The Other I

November 26, 2017

Stir-up Sunday

Filed under: Just Stuff,The English — theotheri @ 3:16 pm

Until yesterday I might have said that today was the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  Or if I were a millenial, I would probably be more apt to say it’s the Sunday after Black Friday.  Or if I were really reaching back into history, that it’s the last Sunday before Advent, which is the beginning of the 4 weeks before Christmas.  Advent was a kind of mini-Lent during my childhood during which we made various resolutions, usually around abstaining from sweets or some such.

But what I’ve just learned from my English husband is that today is Stir-up Sunday.

Stir-up Sunday is always the last Sunday before Advent and was widely celebrated during Victorian times.  Its name is based on the prayer said on this day in Anglican churches which calls upon the Lord to  “Stir-up, we beseech thee, oh Lord,  the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Image result for christmas pudding

Then families went home for the really important ritual of the day.  That was to stir-up all the ingredients for the Christmas pudding.

Each member of the family took a turn to stir-up the ingredients, meanwhile making a wish.

The pudding was then put aside for Christmas except for the regular dollops of brandy which were added.

For spiritual reasons, of course.

 

recipes.sainsburys.co.uk/recipes/desserts/cranberry-gingerbread-christmas-pudding-with-ginger-sauce

These days, most people don’t make their own Christmas puddings, but buy them from the market.

Great loss, I would think.

For spiritual reasons, of course.

 

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November 25, 2017

An original Thanksgiving gift

Filed under: Just Stuff,Two sides of the question — theotheri @ 4:37 pm
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Image result for cyber space

bgi.uk.com/2016/04/19/cyberspace/

These days my friends and family are spread around the globe.  So our Thanksgiving thanks typically take the form of family phone calls held metaphorically around the turkey and pumpkin pie.

Thanksgiving in our house this year, however, was quite different.  And unexpected.  For almost four days we were without internet access, and without telephone connection for three.

That’s when I learned quite specifically what Jack Ma, the founder and head of the Chinese on-line supplier comparable to Amazon, meant when he called for the importance of incorporating love into cyber world companies.  What he means by love isn’t sexy or even homey.  It is just as often service-oriented, an offer of a helping hand, or a friendly suggestion, easily from complete strangers.

On Tuesday our internet connection went down.  After checking that it was not a problem of a loose connection on our part, I phoned our internet provider, who eventually confirmed that the workmen had made an erroneous connection on the circuit board down the block.  They promised the fault would be corrected “within 1 to 5 days.”  This sounded ominous, so I phoned my sister in Chicago to tell her to contact me by phone if there was a family emergency, and to promise to join the family phone-in on Thursday.

But then I began to get phone calls for someone named “Morley.”  I began to suspect that, along with our internet connections, there was a problem with crossed telephone wires as well.  On the 4th call, I advised the caller that he had probably not dialed the wrong number.  On further exploration, we discovered we live in the same village, less than ten minutes walk apart.

Two hours later, our phone landline also went dead.  We were living in a world of communication not known in the Western world since the first decade of the 20th century.  I was worried for several nights that if there was a medical emergency or possibly a fire or burglar.  We do have cell phones but because of the church tower, we cannot receive a signal without going outside onto the street.  In the middle of the night in freezing temperatures this was not a comforting thought.

On Friday morning our neighbour whom I had just “met,” as a result of his attempted call to Morley knocked on our door.  He introduced himself and told me that the telephone and internet engineers were currently working on the circuit board, and that I might want to go up the road to make sure they were addressing our problem.  I did and by Friday afternoon we were back in the “real world” of 21st century cyber space.

I have since received an inquiry from our internet provider asking if I would give them feedback on my satisfaction with George, the person who had taken my original call telling them our internet connection had broken down.  I said I would be happy to do so.  George was a good listener as I explained the problem and my fruitless efforts to solve the problem myself.  I asked him on this call if a further problem developed I could contact him.  No, he said;  he was located close to a thousand miles away in Bavaria and so many different people manned the phones that it would be impossible to reach him.  In other words, he was limited in what help, or even support, he could give.

That was not George’s fault.  It is a result of the emphasis on the part of the company on organization and efficiency.  But it does not take into account the needs of their individual customers.

I read a book review recently by a woman working for one of the big cyber-net companies saying that, although they claim to be unprejudiced in terms of gender, the great majority of their employees are men, and the philosophies of the companies are very male-oriented.

I know now what she means.  George was not able to offer me further support in the event I needed it – which I did.  It was not his fault.  His limitations were built into the structure of the company’s organization arising from its emphasis on problem-solving for the company, not for the individual they are meant to serve.

But let me not carry this too far.  The real personal support I received was from our neighbour.  And he’s a man.

 

November 20, 2017

Independence Day

Filed under: Growing Up,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:31 pm

Related image

A friend of mine just told me about her niece.  She walked into the room and announced to her parents sitting there:

“You’re not in charge of me anymore.”

“Oh”, said her parents, “who is in charge now?”

“I am,” she said.  “I’m in charge of myself.”

She is three years old.

Teaching our children to be responsible for the consequences of their own actions is one of the great challenges of parenting.  But this kind of statement of independence usually comes in the teenage years, often accompanied by an unwillingness to listen at that point to any  parental advice.

But can you imagine rearing a child who makes this announcement at the age of THREE?

Good for her!  I wish her the very best of a very productive and satisfying life.  Not necessarily easy.  But fulfilling.

(Oh, and I do hope she learns at an equally-surprising young age that if she’s in charge, she is responsible for the consequences of her decisions — even when they aren’t what she was planning on.)

 

November 15, 2017

Test of ingenuity

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 1:31 pm

The following exam results were sent to me by a friend who found them posted on the internet by a supposedly unknown teacher.  Whoever he or she may be, the person I would like to meet is that supposed student.

THE STUDENT WHO OBTAINED 0% ON AN EXAM (No laughing allowed)

 I wanted to give him 100%! but I was told that it wouldn’t be politically correct.  Each answer is absolutely grammatically correct, and funny too.

 Q1.. In which battle did Napoleon die?

>>>>> *His last battle

Q2.. Where was the Declaration of Independence signed?

>>>>> *At the bottom of the page

Q3.. River Ravi flows in which state?

>>>>> *Liquid

Q4.. What is the main reason for divorce?

>>>>> *Marriage

Q5.. What is the main reason for failure?

>>>>> *Exams

Q6.. What can you never eat for breakfast?

>>>>> *Lunch & dinner

Q7.. What looks like half an apple?

>>>>> *The other half

Q8.. If you throw a red stone into the blue sea, what will it become?

>>>>> *Wet

Q9.. How can a man go eight days without sleeping?

>>>>> *No problem, he sleeps at night.

Q10. How can you lift an elephant with one hand?

>>>>> *You will never find an elephant that has one hand.

Q11. If you had three apples and four oranges in one hand and four apples and three oranges in other hand, what would you have?

>>>>> *Very large hands

Q12. If it took eight men ten hours to build a wall, how long would it take four men to build it?

>>>>> *No time at all, the wall is already built.

Q13. How can you drop a raw egg onto a concrete floor without cracking it?

>>>>> *Any way you want, concrete floors are very hard to crack.

I sent this to one of my brothers who has an enviable memory of historical facts, who pointed out that Napoleon died in his bed.  He suggested the question should be about Nelsen, not Napoleon.  Possibly to distract from my own ignorance, I told him that I thought both he and the teacher missed the point.  The brilliance of the answers isn’t in their grammatical or historical accuracy.  It’s the ability to quite legitimately see every single question from a different perspective.

Kant would be proud.

Me, I’m just still laughing.

Hope you enjoy.

November 13, 2017

Still the greatest of these –

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 9:20 pm
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I was accompanying someone to the outpatients department of our local hospital here in Cambridge last week.  In terms of the professional competence of the medical staff, it is probably among the best in the world.  But in terms of convenience, it emphatically is not.  The parking for the disabled is so limited that the only realistic option for the disabled patient is to be dropped off at the accident and emergency entrance where wheel chairs are available, before the driver parks the car in the parking lot before returning to wheel the patient to the outpatients building.  This takes up to 20 minutes on a good day.  Inside the halls are crowded and many patients are disoriented.

But in the midst of this jungle something else is flowering besides confusion.  We were offered help by staff, by other patients, and by those accompanying other patients.  Someone helped me unlock the wheel chair, someone else offered to give up his seat, someone else walked the length of the hall to escort us to the x-ray department, hidden around several bends and a corner.  I lost count of the number of people who simply smiled or stepped out-of-the-way.  When I compare it to the disregard that typically takes place in our local supermarket, it really was quite amazing.

When I got home, I thought again about the fact that in this world of global and almost instant communication, we as individuals often feel so inconsequential, so small, so unable to make a meaningful difference.  And social media doesn’t help, encouraging so many of us, as it does, to search for celebrity or mass influence.

But there is no substitute for what the individual can do.  That act of consideration, or kindness, that simple smile, the touch on the arm can only be given by another person.  No system, however efficient, can make up for personal indifference.  Fame or celebrity doesn’t reach out in kindness and love.  Systems might get things done.  But they don’t give us that most essential thing of all – love.

I do not generally find myself depressed by the news.  Worried, yes!  But also often engaged in analyzing the economy, politics, climate change, immigration, war.  I think this is important to a functioning democracy.

But increasingly I think how important it is not to let the global picture crowd out the close-up, the person, often the stranger, with me in the immediate here and now.  This moment is all I ever have within which to give and receive.

Image result for the greatest of these is love

November 2, 2017

Me too’ism gone viral

Filed under: Cultural Differences,Just Stuff,Life as a Nun — theotheri @ 3:08 pm

Image result for sex pestsIn several of my Life as a Nun posts on this blog, I have described my experiences as an attractive, intelligent, and above all incredibly naive 27-year old emerging from convent life to the “real world” of hippie New York City.  I am remembering what I learned during those days as I try to understand the “Me too’ism” unleashed by the galley of allegations of sexual abuse against Hollywood’s Harvey Weinstein.  It is hitting the headlines here in England, displacing terrorism, Brexit, and many other international events of global significance.  Already a highly placed political figure in Parliament and cabinet has been displaced, and accusations of many others are rampant, some potentially serious, many unsubstantiated.

Before going further,  I want to make it clear that I consider sexual abuse to be a profound violation of human rights, often deeply and permanently damaging, and also, unfortunately, widespread throughout many different cultures around the world.  I give my total support to the view that we should do everything we can to stop it.

But I am convinced that the problem is not nearly as black-and-white as some people seem to think.  Many of the accusations surfacing seem to be serious.  Others are appallingly trivial.  The senior politician who was displaced was accused of putting his hand on a young woman’s knee thirty years ago.  Nothing more.  Even the journalist who made the accusation has been explicit that it was nothing more.

I have my own Me too-ism stories.  After leaving the convent I had to learn that I was sending out signals of apparent acquiescence that I meant to be understood merely as acts of kindness and friendship.  Following on that, I had no idea how to say “no.”  Consequently, I ended up on my back when, in truth, I had no wish whatsoever for a sexual encounter.  But as I look back, I think that most often the man involved in our encounter was as naive as I was, but in a different way.

I had been socialized as a girl to do what I could to support men whom I was taught to believe placed me as a female on a virginal pedestal.   Men were socialized that they had responsibilities to care for the women in their family by taking a leadership position.  As these assumptions began to break down in the 1960’s, members of both sexes were unaware that females might send messages differently than males’.  As premarital and extra-marital sex became acceptable, men often assumed that an hour of sexual pleasure was as rewarding for women as it was for them.  It didn’t matter if they were priests, university professors, workers, fellow students, or friends with whom one participated in civil rights or anti-war demonstrations.  In my experience, for men sexual intercourse typically did not involve a commitment any more serious than enjoying a good meal together.

But I didn’t think that.  I didn’t expect an offer of marriage, but I did expect an ongoing relationship.  I did not expect to become a one-night stand.  Or less.  I gradually became angry, and bitter, and mistrusting of men when I discovered more than once that that is exactly what I was.  One of the best things that has ever happened to me was that I met a man whom I found sexually attractive, intelligent, educated, and who did not think of me as a one-night stand.  He saved me from becoming locked into permanent hostility against men.  We have been living together for close to half a century now.

In the context of this relationship with my husband, I learned how to become more discriminating.  And I learned how to say no without making too much of a fuss to men who come on inappropriately.  I know that as a university professor I was respected, I was influential, and my colleagues understood that I was, as one described it,  “very married.”

Image result for sex pestsI see now that sexual abuse and misunderstandings are often a two-way street.  Learning to send and also to read signals from members of the opposite sex is not simple.  A pat on the knee, an arm around the shoulder, a particular facial expression may or may not be a come-on.  How close people are physically, whether sitting or standing, is particularly cultural.  Both men and women may deliberately or unconsciously, send signals through the clothes we wear, the way we walk, our behavior when we are in a bar or disco.  And the meaning of those signals often changes in the context within which they occur.

Image result for sex pestsYes! some behaviors in any culture, whether by men or women, are serious and abusive and should be condemned.  Outright rape, use of over-powering physical or financial control, by either men or women, threat to one’s career prospects if one does not acquiesce to sexual demands, all are examples of down right, unforgivable abuse in my book.  But every apparently sexual innuendo experienced by a woman is not, in my strong opinion, an  example of serious sexual abuse.

And it is not always obviously uniquely a male problem.

October 14, 2017

Uncertainty is scary

Filed under: Just Stuff,Questions beyond Science — theotheri @ 8:26 pm

In his comment of one of the blogs I read regularly, the author says:

“I do not believe there is a One True and Only Infallible anything – and I’m including all organized, semi-organized and disorganized religions, voodoo cults, talk show hosts, diet plans and scientific theories. (I’m hoping I’m wrong about diet plans, but evidence hasn’t been encouraging so far).”

I was amazed.  Not because I don’t agree because I do.  But because it seems to me to be a view held by so few people.   I know many people who have given up religious belief, and others who simply dismiss scientific findings like evolution or climate change because they do not mesh with their values.  But religious believers whom I know don’t usually appreciate that “faith”, by definition, means that it is beyond proof.  And scientific followers often think that facts are proven by evidence beyond dispute.  But a study of the short history of science demonstrates that absolute “facts” supported at one time by science are no longer considered valid.  Newton, for instance, thought that the entire universe ran like a huge totally determined mechanical clock, and that theoretically, at least, it is possible to know not only what has happened in the past but what is already determined to happen in the future.  As little as a century and half ago, eminent scientists thought planet earth was less than 4,000 years old.  They now think it is closer to 6 billion years old.

I used to think that people didn’t understand this reality of our inescapable human uncertainty because they were not intelligent or educated enough.  I don’t think that anymore.  Of course what ideas any of us have are in part dependent on the opportunities our culture might expose us to.  But as I look at both myself and others, I think the ability to live in what I call mystery, but which might simply be called uncertainty, is determined more by one’s psychology.

Living in mystery or ultimate uncertainty doesn’t mean one doesn’t live by principle or values.  But it does mean that I need to understand that I might be wrong.  Especially I might be wrong in the way I am applying my values.  An inability to tolerate dissent or disagreement is often a dead give away that I haven’t achieved that understanding.  Even something that at first seems as simple as Love is subject to huge diversity in our beliefs in what it means.  Should we beat the devil out of our children when they tell a lie or steal something, for instance?  Or explain why telling the truth and respecting other people’s property is important?  Is it immoral to save the life of the mother if it means losing the life of the unborn baby?  What about war?  Is there such a thing as a just war?   And of course there is the consolation offered by many religious faiths that death is not the end of life, but instead teaches that we each will continue to live “in the next world,” and that our separation from loved ones is only temporary.

Actually, this might sound like a fairly academic discussion.  But it’s not.  If I’m sure I am right, I am more willing to force others to behave by what I believe are my unassailable moral positions.   Throughout the late middle ages, the Roman Catholic Church felt justified in burning heretics to death,  for centuries all western Christian persuasions justified slavery and racism as the will of God.  Christians have engaged in centuries of warfare with other Christians with whom they disagreed, and today ISIS and other radical groups believe they have a God-given right to kill anyone who disagrees with them.

The world is convulsed with discrimination.  Perhaps it has always been, but with population growth, globalization, increasingly destructive weaponry, and climate change, these attitudes of intolerance are becoming increasingly dangerous to the very survival of our species.  In some ways, I think our biggest danger lies in our inability so often to live in the uncertainty and mystery intrinsic to the limitations of human consciousness.

 

 

October 7, 2017

The Intelligence of Love

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:08 pm

I read a post a couple of days ago that I can’t stop thinking about.  It’s about Jack Ma, the founder of the hugely successful Chinese e-commerce giant, Alibaba.

So what? I thoughtat first.  He’s another Bill Gates who founded Microsoft, or Steve Jobs of Apple Computer fortune, or Jeff Bezos of Amazon or Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.  Or, or, or…  It’s not really a short list.

But Jack Ma grew up in China, not in a privileged family, but as a poor boy.  He failed university entrance exams twice, and despite dozens of attempts, could not get a job.  Now he’s worth 29 billion dollars, and people are listening to him.  What he’s saying might not be all that surprising if he were a religious leader or even a university professor.  But coming from a very rich man who is talking, not about how to make it to heaven, but how to build a successful business in this age of high tech and computerization, it’s extraordinary.

Last month he addressed the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York City attended by heads of state and global business leaders discussing the challenges of economic growth.

So what did this poor boy who’d failed university entrance exams recommend?

Something he calls “LQ,” the Quotient of Love.  Not mathematical genius, not even emotional intelligence.  But love.  Love, he argued, should be a leading influence in decisions about hiring, promotions, customer needs, and he gave a lot of concrete examples, if you are interested.  Ma argues that only humans, not robots or other techniques using advanced artificial intelligence, can love.  Only we can add that human touch that makes all the difference.  Any of us who have been stuck at the other end of an automated telephone answering system with its mechanical directions to “press 1 if …” and so on, or has been on the other end of a phone call from some distant country trying to sell something, would agree.  Sometimes a spontaneous laugh from the real live person on the other end of the communication makes all the difference.

Ma recommends LQ be taught in schools along with mathematical and verbal skills.    Sounds like a good idea, but that doesn’t sound like the full solution to me. How can LQ be taught?    I doubt it can be done using traditional methods of testing and teaching.  I do think people sometimes learn life-changing skills from their teachers, but I strongly suspect it can be taught only by those who show it in vivo to the student.

Where did Jack Ma himself learn how to apply the Quotient of Love?  I doubt it was in school.   Did he learn it in his family?  did he have a mother or father who were examples of the LQ?  does he have brothers or sisters, neighbours, or other relatives from whom he got examples?  This was China, so I doubt it was from an overtly religious source.  Nor does that surprise me.  My own experience is that love is not necessarily in evidence in many religious strongholds.

If I were not already retired, I would be tempted to carry out some research to try to identify some of the variables that increase LQ, whether in business, family, or communities.  Maybe Jack Ma would even be willing to fund it!

 

 

 

https://tskraghu.wordpress.com/2017/10/06/jack-ma-reveals/

September 21, 2017

A vocation of love

Filed under: Just Stuff,Life as a Nun — theotheri @ 4:30 pm
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When I entered the convent of Maryknoll nuns in 1958, about 70 of us spent our first three years in training at the Motherhouse in Ossining, New York.  Another 25 or so were trained for that time in Valley Park, Missouri.  The two groups met each other for the first time when most of us were assigned to the Motherhouse after taking our first temporary vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

The two groups were very different.  We from the Motherhouse group mostly felt that the Valley Parkers were too rigid, too rule oriented.  We, on the other hand, were more rebellious, many of us having immersed ourselves in the encyclicals and theological writings surrounding Vatican II.

It was during this time that I met  Jean Pruitt by the name of Sister Raymond Claire.  In those days, nuns were expected to leave their families and all our past behind us.  The Maryknoll Sisters have since changed this mandate, on the grounds that we were not dedicating our lives to cutting out loved ones but rather to broaden our love to all humanity.  With the change in rules, many Maryknollers, including Jean, returned to their family names.

Jean was a Valley Parker and although we got along well enough, we never became close friends.  I always assumed that she believed that holiness required doing what our superiors told us to do without dissent.  She was, I thought, someone who honoured obedience above all else.

Sister Jean with the children of Dogodogo

Jean, was finally sent to the missions in Tanzania, Africa, in 1968 and I pretty much lost touch with her activities until about ten years ago.  By that time, not only the Roman Catholic Church, but even more so, the Maryknoll Sisters had changed dramatically.  I learned that Jean was supporting not only herself as an artist but had legally adopted four African boys and was caring for many more as, for years she fought to defend children’s rights.  Today, at least two of those adoptees have earned college degrees and made Jean a grandmother.

I have been deeply saddened to learn that Jean died suddenly and unexpectedly last week.  It is a small consolation that she will not be forced to return to the Motherhouse in New York for retirement.  She had made Tanzania and its people her home, and felt more like a foreigner in the States.  Her funeral is being celebrated by the African bishop of Bukoba, Tanzania, with whom Jean had become good friends.  She will be missed by many.

Since my day, the Maryknoll sisters have changed substantially.  But in some ways, I think Jean was more tolerated by the institution than encouraged.  For me, Jean became my ideal of a Maryknoller.  What mattered was not slavishly obeying the rules.  What she did was to see orphaned children in need of care, and she gave it to them.  She didn’t ask if this was what other Maryknoll Sisters were doing.  She saw what she could do, and used all her love and creativity and ingenuity and energy to do it.

 

September 14, 2017

Our Dorothy Day Exceptionalism

Filed under: Growing Up,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:15 pm
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In the last two posts I described growing up on 70-acre piece of land that my parents converted from barren hills surrounded by swamps into complex farm fields, and a vibrant lake.  I said it sounds idyllic, and in many ways it was.  The gifts I received from my parents in the first eighteen years of my life are the foundation of a sense of fulfillment and happiness that I know is very great.

But life on the farm was a mixed blessing.

The very gifts with which our family grew up created, I think, a kind of exceptionalism in each of us.  We were the place where our classmates came to swim and ice skate and picnic.  We were a preeminent family in our parish.  Once a week, the Maryknoll brothers studying in the novitiate in Akron came to swim, work on the farm, picnic, or sled down the snowy-laden hills with us.  My father was a leading lawyer in the city, and his best friend, Father Basil, who was a professor of history at a university in Cleveland, spent every Saturday afternoon and shared evening dinner with us, where we inevitably listened to high-level discussions of current ethical, philosophical, or theological questions.  At school, if any of us of whatever age said “Father Basil says…”, the nuns inevitably acquiesced.  We always had the upper hand on that one.

These experiences and so many like them gave us a sense of confidence and identity.  But it also gave us a false sense that we were right.  Like our big house on the hill, we stood above others.  Yes, we had responsibilities and obligations, which profoundly shaped the decisions we made about our lives and futures.

But we weren’t always as right as we thought we were.  And our Right Answer assumptions often led us to presenting our views with an unappealing self-righteous arrogance.  And interestingly, a lack of creativity.  We had the right answers.  We didn’t have to search for solutions.

It also left us with somewhat limited social skills.  We didn’t really know how even our school friends lived.  They spent more time in our house than we did in theirs.  Even today, many of us agree that we find it extremely difficult to make small talk.  Yes, we can enter into in-depth discussions about the meaning of life, death, the existence of God, abortion, the poor, racism, and politics.  But we are a deadly serious lot.  Most of us have had to learn from our life’s partners that very few people are quite as eager to endure our endless debates as we are.

Life on the farm also left us, especially the girls, unusually naive.  That wasn’t only a result of the protective isolation of living on the farm (which perhaps by now I should begin calling an “estate,” rather than a farm).  It was in part due to the times and the Catholic religious culture we lived in.   We learned to be supportive and to some extent even subservient to men, but we did not learn how and when we had the right to say No.  Consequently, as adolescents and young adults we got ourselves into sexual encounters that we misread.  We felt betrayed and angry at unspoken promises we felt had been made, and which, from a more mature perspective, obviously had not been offered.

Unfortunately, our idyllic life on the farm came to a crashing end with the death of my mother of cancer at the age of 48.  Eight months earlier I had entered the convent, and my mother, who knew she had only weeks to live, made it clear to me that I had a calling from God, and that I was not to come back home to care for my eight younger brothers and sisters, the youngest of whom was 7.   My mother also, I am sure, agreed with my father that he would marry the women we all called “Aunt Mary.”  She had been married to my mother’s brother who had also been my father’s law partner until his death 5 years earlier.  She and my father married four months after my mother’s death.

That’s when everything changed.  My father directed that everyone still living at home should address her as “mother,” but she was not a mother they recognized or felt loved by.  We always refer to the time after my mother died as “The Second Regime.”

As children we were never told we were growing up on a Dorothy Day farm.  After Dad died and we discovered their correspondence, it had little value to us and the letters were destroyed.  Because neither the joys of the first Regime with Mom, or the pain and the anguish of the Second Regime are due principally to the fact that we were living on a farm.  They are due far more to the love and generosity, to the limits and tragedies, of those individuals living there.

As Communism has demonstrated most recently, utopia does not exist independently in the system.  Right now,  we see today in countries throughout the world, including the United States and Britain, no system in itself operates independently of the people who are living within it.  As Thomas Jefferson said, freedom is something we must work constantly to protect.  The same is true of love.   The system can’t do it for us.

 

 

 

 

September 4, 2017

My Dorothy Day childhood

Filed under: Family,Growing Up,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:50 pm

To explain why, at the age of six, I decided I wanted to live in New York, I think I need to begin with my mother.

