The Other I

November 23, 2022

My New Thanksgiving Thank You’s

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 6:58 pm

As any parent can confirm, the younger we are, the shorter the time we spend planning our next course of action.  For infants, it is less than a minute as they decide to try to reach their foot, to stand up, to eat with a spoon.  As we learn to do these things, our plan for our next goal or course of action begins to get longer — to do more and more things for myself – like putting on my own shoes, maybe even to learn to tie my own shoes, to use the toilet, to look for something that isn’t right in front of me.

Gradually our sense of time and so our plans for the future get longer.  We ask how many days it is to Christmas, how do you read books, when can I wear more grown-up clothes? ​

By the time we reach young adulthood, the questions​ we ask ourselves and the plans we make​ reach into decades: what kind of job or career do I want? do I want to get married? to have children? By middle age we might have done things like take out life insurance, writ​i​ng a will, even putting money aside for a future pension.

​​But even then, although very few people believe they are never going to die, our attitudes tend to be “I’ll not be doing that for a long time.” Our efforts go into achieving shorter-term goals.

​​And that’s hugely important. Huge progress, inventions, creativity, building of long-term loving relationships, putting time and effort into raising our children are far less likely if we aren’t committed to living in the present.

​​But I am now into my 90th decade of life, and like it or not, it is apparent in myriads of ways that dying is indeed something I am going to do, and I find asking myself a different set of short-term questions about my future time here on planet Earth. Are there possessions I want to give away before I die? Are there people whose forgiveness I want to ask? or whose kindness and love I want to acknowledge by making my gratitude clear? Are there small acts of kindness I can still carry out? Should I bother to see a medical doctor about that mole on my back that’s changing color? Should I move into a senior care home? I don’t find this aspect of my growing old-old depressing. Nor am I trying to speed my death up.

​​But it is a surprise, and I’m hoping that I will deal with it with love and gratitude.

November 8, 2022

My election day that isn’t

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 9:33 pm

I was born and bred in Ohio where I got my first paid job at the age of 14 and began to pay social security. I subsequently moved to New York where I obtained my graduate degrees and worked in universities until the age of 50. During that time I began to live with my husband, an Englishman, also working in graduate education in the States. Although we have always felt that a commitment to marriage is made by the couple involved, for political reasons we were married in a London courthouse in the 1970’s. I continued to work in the US until I was 50 years old when my husband and I retired and moved to England to care for his elderly parents. But I have continued to pay U.S. taxes annually to this very day.

Little did I suspect that my marriage in England would today result in my inability to vote in Michigan, probably for the rest of my life.

Although I continued to pay US social security, when I retired and began to receive social security payments, my social security account in my married name was eliminated from US records, although I had no idea this had occurred. Unfortunately, to prove that I am an American citizen, in order to vote here in Michigan, I must present two current US state or federal documents with my photo in my current unmarried name.

Well, my driver’s license has a photo but it is an English driver’s license in my married name. I have a US passport but it is in my married name. I voted for more than 50 years in New York, but for close to the last 35 years it was an absentee ballot and it was in my married name for decades. And no photo. Michigan says my only choice is to submit a copy of my English mareriage certificate, but the courthouse where we were married no longer has it, nor did either my husband or I have a copy. What seemed important was my US citizenship and my certified birth certificate from Ohio.

For many years living in the US, I worked for minority rights. Truly it is a shock to have discovered in these last months that I may never have the right to vote in the United States again. It’s also evident now that this Michigan law applies to women in a way it doesn’t apply to men. Whether he was a US or UK citizen, my husband was not expected to change his name in either the US or England. I wish I hadn’t either. I would be voting today if I hadn’t.

But I am now looking with a new depth of appreciation at the minorities here today who are still struggling for their legitimate rights.

Hmmm: I don’t think I myself have the physical or mental energy to do this, but do you think someone might bring a lawsuit against Michigan State on the grounds their their voting requirements are prejudiced against married women but not men?

October 29, 2022

Flat-Out with the Unexpecteds

Filed under: getting old-old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 11:34 pm
As I recall, it was in June 2022 that I planned on regular postings here once a week.

Ha! For me at least, old-old age is the most unpredictable period of life I have ever known. Since June I have been knocked down by an errant, unaccompanied wheel chair in our restaurant that resulted in emergency care and being taken to the hospital by ambulance. I was taken to the hospital again with crippling hip pain, on the same day I was also diagnosed with Covid., which turned out to be quite a severe version that landed me again- via ambulance – in the hospital for tests, which sent me back to my apartment that day but where I was quarantined in complete isolation for 30 days. Food and mail were delivered to my door by a carrier who disappeared before I could so much as get to open my door and mumble thank you.

I have now been released to return to a social life in the senior residence where I live. It’s a huge gift to be able to return to real-life interactions with friends and stafff here , and even to welcome visits from my family and friends living here in Michigan. I am, however, still extremely tired, sometimes needing 2-3 naps throughout the day. My doctor says I am in unusually good condition for my age, both physically and mentally. It’s not always easy, but I do know how hugely fortunate I am. .My plan now — perhaps it is naive on my part to actually call it a plan — but my hope is to post here weekly. I’ve said this before, but I am more grateful than ever for you who read my postings and make comments. Mega-thank you’s!

June 26, 2022

My peace-nik problem

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

The following comment appeared in the NYTimes recently, and it has got me struggling once again with the absolute anti-war peace-nik position:

Carolyn aka Cookie | Pacifica, California
Endless war(s) seem to be the U.S. path since WW II. Have we as a country learned nothing from our past experiences, i.e. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan? Seeking “a noble war abroad” is harmful in multiple ways. I recommend Freud’s “Civilization and Its Discontents”. Available free via YouTube. He warned about the hubris of the super-ego….(society, political leaders, etc. projecting “evil” abroad, while feeling “better than those others” Freud longed to apply healing therapy to societies, as he worked to heal suffering patients. And Carl Jung’s “The Undiscovered Self” says similar things, warnings as Freud. Both books written in their last years. p.s. Poland etc. and the U.S. welcome white skinned blue eyed refugees more readily than dark skinned people fleeing oppression.

I certainly appreciate that many – maybe even most – wars, both by those who initiate them and those who respond – cannot be justified. But never justified? I lived during World War II and have been acutely aware of the huge evils inflicted on millions of innocent men, women, and children. I have seriously questioned some of the military attacks by the US like dropping the atomic bomb on primarily civilian targets. But I certainly support America’s role in that war.

I cannot see how anything but a military response to Nazi Germany would have brought an end to their determination to make themselves the superior world power by enslaving or exterminating all “inferior tribes.”

I was against the Vietnam war and demonstrated against it. I believe I was misinformed when I initially supported the US military action in Iraq. But Ukraine today? I do not think there is any hope that Putin will withdraw his troops from Ukraine as a result of diplomatic or economic pressure. I do not think peaceful demonstrations even around the world will stop the war crimes they are committing. Putin will continue to believe that the United States and Europe simply do not have the will to stop his deadly pursuit.

I also find myself asking a similar question about the use of physical force in situations that are not strictly-speaking “war.” There are a terrifyingly increasing number of situations like that today. A man with a gun possibly one designed solely for miliary use, starts shooting the passengers in a train, children in a classroom, the audience at a concert, potential candidates for political office. In the United States alone over a hundred people die of gunshots every day.

If I saw someone trying to kidnap a child or shoot up a grocery store and I could stop him by using physical aggression, including killing him, I would do it, or support someone who could. However, when possible, I do not support physical aggression as an equal alternative to listening to alternative points of view, to negotiating, or use of deplomacy.

And I see the huge dangers of trying to stop war by simply increasing our military might. As long as 100,000 years ago, the human species began trying to take over land by out-numbering those already there. Then we began to arrive on horses, then to use bows & arrows, then swords, guns, and bombs, thinking each time that nobody would attack us for fear of deadly defeat. But we have developed nuclear bombs and now nuclear missiles and we are in danger not only of destroying our putative enemies, but of destroying our very planet as a habitable place for homo sapiens.

It seems too important a question to say simply “I don’t know.” But I don’t. I would very much like to hear your thoughts.

June 20, 2022

My surprising need for others

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 12:35 am

I have been surveying various research reports exploring the benefits of social interaction. I’ve been doing it because to my complete surprise, I find that social interaction these days provides me with much more energy than tackling many of the computer tasks I have to accomplish in the process of returning from England and settling into this senior residence.

So I’m not wasting my time working away at my computer, but I get so much more tired when I’m spending so much time alone. It’s surprising to me because I’ve always been a reader, and as a university professor, obviously I had to spend hours every day preparing lectures, grading papers, preparing research, and works to be published. But I also always had students and other faculty with whom I interacted, along, of course, most importatly my husband.

To tell the truth, I had no idea how important for my own physical and psychological long-term health caring about others has always been to me. I don’t mean caring for others, although that may be valuable. But caring about others. As I said in my last post, I do hope to find ways of belonging here in my new home, but I didn’t have even a suspicion that my physical health would benefit so hugely and rapidly from caring about others.

As I see it, for me at least, that may not necessarily involve helping others, but simply caring about them as fellow travellers. Simply meeting other residents, having a meal or even just a cup of tea or coffee together, walking to the post office together, learning about their lives are meaningful social interactions are making a huge difference for me.

It’s certainly something I need!


June 7, 2022

Learning to Belong

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 7:36 pm

Almost 3 weeks ago, I moved into Fox Run, the senior residence where I think I might very well spend the rest of my life. I’m experiencing it as an adjustment the like of which I have never experienced in my 82 years. I’ve moved into new communities, new cultures, new roles more often than most people do, but learning to live here is a brand new challenge.

Both the residents and the staff are very welcoming. But to actually feel that I belong here takes more than feeling welcome. In fact, it takes more than simply getting acquainted with people. It means both making friends, and finding roles which are relative to this community.

In terms of making friends, liking someone or appreciating them doesn’t make them someone I necessarily would call a friend or call on when I’m looking for someone to share personal time with. At this point, I have found one person with whom I might develop a long-term friendship. Right now that feels like a great unearned gift.

Finding a role here is much more of a new experience. In the past, my potential roles were always pretty clearly defined – as a six-year old in grade school, my role was a pupil whose job was to learn to read and write and do arithmetic. When I started high school in an all-girls Catholic boarding school run by nuns, my role as a student was pretty clear to myself and everybody else. Ditto when I entered the convent.

On the other hand, leaving the convent and learning to live in Greenwich Village in New York City was a surprising challenge because I didn’t realize how different my role in society needed to be. It was in the mid-60’s when I wasn’t prepared, as a brand-new ex-nun who had taken vows of obedience for 9 years, for living in the midst of the newly emerging hippie culture. I had to learn that saying NO was as important to me as saying yes – especially to men. I was, however, also a graduate student at the New School for Social Research, which did give me a clear role in relation to university courses and research where I felt both comfortable and more than adequate, and which enabled me to easily slide into the role as a university professor.

And then, of course, I met Peter. Within months we had established a permanent and committed relationship which lasted for 48 years until his death a year and a half ago. My role now is to live forward, to share with others in whatever capacity I can the gifts that have been my good fortune to receive.

How I can do that I am still learning. In part, paradoxically, it will be by being grateful for the help being offered so generously for my own needs, whether they are due to physical or mental aging or to the vast cultural adjustment required after my returning to the States from living abroad for more than three decades.

There are also many different active resident committees here, and I have already attended several groups intent on increasing and appreciating the value of ethnic and cultural diversity. I’ve been asked if I would be willing to participate in a local television program discussing my “very interesting” life, and I have volunteered to lead a discussion about a movie illustrating the difference between disabilities and mental retardation, a confusion that is surprisingly more common than one would expect.

In fact, I think that the elderly are often mistaken for being mentally much slower than we are when we start needing wheel chairs or even when we start walking in bent over positions or using a walking stick.

Street Sign
Street Sign,

May 10, 2022

My next big step in my Old-Old Age

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 12:34 am

In January I thought I was fit and energetic enough to write a post here on average every week. That was before the truly unexpected. On January 20th, I – and my surgeon – thought I was going in for a routine hip surgery which would not require me to stay over night in the hospital.

Instead I developed a life-theatening allergic response to the anesthetic and spent an hour hovering with my systolic blood pressure wavering between 20 and 40 degrees, while the surgical team did everything they could to keep me from crossing the eternal river. Fortunately, I lived, but spent 3 days in the intensive ward while I struggled with dementia, nausea, and a mammoth loss of energy.

I am now beginning to feel normal and have made what is for me a completely surprising decision. I am moving into an apartment in a complex built for independent seniors. It’s called “Fox Run by Erickson Senior Living” in Novi, Michgan. It’s on 100 fenced-in acres, with miles of both indoor and outdoor walks, a heated indoor pool, restaurants, a library, physio equipment, and best of all, over a thousand residents who are amazingly welcoming and active.

When I first came back to the US after living in the UK with my English husband for 35 years I thought I would buy an apartment in a condo near some old friends, probably in Brooklyn or the Upper West Side of New York City. It’s another post for another day about why it didn’t work out. But I realized that, although I’m relatively independent, I have deep social needs and spending even a single entire day alone was excruciating, and telephone conversations, emails, or zoom calls simply did not fill the gap.

And besides I couldn’t impose my needs of old-old age on my younger relatives or friends, however willing they were to welcome me into their homes.

So in three days time, I am moving into the apartment I’ve paid for and will live there full time. I expect to live there for the rest of my life since the complex includes a nursing home, loss of memory, and the full range of medical services. It’s a brand new stage in my life.

April 26, 2022


Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 11:19 pm

When I started to post regularly about three months ago about my experience of being Old-Old rather than merely retired, a stage I now call Young-Old, I planned on posting weekly.

That was before I discovered that being Old-Old is the most unpredictable period of life I have ever experienced. By a long shot. Sometimes the things that happen are small inconveniences, like a blown circuit breaker or a misdialed telephone call. Sometimes they are hugely disruptive, like a bank fraud officer spending two hours making me convince him that I wasn’t a scammer trying to steal my funds. Sometimes they are delightful – a surprise visit from an old friend, or a box of chocolate silently left on the kitchen counter by someone acquainted with my love of dark chocolate.

But whatever they are, they are unexpected. I’d say something unplanned happens an average of 5 times a week. Most of my family and friends now know what I mean when I write BTU in an email or even post BTU in a text message.

I thought maybe I could add BTU to the list of common text message abbreviations. Like LMK for Let me know, or TGIF for Thank goodness it’s Friday, TBH for To be honext, o maybe even STFU Shut the ____up.

But my brother says I can’t because BTU has already been allocatede to British Thermal Units and people will think I’m talking about a measurement of heat.

Hmmmm: do you think so?

Marketing has never been in my skill set. And even if it were, I don’t think I would choose influencing text messages as a goal.

But if you are planning on growing Old-Old, I would advise you to be prepared for

the BTU!!!


March 22, 2022

Green light thank you

Filed under: getting old-old,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 7:53 pm

I suspect that most of us know of someone who has had to give up driving as a result of old age. For some the reason may be a disastrous one, for others it may be simply because a caring family member quietly removed access to the car keys.

My reasons for facing this decision are a little unusual but I belong to the group that needs to face the reality of getting old-old.

I drove for more than 30 years in the United States where I grew up. When my husband and I returned to his homeland of England, I had to learn to drive “on the wrong side of the road.” I did learn, but not without some turns and weaves that could have been calamitous. When my husband died 16 months ago, I settled the estate, and decided to return to America. I had no suspicion when I sold our UK car and watched the new owner drive out of the driveway that I would never get behind the driver’s wheel again. In either the UK or the US.

I first moved to Brooklyn where the expense and inconvenience of car ownership can greatly outweigh the advantage of using excellent public transportation and occasional taxis. But I am now living in Michigan where that isn’t so. Without an extensive public transportation system or a car of my own, I am totally dependent on the kindness of family and friends to get anywhere beyond a limited walking distance — sometimes in snow.

I do have my English drivers license that I could legally use here in 2026. But I’ve decided to give up driving except in the event of an emergency to save a life. Why? Because after 32 years of driving in England, I would have to learn again to drive on “the right side” of the road. As the passenger these days, I often mentally make up my mind about the lane the driver needs to access making a left- or right-hand turn. I’m not always correct. What if I had actually been behind the wheel? I already know how long it can take to learn new driving habits, and at the age of 82, I’m a slower learner than I was 30 years ago.

What if, I ask myself, I killed a child with my wrong turn? or cripped a bicycle rider for life? or even a passenger in the car I myself was driving? or a mother pushing her one-year old in his push cart?

I couldn’t live with myself. I choose to be grateful for receiving from others things I spent much of my life doing for myself.

My green light is a mega Thank You to family and friends, to bus and train drivers, to neighbours or taxi drivers who are getting me to the doctor, the local park, a restaurant, the music hall, even to their own homes. Or back to my own home

March 5, 2022

A wiser look at an old question?

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 7:55 pm

I was born in 1940 and my views about the legitimacy of war were almost entirely influenced by my parents’ conviction that the Nazi’s were a destructive and evil power bent on destroying or at the very least subjugating anyone who was not “one of them” and had to be stopped. My father was a second generation German immigrant and members of his family willingly joined the American military.

I was in my mid-twenties before I came to appreciate that going to war was is not such a black & white issue, that there was not always a clear right and wrong side, or that a military response to other government’s perceived abuse of its citizens was necessarily a responsible response.

I am asking myself that same question about war today as I look at the situation in Ukraine. Can I possibly look at this issue with some wisdom of age? What is the most effective way to respond to Putin’s attacks?

Pope Francis has called on Catholics to pray and fast throughout Lent, and to keep the needs of the Ukraine refugees in mind. Frankly, fasting impresses me as being close to an insult to these refugees. There they are streaming to the borders to escape the indiscriminate Russian military, and I assure them I’m fasting? On a more practical level, what can I – and the rest of us – do?

Supporting a full-fledged military response against Russian’s aggression is itself extremely dangerous and could escalate into a nuclear war so dangerous that we could actually make the world unlivable for the human species. Political, diplomatic negotiations with Putin also seem utterly ineffectual.

