Sunday, April 13, 2008

Flying away

I think Michael is on the road. I think he's flown, and hope he lands safely and lets us know when he's arrived. A long journey. I wish him wings to carry him safely, I wish him an angel of love at his arrival. May he find joy and return to Impressions when he's arrived. I can't fill in for him. I haven't his energy.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Bitchin' and Moanin'

We all know what this sign is referring to, and we have ceased to be amazed by anything we find posted there. What can you do about it? You really want an honest answer? Read on.

First and foremost, you can do nothing about gas and diesel prices except make a choice, or a series of choices, to STAY OFF THE ROAD.. Gasoline and diesel (and the crude from which they came) are commodities bought and sold in a global market.

As such, whenever a load of fuel is bought or sold, a price is established by a bidder or broker, and the agreed-upon price becomes the baseline value of that quantity of that commodity for delivery at a given point in the future. Yes Virginia, there is a future, and oil brokers make or lose their fortunes (and those of the people they represent, buyers and sellers) on the basis of how well they can predict the future. Try doing THAT in a rollercoaster environment!

Buy today, you pay today's price, and that price is constantly in flux because the "price of oil" is not one price but a composite of many many transactions taking place simultaneously all over the world.

No single corporate entity or bigwig or faceless monster "controls" the price of oil. The most any single entity in this market system can do is to buy a commodity (or make a promise to) or sell it (or promise to), and in doing so he/she/it is in full-bore competition with other interested parties with oil to buy or sell, and that is pretty much that. Organized chaos.

Cartels are affiliations between interested parties that band together, either loosely or not, to attempt to maintain the interests of those other words, to try to ensure that they have stable markets for what they buy and sell. By "stable" we mean dependably predictable. Using the word "stable" in connection with a commodities market is oxymoronic. Stability is a relative term. And market volatility has both fact-based and emotional components to it, making "stability" a description of a wobbling spinning top hovering around on a tabletop, occasionally coming perilously close to flying off the edge. Yet the top is "stable" because it keeps spinning. If a market/top ceases spinning, it collapses. Cartels fear collapse more than anything in their world, and the bulk of their efforts go to preventing any such thing from happening, and "controlling" prices, even if that mythic dream were possible, would not "stabilize" the market system, it would destroy it.

This is what people don't get.

Anyway, discussion aside, I return to the initial question/answer, what do you do about it? Well, as the answer given above states, get off the road. You don't have to pay for what you don't buy. You don't have to buy what you don't use. You don't have to use what you can get by without.

So do some self-analysis and, this time, pay attention to what you discover. Did you drive a circuit doing shopping, for example, or did you dart from place to place all willy-nilly? You are a GASHOG. YOU, not the unfortunate vehicle toting you around. Did you have to turn around and go back the other way because you were in a hurry and forgot something? Shame! Gashog.

You might be a Gashog if you are perched atop a two-story vehicle gazing down on all of us below with all that superiority of yours, because, admit it! you don't need a Monster Truck to make a run for a pizza. Call and have the hotrod in the little car do it. You might be a Gashog if, GreenPeace treehugger you, you cruise around all over town attending protest meetings every other day to Organize when a couple phone calls would get the message across just as well. Your nifty new and trendy Prius might get good gas mileage but ask yourself the question they asked everybody in World War II...

"Is This Trip Really Necessary?"

Sunday, March 30, 2008

I'm cute and clever, and I can reason, too!

Charles Darwin, who attempted to explain how human intelligence developed, extended his theory of evolution to the human brain: Like the rest of our physiology, intelligence must have evolved from simpler organisms, since all animals face the same general challenges of life. They need to find mates, food, and a path through the woods, sea, or sky—tasks that Darwin argued require problem-solving and categorizing abilities.

Darwin went so far as to suggest that earthworms are cognitive beings because, based on his close observations, they have to make judgments about the kinds of leafy matter they use to block their tunnels. He hadn't expected to find thinking invertebrates and remarked that the hint of earthworm intelligence "has surprised me more than anything else in regard to worms."

To Darwin, the earthworm discovery demonstrated that degrees of intelligence could be found throughout the animal kingdom. But the Darwinian approach to animal intelligence was cast aside in the early 20th century, when researchers decided that field observations were simply "anecdotes," usually tainted by anthropomorphism. In an effort to be more rigorous, many embraced behaviorism, which regarded animals as little more than machines, and focused their studies on the laboratory white rat—since one "machine" would behave like any other.

But if animals are simply machines, how can the appearance of human intelligence be explained? Without Darwin's evolutionary perspective, the greater cognitive skills of people did not make sense biologically. Slowly the pendulum has swung away from the animal-as-machine model and back toward Darwin. A whole range of animal studies now suggest that the roots of cognition are deep, widespread, and highly malleable.