Like my Dad, Mom was a second generation immigrant.  Her family emigrated from Warsaw, Poland,  she was bi-lingual, had three older brothers, earned a BA, and was very attractive.  Unlike Dad, she accepted Roman Catholic beliefs  with unquestioning peace.  Also unlike Dad, she did not possess the incisive analytical intelligence which made him such a successful lawyer, and which is by and large still thought of as an indicator of a high IQ.  That is how I grew up believing that girls could never be as smart as boys, and why, until my older brother demolished my plan, I planned to be a man when I grew up.

Today cognitive psychologists understand that intelligence is much more complex than the verbal, spatial, and mathematical skills measured in traditional IQ tests.  Howard Gardener of Harvard University identifies 9 independent kinds of intelligence  including interpersonal intelligence, or empathy, which is the ability to  understand the feelings and motives of others, even when it is different from what one is experiencing oneself.

In retrospect,  I think my mother was on the genius level in terms of interpersonal intelligence.  But as a child, I just thought it was what one would expect of a mother.  I didn’t realize it was smarts, that it was an immensely valuable contribution to holding the family together.  She moved with Dad to the farm because she was a loving, committed wife.  But Dad wasn’t a farmer.  He was a lawyer and didn’t live his dream on the farm seven days a week.  He went off to the city five and a half days, and really worked the farm on Sunday afternoons as a recreational escape.  Mom, though, lived on the farm seven days a week.    She never complained, but she was very sociable and liked having people around.   She was lonely on the farm.  We did have a telephone, but obviously no internet or TV.  We didn’t even have a radio in the first years.  Although she always made people welcome, we lived on that house on the hill.  She was not, in that sense, a part of a village, or a community.

I didn’t want to be like my mother.  I thought she belonged in second place.  When I was told I looked like her, I was insulted.  I wanted to look like my Dad.  But as I look back now, I realize I shared her loneliness.  I had four brothers by the time I was six, but no sisters.  And when I finally got a sister, I remember being appalled that she was just a baby!  She wasn’t going to be any good as a playmate.  I couldn’t wait to start school, and when I did,  I loved it.  I got good grades and the only C I ever remember getting in my life was for penmanship, of which I was very proud, because I thought Dad’s writing was almost illegible too.

I would like to believe now that I also inherited some of my mother’s social intelligence.  Coming from my father’s side of the family, however, we have a streak of Asperger’s syndrome – the exact opposite of social intelligence – and I do not know how empathetic I might be.  I do know that I am a city person, that I find even village life too isolating.

In any case, I know now that it was not just my father, but equally my mother, who made my childhood so enriching.  She was a wonderful, loving teacher.  She was not competitive with us.  She did not, for instance, need to demonstrate that she was a better seamstress or cook or card player with us.  She enjoyed her children, she was proud of us, and encouraged us to be our unique selves.

I think I inherited my particular capacity for loneliness from her.

And that is why, by the time I was six, I’d made up my mind that I was going to move to New York.

That’s my personal story.  I also think, though, that our idyllic life on the farm had some long-term limitations for all of us.  We paid a price for living in that idyll.  About which, more on my next post.

Stow, OH: Wyoga lake at sunrise

Picture by Eric Upton;  http://www.city-data.com/picfilesc/picc7432.php;  Stow, OH: Wyoga lake at sunrise

August 31, 2017

My life on the farm

Filed under: Growing Up,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:27 pm
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The land my parents bought was, to put it mildly, undeveloped.  There were three hills, surrounded with acres of low-lying swamp land.  But they were the foundation of my father’s Dorothy Day dream.  On top of the biggest hill he built the main family house.  He called bulldozers in to build a dam, and transformed the biggest stretch of swamp into a five-acre lake which was ultimately stocked with the blue gill and bass fish which provided us with our Friday suppers.  Another elevated spot by what became the lake provided housing for Dad’s parents – our grandmother and grandfather – and for his brother and sister.  Another swamp was converted into a celery farm by his brother when he returned battered and bruised from his war-time military service.

Another house eventually became the home of the Black man, Phil, and his common-law White wife, Ethel.  Phil had also served in the military during the war, but racism was still so blatant that he could not get a job with any construction crew.  Despite the fact that he risked his reputation as a lawyer, Dad hired him, telling us that no Christian can be a racist.  Phil was essential to the running of the farm, and, although I’m sure he never knew it, is the reason none of us are prejudiced.

The Big House on the Hill, early 1950’s

By the early 1950’s, the house had several additional wings added to the original square box to accommodate the growing family.  Fields had been turned into pasture land for the cows which provided milk and eventually meat for our daily sustenance.   The calves’ liver that marked our Saturday evening dinners stand out in my mind, as the multiple chicken dinners stand out in the memory of one of my brothers.  Apple and pear trees populated what became an orchard, and Quonset huts, no longer wanted by the military after the war, were converted into chicken huts, cover for the pigs, barns for storing hay, stables for milking the cows, and a beach house by the lake that became our summer playground for swimming, our winter playground for skating and sledding down the hill and over the ice.  We played hide-and-seek in the summer wheat fields, and joined in the harvesting picnics in August.

By then we had become The Big House on the Hill.

It looks enviable, doesn’t it?  And yet by the time I was six years old, I decided I wanted to live in New York, and by the time I was seven, I had devised a plan.

Yes, it was beautiful.  In all seasons.  I remember with deep gratitude the richness that has lasted a lifetime that my childhood there gave me.  We were very fortunate.  But it wasn’t utopia. I hope to explain in my next post why I didn’t – and still don’t – share Dorothy Day’s Dream.

August 15, 2017

My Dad

Filed under: Family,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 7:57 pm
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Recently a friend said she would be interested in hearing more about my parents.  I realized she was right, and that I’d written a lot about my Family and Growing Up, but not very much about my parents’ own childhoods.  So I am writing a few posts now about them.

My Dad was a second generation immigrant from Bavaria, Germany on his father’s side.  In Bavaria, my grandfather had been chosen by his family to be a priest and sent to a seminary with all the constraints and opportunities that life offered.  My grandfather didn’t like the option and applied to study “as a seminarian” in the United States.  The seminary in Germany agreed and sent him for further study to America.  Upon reaching America, however, he went to a town in Wisconsin where many of his fellow-countrymen had already immigrated and were making a living either as farmers or as practicing lawyers.

He never began his studies as a seminarian.  He was a gifted musician and began to make a living playing the organ in churches, movies houses, and other recreational areas.  He met my grandmother and when they were married began a life that was frequently on the move, not infrequently flitting town at night leaving their debts behind.

My father was their oldest child, and he quickly developed a sense of responsibility for his parents and his younger brother and sister.  By the age of eleven, he was selling newspapers on the street to bring home enough money to feed the family that night.  He attended a Catholic high school where he developed a close friendship with the man who was later to become “Father Basil,” who visited our home and ate supper with us every Saturday for more than 20 years until my own mother’s death.

After high school my father attended John Carrol University, a Jesuit college in Ohio, and then earned a scholarship to study law at Harvard University.  He supplemented his scholarship by playing the guitar, which he later gave to me, and which I left behind when I left the convent at the age of 27.  He also finished Harvard’s 4-year degree in 3 years, graduating with honors.

Dad then returned to Akron, Ohio where his family was living and began his law practice in the 1930’s.  Despite the Great Depression, he somehow managed to pay to put his younger sister through college.  He married my mother in 1937, their first child was born in 1939, and I followed a year later.

In 1941, in the middle of World War II, my parents bought 70 acres of land from Ohio State.  It had never been owned by immigrants before, included a huge swamp, and not much else.  Inspired by Dorothy Day who was convinced that farm life was the most wholesome life style children could possible be given, my father and mother set up the home where I grew up.

More about our Dorothy Day farm in my next post.

August 9, 2017

Retirement surprises

Filed under: Growing Old,Stuff of Life: Current Exploits — theotheri @ 8:00 pm

“I need to go back to work so I will have more free time!”

The quote above is from a friend.  I told her I’m stealing it for myself — it describes my experience of getting old to a T.  How did I ever hold down a full-time job, keep the house clean, walk the dogs everyday, cook, pay the bills, and watch television all in the same day!?  We even had a garden which I occasionally weeded, I tiled a bathroom, stained the deck,  visited family, and went on vacations.

My guess is that you don’t qualify as elderly yet if you don’t know what we’re talking about.

August 4, 2017

Test of my faith

As the regular readers of this blog know, I was born and raised as a Roman Catholic, and spent 9 years in an order of nuns which I believed was rather like becoming a life-time Peace Corps worker for the poor and disadvantaged.  But I was never sent to work among the poor and finally left the convent.

A t the same time I came to understand the bible as the Hebrews understood most of its stories – as metaphors and parables, rather than as literal truths.  And I came to accept the Hebrew translation of “faith” as “faithfulness,” rather than adherence to a strict set of doctrinal beliefs.  Eventually, what remained for me was a belief beyond either proof or disproof that existence is good.  That however mysterious it may seem, to be is its own meaning, and that consequently to respect, to love, to care for the world and for the living organisms within it is my greatest fulfillment.

For the first time in years that conviction was shaken when I read two articles  earlier this week by scientists giving us no more than a 5% chance of ultimately avoiding irreversible climate change so drastic that the human species, and potentially all of life on this planet, could be destroyed.

I’ve been aware of the extreme dangers of the climate change we humans are producing and I have taken it seriously.

Image result for the universe

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140211-are-we-alone-in-the-universe

But the potential of our losing this battle and of our becoming one of the millions of extinct species that have inhabited earth filled me not only with sadness, but with something closer to despair.  Are those who believe that life has no meaning right after all?

I haven’t reached that conclusion.  I continue to live by the conviction that it is we who must help create the meaning of existence, of life, of our individual lives.  And “Love” is still for me the best summary of the way I believe we can best live in this Mystery of Life.

But it hasn’t been since my adolescence that I appreciated that “faith” in this sense is no simple achievement.

July 23, 2017

I always thought I was an optimist…

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 7:59 pm

When I was about 12 years old, I remember telling my father, as he predicted the imminent death of my mother’s brother and his law partner, that he was an impossible pessimist.

He looked at me thoughtfully, and finally replied “No, Terry, I’m a realist.”

And so in this case, he was right.  My uncle was dead within months.

Today, more than 5 decades down the line, I am thinking about the virtues of the realist who has the courage to recognize that coming events may not be those we are hoping for.  Not merely disappointment, but disaster, death, betrayal, anguish, pain, loss.  All these things happen, and however fortunate any us may be in our lifetime, none of us will escape them completely.

The news today almost inevitably contain items that can fill me with anger and despair.  We are threatening and killing each other with weapons of mass destruction and calling it heroism (at least if it’s our side that’s doing the killing;  if it’s the other side, it’s terrorism and evil).  We are destroying the eco-system, the air, water, and other living organisms on which our very survival depends and saying we don’t believe it.  We create a system in which individuals can become seriously rich on the backs of those who can barely make a living, and call it “the Great American way.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if I could just dismiss the implications of these news stories as unrealistic pessimism, to be dismissed with an optimistic smile and a loving assurance that everything will turn out for the best.  But seriously, I can’t.

And I find myself looking to those in the past who have faced close-up the realities of war, of sickness, of starvation, or terror, and ask which of those responses do I want to emulate?

 

 

First of all, I want to be a realist.  I want to face the fact that some of my fears are not only reasonable but might actually occur.

I don’t want to run away, but I don’t want to simply give up either.  I can’t solve all the world’s problems — I can’t even solve all my own problems.  But I can do something besides pretend it isn’t happening.  Right now in my life they are very small, unheroic mostly everyday things I can do.  It means trying to help when I can.  It means turning off the news sometimes when it’s using up more energy than I can spare or is riling up feelings of irritation and anger in my heart that get in the way of doing those small things that I can do.  It means getting enough sleep.  It means using whatever skills I have to take care of myself so that I can also take care of others.  Perhaps someday it will simply mean letting others help me.

Yes, I’m an optimist,  And that has often given me the energy to accomplish things I might not have tried if all I’d seen was the dark side.

I won’t live long enough to know how some of our biggest struggles will end.  But these days I strive for the courage to be a realist, and to face that reality with hope rather than depression and despair.

 

 

July 18, 2017

Why don’t I change my mind?

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:24 pm

I have often wondered – sometimes in this blog – why people are sometimes adamantly convinced they are right, even in the face of little corroborating evidence, or sometimes no evidence at all.  Politics and religion seem to be the two areas where feelings run deepest, and where it seems to me rational thought is least in evidence.  But even when we make outright mistakes with obvious consequences, sometimes dire economic consequences, whether they are personal or across the entire society, we often refuse to admit that we have made a mistake.

It has recently occurred to me that the place to start to get at least a little insight into this question is with myself.  I have values and convictions which I can hardly claim are as scientifically or rationally justified as even Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Last month I stumbled on a developing framework within which to examine this problem.  Roland Benabou of Princeton University and Jean Tirole of the Toulouse School of Economics suggest some interesting hypotheses:

  • Some beliefs help us make good decisions.  If I think I’m a good teacher, engineer, salesman, or almost anything else, that belief tends to give me confidence, and I’m apt to work harder at accomplishing it than if I believe I’m unskilled in that area.  Similarly, sometimes religious beliefs help build the kind of self-discipline that can increase productivity and healthier life styles.  I remember as a child giving up candy during the six weeks of Lent before Easter.  I didn’t do it to learn will power, but that is certainly one of the things it helped me accomplish.  I’m sure that is true of many other religious practices.
  • But there are other times when we engage in what Benabou calls “strategic ignorance,” avoiding, ignoring or even denying evidence that does not support our views.  Paradoxically, mass communications makes this easier.  We can choose which news we want to listen to, and rarely listen to people we know we disagree with.  I rarely listen to Fox News, for instance, or read tabloid papers.  In the worst cases, I suppose I dismiss what I disagree with most fervently as “fake news.”  (Though if you’ve read this blog at all, you can probably guess that is not the term I would use.)
  • Other times we engage in “self-signalling.”  Better-educated people are particularly good at this.  We look at a narrow set of experiences or scientific research, or even just rationalize our beliefs, and convince ourselves that this “proves” we are right.  I have a dear friend who has convinced himself he has a genetic make-up which enables him to smoke without fear of it causing lung cancer.  I don’t smoke or abuse alcohol, but I do perhaps argue that chocolate “in small doses” is good for you.  Right.  But how much is “small,” my dear?
  • Finally, there is the influence of “groupthink.”  To the extent that my sense of self-worth, or perhaps the success of my career, or even my very survival, depends on belonging to a particular group, then the influence of the group will be far more tenacious than under other circumstances.  It’s hard, it’s scary, even dangerous, to be a whistle-blower.  It can often be hard to stand up and admit that one has changed one’s mind and face accusations that one can’t stand by one’s convictions, especially if the price, as it so often is, that the group itself will turn against you.  When I was a nun, we were not permitted to have any contact whatsoever with nuns who had left.   That order has now dramatically reversed this stance, which I deeply admire.  But churches, political parties, university faculties, social groups of every kind, often block out people who disagree or who are merely different. The world itself today is convulsed with violence based on these kind of disagreements.

If we are going to survive as a species, we need to learn to listen to points of view other than our own, and understand, even though we might not agree, why they are convincing for others.

And we need to learn to say about our own opinions sometimes “I was wrong.”

Image result for I was wrong

https://biodiversitydynamics.wordpress.com/2014/05/14/i-was-wrong/

I think that might include me.  Hmmm.   ME!??

 

 

 

 

June 29, 2017

Questions if not answers

My post ten days ago “I missed something big” has generated a number of online comments and even more to me personally.  It’s stimulated my thinking enough to provide another post.  So for what it’s worth —

I think I will stop using the word “socialism.”  Its meaning is too varied, stretching from various forms of Communism to simply a concern for the poor, in whatever way the problem may be addressed.

Nonetheless, the economic question being discussed does seem to revolve around how problems of injustice, unfairness, and gross inequality should be addressed.  There are those like Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes who offered different solutions, but both believed that the essential solution lay with government policy.  Marx, of course, developed Communist theory.  Keynes, on the other hand, believed that in times of depression, governments should shoulder significant debt in order to create jobs and thus stimulate the economy.

This theory was given a credence by the fact that military spending during the Second World War ended the depression in the United States and after the war, set in motion decades of growth and programs such as social security to provide pensions for the retired who no longer could earn a living by working.

But excessive government spending, unfortunately, does not always create better fortune for the many.

  • Corruption is a frequent crippling drain as is clear today in governments in Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere.
  • But corruption is not the only problem.  Governments can’t always sustain the debt they incur, and once again, people are plunged into life-threatening poverty.  The dramatic drop in the price of oil has been extremely destructive for governments which have been dependent on oil.  Venezuela today is an outstanding, if not sole, example.
  • Finally, there is the call, made by Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party in the UK today, to tax the rich to increase the minimum wage, and relieve poverty by providing government subsidies for university tuition, child care, parental leave, and more social care for the elderly and disabled.  Unfortunately, as the world becomes increasingly globalized, this taxing the rich policy must be applied very carefully.  When it was tried in Britain in the 1970’s, it led to a “brain drain” out of the country, and the economy faltered so badly that it needed help from the IMF.

The alternative to government spending which is particularly popular in the United States under the Republicans is to lower, rather than raise, taxes for the rich.  The theory is that it is the rich who generate jobs through the companies they manage, the people they hire to meet personal needs, in other words, through the money they make and spend.  And in some cases this seems to be true.

But like increased government spending, this approach does not always work in practice exactly the way it does in theory.

  • For one thing, the rich save a much larger proportion of their money than do the less well off.  In other words, much of their money does not generate jobs — except possibly for bankers.   It is not necessarily the rich who have “made America great.”   Many of the most productive companies in the US employing tens of thousands of Americans today were founded by immigrants who came to the U.S. with nothing but a willingness to work and a creative energy.
  • Thomas Piketty, who has had the chance to analyze several centuries of data, shows that capitalism is not intrinsically a system which rewards hard work and talent.  It frequently develops in such a way as to build in greater rewards for those who already are better off and to reduce the welfare of those who aren’t.  The effects of this reality have been substantial in the United States where the difference between the top 10% of the population and the workers has increased dramatically in the last 3 decades, gutting the middle classes and increasing serious levels of poverty.

The differences between these two approaches, as we have seen, is infused with a strong sense of  Right and Wrong, and so often becomes not only heatedly political, but theological.

I do not pretend to have the answers.  I do know I ask more often than most people I dialogue with how politicians propose to solve the problems of injustice they argue against, and I sometimes find those solutions – from whichever direction they come – untenable.  Just because the Republicans or Tories or etc might be wrong doesn’t make the Democrats, or Labour or anyone else right.

I have reached the conclusion in economics and government, just as in parenting, or in any other field,  it is important to remember that just because our intentions are good, that the consequences of our choices might be vastly different.  And so I am convinced that, important as any particular governmental policy might be, no system is going to be the total solution.  Our lives need to be imbued with both love and creativity to make any system work.

Image result for I got that wrong

 

 

Oh yes:  and the ability to recognize that we might just be wrong.

But that’s the topic of my next post.

 

https://revdavidsouthall.com

 

 

 

June 22, 2017

Would you work if you didn’t have to?

Trump’s appeal to his core supporters is often based on his promise to bring jobs back to America from countries where workers are paid less.  But more and more jobs are becoming extinct as factories and even many aspects of the service industry are being taken over by robotic technology.  Those jobs aren’t coming back from China or Mexico or anyplace else.  They are disappearing.

In the list of these developments which are scheduled to increase perhaps exponentially, economists are wondering how people are going to earn a living if there aren’t enough jobs.  One fascinating idea is for the state to give every adult a basic unearned income which will not provide any luxuries, but will provide enough income to cover basic shelter and food.  The idea is highly controversial.

Image result for basic income finland

http://www.occupy.com 

Where, for instance, would the state get the income to pay these basic costs if nobody is working or paying income tax?

The proponents of the theory think that people will work even if they don’t have to:

      They will work because they want to do or to buy the things that money can buy.

      They will also work because many people find work intrinsically rewarding.  Yes, they would expect to be paid, but, this argument goes, many people don’t work just for the money.  Doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, builders, security workers and police, artists, musicians, researchers, cooks, caretakers, to name just a few, do work which they find rewarding in its own right.  They are happy to spend their lives getting up in the morning and spending their days working.   I certainly did.  I loved working.

     Others would use the basic income to support themselves while they start their own business, start-ups they may not have the confidence to try if they risk starving themselves and their family should the business fail.

The counter-argument questions if people really would go through the processes of education in order to engage in a lifetime of work for which they are paid, and which gives them many more opportunities like travel or the ability to buy things which are not strictly required for survival?  Because, in addition to having to learn their special skills, their earned incomes would be taxed, in part to support people who don’t want to work at all.

Now this theory is going to be tested in real life.

Finland is beginning a two-year trial among a randomly selected group of unemployed who, instead of receiving unemployment income, will get an unconditional monthly income.  They can also earn unlimited additional income without reducing the basic pay.

If you find this as fascinating as I do, there is a fuller description online.

They say international interest is intense.

Mine sure is.

June 12, 2017

Better stop complaining

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:00 pm
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Yesterday my sister and her partner were out for a local walk and ran into a woman using a walker who stumbled.  They didn’t reach her until she had righted herself, but then asked if she was all right.

“Well,” she replied, “I can talk, I can eat, I can sleep, I can walk, I can love.  And I am loved.  I think I’m all right.”

Image result for Good news department

https://bsuenglish.wordpress.com/category/regular-features/good-news/

June 3, 2017

My new housekeeper

Filed under: Environmental Issues,Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 4:26 pm
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Image result for spider in a web

http://www.animalsandenglish.com/spiders.html

I’ve taken to watching a spider in its web on my bathroom ceiling.  Usually I try to get them back outside, or vacuum them up with an apology about their having landed on a foreign planet.  But Trump’s climate change denials have made me increasingly aware of just what a special, unique place Earth is, and I’m observing even the most ordinary things with fascination and even awe.

Besides, a new study estimates that spiders consume up to 800 tons of insects every year.  We humans consume a mere half that total in meat and fish.

So I thought perhaps I would not, as is my custom, try to move the spider outside, or vacuum it up.  This time of year, a whole feast of insects make their way through the sky light into the bathroom.  I’m welcoming the spider as my housekeeper.

As long as it stays out of the bed anyway.

May 23, 2017

Is “Evil Loser” a useful diagnosis?

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:13 pm

We woke up this morning to the news of the bombing at the concert in Manchester last night.  A suicide bomber seems to have slipped into the hall just as the concert ended, killing himself along with at least 20 people including children.  Donald Trump, in sending his condolences, described the bomber as an “Evil Loser.”

This description does not impress me as a very helpful diagnosis.   It doesn’t tell us anything about the bomber, or carry any practical implications about how we might prevent other potential murder-suicides like this.   If past incidents are anything to go by, ISIS is right in their claim today that this is an act they have inspired.

If so, then this bomber, like jihadists before, was engaged in a struggle to belong, to be important, to be a celebrity whose value would be rewarded even into eternity.  He was probably someone who felt alienated and unrecognized by the society in which he lived, and was engaged in the task of adolescence:  to develop an identity that is recognized and appreciated.  It is a need to belong – a need that, as a comment following my post yesterday points out, Hannah Arendt describes in The Origins of Totalitarianism.  The communists may have made use of this need, just as it was used to motivate the kamikaze pilots of Japan.  But also those who fought for what we call “the good side” in all the wars in which we have fought.

If the need to belong is the evolutionary foundation of religion, then the need to belong, the need to be loved, to be recognized, is an essential foundation of the ability to love and to care for others.  Perhaps as a species we are still in the state of adolescence, where too many of us are shouting to be noticed, to belong to something.

Perhaps the Manchester bomber was not an Evil Loser.  But someone screaming that he was important too.

 

May 22, 2017

We need a buzz

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:52 pm

I’ve just read what for me is a fascinating idea about us and about all of life.

The anthropologist Dr. Barbara King of the College of William and Mary in Virginia hypothesizes that our need to belong is even deeper than our need to survive.  She describes research among young primates who, given the choice between making use of a wire structure providing them with life-giving milk, and cuddling up to a warm furry “teddy bear”-type construction, will choose the latter, even to the point of starvation.

Image result for beehiveThis need to belong, she believes, is the evolutionary source of all religion.  It would explain why we sometimes cling to our religious identity in the face of overwhelmingly contradictory evidence.  We will die for this right to belong.   And as both history and contemporary events unfortunately demonstrate, we will not only die for it.  We will kill for it.  We are born with a need to belong, and to be deprived of this essential need leaves us devastated, disoriented, even destroyed.

Darwin’s theory seems to suggest that survival is our greatest need – that ultimately survival is our bottom line.  But if Dr. King is right, it’s not quite that simple.  It might be, rather, that those species whose individuals need to belong have a much greater chance of long-term survival than those species where individuals are determined to save their own genes and those of their offspring at the cost of all else.

Interesting that many of the great religions of the world have emphasized our oneness with the universe of life.  They did not flourish with an “Us versus Them” theology that today has come to characterize so much of both Christianity and Islam, and is ripping nations apart in identity crises around the world.

On a personal note, I see in my own family how important this struggle to belong became for my younger sibs after my mother died and my father remarried.  The younger ones have all struggled with a sense of belonging.  Even into adulthood, they have struggled with temper tantrums in a way none of us older ones did, and have had more struggles with their adult relationships.

Image result for beehiveThe Romans held up the honeybee as one of the most admirable of all living organisms.  They work as a group for the good of the whole, not simply for their own individual well-being whatever happens to every other bee.  Not only that, but the work of the bee actually adds values to the plants it pollinates and from which it extracts its own life-sustaining nutrients.

