Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Book review: Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons)

Book review: Les Liaisons Dangereuses

A book that makes language an erogenous zone….

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Sunday, December 29, 2013

The wisdom of the Cherokees (part 29)


"There's great contentment in minding our own business."
The wisdom of the Sequichie of the Cherokees

I think the important part here is not "minding our own business," it's the "great contentment" part….

Have you focused on great contentment lately?

One way of thinking about minding your own business is to understand and accept that you cannot live someone else's life.



But you can be engaged in another person's life, even better if it's a mutual openness, if both of you can frankly touch hot spots of shared intuition and delight and experience….I think screaming together, thigh touching thigh, as the roller coaster plunges down is a pretty good example….

There is great contentment in minding your own business with someone you love.













Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Homo sapiens bubble….


The current rate of human population growth cannot continue for more than a few decades.

In the time it took you to read that sentence, Earth's population increased by about 300 people. Think about your whole neighborhood growing by 100 households every two seconds.


This is an almost invisible threat to our way of life.

It should put some starch in any argument you want to make about global supplies of food and drinking water, global climate change, fossil fuel reserves, international politics and conflicts, international and domestic terrorism, air pollution in China, traffic jams on I-405 in southern California, parking spots in London or Hong Kong, beachfront summer rentals, you name it….

The human population of Earth is increasing by about 220,000 people EVERY DAY. That's about the population of Scottsdale, Arizona. Imagine that a new city the size of Scottsdale will come into existence somewhere tomorrow in Michigan. The day after that, a new Scottsdale in southern France. And then Zimbabwe the next day, and so on….

It took modern man, Homo sapiens, about 200,000 years to create a living population of 1 billion people—that was the estimated world-wide population in 1800.

It took 130 years to add the second billion (1930), then less than 30 years for the next billion (1959), then another billion in 15 years (1974), then 13 years (1987), 12 years (1999), and 12 more years to reach a total of 7 billion in 2011.


I'm picking a dreadful fact almost at random: right now, close to 1 billion people don't have access to clean drinking water.

At the current population growth rate we'd get to 14 billion in 2095, but I really don't think the planet will support another 7 billion people.

Do you?

    


Friday, December 27, 2013

Advice to little girls, courtesy of Mark Twain (part 2)




"You should ever bear in mind that it is to your kind parents that you are indebted for your food, and for the privilege of staying home from school when you let on that you are sick. Therefore you ought to respect their little prejudices, and humor their little whims, and put up with their little foibles until they get to crowding you too much."
Mark Twain (1835-1910)









Don't you wish Mark Twain could be your "Grampa"?










Thursday, December 26, 2013

Rosie the Riveter, R. I. P.




Geraldine "Rosie the Riveter" Doyle (1924-2010)

Even if you're not old enough to recognize the "Rosie the Riveter" moniker from World War II, you've probably seen her poster.

When Geraldine/Rosie died on Dec. 26, 2010, the Washington Post eulogized her as "a 17-year-old factory worker [who] became the inspiration for a popular World War II recruitment poster that evoked female power and independence."


The Post forgot to say explicitly that Geraldine was one of the anonymous 3 million women who stepped right up to "do a man's job" in defense production plants throughout the war. Many of them realized that it wasn't "a man's job," it was "a job." After the war ended, most of them returned to then-traditional women's roles and "women's jobs," but they opened the door for the explosion of women in the workplace in the last half of the 20th century. In 1950 about 34% of women worked outside the home; in 2000, about 60% of women were on the job.

"Rosie the Riveter" was a fictional character, a wartime morale-boosting invention aimed at recruiting women for wartime work. There were several iterations in different locales, a "Rosie the Riveter" song, and numerous local press celebrations of the local "Rosies" on the assembly lines.


One day in early 1942 a United Press International photographer snapped a candid shot of a good-looking brunette teenager bending over a machine in a metal factory in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Geraldine was the girl in the polka-dot bandanna. She did not know that the photo ended up in the hands of an artist, who took Geraldine as his inspiration and created the "We Can Do It" poster with an intensely determined young woman rolling up her sleeve.





