Wednesday, October 1, 2014

From your Viking friends: “Ves heill!”

The Vikings were badass marauders, right?

Well, of course they were, but they weren’t completely bad guys….

Historians and archeologists tell us that Vikings liked poetry, and they took a bath once a week (the Norse word for “Saturday” is, roughly, “bath day”).

The folks at report that the hirsute Vikings combed their hair every day, used tweezers and ear spoons (!), and consequently the hygienically-advanced raiders were rewarded, on their excursions in England, with the kind attentions of the local maidens who shunned the shaggy and odoriferous English lads….or so the story goes….

Some of our everyday words, like “eggs” and “steak” and “cake,” have Norse origins.

Oh, and here’s the other thing: Vikings really didn’t wear the horned helmets much, if at all, so if you have one of ‘em, you may be cool when you wear it to parties, but it’s not historically correct.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

More than 28g of truth here….

Spread the word: notes that there are only three countries on the surface of the planet that don’t use the metric system of measurements:

…..and, the United States of America.

Most everyone knows that it would be more efficient, and commerce and industry would be more productive, if we used the metric system, which was invented by the French in 1799.

Most everyone knows why we don’t use the metric system: businesses don’t want to pay the conversion costs, and our government is too dysfunctional to mandate it.

Try kicking that can down the road another kilometer or two….

Monday, September 29, 2014

Third party?....I don’t think so

Gallup reported recently that 58% of Americans think “a third major [political] party is needed” because the GOP and the Dems are just screwing everything up.
I guess that’s a tempting thought, but it’s an idea that flashes, then crashes and burns every so often—pursuing it is a waste of time. I guess a third party could pick up some local government or state government seats, but that’s about it.

Let’s just pick it apart a little bit:

I suggest it’s more or less unimaginable that a third party candidate could win the presidency in our current political environment. Winning 270 electoral college votes? A bridge too far….the Republicans and the Democrats would divide and conquer, state by state, at every turn.

Ditto for picking up more than one seat in the U.S. Senate, same argument….the entrenched two-party apparatus and their gigantic funding resources (post-Citizens United ruling) argue massively against the success of a third party.

Let’s stipulate that a third party might be able to pick up a couple seats in the House of Representatives, but that’s as far as it goes, I think. More than 90% of House seats are more or less safe for the incumbent Democrat/Republican due to gerrymandering and voter apathy and power/wealth connections.

What I’m saying is that it’s a grotesquely challenging uphill battle everywhere for a third party, and any lonely third party candidate who might happen to get elected is going to have a voice but no power in Washington. He/she will be shunned by both the major parties unless he/she agrees to caucus with one of them….in such a case, then, really, what does “third party” or “independent” mean, you know what I mean?

In any event, one of Gallup’s underlying cherished conclusions is that the self-reported “independents” among the electorate are strongly in favor of a third party effort. Indeed, in this recent report, 71% of so-called “independents” saluted the third party notion.

The trouble is, most self-reported “independents” aren’t really independent. Rather, they are disaffected Republicans and Democrats who decline to admit an affiliation with a major party, but who nevertheless have easily identifiable political convictions, ethical/religious beliefs and voting patterns that undeniably mark them as Democrats or Republicans….or hard-core non-voters.

The third party idea is DOA.

If you’re not happy with the president or your current representatives in Congress, stop voting for the incumbents.

Simple as that.


Sunday, September 28, 2014

Imagine that….

A squirrel’s eye view of things isn’t really something you want to recommend to friends or family….

I watched my own backyard Nutkin for a few minutes this morning, and I suddenly realized that squirrels—at least squirrels like my squirrel—live in perpetual fear.

My little Nutsy checked the ground under the Norway maple for a seed thingy, then looked up, looked around, then jumped to a new spot, checked for edibles, looked around, looked up, stood stock still and sat on his haunches, head erect, for long seconds, then hopped over to another spot, looked around….

Imagine that, during all your waking hours, for the rest of your life, you had to check every six seconds so you'd spot any nearby creature that might want to eat you.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

The wisdom of Charlemagne

To have another language is to possess a second soul.

Charlemagne (742?-814)
Charles the Great, king of the Franks

Charlemagne was the first post-Roman Empire emperor of Western Europe. His achievements and exploits aren’t exactly notorious in our age, but he was a giant force to be reckoned with in his own era.

His appreciation of language skills appeals to me, particularly because my own early experience with learning a second language (French) was memorable.