In her book, Integral City: Evolutionary Intelligences for the Human Hive,  Dr. Marilyn Hamilton.    talks about our need to change the way we live, realizing that we are all in this together.  We need to value the multiple intelligences of our diverse species and protect eco-systems so that the whole of life can thrive. Hamilton is working with city planners to change the nature of life in our cities from one in which we so often take whatever we want, and throw our waste away in a destructive disregard that is actually killing the life-giving sources on which we ourselves actually depend.

We need to grow beyond our adolescence and realize that we are not a privileged superior species that can do whatever we want.  We need each other, and if we don’t realize that we all belong here, we will all perish.  And it is we, that species who thinks we are so superior, so smart, who will be responsible.

 

 

 

 

May 17, 2017

We’re all in this together

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:58 pm
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Image result for we're all in this togetherI’m beginning to sound like a broken record to myself.  I keep reaching the conclusion that, for better or for worse, we’re all in this together.

Several hours ago, for instance we received a delivery of a package by two young men.  It was rather large and they offered to deliver it inside for me, rather than my having to drag it in after I’d signed for it.  I accepted their offer, and in the process thought I’d recognized the accent.

“Where are you from?”  I asked.  There was a pregnant hesitation before the older man said  “Poland.”

I understood immediately.  Many of the Brexiteers here in Britain, particularly the elderly, voted for Britain to leave the European Union because they claimed immigrants were taking jobs away from the native British and we couldn’t stop them because the EU is based on the free movement of people among all 27 EU countries.  Polish plumbers are for some reason inexplicable to me, pointed out as a particular source of ire.

“I thought I recognized your accent,” I replied.  “My mother was a second-generation immigrant from Poland.”

The atmosphere changed to smiles immediately.  “It’s a small world,” he responded.

They left, probably feeling lightened by a sense that, in this house at least, they were welcome to live and work here.

But one of the most interesting things for me was the sense of identification I felt with them.  I don’t know their names, why they came to Britain, whether they are supporting families in Poland, or anything else about them.  And yet, I felt a special sense of identification with them, a kind of warmth that one might feel about a family member one is meeting for the first and possibly last time.

As I closed the door, all I could think was how we are all in this together.  I meet two complete strangers for less than five minutes, and I can understand the age-old and universal drive to survive, to care for one’s family, to work hard for years for a better life.

But there was also something special about the fact that we shared a common heritage.  I would not have felt hostile had those delivery men been from Romania or Vietnam or Sudan.  I would have tried to make them feel welcome and respected.  But I wouldn’t have felt that special relationship I felt for a Polish immigrant.

What I’m thinking is that I may actually have something in common with the Brexiteers.  Or (God help me) with the Trump followers who want to make America great again.  Or even the Germans who were fighting for The Third Reich.  There is some special identification we experience with those with whom we share a heritage.

 

May 13, 2017

A decade of blogging

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:38 pm
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Image result for bloggingI’ve just realized that I began blogging here in March, 2007, more than ten years ago.  During that time, I’ve taken several breaks, one to write the second edition of my recent book “The Big Bang to Now,” and several others for family reasons, which has been the case for the last several months.  As before, I’m finding it difficult to get started again.  Every time I think “oh, I’ll blog about that today,” the idea suddenly seems utterly trivial or boring.

I’ve seen other personal blogs which I have enjoyed stutter or even come to a full and an apparently permanent stop, and I miss them.

And I miss the thought and interaction and even support that comes with blogging myself.

And so, barring the unexpected, unforeseen, and unplanned, I’m going to return to making an effort to post at least twice a week.  I’m not going to worry about being boring or irrelevant.  I have enough cyber-experience to know it’s a lot easier to escape from a boring blog than from a live conversation.

So, Dear Reader, I very much appreciate that you are there.  More than I can say.  But l will fully understand if you click yourself away.

http://www.JaneFriedman.com

May 3, 2017

Just another age-old story

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:29 pm

I began the day gardening.  Good start, feeling fit and energetic.  Until I pulled an abductor muscle in my leg carrying an 80 liter bag of compost.

So I decided to limp the few blocks to our local store.  Yesterday when I’d picked up about £7-worth of greeting cards and then bought stamps to send them to America, I’d walked out without paying for the cards at all.  By the time I realized what I’d done, the cards were ready for the post.   To my chagrin, as I was paying the errant bill today, I realized my credit card wasn’t in my wallet.

Limping back home and absorbed with trying to figure out where the card might be — hoping it wasn’t in the grip of a handy thief — I ran into a fellow villager and long-time friend who has just lost her husband.  I called her by somebody else’s name.

When I finally made it home, I went through my coat and jeans pockets looking for the lost card, in drawers, in the shopping bags I’d used, on the floor, in the car, even under the car.  I finally called the supermarket where we’d been shopping on Monday, and was relieved to learn that I’d left it in the credit card check-out machine.

Did I say I’m finding old-age interesting?

I think I might need another adjective.  Exasperating, perhaps?

April 12, 2017

Sizing up the situation

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:40 pm

Image result for celebrity logo

If by any chance you grew up like me with the goal of becoming a member of the Great and the Good, you might recognize my current thoughts not as an admission of failure but as a worthwhile achievement.  Given my Catholic background, I was planning on becoming a saint, preferably one like Mother Teresa who was recognized before she died.  I will confess I also wanted to be physically attractive and smart but thought that wanting to be rich would demean my high moral standards.

What I’ve grown beyond is the desire for public recognition.  Celebrity, whether it’s packaged as friends on Facebook, canonization by Rome,  or ranking for the Big Prize in sports, politics, or entertainment aren’t worth the paper they are written on.

What has taken its place in my mind is an appreciation of the nature of human consciousness and so of our first and more important responsibility:  to care for those nearest to us.  For all of us around the world, the closer something is to us, the more emotional energy it stimulates.  And indeed, almost always, that is where the greater the possibility is that we might be able to respond in some meaningful way.  Like most people reading this post, I feel deep sympathy and care about the seven million people, several million of whom are children, who are on the edge of starvation caused by war and drought.

But you know, the child next door who is being abused by his parents can use up more of my time and energy and attempts to help than the entire Syrian, Yemen, and African crisis.  When I have to choose between those closest to me and those further way, I think my first responsibility is to those closest to me.  If I have to choose between my family and yours, I think my first — though not only — responsibility is my family.

Which is a very long convoluted way of trying to explain the conundrum I am currently facing when I sit at my computer to write a post.  There are the immensely complex and critically important things happening in the world. But there are also life-changing events going on in my immediate family.  A brother has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, a sister walked into her bedroom two weeks ago and found her partner lying dead on the floor.  The double tragedy is that 40 years ago something similar happened with the death of her first husband.  I won’t write any further about these things because I do not want to invade their privacy by posting about their experiences here.

But being there with them is focusing my energy.  I’m not able to spend as much time staying abreast of current affairs, and am making do with reading headlines.  When I distract myself with trivia I feel shallow and self-absorbed.

But that’s a mistake.  Putting food on the table for my loved ones, keeping the house half-way clean, getting enough exercise and sleep to maintain my own energy and health, watching entertainment television or reading escapist novels might feel trivial.  But they are part of what I can do to support those nearest to me.  And to receive in turn the love which sustains me.

So from now on when I write a post, whether it’s silly or serious, I’m not going to feel guilty and self-absorbed.

Okay, I got that off my chest.  Thank you for listening.

 

April 9, 2017

Washing-up liquid

Filed under: Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 7:58 pm
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My husband and I were having lunch in our sunroom this afternoon when his fork dropped to the floor.  He picked it up immediately and reached for his paper napkin, which I thought made sense because both the fork and the floor were clean and dry.  But before wiping the fork, he dipped it into his glass of wine.

What are you doing!?! I asked in disbelief.  Cleaning the fork, he replied.  Germs, he explained, don’t survive in wine.

I’m not sure about the science behind this assurance, but I did find myself reflecting on the history of drinking alcohol instead of water.

Less than a century ago, a source of clean water was not available even in what today we consider our developed Western cities.  Streets in London and New York, for instance, were littered with the manure of horses used to pull carriages.  There was no garbage pick-up, and the rivers were badly polluted.  So what water was available coming into houses was also badly polluted.

This was true even during my husband’s childhood where he grew up in a coal-mining village in Yorkshire.  The only toilet facilities were a pit toilet outside, and a tub in the kitchen which was filled from water heated on the wood-burning stove and used by the women of the house when the men went to the pub.  His grandfather made use of the public baths once a week.

Water was inevitably disease-ridden – rather the way we see it is in Haiti today or in parts of the undeveloped world.  It was, indeed, healthier to drink alcohol than water.

Can’t say I long for the good old days.  But there are those who still swear by the health benefits of alcohol.

Image result for cheers

Huffington Post.com

Cheers to the good old days!

March 29, 2017

The breath of life

Filed under: Husband,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:20 pm

One of the best things about a good marriage, I suspect, is a couple’s differences.  My husband, Peter, and I are good at different things, and by definition close to helpless in others.  Discovering this, of course, does not come without cost.  It means learning to listen to another point of view that often feels like a direct contradiction of our own and taking it seriously.

Peter, for instance, is a born pessimist, I a born optimist.  Once I learned to take his pessimism seriously, I saw the benefit of preparing for possible undesirable outcomes.  I learned, as Peter put it, that the difference between an emergency and an inconvenience is often a back-up.  So we have savings I would not have thought useful.

Or when Peter would come up with a brilliant idea, followed with the inevitable statement it would be impossible for us ever to implement, the optimist in me began to see the possibilities.  So we figured out how to buy a house.

In the kitchen, we both cook, but very differently.  I am practical.  I can put a meal on the table in 30 minutes.  Peter, on the other hand, has taste buds far more sensitive to mine.  He denies this, but he is really a gourmet cook who has never used recipes as rules but merely as suggestions.  And often makes it up after looking to see what’s on the shelves or growing in the garden.  He inevitably announces the result is “a disaster,” but I cannot remember a single time in the last 44 years that it has been inedible.

Many of our skills are a reversal of those that are typically identified with males and females.  I am good at mathematics and have some mechanical skills, albeit untrained.  Peter, on the other hand, has a grasp of literature and social structures, and interestingly, some computer skills, that far outstrip mine.

So we have learned to ask each other for help.

Two days ago, Peter said the lawn mower would not start.  It looked either as if the start button on the mower wasn’t working or that the battery wasn’t recharging and had reached the end of its life.  We decided the best choice was to order a new battery, rather than a new mower.  The battery came yesterday, and after recharging it, he put it into the mower.  It still wouldn’t start.  So he called me, really just to confirm that we were going to have to buy a new mower after all.

I don’t mow the lawn, and I wasn’t familiar with the machine.  But I took out the battery, looked at it, and wondered if the problem was not with the battery after all but with the battery charger.  Before trying to decide if we could figure out if this was the problem, I noticed that a few very small scraps of grass cuttings had slipped into the battery cage.  “Oh,” I said, “I wonder if this is the problem.”  “No,” Peter assured me.  “We’ve had this mower for eight years and that’s never happened.”  “Okay,” I said, blowing at the offending bits of green and displacing them into my face.  “I’m sure you’re right and it won’t work, but let’s give it a try – there’s no-…”

I hadn’t finished stating my expectation of failure when Peter pushed on the starter lever.  The mower started.

“Ah!” said Peter, “you are the breath of life!”

Well, I must confess it was more like a stroke of luck than the breath of life.

But it’s true:  he couldn’t have done it without me.

Love and life are made up of a lot of little things, aren’t they?  even little bits of grass.

March 8, 2017

Escaping the revolving prison door

Filed under: Just Stuff,Survival Strategies,Teaching — theotheri @ 3:19 pm

I have just read a review, Scholars Behind Bars, in the current New York Review of Books .  It is mainly about a program set up by Bard College 18 years ago  which provides a college education to inmates in several high-security penitentiaries in New York.

I remember my time on the faculty at Bard as among the best years of my life.  I had no idea, though, that President Leon Botstein had applied the principles that guided the college during my years there to prisons.  The statistics suggest that the value of this program are almost unbelievable.

Apparently, the enthusiasm of the inmates to earn admittance to the program is very great.  They will not be accepted until they pass a written test and oral interview demonstrating that they have the reading and writing skills they need.  Unlike some colleges, the program does not provide remedial courses for freshmen.  The perspective applicants have to do that for themselves.   It’s a rigorous program, and not for softies.

http://risingsunoverport.co.za

Nor does the enthusiasm diminish once students are taking courses.  They ask for feedback on essays they have written that may not even have been for a class assignment.  The discussions both with faculty and other students show that students are reading books beyond those assigned for a course, and may simply be in order to follow-up on philosophical questions they find intriguing.  Like “how do we know what is or isn’t fair?”   They are not put off by controversy or disagreement or even insults.

Most astonishing for me is the recidivism rate of graduates from Bard’s program compared to the average number of released prisoners who re-offend.  Nationally, the re-offend rate is 50%.  It is 2% for graduates from the Bard program.  It’s also notable that almost all of the Bard students have been convicted of violence crimes.  Many very serious violent crimes.  Not dealing dope or other so-called victimless crimes.  That’s why they are in a high-security prison.  Yet on their release, most of these students go into teaching, social work, youth work, counselling – the kind of jobs where quite possibly they uniquely may be most effective.

This doesn’t happen to me very often, but as I read the review I was flooded with a feeling of recognition and sheer gratitude that the kind of education I had known characterized Bard was still going on in the most surprising places. I wish I weren’t too old to join the faculty there.

 

March 5, 2017

Cracking up

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:57 pm
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Several days ago, I’d finished a dental floss roll, and so I took an unopened container from the bathroom cupboard.  When I tried to pull the metal piece on the top of the container holding the floss in place I couldn’t get it off.  My finger nails are getting softer with age, so I got an unused knife to wedge it off, but that didn’t work either.  I even tried to split the case open by inserting the knife into the side where the two pieces of casing met but although I could get it to open slightly, it still wouldn’t open.

So I got two wood-carving knives I’d inherited from my father-in-law.  They were strong enough and thick enough to split the case apart.  The roll of dental floss fell onto the floor, but at least I’d managed to get access to it.

Image result for dental flossWhy, you might ask, am I writing about such an inane event?

The reason is so inane that you might suspect I’m making it up.  It’s even hard for me to imagine in retrospect how I managed to accomplish this great feat.

I did it because I was working on the bottom of the casing.  I’ve been using dental floss for decades.  I know the top just flips open.  But somehow I held the case upside-down to start out with and through all my shenanigans with knives didn’t think to turn it around.

I think it might not be the dental floss case that’s cracking up.

February 22, 2017

Keeping the world at bay: my sanity strategy

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:17 pm

Image result for child on the internetParents are repeatedly advised these days to make sure their children are not becoming addicted to the internet, unable to tear themselves away to get healthy exercise and face-to-face conversation with real people.  Another problem is the “sound-bite” approach to learning, which limits children’s ability to learn to follow complex arguments through to the finish.  The temptation is to read the headlines and think you know the whole story.

I agree this is critically important for children.  But what I’m discovering for myself is that it’s critically important for us retirees whose computer skills make us subject to the same temptations as our grandchildren.

         The One Spy.com

I’m not preparing lectures anymore, not grading student papers, not driving off to work, not writing academic articles, or examining research findings to determine how well they do or don’t stand up to their headline conclusions.  Nonetheless I find myself fascinated by the world, and the internet provides a store of information the like of which has never been available to us before.

But there’s so much to know, and so much that seems critically important, so much that it seems to me a responsible, educated person ought to be aware of.

And there’s the catch.

It simply is not possible for a single individual to examine every important issue in depth.

And so I have discovered that I’m capable of spending literally (and I do mean literally) hours a day running around reading a headline here, a two-line summary there, a forgotten promise to read something else in depth, a blog paragraph or two there.  As a result, I’m also not getting the regular exercise I need to maintain my energy levels.

But I’m not really getting better informed either.  I fear that in my own left-wing-ish kind of way, I’m joining the masses who make up their minds without examination and use headlines simply to confirm their own prejudices.  When I hear people say things like “I don’t believe in global warming” or “Nothing the Republicans say these days is reliable” I want to scream.  But I’m beginning to fear I have my own versions of unsubstantiated convictions that deserve more examination.

Since I don’t have the mental ability or time to be fully-informed about every issue I know is important – maybe even critical – I have been concentrating on finding another way.

Image result for "So I got it wrong"First of all, more than ever it’s necessary for me to remember that I am not all-knowing and infallible.  I obviously make assessment and decisions and try to live by my values.  But I need to remember that I might be wrong.  Even very wrong.  On things that are little.  But also about things that might be very big.

Secondly, on days when we’re not out entertaining ourselves or we don’t have guests, I am limiting my computer time to a hour at a time.  Then I get up and do something else for at least a half hour, and preferably for an hour.  Sometimes I go for a walk, do some cooking or cleaning, shopping, gardening, maintenance work, have a real live conversation, read, listen to music,  do my daily exercise stint, watch tv.

Yes, I know.  It sounds like a hum drum list.  But it really works for me.  I’m much less tired, more productive both at the computer and in everything else.  I’m even feeling younger.

I love the internet.  And I love working at my computer.  But I’m not going to let it steal my life.

February 17, 2017

The power of the powerless

People overestimate what they can get done in two years and underestimate what they can get done in 10 years.

Bill Gates

 

 

We also often overestimate what an individual can do

And so are tempted to give up in despair in the face of the helplessness we think our anonymity bestows on the great majority of us who are not celebrities, high-profile leaders or recognized candidates for sainthood.

 

 

 

 

And paradoxically, underestimate what we can accomplish together.

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February 16, 2017

Stepping Stones for the Aging

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:26 pm

As we’re growing up, most of us have stepping stones as we achieve the awesome task of “growing up.”  There are birthdays (“I’m three years old!”), Christmas (“Is there really a Santa Claus?”), starting school, graduations, the senior dance, career choices, partners, promotions, anniversaries, and if one has children the whole cycle begins again.

But I’ve never thought of stepping stones for aging.  There are various medical events, of course – cataracts, joint replacements, hearing aids, surgery for both insignificant and serious needs.  And perhaps there are significant anniversaries, especially if one makes it to the “golden years.”

Yesterday, however, I stumbled on a big stepping stone for us elderly.  Perhaps I should call it a boulder.  My husband and I were going out to a new restaurant to celebrate the 44 years we have been living together.  We left for an early meal – 6:00 – when the rush hour was at its height and it was fully dark.  But we were driving on roads with which we are very familiar, and the drive was not more than 20 minutes.  Night driving, even all-night driving both in the US and here in the UK and Europe, is something we have done probably thousands of time.  It never daunted us.

Last night was different.  It was awful.  Cars were speeding, failing to dim their head lights, and traffic was even held up by a road work vehicle.  But that wasn’t really the problem.

We’re the problem.  Our responses are getting slower, our supply of energy is less, our capacity for dealing with stress reduced.  We both found ourselves staring into the lights glaring out of the dark saying emphatically “Never again!”  We will never again voluntarily drive in the dark for recreational purposes.  If we can’t take a taxi, we’ll stay at home, cook our own dinner, and watch television.  Or go out to lunch or wait until the long days of summer.

So how is this a stepping stone?  Well, it’s really the vestibule.  I have seen in a generation before mine that facing the reality of not driving takes honesty and courage.  Giving up one’s driving license is the Great Stepping Stone.  It’s the great recognition that one is getting old.  Not older.  Old.

I think it’s unlikely that I will live long enough to indulge in driverless cars.
Image result for stepping stones quotes

So if something else doesn’t stop me first, I’ve had my first glimpse of that Great Stepping Stone that just got a little bit closer.  The great question is what I will make of it.

February 8, 2017

My 4th dimension

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 11:58 am
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Music . . .


can name the unnameable


and communicate the unknowable

Leonard Bernstein

For whatever mix of genetic and environmental influences, I have been predominantly an analytic thinker most of my life.  That has made me a good organizer, a committed researcher, fairly good at mathematics, not a complete loss in relation to physics.  I choose to read articles on economics rather than poetry, political analyses rather than fiction, to write about theories of intelligence rather than the history of art.

The one glaring exception to this rational analysis all my life has been music.  It possibly hasn’t saved my life.  But I think it has saved my sanity.  Or perhaps more accurately, it has added a completely new dimension to my life and consciousness.

How?

The arts – whether it be painting, poetry, sculpture, music, or literature- addresses a reality which is beyond human analysis or reason.  The meaning of life, of love, of beauty, of loyalty, of faithfulness, the purpose or at least the usefulness of suffering, of death, or loss can, of course, be discussed philosophically.  But the arts are beyond words and can give us a direct experience of their mystery in a way that analysis can’t.

I am not suggesting we don’t need analysis or that it is an inferior source of wisdom compared to the arts.  We need analysis to save us from superstition, from unsubstantiated conclusions, even from the arrogance of the certainty that ignorance so often supports.

Nor do all the arts speak equally to everyone.  In fact, I think education has failed too many by failing to distinguish between the ability to analyze the arts and to appreciate them.  First of all, I think we should be encouraged to discover which arts speak to us personally.  Is it music? poetry?  painting?  Would you rather go to a concert tonight or a museum?  Would you rather go through a park dotted with sculpture or sit comfortably reading a great work of literature?  And when we look or listen, the first question we should ask is how it speaks to us, not whether we can categorize it as if we were being asked a test question.

For me, the great classical works, especially of Beethoven and Mozart, and paradoxically, folk music, have been my great avenues to this other world of mystery beyond rational analysis.  I have also just recently discovered what a difference the conductor can make in my appreciation.  I grew up in Ohio and even as a child was taken to listen to George Szell conduct the Cleveland Orchestra.  But today, the exuberance and energy of Leonard Bernstein takes me into that other world in a new way.  My reserved brother who knows more about music than I do thinks Szell is far better.  But I think our different assessments are equally due to differences between us.  Bernstein’s exuberance does not speak to him as it does to me but gets in the way and he prefers Szell’s reserve which I personally find just a little inhibiting.

Whatever our particular preferences and whatever art may speak most strongly to us, I think the human psyche needs the arts to reach our fullest wisdom as much as we need food and shelter.  And analysis.

Because art is beyond words.  It can name the unnameable.  And communicate the unknowable.

 

February 1, 2017

The Times – They are a-changing

Filed under: Growing Old,The Economy: a Neophyte's View — theotheri @ 5:14 pm

Image result for birthday cakeI have the feeling that the changes that are taking place in my own life keep galloping ahead in the same way that the world is changing.  On the one hand, I feel such a small part of our globalized world, and at the same time as I listen to the world news, it feels like a mirror of my own life these days.

As I’m studying political and economic events, I’ve realized that the world has gone through fundamental changes like this before.  And it’s not going to stop.  It isn’t just the industrial revolution that was so revolutionary.  There are events like this as far back as we can see.  The Black Death killed somewhere between 30 and 50% of the population.  By the time it had subsided, people had lost their faith in the promises of religious leaders and the political power of the Roman Church had been profoundly undermined, eventually reduced to a small country we now call “The Vatican.”  And because workers were now at a premium, serfs were freed from their economic slavery, able instead to offer their services to whomever paid them the most.  That might have meant freedom, but it was also a loss of security that people had relied on for centuries.  Then the confirmation that earth could be circumnavigated changed trade, and introduced a new kind of serfdom, slavery in which people were shipped like bags of coal dumped into the bowels of ships.

Today we are entering into mega-changes brought about by two forces.  The first is not, as Trump thinks, the destructiveness of global trade.  The movement of multi-national countries returning to their home bases began some years ago.  Companies are discovering that with new technological developments, companies that are selling what they produce in their countries of residence are more productive.  The force that is going to change things so drastically around the world is technological creativity, not international trade.

Widespread electricity isn’t a century old, neither is the car, but most of us take these changes as old hat.  Even the internet feels utterly familiar to millions of people.  But the changes that technological developments are going to continue to bring about in the work place and even in our home lives are going to continue to race ahead.  The unemployed factory workers of today aren’t going to get their jobs back.  But even people who are employed today are going to find that if they don’t keep learning all their lives, they are also going to be in the same unemployable position before they are ready to retire..  Work is changing and it is going to continue to do so at increasing pace.

The second force that is going to change our lives for the foreseeable future is climate change.  It won’t go away just because Trump says he doesn’t believe in it.  Droughts, floods, temperature changes, rising sea levels, storms are going to bring about changes in the kinds and places where we can produce our food, in the kind of houses we can live in, in our water sources, even where human habitation is possible.

None of us is going to live long enough to see these forces through to their finish.

My own hope is that somehow our creativity will outstrip our ignorance, and that our love for our fellow man will outstrip our impulse to pick up our toys and go home and slam the door.

