-it.org.uk

 Let us  assure you that the Government will do all we can to defeat the voices of division, but ultimately the challenges of integration and radicalisation cannot be solved from Whitehall alone. Strong community-based leadership at a local level is needed.

 You, as faith leaders, are in a unique position in our society. You have a precious opportunity, and an important responsibility: in explaining and demonstrating how faith in Islam can be part of British identity. We believe together we have an opportunity to demonstrate the true nature of British Islam today. There is a need to lay out more clearly than ever before what being a British Muslim means today: proud of your faith and proud of your country. We know that acts of extremism are not representative of Islam; but we need to show what is.

 British values are Muslim values. Like all faiths, Islam and its message of peace and unity makes our country a better and stronger place, and Britain would be diminished without its strong Muslim communities. Every day, mosques and other faith institutions across the country are providing help for those in need, and acting as a centre for our communities. It is these positive contributions that are the true messages of faith and it is these contributions that need to be promoted.

 We would also like to reassure you that in recent days we have met with police chiefs to make sure they are providing the support that mosques need, a concern that some of you have expressed in our recent discussions. We have also met with the Anti-Muslim Hatred Working Group to hear their concerns about responses to the recent attacks and what more can be done.

 Anyone experiencing violence should report it to the police online on the True Vision website or to TELL MAMA, a service to provide support specifically to Muslim victims of hatred. The vitriol espoused by the thugs of the English Defence League and Britain First is just as much an affront to British values as the teachings of preachers of hate. For organisations experiencing problems with such preachers, information about free legal advice is available from LawWorks at http://www.lawworks.org.uk/community-groups or the Bar Pro Bono Unit at http://www.barprobono.org.uk, and the Charity Commission has published a toolkit for charity leaders to help protect their organisations from abuse by extremists. This toolkit is available at http://bit.ly/1xTTH2W.  We welcome your thoughts, ideas and initiatives on how to ensure that Islam’s true message of peace triumphs over those who seek to divide our communities. Thank you for all the positive work you are doing, and we look forward to working with you further. We continue to appreciate all your insights. Please feel free to contact our team at integration@communities.gsi.gov.uk. We look forward to hearing from you.

 THE RT HON ERIC PICKLES MP

LORD TARIQ AHMAD OF WIMBLEDON



«

Page

January 19, 2015

Enough is enough

I have long been suspicious of politicians who talk about equality.  With increasing irritability, I find myself inevitably asking what kind of equality they are talking about.  As I become increasingly aware of my own gifts and limitations, it is obvious that I need other people with different gifts and limitations in order to so much as survive.  And our need for diversity applies to all living organisms.

On a slightly more limited level, I am highly suspicious of political and economic policies that seem to suggest that we should all have more or less equal wealth and opportunities.  We don’t all have the same hopes, the same things don’t make us happy, our abilities benefit from different kinds of opportunities and challenges.  We don’t want a society in which everybody is the same, and we can’t create a “fair society” in which nobody has a need to strive or struggle or compete.  Nor can we create a society where corruption or greed or self-serving laziness are eliminated.

But today I hit the limit  of my inequality tolerance.

Oxfam has just released figures preceding the annual meeting of the world’s financial leaders in Davos, Switzerland that even I find unconscionable.  In 2014, 48% of the world’s wealth was help by a mere 1% of the world’s population.  By 2016, it is set to exceed more than 50%.

Not only is it unconscionable.  This huge disparity is extremely dangerous.  Perhaps even more dangerous to the survival of humanity than extreme climate change.

Why?  Because it is this kind of inequality that leads to the kind of vicious, often religiously based, intolerance we see sweeping across the world’s continents today.  It isn’t being poor that makes people angry.  It’s being trapped.  It’s having no way out of seeing one’s children die of starvation, of living in hovels surrounded by sewage ditch streets, of having no access to education, or facing job opportunities that consist of scrounging through garbage dumps or working the streets through prostitution.

Today the hot spots of Islamic militants are where the poverty is.  In countries where the wealth disparity is not so immovable, Islamism tends to be far more tolerant.  Even in America, the land of opportunity, the land where the boy born in a log cabin can become president, the dream is beginning to lose its potential.  It’s beginning to look as if hard work does not necessarily dig oneself and one’s children out of poverty.  The top 1% are taking all the cream, even protected from higher taxes, while the working man and woman remain stuck in a rut that hard work, ambition, and even talent often cannot conquer.  And we see the lines of intolerance hardening.  Immigrants are no longer welcome by many, even those qualified to be of great benefit to America.  The tax system is based on a “top-down” system that says the rich should be allowed to keep the money they earn because it will “trickle down” to the masses.  Except it doesn’t.

What is the solution?

One’s first impulse, as even Pope Francis illustrated, is to punch back, not merely with a punch in the face but with economic sanctions, as well as drones, guns and bombs.  I can’t claim to be a complete pacifist – I suspect that some physical force is often called for.  But if the underlying economic strangle holds are not addressed, military might will eventually fail.

There are changes that can – must – be made in the economic systems which govern.  Obviously, fairer tax systems world-wide, less corruption, more job opportunities and education.  There are changes that must occur in some religious teachings, and cultural values as well.  But no system is fool-proof.  We will always have people who game the system.  There are others who manage to make disproportionate amounts of money through creativity and good luck even when that has not been their original motivation.  We don’t want to revert to those systems that pursue a fairer system at the cost of repressing creativity and originality.

In our global and rapidly changing world, our economic and social systems need constant adjustments.

I think it is only a sense of justice and community, that basic altruism and love of neighbor that can ultimately insure an economic and social system in which all of us can thrive and benefit from our mutual gifts.

 

January 17, 2015

Updating the worry list

 

Should we be unable to generate a list of our own, one of Britain’s major newspapers has just helpfully published a list of the most important things we humans might worry about for the next ten years.

Climate change:  The world has made literally no progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions since the first Kyoto agreement, and scientists are warning us of increasing deadly droughts, floods, water and food shortages, acidic oceans, air pollution, uncontrolled fires, and mega extinctions of up to 25% of all mammal species possibly within the next 50 years.  Oh, and 2014 has been the hottest year on record.

The global spread of a viral epidemic like SARS or Ebola:  The Black Plague swept over the world, reducing populations by 50 -75% of the population when it struck.  It is not inconceivable that a virus could jump on the back of our global communications systems today and outpace the ability of scientists to develop a cure or immunization to outwit it.

An implosion of failed states and states being taken over by religious fanatics.  Theoretically religion is supposed to make us better, more loving, more caring.  Again and again, though, it is the reason for torture and killing.  Western countries today look with horror at the terror being visited on peoples in Africa, Europe, America, and Asia by Islamists.  But Christians have more than a thousand-year history of doing exactly the same thing.  In fact, ethnic cleansing and rampant racism in our own back grounds suggest that we are even now not immune to persecuting those who are different from us.

Economic collapse:  An economic collapse similar to the one that shook the world in 2008, only bigger and longer and more universal worries some economists the way climate change worries climatologists.  Governments are still facing the problem of what to do about banks and other financial institutions that are too big to fail, and big corporations spent vast amounts of money lobbying state officials to make sure that legislation will not damage them.  Meanwhile, the gap between the richest and poorest is growing, not closing, and recently economists have produced research suggesting that this might be an endemic tendency of many modern capitalist societies, including America.  Historically, situations like these fester and simmer, until one day blowing up into outright rebellion and warfare.  Endings are not necessarily happy ones.

I think these are worries worthy of concern.  Great concern that singly or together they could even lead to the extinction of the Homo sapiens.  My problem with worries, though, especially when the worries are big and serious and global as these, is that they tend to turn people off.  We look at them and quite realistically realize that not one of us as a single person can solve any of them.  So we either deny they are happening at all, sink into despair or anger, or hope that God will do something about it rather than leaving it to us.

But the whole point of democracy, of community, or responsibility is not to say a single voice doesn’t count.  It says that lots of single voices is what change the world.  To give into the temptation of helplessness is the very thing that will contribute to our worst worries coming true.

What can I do?  Lots of little things that will change the world if a lot of us do them.  In relation to the environment, I can use my vote to make sure that I don’t help elect a climate-change denier or someone so indebted to big business that they won’t support reductions of fossil fuels and support renewables;  I can sign petitions supporting policies that I think will support work toward a creating economies that don’t destroy the environment;  I can do my best not to waste energy, turn off lights I’m not using, install solar panels, buy an energy-efficient car.  Ride a bicycle.

Etc.