So far there are three things I am doing, and believe are ways that even for single individuals or in small groups can make a difference.
  • First, this morning I sent what for me is a significant donation to a group of charities handing out food and clothing to the Ukraine escapees at the borders of Europe. I’m often cynical about giving to charities, where such a large proportion of donations go into the already well-filled pockets of the charity managers. But I think there are viable ways to help in this situation. I was particularly impressed to read that many Ukrainians themselves are helping drafted Russian soldiers often below the ages of 18 and in Ukrainian captivity to phone their mothers in Russia using Ukrainian’s mobile phones.
  • Secondly, I’ve signed several petitions asking Biden in the US and asking the UK government to increase the number of escaped Ukraine immigrants allowed into our countries. We each only have one vote that doesn’t feel very influential, but if enough of us make our wishes known, we know how dramatically it can change things.
  • Third, I am contacting several congressional representatives directly.

If you have any other suggestions, I would very much appreciate hearing what you think.

Of the three approaches, the one I’m most apt to repeat is #1. Probably because it makes me feel the most virtuous?

February 28, 2022

My Living in Mystery Hour

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 12:11 am

As individuals we don’t reach some of the most incredibly important insights, convictions, and decisions of our lives by using analytical or scientific analysis. In school we are mostly taught analytic thought – that will often help us get jobs, and solve a huge number of practical problems — from medical treatments to erecting safe buildings to digital achiements to name just a few.

But how many conclusions are not directly subject to analytic, mathematical or scientific methods? Questions like What is the purpose of life? Why do I love this person so deeply, even passionately? What happens after we die? What is justice? even What is the most loving thing I can do in this situation? So often, even asking how we can make a situation better through large or small acts of kindness or generosity is not something I can answer using my mathematical calculator.

There are alternatives, however. We may simply take others’ word for the right answers. Many religions do that — they tell believers the right answers about live, death, love, justice, marriage, sex and they are expected to live by principles they are taught. Parents teach their children values, sometimes with an unquestioning rigidity, but sometimes with the understanding that as we mature we need to develop our own convictions.

But how do we do that? Activities which are sometimes labelled “artistic” can help. These include areas such as music, poetry, fiction, painting, sculpture, even contemplation of nature. Most of us have only one, or possibly two areas that can speak to us this way, even if we don’t realize it. Unfortunately we are rarely taught in school how to true wisdom from these artistic areas. We may be taught to analyze artistic creations which means we can categorize them by exploring them using a different medium, usually in numbers and words. But that changes our perspective.

And the perspective we use to understand anything changes what we understand. We even know that changing our perspective of time and space makes is relative, though most of us spend most of our lives experiencing it as fixed.

The same thing happens with artistic creations. Do we understand Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, for instance, by going to Wikipedia and learning that this symphony in D minor is a choral symphony, the final complete symphony written by Ludwig van Beethoven when he’d been stone deaf for a decade?

Absolutely not. It’s the kind of information that for many of us can actually get in the way of truly listening to the music itself because we are listening to it from the wrong perspective.

Music is the perspective that I am best able to listen to without my analytic skills getting in the way. Since I have been recovering from hip surgery, I have been spending an hour each day listening to the kind of music that “speaks” to me. I turn down the lights and do nothing but listen, and live in what I call my Mystery. I haven’t answered any unanswerable questions in the analytic sense, and yet I see something, sense something that goes beyond what we traditionlly call answers. I’m not an aetheist, and I don’t believe in god, and yet I increasingly feel that I live in a great depth of incredible golden Mystery as I never have before.

Interestingly, each of us almost always has a different artistic area that enlightens us, and we need to discover it. It might involve going to an art gallery and looking at the paintings before reading the tag on the side. Or going to a garden displaying sculptures, or reading poetry and fiction in their own right.

For me, the artistic approach that above all is most enlightening is Baroque and early classical western music, and ironically country songs from the southern United States, Ireland, Scotland, and England. I don’t know why but when my father was dying I was listening to Mozart’s 38th Symphony, and thought if I could listen to it when I was dying, I wouldn’t know the difference between being alive or dead.

Today, though, of course, I’m living the Mystery of being alive. From the perspective of living on Earth, that is.

February 24, 2022

Is Little really Big?

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 10:29 pm

When I was a child, I didn’t like being told I was named after St. Therese of Lisieux, the patron of little things. St. Teresa of Avila who advised the pope in Rome was more my type. My views became a little more moderated as a psychologist, as I came to appreciate how influential something as “small” as the tone of voice or even facial expression can be.

But now I’m learning it all over again and with so much more depth. I need so much so often — and am getting it. I’ve run out of ways of saying thank you — for making breakfast for me, for grocery shopping, for picking up a piece of paper I’ve dropped on the floor, for the explaining how to close the icons on my mobile, for bringing me my toothbrush, for making my bed, etc., etc., etc. 

From other perspectives, I’ve been thinking about these new experiences in the context of particle physics, bits and pieces of atoms, that are incredibly directive in determining the nature of matter. And I’m remembering how, as a four-year old, asking my mother how cars got to be a different size depending on whether I was looking down at the street from my dad’s 12th floor office or coming out of the elevator and seeing the same cars on street level.   Or wondering if the moon really got bigger and smaller in different times of the year.

Which Wall is Higher, A or B?

Muller Lyer Illusions

It looks to me now that deciding what’s big or little, what’s important or not, what’s influential, what’s loving and what is enabling, respectful or merely indifferent, what is a meaningful accomplishment, whether it’s about food, money, sports achievements, physics, inventions, –  whatever! – depends on the point of view one adopts.

Little is often the biggest. And Big might not matter much at all. Or Vice Versa     

February 15, 2022

My Denial Victory

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 7:06 pm

I have said that I think one of the biggest challenges of being old-old is to accept that I now make mistakes or can no longer do things I have been capable of doing all my life. This is now happening to me a lot, as skills, both basic and advanced, that I have relied on all my life, are abandoning me.

Several nights ago at about 1 am, I was wakened by loud noises emanating from someone trying to fix something in the house. The noise-maker was obviously my nephew, a highly-gifted mechanical engineer in whose house I am living with his wife. I could hear him running up and down the stairs, turning water on and off in the bathroom, and banging on pipes. The obvious interpretation was that the toilet was plugged.

Worse yet, the obvious reason for the problem was that a urinary pad had been flushed down the toilet. I’ve never used urinary pads, but while I am recovering from hip surgery I have had recurring problems with incontinence urges which I have been unable to control. In order not to destroy the mattress in the bed, I have been using Always Incontinency pads designed for overnight use. When it’s dry, an unused pad is 14 by 7 inches, and and 1/2 inch thick. I haven’t measured one of these pads when it is soaking wet, but I have not the slightest doubt that it swells in size sufficient to block the toilet pipes. Where in the pipe the block actually occurs, of course, determines just how difficult it is to unblock, and might even require professional plumbing equipment. In a house like this where there is only one toilet and 3 residents, this is no small inconvenience.

For an hour I lay in bed listening to the noise and with every bone in my body denying that I could possibly have been careless or stupid enough to flush an unused pad down the toilet. Finally I got out of bed and counted the Always pads I had. I was one short. The evidence was overwhelming. I was the cause of that racket going on around me.

The story does have a happy ending. After close to three hours, my nephew managed to find the block and was able to it without specialist equipment.

I’m also happy to say that the first thing I said to my nephew in the morning was “I’m sorry.” In broad daylight, the evidence is overwhelming that it was me who dropped that pad into the toilet. It took me an hour in the middle of the night to admit it but I’m grateful to say, in broad daylight I’m not denying it.

And I am being extra-careful with the Always pads. And hoping that the incontinency urges I have been experiencing do not continue once my hip has healed from surgery.

February 4, 2022


Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:30 pm

The challenge that I propose for my “Old-Old” stage of life is Joy, Gratitude, Celebration, vs. Denial.

What was the challenge of waking up in a hospital bed after 15 hours and not remembering, – to this day – what life-challenging events had occurred. And that obviously I had survived. That’s the subject of this post.

I’ve known for several years that I would ultimately need hip surgery or my walking would continue to deteriorate and ultimately become so painful that I would be essentially crippled. But I was taking care of my husband who was already in serious pain whenever he was standing. And besides, because of Covid, I could not get the xrays or MRI’s necessary for surgery because the hospitals in England were only accepting Covid patients.

When I finally arrived back here in the United States some six months ago, hip surgery did not feel like one of the giant challenges I was facing. Many friends and family have had hip and knee surgery and were simply encouraging, without any warnings attached.

So I wasn’t prepared for what happened.

I remember signing into the hospital and answering a variety of what felt like routine questions. I eventually was put onto a cart and wheeled into the entry surgery area. And I remember waking up in my hospital room and asking what time it was. The shock is that it was 15 hours later than the last thing I remembered. Not only had I had hip surgery. I had been under intensive care for an allergic reaction to the anesthetic I’d been given and which is not uncommon for patients over 80 years of age. For at least an hour I’m told I was surrounded by specialists as my systolic blood pressure moved up and down between 20 and 40 degrees farhenheit as I skirted with passing into whatever/wherever one passes to with death. But I guess I changed my mind and decided to stay on this side of reality for a while longer. So I woke up in the hospital.

I had been scheduled to leave the hospital the day of my surgery, but I was in no condition to go home. I was nauseous, constipated, suffering from black-outs and outright delusions, which of course, I didn’t recognize or admit. I was given medication every four hours and my vital signs – blood pressure, oxygen levels, temperature, etc – checked, and after 3 nights in the hospital was discharged. The first night at home the pain was so bad I thought – literally – that I was dying, and frankly, that didn’t seem like such a bad idea.

But I didn’t die that night either and since then, in admittedly small, but steady steps, I have been learning to walk, albeit with a walker and following the exercises prescribed by the physiotherapists who are making house visits. My appetite is returning in small bites, my energy levels are just a little bit higher, and I don’t need to sleep more than a total of 11 hours out of every 24.

Do I have something to celebrate? Yes. Yes. Yes. I’m grateful for all the love and support and skill I am receiving to keep me here for who knows for how long. And I can reflect with great joy at so many great experiences life has given me. Short-term memory, though, is quite bad and I am facing the challenge of denying how much I have changed since my “young-old” days just months ago and to which I am never going to be able to return.

In my next post I hope give an example of the kind of denial independent types such as me am capable of. It took a pretty hefty struggle with that person.

January 15, 2022

Surgery for independence

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:04 pm

All my life, if I’ve had the choice between doing something for myself and getting somebody to help or even do it for me, I have inevitably chosen independence. One of the challenges of getting old-old, at least for me, is that I need help in everyday things so much more often.

Now I have just learned that my date for hip surgery has been moved up to next Thursday. Great. The plan is that the surgery should reduce, or even eliminate the pain and weakness in my leg which has increasingly interfered with my walking, even with a walking stick, and sometimes even around the house, with lifting packages like a bag of groceries, and sleeping through the night without being constantly kept awake with pain. So the idea is that the surgery should give me back a significant amount of independence.

But even if surgery is successful, my first challenge is going to be that for at least somewhere between 2 and 7 months of recovery time, I am going to need help, the level of which I don’t think I’ve needed since early childhood. Getting dressed, washed, getting food, getting to the clinic where my exercising and progress will be directed and monitored. Even picking things up off the floor. I will have the help of a walker, and various other instruments for hip surgery recovery I got on Amazon, but my biggest support will be from my nephew’s wife with whom I am living, and whose generosity in giving up her time to give me the support I need could not be greater.

My task is to accept this support with equal generosity and grace while at the same time putting in as much effort as I can into regaining my ability to move around independently. I know to say thank you and not to grumble that she’s trying to run my life or keeps telling me what to do. My challenge is to truly feel grateful, not just say it.

Blessed are those who can give without remembering and take without forgetting. —Elizabeth Bibesco

I’ve been contemplating the beatitude “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” but I’m not so sure about that. Giving is so often the privilege of the gifted and succcessful – giving out baskets of food, clothing, even money to the poor, taking care of the sick, donating to charities makes me feel like a really good person.

But being at the end of that giving, being the person whose empty basket is being filled, who is being given help, can feel demeaning, at least less rewarding than giving. It’s not that giving is not an intrinsically rewarding experience and of great value to both the giver and receiver. But I’ve not had a lot of practice in my life being a gracious receiver. I am grateful for a lot of things in my life, but I have tenaciously reisted being what I experienced as “bossed around,” whether by the church, by the medical profession, by teachers, and especially by men who feel superior to women. So being a receivere rather than giver makes me feel inferior much more frequently than grateful.

My goal is to truly increase my sense and expression of gratitude for the support I know I will be given in especially in the coming months.

I hope my loss of independence doesn’t interfere for long with my continuing to write these posts at least once a week – I find writing them helps me — oh goodness, it even supports me, now that I think of it. For that, thank you for reading this.

January 10, 2022

Young Old I am not

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 10:12 pm

When I was a young university professor teaching developmental psychology, an older colleague suggested we needed to include more teaching about development in old age and not put all our emphasis on just stages when we are growing up. I dismissed her suggestion. What, I thought, was more boring and uneventful than old age?

Was I wrong! I am now 82 years old, and whatever else it might be, uneventful and boring it is not.

One of the influential theorists in developmental psychology is Erik Erikson who was born in 1902 and published his first theories in the 1940’s. For him, the last stage of life was old age which generally began at about the age of 65. But since then, the average life span has increased substantially and many more of us are living even into their 100’s. Physically-speaking, old age in general is closer to 80 years of age.

Given my own experience, I think of “old age” as divided into at least two stages — what I call “Young-Old” and “Old-Old.” “Young-Old” begins with retirement, somewhere these days usually between about 55 and 65, the age when work or raising a family is coming to an end. We often begin this time jumping with excitement, with energy and skills to travel or engage in other activities that we didn’t have time for before.

With the age I am calling “Old-Old,” we do truly feeling ourselves losing energy and a deterioratiion of many of our skills, both mental and physical. For me it began with the death of my husband. It took me almost six months to regain a normal sleeping and eating schedule, I lost 10 pounds in weight, and began the extremely demanding and complex process of selling our 4 bedroom 3 bath property with extensive garden, and returning from England after almost 35 years to living in the United States.

That would be exhausting at any age. The difference is that I know I am never going to return to the energy levels I had just 2-3 years ago.

What, then, is my life about? What am I doing here?

I see myself as looking for a balance between Celebration and Denial.

Celebrating that life has been given to me with so many irreplaceable gifts of love, of success, of being honored in so many ways, celebrating the increasing beauty of the inexplicable mystery of life that surrounds me, reaching even into the outer reaches of space.

I also am trying to balance celebration with denial when it is appropriate. The temptation is to deny that I am getting old, getting mentally and physically less able, even to resent those who are trying to help me, perhaps by lifing something that is now too heavy for me, suggesting that I should no longer be driving, offering to do the cooking I’ve been doing all my life. But denial is also valid, because it is important to reject the ideas of others, of those who think I’m really just taking up space with no contribution to make to the world.

Finding that contribution has been fascinating and demanding, and what might be my story for the rest of this blog.

In my next post, I hope to start describing various events that have led to my most recent plan caveat which I call “Barring the Unexpected” – those unplanned for interruptions, big and small, that don’t just happen once is every great while, the way they used to inmy younger days. Now they happen, I’d say, about 5 times a week.

Looking forward to seeing you next week — barring the unexpected. 🙂

January 4, 2022

Living forward

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:45 pm

Hours before my husband, Peter, died just over a year ago, he said he knew how much I would miss him, but that he urged me to live forward, sharing with others as fully as I can the gifts that have been given to us by others, gifts that made profound differences in our lives.

I have now sold our property in England and am living permanently in the US, where I grew up and lived much of my professional life until almost 35 years ago Peter and I moved to Spain and then England to care for his aging parents . Coming back to the States has been THE biggest change in my life that I have ever experienced. I am no longer “young-old,” that stage usually following retirement when we have energy and time to travel and engage in other projects we just didn’t have time for when we were working and/or raising a family.

I am now “old-old,” the last stage of life that may last for weeks or decades that, for me at least, seems full of new challenges and new possibilities. It’s a little bit like adolescence but with different options. I am having to learn to ask for help far more often than I can offer it, for instance. And I cannot teach or help others in ways I did through most of my life.

But since the age of 10, writing has been my way of thinking and learning. Of course, with a blog having readers is hugely helpful. And so I am hoping to learn how to “live forward” in this new stage of my life by starting, once again to write regular posts here.

Do you think I can make being old-old sound interesting?

May 2, 2021

My little bit making things worse

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 6:55 pm

Sky TV News here in Britain every weekday evening features a 15-minute climate review, discussing not how bad and fast everything is already getting with climate change, but what is already being done about it, and what we can – and are – doing about it.

Several nights ago, the issue under discussion was aerosols and the immense damage they have been increasingly doing to our environment.

Not all aerosols, actually, are man-made. Any particle smaller than 2.5 microns is a chemically a aerosol, and may be whipped up by the oceans, the desserts, volcanic eruptions, even agriculture. But aerosols produced by gas-fueled cars, the burning of coal and wood, and other human activities have increased atmospheric aerosols by 60% since the Industrial Revolution.

I always thought my husband and I were doing more than our bit to reduce air pollution. But I’ve just discovered I’ve been supporting a larger share of polluting aerosol than I had suspected.

Of course I know not to throw used plastic coffee cups out the car window. But I have been amazed to learn something I can do that can hardly be called drastic and hardly expensive, compared, to the solar panels we’ve installed or replacing our household oil-based heating system.

But it was a very big surprise for me to learn that thousands of in-home aerosols — hair sprays, deoderants, household cleaners, spray paint cans, flea sprays, even “air-purifiers,” — are significant contributers to air pollution. In fact, here in Britain, household aerosols release more harmful smog chemicals than all UK cars combined. Can you believe it?

Our man-made air pollution is linked to increased risks of asthma, lung disease, stroke, and heart disease. At current rates, it is killing many millions of people around the world every year, hitting children and the elderly the hardest, especially those of us who live in polluted cities.

I understand that this problem has been created as a result of millions of us mostly engaged in relatively small repeated actions without knowing the damage we are doing. But to turn it around, each one of us needs to take the same repeated small steps in the opposite direction. Yes, it needs government action, yes it needs science, yes it needs industrial action.

But it can’t do it without millions of people like each of us as well.

I know this doesn’t sound heroic, but I will never buy another household aerosol can.

April 8, 2021

Barring the unexpected

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:25 pm

I used to think that being old was going to be a little boring and uneventful. Now I’m old, and the one thing it is not is uneventful. Not only not uneventful, but life today is more full of the unexpected and unpredicted than I’ve ever known in my life.