 

 

 

January 28, 2017

Immigrants made America rich

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:26 pm
Image result for the Statue of Liberty
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It’s not just people who voted for Donald Trump in the U.S. or for Brext in the U.K.  
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In countries around the world, there are strong populist demands that their borders be closed to immigrants.  Here in Britain, the argument for this policy I hear most frequently is that immigrants coming in from eastern Europe are doing jobs for less pay and in worse conditions than British men and women demand, and so are basically making them unemployable.  In the United States, Trump and his followers argue that big companies have exported factory jobs to China and Mexico and other countries where people are willing to work for less money and in poorer conditions, and in the process disenfranchising hundreds of thousands American workers.  In both countries there is fear that terrorists are getting into the country under the guise of refugees.  In other areas, the argument is one of culture and the fear that our language, our values, our rule of law are all being threatened.
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All these fears are legitimate, if often exaggerated or distorted.
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What seems so strange to me though is how it is possible to overlook the huge benefits of immigration.
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  •  Immigrants are twice as likely to begin their own companies than people already living in the United States, and employ 1 out of every 10 people in the country.
  • Immigrants or their children have been included in start-ups of  41% of the Fortune 500 companies in the U.S., and a third of the top U.S. tech companies.
  • immigrants have been included in start-ups of Google, AT&T, Goldman Sachs, ebay, Radio Shack, Pfizer drugs, Yahoo!
  • the chances are that all of the readers of this blog living in America are descendants of immigrants.  I am.
Are all immigrants so wonderful?  Of course not.  Native Americans might reasonably argue that the first European immigrants to America engaged in ethnic cleansing, bringing disease and war with them, and appropriating the land by force belonging for centuries to Indian tribes.  European refugees landing on Ellis Island might suggest that assessing them with intelligence tests in English reflected the same kind of xenophobia responsible for building walls today.
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And the men and women who voted for Trump because they believed they lost their jobs in late middle age when it was too late to find another job have a right to feel betrayed by both of the main US political parties.   The Democrats claimed to represent the workers but signed major trade deals while doing little to help American workers whose jobs were outsourced to other countries.  The Republicans were even stronger defenders of international trade and its many benefits, but they too did nothing to help the Americans their policies made unemployable, hiding instead behind the argument that these people should not be given free medical help, food stamps, or housing when they were made jobless but provide for themselves.  That, they argued, is the American way.
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Oh yes?
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We woke up this morning to hear that Trump is claiming to address the immigration issue through executive order with wholesale stopping immigration from 7 Muslim countries.
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If you think this is a good idea, I’m sure you won’t be convinced by anything I can say about American values or the importance of immigration to developing and maintaining the economy.
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Personally, I’m hoping that Trump’s executive orders are illegal.  In 1965, standing in front of the statute of Liberty, President Lyndon Johnson signed a bill into law which had been passed by Congress making it illegal to deny immigration rights on the basis of sex, nationality, religion, or place of birth.

January 17, 2017

The world’s 8 richest men

Oxfam has just published figures suggesting that the world’s 8 richest men own between them as much as the poorest half of the entire world.  Whether these figures are exactly right is questionable, but the evidence is pretty strong that the world’s richest people have so much more wealth as the poorest as to be shocking.

In outrage, the article is suggesting that these rich men are unethical grabbing tax cheats.  They did not refer to the possibility that any of these super-rich people may have made a valuable contribution to our ways of life in the modern world.  Instead, they simply argue that governments world-wide should agree to close tax loop holes and safe havens where these fortunes are stashed away.  Taxes should be given to governments to spend on the poor and starving.

If only the solution were  so simple.   It’s not for me

Yes, the tax systems too often favour the rich and I strongly support changes.  I would especially support (as does Bill Gates, by the way) a limitation on tax-free inheritance.   But that isn’t going to come close to addressing the essence of the challenge of poverty.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, for instance, are two of the three of the world’s richest men.  They also spend billions (yes, billions) of dollars a year on charitable organizations dealing with, among other things, global health.  Do you think it would be better spent in the hands of government?  I’d much prefer this wealth is in the hands of Gates and Buffet than in the hands of most of the governments where the poorest people live in Africa and other of the world’s poorest countries.  The chances are too great of taxes collected by governments in these countries for “the poor” ending up in overseas bank accounts of government officials.

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Yes, corruption exists in the developed world.  But research suggests that the biggest cause of economic well-being is not natural resources, population density, or even educational levels, but a commitment to the rule of law and strong institutions.

Jeremy Corbyn, the current head of the Labour government here in the UK is suggesting that along with increasing taxes on the rich, the government should cap how much any individual can earn.  I agree that what he calls the “telephone number earnings” of many CEO’s is mind-boggling, particularly when they sit atop companies with workers barely earning a living wage.  There might be a place to find ways to support the increasing pressure coming from shareholders to address this exorbitant inequality.

But I would be loathe to put a cap on the earnings of some of society’s most creative, innovative, intelligent, hard working individuals who are meeting needs and creating opportunities that in profound ways are making the world a better place.  And many of whom are contributing significantly with their earning to improving our environment, educational systems, health, and working conditions.  Gates & Buffet are not the only ones doing so.

We need to resist the  temptation, I think, to believe that the answers to all our problems lie in changing the system without the constant ingenuity, dedication, and drive of the individuals who comprise it.  That’s all of us.

Even the little people like me.

 

January 13, 2017

Bad or Beautiful?

Filed under: Just Stuff,Two sides of the question — theotheri @ 4:21 pm
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Following my post yesterday, someone asked if there were any expert opinions about altruistic behavior in the living world.  It seems a fascinating question, and led to such a long response on my part that I am posting it here, with the hope that there may be others who can broaden my own musings on the subject.

There are, of course, theories of redemption offered by various religious theologies.  I won’t elaborate on them.

In terms of science, there are several theories in psychology which do suggest that we go beyond basic survival and self-seeking pleasure, although none of them deal with altruistic behavior specifically and insofar as they suggest it, it is something which develops with maturity, and that you would not expect to find in a child, and certainly not in any other species outside of us humans.

Eric Erikson’s 8th stage – the last one – is wisdom vs despair which while not exactly explaining altruism does suggest that we go beyond the undiluted reality of self-service.  Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs also argues that we grow beyond what he called our basic deficiency needs for food and shelter, and even beyond our social needs for belonging and recognition, to “Being needs” for self-fulfillment.  Lawrence Kohlberg also developed a theory of moral reasoning elaborating Piaget’s theory of cognitive development.  In Kohlberg’s highest level we have grown beyond the simple reward/punishment thinking of level 1, and also beyond the social reasoning of level 2 in which we worry about what other people think.  In the highest level, we are guided by universal principles such as equality and a commitment to justice for all.

The idea which personally I find holds the greatest resonance for me is the Buddhist concept of Incompleteness.  It seems to describe my own observations.  No matter how gifted, intelligent, loving, or fortunate, none of us are absolutely complete, none of us ever without needs which only someone else can meet.  Our consciousness may be circumscribed, but life itself is a single whole.  We all need each other.  And by “we”, I think one must mean “all living things.”  We can’t survive without them.
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However one explains it, I think there is a goodness, a capacity for caring for others, at the very heart of every living creature.  There’s more to each one of us than pure selfishness — whatever the nightly news might suggest.
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But to be completely beautiful, we need each other.

January 12, 2017

Love is as deep as selfishness

Filed under: Just Stuff,Two sides of the question — theotheri @ 9:26 pm
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Whichever way one turns in the world these days, there seems to be a plethora of disturbing, scary, depressing news.  And whether it’s war, climate change, rates of extinction, or “false facts,” so much of it seems to be our doing.

I don’t pretend I find comfort by walking around saying “I don’t believe that.”  I wish I could, but although I’m highly skeptical of a lot of reporting, I can’t argue that I think the world is really a jolly great place right now with a bright future we don’t have to worry about.

And religion and science add their discouraging bit.  Modern Christianity teaches that Augustine of Hippo was right when he said we’re all born in a state of sin.  Freud argued that what really motivates us is sex.  Not love, not reason, but pleasure.  Orgasms.  Today sociobiology says the same thing is a slightly more esoteric form, arguing that what drives us all is the continuation and spread of our own genes.  Those who do not engage in overt sex, like worker ants or celibate priests or nuns do so in order to protect and care for their own and so increase the likelihood of their own group survival.  Other theories posit survival as our strongest motivating source as well.

All of these ideas basically say that each of us is fundamentally driven by self-service.

What none of these theories can explain adequately, however, is intra-species altruistic behavior.  Why would dolphins save the lives of swimmers from an attacking shark?  Why would a lion save the life of baby monkey that’s fallen from the tree?  Why would a bear share its food with a starving cat that got inside its cage?  Why did crows bring those trinkets to the little girl who left them food?  There are millions of examples of this kind of behavior in the world every day.

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BJbNbUICcAAd4_K.jpg:large

Why is this policeman comforting Panda, scared after the
earthquake in Japan?

I am quite committed to the view that we are each responsible first and foremost for ourselves.  Without a sense of self-preservation, we remain in psychological babyhood, needing someone else to care for us.  But I think there is a deep spontaneous altruism, a sense of mutual responsibility, in all of us as well.  In fact, I believe it is evident in all living things.  Even trees are known to communicate to each other that a dangerous disease is in the air.

I just went to Google and typed in “animals helping each other.”  There are thousands of examples, photos and videos.  Here is one video.  I suspect that you have examples of your own.

https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BJNp5quCQAE7MsY.jpg:large

Two year-old Chimpanzee feeding
milk   to “Aorn”, a small tiger 60 days
old.

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January 7, 2017

God save WHO?

Filed under: Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 2:45 pm
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Vice-president Joe Biden just ended the last congressional session before President-elect Trump takes office.

As he signed off and closed the book, he was heard to say audibly: “God save the Queen.”

I don’t think he was worrying about Brexit.

I notice he didn’t mumble anything about keeping calm either.  Sounds like good advice to me.

Though I’m tempted to supplement it:

Image result for stay vigilant

 

 

January 1, 2017

A drink to the New Year

Filed under: Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 1:12 pm
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It’s not hard these days to find health warnings against the abuse of alcohol.  There is even research suggesting that even moderate amounts of alcohol may be related to increased incidence of the three big killers cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

I discovered early in my drinking life that I am subject to vicious hangovers, once lasting for three days.  Even when I drink moderately, alcohol tends to interfere with my ability to sleep through the night, and makes my joints sore.  I used to think I was unfortunate in that I had to forego the short-term pleasure of even a single drink if I wasn’t willing to pay a higher longer-term price, and I used to console myself that at least I knew what it was that was responsible for my pain.

I am a lot luckier than I realized.  Today we might be bombarded with so many appeals for money to provide safe drinking water for the poor and dispossessed in so many countries that history has forgotten just how universal this problem has been until recently.  Very recently.

Even in the early 20th century, the majority of earth’s population did not have access to safe drinking water.  It wasn’t an addiction to prefer beer, wine, and coffee to water.  In moderate amounts, at least, alcohol wasn’t lethal.  Water was.

The primary reason for this was sanitation and the disposal of faeces and urine.  Few people had toilets of any kind, and even those built by the Romans or installed in medieval castles did not provide for adequate sewer systems.  On farms, water wells were dug close to the house and barnyard animal droppings and cesspools often dug in basements contaminated the water.  Cities were even worse.  Toilets were sometimes built by rivers, but this eventually polluted cities’ entire water supply.  When toilets were unavailable – which was most of the time – human waste was dumped directly onto the streets, where horses also contributed their droppings.  These conditions led to massive outbreaks of diarrhea and cholera, and accounted for more than half of all infant and child deaths.

It wasn’t until the mid-1800’s that scientists discovered how much disease was carried by water-borne infections.  So it wasn’t until the late 1800’s and early 20th century that even major prosperous cities like London and New York began to filter and chlorinate water and set up systematic garbage collections.  Records show that life expectancy increased more rapidly in the US as a result of these changes than in any other time in American history.

Since 1980, the change in sanitation standards in less developed countries has been phenomenal.  Today 82% of the world’s urban population and 51% of the rural population have proper sanitation facilities, and the advances are continuing at a rapid pace.  For the last 25 years, an average of 285,000 people a day have been given access to clean water and sanitation.  That’s 12,000 people an hour, every day for quarter of a century.  I’ll drink to that.

I might even feel tremendously lucky to click my glass of clean water against your goblet of wine as we wish each other a happy and prosperous New Year.

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http://www.isciencetimes.com/

Happy 2017 – whatever it visits upon us!

December 25, 2016

Best wishes and hope for us all

Filed under: Cultural Differences,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 12:10 pm
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Whether you are alone, with friends or family

Whether you are celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah,

the coming Year of the Rooster, waiting until the 1st Day of Chaitra,

or your new year already began with the new moon in September

Whether your calendar is lunar or solar, your solstice summer or winter

 

Whether you are celebrating “con brio” or in a more quietly pastoral mood

I hope peace and joy will knock on your door today asking for lodging.

December 11, 2016

Nastiness isn’t just in the big things

Filed under: For when nothing is going right,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:11 pm

But neither are the wonderful things!

November 30, 2016

My Dorothy Day puzzle

Filed under: Growing Up,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 9:05 pm

After my father died, we found several letters from Dorothy Day to him in the boxes of files he’d stored in the loft.  We didn’t know about the letters, but we certainly knew about Dorothy Day.  Because she was the reason we were living on that farm in Ohio.  My father was a lawyer and had little skill as a farmer.  But he was convinced by Dorothy Day that this was the ideal place to raise a family, away from the evils and temptations of the city.

Why?  Dorothy Day spent her entire life in New York city.  Why did she think there was some elevated goodness to be found in a country life she herself did not live?

There was, indeed, innocence.  And naiveté.  My parents were dedicated, loving, generous, sacrificing anything they had if they thought it was for our betterment.  And my father created what became an idyllic setting with a lake, fishing, swimming, ice skating, fields of wheat, cattle, chicken, pigs, fruit trees.

But was the isolation of farm life a better preparation for life than city life?  I’m not convinced.

Our “innocence” might better be described as ignorance, particularly in relation to sex.  I am not talking about our physical sexual differences – in a family as large as ours with newborns arriving almost semi-annually, one could hardly be unaware of our genital differences, beginning with the simple act of learning to urinate into the toilet.  But there was a general embarrassment about events such as menstruation, and the actual act of sexual intercourse.

I have more insight into the ways in which this simplicity, shall we call it, effected us girls.  The dynamics, I think, were just as profound for my brothers but they were different.  We sisters learned how to be generous and kind, but we did not learn how to say no when it was appropriate to do so.  We also did not learn the difference between sending signals of sexual interest as opposed to signals of friendliness.  We trusted too much, and I think each of us had to find out that male interest in having an affair was often interest in pleasure, but not a prelude to anything resembling a commitment or even wanting any kind of personal relationship at all.

Was all of this the result of growing up on a farm?  Of course not.  My own adolescence preceded the 1960’s and 70’s.  We were not the only ones to have naively misunderstood the civil rights movement and anti-war protests.  Many of the “city girls” I met at that time also confused the meaning of the flower children and hippies with a moral superiority that we thought was going to create a new world of love and liberation.

Nonetheless, admirable as she was, I think Dorothy Day was wrong in elevating country life, presenting it as somehow morally superior to city life.  As I said in my last post, I’ve seen too much love for complete strangers in one of the biggest cities in the world to accept that.

PS:  A friend who read my last post suggested that I might enjoy reading the Metropolitan Diary in the New York Times.  They are everyday stories about New Yorkers, and they will warm your heart.  I’m now making the diary part of my morning wake-up call.

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November 27, 2016

Why I still love New York

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:32 pm
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I was seven years old when I made one of the most important choices of my life.  I was getting off that idyllic farm in Ohio where I was growing up and going to New York.

I didn’t get there, as I planned then, by the time I was 14, and I did make a by-stop as a Maryknoll nun where I thought I was going to be able to work among the poor in an underdeveloped country.  When that didn’t happen, I moved into a studio apartment in Greenwich Village in Manhattan (it was still affordable in those days), where I earned my PhD and basically spent my career until moving to Europe with my English husband to care for his aging parents.

I’ve learned to love London and enjoy Copenhagen, Paris, and cities in general.  But for me New York is still special.

Yesterday I was reminded why.  Several people have sent me photos and news articles about the subway (known as the Underground, here in Britain) Wall of Sticky Notes at Union Square in the Village.  It goes on for blocks.

http://gothamist.com/2016/11/20/copycat_sticky_note_subway_therapy.php#photo-4

I wasn’t wrong when I decided I was getting off that farm and going to New York.

It’s not niverna 24/7.  It’s a place that I found paradoxically was often its best on its worst days – during black-outs or floods or fires – or post-elections perhaps? – when people were so often willing to do so much to help out complete strangers whom they would otherwise ignore without a thought.

There’s a country western song in which the cowboy sings “When I die, let me go to Texas.”  When I die, I want to go to New York.

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November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving for the simple gifts

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:21 pm

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http://weightwise.com/thanksgiving-2016/

I don’t usually have to think about giving thanks on Thanksgiving.  The gifts that have been given to me are plentiful and unearned.

Yet today as I scanned the news, I’ve had to struggle a bit.  I won’t give you the list of worries and sources of anguish.  I’m sure you’ve got your own.

The answer has come in a Thanksgiving wish from a friend.  It is a wish of the simple gifts that come to us from those who love us and whom we love.  It comes from a hug.  It comes from gathering in the kitchen preparing the turkey and pumpkin pie.  It comes from standing around the piano and singing together.

Is there anything that can possibly take the place of being loved and loving?

I wouldn’t trade it off to keep Trump out of the White House.  Would it even be worth saving our environment if the price were sweeping the world clean of love?   Perhaps there are those who think power and righteousness would be worth giving up love.  But not for me.

I cannot but say thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you for so many who still give me more love than I could possibly measure.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

November 14, 2016

Front door dialogue

Filed under: Just Stuff,Two sides of the question — theotheri @ 12:46 pm
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Many members of my family have been exchanging views about the result of the U.S. election, and asking what we can do about the geysers of hatred and resentment that seem to be gushing up around us.

One of my sisters reminded us of what we call our family “Table Discussions” which characterized so many of our evening meals.  My father was a lawyer and during these discussions he taught us one of the most important things I’ve ever learned – that to win an argument, it is important to understand the opposition’s argument from their point of view.  So we would often assign ourselves to argue for a position that, in truth, we thought was wrong.  It helped us realize that the point of view of those who disagree with us sometimes makes a lot of sense.

Image resultSo about half an hour ago, our door bell rang.  It was two Jehovah Witnesses.  I confess I could not resist the temptation to engage in what I’d learned around that family dinner table.  In response to their reading to me from the Bible to illustrate just how selfish and materialistic people are today, I quoted the Bible back to them to support my reasons for seeing love and care for their families and communities reflected in the unemployed who had voted for Trump in the States and for Brexit over here.

Very friendly and respectful, but quoting the bible back to them in support of my disagreement was not a strategy they were equipped to deal with.  When I told them I thought the solution was love, she stumbled and said but there was something more — and then to her credit said “well there really isn’t anything greater than love, I guess.”  “Yes, God is love,” I said, at which point the mail man showed up at the door.  I think they were hugely relieved to say thank you and use that as an excuse to depart.

Not sure I should be proud of myself.  I enjoyed it too much.  And anyway, I wasn’t arguing for the side I disagreed with.

 

November 10, 2016

What do we do about Trump now?

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:34 pm
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http://www.watermarkonline.com/

It seems as if everybody is either writing or talking, in celebration or anguish over the election results.  Interestingly, Clinton won the majority of votes, but Trump won the most electoral delegates and so will be the next U.S. president.

My question is: what should those of us in the (admittedly small) popular majority do now?  I understand the reported impulse to immigrate to Canada or New Zealand.  But I don’t think it’s time to withdraw.  That is to give in to some of the most terrifying threats Trump made during the election campaign.  Trump has already identified climate-deniers to head the Environmental Protection Agency, an act that may be potentially the most destructive act of his entire presidency.  Because if we do not stop destroying our climate, we will ultimately destroy ourselves.  Economic ruin would look like nirvana by comparison.

But how should we go forward in a constructive way?

My own thoughts are that the first thing we need to do is to understand the vote.  That divides into 3 parts: why so many people voted for Trump,  why the Democratic Party did not make Sanders, who was addressing the same questions of economic inequality as Trump, their presidential nominee, and why subsequently enough people did not vote for Clinton.  The answers are complex, personal, sociological, political, and economic.  What the answers are NOT is simple.  We’re not going to get anywhere if we don’t listen, if we’ve already made up our minds that those who disagree with us are White supremacists, unpatriotic, anti-feminist, bigoted, ignorant, fascist, or just stupid.  Even if some of those labels turn out to be valid, the deeper question is why.

Why do so many people distrust Washington politicians?  Why do so many people resent immigrants?  Why do so many people want to limit free trade?  Why are so many people climate-deniers?

I’m inclined to think that the most fundamental reasons are economic.  When people are struggling to survive, needing to get their next meal from a food bank, cannot heat their homes, or care for their children because they cannot get a job or a job that pays them enough to care for their families, they ask why?  If that were you, what would you say?

Would you not think immigrants are taking the jobs you used to do?  or that international trade is sending those jobs to foreign countries?  Would you suspect that corruption explains why for white male workers without a college degree, median incomes have fallen since 2007 by more than 14 percent, after adjusting for inflation and have fallen by more than 20 percent since the 1970s?  Would you not look at the Washington politicians and ask why they have done nothing about the fact that 2 million American jobs were lost as a result of the trade agreement made during the Clinton administration with China?  Or why the same administration permitted banks to begin to invest savers’ money in risky adventures that eventually brought them to the edge of bankruptcies in 2008 that even with massive government bail-outs lead to an extremely painful recession?  Would you not wonder about a tax system that has permitted those 2% to have become so much richer in the last 40 years while gutting the American middle class?

I am appalled and terrified by what the Trump administration might do.  But my biggest reason for fear is that Trump and his followers think that limiting free trade and immigration, that building walls on our borders, and continuing to destroy our environment will solve these problems.  Unfortunately, understanding our global economic system is not as simple as handling a personal budget.  Limiting free trade and immigration profoundly risks making all our problems much worse,  and especially the job-problems of the white men today without college degrees.

The more I read about economics, and it’s more than the average person, the more complex I realize it is.  Human behavior and the systems we build is perhaps the most complex thing we try to understand.  I think, actually, it’s more challenging than understanding physics and the universe, more complex than figuring out climate change.

We’re never going to get it totally right.  But any system in which sympathy and respect and care has been drained away is certain to fail.

That’s why I think the first thing we need to do is listen.  To listen with openness and respect.  That does not mean we agree.  But it is possible to have sympathy for another’s point of view even when one totally disagrees.

Then perhaps we can communicate that we do indeed care about all the disadvantaged, not just those from groups for whom we have a natural sympathy.  I think we have to do that before we can effectively create a society which the majority of people, whatever their situations, experience as more fair, free and open society, giving everyone an equal opportunity to express their unique individuality.

November 9, 2016

umpty Trumpty

Filed under: Just Stuff,Worries — theotheri @ 4:46 pm
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Well, “shock” is the word contained in almost every headline I’ve read since I got up this morning, barely ten minutes before Trump’s presidency and congressional majorities were confirmed beyond doubt.  Here in Britain, the response reminded me that several hundred thousand people signed a petition about a year ago asking Parliament to forbid Trump entrance to the UK on the grounds of his attitudes toward Muslims.  On the other hand, the Brexit vote here to withdraw from the European Union had a lot in common with the attitudes expressed by the Trump campaign.
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I saw an interview yesterday with a highly reputable British pollster who said he wasn’t convinced by the polls predicting a Clinton win.  He said he thought there very well may be a meaningful number of people – including registered Democrats – who would not admit publicly that they were supporting Trump but who could very well swing the vote.  That sounded like a rather terrifying possibility to me, and so this morning when the results were clear, I was more shocked than surprised.
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What I wonder now though is whether even those who feel they have been disenfranchised by the wave of immigrants coming into the States will actually be any better off as the result of the policies Trump & his Republican congress will implement.  Same question we are asking over here about those people who voted for Brexit on the grounds that immigration should be limited.
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The thought that Trump will now be the deciding factor on the next Supreme Court judges – including replacing Scalia as soon as he gets into office – is scary as well.
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Just read an article arguing that what the Trump voters really want is to re-establish White supremacy.  How strong that kind of racism is compared to a realistic sense of economic disenfranchisement by workers displaced by either migrant workers or international trade, I don’t know.  I suppose one might ask a similar question about British colonial rule.  Both US and UK governments, in my view, have under-estimated the resentment and done too little to solve very real problems of joblessness and the increasing gulf between the 2% and the shrinking middle class and stunted social mobility.  It’s not what Americans have been taught to believe is right for a country where hard work is promised to reap rewards.
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My only (small) hope is that reality may force Trump to modify some of his worst promises and prejudices.  In any case, his election will certainly change attitudes of nations toward the U.S.  I remember back in 1969 an NYU professor  of political science said that China’s power lay partly in the fact that other countries simply did not know what to expect.  That is now true of the U.S.

November 8, 2016

How big are the little things?

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 10:47 am

http://brightside.me/creativity-photography/15-inspirational-images-that-will-convince-you-to-make-the-world-a-better-place-194205/#image3162455

© reddit.com 

The older I get, the more grateful I am becoming for things I used to think were trivial.

It’s too late for me to say thank you for so much.  So I’m trying  to pass the debt onto somebody else with my own trivials.

October 22, 2016

Why I still like capitalism

Filed under: Just Stuff,The Economy: a Neophyte's View — theotheri @ 4:45 pm

Before I say my few words about liking capitalism, let me begin by saying that I am fully aware that sometimes it is not perfect.  In fact, sometimes it is simply awful.  It is a system that can run awry, motivated by unbridled selfishness and destructive greed.  It can, and has, been a system which can trap people in terrible poverty and suffering.  Capitalism is a system that cannot be let to run free of any social discipline and government controls.  It is one that sometimes fails people and where safety nets by social services are sometimes needed to provide the basic necessities of life, including food, shelter, medical care, and education.

Capitalism is a system that always has risks, because it allows people to try out new ideas.  And those ideas might fail.  So capitalism needs constant surveillance to guide or even reign in ideas, businesses, banks, or any organization that become too destructive, too domineering, too controlling.

Image result

https://www.papermasters.com/capitalism.html

Having said that, I still think capitalism is the best system we have devised so far for the welfare of humanity.

When I was young and still ignorant enough to think I had all the answers, I thought that it was possible to set up a system where the risks of capitalism were eliminated.  In other words, I thought Utopia was possible.  I flirted with communism, and various versions of dogmatic socialism that remain popular today.

I abandoned communism and most forms of rigid socialism because they did not permit people to think for themselves, and because by the time I was in my 30’s, it was clear that it did not work any better at eliminating poverty than capitalism.  In fact, capitalist countries with democratic governments were providing a higher quality of life than communist-led countries.