In fact, Geraldine didn't find out that she was the girl in the poster for more than 40 years. A family member read an article in a 1984 issue of Modern Maturity magazine that linked the teenage factory worker with the iconic patriotic poster.





Much belated thanks to Geraldine Doyle for doing her bit in the war.

Geraldine Doyle, requiescat in pace.










Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tacuit in praesepio . . .



Tacuit in praesepio illa nocte hiemali gelida, laeta nocte illa.
In praesepio nulla telephonicula, nulli vestigatores, nullae cicadae, nee alia molesta . . .

It was quiet in the manger that cold winter night, that joyous night long ago.
There were no cell phones in the manger, nor pagers, nor beepers, nor other noisy things . . .


Thanks to Larry Lipkis (English text) and Dennis Glew (Latin translation) for "Tacuit in praesepio" (excerpt above), performed December 15, 2013, during the Moravian College Christmas Vespers Service in Central Moravian Church, Bethlehem, PA


Merry Christmas, Mrs. Calabash!










Merry Christmas! Pass it forward.










Monday, December 23, 2013

Faucet good, hydrant bad....


I'm no fan of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), he's a right wing ideologue whose concepts of constitutional, economic, social and civil realities don't match up with mine.

Nevertheless, give credit where credit is due….

Last week Toomey crossed over from the dark side and joined the other Pennsylvania senator, Democrat Bob Casey, to sponsor a bill that would prevent the EPA from implementing a thoughtlessly costly new rule.

Seems the Environmental Protection Agency intended to protect the environment of your throat and mine by requiring local governments everywhere to replace malfunctioning fire hydrants with new, certified, expensive lead-free hydrants, and discard any existing spare hydrant inventory.

As Toomey pointed out, the rationale for this EPA rule was really bogus, namely, that sometimes people drink the water that comes out of fire hydrants, and we don't want anyone drinking lead-contaminated water.


Of course we don't want anyone to routinely drink lead-contaminated water.

Let's all pledge to resist the impulse to drink water directly from a fire hydrant.

Let the world know: in America, we don't drink water from fire hydrants.

Tell your friends.






Sunday, December 22, 2013

Saturday, December 21, 2013

A minimum wage primer….


OK, I'm comfortable saying that I'm a liberal progressive, I voted for President Obama twice, I believe we need government to regulate the predatory impulses of the so-called "free market."

But I don't support the idea of a minimum wage law.

According to a fairly basic economic concept, it's counter-productive to set a floor on the price of anything, including labor, if it's above whatever level that may be set by supply and demand—any higher price will reduce demand.

Even if somehow a minimum wage law made economic sense, I don't think there's any rational way to set a "minimum wage" at the "right" level to achieve any particular policy purpose you have in mind. What's the "right" number? No matter how you slice it, any specific dollar figure for the minimum wage is a wholly arbitrary choice.

Take the current debate.

No matter how you slice it, a law that says an employer can't pay less than $10.10 per hour means that some employers who would be willing to hire a new worker at $10.09 per hour might not hire anyone. The working poor who have jobs will make more per hour....and the working poor who don't have jobs won't earn anything.


Look, why don't we just set the minimum wage at $30 per hour—do you think that will raise the collective incomes of the working poor?

OK, suppose we make it $29 per hour….think that would be better?

See what I mean?




Paul Krugman's take....

Friday, December 20, 2013

Movie review: "Ethan Frome" (1993)


Movie review: "Ethan Frome" (1993)
Liam Neeson, Patricia Arquette, Joan Allen
Director: John Madden
1 hr 39 mins
Based on the novel, Ethan Frome (1911), by Edith Wharton.



I watched the movie, then I read the book, then I watched the movie again (and again), it's easier than reading the book again, but I'm going to do that too.

For my taste, the book and the movie are interchangeable. Knowing the ending doesn't reduce the dreadful intensity of this story that gets ever more sad from beginning to end.

The love story breaks through the arid shell of real life—oh, so briefly….Ethan (Neeson) wants more, Mattie (Arquette) wants more, the viewer wants more….

Every other character in the story seems to, well, not necessarily "want" less, but to be all too righteously satisfied with less. 






Except for a brief whirl of a dance scene, there are no smiles on the faces of any of the other characters who live dried up lives, and disdain the spark of love and life in Ethan and Mattie.