We can’t solve any of these problems by ourselves.  Just as we couldn’t create any of them by ourselves.  We are just single human beings.  But for better or worse, what each of us does adds up.

pbs.org

January 13, 2015

Wonderful things do happen

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:54 pm
Tags:

Several months ago, the first group of nurses from the UK National Health Service volunteered to go to Africa to care for Ebola patients there, who are in dire need.  It seemed an immensely heroic thing to do, given the lethal nature of Ebola and the ease with which it can be contracted from patients suffering overt symptoms.

Just before Christmas, a Scottish nurse, Pauline Cafferkey, returned from her stint in Sierra Leone, West Africa.  She was checked repeatedly at airports on her return and was deemed to be healthy.  But she had not been home for more than a few days when she developed a fever and tested positive for the Ebola virus.  She was transferred to an isolation unit in a London hospital, where she was given treatment but she slipped into a critical condition.  The most optimistic assessment was that she had a 50/50 chance of survival.

Yesterday the hospital announced that she was no longer on the critical list.  The chances of her surviving have sky-rocketed.

Pauline Cafferkey

It sounds like it could be the kind of happy ending that appears more often in a Hollywood-produced fantasy than on the front pages of our real-life media.

I’m taking this opportunity to dance a little.

January 12, 2015

Don’t distract me with the facts

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:16 pm
Tags:

Paul Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement-en.svg

I am old enough to have discovered rather more often than I’d like to admit that I’m wrong.  But given our fallible natures, I’m not often upset when people disagree with me.

Except when people make pronouncements that are simply contradicted by the facts.  You know, the “don’t distract me with the facts, I’ve already made up my mind” approach.  If people don’t believe climate change is occurring, they don’t know the facts.  Or if they don’t think it’s at least partly caused by human actions, given what we know today, it takes a lot of explaining.

But climate-change deniers are amateurs compared to Steven Emerson. How could someone who calls himself an expert on terrorism say on Fox News that only Muslims live in Birmingham, and that non-Muslims never go into the city?  Or that in London Muslim religious police patrol the streets and  beat “anyone who doesn’t dress according to religious Muslim attire”?

Okay, so Emerson apologized for his error.  That’s not good enough.

I’ve never had a whole lot of respect for Fox News.  But what kind of responsible network ever identified this man as an expert on terrorism in the first place?  I think the blame doesn’t stop with Emerson.  And I don’t think an apology is enough.  I think Fox News needs to investigate its principles of journalism.

Still, the avalanche of ridicule from Twitter after Emerson’s comment is satisfying.  As ju suis charlie says, ridicule can be a powerful force.

January 11, 2015

Let us remember what we’d like to forget

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:51 pm
Tags:

Officials join hundreds of thousands of people on a Je Suis Charlie march in Nice, France

The Guardian Newspaper

Perhaps as many as a million people today are marching in silent solidarity in France today.  It is a testimony to the 17 people murdered by terrorists during three terrifying days last week, and a determination not to let them destroy the freedom that is a hallmark of France.

What I am hoping is that the western world will also be able to overcome the tendency to blame Muslims because they are Muslims for these acts of terrorism.

They are terrible, and there is no way I can condone defending one’s perceived rights using the barbarism we saw on 9/11,or have seen on the Parisian streets this week or in the agonizing viciousness taking place in Africa or the Middle East, or perhaps in disguised forms, in our own countries which separate church and state.

If Christians are in the slightest way tempted to blame the Muslim religion itself for these acts, perhaps we had better look at ourselves.  Look at the burnings at the stake, at the stretchings on the rack, at the beheadings, at the mass destruction of cities and peoples orchestrated by institutionalized Christianity that went on for centuries.  The Crusades were barbarous.  Raping and murder were justified on religious grounds.  Then look at how Rome evaluated thinkers like Galileo with whom they disagreed solely on scientific grounds.  And then let us remember the religious wars which ripped through Europe and beyond as people used the battle cry of Christianity to slaughter other Christians who disagreed with some article of supposedly unquestionable faith.

No, it isn’t being a religious Muslim that turns people into terrorists.

As Kathleen Armstrong points out in her recent book, Fields of Blood:  Religion and the History of Violence, all wars have not been fought on religious grounds.  In an exceptionally well-researched study, the author shows that for thousands of years, religion has been used to justify and support violence, but has also often shown people how to choose a different alternative to conflict.  Religion, like politics, is used to defend whichever path we choose to tread.  Sometimes it is violent.  But sometimes it is a path of negotiation, of compromise, of peace.

Product DetailsIt is possible to read Armstrong’s Introduction, and a superb Afterword on Amazon.  I found it well worth the 15 minutes. 

January 10, 2015

Banks not to bank on

Filed under: Just Stuff,The Economy: a Neophyte's View — theotheri @ 4:09 pm
Tags:

I was dumbfounded to learn earlier today that the  U.S budget bill passed by the U.S. Congress several weeks ago managed to sneak in a provision that would once again bail out banks that are “too-big-to-fail” if they get into trouble.  But this time, if Citi or Chase or any of the other big investment banks face insolvency, they will be permitted to take their depositors’ cash in savings accounts and CDs and replace with them a bank stock certificate — which may, of course, be of dubious value.  This applies even to deposits that are FDIC insured.

That’s bad enough.  But I also learned that banks may once again be on the edge of the same kind of disaster that floored them in 2008.

Deutsche Bank thinks that the falling oil price could trigger a huge wave of defaults because banks have lent so much money – more than a trillion dollars – to fracking companies which are now in deep water way over their heads.  To make a profit, shale gas and oil needs oil to sell on the world market for a minimum of $85/barrel.

It is now selling for under $50.

It’s nice to be able to fill one’s car with gas for so much less than it cost six months ago, or keep the house warm this winter.  And one can’t help but feel that Putin deserves to be in as much trouble as he is.  And it may encourage Iran to reach a compromise concerning its nuclear capacities.

But I wouldn’t leave any substantial savings with a big U.S. investment bank.  For the record, the ten biggest are Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley,  JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, HSBC, Deutsche Bank, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, and Barclays.

January 4, 2015

What are we doing here?

We are at last moving out of the frantic Christmas season celebrations most of us enjoy – or endure – with the coming of the new light.  Theoretically at least, it has been a celebration of new life, of hope in the future.

But what of  those of us who no longer believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible, who possibly no longer believe in a transcendent God who created this world with some final goal of perfection in mind?  What, for us, is the meaning of life, what are we doing here, what drives us, on what principles do we make moral choices?

A frequent answer given by those immersed in science is that survival is our over-arching principle.  Some philosophers argue that survival is the essential driving force of the entire universe. Here on planet earth, sociobiology says that the preservation of our genes is what ultimately drives us.  Sex, with the goal of instigating successful procreation as broadly as possible is our driving force.  Paradoxically, this is in agreement with both Freud’s theory of the id and the teaching of Catholicism that it is sinful ever to interfere with the act of sexual intercourse with the goal of preventing conception.

I’ve got a problem with survival, though, as the ultimate driving force.  In terms of the universe as a whole, physicists simply don’t know what is going to happen.  Some theories suggest that the universe will keep expanding into an infinity of space.  Others think it will return into the singularity of energy out of which the Big Bang first burst.  Or perhaps our universe will be swallowed up by a bigger universe.  But we have no evidence.  We just don’t know.  So survival on a universal scale impresses me as pretty theoretical and not very exciting.  Not the way being alive is exciting.

On the other hand, if we are talking about survival on a personal level, we are all doomed to failure.  Total failure, and even for the very-longed lived, failure in what is actually a very short-term.  Secondly, survival of the individual as a driving force does not explain altruistic behavior, something which we see throughout the living world.  Why, if my personal survival is the ultimate value, would I willingly give up my life to save another?  Why would I share my last piece of bread with a stranger?  Why would I dive into the water to save a drowning swimmer?  Why would I dedicate my whole life to serving others?   Why would a doctor volunteer to serve Ebola patients, putting his or her own life in profound danger?  Nor does this kind of behavior occur just among religiously dedicated humans.  It occurs among animals.  So personal survival does not work for me as an over-arching principle.  I’m doomed to fail by that standard, and it doesn’t explain the evidence anyway.

What, then, about survival of the human species as a whole as a driving force and over-arching principle?  or of the survival of life in general?  This has more potential for me, with the value it places on life.  But we know that extinction of all life on planet earth is inevitable when the sun has burned out in perhaps another 5 billion years.

Rather than focus on survival, I prefer embracing the fullness of the amazing, incredible reality as we can see it in the lights given to us in this 21st century.  Where we are going eventually is a mystery beyond our capacity to know.  In fact, what we think we understand reasonably well is matter, which consists of a mere 4% of the universe.  We have some glimmer of what another 23% consists of, called “dark matter,” but no idea at all of what 73% of the universe which consists of “dark matter” is.  There is, though, sound scientific reason to conclude that energy is eternal.  And we know from Einstein that matter and energy are convertible.  So the matter and energy out of which each of us is made is eternal.  What happens to “me” when I die is a mystery.  But the matter and energy of which I am made will continue on forever.