So right now, rather than trying to concentrate on writing something profound and serious, I’ve decided to write some posts about some of not only unplanned but totally unexpected things that are taking up so much of my time.

Today it’s the baby cat hiding under the solar panels on my roof. This little cat belongs to someone in the village, and we have all been on the look-out for him for the last five weeks. Late this morning, my next-door neighbour knocked on the door with the news that he’d just seen a cat scrambling under one of the solar panels, and it sounded like the one we’ve all been watching out for.

So I got a ladder, and sure enough, there he was. We called the owners but they weren’t home. So I went to Google to find out what kind of food I might have in the house that little cats might benefit from. The one thing I had was some chicken organs, so I defrosted them. I went back outside and saw the cat peeking out, so I put the food along with a dish of water by the edge of the fence where I thought he might feel safe.

I watched from the inside but he didn’t appear. Eventually, I climbed up the ladder and saw that the cat had disappeared. So I put the ladder away, and put the chicken organs into the compost. The owners did make contact and said they have reached the conclusion that this is the cat’s life style, and that he even visits “home” occasionally.

Not the story of a lifetime, I admit. But you can’t say it’s the kind of thing I should have planned on using up most of the day’s energy.

February 21, 2021

Can both sides be both right and wrong?

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:22 pm
Image result for right and wrong

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is often called “populism” in the press and it’s emergence around the world. Two parties, by definition, represent different points of view. But in successful democracies, they respect each other. And listen. And even compromise. What has happened to the two-party system in the US, and other countries with historically successful democracies around the world for centuries?

Last week as I was going through various documents in my recently-deceased husband’s study, I found a handful of newspaper articles collected between 1918 and 1951 by his grandfather. His mother died in childbirth when he was born in 1884, and two months later his father also died, leaving him an orphan who was unofficially adopted by an uncle. At six years of age, he was sent to work down in the Yorkshire mines when children were made to crawl into spaces too small for adults to reach. He did not go to school but learned how to read at the local Sunday school, where he was awarded repeatedly for his understanding. He was extremely bright and remained a vociferous reader all his life.

The early newspaper articles showed that he supported Communism, on the grounds that it was a system that would give the poor an equal chance to earn a decent living. After WWII ended, during which his daughter left school at the age of 12 to support the family and developed an extremely successful grocery store serving the town, he dismissed Communism outright. But he was skeptical as well of the UK Labour party introducing socialist legislation which created the National Health System giving free health care to all at the point of need, social security, and the nationalization of many private businesses, including transport.

Now I have recently learned that a similar change is taking place among many Chinese citizens who have escaped absolute poverty on the farm as they have moved to the cities where factory workers are employed. They are not in a position to dismiss Communism outright, but they are showing increasing desire for independence and escape from the encompassing regulations of government.

Reading this, it now seems to me that there are valuable potential strengths in both left-wing and right-wing government policies. The best of the left-wing policies support the worker, believing that they should be given the opportunity to earn a living wage, and given support when they cannot do so. This might be due to poor health, or wages that make it impossible to escape over-crowded housing, to obtain a good education, or even to eat a healthy diet. Effective governments, then, often legislate such things as fair wages, permitted work hours, health care, pension plans, even anti-racism..

The down-side of potential socialist governments is that it sometimes encourages those who simply don’t want to work, who, in other words, become free-loaders. Or it supports governments themselves which are power-hungry, who are unwilling to give its citizens the right to made decisions for themselves.

The best of the right-wing policies emphasize the importance of letting people make decisions for themselves, of hard work, of taking the risks of creativity. The fact that nearly half of all Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children is a reflection of the best of right-wing policies that trust individuals’ own desires and impulses.

Unfortunately, two of the greatest potential down-sides of right-wing policies is a failure to recognize social conditions such as racism, ethnicity, or poverty which make it impossible for people, to make the kind of free choices they would like. The other problem, as is so evident today, is the refusal of those who have achieved, or merely inherited, significant financial or social superiority to let it go. I see it in different manifestations in both the US and the UK: there are those who feel they are intrisically superior, leading to a destructive and self-centered “us and them” attitude.

So both right- and left-wing politics, it seems to me, can pose great dangers to democracy. Either way, the greatest danger is the unwillingness to share my views with people who disagree, to listen to opinions differing from my own, or to say “I might not know everything,”

Seth Klarman Quote: “You need humility to say ‘I might be wrong.’”

Or even to say “I might be wrong”!

January 25, 2021

Getting out of my lockdown

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 12:54 pm

When I was growing up on a farm in Ohio (USA), boys were not expected to do the same things as girls. My brothers were expected to do outside work – things like driving the tractor, clearing snow from the road, harvesting the fields, slaughtering the chickens, picking the apple and pear trees. As one of the five girls, especially as the oldest sister, I was expected to do inside jobs – baking pies and cakes, changing babies’ diapers, ironing clothes, baby sitting, taking the younger ones swimming or reading them stories. I didn’t fix broken things. I did know how to add petrol to the car, but I never once added oil or checked tire pressures. Not surprisingly, as adults, three of my brothers became skilled engineers. I eventually became a university professor teaching psychology.

It wasn’t until my husband and I retired and moved to Spain that I realized that I had some engineering capacities of my own. I watched the Spanish workmen building our pool and I thought – I can do most of those things myself, and I don’t need to be paid. And so I began to lay the tiles around the pool, to install shelves and doors, even to build and face brick walls and stairs. Peter also did a great deal of outside work, but his skills were also required to get our computers working, using computer language written in Spanish. And I began to understand how various appliances and machines worked, and when they needed modifications, I was the one who managed to make them.

When we moved to England almost 25 years ago, Peter and I maintained this distinction. We both cooked, we each had our own computers and studies, but Peter mowed the lawn, grew the vegetables and fruit outside, kept the ivy and trees pruned. I did the inside cleaning, laundry, and basically ran all the electrical and heating systems. Recently Peter and I even began to worry how he would survive for even a month in the house because he didn’t know how to work even things as simple as the dishwasher or laundry machine.

Last week, that worry was justified. 

It was pouring with rain and so I drove to the local store to pick up a few essentials, and then took the long way around to charge up my car battery, which made me feel quite in control of life.  But when I got home, the garage door opener I keep in the car wouldn’t work.   Oh darn (or something similar) I said, I’ll have to go in the front door and open the door from inside.  All right, that qualified as an inconvenience.  

But when I tried to unlock the front door and push it open, I remembered I’d put the burglar alarm in place.  If I hadn’t remembered, I would have been forcefully reminded because the alarm was ringing.  I almost knelt down and thanked god it wasn’t connected to the police, as I spent the next five minutes kicking at the door and finally forced it open.  That qualified as my “barring the unexpected” event for the day.  Annoying, but I was able to open the garage door from inside the house, brought the car inside, and closed the door.

I then sat down and began to worry about the un-imagined:  how was I going to lock/unlock the car when I used it in the future?  My first thought was that the mobile door opener I kept in the car needed a new battery.  It’s supposed to be a life-time battery and I didn’t know if it could be changed, but I finally wrenched it open and looked at the battery.  Not like anything I’d ever seen.  I went onto the internet and eventually discovered that the battery I had was no longer in production.  However, there are similar batteries made by Duracel, Fuji, Camelion, etc.  The only problem was that they are different sizes and as little as 1 millimeter meant it wouldn’t fit.  I spent at least another hour measuring the burned-out battery to see what I needed.  There are about 250 millimeters in an inch, so it was a tricky business.   
Then I had a fantastic stroke of luck.  Instead of ordering a test battery from Amazon, I discovered I had a battery that came close to .5 millimeters of the required dimensions.  I tried it and at first it didn’t fit, but then I pushed a little harder — what did I have to lose? — and it fit!  AND the door opener started to work.

It was then 4:30 – 6 hours after my Unimaginable Event of the day first emerged.  I poured myself an unscheduled gin and tonic and quietly thanked fate that it was me, not Peter, who had been faced with the problem.  He always said he couldn’t face living in the house if I died first, and it really was a consolation to know that he didn’t have to.  He could solve all kinds of problems that were completely beyond my capacity, but there is no way he could have fixed that garage door opener.

January 22, 2021

My own new beginning

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:14 pm

Just over two months ago, America held a national election that, now two months later, has begun a new stage in American life.

It’s also happened to me personally: my husband died, somewhat unexpectedly, just a week after the election. I too now have reached the time when I am ready to begin a new stage. I don’t mean to forget about my husband of almost fifty years, but to do what he urged me to do in our last conversation together: to use the gifts, the strengths, the insights given to us by others or to each other to “pay forward” as it were.

What he urged me to do was to try to give to others whatever gifts I could. Not necessarily to those who have earned it, but who, like us, did not always deserve some of the most valuable acts of generosity and kindness that were shown to us.

Whatever gifts I may have to give now are not earth-shattering. They will not make me a celebrity or saint or even well-known. That is not a burden I would take on voluntarily in any case. But I do want to try to think of others as often as I think about myself.

I can’t exactly claim that is why I now hope to resume writing a blog post here every week or so. But I will confess I’m glad to be in dialogue here again.

Hope to see you soon!

October 2, 2020

The Great Rat Award

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:31 pm

No, this is not ironic. This really is a cheerful – even encouraging – bit of news.

Magawa, a giant rat has won a prestigious gold medal, the animal equivalent of the George Cross, for his contribution to saving human lives. Although the award has been given to dogs and horses, Magawa is the first rat to be recognized in this way.

Meet Magawa, the Hero Rat awarded bravery medal for clearing landmines

Magawa can detect buried land mines much faster than metal detectors used by us humans, and has found hundreds in Cambodia in the equivalent of 20 football pitches. Close to 7,000 people were killed by landmines in 2016, thousands more remain, and clearing them is essential to removing them for the safety of farmers, children, even people walking to get water for their villages where it is not available.

It does underline once again that we are all in this together. We not only need each other in human terms. Other living organisms can see, hear, intuit, sense things that we cannot, and we need them.

I have for many years put spiders I find crawling around inside the house back into the garden rather than stamping them out if at all possible, because spiders are the best controllers of bugs that we know. Even with all our sprays, we cannot do what spiders do.

I have never, though, thought to be grateful for rats. But Magawa is changing my mind.

August 13, 2020

Our foreign invader

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

Supermarkets here often sell fruit and vegetables to ripen at home at a reduced price. We have found this a convenient practice and often keep fruit on the kitchen windowsill.

Until now. We have been in the midst of a record-breaking heat wave with temperatures reaching the high 90’s or even into the 100’s Fahrenheit (that’s in the high 30’s Celsius). Traditional air conditioning is not available here in Britain which rarely reaches these temperatures. Windows where conditioners can be installed aren’t even available. So we have opened our windows and doors to create a cross-breeze and turned on our fans.

Nonetheless, I was appalled to walk into the kitchen several days ago to see flies swarming all over the food, and literally thousands of flies jammed together creating solid blocks of black on the walls while they patiently waited for their next meal.

Or perhaps for their offspring. I learned from Google that flies can produce a new generation as often as every 12 hours. Even worse, they are often carriers of deadly diseases. Seriously deadly – typhoid, TB, salmonella, dysentery, tapeworm, cholera, round worm, leprosy – to name a few of the killers I recognized.

I grew up on a farm where my mother taught us to keep flies off our food, even out of the kitchen. Our weapon of control was a fly swatter. Even if we had one, there is no way a simple fly swatter was going to eliminate the onslaught that, even as I stood there, expanded into the other rooms of the house.

What we did have were several packets of left-over sticky fly paper that we’d hung in the greenhouse to catch flies and other flying visitors. Of course, the first thing I did was to put all the fruit – everything edible, in fact, including crumbs – into the refrigerator. Then I distributed the sticky paper around all the crowds of flies usually swarming near doors and windows.

Then I went to the internet to search for fly killers. We’ve come a long way since fly swatters. There are, of course, fly sprays and powders, but there are electronic systems that claim to work. I read the reviews and wasn’t convinced, and decided to see how deadly the sticky paper might be.

It took two days but it worked. I will admit that as I watched and listened to the flies struggling to get free from their sticky prison I felt cruel. Over the years if I find a spider or bee in the house, I try to catch them and return them to their native environments outside. But there was no way I could catch enough of these foreign invaders to reduce the danger they carried with them. There were just way too many of them.

I will also admit, though, as I watched the flies struggle to regain their freedom, that they reminded me of another species with which I am well acquainted that has increasingly moved into foreign spots on the planet and carried deadly diseases with them. And I’m not talking about the corona viruses. If we don’t stop, we will be responsible for the extinction of tens of thousands of other species.

And we might very well kill ourselves. Unlike the flies, we have the intelligence to see what we are doing, and we must use that intelligence to recognize how important the survival of other species is to our own survival.

July 30, 2020

Thank goodness it wasn’t my mistake

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:00 pm

Here in England we are able to order our groceries for home delivery directly from the supermarket of our choice. Yesterday I had an order due at eleven o’clock but about fifteen minutes before that, the delivery man phoned to say he’d been tied up at the warehouse, and he couldn’t get here before noon, was that all right. No problem, I said.

So when the doorbell rang at noon, I wasn’t surprised to see two baskets full of grocery bags at our front door, with the delivery man standing back at the socially-acceptable distance of six feet. “Good,” I said, “thank you.”

But I noticed as he was heading for his van that he’d delivered four litres of semi-skimmed milk instead of the 1 litre whole milk I’d ordered, and I called him back. He said maybe it was a substitute because they were out of whole milk. I said 4 litres was nonetheless 4 times what I’d ordered. He suggested that perhaps 4 litres was indeed what I’d ordered, and I agreed that I do indeed sometimes make mistakes. Somewhat modified, he suggested we look at the order form which was in one of the grocery bags.

We all make mistakes
Francis Leavey, Fabcow Home Blog

June 20, 2020

The Windrush Scandal

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

Because our history includes the Civil War, most Americans know it was British ships that brought slaves from Africa to the southern US States. But relatively few of us are aware of the ways in which racism in our two countries differ in important ways. So for the next few posts, I am going to describe some of the differences, both positive and negative, that I have found significant.

This post is about what here in Britain is called the Windrush Scandal.

After World War II, Britain was in great need of additional labor to work the farms and factories, and invited West Indians from the Caribbean to immigrate here with their families. They were given permanent residence here and children born here before 1973 were permanent British subjects.

But in 2018, the British Home Office, having destroyed the identity papers of the original immigrants began to deny the legal rights of these immigrants and even their offspring. Some who had never lived anywhere else were deported, and an unknown number lost their jobs, their homes, and were denied their legally-earned pension benefits and medical care.

One man who had been born and worked here all his life was in a UK hospital for heart surgery, during which time the police invaded his apartment, destroyed all his papers and denied his right to be in the UK. As a result, the National Health Service charged him thousands of pounds for the surgery he should have received without charge, and on a cold day in February discharged him. Since his apartment had been seized, he had nowhere to live. He survived begging on the street for more than a month until a charity found a place for him to live. Of course, he had lost his job.

The UK government has since recognized the illegality of the deportations and other denials of legal rights, but it has caused huge suffering for many families. In this context, it is easy to understand why Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd are as widespread here as in the States. It is not unlike the DACA scandal in the US, which the US Supreme Court has just ruled on, saying the “Dream Children” brought to the US from Mexico or born in the US after their parents had arrived as farm workers, and many of whom had never lived anywhere but in the US, could not be deported by the Trump administration.

Sickened and appalled' Johnson calls for UK Floyd protests to ...

On the other hand, the UK and US histories of racism are quite different and so are not exactly comparable in present times. More of which in my next posts.

June 10, 2020

Backing off the New Normal

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:44 pm

When the coronavirus lockdown was first mandatory here in England almost 3 months ago, I thought of the first year of what was called the Novitiate in the Maryknoll convent I’d entered more than 60 years ago.  The group of about sixty of us were sent to a relatively cloistered area in Massachusetts where we were not permitted any visitors, mail was censored and extremely limited, and we were not even permitted to talk to each during most of the day.

The isolation does sound a little like lockdown though it really wasn’t.  Today we have the internet and email and phones.  But just recently I did take a step that really was a return to the past.

Do You Want To Set Your Hand On Fire? 6 Fun Science Tricks | HeringWhen I was ironing recently, the electric cord on my steam iron suddenly caught fire, sending a burning flame along the side of my hand that had been holding the iron.  I managed to pull the cord from the wall, and thankfully, wearing short sleeves, put the flame out before it caught my clothes on fire.  It did burn my hand along about 2 inches, leaving me with an appreciation that being burned alive was emphatically not an easy way to go.

On a more practical level, rather than trying to repair the iron, I immediately ordered another steam iron for home use.  It arrived a week ago.

That was when I decided not to go forward to the New Normal everybody is promising.

What I got was a steam iron with all sorts of technical additions, requiring me to buy distilled water to mix in with our house water, to change it after every use, to clean out the filter, never to use rain water, and to adjust the steam sprayer to reflect the fabric I was ironing.  The directions finally added a PS saying that the iron could be used for dry ironing, and if the user wished, could use a spray from a spray bottle for wrinkles that were resistant.

Well, the user did wish, and I am now using a spray bottle with a dry iron, which is the way I ironed the first time, at the age of eleven, when my mother let me begin to do this household job.

It’s a lot easier than the new-fangled New Normal.



June 5, 2020

The surprise of today

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:02 pm

When I was young, I did expect old age to be sort of boring.  But I never thought that the older I got the more questions I would have..  Especially perhaps because when I was young, I had all the answers.

But faced with huge global events that impact so personally on almost all of us, I now spend hours trying to understand more about Covid19, about world trade, politics, the economy, cybertechnics, the stock market, the meaning of death in the light of the death of some very dear family and friends.

As I look at the array of questions I’m stumbling with, I am now trying to understand where my certainties come from, and wondering just how reliable they are.  Like, I am sure, everyone reading this blog, I have values to which I am deeply committed and by which I try to live.

But where do these values come from, and how certain am I that they are worth my life’s commitment?   from faith and religious belief?  from science?  from my upbringing and culture?

I do know that sometimes I have betrayed those values.  I also know that more often than I can count I have misapplied them.  When I have thought I was being loving, I can see now I was sometimes enabling.  When I was trying to be helpful, I was sometimes being controlling and disrespectful.  If you know what I mean, you know my list might be very long.