I was also influenced by my nine years living in an order of nuns committed to helping others.  It was a rule-oriented life, highly disciplined and organized.  It wasn’t too different from living within the military, except that our goals were to serve the poor.  But room for creativity, for spontaneous acts of kindness – telephone calls, conversations, letters, even had to be made within certain guidelines – were severely limited.  (In the order of nuns I was in, that has changed very substantially, but Rome doesn’t like it, and would like to put all nuns back in their full religious habits and kept within bounds.)  But one of the things that convent life taught me was that all the answers can’t be found by confining people within rules, no matter how well-intended.

And today I read two blog posts that made me want to ring the bells for capitalism.  They gave examples of ingenious kindness that I think are far more possible within capitalism than within strict systems, even if those systems are deliberately designed for the good of all.  One post is from Help Scout, 10 inspirational stories of customer service, the other is about customer service that simply incorporates thoughtfulness.

There are thousands of examples like these, of course, but I read each of them and danced.  I’d love to hear if you do too.

Thank you to Raghu, author of About This and That, one of my favourite reads who sent me to the posts above.

 

October 16, 2016

The Good Old Days of Breadmaking

As I’ve pointed out in earlier posts recently, we elderly are subject to the temptation of wiping out the negative aspects of the past from our memory banks, leading to a rather one-sided longing to return to a mythical “Good Old Days” that never really existed.

But the more I read about the history of Christianity, the more I wonder if I might still be committed to the Christian faith if I’d lived several thousand years ago before church leaders decided that the diversity of beliefs held by various sub-groups was unacceptable, and declared anybody who did not agree with them to be heretical.  Up until then, “faith” was not seen as synonymous with doctrine, but with faithfulness.  And until then, love was still, as St. Paul wrote, “the greatest of these.”

At about the same time, Constantine decided that the Christian God was a better backup for governments trying to hold onto power than the fickle gods of the pagans.  So the Romans adopted Christianity as their official religion, moved the clergy into palaces and cathedrals, gave them royal robes and head-gear, gold crosses and incense burners to demonstrate their “lordship”.

But I’ve just learned that it was at about this time, and almost certainly a result of these changes, that the meaning of “lord” and “lady” changed dramatically.  Until then, these terms did not refer to any kind of authority or royalty.  The “lord” simply referred to the “keeper of the bread,” and the “lady” was “the maker of the bread.”

That makes a lot of sense to me.  And it seems to fit so much better with the original message of Christianity.

Perhaps the change in meaning is another example of the original biblical warning that where there is power or money, there is always temptation.  Pope Francis has just said it again.

 

October 9, 2016

International Trade: The devil’s own?

Filed under: Environmental Issues,Food chains,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:41 pm
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In my last post, I reviewed what I found to be the astonishing feat we humans have accomplished in providing nourishment for literally billions more people than populated our globe a mere 75 years ago.  This is an incredible feat for which we as species can be proud.

Most of us have no idea of the size of this gigantic accomplishment nor that it could not have been achieved without international trade.

The great risk of this ignorance is that many of us, especially in the developed world, are undergoing a mega-temptation to close off the very processes of this source of enrichment.

This might just sound ignorant, selfish, or racist on the part of people who are just too lazy to work.  But it would be a huge mistake to reduce the problem to bigotry or a preference to depend on hand-outs.. Vast swathes of joblessness resulting from international trade has created real problems for hard-working people who have been driven from a middle class life style to the edges of serious poverty.  This has happened before, but perhaps never so rapidly and without the accompanying awareness made possible by our modern communications system.

Worldwide international communication conceptHere’s an example.  China was accepted into the World Trading Organization in 1993, it looked like an unalloyed win-win situation for the world.  It indeed has been a win for Chinese workers who now supply 20% of world-wide manufacturing exports.  China has been transformed from a poor to a middle-income country, taking hundreds of millions out of poverty.   And in the developed world, the less well-off benefited hugely from cheaper imports of everything from computers to solar panels.

But the developed world did not foresee the millions of  factory job losses in countries benefiting from cheaper products being imported from China.  Today, economists estimate that up to 2.4 million jobs in America alone may have been lost as a  result of Chinese imports.

And these jobs were not replaced.  Workers could not simply move to another part of the country.  The kind of jobs for which these unemployed workers were trained no longer exist in sufficient numbers in the developed world.

It is easy to understand why people on the ground resent international trade.  It’s a resentment swelling up in Europe, Australia, North and Latin America, the Middle and Far East.  But the solution, unfortunately, is not to build walls, to slam the door shut, to go back to the mythical days when we were supposedly all able to take care of ourselves.

The problem is extraordinarily complex, and solutions are not simple.  But there are things we can do which will not destroy the huge benefits which so many have received as a result of international trade.

Culturally, the human species has always had to walk that narrow road between benefiting from our great diversity of gifts and being quite realistically threatened by them.  But we are all in this together, and with increased globalization, it is increasingly important that we learn to appreciate the huge value of our differences.

Politically, we also need to make changes.  The America government has been particularly – but not uniquely – slow to appreciate the scope of job-losses resulting from China’s rapid industrialization.  Some countries – Denmark, for instance – have done a better job of providing job retraining and meaningful unemployment benefits for those actively seeking for work.  Governments can also create jobs.  In the U.S. the needs for upgrading our transportation, electricity, and other superstructures is significant.  Few countries are without similar needs.

There are also world-wide problems of reduced competition and tax avoidance by international companies which is increasing joblessness among former factory workers.  Internet giants by and large pay above-average pay to all their workers.  But they crowd out small businesses or buy them up, reducing competition.  These are not easy problems to solve, but we must grapple with them if we don’t want to lose the benefits of international trade which enriches us all.

September 30, 2016

Why aren’t we all starving anymore?

Filed under: Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 4:27 pm

The norm  for most of the time humanity has existed on this planet has been one of repeated famine.  As Malthus pointed out, this meant that the human population was destined to a certain limit, because when populations increased – as they did – renewed famines would always impose an even higher toll.

Precise world-wide figures until recent centuries are lost.  But here is an indication of the norm:

  • In France, 26 major famines occurred in the 11th century, 2 in the 12th, 4 in the 14th, 7 in the 15th, 13 in 16th, 11 in the 17th,  16 in the 18th century.  People resorted to grass and ground tree bark as staple foods.  Cannibalism was not unknown.
  • The world population increased from 1/4 billion people to 1 billion in the 800 years between 1000 and 1800 A.D

Then in the next 100 years world population leapt to 1.6 billion;  even more dramatically by 1927, it had reached 2 billion.  Today the world population is 7.4 billion.  Why are we not starving as we were before?

hungry (1)https://dausonstimpsongagnon.wordpress.com/tag/feeding-the-hungry/

The change began in the 18th century.  Farmers began to get individual property rights.  They were not tied to the land and landowners no longer dictated what, when, and how much they planted.  At the same time, as borders opened to international trade, regions began to specialize in growing crops best suited to their soil, climate and skills.

Also in the 18th century, democratic governments began to develop in America and Europe.  Interestingly, famines no longer occur in democracies in the world today.  Rulers depend on votes and so make every possible effort to avoid their starvation.  And a free media helps increase public awareness.  Malnutrition and even severe levels of starvation, on the other hand, continue to occur in many authoritarian and Communist countries where agricultural workers were – and sometimes still are – under the control of government leaders for whom the lives of its citizens are expendable.

One of the most dramatic demonstrations of the value of individual freedoms comes from China.  As a result of “the Great Leap Forward” beginning in 1958 under Mao Zedong during which farms were made into collectives and agricultural workers deemed excessive to farming needs were forced into industrialization projects, 40 million people died of starvation and life expectancy collapsed by 20 years.  In 1978, 18 families in a small village met in secret one night and agreed to make their own decisions on what and how to farm an allotted parcel of their communal farm land.  The agreement was written down and fingerprinted.  They knew that if the government found out, they would be severely punished.  In the first year, the village produced 6 times more grain than it did under the collective regime.  The secret of their success in feeding themselves got out and eventually reached government officials.  Everybody expected drastic punishment.  The leader of the project hid in a bamboo shoot in the roof of his house.

But this grassroots reform was incredibly popular and amazingly, the government realized this.  In 1982, just four years after the first village night gathering, the Communist party endorsed the reforms.  Within two years, all the collectives in China had been abandoned.  Within just 20 years after the worst famine in its history, China began to produce surplus food for world markets.

In addition to social and political change, several dramatic agricultural technologies began to kick in in the 20th century.  The first was the development of artificial fertilizer, particularly nitrogen.  The productivity per field burgeoned.  The second technology has been the introduction of tractors to plant and harvest crops.  150 years ago it took 25 men all day to harvest and thresh a ton of grain.  Today one man or woman on a tractor does it in 6 minutes.

Finally, there has been the development of genetically engineered crops.  After working with thousands of crossings, the biologist Norman Borlaug developed a parasite-resistant wheat which was not sensitive to daylight hours.  In addition, it was a dwarf variety which did not expend its energy growing inedible stalks.  Borlaug introduced his wheat in Mexico in 1963.  Amazingly, the harvest was six times larger than 20 years earlier.  Mexico became a net exporter of wheat.  Several years later Borlaug introduced his seeds to India and Pakistan.  Within several years, these two countries were self-sufficient in the production of cereals.

When he was given the Nobel prize in 1970, Borlaug was credited with saving 12 million square miles of forest, preserving the lives of wild creatures and plants living there.  He is probably the first person in history to save a billion human lives.

So is everything honky-dory now?  Have we cracked the nut and if we continue to do what has worked so well, will humanity soon have eliminated the scourge of malnutrition worldwide?

Would you believe me if I said yes?  Well, don’t believe it.  The next post is about some of the problems we still face and that even our incredible solutions have themselves produced.

 

September 26, 2016

Feeding the hungry

Filed under: Food chains,Just Stuff,Survival Strategies,Worries — theotheri @ 3:31 pm
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Before reading the rest of this post, you might find it as interesting as I did to make a guess at percentage of the world population you would estimate are undernourished in the world today.

To put that estimate in context, here are a few more relevant facts:

  • in 1945 at the end of two world wars, the global population was 2 billion, 50% of whom the Food & Agriculture Association of the United Nation estimates were undernourished;  that’s about half a billion people
  • in the 60 years since then, the world population has swelled to 7.4 billion, an increase of the human population never seen in the history of our species

http://www.fooddepot.ca/en/page.php?id=325

I was astonished to read that today, the World Health Organization estimates that about 11% of the human population is malnourished.  That’s a painful 8 million people.  But somehow, even with a burgeoning increase in the human population, the percentage of malnourished has dropped in 60 years from 50% to 11%.  Instead of more than 3 1/2 billion starving people today, the problem has shrunk dramatically.

How did it happen?

Do you want to make another guess?

That’s the subject of my next post.

 

September 21, 2016

The danger of the Good Old Days

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff,Survival Strategies,Worries — theotheri @ 7:54 pm
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As a cognitive psychologist, I have long known about the research showing that as we age, we tend to cleanse the past of unpleasant memories, leaving us with a view of the past that is actually better than it was.  Knowing this, and besides, being an optimist by nature, I did not expect to fall into this fallacy.

I don’t think of the past as a time to which I would like to return.  But I was rather surprised by the conversation I had with a friend last week in which we both seriously wondered if the world was in a worse state now than it has ever been.  What with our environmental destructiveness, our resistance to immigration, a seeming growth in those who believe that they have a God-given obligation to murder those who disagree with them, and the millions of starving and displaced refugees, most of whom are being refused entrance to countries who see them as dangerous and different, things seem pretty awful.

But I’ve discovered one of the most amazing books I’ve read in perhaps 15 years.  It’s Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future by Johan Norberg.

One cannot accuse him of naivete or denial.  He begins with a brief statement of the state of the world:”Terrorism.  ISIS.  War in Syria and Ukraine, Crime, murder, mass shootings.  Famines, floods, pandemics.  Global warming.  Stagnation, poverty, refugees.”

And yet the gist of his book is a strongly research-based argument that things are better now than perhaps they have ever been, and that the most dangerous thing we can do is to pull back from the conditions that have reduced famines, increased life-span, even reduced war.  The book is divided into 10 chapters, examining dramatic improvements in food, sanitation, life expectancy, poverty, violence, the environment, literacy, freedom, and equality.

Norberg is not suggesting that everything is going to work out.  He is quite aware that we could destroy our environment and ourselves to the point of extinction.  But his argument is that we don’t have to wring our hands in despair.  In the last century we have already made incredible progress.

I think it is worth studying what he is saying, and I am hoping to write a series of posts summarizing what I am learning.

Right now I’m beginning to suspect that The Good Old Days might be far more than a benign fantasy of old age and instead a very dangerous myth.

 

 

September 14, 2016

Wisdom for the old

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:10 pm

Image result for foolWhen I was about ten years old, I remember my dad saying that when you are sure you are right, you can afford to be gracious and open to opposing arguments because ultimately the other person was going to demonstrate that you are right.  He was talking at the time about what he had learned as a practicing lawyer in a court of law.

I am discovering that it is equally good advice for many of us oldies.

I don’t think I am suffering from dementia, but I am emphatically slower on the uptake than I used to be, and in addition there are many things that young people take for granted in this post-modern world that are a complete mystery to me.  As a result I am discovering that I am wrong much more often than I used to be in the world in which I lived just a couple of decades ago.

But the reason my father’s advice seems to me to be newly relevant isn’t because I’m sure I’m right when I am, but much more often these days I’m sure I’m right when I’m not.

And so when a friend, a husband, a sib, or some stranger at the end of a telephone line or internet connection seems to me to be doing or saying something stupid, I have saved myself a great deal of embarrassment by being considerate even when I’m sure I’m right.  Because when I discover that I’m the one who has misunderstood, I haven’t made a double fool of myself.

 

from Quotesgram.com

September 4, 2016

Not one of us?

Filed under: Cultural Differences,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:09 pm
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VImage result for the burka

www.abc.net.au

A survey published today suggested that 57% of Britains think that wearing the burka in public should be outlawed.  It is already illegal in Britain to insist on wearing the burka while giving testimony in a court of law and for teachers in the classroom, both situations when a person’s full face must be revealed.

I don’t disagree with this policy.  But personally, I’d be very very careful about framing laws about what women may or may not wear in public.

Diane Keaton as Sister Mary

Diane Keaton as Sister Mary: CREDIT: PA

 

 

 

September 1, 2016

Energy restorer for the elderly

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:02 pm

Image result

a2ua.com:  candy page

As I’m getting old  (not older, old), I find I need to pay much greater attention to the difference between feeling hungry and feeling tired.

These days when I’m tempted to reach for a square of chocolate, a handful of nuts, or even a cup of coffee, what I need is not calories or caffeine but rest.  Sometimes all I need is to put my head back and close my eyes for five minutes.  Sometimes I need as much as 30 minutes on a bed with a pillow.

I don’t need nearly as much food as I used to.

But I do need more frequent energy-restorers.

August 29, 2016

I can no other answer make…

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:17 pm

But thanks, and thanks

and ever thanks

Shakespeare – Twelfth Night

Over the years, I have used and greatly appreciated the internet.  But I have often worried about the potential limitations of using it for hours every day.  I have worried that it is teaching us to think in sound bites and limiting our ability to concentrate.  I’ve worried about widespread use of replacing personal interchange with cyber-communication, limiting our ability to communicate directly with other people present with us in the here and now.  I have worried that it robs us of our ability to be quiet, to observe what is happening around us or within our own thoughts.

I had no expectation when I wrote the post on yesterday’s blog that I would get any responses at all.  I didn’t write it to get solutions or even support.  I certainly did not expect responses that would give me a foothold, and that I would find so energizing.  Taken together, the comments and “likes” have somehow taken me to a new dimension of insight.

Each of the comments are unique.  But they have helped me put things in a far better perspective.  I have learned that, for all its potential limitations, the internet can also be a powerful, meaningful source of human exchange.  And it has helped me learn that simply offering support and understanding is sometimes the greatest gift we can give.

It has certainly been a great gift to me.

And so I thank you.  I can no other answer make…

 

July 26, 2016

A stand against sexual discrimination

Filed under: Just Stuff,The English — theotheri @ 8:02 pm
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Unlike in the States, schools did not begin their summer break until last Friday here in England.  But in recent days the weather has been extremely hot climbing well into the 90’s in some areas.

Several high school boys at a co-ed high school, therefore, asked for permission to wear shorts in order to be a little cooler, but the word came back that all students were required to wear the regulation uniform consisting of either long pants or skirts.

Four boys took the ruling at its face value and showed up in skirts.

From left: George Boyland, Jesse Stringer, Kodi Ayling, Michael Parker

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-sussex-36868781

I know from experience that skirts are indeed much cooler than long pants.

Though I’m not sure the skirts cooled things off in all senses of the word.

 

July 25, 2016

How much is 1+1?

Filed under: Just Stuff,Two sides of the question — theotheri @ 8:29 pm
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My nephew who is a qualified engineer and is retiring from industry to take a position as a university lecturer  was visiting us last week, and we began to talk about creativity and how to teach it.

I shared with him Einstein’s view that “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”

In other words, we have to learn to recognize the assumptions on which our “right answers” are based, and then to think out of the box.

I said I sometimes gave my students the assignment of coming to class with at least one concrete example of times when 1 + 1 does not equal 2.

My nephew immediately came up with an idea I’d never thought of before.  If a computer is programmed to round off numbers to eliminate decimals, then any number between .50 and 1.49 will read “1.”  If you then tell the computer to add these numbers in pairs,  it will round off as “1”all the pairs that add up to less than 1.49.  For example,  .74 + .74 which equals 1.49 which round off as 1.

And just to add another twist, all the pairs that equal 2.5 or more will round off as 3.

Not, I admit, quite as brilliant as Einstein’s ability to give up the assumption that time and space are absolute.

But it delights me nonetheless.

July 22, 2016

Going bananas

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:07 pm

I’m beginning to think that the wisdom of old age consists less of learning something new than it’s a process of unlearning something old.

I grew up being told by my mother than bananas should never be put in the refrigerator.  I learned about a year ago from a friend that isn’t quite so – that they can be frozen and used in a variety of different ways.

But now I’ve discovered that putting bananas in the refrigerator are an excellent way of preventing them from getting rotten.  Chiquita bananas, who were responsible for the original advice, have even said so.

There’s a trick, though.  You shouldn’t put them into the refrigerator until they have reached the stage at which you want to eat them.  Because although the skin will blacken, the fruit will not ripen once the fruit has been refrigerated — even after it is taken out of the fridge.

I’ve kept them green for more than two weeks.  Just out of curiosity, I’m tempted to put a test banana in the fridge and see just how long it will last.  As long as an apple?  a potato?  a grapefruit?

July 9, 2016

The orange glow

I was intrigued when I was recently reading what I thought initially was a serious review of the research into dementia.  The author – a medical doctor – claimed that curcumin (which includes the spice tumeric) drastically reduces the rate of Altzheimer’s disease, a fact demonstrated by India, where the reported percentage of this debilitating disease is lower than in any other country in the world.

Then I realized what I was reading was an advertisement for tumeric supplements.  Not just any tumeric supplements either.  Only high quality supplements will bring about the desired results.

I started to ask a few obvious questions:

  • What percentage of the population over the age of 60 in India have been in contact with a qualified professional who might have made a diagnosis of some kind of dementia?  I know more than one case in both the US and Britain where an elderly person suffering from dementia is being taken care of by family members and who have not seen a doctor in years.
  • To make matters even less clear, a certain diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease is extremely difficult if not impossible without a post-mortem examination of the brain of the affected person.
  • And since the advertisement insisted that the quality of tumeric supplements was important, it may be relevant to ask just what kind and how much of this treasured spice is consumed on average every day in India.

There was no discussion of any of these issues vital to substantiating the claims made.

So to claim that India has a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease than any other country in the world, let alone to claim that this is a result of the fact that so many Indians eat curry spiced with tumeric, is highly dubious.

I have tumeric in something I eat almost everyday because I like it.  I am aware that claims for it are made for curcumin as an antioxidant, for reducing joint pain, the incidence of cancer, brain & heart disease, depression and the side effects of many cancer treatments.  I strongly suspect that tumeric, like many herbs and spices, is very good for us.

But if it’s a miracle, science has not yet proven it.

Sometimes I think the differences between religious faith, political promises, and scientific claims are indiscernible.

 

 

 

 

June 29, 2016

Still learning

When I was a university lecturer, I found that I learned a lot by giving lectures, because in the process I inevitably kept thinking, not only from the questions my students asked but from the additional questions the process of interaction stimulated.  I doubt many students knew it, but I was paradoxically learning as much as they were.

I am not an economist – to my frustration sometimes as I try to understand this world – but have been experiencing a similar learning process as I did as a lecturer as I am writing now about Brexit and its global implications.

I said in an earlier post that the issues underlying Trump’s “make America great again” were radically different from the sovereignty issues raised by membership in the European Union.  Yes, on one level it is.

But digging a little deeper, Trump and Brexit are responding to similar economic and political issues exacerbated by the globalization of capitalism.  Specifically, the working class has been disenfranchised either by an influx of immigrants from poorer countries taking the jobs of locals because they are willing to work for less pay under less salubrious conditions.  Or factory work and increasingly services have been outsourced to countries where workers are paid less, and their products shipped back to Britain or the U.S.  This has not protected the working conditions of those who are actually doing the work either overseas or as immigrants, and it has put thousands of non-immigrants out of work or reduced their pay and working conditions dramatically.

At the same time, management and those at the top of international corporations are reaping the profits.  Since the early 1980’s, incomes of those at the top of the ladder have increased dramatically while those further down have not kept up with the cost of living.  So today the gap between the upper and lower classes is greater than it has been for close to a century, and the middle classes are being gutted.

So prejudice and bigotry and the increase of hate crimes particularly among the working classes against those labelled as outsiders is understandable.  But something has gone terribly wrong with the system.  Unfortunately, neither the Brexit or Trump campaigns to slam the door shut against immigrants is  a solution and will not return prosperity to either America or Britain.  But far left-wing socialist systems tried and still being tried throughout the world have not been the solution either.  Somehow, they too produce an elite while too many workers had little freedom of choice and few opportunities.

thomas-piketty.jpgToday, Thomas Piketty, a leading left-wing economist, resigned as an adviser to the Labour Party for its failure to effectively fight against Brexit in the referendum debate.  He’s got some interesting ideas and I’m looking forward to reading his thoughts over the coming months.

Now I’m going to try to restore a little sanity, and watch Wimbledon tennis.

 

June 26, 2016

The blonde bombshells

Filed under: Just Stuff,Political thoughts — theotheri @ 4:39 pm
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Donald Trump, Republican, running for President in the USA                                  Boris Johnson, Tory, successful leader of UK Brexit

 

Someone just asked me if I thought these two men had anything in common apart from their blonde mops.  It isn’t a question that had occurred to me.  But now that I think of it, it seems to me that they share a surprising number of things.

  • Both politicians are personally well off financially.  Trump may be several zeroes better off than Johnson, but beyond a certain point, what do a few zeroes on the end of one’s net worth matter?
  • Both politicians are offering far-right solutions to voters who feel disenfranchised by economic changes both global and local, many of whom want to go back to the mythical “good old days” and make their country great again.
  • Both politicians are addressing issues which are often legitimate and which have not always been successfully addressed, or sometimes even recognized, by current governments.
  • Both have made promises to change things if they are successful, promises which unfortunately are sometimes unrealistic, uncosted, or mistaken, and in relation to which they both have begun to row back on.  These include promises about immigration and health care.
  • Trump’s pronouncements have sometimes been openly racist, while that is not true of Johnson personally, although it is true of members in his camp.  Both camps appeal to an anti-immigrant, anti-foreign mentality, and whether they mean to or not, have benefited from it.

 

June 25, 2016

All the King’s horses

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall

 

Some of the implications of Thursday’s referendum in which Britain voted to withdraw from the European Union are beginning to emerge with some frightening possibilities.  The Brexit leaders are now saying that two of the most convincing arguments for withdrawal are false and the claims should never have been made.  They say that immigration from other EU countries is unlikely to be reduced significantly, and the weekly additional £375 million promised to the National Health Service was “a mistake,” and will not occur.

People living in Cornwall, a region in southwest England which voted for Brexit and which receives significant money from the EU are only now realizing that these funds will no longer be paid.  They say they expect London to pick up the tab.  Airlines  will no longer be permitted to fly between the UK  EU countries without authorization as “foreign planes.”  Tour companies are already raising their prices, there will no longer be automatic health insurance coverage for UK citizens travelling or living in the EU, UK driver’s licences will not be valid on the continent, and of course, UK passports will no longer include automatic admittance into or out of EU countries.  Moody’s has downgraded the UK’s credit rating and Standard & Poors says they are considering a similar downgrade.

Some people are already regretting their Brexit vote, thinking it was a protest vote that would never pass.  More than a million people have signed a petition asking for another referendum.  Even Boris Johnson, the leader of the Brexiteers and probably the next prime minister, is saying that there’s no hurry to extradite ourselves from the EU.  Personally, I tend to give credence to those who suggest that he never expected to win, but was merely positioning himself to run as leader of the Tory party and prime minister in 2020.

Nothing would please me more than to be dead wrong.  But I fear what has been done cannot be undone and that Britain has inflicted a great wound upon itself.

And all the King’s Men

And all the King’s Horses

Couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty together again

June 21, 2016

BR-Exit or BR-In?

Flag of Europe.svg        or       Union flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg

The day after tomorrow is the referendum in which Britons decide whether to stay or leave the EU.  I decided years ago not to make this blog into a political commentary since I would inevitably be repeating what those closer to the source would be writing.  But this week I have received a month’s worth of communications asking me what I think – should Britain stay or leave?  So for what it’s worth, here’s what I think.