Doubtless, the town folk see a pitiless moral lesson in the damaged life of Ethan Frome and the love he must keep stuffed inside him.


I see a man and a woman who share forbidden love, but don't know what to do about it, and grotesquely fail to snuff it out.


    



Thursday, December 19, 2013

The old wolf....

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My haiku about partnership in the animal world

Stayin’ alive…

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The exasperation of Tycho Brahe


O crassa ingenia.
O caecos coeli spectatores.         

Tycho Brahe, (1546-1601)
Danish astronomer






Brahe made a splash when he published De nova stella in 1573, challenging the Aristotelian doctrine of a perfected, unchanging celestial sphere.

Living before the advent of practical telescopes, the Danish gentleman-scientist was the last of the principal "naked eye" astronomers, working without telescopes.


He was in the van of astronomer-scientists who gradually debunked the Ptolemaic concept of the cosmos as an Earth-centric (geocentric) system. Brahe proposed a cosmos with the sun and the moon orbiting the Earth, and the other planets orbiting the sun, with stars in the classical "fixed spheres."

The Copernican cosmological system was at odds with Brahe's geo-heliocentric system, and Kepler later proposed a more correct orbital system based substantially on Brahe's astoundingly detailed and (for his time) spectacularly accurate astronomical observations.

Brahe wasn't in the mainstream, and he was not shy about promoting his own system.

Hence, his less-than-tactful characterization of others with divergent views:

          O crassa ingenia.
          O caecos coeli spectatores.         

          O, thick wits.
          O, blind watchers of the sky.







Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The wisdom of George Bernard Shaw (part 4)


"The single biggest problem in communication
                            is the illusion that it has taken place."

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature

Today's lesson is in three parts, that's Part 1 above.

Part 2: "It does not require many words to speak the truth." (Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce)

Part 3: "Listen! Or your tongue will make you deaf." (Wisdom of the Cherokees)





Monday, December 16, 2013

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Movie review: "The Long Walk Home" (1990)



Sissy Spacek, Whoopi Goldberg, Dwight Schultz
Director: Richard Pearce

This is the kind of movie that makes you want to cry—not because you watched the movie, but because what you're watching really happened.

I didn't live in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955….didn't know about the bus boycott at the time. Shame on most of the white folks who are accurately portrayed in "The Long Walk Home," the racist citizens who complained at their dinner parties that "the niggers don't want to work" while their black maids were serving dinner. And much too tardy and much too inadequate  praise for the other white folks who are accurately portrayed, the ones who felt the injustice, a little bit or a lot, that framed their everyday lives, living with their black neighbors in Montgomery.


This is a message movie, plain and simple. Sissy and Whoopi are the messengers, plain and simple. They know what they're doing and they send the message to the viewer, straight from the shoulder, right between the eyes. 

It all seems very calm, except for the one, not-too-violent crowd violence scene at the carpool intersection—frankly, it's a bit awkwardly choreographed, but the denouement is satisfying.


Sissy, rather incredibly, tells her domineering, bigoted, abusive husband to stuff himself at the very end. Good message, but not too realistic, I guess, from a white 1950s housewife in Montgomery, Alabama.

But Sissy is the other strong character—Sissy is on the right side of the bus boycott, and she sticks her neck out a lot more than Whoopi's maid character does.

There is dreadful truth, and heroism, in "The Long Walk Home."

p.s. I talked with a trusted personal advisor about this movie, and her comments moved me to add these thoughts:

I can read about the Egyptians enslaving hundreds of thousands to build the pyramids and feel sympathetic, and I can read about the Huns sacking Rome and killing tens of thousands and feel  rueful, and I can read about the Inquisition and feel indignant, and I can read about the wholesale destruction of the First Peoples of North America after the Europeans arrived….and you know, on and on….and then I can look at the 1920s photos of the lynchings in the South and feel desperately angry, and then I can watch “Long Walk Home” and feel wretchedly helpless and  realize that lots of the white folks who lived in Montgomery in 1955 are still alive and wonder if they’ve changed their outlook at all, and hope that their children aren’t in schoolrooms teaching my grandchildren anytime soon…..