These days I distrust both individuals and institutions with more right answers than questions.  Even if they are presidents or archbishops or professors or experts telling me how to fix our plumbing.

As Steven Hawkins, one of the most highly respected scientists of the last two centuries said “the more we know, the more questions we have.”

So I can only hope that I’m really not getting dumber as I’m getting older but wiser.  And maybe even kinder.


April 6, 2020

Too quick to judgement

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:17 pm

I read many years ago that the mother of the poet W. H. Auden scolded him as a child if he tried to use more than a single sheet of toilet paper.  My response has always been that she must have been a very controlling neurotic mother.

I began to rethink this judgement for the first time since it has been impossible to count on being able to get toilet paper as a result of the hoarding by people fearing they would run out of it during this pandemic.  As a result, I have found myself using single sheets whenever possible.   I even read that people in Oregon are being asked not to call 911 if they run out of toilet paper.  It’s true – I’m not making this up!

Then I learned from my husband who grew up in England during World War II that toilet paper was often impossible to get, and that his grandfather used to cut up squares of  newspaper and hang them onto a nail in the out-house housing their toilet facility.

Which got me wondering just how long toilet paper has even been available commercially.  I’ve learned that it was in the mid-19th century, and that the first toilet papers were simply unconnected sheets of paper.

Which has led me to conclude that perhaps I was a bit hasty in my judgement.  And that maybe Auden’s mother wasn’t so neurotic after all.

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t mothers today telling their children to be careful about how they are using toilet paper.  And that one sheet might be enough.

February 4, 2020

That other point of view

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:38 pm

I’ve just finished reading several riveting articles exploring the identities that seem to be controlling today’s voters here in Britain and in the United States.

Today the main, and even over-riding identity of voters seems to be political.  In the past, as sociologist Max Weber pointed out, we had multiple identities which made us feel comfortable in a variety of different groups.  These identities may be religious, ethnic, related to skill sets and employment, affiliation with various sports teams, or even our neighbourhood or village.

This seems less true now.  It is our political identity that overrides all the others.  Even families are torn apart, not by religious or ethnic differences these days, so much as by different political affiliations.  In the States, Republicans and Democrats often can barely speak civically to each other.  Even our view of what is fact is more influenced by our political party than by religious belief or scientific research.  It’s political party, for instance, that decides for many people whether they believe in climate change.  Or abortion.  Or LGBT rights.  Or rules of global trade.  Or immigration.

This apparent increasing inability to even listen to the point of view of someone with whom one disagrees violates one of my most fundamental principles.  As I’ve said in earlier posts, my dad, a successful lawyer, taught me that if I wanted to win an argument I need to understand why the opposite view makes sense, is even truly compelling, to those who believe it.

In that context, I’ve been listening to my own political thinking.  I’ve said in words of one syllable that I am willing at this point to vote for anybody but Trump.  I feel revolted when he comes on television, and can barely listen.

I’ve been wondering if there is anything he could say, especially any political position he could take, that I would take seriously, let alone that could convince me to vote for him or any member of the Republican party voting for him.  I’m afraid the answer is that there is nothing he could say, because no matter what he said, I wouldn’t believe him.

But could I, would I be capable of having a respectful discussion with a voter who I think is wrong, but who believes that Trump is an effective leader who can truly bring peace to Israel and the Palestinians, who can reduce unjust inequality or child abuse in America, maintain a dynamic economy, or make health care available to those who need it, not just those who can afford it?

I’ve had a lot of experience, both in my family and my profession, discussing alternative religious values, scientific theories, and cultural differences.  So I hope I could.

But I confess, if I could, I doubt it would be easy.  And I can’t imagine it would be a lot of fun.


January 23, 2020

Perfect vs Complete

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:16 pm

I’ve been thinking recently about the difference between the meaning of the words “perfect” and “complete.”

In the Roman Catholic German tradition in which I grew up in America, we didn’t make much of a distinction.  Roman Catholic doctrine, of course, was infallible, without error, and so perfect.  As children, to be perfect was our goal, which more or less meant  without sin.  So although we knew we weren’t perfect yet, for everything and everybody, from God to the newest arrival from purgatory, heaven was perfect.  This perfection did strike my older brother as so utterly boring, so static, that he thought hell might at least be more interesting.

One problem with this narrow idea of perfection is that it left us with what we might charitably call the “Right Answer Syndrome.”  We were always right, we were sure our answers were always right, including knowing how to save the world.Related image

The destructive limitation of this concept of perfection is that it doesn’t distinguish between perfect and complete.  Consequently, we didn’t need to listen to anybody else.  If one is perfect, we thought, we don’t need anybody else, we don’t need other perspectives, other solutions, other people, most especially those who don’t see things our way.  That we should not marry a non-Catholic was a prime application of this view.

But perfect is not an all-inclusive word.  Even on the most basic level, perfect does not mean totally complete with no need for anything or anybody else.  A perfect circle, for instance, is not perfect when a square is needed.  Or someone with even genius mathematical skills is not the perfect solution when social insight is needed.

It’s why a truly successful marriage is based on partners learning to listen to each other.  Especially when they disagree because that’s when they can benefit from the other’s point of view.

In the world today, it seems to me we are being divided into tribes, each of whom are sure they are complete and don’t need to respect or even listen to the views, cultures, values of other tribes.

Photo for COMPLETE

But we are all in this together.  As individuals we may be gifted, generous, insightful, brilliantly intelligent.  But we are each incomplete.  We need each other.



December 14, 2019

Our surprise result

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:06 pm

Yesterday here in the United Kingdom — that means England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales — had an immensely significant election.  In fact, never in my life have I ever been aware that a national election result would effect so many lives so intimately, including my own.

To everyone’s utter surprise, Boris Johnson and the Tory Party won what was called “the Brexit Election” by a landslide.

Before the election, I thought this result was the least worst of all the options, including most especially Jerry Corbyn’s Labour Party which terrified me.  And I was glad that Johnson made a request to Trump that he not express any opinions about who he wanted to win.  (Though I confess I don’t think it took a great deal of insight to realize that an endorsement from Trump for Johnson could actually reduce voters’ support for Johnson here.)

Still, I’m happier with the results than I expected.  I’ve been around a little too long to believe we are now on the edge of a new and wonderful world.  But to my surprise, as I listen to Johnson’s acceptance speech and particularly to his embracing of the traditional Labour voters in northern England, I’m a little less pessimistic than before.  He seems to be listening to them, and even when he doesn’t agree, treats the opinions of those who did not vote for him with respect.  He said, for instance, that he valued the respect and affection  that those who did not want to leave the EU held for our European neighbours.  He also appreciates that above all, what voters want is not hand-outs but meaningful jobs.

And with a majority of 80 Tories in Parliament, the European Union negotiators are already talking about taking Boris Johnson a good deal more seriously than they did when they were negotiating withdrawal conditions with Theresa May.

We will see what happens.  The next big election, of course, is across the pond in ten and a half months on November 3rd.  It already feels as scary as yesterday’s election felt here.

December 6, 2019

Fighter or Victim?

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:35 pm

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed by hanging in a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War.  He died, but he is not remembered as a victim.  He is honoured as someone who fought Nazi ideology before he was sent to the concentration camp, and who, once there, often gave his small portion of food to other prisoners who he felt needed it more.

Nor do we remember the men and women who fought in our wars defending freedom and democracy as victims.  When we place our wreathes at their graves on Remembrance Day and pin our poppies on our lapels, we are not honouring victims.  We are honouring fighters.

And no religious observance anywhere in the world parades Jesus crucified up and down our streets as a victim.  He is a saviour.

Almost 75 years ago my brother, Larry, was born a paraplegic as a result of spina bifida.  The doctors told my parents he would not live more than several months, and even recommended that he not be given food and drink in order to reduce his suffering and speed up his death.  My parents refused and after several months decided to bring him home to spend his remaining time with the family.  The doctors again said he would die before he reached the age of five and would, in the process, be seriously retarded.

But Larry was not a victim.  He was a fighter.

One of my earliest memories of him is of the two-year-old crawling up the steps to the bedrooms on the second floor.  I found him on the 3rd step, and worried about his safety, picked him up and carried him back down, admonishing him not to try that again.  In less than an hour, I found him defiantly at the top of the stair case, 12 steps up.  It didn’t stop.  By that evening, he insisted on climbing the 15 steep and uncarpeted stairs at our grandparents’ house down the road before he was willing to sit down for supper.

By the age of five, he was walking with braces and crutches, and at age six joined his four older sibs at the local school.  He was breaking ground there, too, being one of the first disabled children not to attend a special school.

He never complained, but throughout his life he was aware of the misunderstanding of the disabled that led many people to assume he was mentally retarded.  I saw him patronized myself by both teachers and religious clergy.  As a matter of fact, Larry was unusually intelligent.

He went on to graduate from the local Jesuit high school, earned a BFA from Akron University, and later pursued studies in medical records. He worked as a legal researcher, medical records professional, and a classical music announcer for Cleveland’s main classical music radio.  He had a variety of serious hobbies including research into family genealogies and astronomy.   As an adult, Larry lived in his own home, drove his own car, navigated most of his life on crutches and braces and only in later years in a wheelchair –  all on full throttle.

I learned a lot from my little brother.  All of us have challenges.  For some it may be significant – a handicap, others are abused, raped, plagued by poverty and hunger, falsely accused of crime, even put to death by the state.

But Larry was a fighter. He never once in my experience used his crutches as a victim, or sought pity.   He fought for his independence and led a full life, challenged, but never defeated, by his paralysis.

He died three weeks ago at the age of 74.  He was one of the oldest spina bifida paraplegics in the world.

Lawrence Herman

Lawrence T. “Larry” Herman

02/03/1945  11/22/2019

November 29, 2019

Giving Thanks

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 10:42 am

I can no other answer make

but thanks, and thanks,

and ever thanks.

Shakespeare    Twelfth Night


May your Thanksgiving also be full of thanks.  And thank you for visiting here!   

  The Other I


November 18, 2019

And the greatest of these?

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:09 pm

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul told them that between faith, hope, and charity, the greatest is love.  He didn’t say love only toward those who are “one of us.”

And yet again and again, that is how religious believers repeatedly for millennials, and around the world, have degraded what Paul said.

Even in America, the Land of the Free.  When Columbus discovered America for the Europeans in 1492, there were possibly as many as 112 million American Indians who had lived and thrived there for thousands of years.  By the end of the Indian wars in the late 1800’s, less than 240,000 had survived, killed by war, imported European diseases often deliberately spread by the white immigrants, and land theft.

At the same time, between 1650 and 1865, America imported 10 1/2 million slaves from Africa.

The conviction that people who are different from us are fundamentally inferior underlie these profound ethnic discriminations  and are still  thriving throughout the world today.

But I have just been astonished to learn that not only are these convictions a religious outrage.  They are economically utterly stupid.  The most economically successful countries in the world have, by far, the highest number of immigrants.  Yes, blue-collar immigrants provide cheaper plumbing, child-care, and delivery services.  But the drag on salaries of native workers in usually exaggerated, as is the threat of immigrant crime and drains on welfare.

Actually, overall immigrants in both America and Britain pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits.

But they do much more than that.  In America and Britain, where data is available, immigrants are more than twice as likely as native-born citizens to start a business, and three times as likely to patent an idea.   43% of the Fortune500 companies in 2017 were founded by an immigrant or one of their children.  Over 55% of companies worth more than a billion dollars were start-ups involving at least one immigrant.  They employ millions of people, and make a vast contribution to America’s GDP.

Actually, I’m beginning to think that the biggest mistake we make is not to realize that “love, the greatest of these” is as important an economic principle as a religious one.  Loving others brings us as many advantages as it brings to the loved one.

October 27, 2019

The quackary of quacking

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:54 pm

I’ve just read the story about a taxi driver, Abdul, in India who changed his life when he decided not to spend his time complaining but instead to soar above his problems.  Instead of quacking like a duck, he said he used the power of choice to soar like an eagle.

Concretely, instead of complaining about the traffic, the passengers, the noise, dirt and smells on the road, he decided to face the problems head on.  Above all, he decided to make his service one which, above all, responded to the wishes and needs of his passengers.  So he keeps his taxi, inside and out, spotlessly clean.  He lets his passengers decide if they would like to listen to the radio, and if so, what stations.  He offers them a drink – tea, coffee, soft drinks – and discusses the best route to take  to the passenger’s destination.

Instead of being a helpless, complaining victim, in other words, Abdul looked for creative solutions.  In four years it has quadrupled his income, and undoubtedly increased his work satisfaction.  As I think about it, it seems to me Abdul’s approach is the first step in any creative enterprise.  Creativity requires seeing a problem, and then deciding what one can do about it.

Not all problems are solvable, of course.  But the attitude we take toward living with them can be Quacking with the Ducks.  Or Soaring with the Eagle.

The credit for this post goes 100% to Abdul and to Raghu, the man who shared his story on his blog.  It reflects a philosophy of life I think is quite possibly as powerful as learning to love and respect our fellow human beings.  Do read it!



October 13, 2019

Brainy exercises

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

I have been convinced since I was a psychology graduate student that there is no better foundation for physical and mental health than a regular regime of good nutrition and exercise.  If good nutrition and exercise contribute to maintaining our physical and mental well-being as we age,  why wouldn’t it also help in slowing down the inevitable levels of our intelligence?

Since I am a cognitive psychologist specializing in gifted intelligence, you may be surprised to hear me confess that I have only begun to seriously apply that principle to the preservation of intelligence — including my own.

For years I’ve read the advice to the elderly to do cross-word puzzles, learn a foreign language, or solve Sudoku puzzles, but these activities impressed me as rather boring and never really convinced me that they would enrich my old age.

But several weeks ago I did read an article stressing that our brains need exercise to keep working every bit as much as our bones and muscles do, and it was like a flash of brilliant light.  Of course we need to exercise our brains!  The trick is to find exercises that suit my brain, just as we each occasionally need nutritional supplements and exercises to suit our particular body type.

I have found three brain exercises that work for me.

The first is to pause after reading a challenging article and to summarize for myself what I read.  For instance, right now economists are rethinking economic theory in the light of changes occurring as  the result of global trade and increasingly sophisticated computerization of data.  Last night I read an article and then spent ten minutes writing mental notes clarifying for myself issues that in the past I might have dismissed as either not important or too difficult for me to bother with.  Exactly how quantitative easing replaces lowering interest rates to stimulate a country’s economy and why this approach is increasingly needed is now quite clear to me.  The October 12, 2019 edition of The Economist focuses on this issue, if it’s the kind of thing that fascinates you as much as it does me.

My second brain exercise is to refrain from reaching immediately for my calculator and instead to calculate mathematical problems mentally the way I used to.  I even make problems up when I’m doing simple manual chores.  For a simple example I might ask myself how many steps would I have to take to climb 14 flights of stairs if each floor has 12 steps?  Sometimes I make them harder, but I start with simple problems.

My third brain exercise is sort of a mixed bag.  Basically it is to take advantage of learning something I find useful.  Instead of depending on the sat nav in my car, I use a map to learn how to get where I want to go — the way we all did before sat nav’s were invented.  Or I work on figuring out some process now added to Microsoft Windows, my i-pad or mobile telephone.  I usually don’t have to look very hard to find something like this to grapple with, particularly given the number of mistakes that I find are being made these days by institutions like banks.  Or like me, to tell the truth.

Enough.  I now must get out of this chair and do some physical exercise.  That, at least, is something I learned half a century ago.


September 27, 2019

Would you forgive her?

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:23 pm

Shamima Begum was 15 years old in 2015 when she and two friends left Britain where they had grown up with their Muslim family and sneaked over the border from Turkey into Syria.  They had been radicalized online by Isis, and wanted to contribute to establishing a caliphate reflecting Isis’ values.  She and her friends were quickly married off, Shamima to a Dutch convert to Islam.

Things began well for her, but as Isis has gradually been defeated, they deteriorated badly.  Isis women and children have been driven to refugee camps, while Shamima’s husband has surrendered and is now in a Syrian prison.  The two friends with whom she defected are dead, and Shamima has lost three children, due primarily to lack of adequate nutrition and care.  She now wants to return to Britain.

Britain says Shamima gave up her UK citizenship when she joined forces with Isis, and she is not being permitted to return.  Initially she expressed no regret for anything she had done.  On the contrary, she defended it, and expressed regret only at her weakness in not being able to participate more fully in the Isis attacks.

Shamima now, though, has been moved to a camp where refugees are not supporters of Isis.  According to her Kurdish guard, her life was under threat in the camp for Isis residents because she no longer is supporting their cause.  She is isolated, under-stimulated, extremely unhappy, and begging to be allowed to return to Britain, or Holland on the grounds of her marriage to a Dutch citizen.

The question now being broadly asked for these Western democracies is whether she should be allowed to return.  But the media is often framing the question instead as “Should Shamima be forgiven?”

My own feeling is that this is two different, if related, questions.  In my old age, I look back over the years and often regret what I did or didn’t do.  I regret my ignorance, insensitivity on occasion, my disregard for others, my dismissal of well-meant, and in retrospect often salutary advice from those who truly had my welfare in mind.  I sometimes have defended my own rights at the cost of the rights of others.  I need to be forgiven.  And to my great good fortune, I am unaware of anyone walking around determined that for the rest of my life I will pay the price for my errant behavior.

From that perspective, I can contemplate the possibility of forgiving Shamima for her betrayals and her cruelty.  But that does not fully address the question of whether she should be allowed to return to Britain or Holland.

In that context, I would ask first whether she regrets what she did only because her actions have brought her to what is obviously a personally an unhappy situation.  Or does she feel the need to make up for her mistakes?  to even apologize for them?  to ask for forgiveness?

And if she were permitted to return to Britain, should she be required to face trial and to serve the same sentence that would be required had she engaged in the same behavior fighting for Isis on UK soil?  That would mean, of course, that it is UK citizens who must pay the cost of her potentially many years of incarceration in UK prisons.  And is it likely that years of imprisonment here would help make her a more caring, insightful, responsible woman?  Evidence isn’t strong that our prisons very often encourage that kind of healing.

If I had to decide Shamima’s future, what would I do?  I don’t know.  I’m grateful that, thus far at least, life has spared me that kind of decision.