So each of us is participating in a potentially infinite and eternal process.  The glimmers of it we get today are fantastic.  I find this process utterly overwhelmingly wondrous and amazing.  To actively participate in it is a huge privilege.

To be faithful to this process to the best of our understanding seems to me to be a glorious challenge.  It’s my understanding of the biblical metaphor of God’s command to Adam and Eve to be stewards over all creation.  It’s why destroying the environment is such a denial of what we are.  It’s why caring for others, even at the cost sometimes of our individual benefit or even survival, can still drive us, and why we value that selfless love so highly.  It’s why figuring out problems – little ones and big ones – is so rewarding.  It’s why daily jobs like cooking and cleaning and washing the clothes aren’t menial jobs to be denigrated but essential to the whole process of an ongoing universe.

And when I die, I will continue to be part of that glorious challenge.  Even if I don’t know how that may evolve, and I don’t know what “I” becomes.

January 1, 2015

Thoughts on worms and pigs

Filed under: Just Stuff,Two sides of the question — theotheri @ 10:05 pm
Tags:

When the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union disunited, many people thought that the system of democracy and capitalism, particularly as it was exemplified in America, had proven to be a superior system for everyone.  Today, though, many people are looking at the huge disparities of wealth in America and at the number of people struggling with profound poverty, and are looking for another system.

I think there are significant changes for the better that could be made in the American system, and I plan to write about them in upcoming posts.  But this is a prelude to any thoughts I might express about systems.

The answers do not lie first and foremost in the system.  The total answer does not lie in any system, no matter how noble, how intelligent, how meant to serve humanity, how righteous.  The Roman Catholic church tried it for centuries through the Middle Ages;  Muslims and Communists have not succeeded in re-creating a Garden of Eden, nor have societies guided by Buddhism or indeed the myriad of societies and communities which have appeared, sometimes prospered, and then disappeared over the 200 milleniums humans have walked this earth.

Why?  Two reasons, I think.  First, the needs of any society are vastly diverse.  What works depends on culture, on religious values, on the natural resources, on populations, on educational levels and on technological resources which have been invented and implemented.  Not only that, but all of these variables are constantly changing with immigration, communication systems, environmental changes and disasters, sometimes disease.

But the second reason is even more fundamental.  All systems operate for but also by individuals.  Groups are always made of separate people, and we are immensely diverse.  We want different things, we have different talents, different needs, different ideas and values, life deals each of us a different hand.  And so there will always be individuals whom the system does not serve well.  And there will always be individuals who can subvert the system to their advantage or invent ways to improve it.  It might or might not be ethical or even legal, but for better or worse, no system has ever succeeded in totally suppressing individual creativity and innovation.  Some systems will slow diversity and creativity down, will divert it, will punish it.  But if they stop it altogether, history shows us that the system will ultimately destroy itself.

Each of us as individuals often feel very small and helpless. But that is not exactly the case.  There isn’t and, despite our adulation of heroes of the past, there never has been a person who has changed the world alone.  It is often possible for relatively small numbers to change societies, sometimes for better, sometime for worse.    But the changing organisms are always individuals and remain individuals.  There is no substitute for the individual, either to make the whole work, or to bring it down.

I sometimes find myself feeling almost hopeless about the insignificant part I can possibly play in making the world a better place.  And then I ask if I would rather find myself in a place like Nazi Germany with someone who is willing to try to help me escape being sent to a concentration camp.  Or would I rather be a Black teenager facing a racist policeman with a gun in a country that says it guarantees equal rights for all.  In other words, would I rather be in a bad system surrounded by good people, or in a supposedly good system faced with a person bent on destroying me.  The deciding factor for me is not the system but the individual whom I am facing.

It might take thousands of worms to make silk for a purse.  But a pig is never going to produce anything but a sow’s ear, however insignificant worms might look in comparison.

December 29, 2014

Scandalous, no?

I have never thought of myself as wealthy.  I’m comfortable but I have never been able to spend money without regard for the bottom line.  Still, although I’ve often been careful, I’ve never had to choose between eating and heating, which is sort of my short-hand definition of poverty.  And I have been given the almost priceless gift of an extremely good education.

I am not a die-hard socialist, but I have a deep concern about the kind of poverty people cannot escape, no matter how hard they work, how careful and disciplined or clever they may be.  Systems in which there are extremes of extraordinary wealth and inescapable poverty seem to me to be one of the greatest moral outrages our economic systems can sustain.

And so I have been rather piously outraged when I read statistics that in 2013:

  • 8.4% of the people in the world own 83.4% of all household wealth – that is, property and financial assets like stocks and bank accounts
  • while at the same time, 67% of the world’s population have a net worth of less than $10,000
  • which includes 64% – that’s 3.2 billion people – who have no net worth at all: no property, no bank accounts, nothing.

Then I found where I belong.  Sort of slipped into the statistics is the information that only 393 million people in the world have a net worth of $100,000 or more – including property and financial assets.  That’s in the global top 10%.  10% of us own 86% of all the wealth in the world.

I’ve always known that life isn’t fair.  And I’ve always known that I’ve been given more than my equal share of good fortune.

I don’t feel guilty that I’ve been so lucky.  And although I think there is obviously a place for charitable giving, living on state or charitable hand outs simply because one doesn’t like work is as immoral as outright theft.  We need to pay our way, we need to be needed, we need to make a contribution.

But how to create systems which support human dignity and opportunities for work for everyone with our huge diversity of abilities and preferences has challenged far greater minds than mine.  The answers are not simple, however morally outraged I and many others might feel about the existence of so much profound poverty in the world.

I do think that it’s one of those problems – like the problem of human-created environmental destruction – that is worth struggling with though.

The statistics for the United States in a way are more disturbing than the global statistics although possibly more hopeful if we want to do something about it.  But enough for today.  I will tackle the subject of inequality in my own country in the next post.

 

 

 

 

December 28, 2014

My suggestion for heaven

Filed under: Intriguing Science,Just Stuff,Questions beyond Science — theotheri @ 9:37 pm
Tags:

My musician sister sent me the Colbert farewell YouTube video.  It was removed from the internet by Viacom who owns the copyright, so attached here in Vera Lynn’s rendition that gave hope to so many during WWII.

I have heard the Vera Lynn version many times and understood why it meant so much to so many.  But this post is about my unexpected response to the Colbert version.

First of all, let me assure any doubters that I personally do not believe in heaven as most people understand the term.  And if I did, I would not be motivated to try to get there.  Sitting around in a perfect world, with no problems ever to solve, with no one in need of an extra act of thoughtfulness, with no creativity because everything is already perfect sounds excruciatingly boring.

But as I watched the Colbert video, I suspended my unknowing, and began to wonder if, in some mysterious way that I cannot fathom, we will, indeed “meet again” in a next life.  What would that be like?

I imagined sitting around a fire, when our two dogs burst into the room, barking in wild enthusiasm as they recognized us.  And then Mom and Dad and my sister Mary who died almost twenty years ago joined us.  We each had a glass of wine and began to exchange stories.  And I asked them all the questions about what they thought about this and that, questions I couldn’t ask after they’d died.  And then four more dear friends came, and we continued to talk late into the night.

Of course, I would want them all eventually to leave.  Except the dogs.  I mean, sitting around the fire with a glass of wine forever would get to be pretty boring too.  I need sleep.  And besides, I don’t have a very high tolerance for alcohol.

So I don’t think I’ve figured out the great mystery of life and the universe in which it is evolving after all.  The scenarios offered by various religions are inadequate metaphors at best.  Some super-mathematical scientists suggest that there are an infinite number of universes in which life repeats itself in every possible version.  And another scientist has just seriously suggested that when the Big Bang happened, Time began to run both forward and backward in two different parallel universes.  Maybe we are in the universe where time is running backward and will eventually run into the universe where time is running forward.  I confess it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

The best I can hope for is that when we die we become part of some kind of transcendent consciousness.  And I say that only because I haven’t the faintest idea of what that means either.

I think I’ll just listen to the Vera Lynn YouTube again and be grateful for the mystery of life that has been given to me right now.

 

December 26, 2014

Advice that looks wiser every year

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:14 pm

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
Stop Comparing Comic by ChibirdIf you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals;
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.

© Max Ehrmann 1927

December 23, 2014

Is there a Santa Claus?