I had a gifted teacher who persuaded us to try to think in the French language, and assured us that such an undertaking was the most gratifying way to try to learn it. I recall my efforts to do so on the long bus ride from Temple University back to my home.

I have long appreciated this truth: some words, phrases and thoughts cannot be literally, fully translated from one language to another, I think of “cowboy,”  “rodina,” “tabula rasa,” “la belle epoque”….

To know another language well is to know, not only different words and grammar, but also an independent way of thinking, a distinct sensitivity to alternative ideas and emotions and perceptions, another mindset, perhaps a second soul….

Friday, September 26, 2014

Would you like to live in Texas?

Would you like to live in Texas?
Vouley-vous habiter au Texas?

Well, everyone in the world could live in Texas if we all lived as tightly packed as New Yorkers. says that every single one of Earth’s approximately 7.1 billion people could hang their hats in Texas, if they could tolerate the population density now existing in The Big Apple.

Forget about looking for the smoke from your neighbor’s chimney….we’re talking about the population of Switzerland living in the next block over, roughly…

Not to my taste….

Thursday, September 25, 2014

No daughter of mine is going to….!?!

See, sometimes the ideology gets silly.

I mean, if my daughter wants to marry a Republican, and he’s otherwise a good guy, and they’re in love, well, let’s raise a glass to the happy couple!

Now, I’m strongly committed to having and defending principles. But, really….half of Republicans, and a third of Democrats, are willing to say right out loud they’d be “displeased” if a child married someone from the other camp?

Are they really saying stuff like “Gee whiz, Marcie, Jonathan’s an alright guy, I guess, but, but….he’s a Democrat! We just have to put our foot down here and say no….”

I suggest to them:  get real. Get all worked up about some real stuff, like dangerous economic inequality and global climate change and congressional dysfunction and too many guns….

You know what I’m saying.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The 1% in Big Sky country....

So, are you in the 99% or the 1% in your state? offers this handy graphic map showing what you have to pull down each year to be in the top 1% of earners in your state.

Connecticut is right up there at the top: if your household makes at least $642,000 a year, bingo!
In the District of Columbia, the bar is even higher, at $688,000. Maybe it’s all those hard-working lobbyists….

At the other end of the spectrum, try Montana, for a measly $280,000 per annum you too can savor the other-worldly delight of being in the top 1%.

I guess you can do a lot with a coupla hunnert thousand in Big Sky country….

Sep 23, 2014

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Nice people….

There are some nice people here and there on the surface of the planet who will do a kind deed for a stranger, just for the sake of being a nice person.

Recently I spent a little time in a couple very pleasant locales, the time being made more pleasant by the persistent habit of some motorists who stop just about anywhere to allow pedestrians to cross the street.

Now, you get a bit more of this attention if children and strollers are involved, or you're trying to cross a busy avenue during a rain shower....

But you don't have to present any obvious vulnerability to get this royal treatment.

What a treat to get a friendly wave across the street from a driver you don't know.

A friendly wave of gratitude in return doesn't seem like enough of a thank-you.

Blowing a kiss seems a bit....well….anyhow, maybe I'll try it next time.

Monday, September 22, 2014

We have to do more than kvetch….

Why isn’t this particular factoid at the top of the news roundup every single morning?

Last year, only 26% of American students could claim to be proficient in math, and only 38% were good enough in reading.

Let’s say it another way: three-quarters of American students are not proficient in math at their grade level, and almost two-thirds don’t measure up in reading.

We’re all guilty of allowing this to happen: school boards, teachers, parents, communities, state and federal governments.

This really bad news comes from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the largest continuing monitor of student achievement in the country. The first tests were administered in 1969. It’s a congressionally authorized project sponsored by the U. S. Department of Education.

What are our high school teachers and administrators thinking when they graduate young people who really can’t cut the mustard?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

The wisdom of Gustave Flaubert

“Success is a consequence.”

Gustave Flaubert (1821-1880)
19th century French novelist

The full quote is “Success is a consequence and must not be a goal”—I’m not too sure that has a clear meaning for me….

It is clear to me that focusing on the process of being successful, paying attention to the means as much as to the end, is a fulfilling experience.

Boo Radley

Surely, doing the right thing is the most important element of one’s expectation of success.

Doing the right thing is good, regardless of how success may be perceived.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

These parents are hurting their children

For all of the obvious biological, historical, social, developmental and plainly human reasons, a child’s best bet for a good life is to have two parents around all the time.

But here’s the problem: today, more than 40 percent of American kids are born to unmarried mothers.