Today someone sent me John Oliver’s thoughts on the question.

I wouldn’t put it quite that way, but he pretty much expresses both my own views on the subject as well as my feelings.  At the heart of the EU is a democratic deficit replaced by a bureaucratic minefield of infuriating finger-wagging.  I even have reservations about the European Court of Justice.

If I concentrate on what drives me crazy, the overwhelming temptation is to join Brexit, pick up one’s ball and say we don’t want to play anymore.
But that won’t make things better.  That’s not the solution.  It’s infuriating, but Britain is crazy to think it will be better off without Europe.  Besides, during the last century, Britain has done a great deal to make Europe far far better – politically and economically.  And if we paid a little more attention to whom we are electing when we send representative to the European Parliament, we might be able to make a dent in that gaping hole of democratic deficiency.  As it is, most British citizens have no idea who their EU representatives are and don’t care.
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I do agree with those who say that this is quite possibly the most important vote every eligible voter in the UK today will make in their life time.   We must stay in and continue to fight – for our sakes, for Europe’s sake, and for the sake of the entire global economic and political world.
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Don’t know what it’s going to be like when we wake up on Friday morning…
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But at least there’s Andy Murray.

June 18, 2016

My unsolvable problem

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:01 pm

So here we are in a world that feels like it’s ripping itself apart.  I doubt you need the list – environmental destruction, ocean acidification due to our carbon emissions at the highest it’s been for 300 million years, the biggest mass shoot out ever recorded in an Orlando pub catering to LGBTs, a vicious stabbing and murder by a neo-Nazi in Yorkshire of a woman in Parliament apparently because she was supporting the campaign for Britain to remain in the EU, not to mention a debate here in Britain as destructive as that being carried on by Trump in the U.S.

It feels rather overwhelming this week somehow.

So last night I tossed and turned worrying about one of the great unsolved problems of the world.

I spent the night trying to figure out what percentage of the card game of Solitaire are potentially winnable if good luck, card counting, and maybe even a little bit of cheating are all part of the mix.  The first step was easy:  figuring out the number of different games a 52-card pack could yield.  It’s 52x51x50x….3×2.  But very soon after that when I started trying to figure out the percentage of potential wins, I get stumped.  “Go back to sleep, dummy,” I advise myself.

So part of myself takes the advice.  Until the other part of myself wakes me up starting the whole process over again.  It went on all night.

I would like to hope that what my dream – or nightmare –  was telling me is that I can’t solve all the world’s problems.

I hope it doesn’t suggest that I really have my priorities screwed up.

 

June 10, 2016

The minute two lives changed

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:46 pm
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As I said in my last post, two people have sent me stories about wonderful, unplanned, and unexpected reunions following devastating separations of World War II.

The first story was sent to me by a friend whose own childhood was in Norway during the war, and who now lives in Brooklyn.  She knew Golda Steinberg personally.  

During the war, Golda and her husband were separated and sent to different concentration camps in Poland.  After the war, Golda immigrated to the United States,  earned her degree in Social Work, married and had several children.  She also eventually taught at Columbia University school of social work, at 110th Street and Broadway.

One day, when she was in her 60’s, as she was walking down Broadway, she saw – and recognized – her first husband from Poland.  He had also immigrated to NYC, and now lived with his wife in the immediate area.  Both couples became steadfast friends.

The second story was told to me by someone who did not know the people involved personally but saw it told on a tv documentary.   When a mother was sent with her young daughter to a concentration camp, she was given the opportunity to pack a few things.  Like many others, she took various items of food.  When they reached the camp, she took out a chunk of chocolate and gave it to her daughter.  

“This is not for eating now,” she told her.  “It’s for you to keep for a day when you may have nothing else to eat and may be starving.”

One day a detainee in the camp who was about to give birth was also starving, and the girl’s mother asked her if she would be willing to give her the chocolate.  She did, and undoubtedly contributed to saving the lives of both mother and her new-born daughter.

Many years later, the child who had given up her chocolate had immigrated to the States and obtained her nursing degree.  One day she was giving a talk to others who, like her, had survived their time in concentration camps and made their way to the U.S.  In the talk, she told the story of giving the chocolate to a starving mother.

After the talk, a women who had also attended the conference, came up to her and said “I know you.  I have known you all my life, because you saved my life.  My mother told me about that gift of chocolate and that she believed we would have starved without it.”

 

June 4, 2016

“The Tablecloth”

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 7:28 pm
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Below is an allegedly “true story” was sent to me last month by an old high school friend.  It is, I admit, a lovely story which I appreciate might actually be true.  But I was seven years old when I asked my father why, if God loved us so much and if He could do anything He wanted, He let so many good people suffer so many bad things.  It is a question to which there is no logical answer:  good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people.

And so I found the final paragraphs of the communication below so unconvincing and even naive that I wondered about whether the story was simply made up.  So I sent the story to several friends whom I thought might be familiar with it and could verify or refute it.

I got several amazing answers, which I will write about in my posts later this week.  But first, read this story yourself:

The brand new pastor and his wife, newly assigned to their first ministry, to reopen a church in suburban Brooklyn, arrived in early October excited about their opportunities. When they saw their church, it was very run down and needed much work. They set a goal to have everything done in time to have their first service on Christmas Eve.  They worked hard, repairing pews, plastering walls, painting, etc, and on December 18 were ahead of schedule and 

just about finished. 

On December 19 a terrible tempest – a driving rainstorm hit the area and lasted for two days. 

On the 21st, the pastor went over to the church.His heart sank when he saw that the roof had leaked, causing a large area of plaster about 20 feet by 8 feet to fall off the front wall of the sanctuary just behind the pulpit, beginning about head high. 

The pastor cleaned up the mess on the floor, and not knowing what else to do but postpone the Christmas Eve service, headed home. On the way he noticed that a local business was having a flea market type sale for charity, so he stopped in. One of the items was a beautiful, handmade, ivory colored, crocheted tablecloth with exquisite work, fine colors and a Cross embroidered right in the center. It was just the right size to cover the hole in the front wall. He bought it and headed back to the church.

 By this time it had started to snow. An older woman running from the opposite direction was trying to catch the bus. She missed it. The pastor invited her to wait in the warm church for the next bus 45 minutes later.

 She sat in a pew and paid no attention to the pastor while he got a ladder, hangers, etc., to put up the tablecloth as a wall tapestry. The pastor could hardly believe how beautiful it looked and it covered up the entire problem area.

 Then he noticed the woman walking down the center aisle. Her face was like a sheet. “Pastor,” she asked, “where did you get that tablecloth?” The pastor explained. The woman asked him to check the lower right corner to see if the initials, EBG were crocheted into it there. They were. These were the initials of the woman, and she had made this tablecloth 35 years before, in Austria .

 The woman could hardly believe it as the pastor told how he had just gotten “The Tablecloth”. The woman explained that before the war she and her husband were well-to-do people in Austria. When the Nazis came, she was forced to leave. Her husband was going to follow her the next week, but he was  captured, sent to prison and she never saw her husband or her home again.

 The pastor wanted to give her the tablecloth; but she made the pastor keep it for the church.  The pastor insisted on driving her home. That was the least he could do. She lived on the other side of Staten Island and was only in Brooklyn for the day for a housecleaning job.

 What a wonderful service they had on Christmas Eve. The church was almost full. The music and the spirit were great. At the end of the service, the pastor and his wife greeted everyone at the door and many said that they would return.

 One older man, whom the pastor recognized from the neighborhood continued to sit in one of the pews and stare, and the pastor wondered why he wasn’t leaving.

 The man asked him where he got the tablecloth on the front wall because it was identical to one that his wife had made years ago when they lived in Austria before the war and how could there be two tablecloths so much alike?  He told the pastor how the Nazis came, how he forced his wife to flee for her safety and he was supposed to follow her, but he was arrested and put in prison. He never saw his wife or his home again all the 35 years between.

 The pastor asked him if he would allow him to take him for a little ride.  They drove to Staten Island and to the same house where the pastor had taken the woman three days earlier.  He helped the man climb the three flights of stairs to the woman’s apartment, knocked on the door and he saw the greatest Christmas reunion he could ever imagine.

 This is a true story – submitted by Pastor Rob Reid who says God does work in mysterious ways.

I asked the Lord to bless you as I prayed for you today, to guide you and protect you as you go along your way. His love is always with you. His promises are true, and when we give Him all our cares we know He will see us through.   So when the road you’re traveling seems difficult at best, just remember I’m here praying and God will do the rest.

Pass this on to those you want God to bless and remember to send it back to the one who asked God to bless you first.

When there is nothing left but God, that is when you find out that God is all you need.  Take 60 seconds and give this a shot! All you do is simply say the following small prayer for the person who sent this to you.

 

Father, God, bless all my friends and family in whatever it is that You know they may be needing this day!

May their lives be full of Your peace,prosperity and power as they seek to have a closer relationship with You. 
Amen.

 Then send it on to five other people, including the one who sent it to you.  Within hours five people have prayed for you and you caused a multitude of people to pray for other people. Then, sit back and watch the power of God work in your life.

May 25, 2016

Mullarky?

A friend recently sent me an article commenting on Pope Francis and his attitude toward the poor.  The view of the author is that Francis’ views is Marxist and betrays the essence of Christianity.

Francis sounded at first like such a breath of fresh air in the face of a rigid and often uncaring and out-of-touch Vatican hierarchy.  But  I’ve started thinking once again about the Eight Beatitudes and what the Sermon on the Mount really says with its proclamations that the poor are “blessed.”

If “blessed are the poor” means, in modern day language, that celebrity or mega-wealth or a Facebook full of friends are rarely goals worth pursuing in their own right, then I agree.

But that’s not what Christianity has, by and large, been teaching for the last several thousand years.  Taking a vow of poverty, for instance, automatically lifted someone to a higher plane of holiness, even if the vow did not remotely entail the imminent danger of being hungry or cold or dispossessed.  Apart from that group of well-cared for allegedly poor nuns, monks, and brothers, most of those elevated to the official status of saints were not poor.  They were among the Great and the Good, people in positions of power and authority who treated their servants with a certain amount of fairness, or who took up the sword to slay the enemies of Christianity.  Or sometimes merely the version of Christianity currently in favour.

So what is essentially “Christian” about being poor?

Well, for starters, the translation of the beatitude about the poor in the Bibles with which I am acquainted does not say “Blessed are the poor,” but “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  It does not bless poverty in the economic sense.  It does not suggest that being hungry or living in squalor or unable to obtain an education for lack of funds is intrinsically blessed.  Conversely, it does not support the conclusion that people like Donald Trump, among others, who have declared themselves legally bankrupt on occasions are subsequently automatically “blessed.”

It seems to me that, challenging as economic poverty may be, “blessed” is a great deal more difficult to achieve.  In some ways, we are all “poor.”  We are all incomplete, all needy in different ways, we all need support and help from others.  It’s not being “poor” that is blessed.  It’s what we do with those challenges presented by our incompleteness.

Do we respond with violence, jealousy, resentment, with passive acceptance or helplessness?  Admittedly society is apt to respond to those who respond to their economic poverty with physical violence with a tit-for-tat punishment such as prison sentences and exile.  Those whose poverty is not economic are rarely punished with the same vindictive anger by society.  Partly because the violence of the well-off is less apt to be overtly physically abusive, and more apt to be manifest in betrayals, and scams.  But in either case, neither being rich nor poor or somewhere in-between is, all by itself, “blessed.”

By the same token, “serving the poor” in the economic sense of poverty, is not somehow holier than meeting all the other human needs we have besides those for food and shelter.  We need love, we need to feel special, we need guidance too.

And we need to give every bit as much as we need to receive.  The overt “giver” is often, in the very act, the true “receiver.”

I suspect that “poor” is much deeper, more complex, and more universal, than either Christianity or Marxism would have us believe.

 

May 16, 2016

Am I a mystic?

Filed under: Just Stuff,Questions beyond Science — theotheri @ 8:40 pm

I’ve never thought I was a mystic.  Well, not counting that time when I was about seven when a friend told me she thought she was developing the stigmata — marks of nails on one’s hands and feet in identification with the crucified Jesus.  But when no similar marks appeared in my own hands, I decided not to take matters into my own hands (excuse the pun), and decided it was not going to be my path to sainthood.

Many years later as a psychologist, I wondered in passing if many manifestations of “mysticism” weren’t really a form of neurosis or even psychosis.

But more recently I’ve been reflecting on my own experiences almost of euphoria in response to music and also of some studies of nature like quantum physics or animal consciousness.  My responses aren’t irrational, but they are somehow beyond reason, accompanied by this sheer sense of awe and joy in the presence of such almost-infinite beauty.

Then a couple of days ago I stumbled on a website discussing how quantum mechanics, mysticism, and vendata-yoga are influencing western thought today, and I began to ask myself what actually a mystic is.  How do they know something that us ordinary folk do not comprehend?  And how does one tell the difference between a mystic and someone who simply claims to know the Truth by some path which the rest of us have not attained?

So I went to the font of all knowledge in this second millennium and Googled “What is a mystic?”

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, is of the opinion that “mysticism is popularly known as becoming one with God or the Absolute, but may refer to any kind of ecstasy or altered state of consciousness which is given a religious or spiritual meaning.”   Maybe one needs simply to get a hold of the right drugs then, and interpret it as a spiritual experience.

Another website offered to help clarify my inquiry, with a set of ten telltale sign of a mystic.

Here are the signs and my thoughts about whether I qualify:

You value experiences above all else.  That means you trust your own experience above doctrine and laws and abstract principles.  Personally, I don’t trust anything, doctrine, laws, abstract principles, or my personal experience absolutely.  I think about them, I listen.  Some things make more sense than others and I use them as guidelines.  But I can’t say I value my experience above all else.

You question existence.  You constantly ask why we are all here, and have a natural curiosity about the physical and spiritual world.  I used to think the answer to this question was “God,” until I realized the concept of  “God” is unfathomable to the human mind.  Although I have a driving, almost endless curiosity about the physical world, including curiosity about consciousness which seems evident in all living things, I prefer to accept that I live in mystery to which I do not have the answers and do not believe I ever will.

You are comfortable with uncertainty.  Yes!  In fact, I am hugely uncomfortable with certainty – about almost everything.  I don’t trust absolute answers about anything from anybody no matter who they are.  Hmm, does that make me mystical?

You value intuition.   I value intuition, but I don’t trust it without testing it out.  My intuition is sometimes a leap into the light.  It is also sometimes dead wrong.

You are uncomfortable with spiritual hierarchies.  Mystics do not believe there is only one correct way.  No, neither do I.  We are each unique.  At least in this universe.

You have your own set of rules, looking beyond what may be socially accepted or mandated by leaders or society.  I’m not by nature a rebel and I don’t particularly enjoy the experience of being socially awkward or insensitive.  But from a very young age I’ve always wanted to do things for myself and make my own decisions.

You value internal growth.  If this means, do I value it more than money or fame or public success, yes.  This strikes me more as a sign of maturity than mysticism, though.

You believe you are a conduit for power, not the source.  The answer for myself depends on what one means by “source.”  I’m inclined to think there is an intrinsic evolution in the universe, but I’m not inclined to believe it was created by some external power many people would call “God.

You believe love is the source of life.  Again, I might quibble with the use of the word “source.”  But love does seem to me to be the essence of the creative force in the universe.

You don’t know everything.  Agree.  But I’m pretty sure I haven’t discovered this because I’m a mystic.   I discovered it because I still have so many unanswered questions.

Well, I don’t seem to be a truly qualified mystic.   I’m also not convinced mysticism is intrinsically some higher way of knowing.  But I do think it might be a legitimate way of knowing.  The psychologist Carl Jung believed that we humans tend to favor reason or intuition during the first part of our lives, and somewhere around middle age begin to switch to whichever mode has been less dominant in our youth.  I suspect that mysticism is an intuitive approach applied to questions that are beyond the scope of science.  It is not always right, but it isn’t necessarily neurotic either.  It’s a legitimate way of trying to explore the question of existence and its meaning.

April 25, 2016

Which lesson have we learned?

One of the most viewed posts on this blog is Why do abused children become abusers? published more than six years ago.  In it I ask why some children who are abused grow up to be abusers themselves.  Would not children who are abused understand above all how painful, destructive, indeed awful abuse is?  Some children do grow up to be loving, caring parents.  But research shows that a surprising number of adult abusers were themselves abused as children.

Among other things, what they so often learned wasn’t that bullying is bad but that it is the biggest bully who gets his or her way.

I have just read another blog post, Are African Americans Our Palestinians?, that has led me to conclude that something similar sometimes happens to whole cultures, or at least sub-cultures.  In Israel today it seems to me that today’s government has come to believe that to achieve that oft-repeated vow, “never again”, it must be the biggest bully on the block.

And do you know who are Israel’s biggest supporters in this endeavour?  The Land of the Free.  The land where immigrants arrived and in the name of Freedom began a program of bullying the natives already living there.  It was effectively a program of ethnic cleansing, eventually reducing the native American Indian population to a mere 5% of its original size.  That lay the ground work for the importation of slaves, who even today in America suffer the effects of widespread prejudice.

We Americans and Israelis are not the only cultures, of course, to develop this pattern of bullying abuse.  Nor are the citizens of any bullying country all guilty of self-delusion either.  But we humans so often see the speck in our neighbor’s eye while missing the boulder in our own.

One further qualification:  I myself have struggled for most of my life over the problem of using brute force.  I do know that punishment is rarely as effective in child-raising or in changing behavior in general as encouragement and reward.  But sometimes it seems to me behavior must be stopped by force.  If force is necessary, I would use it on a two-year-old child heading for an open fire.  I would shoot a man, given the chance, who was threatening to murder his wife.  But would I support sending government troops to defend people threatened by ethnic cleansing?  That gets more complicated, but if I thought I could stop such an outrage, I would.

April 12, 2016

My pocketful of stones

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:52 pm

I was washing a down comforter in our washer-dryer several days ago, and remembered that putting something like an old tennis shoe or a couple of tennis balls into the drying cycle helps to fluff up the down.

I didn’t have any tennis balls or old shoes around though, and was reluctant to risk a shoe that is still wearable.  After all, the rubber could melt and ruin not only the shoe but also the comforter.  I’m not that dumb.  I mean, let’s be sensible here.  So I decided to be creative.

I found a couple of plastic jars and filled them with small decorative pebbles and added them to the drum.

All went well.  But when the drying cycle was finished and I opened up the door, I saw the lid had come off one of the jars and pebbles were spread all over the place.

I took the comforter outside and shook the errant pebbles out.  But I was a little worried that some of them might have gotten into the machine’s drainage system, so it seemed a good idea to check the drainage catchment area.

It wasn’t a good idea.

When I opened it up, an alarm started and a message came up saying “Emergency flood control alerted.  Call serviceman.”

A Mickey Hands T-Shirt 

I spent another half hour reading the trouble-shooting section of the machine’s directions and fiddling with ideas of my own to determine that the only thing I could do was to follow Miele’s single line of advice and call the serviceman.  I did turn off the alarm by pulling the electric plug, but that was the height of my achievement.The serviceman came the next day but I was too embarrassed to tell him I’d done something so stupid as to actually put a couple of jars full of stones into the machine.  So I told him I’d accidentally put laundry into the wash with a pocketful of stones.  That at least impressed me – if not the serviceman – as careless rather than creatively stupid.

But stupid it was.

And it only cost me $125 to get it fixed.

Maybe I should give up trying to be creative, and simply go back to obeying rules?

On the other hand, there isn’t anything in the directions that says anything about not putting jars of stones in the laundry.

April 4, 2016

How to avoid hell fire

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:00 pm
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Last night we watched a BBC adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.  The Bronte sisters lived in Yorkshire in the mid-1800’s, and were the children of a minister.  But the three sisters seemed to have a drive for independence and survival that I recognize to this day in the Yorkshire culture.  The Bronte sisters sat around their table and wrote, works that were eventually published.

It was a hard life, fought against death, starvation, unemployment, and a religious fanaticism that is recognizable in the various forms of fundamentalism today, whose leaders believe that anyone who disagrees with them is disobeying the sacred word of God, and whose salvation depends on being given a taste of hell on earth.

Jane Eyre was subject to the humiliation and beatings deserved by anyone arrogant enough to stand up for herself.

In one scene which I doubt I will forget in my lifetime, Jane is being publicly castigated.  “Do you know what happens to people who go to hell?” she is asked.  “Yes, sir,” she replies, “they burn in fire forever.”  “And do you know what you have to do to avoid going to hell?” the minister demands.  “Yes, sir,” Jane answered.  “You have to live a healthy life so you don’t die too soon.”

I love it!  At Jane’s age, I was too good at knowing the Right Answers to have come up with an answer that so obviously violated the Truth with which Jane was being so ruthlessly beaten.  In fact, even though I openly disagreed with my superiors when I was a nun, it was still with the conviction that I had the Right Answers.  I had Vatican II on my side, after all, and John Kennedy, and Karl Rahner.

Now at least I know there are a lot of ways to be Right.

And, I fear, even more ways to be Wrong.

 

March 27, 2016

Day of Hope

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 1:23 pm
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For as long as I can remember, I’ve always liked Easter a lot better than Christmas.  Not because I like rabbits and chocolate eggs better than Santa Claus’s and Christmas trees.  But because it’s a celebration of hope when everything seems so beyond hope.

In the world today, it seems to me that we need hope perhaps more than ever.  I don’t mean the everyday kind of hopes that permeate our lives.  You know, I hope it won’t rain today, or I hope I get over this flu soon, or I hope I can find my lost set of keys, or that I get the job I’ve applied for.

I don’t even mean hope that the worst isn’t going to happen.  Because it might.  We might destroy ourselves with war, or epidemics, or sheer environmental destruction.  Is hope possible in the face of such final death, in the face of the darkness of such an ultimate Good Friday?

Easter, for me, is a commitment to hope that it is.  That whatever happens, being is good, that simply to be alive has an intrinsic value.  That whatever happens, it is worthwhile, even wonderful, however despairing it may look.

It’s the only act of faith of which I am capable.  On the dark days I sometimes have to work on it.

The egg is the symbol of new life (– if it’s not boiled first, of course.)

Happy Easter to everyone reading this.  

March 26, 2016

Be careful what you say!

Filed under: Just Stuff,The English — theotheri @ 5:28 pm
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The philosopher of great renown, Hilary Putnam, died several weeks ago.  He wrote about a lot of things, including the meaning of meaning, pointing out that when we use a word, its meaning depends on the context in which we understand it.  Putnam gave the hypothetical example of identical twins living on planets identical in every way except for the molecular component of what each twin called “water.”  Putnam pointed out that although each twin would be using the same word, they would be referring to fundamentally different things.

But one need not go extra-terrestial to find examples of the importance of context in giving words different meanings even to individuals speaking the same language.  I have found hundreds of examples merely by crossing the pond.  Men here routinely address me as “love,” or “loverly” in contexts that I would find inappropriate in the States but rather enjoy over here.  Alternatively, as I have mentioned before, my husband had to caution me not to use words such as “bloody,” or “knackers” with the freedom I might have used them in the new world.

I stumbled on another emerging example yesterday of the influence of context on meaning.  It’s in relation to rapeseed oil which is called canola oil in America.  The word “rape” is derived originally from the Latin term for turnip, but in America the name was changed for marketing reasons.  It is still called rapeseed oil here in Britain.

But the marketing inhibitions associated with the term rape have recrossed the pond returning to Britain in a different context.  Aldi, a superstore, has agreed to change the name of its Rape Yellow paint after a woman who had been sexually assaulted complained that Rape Yellow did not remind her of bright and cheerful sunshine but of a darker more disturbing event.

Hmm:  learning a different language is even harder than I thought.

March 24, 2016

What’s in a name?

Filed under: Cultural Differences,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:17 pm
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One of the things I find fascinating about living in Britain is names.  They are so pregnant with history.

Names in America often indicate something about their origins, too, of course, but names on this side of the pond go back thousands, even occasionally, more than ten thousand years.  In America only names left by the original American Indians have a history that go back more than 500 years or so.

We live, for instance, on Stocks Lane.  The village was founded in 543, and our house is just below the hill from where the church tower dominates the residents.  There is no doubt in my mind that the “stocks” were not for cattle or fruit, and obviously not for trading stocks & shares.  It was the local “correction centre.”

Further afield there is Roman Hill, which was carved out by the Romans who were here until the year 410 AD.  I have not been able to discover yet whether it was people or pigs or sheep washed at Wash Pit Lane, but perhaps it was all three.   Even in the 20th century, there was many villages where people used public baths and out houses because bathrooms were not included in the houses.

There are thousands of names like these:  Cheddar Lane, Prime Close, Abbey Gate House, Kings Cross.

But I’ve just been introduced to another newly-minted name, which nonetheless is resonant with the past.

Food Mug - I Love Stinking BishopIt’s Stinking Bishop Cheese.

Seriously, it’s a cheese made in Gloucester which seems to be tremendously expensive and popular not only here but in France.  It became the rage about ten years ago when it was used to revive Wallace from the dead in a Wallace & Grommit film.  The politically acceptable version of where the cheese got its name is that the Cistercian monks used to produce cheese in a highly odoriferous process.

Yes, but what’s that word “Bishop” doing there?

 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Food-Mug-Love-Stinking-Bishop

 

 

 

 

March 8, 2016

A story for Women’s Day

When I was ten years old, my mother had twins – a boy named Bob and a girl, Mary.  Within a year, my brother Tom and I had assumed the responsibility of socializing them, teaching them essential tasks such as learning to walk, to button one’s shirt, and critically, the highly abstract and complex task of learning to tie their shoe laces.

