Tuesday, October 31, 2006

I'm trying to WORK here...

Daisy likes to help in the studio. Productivity goes down by up to 100 percent when she's on the job. Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 30, 2006

God, the Ready Audience

Only a fraction of what gets written gets read.

Only a fraction of what gets thought gets written.

Only a fraction of what gets created gets experienced in any way.

Life goes at such a pace that you always have to choose whether to experience it or record it. We all know how to act like film stars, regardless of how fame eludes us.

Being one of the infinite number of monkeys on this planet producing unmined gems every day, you might imagine what it would be like to see them all gathered, polished and set. It's tempting to think of some interested supernatural being who can and will record and appreciate it all. Every meaningful look, every soliloquy, every unspoken insight will, at the very least, be lovingly magneted to the door of heaven's refrigerator.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Heavy Rain + High Wind = Oops

We found this on our way through Ossipee Village this afternoon. Power outages don't seem to be quite as widespread as last week, but the wind has been roaring. Note the roots of the tree lifting the front of the boat trailer as the trunk appears to cross the stern of the boat. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Back to the Fuchsia

The weather last weekend was a last taste of summer. On Monday the temperature might have nudged 80. The bedraggled fuchsia hanging by one of the hummingbird feeders put out two beautiful blooms. Two more buds hang nearby. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

For Our Valued Customer

For you convenience, we offer the following two payment options:

1: Through the nose.

2: Out the wazoo.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Origin of the Therapist God

Imagine primitive humanity. Every day brought new levels of self awareness, more questions. Emotions needed names. Mood swings could be noted and charted. Feelings started to stimulate thoughts that affected the feelings.

Depression in animals seems to be a passing thing, for the most part. But humans, able to extrapolate so many possible outcomes from a single point in time, keep coming around to depressing concepts. It has shaped our course from the beginning of self awareness.

A self-aware creature knows its beginning and its end from almost any point in its existence. Not many know the full specific details, but endpoints are in view.

Very early, people must have learned that if they shared something that hurt them with someone who cared about them, the caring friend or family member often suffered mental anguish at least equal to that of the original sufferer. So someone who cares about his loved ones would try to avoid telling them about unpleasant things unless they needed to know.

Depressed subjects would soon learn that people who did not care about them didn't want to hear their blubbering.

"Get out of here, you're bringing me down," may have been one of the first phrases of organized language after "Look out!" and "Oh, gross, was that you?"

The depressed person might find a quiet place and begin to talk to no one. Before too long, he might discover that this helped a little.

While all this simple interpersonal stuff was going on, larger issues like Creation, Natural Disasters and Unequal Distribution of Wealth had given rise to gods. Since gods could be benevolent as well as wrathful, someone trying to keep his problems from becoming other people's problems could quickly decide his soliloquies were prayers to the God or gods. Feeling relieved after a session, the sufferer might return to the group and tell them in general, avoiding the depressing details of his own plight, how "prayer" had helped him. Like a new diet or popular psychology book, it would quickly become the rage. People would even gather in groups to do it, just as some of them had probably discovered that misery loves company and had gathered to weep over their woes already.

Telling a deity made it easier to say and to hear. The congregation could nod sympathetically and still walk out after the service feeling no more obligation to help than was convenient.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Amish 9-11

A suicide attacker came out of nowhere, struck at the heart of the community and killed innocent people.

The Amish forgave him.

The parallel occurred to me this morning as I watched the morning news, but it had apparently already occurred to others. Much as I hate to lose cool points for being first, it gives depth to the point of view.

The voices howling for vengeance in 2001 shouted down anyone who wanted to respond more thoughtfully and compassionately. That urge for vengeance and self protection is costing us dearly today, in money and lives. If you want to put this on a cash basis rather than a spiritual one, it still looks like a bad bargain. And as a spiritual move, in a country where it seems everyone wants to talk, talk, talk about their faith, it looks even worse.

Pick at the metaphor and it falls apart. No shadowy cabal has sworn to destroy the Amish with a coordinated campaign of terror attacks. But comparing one single tragic incident to another, who reacted with deeper character? The Amish didn't gather in a tearful group and sing, "God Bless the Amish." They thought of the attacker as well as themselves.

The Amish have maintained a separate world based on their beliefs. Most of us couldn't hack their lifestyle. It's too disciplined and idealistic. But once in a while you have to take an example from a group that lives a rigorously refined life and see if a bit of it can be applied in your own.

The Nobel Prize

When you win the Nobel Prize for your discipline, you know you're really dynamite.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Air Quality is Relative

Since the human race lacks the will to reduce the use of fossil fuels and other air pollutants, we must accept that poisonous foulness is being pumped into the atmosphere by the ton. But we don't have to put up with stinky foulness.

It should be easy to find flavoring agents -- that don't even have to be non-toxic -- to make bus exhaust smell like fresh-baked bread, snowmobile and chainsaw smoke smell like pizza, and dumptrucks smell like apple pie right out of the oven. That coal-fired power plant could smell like a fudge shop one day and an Asian restaurant the next. We'd still be sucking in sickening and deadly gases, but with our mouths watering. It would be like olfactory comfort food.

That's right! Don't solve the problem. It's too complicated and expensive. Just mask it! Let it kill us, but pleasantly. The project will create jobs for chemists and engineers, and for technicians to install and maintain it, so it's all good news for the economy. Write to Congress TODAY.