Saturday, December 14, 2013

The killing goes on….



More than 33,000 Americans have died from gunshot wounds in the year since a crazy man with several guns killed 20 first graders and six school staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

The shooter fired 155 shots in about five minutes, and then killed himself.

Nationwide, there have been 25 additional shooting incidents at schools, with 18 dead and 25 wounded. There was another one yesterday in Colorado.

Shame on members of Congress, who have done nothing to curb gun violence and restrict the availability of automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines.

Shame on them.


I'd wish that every member of Congress should spend some time in a first-grade classroom at the Sandy Hook school, but that's not possible now—the school has been demolished.

Members of Congress can stop whatever they're doing today at 9:30 am and count to 26….and if they start sobbing, they can use their fingers….








Friday, December 13, 2013

Dream sequence….


Imagine waking up to find that everyone cared—really cared—mostly about the right things.

The other day the rector asked for contributions to an "End 68 Hours of Hunger" campaign.

I heard him explain that some local kids live in such poverty that the subsidized lunch they get in school on Friday is the last thing they get to eat before the subsidized breakfast they get in school on Monday morning.

You do the math.
Could you live that way?

You do the math.
Have a dream about it.





Wednesday, December 11, 2013

More of the same old same old….


Yet another tally finds that only 17 per cent of the directors of the Fortune 500 companies are women—and only 15 per cent of the senior executive slots are filled by women.

It was the same story last year, and the year before that….

We know the story: most directors and executives and managers are men, so men are much more likely to have managerial and executive experience, so the men in positions of power mostly hire men to fill empty positions.

Let's get real about executive qualifications and experience—I'll argue this point: the average female executive/director is a lot more qualified and experienced than the average male executive/director, because the woman ran a longer, tougher gauntlet to get into her seat.

Of course there are really good male candidates for every empty board seat….and really good female candidates.

Nevertheless, I think no one would ingenuously argue that all of the current male prospects for Fortune 500 board seats are more qualified than the handful of exceptional female candidates who would be seriously considered.


I'd love to challenge every Fortune 500 board that's looking to fill an empty chair right now to demonstrate that there is no woman who outshines the top three short-listed men.

Go ahead, crunch the probabilities for yourself.

I think the conclusion is inescapable: all those guys who fill the board rooms should do themselves and their companies a favor and increase the female contingent to at least, say, 18 per cent.

That's for starters….

....and you know what should come next.







Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Your tax dollars at work….


State and local governments are giving $1 billion a year—that's $1,000,000,000—to privately-owned NFL teams, for tax exemptions and stadium subsidies. 

If you're a football fan, I hope you're enjoying the use of my tax dollars (I'm saying this in a nice way).

I couldn't find any hard numbers on the giveaways for other pro sports.



There's no proof—and never has been any proof—that public subsidies of professional sports generally have a positive payback to all the taxpayers of the state and local governments that are handing out the cash….obviously, some of the taxpayers are enjoying the benefits. And all of the team owners are enjoying the benefits.



Just imagine how many math teachers we could hire with a billion dollars a year….or how many elementary and secondary teachers we could RE-HIRE with a billion dollars a year….

Just sayin'….








Monday, December 9, 2013

A "selfie" of old….


Almost indubitably this is the first "selfie," taken about 175 years ago in Philadelphia:



You're gazing at the un-famous visage of Robert Cornelius, a 19th century chemist in the City of Brotherly Love who sat in front of his camera for a minute to create this image in 1839.

He couldn't share it on InstaGram because the Internet hadn't quite been invented yet….

Nice to see that he was fully clothed and doesn't appear to be smashed or high, and wasn't playing air guitar, and wasn't doing anything of a sexually compromising nature, and I'm hoping he wasn't signaling any gang I.D. there….

Just in case you were wondering, the Oxford Dictionaries people decided that "selfie" is their "Word Of The Year." Not sure what that means, really, in terms of cultural sophistication…I haven't done any "selfies" yet so I guess I'm slow on the uptick….

And by the way, "selfie" was first used to describe an online self-portrait by an Australian dude in 2002.

I wonder what "selfie" means in Awstraylyin….it doesn't mean "beer," I know that much.