Just how easily new mental skills can evolve is perhaps best illustrated by dogs. Most owners talk to their dogs and expect them to understand. But this canine talent wasn't fully appreciated until a border collie named Rico appeared on a German TV game show in 2001. Rico knew the names of some 200 toys and acquired the names of new ones with ease.

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig heard about Rico and arranged a meeting with him and his owners. That led to a scientific report revealing Rico's uncanny language ability: He could learn and remember words as quickly as a toddler. Other scientists had shown that two-year-old children—who acquire around ten new words a day—have an innate set of principles that guides this task. The ability is seen as one of the key building blocks in language acquisition. The Max Planck scientists suspect that the same principles guide Rico's word learning, and that the technique he uses for learning words is identical to that of humans.

To find more examples, the scientists read all the letters from hundreds of people claiming that their dogs had Rico's talent. In fact, only two—both border collies—had comparable skills. One of them—the researchers call her Betsy—has a vocabulary of more than 300 words.

This posting is an excerpt taken from a March 2008 article
and published by National Geographic Magazine.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Friday Funstuff

Friday's Feast

APPETIZER: What does the color dark green make you think of?
The color of the car that wrecked my first one.

SOUP: How many cousins do you have?
First cousins? Or third cousins twice removed on my Mother's side? Kidding aside, I have upwards of fifty first cousins. The family is Catholic. YOU do the math.

SALAD: On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being highest, how honest are you?
I honestly refuse to answer on the grounds that Dick Cheney may be listening.

MAIN COURSE: Name something that is truly free.
My right to say anything I want so long as Dick Cheney isn't listening.

DESSERT: Using the letters in the word SPRING, write a sentence.
"Some pretty regular idiots need goalposts."

Friday Fill-Ins

1. Some relationships are meant to: embarrass us and distort reality.

2. Blood, Sweat and Tears is the last concert I saw; it was back in 1970.

3. Spring should be
anticipated, like any imaginary dream.

4. Oh no! Here comes Dick Cheney!

5. I've recently started trying to adopt penquins.

6. Hugs from all us fools up North.

7. And as for the weekend, polo has been canceled, so I guess I'll just sit home and blog my fool head off. Again. Like LAST weekend. And the one before that.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Celebrity opinions: Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road?

DR. PHIL: The problem we have here is that this chicken won't realize that he must first deal with the problem on this side of the road before he goes after the problems on the other side of the road. We need to help him realize you don't get anywhere crossing roads all willy-nilly.

OPRAH: Well, I can see that Mr. Chicken is having problems, which is why he wants to cross this road so bad. So I'm going to give him a brand new car so that he can just drive across the road and get on with his life. And then maybe push his new book, "The Road Not Crossed."

GEORGE W. BUSH:We shouldn't worry or really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just need to know if the chicken is on OUR side of the road, or not. This chicken is either for us or against us. There is no middle ground here!

A little encouragement to everyone...

Bloggers, feel no guilt. You pass on what needs to be seen, said, and read, and perform a valuable service. Oh that we all had the time to be everywhere at once, but they haven't invented a machine yet that will do that. I once said that the only thing faster than the speed of light is imagination. I gave credit for this quote to a great writer at the time because people would swallow that easier than my saying it was me. Sometimes we have to fudge a bit and adjust ourselves to the biases and perceptions of this world. And we certainly have to recognize our physical limitations, but so long as we pursue what we know is right and true, I believe that God and his angels forgive.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The man who changed American Education

American lexicographer, textbook author, spelling reformer,
political writer, and editor. He has been called
the "Father of American Scholarship and Education."
His "blue-backed" Speller books taught five generations of children in the US how to spell and read and his name became synonymous with the term "dictionary", the modern Merriam-Webster, first published in 1828 as
"An American Dictionary of the English Language."

Noah Webster was born in Connecticut (as native daughter Andree reminded me) and really left his mark despite having trained as and failing to make a living as a lawyer. One thing he did love was the world of words, and he believed that Americans should write as Americans, deciding by common usage what their rules should be. At first he accepted the English "u" in such words as "humour" and "colour", but later decided to drop them. Thanks to him the words "centre" and "theatre" became "center" and "theater", among many others he thought were too upper-class elitist and not to American taste. A great man, and a great mind. And a man of the people, too!

Unauthorized printing of his books, and disparate copyright laws that varied among the thirteen states, led Webster to champion the federal copyright law that was successfully passed in 1790.

(picture and bio from Wikipedia)

"Color"? or "colour"?