To fully understand the implications of the story I am about to tell, it is necessary to understand that the subtle indoctrination of Roman Catholicism in our family included the indisputable truth that men are more intelligent than women.  Bob, therefore, had to learn to tie his shoes before his sister Mary, or suffer the humiliation of sexual failure at the mature age of two.

So Tom set about teaching Bob to tie his shoe laces, and I took over the job of tutoring Mary.

Mary learned to tie her shoe laces first.

But when I told this momentous fact to Tom, and he asked Mary to prove it, she pretended that she couldn’t do it.

In fact, she refused to admit that she knew how to tie her laces until Bob had learned and demonstrated his achievement first.

My temptation is to say that this illustrates that girls really are smarter than boys, or that I was a better teacher than my brother, but of course it doesn’t.

But do you think that sometimes girls are just kinder than our counterparts?  I can’t ask Mary what she thinks because she died of cancer 20 years ago.

But that’s my hypothesis.  I think even at the age of two, there was no way she was going to play a game of one-up-man-ship  with her dear twin brother.

I Can Tie My Own Shoes (I Can Books) by Ltd. Top That Publishing

 

 

 

 

February 27, 2016

However it’s said…

Filed under: Just Stuff,Questions beyond Science — theotheri @ 3:53 pm

 

“Three things in human life are important:

the first is to be kind;

the second is to be kind;

and the third is to be kind.”

— Henry James

However you say it, whether it’s the Golden Rule, or St. Paul’s Greatest of These, it’s love that turns out to be what matters in the end, isn’t it?

Henry James, the writer, died 100 years ago tomorrow.  His work is still vibrant, and in coming months, museums, libraries, and universities are exploring his legacy in conferences across America and Europe.  

February 14, 2016

Speaking of love…

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 1:01 pm

I stopped by the news stand to pick up our Sunday newspaper this morning, and the young man at the check out greeted me with “Hello, love.”  “Oh,” I responded “you’re from Yorkshire!”

Because I know this greeting has nothing to do with the fact that today is Valentine’s Day.  “Love,” is a standard greeting in Yorkshire and Lancaster, and everyone one from the postman to local workmen have used this term to greet me.

Here in the south of England, “love” comes in a slightly different version.  When we went to pick up our Friday fish two days ago, the fish monger greeted me with “Hello, Loverly, how are we today?”  “Great,” I replied as an American.  Here in England, in my experience no true Englishman would suggest anything more enthusiastic than “not so bad.”  “I can’t complain” is close to euphoric.

But there is an interesting adjustment to an American greeting that has crossed the pond in recent years.  It is often adjusted from the rather neutral “Have a nice day” to “Have a lovely day.”

I love it!

Best wishes for a happy Valentine’s Day — which, come to think of it, itself has little to do with St. Valentine who was shot through the heart by the Romans for refusing to pay homage to their gods, a dangerous practice that rulers could not tolerate on the grounds that it was the gods who control a people’s good or bad fortune.

Actually, perhaps not much has changed after all.

February 9, 2016

In the Good News Department

Filed under: Growing Old — theotheri @ 3:11 pm
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As you have probably noticed, bad news makes news;  good news has to struggle to hit the headlines.

Just today, for instance, the news is about a train crash in Bavaria, Germany which has killed 9 people and seriously injured another 50.  The second headline I saw featured a man who died after setting himself on fire this morning outside Prince William and Kate’s home in London.  Headline number 3 featured the violence in Hong Kong, followed by a revenge killing in Dublin, and the starving refugees fleeing Syria.  Your list might feature different bad news, but I bet it’s mostly depressing.

I’m not blaming the media for this.  Good news is hardly ever as surprising as bad news.  And it’s often boring.  A train crash is news:  the thousands of trains throughout the world today that ran smoothly isn’t.  Or what is there to say about an ordinary shopping day in Dublin or London or Hong Kong?

But I did read some seriously good – and interesting – news today.

The prevalence of dementia among people over the age of 65 in Britain over the last two decades has dropped by some 22% per cent.  And they don’t expect that decline to reverse itself.  Because the improvement seems to be due to improved life style and better health care in general.

As someone who is well over 65, I find this especially good news.
Dorothy & Cathy at about 2 &4 yrs

And especially grateful for parents who gave me an appreciation of the importance of nutrition and exercise on that Ohio farm where I grew up. 

 

February 7, 2016

Yes we can!

As I said in an earlier post, I believe that the environmental change we humans are effecting on our planet is the biggest challenge facing the world today.  In so far as it could lead to our own extinction as a species, it may actually be the biggest challenge we have ever faced.

I do not agree with those who argue that the emergence of this challenge is a result of human greed.  It is the outcome of evolution, of the drive for survival which lies at the very core of every living organism.  Millions of species that survived for hundreds of thousands, even millions of years, are now extinct because they were unable to adapt to the environmental change which they themselves often orchestrated.

In the last century, lighting and heating our homes and offices by burning coal and oil, increased transportation by road and rail traffic, industrialized farming, the domestication of farm animals, all have kept millions of people from starvation, poverty, the effects of deadly weather, and disease.

These innovations were spread by loving, creative, hard-working people around the world often making sacrifices for their children and communities.  We didn’t know it then – we had no idea – that carried to an extreme, we could be destroying the potential of our very existence.

http://www.datainfomobility.com/solutions/

Yet we may be the only species that can now see that many of the very solutions to the problems we have been intelligent enough to solve in the past in order to insure our survival have now created the very problems we need solve in order to insure our continued survival.

We have the intelligence to solve these problems without destroying ourselves.

In New Zealand today, research is being carried out which is already producing cows and sheep which expel less methane.  In Europe, scientists who have discovered that the huge expanse of man-made forests consisting of conifers isn’t reducing global warming but increasing it are moving to replace the conifers with nature’s original choice of broad-leaved varieties.  We are identifying new and clean ways of tapping into the sun’s energy using the ocean waves, pedestrian traffic, even the tires rolling on the road might someday be used to charge car batteries without their ever needing to be plugged into a socket.

There are hundreds – no, thousands – of examples like this.  Some are already being implemented, some are still in the experimental or even conceptual stage.  The solutions are not yet all obvious. Nor will the problem be solved in one fell swoop, with one big single answer.  It needs many steps, some small, some large.

But if we believe in ourselves and in our responsibility to care for this planet that has been given into our care, we can make it even better than it has ever been.

We are the ones who have to do it.  And we can!

 

 

January 12, 2016

Another perspective

Filed under: Cultural Differences,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 9:20 pm
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Alan Bennett Lady in the VanThe English playwright Alan Bennett recently told a story about one of his plays.  It includes a scene where a couple routinely sit at a table without a cloth enjoying their morning tea and who are overlooked from her window by a nosey righteous neighbor.

The play was sufficiently successful to be translated for a slot on French tv.

Unfortunately, Bennett’s description of the table laid without a table cloth was translated to something resembling “the two of them sitting there every morning without any clothes on.”

Not exactly what I would have meant when I try to remember that it’s valuable to try to see things from other people’s perspectives…

 

December 25, 2015

Hope of the light

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 11:48 am

For tens of thousands of years before it was a celebration of Christmas, this time of the year was celebrated as the time of hope.  Because it was the time when the light began to return.  Until less than perhaps a thousand years ago, it was not universally clear why the coming of the sun waxed and waned, and it was never certain that this life-giving sun just might not come back.

Most people in the world today no longer literally worship the sun as a great moody god who must be adored, bribed, and propitiated.  But we are living in a time of possibly unprecedented uncertainty.  There is powerful evidence that we are seriously damaging, possibly even destroying, the environment on which our very lives depend.  We have as much reason for concern as did our ancient ancestors.  Worries about the global destructiveness of war and terrorism, potentially lethal diseases, starvation and drought are not paranoid fantasies but  realistic possibilities.

And although we no longer think the sun worshippers and their virgin sacrifices are what convinced the sun to return each year, we do know that what we humans do will profoundly affect both our short-term and long-term futures.

Will we do what needs to be done to maintain our creative relationship with the universe?  Can we do it?

Yesterday by coincidence I stumbled on an article about Albert Einstein.  I didn’t realize that he’d received the Nobel Prize for his discovery that the atmosphere is chock full of energy generated by the sun.  (I’d always assumed it was for his theories of relativity.)  At first scientists thought Einstein  was wrong.  They didn’t think there was close to an infinite amount of energy floating around us.  And then when they became convinced, nobody knew how to tap this energy at anything like an affordable cost.  Oil, gas, coal, wood were all much much cheaper.

But now that nut is being cracked.  Researchers and companies are discovering how to tap this energy at costs that dwarf the cost of fossil fuels.  It’s already possible to get enough energy to charge a mobile phone for free.  But here are a few of the other possibilities, some of which are already being implemented:

  • a transparent decal-type of addition to windows that turns them effectively into transparent solar panels
  • house paint that generates electricity
  • batteries that store enough electricity to make houses individually independent of the need to be connected to the grid — eliminating the need for electricity companies
  • roads that generate electricity as cars pass over them, so that cars never need to fill up at a gas station
  • solar panels that produce electricity 24-hours a day

These are not pipe dreams.  Some oil companies are so threatened that they are lobbying the US Congress to outlaw it.  Even in this day of big money lobbies, they are unlikely to succeed.   Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Amazon, some oil and electricity companies themselves, even governments in India, China, the US Defense Department in the United States are pouring billions of dollars into this revolutionary — and clean — source of energy.

And so this Christmas – this solstice – this Celebration of Light – does seem to me to be a very special, even unique, Celebration of Hope.

With best wishes for us all as we move into this new year. 

December 19, 2015

May I introduce my 5-year-old?

I was seeing my GP several weeks ago for my general annual check-up which I try to have at least once every five years.  He said high blood pressure was a frequent problem for people my age and took out his blood pressure monitor.  “Oh,” I said, “I have white coat syndrome;  it will be very high.”

“You’re worried about what I might tell you?” he asked.

“No,” I replied, “I’m 75 years old.  But there’s still a 5-year-old inside me that’s worried about what you might think about me.”

“What are you worried I might think?” he asked.

After a short reflection, I answered truthfully:  “Whether I’m smart or not.  I can’t walk into a doctor’s office and take a test without feeling that I have to get an A grade.  If I don’t, I’ve failed.”

The doctor demurred.

And my 75-year-old self does too, of course.  But that 5-year-old stubbornly wants the approval of passing the test.

To my surprise, I found making this confession out loud quite liberating.  It’s obviously so neurotic. Even now, I’ve found myself tempted to try to fake the tests – something which I’ve found it is sometimes surprisingly easy to do.  But what a stupid self-defeating thing to even contemplate.  And does it make me smarter to pass an exam meant to find out if I have a medical problem?  No, it make me stupid.

I’ve told this story to several friends and discovered that a good many of us seem to harbor these stubborn 5-year-olds within.  One 5-year-old – resident in a very attractive mature and not over-weight woman – screams that she’s fat.  Another one that she’s lazy – she is one of the most industrious workers I know.

Some children just don’t grow up, do they?

(I am glad to say I did not fiddle the blood-pressure figures the doctor had me take for three days at home.  I thought the figures were not A+.  But the doctor says I’m in “good nick.”  Glad he’s not been deluded by my resident 5-year-old.)

December 13, 2015

Truly Tidings of Good News!

Filed under: Environmental Issues,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 4:32 pm
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We watched the negotiators in Paris yesterday when the French foreign minister Laurent Fabius announced that almost 200 countries in the world had reached agreement on climate change.  There was a moment of dumb silence, and then an explosion of celebration.  They had done it!

Christiana Figueres and French foreign minister Laurent Fabius welcome the final agreement.

from TheGuardian.com

Yes, I know it is only the first step to saving the only planet on which we live, and which is uniquely ours.

Yes, I’ve read enough of what is contained in the legally binding agreement to know that without good will, determination, generosity, and creativity we will continue down the road to destroying our only home.

So the problem is not done and dusted.  There is a great deal of hard work and sacrifice still facing us.  Governments, business, communities, and individuals must all do our part.

But we have taken an absolutely huge and essential first step without which no progress at all could be made.  And until the last minute, that was by no means assured.

And so I am celebrating the future of mankind today.

Truly it is a day that brings us Tidings of Good News.

December 8, 2015

I wish I’d said that!

I’m smart enough to know that I’m dumb

Richard Feynman, American nobel-prize physicist

Richard Feynman Nobel.jpg

 Click here if you want to know how “dumb” he was

Impresses me as a better alternative than “I’m too smart to be wrong.”

December 5, 2015

Even at heaven’s gate

Filed under: Just Stuff,Two sides of the question — theotheri @ 2:50 pm
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The day finally arrived.  Forrest Gump dies and goes to Heaven.

When he arrives, however, the Pearly Gates are closed, and Forrest approaches St. Peter keeping the gates.  St. Peter says “Well, Forrest, it is certainly good to see you.  We’ve heard a lot about you.  But I must tell you that the place is filling up fast and we have been administering an entrance examination you have to pass before you can get in.”

Forrest says “It sure is good to be here, sir.  But nobody ever told me about any entrance exam.  I sure hope the test ain’t too hard.  Life was a big enough test as it was.”

‘Yes, I know, Forrest,” St. Peter replied, “but the test is only three questions:
First:
What two days of the week begin, with the letter T?
Second:
How many seconds are there in a year?
Third:
What is God’s first name?”
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Forrest leaves to think the questions over.  When he returns the next day, St. Peter waves him over:  “Now that you have had a chance to think the questions over, tell me your answers.”
.

 Forrest replied, “Well, the first one — which two days in the week begins with the letter ‘T’?    Shucks,  That would be Today and Tomorrow.”

St. Peter’s eyes opened wide.  “Forrest, that is not what I was thinking, but you do have a point, and I guess I did not specify, so I will give you credit for that answer. How about the next one? – ‘How many seconds in a year?’ ”

 “Now that one is harder,” Forrest replies, “but I thunk and thunk about that, and I guess the only answer can be twelve.”

Astounded, St Peter said, “Twelve? Twelve? Forrest, how in heaven’s name could you come up with twelve seconds in a year?”

Forrest replied, “Shucks, there’s got to be twelve: January 2nd, February 2nd, March 2nd… ”

“Hold it,” interrupts St. Peter.  “I can see your point, though that was not quite what I had in mind…  But I will have to give you credit for that one, too.  So let us go on with the last question.  Can you tell me God’s first name?”

 “Sure,’ Forrest replied, ‘it’s Andy.”

The Economist cover, Dec 5, 2015
I must point out, however, that it is not featuring St. Peter)
“Andy?!?”  exclaimed St. Peter.  “Forrest, how in the world did you come up with the name Andy as God’s first name?”

“Shucks, that was the easiest one of all,” Forrest replied. I learnt it from the song,

ANDY WALKS WITH ME,
ANDY TALKS WITH ME,
 .
ANDY TELLS ME I AM HIS OWN.’
.
St. Peter opened the Pearly Gates and said “Run, Forrest, run.”
 
 

November 26, 2015

Giving thanks

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:20 pm

It is hard to keep in touch with current events in the world today without fearing that we may be facing challenges whose outcome could determine whether life actually survives on planet earth for very much longer.  And it could be ended by our own hand.

And yet on this Thanksgiving Day, I have found myself looking out at the world and feeling an incredible joy.   I cannot claim that it is rational.  It’s more like the high one might get on a drug.  Except that I am absolutely sober.  Life – all life – seems so beautiful – so ingenious – so dynamic – so giving.  I feel it is a great unearned privilege to be alive in this moment.

I can no other answer make

but thank, and thanks,

and ever thanks.

Shakespeare   Twelfth Night

November 23, 2015

Should we bomb Syria?

Britain right now is in the grips of a debate over whether to join the coalition bombing IS in Syria.  The Tory government thinks we should.   Jeremy Corbyn, the controversial leader of the opposition Labour party and long-time pacifist is adamantly against it.  He believes that all conflicts should be solved by diplomacy, and initially in the face of a terrorist threat in London similar to the one in Paris, objected to increased armed police on the street.

I think we should bomb Syria IF – and only IF – we address the fundamental issues.  IS, in my view, is like a 2-year old who’s got a hold of a stack of papers he’s lighting with the wood fire in the living room and throwing them around the house.  He has to be stopped immediately – not through negotiation or discussion.  If it involves smacking him – or bombing them, then I would do that.  But just as with the child, you can’t stop there.

We were “successful” in our bombing Iraq, Afghanistan and Libia, but were arrogant idiots in our ignorance about the underlying problems there and ultimately made the fundamental conflicts within those countries worse.  Every one of those countries now have much stronger pockets of IS,  unknown numbers of trained committed jihadists – perhaps as many as several hundred thousand by some estimates – serving as recruitment and training centers for countries throughout Africa and the Middle East.

In addition, IS has money, and a sophisticated plan to convince Muslims, especially in Europe & America, that they are not welcome there, and are seen as inferior.  IS (quite rightly, I think) believe that this is helping them recruit jihadists from those countries, especially among young men who can’t get jobs.  America has just played into their hands with its latest vote on Syrian refugees.
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And there is an even deeper problem within middle-eastern countries than feeling thought inferior and unwanted by Western countries.  The Sunnis & Shias are as adamantly opposed to each other as were the Catholics & Protestants during the religious wars for several centuries in Europe.  They believe Allah has given them a mission to destroy the heretics who do not agree with them.  So if we go into those countries, victory will require boots on the ground.  But military presence wouldn’t be enough.  We need a strategy for what happens if/when IS per se is defeated to control the forces that are making it so attractive to so many.  Otherwise, it will simply re-emerge, perhaps under a different name, but no less destructive.
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I’ve read some interesting possibilities on that.  But they will require significant skill to implement them.  China, Russia, Europe, Iran, Turkey, the US and others may be united against IS but we are not in agreement about the alternatives either politically or economically.  Without that, what good would bombing do?  “Isis” will just turn up again, under a different name perhaps, but with the same deadly intents and possibly in even greater strength.
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Climate change and globalization have both been significant factors in amplifying these conflicts.  Resolving them – even moderating them sufficiently to ensure the survival of the human species – I think is one of the biggest conflicts we have ever faced.  Unfortunately, neither slamming the door nor dropping bombs will resolve them.

November 15, 2015

Magical balloons

Filed under: Environmental Issues,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 5:11 pm
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The news this weekend seems particularly depressing.  The multiple terrorist attacks in Paris seem especially terrifying and unexpected – on the par with 9/11 in terms of its shock value.

In the midst of this global awfulness, I stumbled on what might really be seriously important and good news.  Hang on:  this could sound utterly boring, but it might have implications for all of us and those we love and care about.

A group of international scientists have just published a report in Nature (highly respected science journal) in which they report having invented an ultra-porous liquid which contains huge (well, huge in atomic terms) bubbles.  What is potentially significant about this invention is that these bubbles may be able to contain vast amount of carbon-dioxide — the greenhouse gas we are throwing into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels which is so destructive of our environment.

If we can capture the carbon-dioxides we are currently pumping into the air we might be able to avoid disaster.  That is, we may be able to avoid the droughts, starvation, wars, diseases, flooding, mega-storms, and destruction of our oceans that global warming is already beginning to visit on us.

Above all, it may make a significant contribution to earth’s not hitting what scientists call a tipping point.  One of the most dangerous tipping points we could trigger is the melting of the arctic ice to such a degree that it releases the vast amounts of methane gas currently trapped there.  Methane gas is an even more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, and once it escapes, it will be too late for us to turn things around.

When I was a child, I thought balloons were magical.  Maybe I was right.

Image from Wallpaperscraft.com

October 26, 2015

Helpless and hopeless?

Filed under: Environmental Issues,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:21 pm
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I’ve suspected for some time that people’s denial of the human contribution to environmental destruction arises out of a sense of helplessness.  Despite the fact that evidence is building up that we ourselves are potentially making planet earth uninhabitable, an astonishing number of people simply refuse to take the possibility seriously.  Many of these climate change deniers are religious fundamentalists.  Many believe that they will be among the Saved when four horsemen usher in the end of the world, and so they don’t have to worry.  (Not, I will admit, a very Christian attitude for those exhorted to “love thy neighbour as thyself”.  But common, nonetheless.)  Others simply quote Jesus’ exhortation for us to “look at the lilies of the field,” and convince themselves that God can cure climate change “with the snap of his fingers” if he wants to.

Some recent research into the workings of the brain began to make this kind of reasoning make some kind of sense to me.  Researchers have found that we may very well use the same part of our brain for problem-solving as we do for at least some of our religious thinking.  In other words, religious belief may actually be a problem-solving exercise.

This has certainly been true historically.  What we now think of as religious belief was the explanation for why the sun seemed to go into a sulk every year and needed to be coaxed back by the sacrifice of a virgin or two.  Religion explained why the stars did not fall down on our heads, and even today is used by some preachers to claim that our sinfulness is the cause of events like tsunamis and earthquakes.

Religion, therefore, can often solve problems that otherwise seem unsolvable.  It saves us from a sense of hopelessness and despair.

I that context, I wonder if a lot of people deny climate change – or at least our contribution to it – because the problem seems unsolvable.  I will admit that until very recently, my main hope was not that the governments of the world would agree to the measures we all must take around the world to save us from destroying ourselves.  My most optimistic scenario was that a sufficient number of humans would survive the inevitable global droughts, starvation, wars, and disease that would reduce our numbers from the current 7 1/2 billion to a more manageable billion or so, which will have learned the lesson that God does not intervene when we ourselves are creating our own problems.

But I am reading a book, which frankly, I am finding astonishing.  It is Adventures in the Anthropocene:  A Journey to the Heart of the Planet We Made by an Australian journalist Gaia Vince.  She does not by any means minimize the size of the problem we have created for ourselves.  With terrifying clarity she visits and describes the problems that are already evident – the air that is killing us, temperature changes that are moving populations, melting glaciers, depleting water tables and creating a rate of species extinction on a mega-scale, the destruction of farmlands and forests on every continent.

But she is also identifying solutions that creative individuals have designed that have addressed these problems, transforming entire villages, farmlands, cities.  Some of them are simply amazing.

It is convincing me that we can solve this problem of environmental destruction if we do not give up in despair.

And it is not up solely to governments.  In fact, many of the solutions have already been found on a small scale.  They have been found by creative, determined individuals and small groups who have refused to simply ring their hands in despondency, saying there is nothing they can do that will make a meaningful difference.  Governments need to look at these local solutions, study them, and find ways to spread them across the world.

No one – not even the most creative or powerful – is going to turn this problem around alone.  Nor are governments going to be able to do it alone.

But the human race is incredibly ingenious.

Jesus didn’t look at the lilies of the field and suggest that we should just sit back and trust that supper will somehow miraculously appear on the table tonight.  It is not telling us to sit passively in the trust that God will take care of everything and we don’t have to do anything to make things better.  Today, this parable, I think, is urging us to trust that we do not need to despair, that we have been given the capacity to solve the problems of environmental change.

But we do have to work at it.  We do have to take responsibility for what we are doing.  Almost all of us can take small steps that add up.  A few can take giant steps that we can emulate and apply.

Over the next months, I plan to describe some of the solutions Vince lays out in her book.  I hope it will help spread hopefulness, rather than helplessness.

 

October 25, 2015

Fab Fibs

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff,Osteoporosis — theotheri @ 5:19 pm
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One of the more surprising – and hopeful – things I’ve noticed about my life is how often the best things and the worst things that happen to me are the same things.

Fifteen years ago, for instance, when test results showed that my bones were losing density at a dangerous rate, my doctor laid out before me the possibility of an agonizing end of life.  Frankly, this was unambiguously Bad News.

The recommendation was that I start immediately on a regime of biphosphonates.  As I’ve laid out in this blog under the topic of osteoporosis, I decided instead to radically alter my life style, changing my eating habits, started taking calcium supplements and engaging in 30 minutes of targeted exercise daily.

The Good News isn’t just that tests over the last 15 years show that I have increased my bone density and am no longer osteoporotic.

The seriously Good News is all of the other benefits that seem to be flowing from what I have called my FAB-FIBS.

I’m not talking about fabulous fibs I tell myself.  It’s my daily routine of Flexibility, Aerobic, and Balance exercises, followed by another series of Flexibility, Impact, Balance and Strength exercises.  The benefits are multiple.  My strength and energy levels have not degenerated as fast as they other-wise would.  I find that I get an amazing psychological boost from the increased serotonin generated by exercise, and just as surprising, I also find solutions to problems while I’m exercising that evade me when I think about them sitting at the computer screen.  Research suggests that I’m also reducing my chances of cardiac arrest and cancer.

Now seriously:  isn’t that really Bad News that is one of the best things that could have happened to me?

September 29, 2015

What makes the system work?

Filed under: Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 8:16 pm
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I’ve been going to the same dental surgery here in Cambridge, England for nine years.  During that time, I have been re-cycled to six different dentists working in the office.  Several of the dentists have been quite good.  Nonetheless, it has been a de-personalizing experience.  It makes me feel like a mechanical mouth with teeth that need adjusting occasionally.  The situation is similar with the doctor whom I have been seeing for the last nine years.  His appointments are scheduled to last seven minutes.  This is not his fault.  It’s what is considered efficient management, and although he has never rushed me out of his office before covering the essentials for whatever reason I might be there, he knows, to this day, almost nothing about me as a person.   I saw something similar beginning to happen in the university where I was teaching in the States.  Students were too often becoming numbers – not individuals.

Britons are quite rightly proud of their health service which provides medical help without charge to the individual when they need it – whether they are rich or poor or belong to any other category of the dispossessed.  It was set up by a Labour government after WWII when the country saw families of men and women who had sacrificed their lives for their country unable to get even the simplest medical help when they needed it.