If you are interested in a more in-depth examination of this last question, John Humphrys is worth a read:





September 18, 2019

What makes people happy?

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

I started asking myself this question after reading some research on the question.  I’ve reached the conclusion that there are two significant variables.  I’d be interested to know if they match your experience.

Is it money?  celebrity?  family?  a sense of achievement and success?  making it to the top of one’s career ladder?  sexual satisfaction?  physical attractiveness? religious beliefs?

Research suggests the most wide-spread happiness is not necessarily in the world’s richest countries, but in countries where wealth is relatively equal but sufficient to provide universally for our basic needs – nutrition, education, a home, medical care, and relatively free choice.  Norway is an example of this kind of country.

Research does not find that the more money we have the happier we are.  Yes, more money definitely can make us happier, but there is a limit, and it is surprisingly small.

The limit to the amount of money found to increase happiness rests on research in the United States suggesting that about $20,000 made us happier, but as the amounts of money increased, happiness did not.  With inflation, I suspect that the $20,000 might now be too small but we are not talking about millions.  I suspect that if we are employed and not struggling on the poverty line, the money that makes us happier is money that is enough to provide housing and education for ourselves and our children.

To put it simply, happiness is in part an economic issue.  But politicians who think that more is always better are missing a critical point.

The second source of happiness I am certain is far more critical even than economic security.  It is a sense of belonging, of community.   It is why “love is the greatest of these,” why even a small act of kindness can make a huge difference.  It is why helping others, rather than the size of their salaries, is often the key to the deep satisfaction many people achieve at work.  It is why in times of war, persecution, or natural disasters such as tornadoes, floods, or fire, families, and communities make huge sacrifices to stay together, sharing food, and supporting each other often at great personal cost.

Paradoxically, I think it is this need to belong that is the source of the populism that is spreading across the globe and dividing so many of our countries, including the US and UK.  We need to belong, but many of us cannot extend this sense of belonging to all human beings.  Even Christian missionaries often lack this recognition that we are one, spending their time trying to change the cultural values that they find foreign, trying to make the poor “one of us” by convincing them to join the Christian church.  And so we fight immigration, we try to enact universal laws that suit our own religious or cultural values, we don’t like people who dress differently, or who worship a different God – or no God at all.

Personally, I fear that if we don’t evolve to appreciate our diversities, that happiness will elude us, no matter how well off we might feel personally.

What do you think?

September 16, 2019

A suggestion for agony aunts

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:37 pm

I don’t make a habit of reading columns by agony aunts that seem to run in almost all of our regular newspapers.  But from what I know, it seems to me that they most often address difficulties that arise in relation to sex.  People write about difficulties they are experiencing with their partners or possibly with multiple partners, or within the family, where parents or sibs may disapprove of a someone being introduced in the family.  It may involve different opinions about sexual orientations, appropriate gender roles or sexual practices such as abortion or birth control.

But as I look around the world – at my own family, at many of my friends, or in various cultures, it seems to me we are in need of help to deal with differences more fundamental even than sex.  Entire families, not to mention communities, disagree fundamentally about religious, economic, and political issues so profoundly that we are not able to carry on civil conversations with each other.  In America it occurs most often these days between Republicans and Democrats, or more specifically between supporters of Trump and those who despise him.  Here in Britain, the subject that is splitting the country right now is Brexit.  In the middle east, vicious divisions exist between Israelis and Palestinians, between Shia and Sunni Muslims, between Christians and Islamists, in Hong Kong, demonstrations have been going on for months.

The problem is that around the world, these disagreements are often between people who are fundamentally convinced that they are absolutely right.  In extreme cases, they believe they even have the right to persecute, even kill, anyone who is not, in their view, a True Believer.

But there are exceptions.  There are those who can listen and communicate with respect  with others with whom they profoundly disagree.  It is not a skill that comes easily.  It is hard to be patient and respectful in relation to someone I think is a self-centered bigot.  Yet there are those who have learned to do it.

It seems to me that agony aunts often offer advice to those who write to them for help that is insightful and constructive.  I’d like to see more of them address the question of communicating constructively with those with whom one fundamentally disagrees.  We are now living in a truly global world, and if we don’t learn to tolerate rather than destroy our diversities, we will ultimately destroy ourselves.


August 4, 2019

It’s a circle, not a ladder

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 11:33 am

During my teaching career at university, I put a high priority on helping students identify their strengths because I wanted to do everything I could to help them maximize the contribution they might make in choosing their careers.  I was aware that ethnic minorities and women were less likely than their white and male counterparts to recognize their gifts, and were thus less apt to consider work that has traditionally been considered beyond their reach.  I am profoundly grateful to those students who have told me that I changed their lives with this advice.

But as I have grown older, and hopefully a little wiser, I see this advice reflecting too much of a ladder.  In many ways, I was advising my students to climb onto higher rungs than they would have considered.  That’s great.  But none of us is complete.  We might be geniuses in some areas, but there are always limitations.   In fact, by our very nature, none of us can survive without the contributions of multiple aspects of life around us.

Art by Sam Brown;

We can’t even survive without the micro-organisms in our guts on which we depend to digest our food every bit as much as they depend on us.  We depend on the plants and trees to give us the oxygen we need to breathe.  We depend on thousands of different kinds of life to give us the food we eat.  We depend on the skills and contributions of our fellow human beings to teach us to cook, to read, to play games, to take care of ourselves.  Even learning to talk is an interpersonal enterprise.

So if I were still teaching, I would encourage my students to identify their strengths, but also to identify what they need most from others.  It might be in the form of music, building, engineering, cooking, space exploration, verbal or mathematical abilities.  The list is endless.

One of the least and probably most important contributions that are under-appreciated is in the area of what today is called Social Intelligence.  That is the ability to intuit the needs and wishes and meaning of others.  It is a skill that makes one a good partner and also a good parent.  It is also a skill needed to understand other cultures and ethnic minorities providing very different insights than analytical thinking.

Learning one’s own limitations, whatever they may be, makes it clear that we are not perched on rungs of a ladder, but rather live within a circle, where we all need each other and our differences.  It helps me realize that my answers are not absolute.  No matter how right I think I am, I still need the contributions of life around me.

Even those organisms digesting my breakfast this morning are as important to my survival as those Great and the Good, the Celebrities, the Great Leaders, who are held up as models whom we should emulate and whom we too often try to equal.


July 4, 2019

The surprise unexpected

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:51 pm

I have said before that it seems to me the older I get, the less predictable my days become.  Most of my plan for any day ends with the stipulation “barring the unexpected.”

But last weekend this took on a new dimension.  Most of the unexpected things in my life these days aren’t actually surprising.  They are mostly simply unplanned.  Like something breaks in the house, or a neighbour asks for help, or I get a phone call from a family member telling me about a doctor’s visit, or the rainstorm floods the drive and blows down a tree.

The surprise began on Friday morning when I went to prune the rose bushes.  There was our neighbour’s chicken, called Boudica*, energetically clucking around.  She’s gotten out before, and I’ve called the neighbour who comes over and, usually after a serious hour or so of hide and seek, eventually catches her and takes her home.

This time wasn’t to be so simple.  The neighbours were not answering their phone.  Peter suggested that we use a trick he’d learned from a farmer in Yorkshire to catch errant hens.  So I got a bed sheet that had been demoted to the rag cupboard, chased our uninvited visitor into a corner and prepared to throw the sheet over her.  But she jumped  five feet into the air, and then scrambled under the bird netting into our berry patch.  I hurriedly pinned down the netting so Boudica was trapped and went into the house to phone her owner again and left another message.

Five hours later I began to worry that the entire family were gone for the weekend.  Boudica began to suspect the same thing and was making a lot of noise about being trapped in a berry patch for so long.  She did try out the strawberries, but they were not to her taste.

I grew up on a farm, where we fed our chickens grains from the field.  What could I feed our uninvited visitor, or give her to drink if she was going to be here for the entire weekend?

Google suggested green vegetables, cooked or raw, and a bowl of water.  That worked, so I replenished the supply for her supper, and again for her breakfast the next morning, when she was waiting patiently by the netting gate.

Then the door bell rang.  The neighbours had been home all the day before, but the weather had kept them outside, and they did not check their phone messaging service until the next day.  It took an hour for three of us, with the help of the sheet, to catch their errant chicken.

After they left, I found that Boudica had left a thank you egg.

It was beautifully fresh and delicious.  But a little more work to acquire than lifting a box of free-range eggs off the supermarket shelf.

*Boudica was a queen of the British Celtic Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire in AD 60 or 61. She died shortly after its failure and was said to have poisoned herself. She is considered a British folk hero.  Wikipedia


May 20, 2019

Yes, we CAN!

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:19 pm

The temptation is to despair, to become so depressed that we stop reading the news, and can’t even maintain a coherent conversation about it.  The temptation is to accept that if the American government doesn’t take climate change seriously, if the President even says he doesn’t believe in it, the human species may very well destroy this planet we call home so profoundly that we can no longer survive in it.

But I have just read one of the most encouraging pieces of research in relation to saving the coral reefs that has convinced me our worst enemy is the temptation to give up trying.

A paper just published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describes research by two professors who have tested out their idea that some coral reefs survive dramatic increases in water temperature that is bleaching and killing so many of our critically important coral reefs around the world.  In fact, we are beginning to realize that coral reefs are not just beautiful under-water structures.  They are home to many different kinds of life,  and often provide critical barriers to the lang masses on which we live.

Coral reefs are built by fixed animal organisms that eject algae with which they develop a symbiotic relationship.  The algae provide nutrients to the coral, which in turn provide shelter for the algae.

But when there are sudden increases in temperature, the algae can be bleached and die and if the temperature changes are long enough or high enough, the entire reef can be destroyed.

But what these two professors noticed was that not all coral reefs respond to temperature increases in the same way.  Some algae seem to be much more resistant to the destruction of increased heat.  And so they nurtured algae from coral reefs that seemed more able to survive temperature increases, and transplanted them to reefs that were more susceptible to heat damage.

And they found that the transplanted algae did a great deal to protect reefs where algae were clearly under threat.

The research is now being extended.  If results occur on a broader scale, we may have found a way of saving our coral reefs and all the life it sustains even in the face of unprecedented global warming.

This particular research has a deeper message, though, than how to protect just our coral reefs.  I think it is one example of why it matters that we believe in ourselves, believe that, despite the enormous challenges involved, the entire human species is not sitting back, paralyzed with disbelief or hopelessness.

Auto makers are making far-less polluting electric cars, for instance.  There are experiments with developing commercial airplanes driven by solar power.  Renewable energy sources are multiplying across the world.

There is not the same disregard for tossing plastics into our waters, and there are several ingenious methods being tested for removing the millions of tons of plastics that are already killing so much of the fish life in our seas.   Many farmers are growing their crops without using the insecticides that are decimating the bees and other insects so essential to fertilizing the food on which we humans depend simply to stay alive.

We all will have to do our part, sometimes something as small as not leaving our picnic trash behind on the ground, or tossing an empty coffee cup out the car window.  Sometimes they are major scientific breakthroughs.  But we’re all in this together.

We can each make a difference.


April 25, 2019

Witchcraft relics in our strawberry patch

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:27 pm

The most exciting thing that has happened at Stocks Lane here in Cambridgeshire, England is finding two witch-craft stones in our garden.  We asked Google about them, and they are called “Hag’s stones”.  I’ve also discovered that originally, calling somebody an old hag was calling them a witch, and nightmares were called “hagmares.”

Hag stones are purported to bestow good luck, and wearing one can protect one from evil spirits, illness, hexes, and curses.  Put it in your bed or hang it on the bed post, and the sleeper will be protected from nightmares and even from those marauding wanderers living in dark places like under the bed.  I haven’t been able to provide evidence for this, but it is said that looking through the hole of the stone with one eye, one will see Fairy Folk.  Perhaps our stones are too old and worn out.

Hag stones are also a mark of fertility, but at the age of 79, it would truly require witchcraft to make me fertile.

Our finding hag stones is an example of one of the things that’s so fascinating about living on land that has been inhibited by various different human species even before the last ice age began to end 17 thousand years ago.   If you find the beliefs that surround them as fascinating as I have, you might find the following youtube creates a surprisingly rewarding five minutes view.

April 5, 2019

Young-old or Old-old?

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:06 pm

My youngest sister by 12 years insists that she’s not getting “old,” just “older.”  I tell her that’s because she’s still “young-old”, that she has the mental and physical energy to do the kind of things she has done all her adult life.  But that somewhere around the age of 80, even for healthy active people like her oldest sister, one doesn’t just get older.  One is old.

But I’m a cognitive development psychologist and have spent my career studying how we change throughout life.  And I know not only from personal experience but from research studies as well that the stereotypes of “old” are – to put it charitably – incomplete at best.

For instance, one stereotype suggests that young people are smarter than older generations.  Initially research even suggested that we generally reach our peak intelligence levels around the age of 30 and it’s a slow down-hill after that.

But we know now that as we age, we are just as capable of growing new brain cells as we were when we were young.  What has radically changed – and continues to change at a rapid pace – are the practical things we need to know in order to function in everyday life.  Throughout our lives today we have to keep learning how things work today – everything from telephones to computers, from cars to remote control mechanisms, from emails to banking on-line.  We have to learn the meaning of new words that accompany new concepts, new cultural concepts quite possibly simply to communicate with the neighbours next door.  There are new medicines, new household appliances, new electrical systems. even new laws sometimes requiring new reporting systems in relation to income and taxes.  The list of things we need to keep learning is endless and non-stop.

But as we get older, we don’t expect to have to keep learning these practical things.  When I first bought a desk top computer, I had to learn DOS, and in Spain we had to learn DOS in Spanish.  That is totally a completely useless skill today, just as the software we used to set up our websites is now out of date.  But we nonetheless have to keep learning computer skills to stay in touch with changes in the digital world.

We haven’t gotten stupider with age, or young people smarter.  We just don’t expect to have to spend as much time and energy learning the same things today as we did when we were younger.

Yes, we oldies have less energy.  Yes, our bones are decidedly creakier, and we don’t remember things rather more often.  But we have a lot more to remember than we did when we were young and so in truth, despite what we may have forgotten,  most of us have more memories than the young have.

There are even things that old people often know that younger ones don’t.  Erik Erikson called one of the most important things “wisdom.”  Older people often appreciate the importance of simple acts of kindness, for instance.  They often are more forgiving, having discovered that they themselves have made mistakes or made self-serving choices for which one asks forgiveness.  It’s why grandparents are often so extremely valuable.

Can old people also be selfish, resentful, even mean bullies or vicious and vengeful?   Yes.  Unfortunately, that is not something that separates us from the young.

I can say from first-hand experience that being old is different from being young.  But for me, at least, it’s not different in the way most stereotypes predict.

March 19, 2019

My home-made explosive

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:47 pm

These days the news is filled with reports of hand-made explosives used to blow up in buildings, cars, military outfits, and public places of all kinds.

Well, I’ve discovered a new one for use exclusively in the kitchen.

Two days ago I hard-cooked some eggs, removed the shells, and put them in the fridge for yesterday’s kedgeree.  When I was preparing to serve the meal, I removed the kedgeree from the oven, and put two of the cold hard-cooked eggs in the microwave to heat them up before serving them atop the main dish.  I set the timer for 30 seconds.

Immediately after taking them out of the microwave, I plunged a knife into the middle to cut the first egg in half.


It exploded.

I don’t mean it spluttered a bit.  I mean it exploded.  It splattered in a ten foot circle,  over the front of the fridge, the cupboards, the oven, the floor, even the ceiling lights.  I was still finding bits of egg this morning on the open pages of a cookbook.

I’m grateful I did try to cut the eggs in half before serving them.  I can only imagine what it would have been like for us and two guests sitting around the dining room table enthusiastically stabbing into our eggs.

My advice is not to try this at home.

I certainly won’t.


March 4, 2019

Thinking about it

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:43 pm

I was talking to a friend recently about research suggesting that one way to reduce dementia is to keep one’s brain active.  Do this by challenging it with new tasks or new ways of doing old things.  So cross-word puzzles is a frequent suggestion, or learn a new skill like knitting or take up art.

Some suggestions, though, actually are quite simple.

Brush your teeth, comb your hair, or unlock a door with your non-dominant hand, for instance.  Or in the kitchen stir pots in counter-clock-wise direction instead of the usual clock-wise.  Find new kinds of tasks – in the garden, around the house, re-arrange items in the car, the bedroom, kitchen.

I’ve even tried writing with my left instead of my right hand, but the disadvantages are possibly too significant.  It takes at least five times as long to write out my shopping list and then half the time I can’t read it.

But I do have another idea:  What about learning a new computer game?  Keeps kids young.  Why not us oldies?

Ten Computer Games Your Kids Should be Playing, MakeUseof. Com



February 19, 2019

Do our values make it hard to listen?

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:25 pm

When was the last time you had a serious discussion with someone with whom you disagreed about:

  • politics?  eg: should Trump build a wall on the Mexican/US border?

  • science?  eg:  is climate change real?  if so, is it important enough to understand it in order to reduce its effects around the world?

  • poverty?  eg:  whether a greater proportion of people would be poor if the government provided universal support for basic food, shelter, and medical needs?

  • religious values?  eg:  is abortion fundamentally an act of murder which should be treated as such?

  • euthanasia?  eg:  does in individual have a right to take his own life?  should medical assistance ever be provided to help them die with minimum pain?

  • when is war justified?  eg:  is sending troops to countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Venezuela, or Macedonia justifiable on the same grounds as sending troops to fight the Nazis in WWII?

Research shows that the stronger we feel about questions like this, the less we are apt to listen respectfully to those who disagree.  Families frequently are forced to avoid  religious, political, or even scientific discussions about subjects like these in order to remain on speaking terms at all.  Similarly, we don’t tend to listen to tv, radio stations, or read newspapers that fundamentally disagree with us.

Scientists call this burying one’s head in the sand “the partisan brain,” and hypothesize that this almost universal tendency may even be hard-wired in the brain. Historically, this has not always been a disadvantage.  Rather it has helped affirm a group’s identity and added to mutual community support that can be essential to actual survival.

But in today’s globalized world, this intolerance of our differences is as often destructive as it is constructive.  Not, of course, that there aren’t times and situations in which avoiding some topics is a mark of wisdom.