When I was in school over at the University of Michigan, we Engineering undergrads were stigmatized as napalm-making, war-enabling weapons mongers. This stunned us, because as all these demonstrators were waving these signs in our faces we were still trying to find our classrooms and drafting boards and slide-rules and get down to work. We weren't political animals. (Engineers aren't, as a rule. They have to be reminded to vote.)

Engineering students faced heavy class-loads of math, computer science, physics, etc, etc, etc, and had little time left to be assigned for literary endeavors, but the powers that be did require us to be at least marginally well-rounded, and therefore a course in Humanities called "Great Books" was made "mandatory". (This you should interpret in student-speak as "unneeded and unwanted".)

Three times a week, therefore, a group of twenty of us "Unjin" boys (no females in those days) would show up with our paperbacks in a dusty classroom with ancient desks and discuss the classics. Our instructor was an ex-newspaper editor with Harry Potter glasses, elbow-patched tweed jacket, black beard and weary attitude. I'll call him Professor Belcher.

Nobody was fooling anybody here, Prof Belcher told us, right off. He knew and we knew and we knew he knew and he knew we knew this stuff was only for "our own good" and we'd probably toss the books in the bonfire when we were through with them, but, hey, some things transcend everyday practicality.

So we discussed the classics. This meant, or was supposed to mean, that at some point we actually READ the books on the class reading list... buy or steal the title from the bookstore, take it home, and apply eyes to print.

Some of us did this, I suspect, and many did not.

We were assigned Papers to write based on this fairly non-existent research. We were asked to express Opinions. We were expected to Think about Deep and Meaningful Things.

Being a go-getter in my youth, and creatively naive, I wrote a paper about the significance of the Knight's Tale from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. (Chosen by me at random the night before it was due, of course.)

Oh, it was a fine paper. The best that an all-nighter could buy. I waxed eloquent. I discussed and declaimed and reached far-flung conclusions any critic in the world would envy. It was a masterpiece.

And it came back marked with all these little blue marks editors make, and an "F".

I was outraged! Here was a word I'd used to describe the Knight... "amoral", blue-penciled with a cryptic "wd". "Wd?" What the hell was THAT supposed to mean? I seethed and boiled and went down the paper noting all the other little cryptic markings this Prof Belcher had appended to my tome and made a raging redlist of offenses to my honor, then wrote a rebuttal to each and every one of his remarks, my pen spewing unrepentant venom.

And I took this new version of my painfully typed paper, now festooned with a dozen new handwritten counter-arguments, and stalked off toward Prof Belcher's office. He had written one phrase in actual English at the top of the paper: "This work is troubling and confusing. Please see me." Well, by God, I was taking him up on THAT!

"You have been a very good writer up until now," he began, as we sat down, he behind his desk, me in a wooden chair nearby.

"So why did you flunk me?" I asked, an edge of controlled sarcasm in my tone.

"Because you were not clear... this paper is a jumble," he responded.

"And what is it with my use of 'amoral'?" I continued. "Was that unclear, too?"

"Oh, that? I meant that you chose the wrong word for what you were trying to say."

I narrowed my eyes and stared at him. "But if the paper was a jumble, how did you know what I was trying to say well enough to reject a perfectly good word I used saying it?"

For a moment I had him. I had him!

"Well," he mumbled finally, "I suppose you can rewrite the paper and resubmit..."

"Thank you, Professor," I responded. "I think I will."

And I did, and the word "amoral" stayed, and I got a B+ the second time, mainly by rearranging a few sentences and dropping one loose end. We had both saved face. It was a victory.

Since those long-ago years I have been in debate with people about language and words at times, especially about English usage such as "colour" instead of "color" and "judgement" instead of "judgment." I happen to prefer the English versions, but feel entitled to use whichever version strikes my fancy because Merriam-Webster says I can. I use whichever word is most appealing on the page. Sometimes I bend the rules. Sometimes I invent terms. Sometimes I use a word in an inappropriate context because it seems to make sense.

Shoot me, go ahead. 'Cause I'm a rebel!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Skywatch Friday: "The Dawn Sky"

This is picture taken by our friend Gail Slaughter in California. Mary made some adjustments to bring out the colors. To me it represents our modern non-stop world and our restlessness to keep moving, doing, whatever the time of day...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"Passing Time as Time Passes"

When I was younger, just a lad, I had a thing for model aircraft.
My reward for enduring visits to the dentist was to get a new model kit to build.
Eventually all these painstakingly assembled and painted models wound up as targets for my BB gun in the barn, but before they went down they spent years suspended from my bedroom ceiling on black thread. They weren't really "playthings" as such, but they did spark my imagination and a lifelong interest in the ways of war.
Be that good or be that bad, that's what they were: educational.
In recent times, now forty five years later, I visited a garage sale where a woman was selling a plastic bag full of miniature cars for a couple dollars, and I bought them. Now I have accumulated more... and although they are small, to me they are interesting to paint and put into homemade displays.
It's not an expensive hobby, and as you can see from this picture, it can take any form your imagination cares to give it. These vehicles are not complete or finished, merely "in the yard"
waiting for my inspiration and paintbrush to make them real.
I hope that you, too, find a hobby to spend time with, no matter what it may be.
A place to escape reality, perhaps, and create a world.