I was raised as a Roman Catholic.  But my parents, and the priests and religious brothers who were in our house literally on at least a weekly basis all understood that something that is metaphorically true is no less true than something that is literally true.   I understood, for instance, that someone who might be  “A bright light” wasn’t someone you switched on to read in the dark.  But that did not reduce the value of the person’s gifts or make it less true.  Alternatively, someone who was “a pain in the neck,” was not a physical pain to be treated with an aspirin but an irritation on a psychological or social level.

Metaphorical truth on the religious level was no less elevated.  My favourite biblical metaphor was the injunction not to bury one’s talents, but to use them.  It never occurred to me that I was being exhorted to go out and literally bury something in the ground.  And if it had, the idea as I reached adulthood would have appeared childish, if not downright silly.

In many cases, metaphors are far more powerful than literal truth.  My wedding ring, for instance, is the most valuable piece of jewelry I own.  It’s not the most valuable in terms of money, but in terms of what it stands for – a lifetime commitment from a man who loves me.  I remember someone who put her hand on my shoulder when I spilled hot oil onto her legs when I was taking a roast out of the oven.  I was aghast.  “It’s all right,” that gesture said.  It was a metaphorical truth I still remember.

I remember these things because metaphors so often convey an emotional depth that literal fact does not.  They convey a strength and significance that gives them an endurance.

In this context, I think much of modern Christianity, including the Roman Catholic Church, robs its followers of its greatest gifts by insisting on literal interpretations of so many of its doctrines.  We’re coming up to Christmas, a feast of immense metaphorical potential.  Is it less powerful if there was no literal birth in a stable?  no star guiding three kings with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh?  No angels calling the shepherds to the manger? Is it less powerful if Mary was not literally a virgin?  Any parent with their newborn child in his or her arms knows that gold and singing angels are not literally needed to make those moments any more profound.

In truth, if so many biblical and doctrinal truths were understood as metaphorical truths, we would not in the modern world find ourselves so often scoffing in disbelief.  Instead, we could ask what the metaphorical meaning of the doctrines might mean, rather than struggling with the conflict between religious teaching and science, or the ridiculous conclusions so often required by a literal interpretation.

We could listen to the music, we could look at the art, we could listen to the stories and the poetry and be transformed by their beauty and hope.  And yes, their truth.

Yes, Virginia:  there is a Santa Claus.

 

December 20, 2014

That which was lost…

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:17 pm

A short time after my husband and I started to live together, I got a phone call from him at the university where I was teaching, saying that he was stuck in the apartment because he couldn’t find his keys, and had I accidentally taken them with me.  No, I said, and suggested several places where he might look

I was teaching late that night and by the time I got home about 9:30, the keys had not been found, and Peter was climbing up the walls in a near panic of claustrophobia.  “I’ll help you look,” I said and started to go through the pockets of his jacket.  “Don’t look there,” he said;  “I already did and they aren’t there.”

Well, I looked there anyway, and found them.

Now it was just a plain pocket.  Not a fancy one with velcro or buttons or a zipper or a hidden compartment.  It was just a plain pocket, with nothing else in it, and I couldn’t imagine how anybody could actually look in it and not find something as substantial as a set of keys.  You may understand why I thought I could find things better than he could.

That was before we began to go into grocery stores together.  Over the years, we have been in grocery stores, big and small, on four different continents, and in more countries than I can count.  Peter’s parents ran a grocery story when he was growing up and he spent a lot of time stacking shelves and making deliveries.   To this day he not only sees things on shelves I miss completely.  He stands at the store entrance of a completely strange store and has a sense of where to go to get whatever it is we want.

It happened again yesterday.  I was looking for unsalted French butter and couldn’t find it.  Peter didn’t even have to try.  He just walked over to the shelf and put the butter in our cart.

But just in case I still harboured the illusion that I can always find things better than he can, he found the key fob to my car that I’d lost more than a year ago and that had cost me $200 to replace.

At least it wasn’t in my pocket.

But it was under the car seat.

 

December 18, 2014

The Peacock Question

Birds Gallery.net.

I was reading a blog post recently exploring the question of whether people who discourse extensively on questions of morality are necessarily more moral when it comes to practice rather than merely preaching or teaching.  This would be a difficult question to explore in terms of solid scientific research:  are men and women the same?  are there cultural or religious differences?  does age have an influence?  what, specifically, would one measure, especially in terms of practice?

Nonetheless, the post did remind me of something which I know from personal experience:  the clothes I am wearing can effect not only what other people think of me, but possibly more significantly, what I think about myself.
I was a nun for nine years, most of which time I wore a full habit from head to toe.  I would have said that it represented my commitment to a life of love and service.  When I left the convent, however, and was negotiating New York City dressed like everybody else, I noticed two things.  People weren’t always as considerate as I had thought they were when I walked the same streets wearing a habit.  That might not be too surprising.

But what I also discovered was that I wasn’t nearly as morally superior as I had thought I was when I was wearing a habit.  I began to see that apparently quite ordinary people were often un-ostentatiously living lives of huge generosity and love and sacrifice.  I hadn’t seen that so clearly when I had thought that I was the one who had chosen to live a life of superior virtue.  I suspect religious garments can be a particularly powerful influence on this kind of self-perception.  Or self-deception.

The appearances we choose for ourselves have deep evolutionary roots.  The appearance of animals and even plants has profound survival purpose.  It might say “look at me, I’m sexually very attractive.”  “Or look at me, I’m very strong,” or “very dangerous,” or “very cute and cuddly.”  For us humans, the clothes and ornaments with which we adorn ourselves can send these and many other messages about social status and how one expects, or wishes, to be treated.

As I say, I don’t know in every case how far it is that “the clothes maketh the man.”  I know even less whether preaching might fool the preacher him/herself.

But now that I’ve written this post on morality, perhaps I’ve earned a pre-dinner gin & tonic?  I’ll dress for it, of course.

December 14, 2014

Merrily we lie along

Filed under: Cultural Differences,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:18 pm
Tags:

Almost at the top of the Christmas music charts this year here in Britain is a coral rendition of Dulcissima virgo Maria (Most Sweet Virgin Mary) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-29693410 .

From the British Library

It was given by the Bavarian composer, Almire, to Henry VIII, along with the choir book, a manuscript that was highly valued then and is still one of the great treasures of the British library.

It sounds like a beautiful work of peace and love and salvation, haunted with the hopes of a new-born Saviour.

One small difficulty is that it is shot through with perfidy.  Almire was a spy.  No, worse.  He was a double agent, trusted by the courts of Henry VIII and by his Yorkist rival bent on taking the English throne on which Henry VIII sat.  No doubt Almire thought he would win no matter who the king was.

Perhaps he was right.  He does not seem to have been identified during his life time.  Richard de la Pole died in 1525 before he could invade England in partnership with the king of France, Francis I.

It’s beautiful music, though.

PS:  I have just read a blog post describing Rothstein’s research on the disenfranchisement of Blacks from the property market from which so many of us middle class whites have profited so richly, which I mentioned in my previous post.  The blog’s author, like me, didn’t know it was happening, but on looking back, now sees events in quite a different perspective.  It’s an easy read – and worth it.  Hands up!  Why We All Can’t Breathe

December 10, 2014

Oh my dear America, what has happened to us?

I am feeling today rather like a woman who after 50 years of marriage, has just discovered that her husband has never been faithful to her.  She might have known that he was a womanizer, even occasionally had a one-night stand or passing affair.  But now she finds out that he has a family in three different ports.  Or is wanted for extortion and murder or war crimes in another country.

I have just read as much of the report on the CIA torture of terrorist suspects as I can bear.  And I am almost vomiting.

My America!  have you ever been what I thought you were?  The very foundations of this country began with the ethnic cleansing of 80-90% of the American Indians who had been here for hundreds of years.   Today, the treaty violations continue.  How many of us have ever equated this with the ethnic cleansing in other places in the world which we hold in such abhorrence?  Or ever thought that perhaps, we like other countries, have re-written our history to eliminate this shameful guilt?

And then there were the African slaves, brought in like cattle on the ships.  They might have been technically freed by Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation, but even the Christian churches continued to assure the white man that they were inferior to us white folk.   So they still could not drink at the same water fountains, use the same rest rooms, sit in the front of the bus, eat in “white” restaurants or stay in the same hotels.

Two days ago I listened to a newscast and read a report which has just been published that shocked me to the core.  The ghettos in which, even today, Blacks are crowded, is a result of federal law requiring that housing be segregated.  Ghettos then were not and are not today the result of White prejudice or of Black poverty.  Initially, it was the law of the country that appropriated land for Whites Only which was highly preferable.  It was not zoned, as Black residential areas were, for polluting factories and where houses of prostitution were tolerated.  Nor were mortgages granted to Blacks by the banks.  This law was not found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court until 1955.  By that time, Whites had amassed significant wealth in the real estate they owned.  That pattern has continued, and today, the great difference between average Black & White wealth in America is a result of the value of the homes they own.  Generations of Blacks have been disenfranchised because of these discriminatory laws.  I think we need a new kind of affirmative action to right this injustice.