Your Vocabulary Builder

Anthropology: When the human race finally apologizes to all other life forms on the planet.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

This might explain a lot

This passage in the July issue of National Geographic Magazine suddenly made huge chunks of human social evolution fall into place.

In Karen Rosenberg's laboratory at the University of Delaware, a room packed with the casts of skulls and bones of chimpanzees, gibbons, and other primates, one model stands out: It's a life-size replica of a human female pelvic skeleton mounted on a platform. There is also a fetal skull with a flexible gooseneck wire. The idea is to simulate the human birth process by manually moving the fetal head through the pelvis.

It looks easy enough.

"Go ahead, try it," Rosenberg says.

Turn the little oval skull face-forward, and it drops neatly into the pelvic brim, the beginning of the birth canal. But then it jams against the protrusions of the ischial bones (those that bear the burden during a long car ride). More shoving and rotating, and it's quickly apparent that the skull must traverse a passage that seems smaller than itself, cramped not only by the ischial bones but also by the coccyx, the bottom of the tailbone, which pokes into the lower pelvic cavity. Only by maneuvering the skull to face sideways in the middle of the canal and then giving it a firm push, does it move a centimeter or two—before it gets hung up again. Twist it, jostle it: The thing won't budge. Rosenberg guides my hand to turn the skull around to face backward, and then, with a hard shove, the stubborn cranium finally exits the birth canal.

"Navigating the birth canal is probably the most gymnastic maneuver most of us will ever make in life," says Rosenberg, chair of the university's department of anthropology. It's a trick all right, especially if there's no guiding hand to twirl and ram the skull. And the neat two-piece model doesn't even include the broad, rigid shoulders of the human infant, a legacy from our apelike ancestors who, some 20 million years ago, evolved wide clavicles that allowed them to hang suspended from branches and feed on fruit. To follow the head, a baby's shoulders must also rotate two times to work through the birth canal; they sometimes get stuck, causing injury to part of the spinal nerves that control the arms.

Suddenly I understand as never before why it took 36 hours, two doctors, and three shifts of nurses to safely deliver my firstborn.

[Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.

First it made me wonder whether my recurring nightmares about trying to work my head and shoulders through terrifyingly tight passages might refer back to that first passage through a tight, twisty passage into the unknown.

Second, it made me realize why men might try to give women less value. Why get attached to someone when it sounds like such a crap shoot they'll survive producing offspring? Go back before history and science, to the dawn of awareness and the formation of really ancestral values. Think of yourself feeling a strong attachment and then suffering loss after loss. The essential relationship of heterosexuality was booby-trapped by this huge risk. Do what comes naturally and what follows could be agonizingly tragic. You might try your best to hold yourself at a distance, not physically, but emotionally.

I don't know if it really developed that way, but it might. I don't say it excuses anything now that we know better, but it provides another angle from which to view it.

Time to Re-Tire?

Maybe AARP's periscope popping up beside me in the river of life isn't quite as pushy as someone coming up behind me and clipping me behind the knees with a wheelchair to make me sit in it, much as it seemed that way. They just need a new name. Like The League of Awesome Older People, or The Age and Treachery Society.

Creators, Users and the Downright Helpless

The baby is born helpless. It learns to use its parents to get what it wants.

The child learns to use its intellect and external devices in addition to its relationships with other people to get what it wants. But some of them stay back at the level of manipulating relationships almost exclusively to get other people to provide what they want.

Advanced tool users become creators. Not all advanced tool users make that transition. And not all creators will necessarily have advanced tool skills, but the most successful probably will.

Don't confuse imagination with creativity. A creation must actually exist, whereas an imaginitive person can think up endless elaborate notions that never find concrete expression.

Browsing on the Firefox website I was struck by the creativity of the software developers who work to bring forth reams of code we can take for granted.

The computer whiz I know best is a transitional creator. He's come up with some cool stuff, like the Javascript that makes snow fall on the Wolfeboro Cross-Country website whenever snow is falling in our area, but so far has not generated any tectonic change in the computer world. And he and I are both merely advanced tool users in the world of bike creation.

My bike guru in Florida sets the standard for creativity in that world. The company she co-owns down there, Victory Bicycles, creates replica Ordinary bikes, the old boneshaking high-wheelers, from scratch. Apparently, building modern steel frames was too much like paint-by-numbers for her. But she started as a baby, then a student, then a novice and intermediate tool user. Sure, she had an advantage growing up with her father's machine shop attached to the house, but she could have ignored that and followed another path. But she is just one among many, as a visit to The Bicycle Forest will show.

One might argue that artistic creativity is the easiest form. It does not need to fit into any functional, structured environment. It can exist for its own sake. Esoteric bicycles stand more as art. So does falling snow animated on a website. But each of those creations draws from a number of practical principles and meshes actively with the practical world.

Even the most helpless adult dependent on human relationships learns to use a few things, like the car or the cell phone. But more than once the rental manager at a ski touring center where I work would ask rhetorically, "Who dresses these people every morning? How did they manage to get here on their own?"

Experts at "people skills" can use those skills to wriggle through life's streets and alleys without ever creating anything or learning in detail how any device they use actually works. I'll bet most of them earn more money than I do, because every adult has a little bit of money and if you can talk a whole lot of them into parting with even a small fraction of it you can accumulate a tidy pile without really doing anything except socializing.

Someone needs to produce something somewhere up the line. But whatever is produced needs to make its way through the schmoozing process to gain a sizable following.