But often, I fear, we simply cut off those “bigots,”  “foreigners,” those proponents of “unintelligent,”  “racist,” “prejudiced,” “self-centered,” even “criminal” and “immoral” values.

But there is benefit to listening to these values and opinions to try to understand why these positions make sense to them.  There is a chance that if we can understand we might be able to change people’s minds.

And we might actually learn something ourselves!


January 12, 2019

Keeping America White Again

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 1:33 pm

My father was a second-generation immigrant from Bavaria, Germany;  my mother, fluent in both Polish and English was a third generation immigrant. The head nun in the Catholic parish where they were married remarked at the time that it was a shame, that a union between a German and Polak would never be successful.

It lasted long enough for my mother to give birth to ten children, and until she died of cancer.  As children we would occasionally laugh at the remark of that mother superior who predicted abject failure of our parents’ marriage, but it was never even hinted to us that perhaps the problem she foresaw was one of social class, that a man, even an immigrant, of German descent could be ever truly satisfied with the daughter of a highly-successful a Polish grocer from Evanstan, Illinois.

fb race2 Flawed Fight for Racial Equality

But both my parents had a deep belief in human equality.  Our family dinner table conversations frequently centered on the unquestioned immorality of the persecution of Jews by the Nazis, and in America of the segregation imposed on those then referred to as “Negroes.”  After WWII, my father, who was then a practicing attorney of law in the city, was asked by one of his clients if he could help an ex-soldier whose life was being made intolerable by fellow workers at the construction site where he had employment.   My father hired him to work full time on our farm, and provided him and his partner, Ethel – a white woman with whom he was living but not married to – with a house on our land.  His name was Phil, and we all got along with him and Ethel, often visiting them and sharing the inevitable snack on offer.

We had no idea whatsoever that this arrangement might have been in the face of deep racial prejudice, even in the church community of which we were a part, and that it could have seriously threatened the success of my father’s law practice.  But as Dad once put it, “You cannot be both a Christian and prejudiced.”  We took it for granted.  And, whatever other limitations any of us might have, I don’t think there is a bone in any of us that is prejudiced today.

And so it was quite a shock to realize as an adult the kind of risk my father took in relation to his law practice by hiring and housing Phil, a Black man living out of wedlock with a white woman.

It is with even greater shock that I have only in recent years discovered ways in which views of white superiority extend even further into America’s past, and even more disturbing, into our present.

I think the discovery that I find the most un-Christian, most un-American, and most damaging against Blacks to this very day occurred under President Franklin Roosevelt.  Legislation passed under his auspices authorized federal funds to build homes outside the industrial heartlands of the cities where workers were often living in slum-like conditions.  The outrage, though, is that houses in settlement built with these funds could only be sold to whites, which meant only to those who had NO Negro genealogy whatsoever.  They could not even be re-sold to anyone “of color.”

Graphic of money bill that is half black, half white.

Economists are now showing that this legislation, which was not changed into the mid-1970’s, is the single biggest reason why a far greater percentage of whites today are middle class than are Blacks.  Whites have benefited from getting close to a century of increased house values, far outstripping the value of urban properties which even those Blacks who could afford to buy their own homes were forced to buy.

This legislation is also one of the major reasons why so many Blacks are still crowded into urban slums and less well-off.  Since schools are funded by local property values, it means that the majority of Black children today are still sent to poor schools and receiving a second-class education.

If you are interested in learning more about these deeply segregationist practices permeating this country of ours which we so proudly call “the Land of the Free,”   I found  a good place to start.


December 25, 2018

Holiday Wishes

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:27 pm

Image result for enlightenment


May these dark days bring light to all of us, however we mark it.

December 18, 2018

It’s not fair!

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:29 pm

Most parents I know have been made familiar with their child’s outraged argument when they discover that a friend doesn’t have to obey the same rules that he/she does.  Parents are told in no uncertain terms that  it’s not fair that the kid next door doesn’t have to go to bed until nine, when I have to go to bed at eight.  It’s not fair that the time I can spend playing computer games is limited to an hour, when Johnny is allowed to play any time he wants.  It’s not fair if my allowance is smaller than his, or if she doesn’t have to make her own bed when I do.  Etc, etc.

“It’s not fair”

The next stage, if the child does not remain stuck in this rut, is to realize that I don’t really want fair.  I only want to be able to have and do the same things other kids do that I also want.  But I don’t want to be hungry all the time the way some kids are, or to sleep in the street or search in the garbage for stuff to sell, or not  be able to go to school.

By adolescence, if society or religion or my community can give me a good explanation for why I can’t have some things that other people can, I will often accept it for the rest of my life.  Gender roles are an outstanding example, so often are social classes, and hierarchies of all kinds, whether in business, religion, politics, or simply in the neighbourhood.

But I’ve just read some research which suggests to me that globalization is having a significant effect on what we consider fair and the level of equality we seem to need not to be consumed by that kind of outrage we first experienced as children when we discover that the same rules don’t always apply to everybody else.

Research across the world has found that people in countries where inequality is smallest are the happiest.  Norway is a key example.  Taxes are relatively high here, but they are not used to support the super-rich but rather to insure adequate shelter, education, medical care, and job opportunities for everyone.  This is what people want.

Thus, as the world gets smaller, we are no longer excusing differences on the grounds that they are approved by God and that some people are given divine rights or positions of superiority and authority denied to others.

Christianity, the religion with which I am most familiar, was initially based on the view that we are all equal on some fundamental level.  Nonetheless, by the third century, Christianity abandoned this view and for over a millennium, it was built on a rigid hierarchy, claiming even the right to execute those who disagreed with the doctrine currently in power.

Many of us still have an “us and them” mentality that is sweeping the world under the name of “populism.”  We are still battling the conclusion that different ethnic groups, different cultures, or people of different physical appearance are not “equal” in the same sense.  Some of us still think we have rights others do not.

Will globalization force us to evolve to a greater sense of fundamental equality?

Or will we tear ourselves apart?

December 14, 2018

How to recognize fake news

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:07 pm

We grow up believing time is absolute – that is, that a day is a day no matter where we live, an hour is an hour in China and America, a minute might seem like a long time if your head is under water, but it’s the same 60 seconds in the open air.

But Einstein’s theory says time is relative.  In different parts of the universe, things can go much more slowly, or much faster.  Scientists have even been able to show that time runs at a different rate on our highest buildings than it does where we have our feet on the ground.

Time is Relative

Well, I don’t have to climb to the top of the Empire State Building to prove to myself that time is relative.  The older I get, the faster time gets.  The second millennium began 18 years ago, you say?  No.  For me it was about two years ago.

Oh, and weights don’t stay the same either.  A bag of groceries weighs about twice as much as it did in the year 2,000.

Don’t tell me this is fake news.  I KNOW IT first hand!

December 7, 2018

Can religion make us stubborn and stupid?

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:30 pm

When I was young and knew everything, I was convinced that, as St. Paul said, “love is the greatest of these.”  I thought it was simple, obvious, and all-encompassing.  It gave me the answers to all the important issues.

Gradually, I came to realize that in actual fact and in real-life situations, the truly loving act is often not at all obvious.  Generosity sometimes is misplaced and can rob the poor or even our children of the chance to forge their own directions, to take responsibility for their own choices.  I remember the first time I heard the motto “it is better to teach a man to fish than to give him bread” and realizing that hand-outs, while sometimes obviously the most loving response to the poor, can often be controlling and patronizing.

I also remember thinking as I was preparing to work as a missionary nun among the poor that we had to be very careful, as we were providing education or medical service to the poor, that we were not using these things as bribes to convince the people to become Catholics.

Today use of  religious principles for our own ends is erupting around the world.  In country after country we are tearing ourselves apart using religious principles.  And it’s not just in far-away undeveloped countries.  This very day, the state of Oklahoma in the United States is trying to pass a law making abortion a felony punishable by life imprisonment.  This leaves no room for situations when, as even St. Thomas Acquinas suggested, abortion is the most loving response.

Today I find myself asking if religion can make us stubborn.  Even stupid and bigoted, unwilling and unable to listen to alternative points of view because we already have the Right Answers.

I’m not suggesting that non-believers are by definition more intelligent, more loving, more open to other opinions.  The daily news reporting attitudes of politicians, philosophers, economists, climatologists, educators can disabuse one of such naivete.  And I’m well-aware that religious practice is sometimes the foundation of heroic generosity and courage.

But religion isn’t necessarily the source of all the right answers.  It can even be the foundation of what looks to me to be simply terrifyingly cruel and destructive.



October 24, 2018

Us and Them

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:49 pm


An American friend who has lived many decades in another culture and who also has significant language skills asked me what negotiators were referring to when they said our Brexit negotiators were arguing about a “backstop” in relation to the border between Ireland and Britain.  I said I thought it more or less referred to a back-up position if the original agreement didn’t work, but that as far as I knew, it was a word the English had just made up.

Wrong.  I learned from Peter that it’s a defensive position in the game of cricket, whose job is to stop the ball if the wicket-keeper (i.e. catcher) misses it because if the ball gets past the fielders to the end of the boundary, the batsman earns four runs for his team.

I’ve noticed that whichever side of the pond we are from, immigrants from both countries often think that because we speak the same language (well, more of less), we understand each other.

But whether it’s body language, facial expressions, courtesies, or even swear words, we often do not understand each other.

I have been a permanent resident here in Britain for more than twenty years.  But there are ways in which the longer I live here the more like a foreigner I feel.  Paradoxically, it’s because I am increasingly at home here.

The other day I remarked to a neighbour whom I’ve known for many years that in many ways I feel like a foreigner here.  “Oh no, Terry,” she responded.  “People don’t think of you as a foreigner.  You are very well liked.”

The point of this story is not that people like me.  It is the assumption in the response that someone who is well-liked isn’t foreign.

Isn’t this the underlying assumption of the political populism that is sweeping the world?  In country after country, including America (that Land of the Free), Britain, and countries throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America, an intolerant, sometimes deadly, attitude of “us and them” is emerging.  Immigrants are not wanted.  They are different and should be sent back to where they came from.  If not left to die or killed outright.

I don’t know why I am so fortunate.  But almost all my life I have found our differences fascinating.  I like foreigners.

In fact, I even married one.

And now I’m the foreigner living in his country.



October 20, 2018


Filed under: Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 8:19 pm
Tags: negligence manslaughter is among the offences that prosecutors will consider over the Grenfell Tower fire

Two years ago, a fire in a housing tower block, Glenfell Tower in London, raced up 22 floors outside of the building from the second floor to the top, blocking the exits for many and killing 72 people.  An investigation looking for the reasons the newly-install outside cladding was not fire resistant, and how many other tower blocks may be similarly affected is still ongoing and receiving broad media coverage.

The surviving residents were moved into hotels or other accommodation, many of whom are still not permanently resettled elsewhere.  The trauma for hundreds of families, relatives, and friends is beyond my words to encompass.

But something quite extraordinary and quite beautiful has emerged from this disaster.  A nearby mosque opened its kitchen to Glenfell women who no longer had kitchens, who could no longer cook for their families.

We know about it because Megan Markel, now the wife of Prince Harry, had watched the tragedy unfold on the news when she was still living in Canada.  After her marriage, she wanted to get to know organisations working in her local community in London.  And so one day she quietly visited the mosque kitchen.  She found women, some with their children, whose cultural roots came from at least 15 different countries, including Uganda, Iraq, Morocco, India, and Russia. They were cooking;  and laughing, talking, sharing a cup of tea, playing with their children.

Megan said anyone going there would feel joyful in their company, and leave counting the days until they came back.

Which Megan did.

But why, she asked, given its huge benefit and success, was the kitchen open only two days a week?  “Funds,” the women told her.  The women thought she was joking when she responded by saying ‘well, how about making a cookbook?’

But she wasn’t joking, and the cookbook, “Together, Our Community Cookbook” has been published and is now available on Amazon and many other bookstores.  All proceeds are going to charity, to help spread the healing power of sharing food.

We’ve bought the book and some of the recipes are fantastic.  And not difficult.  I’m grateful for the diversity it has brought to our kitchen.

In addition, I can’t help but reflect on how these women are addressing one of the most profound problems facing the human species today: the hardening of borders between Us and Them.  What determines “Us” versus “Them” varies.  Sometimes it is race, color, gender, religion, money, power, culture.  Most often it is a mix but with globalization, it is becoming increasingly vicious and intolerant around the world.  And here these women are, breaking down those barriers around something basic and familiar to every living human:  preparing and sharing food.

Truly, they have found the bread of life.

Image result for Together: Our community cookbook


October 10, 2018

“I don’t believe…”

Filed under: Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 7:57 pm

After the United Nations published its report saying that mankind had no more than 12 years to avoid the disaster of climate change world wide, a neighbour said to me that he didn’t “believe in climate change.”

I asked him why.  He said because we’ve had climate change for thousands of years.  Yes, I said, but we are talking about a level of change in temperature, in atmosphere, in the oceans’ acidity that we have not seen for hundreds of thousands of years, before even the appearance of the human species on this planet.  Well, he said, I don’t see how they can prove it.

I dared to ask him if he believed in God.  Absolutely, he said, of course.  It’s obvious.

There are many scientists who believe in God, I said, but there are no scientists who think there is scientific proof of God’s existence, that it is obvious in the sense that it is even potentially a scientific fact.

He asked me to explain.

Scientific fact, I said, is based on evidence, on things we observe and test and therefore try to explain.

1300x1115 Catholic Religious Symbols Clip ArtBelief in God, on the other hand, is based on faith, which by definition is NOT based on evidence.  It is often a deeply held conviction that shapes our lives, our choices, our deepest values, but cannot be proved.

One of the most interesting things for me about the difference between scientific fact and religious faith is that what is accepted as fact often changes when we make new discoveries, find new evidence, or even develop new theories.  Less than two hundred years ago, for instance, many scientists were convinced that evidence supported the view that our planet first formed a mere 4,000 years ago.  Today we think it is closer to 67 billion years.

Religious faith, on the other hand, is not subject to change in that way.  When the inexplicable happens, a person of faith often says it is a mystery we cannot understand, but that it is in”the hands of God.” Although once again, people often lose their faith altogether in the face of what seems inexplicable tragedy.

The prediction of tragically destructive climate change made by scientists in the UN report is based on scientific evidence.  Climatologists know,  therefore, that it could be wrong.  It could be that we are missing critical evidence, or are misinterpreting the evidence we do have.

But unless we can look at the evidence and can make a strong case for arguing that climate change isn’t happening and is not going to continue to happen unless we change our behaviour, we are taking a terrible risk for the future of life on our planet.  It is rather like jumping out the window from the 20th floor, on the grounds that the evidence is not absolutely conclusive that I will die as a result.

Only this time we are talking about the entire planet.

Harry Taylor, 6, played with the bones of dead livestock in Australia, which has faced severe drought.CreditCreditBrook Mitchell/Getty Images

September 27, 2018

Learning how to say no

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:00 pm

I am currently watching the Senate committee’s interview of Dr. Blasey Ford who is testifying that Brett Kavanaugh sexually molested her as a teenager.  The committee is now taking a break and so I am too.

During these recent weeks, I have thought a lot about my experiences in the first years after I left the convent after nine years and moved into New York City, which was one of the main centers of the new sexual liberation attitudes arising out of the hippie movement.  I was a graduate student, very attractive, and unbelievably naive.

I look back now and try to understand some of the situations in which I found myself and why I was sometimes taken advantage of sexually by men.  There were young men who were as naive and innocent as I was.  I didn’t enjoy sex with them and none of these relationships were long term.  There was another group of men, though, whose power made them invincible.  In my life, they tended to be university professors, but the news in recent years makes it clear that men in power in every field, have abused their position, whether they are comedians, priests, politicians, CEO’s, managers, movie directors, celebrities, or tv personalities, among others.

Yes, these men have taken advantage of women.  But we women have played a role in sexual misconduct as well.  There are women who have gained their promotions “on their backs,” as the saying goes.  That is not something I am aware of having done.

But I often did not say no when I wanted to.  I was socialized as a girl to believe that our role as females was to be generous, kind, supportive, insightful, and loving.  In particular, it was my role to please the men in my life.  I still try to be generous, kind, and loving, not in relation only to men, but in relation to anyone in my life.

But I had to learn how to say no kindly but firmly when I wanted to.

And as I listen to young women today, even in this day of women’s liberation, I think this is something they still need to learn.  I think older women might also be able to provide some advice to the younger generation as well.  Exactly what to say or do depends in part on the individuals involved and their cultural backgrounds.  But we all need the self-belief and confidence to communicate a lack of interest with the same clarity that we communicate other decisions in our lives.

September 18, 2018

More than Pope Francis can deal with?

Filed under: Catholicism and other questions of religion,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:17 pm

Concept conceptual yellow cross religion symbol silhouette in nature over sunset or sunrise sky Premium PhotoI have been surprised at the scope and depth of responses to my last post discussing what Pope Francis should do about the problem of pedophilia and other sexual misconduct among supposedly celibate priests.  Most of the responses have come to me privately, almost all of them with deep feeling.

Some responders think Pope Francis should resign, along with all the other hierarchy who over the years have failed to deal effectively with errant priests.  Others have argued that, although Francis is out of his depth, at least he acknowledges his mistakes, and if he were to step down from the papal throne, there is a significant danger that he would be replaced by a cardinal who thinks the problem is basically homosexual priests, and that in any case, it should be the sole authority of the Roman Catholic Church to deal with the problem, that it should not be put into the hands of the political justice system, and that, as far as possible, the abuses should remain out of the public domain.

But by far the most arresting response that I had never thought of before is the doctrinal one.  An ex-Protestant minister told me that the reverence the Roman Catholic laity give to Catholic priests is far greater and even essentially different from the respect offered to Protestant ministers and even Anglican vicars.  Catholics believe priests are ordained with an irrevocable ability to change the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.  This ability lifts them onto a level of sanctity even in this life that the mere laity cannot achieve.

As someone else pointed out, even Vatican II did not suggest that priests should not be addressed as “Father,” rather worrisomely the term used to address God.  She and her husband have left the Catholic Church and attend a Unitarian Church whose vicar is a woman.  She says the difference between the unquestioning obedience by her Catholic friends to their priests is qualitatively different from the respect given to their vicar whom they are even free to address by her first name.