And now we have George W Bush, a former president of these United States, and Dick Cheney, his defense secretary, saying that the CIA torture of terrorist suspects was justified and that those torturers are true patriots.  What Cheney objects to is the publication of the reports.  “The transparency and honesty found in this report represent a gross violation of our nation’s values,” he says.  “As long as I have air to breathe, I will do everything in my power to wipe out the scourge of torture reports from the face of the Earth.”  As far as I have seen, he has not objected to the torture.    It’s that it is being published.  The sheer hypocrisy of it.

I know that we are a country that loves guns.  I know we are a country that thinks we are the best because we have the biggest bombs.  I knew we went to war in Iraq over oil, not over the weapons of mass destruction that some politicians knew were not there even before the war began.

But I didn’t realize how often and deeply we really really don’t mean what we say.  Do we really believe in the rule of law?  Are we really committed to freedom for all?

Oh America, my America.  Who are we after all?  Are we going to say NO! WE WON’T HAVE IT?    When we reach the tipping point, which way will we tip in the end?

PS:  I have just read a blog post covering the Rothstein’s research on the disenfranchisement of Blacks from the property market from which so many of us middle class whites have profited so richly.  The author, like me, didn’t know it was happening, but on looking back, now sees events in quite a different perspective.  It’s an easy read – and worth it.  Hands up!  Why We All Can’t Breathe

December 8, 2014

Our Thanksgiving turkey

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 9:25 pm
Tags:

Here in England, for obvious historical reasons, Thanksgiving is not a national holiday.  But surprisingly, 1 out of 6 families do celebrate Thanksgiving.  We are one of the 1/6th.

This year we had no visiting relatives or friends, and we decided to forego the traditional turkey.  Canadian waters have produced a surfeit of lobster that are now flooding our supermarkets, and we thought instead of the turkey, we’d indulge in lobster.  We prepared a festive dinner, and after a few pre-dinner drinks, finished preparing the dinner by putting the lobsters into boiling water for the prescribed number of minutes.  The table was set, but we decided to crack open the lobsters and remove any inedible bits before taking them to the dining room.

Unfortunately, when we opened them, the lobsters contained very little meat.  I learned today from a friend that in America, lobsters weighing less than a pound are called “chicken lobsters.”  They look like adults but are not yet mature and have little meat.

Well, they might be called chicken lobsters in the States.  But ours were real turkeys.

We still celebrated Thanksgiving.  I reached into the freezer and took out a couple of pizzas we’d made earlier in the month.  The champagne helped the thanksgivings along.

December 7, 2014

Rudolph for dinner?

Filed under: Cultural Differences,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:22 pm
Tags:

Treat: Budget chain Lidl is to sell reindeer steaks for £7.99 a pack as part of a 'Deluxe' range to tempt middle-class shoppers

This year a German supermarket, Lidl, whose chain has been undercutting the big British supermarkets is featuring reindeer steak imported from Lapland.  The protests outside its stores are considerable.

I know that Britain is becoming an increasingly secular society.

But I doubt it would be a good move for Lidl to market discount pet rabbits for Easter dinner next April.

December 3, 2014

Intolerance vs conviction

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:14 pm

For more than the first quarter of a century of my life, I was a practicing Roman Catholic.  That means that I was a committed member of a church that required us to believe, under penalty of excommunication and potentially an eternity in hell, that certain teachings were infallible.  That is, they were beyond question.  They were absolutely true.  For nine years, I was a Maryknoll sister, a member of an American missionary society dedicated to working with the poor primarily in underdeveloped countries.

But even in those days, there were many of us – perhaps in the order of which I was a member, most of us – whose mission was not to convert but to serve.  To us, setting up schools and medical facilities were ends in themselves, not bribes to get people through the church door.  Our goal wasn’t to convince people that our beliefs were right and theirs were wrong

By the time I was thirty, I was no longer a nun nor either a practicing or believing Catholic.  But somewhat to my surprise, I discovered that a refusal to tolerate questioning certain beliefs or assumptions spreads far beyond Roman Catholicism.

Even more surprising was the discovery that this insistence is by no means limited to religious belief.  Almost paradoxically, I found it just as active among scientists and even atheists.  I saw, for instance, faculty not given tenure because they did not toe the party line, did not hold the assumptions of the particular professors holding decision-making powers at the time.  The issues were not religious, but were just as contentious.  “Is human behavior best studied and explained as a result of environment or genetics?” was a frequent disputed question at the time among psychologists, dividing faculty into divisive factions.  Scientism or reductionism is another such issue in all branches of science.

Today, now that atheism is not socially quite as disreputable as it used to be in Western society and many more people admit to having no belief in God, I see a similar pattern.  Many atheists, like many scientists and many religious believers, are highly tolerant of those who do not agree with them.  But some are as vicious in their attacks on religious belief as any religious fanatic.  Russian communism is no longer as vibrant as it used to be, but Chinese communism and communism in North Korea still offer serious opposition to religious belief.  And there are Western individuals of some prominence and education whose writing suggests a disdain for those religious believers presumably naive or frightened enough to continue to believe in God.

So I find myself still wondering what the fundamental difference is between conviction and intolerance.  It’s not content.   Nor is intolerance simply disagreement.  It isn’t even being convinced that I am right and you are wrong.  It’s an insistence that you have no right to hold the beliefs that you do if you disagree with me.   Conviction, on the other hand, reflects a willingness to live by certain principles, even to die for them.  But it does not necessarily insist that everybody agree with those convictions.

I’m a psychologist, so I suppose my own hypothesis reflects that background.  I think intolerance arises from a deep personal insecurity.  It’s a defense against a black terrorizing fear that if I am wrong I am without worth, without respect, without any value.

I suspect it is the grip of a similar mesmerizing fear I sometimes feel in the pit of my stomach when I think I’ve just made a terrible mistake that is going to have some serious consequence.  Or when I wonder if I’m suffering from some terminal, un-treatable disease like cancer.  Or when I remember something stupid or insensitive that I’ve said or done and writhe in embarrassment or regret.

What if those fears were multiplied to the depth of my being?  what if I could not look to anything I’ve ever done that seems successful or rewarding or worthwhile or truly loving?  Would I feel quite as liberated as I do looking out at the mystery of life and of the entire universe, knowing that I do not understand?

Would I feel driven to grab onto some religious, scientific, or philosophical positions as if my life depended on it?  Yes, I’m pretty sure I would.

Of course, even if my insecurity hypothesis is right, that still only answers half the question.  It might indicate the source of intolerance.  But it doesn’t really identify the bedrock of conviction that is life-sustaining without an accompanying intolerance.

 

November 30, 2014

The subtle culture of compliments

Filed under: Cultural Differences,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:43 pm

I think it probably goes without saying that all of us, whatever our culture, value compliments from some sources more than others.

Living here in Britain, I’ve come to appreciate that by the same token, some compliments reflect social class.  They may be delivered kindly but they clearly suggest that the person bestowing the compliment considers themselves somewhat superior.  When we were living in the Lake District, a woman whose accent resembled that of Prince Charles complimented me on the quality of the insulation she saw I was installing on one of our outside walls, and encouraged me to continue with “the good work.”

I can tell you without a doubt that I knew far more about insulation than she did.  But she fancied herself as one of the Great and the Good.  She probably handed out turkeys for Christmas dinner to the peasants working on the fields of her estate.  Personally I found her patronizing and pretentious.

This morning, however, after I bought our Sunday paper from our local newsstand, I had a horrible thought.  The newsboy is new, from Sri Lanka, I think, and is simply lovely.  When I make a purchase, I generally thank him and wish him a good day.  This morning I also asked him how much longer he had to work, and when he said he’d almost finished for this Sunday, I mentioned that he had a lovely sunny day in front of him, and said I hoped he’d enjoy it.

Pretty innocuous, you might think. And it was.  But I had the terrible thought, that with my American accent here in England, and speaking to a young immigrant just making his way, I sounded exactly like one of those pretentious, patronizing superior types I so despise.  By and large, the English do not give out compliments the way Americans do, and I’ve been aware recently that I have embarrassed several people simply expressing my appreciation for a job exceptionally well done.