That sense of fairness is deep in this country, and I admire it profoundly.  By and large, there is a sense that, regardless of cost, people should not starve, children should have an education, families should not be forced to live on the street.  There is a national commitment to what one might call a “safety net,” and a recognition that, whether it be bad luck, immaturity, poor judgement, or even sheer self-interest gone array,  all of us at some point in our lives need a helping hand.

But the history of the last 100 years demonstrates that there are downsides to systems intended to serve all the people equally.

Two of the most widely recognized are corruption by those in positions of power and authority who, instead of serving others, are using the funds intended for this laudable purpose to enrich themselves.  The second problem is that there are inevitably people who decide to rip off the system by receiving benefits instead of working, even when jobs are available and they are able to work.

But there is another downside to thinking that any system can create a just and fair society by itself.  It doesn’t matter what that system is – whether it is religious or not, whether it is democratic or not, whether it was designed in the first place to support a generous and loving society.

A system that works must be operated by individuals who care about the people they serve.  If people running the system  care more about their careers than they care about the people they are serving, the system breaks down.  If teachers work primarily for a salary and not first because they care about Jerry or Susan sitting in front of them, if doctors treat patients because they care more about their promotions than because they care about that person with a medical need, if social workers care less about the individual they are caring for than they care about getting paid, the system doesn’t work.  If workers unions fight only for the material benefits of their members without concern for the individuals whom they are meant to be serving, the system cannot achieve its end.  Or if, in the name of efficiency, the system squeezes out the individual and reduces him or her to merely a symptom, a number, an object, the system is broken.

The system needs people who care as much for the people they are intended to serve as they care for themselves and their own careers, and who are given sufficient leeway to express that care.  The system needs them from top to bottom.

As an adolescent, I thought I was smart enough to implement a system that could transform human suffering.  I thought I would be a Very Important Person, someone who was recognized as having made a great contribution to mankind.

But even if I’d been a great deal smarter than I am, I could not have done it.  Because systems need individuals who care, who love the people they are serving.  No system, no organization, no religion or system of government, even ones set up “for the people by the people” can ever work without each of us.  We might feel like small little cogs in a system that hardly matter, that can’t really make a difference.

But it’s not the system that holds your hand when you are frightened.  It’s not the system that gives you a smile when you are feeling lonely or depressed.  It’s not the system that gives you that special encouragement you need to learn how to read when you are stumbling.  It’s a single person who knows you, who cares about you as a unique person, for yourself.

And there’s no replacement for that.  There isn’t any substitute in any system in the world.  A system that is not filled with people who care cannot work.

 

September 16, 2015

The upside of the downside

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:53 pm
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A friend just sent me a you-tube with an accompanying explanation.  If you haven’t seen it, you might enjoy it.

DISGRUNTLED PASSENGER’S REVENGE  
A Canadian musician from Halifax named Dave Carroll recently spent over 9 months trying to get United Airlines to pay for damages caused by baggage handlers to his custom Taylor guitar on his flight from Chicago O’Hare airport.During his final exchange with the United Customer Relations Manager, he stated that he was left with no choice other than to create a music video for YouTube exposing their lack of cooperation.

The  Manager responded: “Good luck with that one, pal.”

So he posted a video on YouTube.  It has since received over 15 million hits.

United Airlines contacted the musician and attempted a settlement in exchange for pulling the video. His response was: “Good luck with that one,  pal.”

Taylor Guitars sent the musician 2 new custom guitars in appreciation for the product recognition from the video that has led to a sharp increase in orders.

Click here to see the video.

I’ve been trying to figure out why this video gives me such delight.  It’s not just that justice was done.  A court ruling even with a generous addition of compensation for Carroll’s treatment would not have been nearly so satisfactory.
.
I think what I like so much is that Carroll didn’t sulk or choose to be a victim.  But he didn’t just become angry and aggressive either.  He didn’t plant a bomb in the next suitcase he sent through United’s baggage services.
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He just stood up, used his talent.  And evened the score  (if you’ll excuse the pun).

September 8, 2015

The heart vs the brain

Filed under: Catholicism and other questions of religion,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 7:18 pm

I’ve not karumphed over my interpretation of religious obedience for many years, but a friend has just reminded me of the kind of advice we were given over 50 years ago as young Maryknoll sisters:

“God doesn’t want your brains, but your love …so don’t get upset after we teach you all this smart missiology and anthropology stuff when the bishop hasn’t opened a book in 40 years!  Just obey the bishop and please God.”  “I bet they don’t think like that now,” she added.

I suspect most American nuns might not think that way now, which is why the Vatican still has so much trouble with them.  Because I know a good number of priests and bishops who certainly still think like that.

This distinction between heart and brain, in other words, between love and intelligence, is bogus power-hungry advice posing as religious humility to keep people in their place.  Isn’t it, after all, the excuse that the Nazis used at the Nuremberg trials to justify the death of 14 million innocent people in the gas chambers of their concentration camps?  “I was merely following orders.”

As human beings, we survive by using both our capacity for love and for intelligence, and they are inseparable.  Does it not take intelligence to care for the sick?  to develop a vaccine for ebola or polio or small pox?  Does it not take intelligence to teach children to read or develop mathematical skills?  Does it not take intelligence to provide balanced meals for the family?  Does it not take intelligence to represent a defendant in court?  Does it not take intelligence to treat the mentally ill?  Does it not take intelligence to respond with compassion to the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing from war and starvation in the world today?  Does it not take intelligence to run a farm that produces food for an entire community?

No:  don’t tell me that God doesn’t want my brain.  Do not tell me that I will please God if I do what the bishop or president or even the pope tells me to do – no matter how ignorant or damaged or unloving he has on occasion been known to be.  I know I might be wrong myself.  But I will take responsibility for doing my best to make a judgement based on respect for the life that surrounds me.

I will not willingly denigrate intelligence as merely a form of hubris, or elevate ignorance to the level of unquestioning obedience.

Whew!  I didn’t realize I still felt so strongly about this.  I think I owe it to what I learned from my parents – one who, when I was growing up, I thought was The Brain, and the other whom I thought was The Heart.  But they worked together in socializing their children.  I learned something essential from that.

September 3, 2015

Can barbed wire fences save Christianity?

Filed under: Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 4:05 pm

A woman carrying a child stands outside a train carrying migrants that was stopped in Bicske, Hungary - 3 September 2015

Image from the BBC

Tens of thousands of refugees and migrants escaping from war in Syria, Afganistan, and Africa are fleeing to Europe.  It is the biggest refugee influx since the second world war, and European governments are in conflict over how to deal with the increasing crisis.

This morning, Hungarian police put hundreds of migrants, mostly families with children, all of whom believed they were heading for a welcome in Germany, onto a train in Budapest.  Then several miles out of the city, stopped the train and everyone was ordered to disembark.  They were met by armed police who told them that they were being sent to camps where they would be “evaluated.”  If they refused to go, they would be arrested.

Today, the President of the European Union, Donald Tusk responded to the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban who is warning that the influx of migrants threatens Europe’s “Christian roots” and should be stopped.  Mr Tusk responded

 “For me Christianity is a duty to our brothers in need.

“For a Christian it shouldn’t matter what race, religion and nationality the person in need represents.”

I agree.  I can’t see that loving each other comes with the limitation of a barbed wire fence.  Yes, I know:  there are Islamists bent on destroying Christianity and European civilization who almost certainly are infiltrating the migrants, posing as refugees.  But is a schreeching YOU CAN’T COME IN! the best solution we can come up with?  My experience is that, in fact, one needn’t be a Christian to find a more loving, creative, and ultimately effective response than that.

Isn’t that the point Jesus was making talking to the woman at the well?

August 25, 2015

Eyes like big sunshine…

Filed under: Family,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 1:06 pm
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Maybe it’s the oldest sister in me, but I think this you-tube is just fantastic.  I love it!

August 24, 2015

my mystery

Filed under: Growing Old,Questions beyond Science — theotheri @ 3:45 pm
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Recently I have been repeatedly overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of human beings.  It’s not an intellectual thing.  It’s just a speechless delight.

Sometimes it’s when I’m watching a game of soccer and I see the beauty and energy of a young man running across the field.  I felt it when I read about the courage and skill and determination of the three Americans who attacked the terrorist on the train in France last week.  Sometimes I watch a child in the supermarket and feel it.  Today I was introduced to Josh Goban – whom I’d never heard of.  But as I watched the video, it came over me again.

If somebody tried to tell me perhaps ten years ago they felt this way, I suspect I would have felt an impatient irritation at such sentimentality.  And I can’t explain it myself.  Even now, I doubt if I were actually talking to anyone reading this post, I would dare to try to express what would probably sound like claptrap.  Maybe it’s a gift that only comes to super-rational people like me with getting old.

But despite everything, despite the terrible horrors we are inflicting on each other and on this amazing world in which we live, despite the fact that we are all going to die and move into we know not what, I think the privilege of being part of this amazing incredible mysterious beauty makes living my life a treasure beyond measure.

I can no other answer make

but thanks, and thanks,

and ever thanks.

Shakespeare – Twelfth Night

August 21, 2015

Senior moments aren’t for dummies

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:19 pm

In a recent birthday party given for him in the town where he lives, Billy Graham told a story about Albert Einstein.

Einstein was on a train when the conductor came around for the passengers’ tickets.  Einstein began looking in his wallet and then in each of his pockets but couldn’t find his ticket.  The conductor assured him that it was all right – that he knew who Einstein was and that he knew he didn’t try to sneak onto trains.

But when the conductor had moved on to the next car, he looked back and saw Einstein on his knees searching under the seat.  The conductor returned to Einstein’s car and assured him that he did not have to find his ticket.  “I know who you are,” he said.

“Yes,” replied Einstein, “I know you know who I am.  And so do I.

“But I don’t know where I’m going.”

August 19, 2015

The distant future in 2 seconds from now

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:51 pm
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I’ve often reflected when there is news of an accident, terrorist attack, or natural catastrophe that once in a while death is only seconds away and yet one has no premonition of it whatsoever.  Some of those killed by the bomb in Thailand two days ago must have experienced something like that.

Last night so did I.

Peter and I were having our evening meal, and I suddenly began to choke on a piece of lamb.  I began to gag almost immediately and knew that I was not going to be able to cough it up myself.  I signalled to Peter that I needed him to do the Heimlich maneuver, which he did, but my gagging got worse.  It went on for several desperate minutes.  Between gagging, and Peter shouting “Terry!” I could feel the air in my lungs depleting and I knew that if I couldn’t start breathing I had literally seconds of consciousness and then of life left.

My first thought was that Peter knew where our wills were.  Then I thought what a waste of money the replacement lumber I’d ordered earlier in the day to repair our property fence would be.  Gag!  “Terry, breathe!”  Gag!

And then, although I was still gagging, I knew I was getting air into my lungs.  If I concentrated I could breathe and wasn’t going to die.

Eventually I sat down, my heart pounding and my blood pressure probably reaching 200/150.

“Can I get you anything?”  Peter finally asked.

Yes, I said, a large glass of sherry.

I’d already had a glass of wine before dinner, and I rarely – never, in fact – have more than a single drink.  I am too sensitive to alcohol and quickly feel sick.

But I sat there and drank the sherry.  My heart rate and blood pressure gradually returned to normal, and even when I’d finished a very large glass of sherry, I was still stone cold sober.  But I’m afraid I couldn’t eat another bite of food.

Peter made my promise never to do something like that again.

weaverswines.com

 

I’ll do my very best.  At least I’ll get the property fence repaired before I try that trick again.  Anyway, I don’t feel afraid of being dead.  But chocking to death isn’t my preferred method of departure.  Especially on a stupid little piece of lamb.  It’s definitely not worth it.

August 13, 2015

Back in cyber space

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 1:56 pm
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The phone engineer called to give us the good news that our internet and phone connections are working again.  His version is that “an underground connection was cut,” trying, I think, to give us the impression that some wire had been cut by some passing machinery.  I think, myself, that the engineer accidentally disconnected our wire in the box when they were working there last Saturday.

 

In any case, to my surprise, four days of cyber-silence was actually quite refreshing.  I spent my extra time reading Jared Diamond’s latest book The World Until Yesterday:  What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? and have been totally fascinated.  I’ve thought for years that Guns, Germs & Steel was one of the best books I’ve ever read, but this one is possibly even better.

Just as the world today is re-discovering that other living species (probably all living species) have intelligence that in the situations in which they are surviving often outstrips human intelligence, we’re learning the same thing about those humans who live in a “primitive world” so different from ours.  We’d be as lost in their worlds as they are in ours.  The irony is that when the world changes, we not only gain knowledge and skills, but we also lose.  I read the other day that many young people in the modern world today don’t know how to tie knots.  Or their home telephone numbers — because it’s stored for them in their i-phones.

And I’ve also discovered that I overwhelmingly prefer to read a book in hard copy than to read an e-book on my Kindle.  I find it physically much less tiring and I can concentrate more easily.  I have no theory to explain this.  Is it simply a question of the world of books in which I was originally socialized?  Or do the two different mediums filter through the brain differently?

August 8, 2015

Another Me-First event

Filed under: Just Stuff,Stuff of Life: Current Exploits — theotheri @ 4:18 pm
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When we lived in Spain, it felt as if we had returned to about the 1920’s.  Among other things,  we were unable to get a telephone into the house and had to walk fifteen minutes to the public telephone boxes on the beach.  We were thrilled when after several years we were able to get a proper land-line phone in the home for a mere $5000 (about £3000).

I was working at my computer this morning about 10:30 when I was interrupted by a message saying that my internet connection was being cut and would be off line for up to a half hour.  In the event, it was only about 5 minutes.  But to my dismay, I discovered that we had no telephone connection whatsoever.  Nada.  No dial tone.  Nothing.

I went on line to our internet & phone company and followed all their directions.  Still total silence.  I checked with our neighbour who is not having any problems.

I won’t describe the rest of the process.  If you live in the 21st century you can probably make up a version of the story with a fair amount of accurate detail.

The short rendering is that it is an external problem and we will be without a telephone connection of any kind for at least four days.  We’ve also been warned to expect our internet connection to be cut as well.

In fact, I have just this minute received a warning to that effect.

Wonder what four days of cloistered silence is going to feel like.

July 26, 2015

A little bird told me

 

 

 

My husband and I were sitting in our sun room yesterday having a pre-dinner drink when a very frightened little bird frantically flew into the room through the open door.  It hid underneath one of the unoccupied chairs, while we pondered what to do next.  But before we’d closed the door to the rest of the house, the bird suddenly flew into the next room and hid itself in a hanging pot plant.

Little Bird Wallpapers

A little belatedly we closed off the rest of the house, and explored the best way to help.   The plant was hanging in front of a window but it was locked and opening it would clearly be more terrifying than reassuring.  Should we go away and leave the door open outside?  But the bird looked quite comfortable there in the maiden hair fern.  What if it didn’t leave before night fall and was frantically flying around the room like the caged animal it was?

I decided to try to grab it.  In the process, it became clear it was a baby bird that didn’t yet understand that it couldn’t fly to freedom through glass and kept bashing itself against the window.  I kept talking to it in quiet tones, and finally caught it.  As my fingers wrapped around it, I felt it go limp.  I kept talking to it, reassuring it that everything was going to be okay, and carried it outside.  When I released it on the lawn, it flew speedily away across the property fence.

We returned to our drinks with a feeling of quiet pleasure that the bird had flown in when we were there and that we’d been able to help rather than discovering a battered bird on the floor the next morning.

Like that little bird, I would like to say thank you for the comments following my post of despair yesterday.  What you reminded me is that none of us can reconstruct the world to eliminate all suffering and injustice.  Yes, systems matter.  And there are good systems and bad systems.  But no systems can work if the individuals living in them don’t take care of each other in the small and sometimes big ways that fly through the door unannounced.

Your comments really did help me remember that.

Thank you.

 

July 25, 2015

My existential conundrum

I don’t remember ever having this thought in my life.  But I was sitting at my desk today and felt a huge desire to stop worrying about the world.  I even want to stop knowing about it and understanding it.  What good, I wonder, does it do me or anybody else for me to understand the problem of the Greek bailout and the faulty foundation of the euro?  or the problem of the Kurds in Turkey and Syria? or the Ukraine conflict? or the economic problems for Scotland if it became independent? or racism, or religious intolerance, or the problem to democracy of the U.S. Supreme Court giving corporations the right to pour unlimited money into political lobbying?  And then there’s Africa, and the entire middle east, and Latin America, and China, and Russia, and climate change, and the rate at which humans are responsible for the extinction of other species.

I will stop.  Probably half the readers of this post have given up reading already.

It seems obvious that the first step to solving any of these problems is to know about them.  But as I look around, I’m not sure that’s happening.  So many of the solutions being offered by both the left and the right seem ill-thought out but at the same time cursed with the kind of righteous certainty that only ignorance can support.

When our problems become too overwhelming, do we as a species resort to this kind of simplistic reasoning we see so often disguised as religious and/or political principles?  or barring that, the temptation with which I am struggling, a self-imposed indifference, a refusal to worry or get involved?

 Is “Digital” the Real Sixth Sense?  www.pcdrome.com  

I have always felt at home with globalization made possible by the digital world.  Terrifyingly so, perhaps.

Because I’m beginning to feel overwhelmed by it.

 

 

July 19, 2015

Me First, Retirement Version

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:13 pm
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Parents of young children know the syndrome.  It starts with the first arrival.  It might be the middle of the night but the new baby wants to be fed and will not let you sleep until her needs have been met.  Then there are the unscheduled needs for diaper changes, which gradually emerge into tending to the tears of scratched knees and lost toys.  Then it’s help with homework, parents meetings, walks, bedtime stories, birthday parties, sports events, to name but a few.

Me First demands like these are gradually replaced by “I can do it myself!” demands which, paradoxically, merely change the kind of responses expected of parents.  But Me First demands of work also begin to muscle in at this point too.  Whatever the weather, however tired one may feel, work pressures are real and continuous.

And then comes retirement.  You might think, as I did, that the retired can at last make Me First demands for themselves.

That is emphatically not been my experience.

The last three days are an example.   Thursday night I was awakened shortly after falling asleep about midnight by a ferocious thunderstorm accompanied by torrential rain.  I got out of bed to check that our skylights were securely closed, and fell asleep again.  About an hour later, as the storm continued to rage, my husband and  were both awakened by toilets gurgling.  The outside water was not running through the outside drains quickly enough, and was noisily backing up.  When I’d contemplated the possibility of flooding in our house in the past, it did not include black water rushing out the toilets as the first sign of trouble.  The good news is that the toilets did not eventually over-run, for which I was grateful.

The next morning, though, there was two inches of water in our sun room, soaking the rya carpet, and miscellaneous pools of water in our kitchen, bathroom, hall, and entrance lobby.  Outside was a mess.

Fortunately the day was sunny and we spent the next two days cleaning up, drying out, and clearing moss from the roof which had interfered with water running efficiently into the gutters.  We even felt rather fortunate when we discovered that many places had suffered really serious damage.  The accident and emergency department of our local hospital is closed for another two days as a result of flooding, for instance.

But last night as I was preparing for bed, I switched on a light, and every plug in the house blew.    I got dressed, went out to the meter room and tried to switch the wonky circuit breaker back on.  It didn’t work, and I went to bed.

So this morning I woke up with a brand new Me First demand muscling out my normal Sunday plans.

You see what I mean?  Some thing is always lurking in the background ready to demand attention – whatever you’d been planning on doing.

PS:  I did get the circuit breaker fixed this morning.  If I hadn’t,  I couldn’t be writing this.  I wouldn’t even have had my morning cup of coffee.  Not a bad day so far.  Even if it wasn’t what I’d been planning on.

July 6, 2015

Computer-speak

Filed under: Growing Old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:29 pm
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We’ve known for a long time that young children learn a second language much more easily than adults.  They can even speak it without a telltale accent imposed by their first language.

And most of us in the developed world, at least, whether we are young or old, have discovered that the young who were introduced to digital languages almost as soon as they could press a button on the tv remote control, are more fluent in computer languages than their elders.

In that context, the very best example of this generational divide was confessed to me by a mother who asked her son in exasperation: But which one is the “any key”?

July 3, 2015

Glimpse of the future

Two days ago was the hottest day ever recorded in Great Britain.  Ever.

When you look at a the globe and see that Great Britain shares a latitude with Siberia, one can appreciate just how hot that was.  The temperature hit 37.4 Centigrade or 99.3 3 Fahrenheit.

I lived for many years in New York City, and also in Spain.  So it wasn’t the hottest day I have ever experienced.  Although after living for 12 years here in England, it felt like the hottest day, and I was utterly exhausted and occasionally nauseous.

It felt like a glimpse of the future.  Environmental change is happening, and that change includes the seemingly contradictory changes reflected in exceptional heat as well as exceptionally cold winters for some, record-breaking droughts along with deadly floods and acidfying oceans.

But personally, the loss of energy I experienced felt like a it could be a glimpse of my own future as well.   If my getting to be seriously old-old is going to feel on a daily basis as tired as I felt during this heat wave, I’m not so sure I’m interested in lasting that long.

June 26, 2015

Sinner or saint

Filed under: Catholicism and other questions of religion,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:32 pm

“The biggest deception of the past thousand years is this:

 to confuse poverty with stupidity.”  

Orhan Pamuk

Or, I would suggest, with crime.

Or race.

Or sanctity.

Poverty, however one defines it, is too complex for such simplicity.

June 9, 2015

My kind of nun

NUNSA friend just sent me the link to an eulogy in the Huffington Post, The Atheist and the Nun.  She sent it to me with the note “Thought of you … your kind of nun!”  It is a tribute to a nun whom the columnist, Alice McManus, had known as a student in high school.

Alice was routinely expelled from classrooms and clubs for defending gay rights in the Catholic schools where her parents hoped she would get a good education.  But Sister Pat was different from all the other teachers.  She did not teach me to love God, says Alice.  She taught me to love people.

“I’m still an atheist,” she writes. “But Sister Pat wouldn’t have minded. … Ironically, she also taught me to have faith. Not in God, but in people. Because there are people out there who are just amazing through and through. Who do good everyday for all the right reasons. And for me, that’s even more impressive than an all-powerful being.  Sister Pat herself was a beacon of light and hope — but one that you could touch and hug.  She will be missed.”

I am deeply moved that someone sees Sister Pat as the kind of person I admire, whom I would like to be like.

I do not call myself an atheist.  I do totally dismiss the popular demagogue of a supposedly all-loving, all-forgiving God who can somehow be placated by the tortuous crucifixion of his son, but whose forgiveness nonetheless includes sending people to eternal hell fire for eating meat on a Friday.  But atheists too often in my experience are just as intolerant of believers as some believers are of those who disagree with them.  I prefer to live in the amazing mystery of the universe with the knowledge that understanding it fully is beyond the bounds of human capacities — even those of the great genius.

What I do find astonishing is that praise of people like Sister Pat is so rare.  How did Christianity ever become so distorted as to assign to itself the right to judge which sinners are not “one of us,” to cast them out, to refuse to break bread with them?  How did doctrine ever become more important than loving one’s fellow human beings?

Today, becoming a saint isn’t nearly as popular an ideal as it used to be.  The achievement of sainthood, marked by inexplicable miracles seemingly beyond natural causes, is broadly seen as superstitious unscientific ignorance.  It is being replaced by a desire for celebrity, to be very beautiful, acquire great wealth, or possibly die as a martyr (also known as freedom-fighter or terrorist, depending on your point of view).

But in some deep and terrifying ways, aren’t they are all self-seeking goals for self-aggrandizement?

The older I get, the greater becomes my appreciate for those who love others.  Period.  They don’t need praise or recognition.  Love of those around them is what their lives, ultimately, are for.   I cannot think of any other achievement that I value or admire, however significant, if it is not at the same time imbued with this love of neighbour.

May 29, 2015

Right answers aren’t as smart as I thought

Filed under: Just Stuff,Teaching — theotheri @ 1:41 pm

Success in educational exams is based almost exclusively on giving the right answers.  The ten-year-old who says the answer to 2+2 is “5” or that “surprise” is spelled “serprize” or that Columbus landed in the new world “in  1940” almost certainly needs additional tutoring rather than a promotion.

But I wish I were in the classroom again.  Because we educators rarely appreciate the value of intelligent questions.  And yet, the more we know about any subject, the more penetrating and numerous our questions become.  I would love to construct a test in which I asked students to pose as many questions as they could about a specific subject.  My guess is that one would be able to evaluate who knew as much by the questions alone as one could by the answers.

For instance, suppose one is asked to pose questions about quantum mechanics.  How do questions like:  Is it about machines?  Isn’t it part of  Einstein’s theory of relativity?  Is it a theory about space travel? compare with questions like: In what way is the Standard Theory related to Quantum Mechanics?  Why did Einstein reject the Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle?  How does the Higgs Boson explain mass?

Or in relation to cooking, a field with which many of us may be more familiar, how do questions like:  Why is this pastry so tough?  How long does it take to cook dried kidney beans?  How do you cook a fish?  compare with What other ingredients besides eggs can be used as thickeners?  Are there other ingredients besides yeast one can use to make bread rise?  Why will some meats become tough if they are over-cooked, while others are tough if they are under-cooked?

I’ve learned not to trust either myself or other people in areas where they have more answers than questions.  That includes everything from religion, philosophy, physics, math, computers, and psychology to sewing, cleaning, building construction, finances, and lawn-mowing.

You have to know what you’re talking about to ask really intelligent questions.

But now I have to go out and mow the lawn.

Whether I know what I’m doing or not.

 

April 29, 2015

Life by interruption

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:18 pm
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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
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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
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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
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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.
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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.
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And sitting on a toilet underneath a 500 lb washing machine seems a rather high price to pay for recycling, doesn’t it?
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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



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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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 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
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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
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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
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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?.

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