I fear the hypothesis that belief in the unique power of the priest to consecrate bread into the body of Christ might be more supportive of clerical sexual misconduct than most people think.  If so, the problem is far more difficult to address effectively than I have appreciated.

The fact that so much misconduct is being exposed today, in the context of so many people’s loss of faith in the infallibility of Catholic doctrine, may support the suggestion that the Roman Catholic Church needs a “Protestant Reformation.”

September 11, 2018

What should Pope Francis do?

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 7:31 pm

I was never abused by a pedophile priest, but I have been closely acquainted with several people who have, and I am intimately aware of the overwhelming number of Catholic priests who engage in sexual activity while claiming to be “celibate.”

But in truth, I was unprepared to discover how angry I was when Pope Francis during his recent visit to Ireland offered the suffering of the abused “to the arms of Mary,” but did not mention anything at all about the abusing priests themselves.  This is a Church that imposes a sentence on those who confess their sins in order to be forgiven.  It is even a Church that threatens serious sinners with eternal hell fire if they do not repent.

Why, then, does not Pope Francis insist that pedophile priests, bishops, and cardinals or those who knowingly covered up sexual abuse against children be brought to task?

I thought at first that Pope Francis should insist that guilty hierarchy resign.  But on reflection and reading, I now doubt that would get to the root of the problem.  First of all, Francis himself in the past has not insisted that bishops with a record of cover-ups should resign.  He, therefore, can in some ways be counted among the co-conspirators by  those members of the hierarchy who think the basic problem is that too many priests are homosexual.  They would love to see Pope Francis unseated and replaced by one of them.  But I think it is laughable to say the problem of pedophilia is fundamentally a question of homosexuality, and replacing Francis with a pope who thinks it is will merely bury the problem deeper.

In any case, the essence of Christianity from the very beginning was not in power but in love, in the community.  In many ways, that is what has been lost.  For centuries – even millennia – the lay community has been disenfranchised, and all the power put into the hands of ordained men.

I think it is once again the lay community that must be the essence of Christianity.  The priest, the minister must once again be the servant, not the master, of the people.

Practically, this means that lay people must be the core of institutions examining the sexual behavior of their priests.  This is occurring, of course, in the states in America which are setting up legal investigations into child abuse by priests similar to the recent investigation just concluded in Pennsylvania.  The effectiveness of actions of the lay people is also evident in Boston, laid out in stark detail in the documentary film Spot Light.   But we also need institutions dealing with community needs not only on the non-religious and political levels, but within each parish in the world.

So what do I think Pope Francis should do?  Maybe he already is doing it.  Maybe he is already encouraging lay people in dioceses and parishes throughout the world to take the initiatives that will pull away the veil of secrecy and immunity  currently bestowed on the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

Maybe Francis doesn’t want to be seen to be taking charge.

Because he doesn’t want Christians to think he is the solution.  Because he wants to decentralize the Church and give back to the community the responsibility that only the people can fulfill.

August 12, 2018

Pondering the burka

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:21 pm

You may already be aware that last week a leading politician here in Britain, Boris Johnson, wrote in a newspaper article that, although he did not believe the wearing of the burka should be outlawed in this country, women wearing them did resemble a letter box or a bank robber.

Woman wearing a Burka

The burka is the most concealing of all Islamic veils. It is a one-piece veil that covers the face and body, often leaving just a mesh screen to see through.

The remarks have stirred up a huge controversy and been making front page news ever since.  Some people think Johnson  should be investigated and expelled from the Tory party.  Some argue that it is a woman’s human right to wear the clothes she chooses, others that it is a God-given demand included in the Koran that women must fully cover themselves in public.

Several imams have said that it is not a command included in the Koran.  Others have argued that these kind of remarks are characteristic of British humour and point out that similar, even identical, remarks have been made in the past, not only about burkas but about other various outfits that both males and females may wear.  The habits of nuns, or outfits of priests and clergy are example.  They believe that to punish such remarks would inappropriately limit freedom of speech.

Personally, what I think has been insufficiently emphasized is that the way we dress is a kind of communication,.  We send out different messages by the clothes wear.  I don’t wear the same clothes to a wedding as I would to go grocery shopping.  In fact, the clothes I am wearing often indicate the role I am playing.  Only the bride wears a wedding dress and veil, for instance.  Imagine the uproar that would be caused if the bride’s mother showed up wearing the comparable outfit.

To complicate matters further, the meaning of our dress codes varies in different cultures every bit as much as the languages we use.  I would feel extremely uncomfortable walking bare-breasted down Broadway in New York City because I know I was sending a completely different message than a bare-breasted woman living in a social group where that is the norm.

Furthermore, these messages are deeply ingrained in our psyches, usually from childhood.  I remember my mother sending me upstairs to put some clothes on when at the age of about three I came stark naked into the kitchen where the family was gathering for breakfast.  I eventually learned to feel embarrassed, even ashamed, to be seen unclothed in various public situations.

In that context, I wonder how I would feel if, instead of being reared in a western culture, I had been taught from a very young age that showing even my face in public to a male not an intimate family member was a totally inappropriate exposure of my private self, and even potentially sexual provocation.  How would I feel walking down the street with my face exposed?  I suspect it would be excruciatingly uncomfortable, made even worse if the men I passed in public understood the meaning of my exposure the same way I did.

On the other hand, in western cultures, covering up one’s face is not usually considered modest, but often inappropriate.  Because in our cultures, facial expressions are broadly interpreted to understand behavior.  I look at someone’s expression to see if they are joking, angry, lying, loving, confused, needing help, experiencing pain.  They are important in almost every public interaction we have.

And so personally, I think it is quite appropriate for different cultures to mandate when a burka may not be used to cover one’s face in public.  If I am going to live in another culture, I need to understand and respect it.  I know from personal experience that this is by no means a simple matter.

But I do not think I have a right to voluntarily move into another culture and to gain from the benefits of living there while insisting that I do not need to abide by fundamental customs and laws of that culture.  Yes, I can try to explain why I disagree or would like to expand some practices.  But it would not be appropriate for me to insist that my customs and practices are inviolable while yours are not.




August 5, 2018

Norweigian Cool

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:37 pm

Image result for heat wave

BBC:  London

We’ve just had a two-day break from the heat wave when temperatures dropped to the mid-seventies fahrenheit (about 25 celsius), but it is now back into the mid-high 80’s, and still no rain.  In the meantime, I’ve learned a lot about temperatures and dehydration.  Most surprisingly, I learned that high temperatures and high humidity is far more deadly than dry heat.  125 degrees in low humidity is much less uncomfortable, and more importantly, less deadly than high humidity and temperatures in the mid-90’s (35 celsius), even for a healthy teenager.

It seems to me to be quite worrisome for the future of our species.

In the meantime, I have also been researching methods for staying cool in this land where air-conditioning has rarely been needed.  Cooling fans are a new idea for reducing temperatures, but they increase humidity in the process, and so I have been reluctant to invest.

Following professional advice, I have been drinking about 3 quarts of water a day, and have tried out an idea from a friend who grew up in Norway during World War II.  She told me they would get a great slab of ice where it was kept all year round in a barn building, and place it in front of a fan.

Image result for ice blocksWell, we don’t have great slabs of ice, so I experimented with freezing a 5-quart container and putting it in front of a fan in our bedroom.  Before the ice had melted, the temperature in the room was reduced by 2 degrees to 88.   And it did provide a slightly cooler breeze for several hours.

But I’m afraid I can’t recommend it.  It took up critical space in our freezer, and left a tray of water in which the ice had been standing overnight.

If we’re going to have another summer of this kind of heat, I think we might invest in a cooling fan.  And maybe a dehumidifier?

July 27, 2018

Heat Heave

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:19 pm

I grew up in Ohio, with very hot summers, lived in New York City for two decades, and lived for ten years in Spain where temperatures into the 100’s were normal for most of August.  But we had a lake in Ohio, air conditioning in New York, and both a pool and the breeze wafting over us from the Mediterranean in Spain.  When I read that 56,000 people died in the 2010 heat wave in Russia, and more than 35,000 in the 2003 in Europe, it did not feel personally relevant.

Image result for heat wave

Until a week ago, that was equally true about our current record-breaking heat wave here in Britain. Temperatures have soared into the 90’s day after day, compounded by a drought, so that we have not had any significant rain for more than two months.  Our rain barrels are dry, the grass has turned brown, and plants and bushes have died.   It  felt uncomfortable and inconvenient, but not life changing.

But last week I experienced something new.

It’s called dehydration, and I thought at one point as I lay vomiting on the floor that I had perhaps mere minutes to live.

Obviously I had a little longer than 3 minutes left before moving on.  But I’ve learned a lot about dehydration, and am I taking it seriously!


Heatwave scorches Europe, from London to Siberia The

The first piece of advice is to drink plenty of liquids.    The general recomendation is to divide one’s weight in pounds by 2, and to drink that number of liquid oz’s a day.  That’s 2 quarts for me.  But the Mayo Clinic advises someone of my age, gender, and weight to drink 5 quarts of liquid a day! I have found that a bit of a challenge, but I’m reaching for it.

Equally important, the National Health Service here  is advising people in their 60’s and over to keep as cool as possible and to stay inside during the day with their windows and doors closed.  We have a couple of  circulating fans going, but staying cool here in Britain is much more of a challenge than it was in New York City, where installing a window air conditioner was almost standard practice.  This kind of cooling has never been required for more than a few days here in the UK, and windows are constructed in a way that will not even accommodate an air conditioner.

I have talked to a friend who grew up in Norway during WWII, however, and am trying to adapt the method she told me yesterday they used when air conditioners were still in the mind of the inventor.

I will report on its effectiveness within a week.  The heat wave is predicted to continue for as long as another six weeks, so there will be time to seriously test out this “old-fashioned method.”




June 26, 2018

Are we getting dumber?

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:21 pm

Brand Quarterly

A very interesting study has just been published suggesting that the generational increases in intelligence which began after World War II  have gone into reverse.

Specifically, children born after 1975 have lost an average of 7 IQ points in each succeeding generation.

It’s an authoritative study including hundreds of thousands of children and young adults compared over generations.  There has been enough data collected for long enough to compare children with their parents at similar ages,  and at comparable ages, the parents score anywhere from 3-7 points higher on scales of intelligence than their children when they reach that age.

But what is really going on?  Are our children really getting dumber than we are?

Well, intelligence is a function of genetics and environmental factors including nutrition, education, and opportunity.

But intelligence is also something else which traditional intelligence tests overlook.  Essentially, intelligence is the ability to survive and adapt to the environment in which we live.  And so, as environments change, different skills often are seen as intelligent.  Jared Diamond, the anthropologist, points out when he was studying Aborigine tribes, that they knew how to survive in the forest.  They knew what wild mushrooms were poisonous and which were safe to eat.  They could recognize tracks of animals that he could not.  They had a sense of direction that colonialists completely lacked without a compass.

Similarly, children of ten might be able to teach their grandparents how to work an i-pad.  But if the cyber-world should crash, or electrical output was out for months, would that ten-year-old be the person you turn to to put food on the table or build a fire to replace the stove?

I strongly suspect that what this study is showing is not that generations are getting dumber or smarter.  What is happening is that environments – physical, political, and technological – are changing so fast that intelligence tests can’t keep up.

And those environments are going to continue to change, in some cases going back to the older ways, in some cases emerging in ways humans have never seen before.

In which case, we are going to need listen to each other more and more.  We are going to need our differences simply to survive.

Image result for intelligence

June 20, 2018

What number are you calling?

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:00 pm

It’s not like our earlier years when we have some clear idea of the developmental process.  It’s even different from what I call “young old.”  Getting old-old is an experience most of us have to discover for ourselves.

At least I did.

Obviously, as we move into our 70’s and 80’s we have less energy.  But one thing I wasn’t prepared for was my mistakes.  I’m not suffering from dementia, but I do make mistakes that in the past I might have called simply stupid.

But it took me some time to discover this.  I just thought other people were being stupid.

And sometimes they still are.  I run into it most often in dealing with computer systems.  Software systems, especially, might have been devised by some brilliant minds in some university bedroom.  But as banks and companies know around the world, they sometimes crash.  Or are hacked.  Or the people using the system do not share the brilliance of the original inventors.

So when I have a problem with some institution, I begin by being very nice.  I’m not sure it’s my mistake, but if it isn’t, I get credit for being patient and understanding.  And if it was my fault, at least I haven’t added to my embarrassment as a result of my little temper tantrum.

So today when I called the dentist’s office to set up my annual appointment, I was grateful for this strategy.  Because when the reception told me that Dr. Roberts has never worked there, instead of assuring her she was wrong, I said that struck me as strange.   “Are you sure,” the receptionist asked “that you are calling the correct surgery?”  Whereupon I realized I’d phoned not my dentist’s office but our doctor’s office.
Image result for telephone directory

As I say, at least I hadn’t make a greater fool of myself.  We both even had a laugh together.



June 5, 2018

Back to the old way

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:34 pm

Very shortly after I left the convent in my late 20’s and began to indulge in “grown-up drinking”, I  discovered that I am extremely sensitive to alcohol.  So sensitive, in fact, that I have been drunk only twice in my entire life.  The experience was so unpleasant that I learned very quickly to limit my intake.

But I never gave up alcohol completely and for more than a decade my husband and I routinely shared a glass or two of wine before our evening meal.  But then I began to experience joint pain, and after doing a little serious research, concluded that alcohol was the main contributing factor.  Consequently, I reduced my wine intake to 3 very small glasses of wine a week at most.  I missed the wine, but have always considered myself very lucky to know how to control the pain.

For the last couple of years I’ve been backtracking on this high-minded discipline, and have been indulging in a small glass of wine with dinner most evenings.  I’d read the research saying that half a glass of wine a day was actually good for you, and could add as much as five years to one’s life.   I thought perhaps I’d outgrown my allergic reactions to alcohol.

Well, I haven’t.

For the last three weeks I have given up any alcohol whatsoever.

Truly, I am amazed at what seems to be the result.  My joint pain, which I had assumed simply to be the result of aging, is greatly reduced.  My sleeping has improved, and best of all, my energy levels are close to where they were 10, maybe even 15, years ago.

I still don’t like giving up alcohol.  But the rewards for me are so immediate and broad, I have to admit I feel very very lucky.  I think it’s in my genes.  So I owe a big thank you to either my mother or father for that gift.

Image result for glass of wine


To Mom and Dad  –  Cheers!

May 22, 2018

Barring the unexpected

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:05 pm

I know life is unpredictable, but the older I get, the more my days seem to deviate from the rather staid plans I make for them.  More and more when I agree to do something, make an appointment, or even agree to a telephone call,  I find myself adding “barring the unexpected.”  Because the unexpected is almost becoming the norm!  It’s not that the unexpected is hugely traumatic.  It’s just surprisingly disruptive.   Sometimes it’s a blocked drain, a glitch in the wash machine, an inconvenient electrical fault.

Today, for instance, my plan was to take a walk around the village, stopping at our local store to pick up a pint of milk for the ice cream I was making this afternoon, mail a letter, and then plant-out some newly arrived strawberry plugs.

I got my wallet and was heading out, but thought on my way out I’d put the kitchen garbage into our outside trash bin for the pick-up tomorrow morning.  It was sort of a shock to open up the waste basket and discover it was crawling with what looked like hundreds of maggots.  I don’t put food into the kitchen basket, but clearly something edible got inside.

Image result for maggotsI obviously couldn’t risk cleaning the maggots out in the kitchen, so I dragged the basket into our back yard, away from the picnic and barbecue area,  hooked the outside hose up to the strongest nozzle spray we have and attacked.  They might be little squiggly things but I’ve learned that little doesn’t mean lacking in power and those maggots put up a determined fight.

Finally I declared a victory, dried down the basket, and eventually set out for the store — an hour and a half later.

I know as a member of a generation born in the first half of the 20th century, I am not at the cutting edge of texting.  But I have played with inventing a new text companion to lol (Lots of Laughs) and btw (By the Way).  Unfortunately, btu has already been assigned to represent British Thermal Units, so I suspect my moment of fame does not lie text invention.

Anyway, I’m now off to plant the strawberry plugs.  btu, of course.

May 14, 2018

In the end…

Filed under: Just Stuff,The English — theotheri @ 8:03 pm

“In the end, what gives life meaning is not only how it is lived, but how it draws to a close.”

Baroness Tessa Jowell

Image result for tessa jowell Independent


Two days ago, Tessa Jowell, a member of Parliament, died of brain cancer.

She had been an extremely active and accomplished member of Parliament, and was deeply respected – I think even loved – by members of all parties.  She was described as one of the kindest and hard-working MP’s by fellow Labour party members as well as those from the Tory and Liberal parties.

In January, she addressed Parliament for the last time, asking them to do more to improve treatment for cancer patients.  Britain’s National Health Service lags behind most developed countries in treating cancer, and although it was too late for her, she spent her last months still working for others.  She brought the Parliament to tears with her address and received a standing ovation.

Since her death, I have been reflecting on how unusual her approach to her own death seems to me.  When I was 18, my own mother, suffering from cancer, was given 8 weeks to live.  She spent that time preparing her husband and her ten children between the ages of 7 and 19 for life after her death.  She talked to us openly about dying, and I am sure she agreed with my father to his remarriage which was announced within weeks after she died.

None of us, including my mother, could possibly have appreciated the strength of the legacy she was leaving us with her courageous and honest facing of the painful reality of her death at the age of 48.  But when my father died 19 years later, then my younger sister, and recently a younger brother died, they each built on that legacy, facing with courage and honesty the reality of death, and leaving their own legacies to the loved ones who survived them

I didn’t realize until I moved with my husband to England to care for his dying father how unusual this legacy was.  I remember my first insight was in the hospital emergency room when I said to the attending nurse that I did not think my father-in-law was dying.  The look of shock on her face showed her amazement that I would so much as use the term “dying.”  During the year in which we cared for him, I learned more than once that death was not something one spoke about out loud, no matter how imminent it was.

And so Tessa Jowell’s speech to Parliament impressed me as both courageous and culturally quite exceptional.

And now I find myself wondering about other cultures.  Obviously it isn’t something I can explore on Google.  I’m not aware, in fact, of any research comparing cultural attitudes like this.  But the reality of death is not fake news for any of us.  How do different communities face it?  And what are the different ways in which we support each other?