Who know how many times I’ve put my foot in my mouth?.

www.pinterest.com

November 27, 2014

The darker side of Thanksgiving

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 12:22 pm

Today is Thanksgiving in America.  It is one of the most beloved holidays in the country, unburdened by the stresses of gift-giving, religious belief  and cultural practices that so often permeate the Christmas period.  Mostly it is a day when Americans, and increasingly those who aren’t Americans, simply give thanks for the gifts life has bestowed on us – gifts of love and family and friends, of the joys and challenges of work, sometimes even of illness or other limitations that, paradoxically, have also opened us up to something deeper and more valuable in ourselves and others that we had not known before.

But today I’m also thinking about the very first Thanksgivings in which the Pilgrims gave thanks for the new land, and for the welcome given to them by the American Indians already living here that enabled them to survive those first harsh winters.

We celebrate Thanksgiving for the best of what America wants to stand for:  a welcome to those who want a chance to live, to work, to breathe free.  What we rarely remember on Thanksgiving, or on any other day, is that as a result of the arrival of the white man, 80 to 90% of those American Indians who had welcomed the first settlers had died.  They died because we killed them with our guns, because we drove them off their hunting grounds and off the lands where they had lived for hundreds of years, they died of the small pox we brought with us, from the alcohol to which we introduced them.  The terrible truth which few of us admit to ourselves is that America is built on an ethnic cleansing as ruthless as any 20th century Holocaust.

Science has now discredited the entire concept of “race,” but the terrible, agonizing truth is that this arrogant belief in our racial supremacy has continued.  Whether the police officer in Ferguson, Missouri should have been indicted for shooting an unarmed Black teenager to death last summer, I do not know for certain.  But what I do know for certain is that there remains a deep river of prejudice against Blacks in America.  Black Africans were brought to America unwillingly as slaves.  There are Whites who still believe that they should be their masters.

We could concentrate on trying to change these attitudes.  But I suspect there are more immediate viable steps we can take.  If neighbourhood police wore cameras, for instance, experiments in California and in other countries show that complaints against police brutality drop significantly.  This is because false claims are now often disprovable.  But it’s also because police, who are now held accountable for their actions, engage in far less bullying and unnecessary force.

There are other practical steps we can take.  We do not need simply to ring our hands in frustrated anger and helplessness.

But enough for now.  Wherever you live, and whoever you are, I would like to wish you and those you love a Thanksgiving in which you are overwhelmed with gratitude for so much that we each have been given.

November 24, 2014

Gothic fears

I’ve never been particularly taken with Gothic monsters like Frankenstein or vampires like Dracula, nor did I understand why mature men and women wrote or enjoyed reading these kind of fantastical stories.

But I’m beginning to understand.  The Gothic revival that produced these Gothic fantasies emerged during the Industrial Revolution when it was glaringly apparent that the old ways were disappearing.  People were moving off the farms and into often wretched hovels in the city to work in factories in which lives were at risk, hours long and for which there were few safeguards.  If your arm was cut off in a spinning wheel, or your legs smashed in a mining accident, there was no recompense.  There wasn’t even anything resembling disability payments or unemployment compensation.

Technology and science were drastically changing the world, and for huge numbers, it seemed to be producing a machine that was grinding inexorably to destroy human society as we know it.

And that’s what Dracula was – a metaphor of an economic system run amok, draining the life blood of the very people who fed it.  That is what Frankenstein was – a terrible invention of science stalking the lives of ordinary people without consideration of any kind.

The interesting thing is that these Gothic monsters still stalk us.  In metaphorical terms they appear, most blatantly, in science fiction novels and movies.  They are terrible creatures of evil from another universe totally without kindness, seeking only power.

What are these modern Gothic monsters really for those of us living in the 21st century?

For some it is climate change and the destruction of our home planet Earth.  For some it is capitalism, or immigration, terrorism, or the horrifying tools of modern militaries.  For some it is materialism, or sexual liberation, or the unstoppable spread of a deadly virus sweeping around the globe.  For some it is an Apocalypse sent forth by an angry God.

Perhaps our Gothic metaphors are a way of trying to deal with these very real fears.  Perhaps they are a way of disguising them to ourselves, or ways of convincing ourselves that our fears, like the metaphors, are fantastical.

However we deal with them, I now see that they arise from deep within the human psyche.  And I can see why they grow so strong in times of turmoil and uncertainty.

November 21, 2014

Don’t think about it that way

Daniel Kahneman won a Nobel Prize for his work on human decision-making.  Now he has just published a book, Don’t Even Think About It, exploring the psychology of climate change deniers compared to those who believe that climate change caused by human behavior could be lethal.  His basic conclusion is that all of us have pretty much already made up our minds and that we aren’t likely to be persuaded by evidence or experience.  What matters, he says, is the ideological group with which we identify.  Tea Party members, for instance, tend to have an ideology that automatically takes a position in opposition to environmentalists.  And vice versa.  For this reason, Kahneman is quite pessimistic about the likelihood of our avoiding what might be the worst Great Extinction ever to hit our planet.

The potential catastrophe is terrifying.  (Obviously, I am not a convinced Tea Party member.)  Several reports in the last six months have been published by leading scientists who in the past thought we had as long as a century to avoid drastic climate change.  That has now changed.  A very large number of scientists now think that we have as little as ten years to drastically reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and at most twenty years.  If we do not act within that time frame, within sixty years, we may have an 8 degree Fahrenheit increase in temperatures.  That is a temperature not seen on Earth for the last 5 million years.  40% of plant and animal life cannot live in these conditions.  1/3 of the Asian rain forests would be at risk, and most of the Amazon rain forest would probably be destroyed by fire.  Crops would collapse in Africa by a third, in the US, crops like corn and soy, would fall by more than 3/4th.  2/3rds of the world’s major cities – like New York and London – would be underwater.  That’s in 60 years from now!  And that does not even factor in the conflicts and deaths in increased warfare created by starvation and disease.

Why aren’t we doing something about this!?  

Because scare stories don’t work, however realistic or scientifically-founded they may be.

Because when we read about the importance of reducing greenhouse gases, even if we take it seriously, there seems to be little we as individuals can do.  Will it matter in the great scheme of things if I walk or use a bike instead of drive?  if I turn down my heating so that all I do is prevent pipes from freezing, even if I myself am shivering?  if I change all the lights in my house to low-energy LED bulbs?  if I don’t turn on the lights at all?  if I don’t use the wash machine or dishwasher or microwave or oven?  The personal inconvenience could be huge, in some cases life-threatening, and it wouldn’t make a stick of difference unless there is mass cooperation in such a project.

I think we have got to think about this problem in a completely different way if we are to have any hope of cooperating sufficiently to solve it.

In September, 4 former presidents or prime ministers, 2 Nobel economic laureates, and financial experts from the World Bank, IMF and the Asian Development Bank published a detailed study entitled “Better Growth, Better Climate.”  They offer a list of costed changes that would both improve economic growth and at the same time reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It would require governments world-wide to act on structural reforms of urban infra-structure, farmland, forests, and energy markets.  And it would not be a total solution to the climate change problem.  But it would be a huge start.  And it might make it possible for people of vastly different ideologies to cooperate.

http://logisticsviewpoints.com/

Even the Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Congress might agree.

 

November 19, 2014

The liberation of being wrong

I’ve often wondered why we humans seem to have the most uncompromising convictions about things for which the evidence is the least resilient.  There’s nothing, of course, about which we might not be wrong.  We could even discover one day that the world is flat after all and that we have been interpreting what we think we observe in the wrong way.  I don’t, actually, expect to live to see that day.  There is way too much evidence, too many experiences by too many scientists and non-scientists to seriously consider that a flat world is just as likely as a round one.

But the things about which we seem to be most often intolerant are those convictions that are not broadly shared and for which the evidence is not universally convincing.  People who disagree with us in relation to religious and political convictions seem to be the two areas where there is the most fire without light.  I doubt there is a person reading this post (or writing, it for that matter) who cannot identify people — sometimes even family members — with whom we cannot have open discussion and disagreement on a question of religion or politics without at least half the people in the conversation feeling furiously frustrated and angry.

Last night I turned this seemingly distressing fact on its head.  I was watching a BBC documentary on the history of dance.  In England, a mere 400 years ago, dancing was seen by some Christians as the work of the devil.  Even dancing that did not involve touching one’s partner was seen as the first step on the road to hell.  Books were written venting on this terrible sin, assuring anyone who even contemplated dancing and did not repent was damned for eternity.

Today, there are very few people in the Western world who hold views like this.  But there are people who hold views which I personally think are just as outrageous.  Today we have deep divisions about sex, about God, about capitalism, about the limits of freedom.  In some cultures, women cannot show their face in public, cannot drive cars, are not permitted to learn to read and write.  Many of these views, in my own and other cultures, seem to my mind, to be preposterous.