Now, I am not simply trying to make a doctrinaire case for marriage. Manifestly, a man and a woman don’t have to be married to have a baby.

The point is: too many unmarried new parents either pay no attention to the new baby (as in, the single mom phenomenon) or the new moms and dads don’t have staying power—roughly half of new moms and dads have gone their separate ways by the time the unfortunate kid reaches the age of 5.

And here’s another devastating fact: 60 percent of kids born out of wedlock are “surprises”—the parents didn’t intend to have these unfortunate babies. That’s about 1,000,000 children, every year, brought into this largely unforgiving world with a couple strikes against them before they take their first breath.

This is a problem for all of us. These kids don’t get started on the right foot, and too many of them end up taking too many wrong steps during their lives, and too many of them never get enough traction to live a happy life.

We need to have a stronger private and public will to avoid making babies until both parents are ready make an enduring commitment to change all the diapers and read the bedtime stories and run behind the bikes with training wheels and….

Friday, September 19, 2014

The wisdom of Will Rogers (part 4)

I don't make jokes. I just watch the government
                and report the facts.

You know, 90 years ago this might have been a little funny….

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The wisdom of Artemus Ward

“It ain’t so much the things we don’t know that get us in trouble. 
        It’s the things we know that ain’t so.”

Charles Farrar Browne aka Artemus Ward (1834-1867)

Good old Artemus really nailed this one.

Other folks have said much the same thing: it’s the things we know that aren’t true that are the most troublesome.

Take a minute: sure, you’re pretty smart, but can’t you admit that there’s at least something you think you know for sure, that might be a bit sketchy?

Think it over….check yourself out on that one.

p.s. in some ways, Browne/Ward was the Will Rogers of the 19th century, he had a real knack for drilling down to the basics, with some exotic misspelling, as in:

“The Puritans nobly fled from a land of despotism to a land of freedim, where they could not only enjoy their own religion, but could prevent everybody else from enjoyin’ his.”


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Readin’, writin’, ‘rithmetic….a little history

American schools have been around since the Boston Latin School was opened in 1635.

Yet, what we think of today as public education, K-12, hasn’t been around all that long.

In 1644 the Dedham (MA) town meeting established the first tax-supported public school. Of course, it was for boys only. For long decades, girls might learn to read (so they could read the Bible, for instance), but it wasn’t thought important for them to be able to write or do their ciphers.

One-room school, rural Oklahoma, early 1900s

In New England, in the 18th century, “common schools” were established, mostly in the form of one-room schoolhouses for students, who often paid a fee to the teacher.

For most kids, the development of reading, writing and math skills was mostly a family concern until about the middle of the 19th century. By that time, public education and public high schools were becoming common, and attendance was in the process of being made mandatory.

What was taught in this evolution of schools was largely a local concern, often tied to the training and interests of the teacher.

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that a nationwide standardized curriculum was established, mandating roughly the same array of classes that students are taking today: mathematics, English, science and history.

I guess you could say we’ve come a long way, baby….but I guess that Americans have never been less proud of our public education than we are today.

I wonder what an 18th century schoolmarm would have thought about the Common Core standards?

My guess is that she probably wasn’t giving passing grades to students who just weren’t getting it….that seems like the bottom line to me.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

What’s trump?

                                                  On the beautiful

                                                     beach, rich surf sound, zephyrs….all

                                                        trumped by her cell phone.

                                                  Narragansett, RI

Friday, September 12, 2014

Congress is letting Americans get poorer

Maybe things are looking good for you, economically, job-wise, income-wise….

For the more than 160 million Americans at the bottom half of the economic scale, it’s mostly bad news:

The Federal Reserve released data this week showing that, for the poorest half of Americans with the lowest wages/incomes, actual wages FELL by 5 per cent between 2010 and 2013. It’s detailed here on

Yeah, there’s been a nationwide economic recovery going on since 2009—slowly and unevenly, although pretty steady—but not for everyone.

Trouble is, the recovery isn’t boosting the economic situation for all those millions at the bottom end of the scale.

One explanation: Congress hasn’t done much of anything in the last five years to boost growth in our national economy and help create jobs for millions of Americans who want to work.

Shame on the Republicans and Democrats for maintaining a political standoff in Washington, and not doing anything else that could be described as governing the country.