May 11, 2018

Silence might be called for

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:06 pm


Blogging has changed a lot since I started more than ten years ago.  In those early days, I thought I was anonymous and that nobody who knew me personally would ever stumble on my ramblings.

But within a year,  not only was I recognized by an ex-Maryknoller, but I had begun to develop true “cyber friends” whom I have never met in the flesh but with whom I feel a real bond.  In the process, I came to understand how young people especially could actually think they had met the love of their life, even if the only exchanges they have ever had was in cyberspace.  I don’t mean I’ve fallen in love with any one online, but I do feel a personal relationship with more than one reader.

As social media have ballooned, however, and as people have shared what I would consider incredibly personal experiences and information with the cyber world, I have developed, instead, a great consideration for protecting my privacy, and even more, the privacy of my family and friends.  I don’t have the right to share the details of others’ lives that they share with me as a sister, brother, spouse, or friend.

In the last eighteen months, several members of my family and also close friends have faced the challenges of dying, and I have been privileged to share in these experiences with them.

That is the main reason why I have written so few posts of late.   In that context,  have thought about other blogs I have followed but which have slowed down or even stopped.  I don’t know the specific reasons, but I understand now, and respect the unannounced withdrawals.  Life proceeds in unexpected ways.

Still, I have missed blogging and the interactions that come with it.  In many ways, blogging is a bit like teaching was for me.  I’m sure I learned at least as much as my students in the process.

I hope I have a few more posts left to write.   Thank you for being here.


March 26, 2018

A Happy Easter story

Filed under: Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 12:11 pm

In 1990, 54% more children under the age of five in Bangladesh died compared to the world average.  Diarrhoea is the biggest killer.

Today 16% fewer under-five Bangladeshi children die than the world average.  That is a huge difference.   How did it happen?

The surprising answer is that the solutions need not always be hugely expensive, and are not totally dependent on government-sponsored mega-structural changes that provide clean, chlorinated water, and sewage systems with pipes to treatment plants.  Yes, such changes are certainly desirable.  Various bacteria causing diarrhoea, including cholera and dysentery, typically are a result of contaminated food and water, or contact with the feces of an infected person, which is most often a result of defecating in the open.  India’s strategy of building more latrines seems like an utterly sensible, even necessary, first step.

But a comparison between Bangladesh and India suggests that even this seemingly-essential solution requires other changes that are simple and inexpensive.

Image result for pit latrine images

Like India, Bangladesh has also built latrines, often small-pit latrines with separate tubewells for water, both near people’s houses.  But Bangladesh has done a great deal more to stigmatize open defecation.  They have subsidized latrines for the poor and then prod the better off to do the same for themselves.  It’s working better than a strategy that encourages the poor to emulate the better off.

Critically Bangladesh has also shown that simple basic hygiene is absolutely essential.  Flush toilets and access to chlorinated water cannot take the place of teaching mothers to wash their hands before preparing food and to reheat it if necessary, two simple practices that can wipe out most bugs causing deadly diarrhoea.

Were you told as often as I was when I was growing up to wash my hands after using the toilet?    It might have felt rather like being bossed around by a fussy mother figure.  But it very well might have been a life-saver.

As the Economist puts it:  “The training is cheap.  The benefits, in disease avoided and lives saved, are enormous.”




March 14, 2018

Discussing the universe with God

Filed under: Intriguing Science,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:33 pm

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.

Stephen Hawking

The scientist Stephen Hawking, who lived and worked here in Cambridge, died yesterday at the age of 76.  Given that he was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in his early 20’s and given 1-2 years to live, it is amazing.  I didn’t know until I was reading his obituary that he had an absolutely wicked sense of humor.  And I also just realized that one of his best known books is titled: From the Big Bang to Black Holes: A Brief History of Time.  I’m not sure I would have had the nerve to title my own book The Big Bang to Now:  A Time Line, if I’d realized who I was imitating.  I was having my hair cut today, and my hairdresser said she imagines Hawking will be quite a handful for God when he reaches the gates of heaven.  He will no doubt be explaining to God just how he created the universe.

I also learned that, like Einstein, Hawking wasn’t a very good student.  And he turns out to be one of the greatest geniuses of the century.  I wonder how many other students there are who did not become famous, but who turned out to do great things – even if they did not become famous.

If, like me, you don’t altogether grasp Hawking’s physics and theories about black holes, do go to Google’s list of Hawking’s jokes:  The list includes more than 37000 you-tubes.  He might have lost his voice and had to communicate with the help of a computer voice (with an American accent yet), but he certainly lost neither his intelligence nor his sense of humor with age.

I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.

Stephen Hawkins


March 6, 2018

Who is the bell tolling for?

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:39 pm

Image result for tolling bellIf you were given the same grammatical  schooling I was around the age of ten, you might be cringing at a sentence like “Who is the bell tolling for?”  To be classically correct, I should be saying “For whom is the bell tolling?”, not mixing up the correct use of the words who and whom, and adding to the mess by ending the sentence with a preposition.

I’ve just finished reading a column in The Economist by a writer going under the name of “Johnson” who says that whom  is quietly going out of use, so much so that it is quite acceptable to use who instead of whom in almost every situation.  He believes whom’s existence is even threatened in the most formal use of language, such as in courtrooms and prayers.

Reading the article helped me realize what I love – and respect – about English as a language. It’s not rigid.  Its right answers are relative, not absolute.    It is respectful of  changing perspectives and situations.  It’s far better than French, for instance, in developing new words to fit new concepts or ideas.  The French far more often are reduced to hi-jacking the English words.  English also has adapted to the millions of immigrants who have changed English by the very fact that they are learning and using it from so many different language perspectives.  Ethnologists say that this flexibility of English is one of the reasons why it is spoken so widely, even in countries where it was not brought in by colonialists.  English doesn’t aim to be perfect.  It aims to listen.  It aims to communicate.

When I grow up, I hope I can speak that kind of English.

February 28, 2018

Waiting for the weather

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:55 pm

Bad weather is expected to hit the Island this week

Isle of Wight County Press

Weather forecasters have been warning all of us in the UK that we are facing one of the worst storms to hit the country in more than 25 years.  Tomorrow is scheduled to be the coldest day on record in London, where tens of thousands of people are struggling to get home with cancelled trains due either to the snow or freezing temperatures that disable the track signals and so make trains too dangerous to run.  Scotland is in lockdown, and blizzards are on their way bringing vicious winds and snow.

Very shortly after we started to live together in New York, Peter suggested that we buy a camping stove.  For heavens sakes why, I asked.  We have a perfectly good stove.  Because, he said, a back-up is often the difference between an emergency and inconvenience.

I learned that lesson early, and I can’t count the number of times I have been grateful in the last 45 years for one kind of back-up or other.  Sometimes it was spare cash, sometimes food in the refrigerator, sometimes a blanket in the back of the car.

So when the forecasts predicted this coming storm, we went to the grocery store and stocked up.  We checked our camping stove, lanterns, flashlights, radio batteries, butane heater, i-pad batteries, and cell (mobile) phones.  We even got an extra bottle of gin and supply of tonic.  We are now waiting for the weather, all braced for inconvenience of being snow-bound without electricity or central heating as we hunker down in our warm house.

The irony might be that we are in a small cul-de-sac just south of Cambridge and north-west enough of London to miss the worst of the storms blasting in from Siberia, and northern Europe.

I’ll be a little disappointed if it doesn’t hit us, to tell you the truth.  I was looking forward to being a stalwart survivor.

February 18, 2018

Not me too

Filed under: Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 10:00 pm

A friend has just told me about an alternative feminist response to the #Me Too approach of the thousands of women who are describing sexual abuse which they have experienced.  She called this alternative Not Me Too.

I am astonished by the depth of my response to this alternative.  Yes, yes, yes!  Not Me Too doesn’t mean “I haven’t been abused.”  Nor does it mean that I’m not joining those who have been wretchedly abused, whether they are women, children, or even men.

Rather Not Me Too is a response that says “I will not be a Victim”.  I will fight, I will not hang my head in shame or fear of not being believed or of not getting whatever the abuser has to offer in exchange for my sexual acquiescence.  Not Me Too includes both males and females, young and old, celebrity or unknown, abused or not.  It is an approach that enables all of us to fight against abuse, and to give support and encouragement to whose abused who speak out against their treatment.

I said in a recent post, I have no doubt that sexual abuse is real, and I do not condone it.  But as I have said for years, this is not always a black-and-white question of pleasure-seeking men who have little respect for the opposite sex.  I lived through a period in my own life in which I was culturally naive and sent out signals to men that were misinterpreted.  I think sometimes I might as well have walked topless down Broadway in New York City in terms of the signals I was unwittingly sending.  And of course, there are not only cultural signals of which we are unaware, but children must learn the cultural norms in which they are growing up, and taking advantage of their innocence is, at best, the work of a damaged individual.

But what concerns me immensely about today’s #Me Too movement is that it suggests that the only response on the part of women who have been abused is that of victim, and men are always the perpetrators.  That is not so.  We don’t have to be victims.  We can fight back.  There are women who have said they will not advance their careers on their backs – that giving up one’s freedom in this regard is a ransom too high to pay for any amount of money or celebrity or professional success.  It may come with a high price to scream, to  kick, to lose one’s job, but there are those who will not be quiet if this kind of abuse is happening to them or to anybody they know.

Are there times when I would understand – and would support – a woman who uses sex to make money?  Yes.  I understand a mother with no other options who would use sex to get enough food for her children.  Or perhaps during war, to save a life of someone being unjustly threatened with death- a Jew perhaps.

That’s not what Not Me Too means.  It is not in favour of keeping females safe by hiding them away, by making it clear that they are never first in command, by limiting their education or even by refusing to let us, under appropriate circumstances, make our sexuality, and sexual preferences and desires clear.

It is about making women equal.  That does not mean wiping out our individual differences, whether they are based on biology or personal preferences.  Rather it is a commitment to listening, to reaching consensus rather than imposing sheer power, whether that power lies in physical, political, or economic strength.

I have just read the obituary of a woman who exemplified the Not Me Too philosophy, and I am in deep admiration and regard.  The Economist describes Asma Jahangir as “Pakistan’s loudest voice for democracy and human rights.”   (   She was an independent teenager, complaining at her convent school about the undemocratic selection of the head girl.  Later, as a mother even with a law degree she was forbidden to work.  So she set up the first all-women law firm, defending the helpless, such as girls raped and facing flogging, a young Christian boy facing the death penalty for scrawling on the wall of the village mosque.

It is worth going to Google Search and searching for Asma Jahangir.  She is a model I would offer to anyone.

February 13, 2018

“You can’t afford to leave”

Filed under: Just Stuff,Political thoughts — theotheri @ 9:18 pm

                                           Image result for british flag emoji          Image result for eu flag emoji

Trump’s dumps are sending most of my family and friends in the U.S. into a frenzied survival mode.  Here in Britain Brexit and Britain’s decision to withdraw from the European Union (EU) is just as momentus.

As an American, I don’t have a vote on the issue, but I absolutely have an opinion.

My husband and I were originally of the view that Britain should remain in the EU, where it could continue to benefit from the trade benefits and work from within to reduce the Democratic Deficit – the term used to describe the authority imposed, without democratic authorization, by the bureaucracy in Brussels.  We also disagreed with those British who – like many Americans who voted for Trump – believed that immigrants were taking their jobs away.  As I watch the withdrawal negotiations, however, I am amazed at the complete turnaround of my views about withdrawal.  Barnier, the chief EU negotiator, as said explicitly that he is determined “to punish” (these are his exact words) Britain for its withdrawal.  His aim is to damage Britain’s economy so profoundly that no other dissatisfied country currently in the EU will consider withdrawal.  He is determined to make it clear to everyone that Britain can’t afford to leave.

Well, I don’t think he understands Britain.  Does Barnier not reflect on the fact that Britain fought two world wars against Germany and their allies in Europe?  Does he not remember that Germany bombed the UK relentlessly on the view that enough bombs would make the British surrender?  Did he not notice who won both those wars?

Don’t tell the British they can’t afford to leave.  There are more important things than money.  Yes, of  course there is real poverty.  Not being able to afford sufficient food, clean water, medical help when it’s needed, adequate shelter, and education are all markers of real poverty.  But that is not the kind of poverty Barnier can impose.  Countries including the US and Australia and diplomats from a good many others, are eager to implement trade deals with the Britain when it withdraws from the EU.  But just as important, there are important things in life that money can’t buy – self-determination and creativity, a government responsive to the people it serves, love and respect are not worth giving up for money.

Britain can’t afford to leave the EU?  Oh yeah?  I’m beginning to think – and certainly hope – that the EU is in for a big surprise.

February 1, 2018

Learning from the elephant

Filed under: Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 8:35 pm

A friend just sent me this u-tube with the short message: “inspiring  when so often these days, i want to give up…..”


Isn’t it amazing what a difference not giving up can make, even when we feel helpless?

Whether it’s our environmental destruction, our tribalism, or all the other things that clog our headlines these days, I never expected to take a lead from an elephant!

January 1, 2018

Happy — err, just give me the money

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 9:07 pm

Today is New Year’s Day.  At least in the part of the world where I live.

But I have just read a diary entry belonging to Alan Bennett, the British playwright.  He is describing last Halloween when he was in his holiday cottage in Yorkshire.  The doorbell rang, and he was ready for the beggars.

When he opened the door, he was greeted by a young boy wearing some kind of wig on his head and a scowl on his face.  After a short, fairly unsociable exchange, the lad put out his hand, and said “just give me some money.”  So Bennett dug into his pocket and produced 50 pence (and 75 cents in American money), and the young-un broke out with a huge smile.  As they turned to leave, the adult accompanying the boy, turned to Bennett and said “he’s masquerading as Donald Trump.”

Image result for cartoon of donald trump's hair

I don’t have a Happy New Year’s story to match this.

So can I wish you a happy — err, Halloween?

December 25, 2017

Season of Returning Light

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:17 pm

We here in the globe’s northern hemisphere have been celebrating the return of the God of Light for tens of thousands of years, beginning with tribes now often bunched together as “pagans.”  Actually, we know a great deal about pagan beliefs, partly as a result of the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire after Constantinople accepted the Christian God into the Roman retinue.  Christian authorities then realized that pagan temples were often in dominating positions and with powerful rituals.    Rather than destroying them, Christianity adapted them.

Even in tn the fairly small village where we live just outside of Cambridge (England, that is), our towering church is built on the site of a pagan temple.  Photo:St Andrew's Church, September 2012

I don’t know much about the ancient celebrations and rituals greeting the winter solstice occurring in June in countries south of the equator.  It is only as  I write this that the chauvenism of my knowledge is becoming apparent to me.  But that is research for another day.

Today, I want to send holiday wishes to all the readers of this blog.  I hope that, whatever you call it and however you celebrate it, it is a merry day and a happy 2018.

Thank you for being here.


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.

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.


November 25, 2017

An original Thanksgiving gift

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:37 pm

Image result for cyber space

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: 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

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!

September 21, 2017

A vocation of love

Filed under: Just Stuff,Life as a Nun — theotheri @ 4:30 pm
Tags: ,

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: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:15 pm

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: 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;;  Stow, OH: Wyoga lake at sunrise

August 31, 2017

My life on the farm

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:27 pm

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: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 7:57 pm

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 4, 2017

Test of my faith

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 2:15 pm

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

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

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.

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

But that’s the topic of my next post.




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 

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

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.”

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June 3, 2017

My new housekeeper

Filed under: Environmental Issues,Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 4:26 pm

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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

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

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.

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

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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

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.

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Cheers to the good old days!

March 29, 2017

The breath of life

Filed under: 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.

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

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: 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

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

Filed under: Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 12:10 pm

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.

Image result for time

February 16, 2017

Stepping Stones for the Aging

Filed under: 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

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.


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.


January 28, 2017

Immigrants made America rich

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 5:26 pm
Image result for the Statue of Liberty
It’s not just people who voted for Donald Trump in the U.S. or for Brext in the U.K.  
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.
All these fears are legitimate, if often exaggerated or distorted.
What seems so strange to me though is how it is possible to overlook the huge benefits of immigration.
  •  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.
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.
Oh yes?
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.
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.
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 — theotheri @ 4:21 pm

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.
But to be completely beautiful, we need each other.

January 12, 2017

Love is as deep as selfishness

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 9:26 pm

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.

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.

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


January 7, 2017

God save WHO?

Filed under: Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 2:45 pm

Image result for god save the queen

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:

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January 1, 2017

A drink to the New Year

Filed under: Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 1:12 pm

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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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

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: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:11 pm

But neither are the wonderful things!

November 30, 2016

My Dorothy Day puzzle

Filed under: 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

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.

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.


November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving for the simple gifts

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

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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 — theotheri @ 12:46 pm

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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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 — theotheri @ 4:46 pm
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 10:47 am


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.

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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

Filed under: Catholicism and other questions of religion,Just Stuff — theotheri @ 12:40 pm

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

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?

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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 — theotheri @ 3:31 pm

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

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: Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 7:54 pm

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: 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.



September 4, 2016

Not one of us?

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

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: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 4:02 pm

Image result  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…


August 28, 2016

Silent thoughts

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 3:19 pm

You may not have noticed, but I’ve not blogged very often in recent months.  I’ve missed the sharing, especially with some readers whom I have come to feel are friends, even though we’ve never met.

I’m the oldest sister in my family and several of my younger sibs are facing serious illness.  But unlike our growing-up years, I don’t have a store of right answers and suggestions.  It is now they who are finding the wisdom.

I suspect my relative silence may continue for a while, because sharing the thoughts which are swirling around my head almost 24/7 may compromise the privacy of those who deserve it, and so it is not time yet for me to think out loud as I usually do in this forum.

I do hope to be able to dig up some trivia to share occasionally, if only to keep myself going.  Perhaps a few Trump stories?


July 26, 2016

A stand against sexual discrimination

Filed under: Just Stuff,The English — theotheri @ 8:02 pm

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

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 — theotheri @ 8:29 pm

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: 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?

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


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

Filed under: Just Stuff,Political thoughts,The Economy: a Neophyte's View — theotheri @ 8:46 pm

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.
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.
Don’t know what it’s going to be like when we wake up on Friday morning…
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

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

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. 

 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


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?

Filed under: Just Stuff — theotheri @ 8:33 pm

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.

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