But I find myself wondering what beliefs I have that may seem just as preposterous to future generations?  I worry about climate change, about our species’ continued attempts to solve our conflicts through use of physical force, about the world running out of resources to sustain our galloping population growth, which has just surpassed 7 billion.  More egocentrically, I also worry about some of the stupid, selfish, ignorant, immature things I have said and done sometimes many decades ago, and cringe in humiliation.

But all of these worries, both great and embarrassingly egocentric, are based on my convictions that are by no means indisputable.  I doubt anybody shares anything like the depths of my personal concern for my own virtue.  Not a single person, I am sure, cringes with the regret and mortification I sometimes feel at the fool I think I have on occasion made of myself.  Certainly I am wrong to think I am that important.

Or rather, I would say, I am wrong to think I am important in the way I sometimes think I am.

I’m a human being.  That is fantastic!  How lucky I am!  For all the limitations of being human, each one of us is a unique, astonishing, beautiful creature.  We all make mistakes.  We’re all incomplete.  We all make fools of ourselves in one way or other on occasion.  That doesn’t change the reality.  We are each simply incredible.  We are each simply wonderful.

Now if I can only convince myself that climate change, or our tendency to kill those who threaten us, are not going to lead to our self-extinction as a species, I have managed to make a virtue out of convincing myself that I might occasionally be wrong.  Even about those very important things about which I am absolutely positive.

Dance anyone?

 

 

November 16, 2014

Today’s news

Filed under: Growing Up,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:48 pm
Tags:

This Sunday’s paper carried a story today about Muriel Spark (the author probably best known for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie).  As a teenager, she wrote letters to herself from imaginary admirers and pushed them between the pillows of the couch for her nosy mother to find.  One such letter included a pseudo reply from Muriel which read “Dear Colin,  You were wonderful last night!”

Ah, what a good little girl I was by comparison.  I completely lacked the creativity to even think up such naughtiness, but even if I had, I was a rigid rule-follower.  I didn’t even break the “no-talking-after-lights-out” rule at the boarding school I attended as a teenager.  I can only hope I’ve grown up a little in that regard.  One thing I do know is that I no longer have all the right answers I had then.

The second item that struck me from the papers today is an advertisement from Harrod’s department store for a Gingerbread House.  It’s quite a fabulous house, and resembles the houses we used to make at my German  grandmother’s house every Christmas Eve.

http://kidspagess.com/

Harrod’s is selling their Gingerbread House of £150 (about $250).  We children might not have eaten our houses so readily if we thought we could make so much money from our efforts.

November 11, 2014

Selling God

We get a lot of unsolicited calls at our door in this little village.  If it’s not a delivery of something we have ordered, it is inevitably a request for money or a workman offering to give us a price to pressure-wash our drive or roof, or do work on our garden.

Yesterday, when my husband answered the doorbell he was met by a well-dressed woman, probably in her mid-sixties, who spoke with a mid-west American accent.  She was carrying several bibles.  I was on my way out to the garden and so by chance was standing in the entrance hall.  The conversation went something like “Good morning, Sir.  It is a lovely morning, isn’t it?  I was wondering:  have you ever thought about what makes you happy?”

I let out a noise which can probably best be described as something between a cough and a snort.  My husband paused, and then said in a not-unlikely but firm voice “Go away.  Just go away.”  She smiled, replied “”All right.  Have a good day” and left.

I have been wondering what I would have said had I been the prime combatant – err, I mean conversationalist – at the door.  I would have been tempted to ask how anyone can sell happiness as a payment for Christian belief in a crucified Saviour.  Or I might have mentioned the quote from Aristotle taught to us as children by my father who said that happiness is a by-product, not something that can be acquired by going after it directly.  Or if I was really going to take her on, I might have mentioned that I was a psychologist, and thinking about what makes people happy is something I have done all my professional life.

Come to think of it, I think it was a good thing I wasn’t the one who answered the door.

What do you think?  What would you have said:  Have you ever thought about what makes you happy?

November 6, 2014

The socialization of oldest sisters and Catholic priests

Filed under: Family,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:43 pm
Tags:

 

 

 

 

In the supermarket this morning, I watched a little girl, probably about five, showing her little sister, about age three, how to push a shopping trolley for groceries.  The youngest was clearly immensely pleased and very proud to be given instructions for carrying out such a grown-up activity.  The older sister was very kind and patient.  And definitely in charge.  It was like watching myself in a time-lapse episode.

Photo from Kid Costs || Child Support Budgets

By the time I was a year and a half old, I had a younger sibling.  By the time I was thirteen, I had four younger sisters, four younger brothers, and a great deal of authority countenanced by my parents.  By the time I was a teenager, “Terry said I could do it” held as much justification for my younger sibs as permission received directly from Mom or Dad.  I took them swimming.  I took them shopping.  I helped them with their homework.  They sat on the kitchen cupboard and “helped me” make cookies, which meant they got to lick the spoon and anything left in the bowl.

I’ve often thought of the effect this subtle but constant socialization as the oldest sister has had on my psyche.  I was the oldest.  Whether I was intrinsically the smartest might be questionable, but I was always the most experienced, always the biggest.  I didn’t ask my sibs for advice.  I figured things out for myself.  I always knew better.  And I didn’t just know it.  All my brothers and sisters knew it.  They would no more say to me “Don’t tell me what to do” than they would have said it to either of our parents.

I have, as we all moved into adulthood, relinquished my absolute sense that I always know best.  I sometimes do ask various brothers and sisters for their opinions and advice in areas where their expertise greatly out-ranks mine and take them seriously.  I’ve learned a lot from them.

But I realized some time ago just how much of an oldest sister I still am.  I got caught in the middle of a conversation with two men squabbling with each other, and I spontaneously more or less scolded them and told them to stop.  The wife of one of the men looked at me and said “You sound just like Father Patrick!”

I have since been reflecting on how much like a Catholic priest I am capable of being.  I assume an authority based on years of living in a world where my word was never questioned, was always accepted as right, where my authority was never resented but rather accepted as a sign of my concern.  And like most Catholic priests I have known, however kind and wise many of them have been, I don’t expect to be told what to do or what to think.  Discussion, yes.  Dictation, no.

Rather like the girl in the supermarket who by the age of five was already “the oldest.”

 

October 9, 2014

My absurd idea

If at first an idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.

Albert Einstein

I have often been mystified by some of the world’s greatest scientists who believe that the world of numbers has a real existence.  It’s a kind of modern version of Plato’s world of perfect forms, which exist in what most of us think of as “the real world” only in degraded form corrupted by matter.  As a cognitive psychologist, I have been pondering for years how a modern thinker in the world today could reach a conclusion that to me sounds so preposterous.

I don’t have the answer, of course, but I’ve been also thinking about a similar problem of my own, and I do have an idea.  My personal version of the numbers problem is with music.  When I listen to some of my favourite classical or folk musicians, I often seem to go into another world, to experience a different reality, to become convinced of things that are mere ideas in my every day state in which I generally view the world using scientific principles.  I listen to music, for instance, and the conviction that the mere act of existence is valuable, becomes overwhelming.  Faithfulness to existence seems to me to be the greatest good.  In everyday life, that more or less takes the form of respect, of kindness, of love for everyone and everything.  It’s a principle I can more or less defend intellectually using scientific principles, but it is one empowered with profound emotion and a certainty comparable to what some people seem to experience in relation to their religious beliefs.  I don’t have any convincing scientific proof.  And yet I feel I know it through direct experience.

Can this certainty nevertheless be wrong?  absolutely yes.    Just as scientific conclusions can also be wrong:  time and space are not unchanging absolutes as Newton thought they were.  Just as our sensory experiences can be wrong:  I might mistake a stick for a rifle, a bird for superman, the roar of an overhead plane for thunder.  Just as our memories can be wrong:  almost everyone has asked if some “memory” actually happened or was only a dream;  conversely many of us have a seemingly clear memory of something that could not possibly have happened.

My insights gained through music might be equally erroneous or incomplete.  They could be catastrophically wrong.  I might, for instance conclude that God is commanding me to behead anyone who disagrees with my religious beliefs. Just as the conclusions of those geniuses who describe the world in terms of numbers may be wrong, or at least incomplete.  

My hypothesis is that we are each like those blind men in the Indian story standing around an elephant.  They each experience a different aspect of the elephant, and are convinced by their own experience that they are right.  The challenge is to recognize that what we see is incomplete.  So that  even people who fundamentally disagree with us might be right too.

I don’t think there are separate words we call heaven or hell.   I don’t think the world of music or numbers or science or the arts have a separate existence from the “real world” we live in either.  But they are different perspectives, each of which tells us something different about the elephant around which we blind men are standing.