Why do we keep re-electing the people who won’t do The People’s work?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Book review: Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life

Book review: Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 2014
371 pages, with index

If this is your first exposure to Harriet Beecher Stowe, you’re in for a robust telling of her story. From the first page to the last, you can’t doubt that Stowe cared deeply about most aspects of private life, her faith and the all-encompassing religious framework of the civitas. As a woman in the mid-19th century, she was a zealous missionary without portfolio.

Of course Koester gives comprehensive analysis of the writing and impact of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It was a best-seller in the United States and in Great Britain. It moved multitudes to hate slavery or hate Harriet Beecher Stowe. It did not, despite President Lincoln’s mocking jest when he met Stowe at the White House, start “this great war.” It did help to clarify existing polemical doctrines of opposing camps.

Koester’s aim is to illuminate Stowe’s spiritual life and her very public commitment to advocating her faith and the importance of religious observance and conviction. If that’s not to your taste, reading this book will be drudgery. For me, it was illuminating.

For my taste, Koester mentions but does not usefully detail the context of other aspects of Stowe’s life and impact on American society. She was a woman who conspicuously did not abide by the social conventions that dictated a passive, private, familial role for women. She wrote and was published extensively (I was surprised to learn that she was a prolific writer, including novels, tracts and political broadsides). She had lots of contact with the great and near-great, including President Lincoln and Queen Victoria. Stowe more or less supported her extended family with her writing—it would be interesting to know how much money she made from her writing, because Stowe persisted in a socially risky career and lifestyle that might have been unattainable without a (relatively) high income. I suspect that Stowe was not one of the 99% in her time.

Koester nobly attempts to make her case that Harriet Beecher Stowe was a mover and shaker, non pareil, in the anti-slavery movement before, during and after the Civil War. I suggest that this is a circumstantial biography of a notable lady who was notably revered—and notably tolerated—by a great many of her contemporaries.

If the South had won the Civil War, I think it’s possible that Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, would be more than a tad less familiar to us.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The art of Julia Fehrenbacher

“. . . the sparrows continue
to sing their song
even when you forget to sing
yours . . .”

Sure, sparrows are gonna do what they do….

It’s a poignant injunction for me: Don’t forget to sing your song.

I heard a child singing the other day.

I want to sing like that.

From “Hold Out Your Hand” by Julia Fehrenbacher
As posted September 5, 2014 on this site:  A Year of Being Here

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

To loll, v.i.

Think lolling is a

   wastrel’s dream?—oh no, the mind

      strives, achieves lolling.

Also, bears....

Monday, September 8, 2014

The art of Lynn Ungar

“. . . what of your rushed
and useful life? Imagine setting it all down—
papers, plans, appointments, everything—
leaving only a note: ‘Gone
to the fields to be lovely. . .’ “


Color me gone.

Give yourself permission to be lovely.


From "Camas Lilies" by Lynn Ungar from Blessing the Bread: Meditations. © Skinner House, 1995.

As posted August 31, 2014, on this website:  A Year of Being Here

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Lexington, we hardly knew ye….

Ever been to the Lexington Green in Lexington, MA? You know the one, “shot heard ‘round the world” and everything….

I went there yesterday.

The storied Lexington Green—where a reckless farmer hiding behind the meetinghouse may have fired that shot—is a rather smallish triangle of grass at the western end of prosperous Main Street, it has a statue, a flagpole, a couple memorial rocks with inscriptions, and a young fella dressed in a marginally pathetic Revolutionary-era costume who did his opportunistic tour guide thing by blabbing rapidly (by rote) for five minutes about the skirmishing that got started early in the morning on April 19, 1775.

That’s about it.

The Lexington “Visitor Center’ is a claustrophobic gift shop with a tabletop diorama of the encounter, the painted figures are adequate enough, but the printed blurb about the “first battle for American freedom” is schoolboy patriotic language, not too inspiring….

I really thought the green would be a lot bigger, I thought there would be more historic stuff visible, I thought it would be more visibly engaging and more substantially respectful…….I think a fair comment is that the green is there if you want to go and look at it, ain’t much to see…..

I hasten to say that it was moving for me, personally, to stand on the ground where Capt. Parker and his 76 men bravely decided they weren’t going to let the lobster backs march through Lexington without at least getting the finger from American militiamen who were ready to defend their town and their farms….and I’m delighted to report that, except for the 18 dead and wounded from the original militia crew on the green, Capt. Parker’s boys reassembled a few hours later along the road between Concord and Lexington, and gave the regulars a few going away presents as they marched back to Boston…..

I know I’m 239 years late, but I want to say to Parker and those embattled farmers: “Thank you for your service to our country.”