So I’m going to stop thinking that the “insights” I gain through listening to music, or that other people gain through the arts, or by walking in the mountains, or even through meditation, are somehow inferior to the conclusions I can buttress with scientific data.  Those insights derived from non-scientific sources deserve to be taken seriously.  I don’t think they are infallible, at least in terms that any individual human being can express them.  But they are valuable.

Okay, I’ll stop.  Just let me say that I do appreciate that Einstein said that if an idea is not at first absurd, there is no hope for it.  He didn’t say that all absurd ideas were brilliant.

 

 

 

October 6, 2014

A saga of senior moments

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:59 pm
Tags:

For the uninitiated, senior moments are when you can’t remember something you know perfectly well, but which you convince yourself happens to everybody over the age of 50, and is nothing to worry about.

Except at 2 o’clock in the morning, when all the rules change.

Yesterday I transferred a substantial payment on-line to what was supposed to be the account of our roofer who is replacing our aging and rotting fascias, soffits, and gables.  When I asked for the transfer to be made immediately, the bank noted, along with the question “Are you sure you want to make this transfer?”  that it could not be reversed.   Yes, I said, I’m sure, and authorized the transfer of about $3500.

At 2 o’clock this morning I woke up.  OMG, I thought.  Are you sure you typed in the right bank account?  What if you accidentally sent it to the wrong person?  Did you even bother to double-check?  And you haven’t received an acknowledgement from the roofer.

Well, you did send it on a Sunday, said my rational self.  The office was almost certainly closed.

Not to be put off by something as flimsy as reasonable logic, my righteous panic was undeterred.  I finally fell back into a fitful sleep with nightmares about small claims court interspersed with wondering how I was going to confess this financial conflagration I had engineered to my husband.

Nonetheless, I wisely decided the next morning not to mention this dreadful possibility to him over morning coffee but to wait until I had the chance to call the roofer’s office.

The transfer has been made to the right account, and the work is still on schedule to be done next week.

Well, as I’ve said before  –  getting old is interesting.

 

September 30, 2014

Update on the no-sugar regime

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:21 pm

When I was a growing up, we all routinely made Lenten resolutions covering those six weeks from Ash Wednesday to Easter.  My childhood resolutions usually took the form of giving up candy or cookies or even desserts altogether, and as I recall, I rarely broke the resolutions.

As an adult, I have often wondered why I haven’t been able to go for as long as two days to keep a resolution to stay away from sugar, when I did so with so little fanfare as a child.

I’m now into the third week of a no-refined sugar regime, and there are a few things that have surprised me.

First of all, as Sanstorm in her comment predicted, it has not been nearly as hard as I have expected.  When I have felt a sugar-craving, I’ve usually reached for a small handful of raisins and nuts, and moved on.  What I have not done is to continue to discuss the issue with myself.  I have not gone down the increasingly self-serving reasons about why, despite my resolutions, I simply should have a sugar-kick.  It’s rather like the Lenten resolutions of my childhood.  The decision is not up for discussion.

The second thing that has surprised me is that, although my joints are not absolutely pain-free — especially after I’ve spent a couple of hours scraping moss off the roof — I seem to have a lot more energy.  I absolutely never expected that.  But it seems to be true.

And of course, having more energy, especially at my age when I am aware of its decreasing supply, is absolutely fantastic.

I had no intention of giving up refined sugar forever.  But under the circumstances, I think I might.

PS:  I do have one small confession to make in the face of this proclamation of victory:  one day I broke down and consumed two fruit-and-nut bars.  To the tune of about 1000 calories.  I felt great for about five minutes.  (But it did taste fantastic.)

September 24, 2014

Mine’s better than yours

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:22 pm
Tags: ,

Earlier this week, a neighbour knocked on our door and asked me to submit something from our garden to the village horticultural competition being held next Saturday.

I gagged.  Almost literally.  The thought of entering a competition using the fruit and vegetables we are growing repelled me with an intensity that surprised me.  The thought of actually winning the competition is even more appalling.

I offered to give him something if he would submit it in his name and keep me out of it, but he said he couldn’t do that.  I offered to donate something to the horticulture committee outside the competition if the produce was going ultimately to a charity or soup kitchen.  He was unimpressed.

So I’ve been analyzing my response.

First of all, I’m not against all competition.  But I do know that generally women do better in cooperative situations while men will often thrive in competition.  This has always been true for me.  I freeze in the face of competition, but love working together.

In our capitalist societies, there is a place for competition:  There is a place to try to make a better, more efficient, or cheaper product.  There is a place for competition to solve all kinds of problems, whether it be to find a cure for cancer, less-polluting energy sources, or more and better ways to feed the hungry.

Just as importantly, we can benefit from knowing how our gifts compare with those of our peers if we want to make a contribution, and in that sense, competition can be a source of valuable self-insight.  When I was teaching courses in educational psychology, I often required my students to generate their own grades, assessing how well they thought they did in the course relative to their own gifts.  In other words, to assess whether they thought that they had done their A-level best, or not, and why.  This was the grade in which they evaluated themselves.  I also gave them a grade, which reflected an individual’s achievement as I saw it relative to everybody else in the class.

I think both of these assessments are valuable for different reasons and in different ways.  The first is rooted in oneself.  It teaches us to make our own judgements, to take responsibility for our own actions, and makes us less dependent on others’ approval.  The second gives us some idea of how our particular gifts compare with others.  The thing that is often not realized is that we need to know which of our gifts may be outstanding every bit as much as we need to know which of our talents may be pretty mediocre.  It’s not a question of hubris on the one hand, or lack of self-confidence on the other.  We all have gifts and we all are incomplete.  We need to know that.

Okay, what does this have to do with our village fruit and vegetable competition?

Well, I don’t grow vegetables to impress other people.  I grow them to eat.  And sometimes to share.  But not to do a one-upmanship.  Not to gain status.  Not to be better than somebody else.  The whole idea seems so ghastly, to rob the entire experience of growing things of it intense intrinsic reward.

Anyway, I don’t think the neighbour understood.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to explain it or not.  If I try, I will make sure his wife is there too.  I think she might understand.  She’s a woman, after all.

September 20, 2014

What does ISIS want?

Filed under: Worries — theotheri @ 8:56 pm
Tags:

According to the papers, ISIS – or ISIL or the Islamic State – has released another gruesome video, this one a full 55 minutes long showing various torture scenes and hostages being forced to dig their own graves.

What is ISIS trying to accomplish?

I suppose they might argue that they are carrying out the wrath of God against those who defile His commands.  But the campaigns are too slick, too cruel, too obviously being directed by  a master-mind with some specific goal in mind.

Are they trying to terrify local inhabitants into submission?  I think that, although that is one of their goals, the videos would not feature the torture and beheadings of foreigners if they were targeted specifically at the local population.

So are they trying to use the anti-American feeling and resentment built up as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation?  The U.S. certainly did not know what they were doing in Iraq, and often made things worse for millions of people than they were under Saddam Hussein.  Nor did the U.S. manage to reduce the ethnic tensions that had built up between the various religious groups.

I think they are trying to accomplish something more than that. I suspect ISIS trying to goad the US and UK into sending military to join the ground fight –  that are they reasoning that the presence of American and other Western troops will so alienate the people in Iran and Syria and other neighbouring countries that they will support ISIS instead.

I absolutely support President Obama’s attempt with John Kerry to bring together a real coalition of middle-eastern countries to join the fight against ISIS.  Because if the people there are not determined to overthrow ISIS, in the long run, ISIS will win.  For the same reason, I think it would be a dreadful mistake to send our own ground troops in.  We are using air power to support those indigenous fighters already there.  It’s got to be their fight this time, not that of the West.  We can help.  We can  give support.

But we will only make things worse if we make it our war.

September 16, 2014

Dragon fruit

  We were in the grocery story this morning, and I saw a “dragon fruit” for sale on the shelf.  I’ve never seen anything like it before in my life, and since it was £2 (less than $4), I bought it, and we had  it for our evening dessert.  It’s a popular Asian fruit,  quite sweet, and supposed to be one of those super-foods full of anti-oxidants and vitamins and all those things with complicated names that they try to jam into vitamin tablets.

But I also discovered something else today that scientists are presenting as the newest forbidden fruit of our age.

It’s sugar.

I’ve known most of my life that processed sugar doesn’t really have any substantial nutritional value.

But what I learned today is that it is the sole (the sole!) cause of tooth decay.  There are villages still in this world where not a single person has any tooth decay whatsoever, because they have no access to processed sugars.  In this country, more children end up in the hospital to have a mouthful of rotten teeth extracted as a result of a sugary diet than for any other single cause.

Despite its name and appearance, it is not Dragon Fruit that grows on the new forbidden tree of our age.

 

Next Page »

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 77 other followers