Friday, March 14, 2008

"Nope, Spring's Infernal!"

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.”
----Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672)

Hey, look... I can be as romantic as the next guy (that's easy, if the next guy is a guy) but something about this “Spring” nonsense sticks in my craw like a stale marshmallow at Easter.

We've all been duped into gratefully accepting the change of season, and we dance around May Poles in celebration, just because we've suffered a little snow and maybe a bit of ice. Well, maybe a ton of snow and a river of ice, but so what?

Was Old Man Winter all so bad? At least he was honest with us. He said, “get your rear in gear and change that battery!” or “don't forget your mittens!” or “OK, so lie down and die then, fool...I mean business!” Winter is a what's what and don't-forget-I-said-so time of year.

You may not like Winter, but he's here for your own good. He's the stiffener in your spine. The tester of your fortitude. The twinge in your wisdom tooth that sends you running to the dentist.
But then good ol' Spring ambles in, the Great Enabler. You made it this far, take a rest! Take a few months off! Cheat on your taxes... go ahead, you've had enough for awhile. You deserve a break today. Go ahead and dream.

It's a form of mania... “our little gift of sanctioned madness,” as David Assael called it. Four or five months of relative sanity is ended in one joyous burst of degradation. It's Spring. Free passes for everybody. Anything goes. Any fantasy can be delivered, any wish fulfilled.

Robin Williams said that Spring is nature's way of saying, “Let's party!” But it won't be Mother Nature picking up the tab, my friend, it will be you! That big screen HD TV you bought for yourself in high hysteria? That new convertible that beckoned you as the birds twittered enticingly in the trees? That “new life without the wife” you plumped for? No problem! Just tell the kids the Devil made you do it!

But Spring is not only an enabler. She leads you on, and then she creams you.

Did you ever get socked by an inch of freezing rain in the middle of March? If not that, then how about a nice little landslide triggered by all that snowmelt? How about mud... you like mud? Suck off your shoes and plaster your car and spin your tires, boy, 'cause here she comes!

The Great Flood was just a springtime shower, at first. You can ask Noah.

It makes me shudder inside, I'll tell you. But then I remind myself that Spring, like Winter, will pass. We can get through this thing, I think. We just have to keep a stiff upper lip and never, never ever, let down our guard!

"Time Out of Mind" by Stefan Klein

(graphic art by Michael Serafin)

New York Times, Opinion Editorial
March 7, 2008

IN 1784, Benjamin Franklin composed a satire, Essay on Daylight Saving, proposing that Parisians get up an hour earlier in summer. By putting the daylight to better use, he reasoned, they'd save a good deal of money that might otherwise go to buying candles. Today this switch to Daylight Savings Time
is an annual ritual in Western countries.

Even more influential was something else Franklin said the same year: "Time is Money." He meant this only as a gentle reminder not to sit idle for half the day, and might be dismayed if he could see how literally, and self-destructively, we take his metaphor today. Our society is obsessed as never before with making every single minute count.

But the quest to spend time the way we do money is doomed to failure, because the time we experience bears little relation to time as read on a clock. The brain creates its own time, and it is this inner time, not clock time, that guides our actions.

Inner time is linked to activity. In 1962, Michel Siffre, a French geologist, confined himself in a dark cave and discovered that he lost his sense of time. Emerging after what he had calculated were 45 days, he was startled to find that
a full 61 days had elapsed.

And on the opposite hand, time seems to expand when our senses are aroused.

The brain's inclination to distort time is one reason we so often feel we have too little of it. One in three Americans feels rushed all the time, according to one survey. Even the cleverest use of time-management is powerless to increase the total minutes in our life,so we squeeze as much activity as we can into each one.

Believing time is money, our shortage of time is stressful. Our fight-or-flight instinct is engaged, and the regions of the brain we use to calmly and sensibly plan our time get switched off. We become fidgety, erratic and rash. Tasks take longer. We make mistakes, which take still more time to iron out. The perceived lack of time becomes real:we are not stressed because we have no time---
we have no time because we are stressed!
In scrambling to use time to the hilt, we wind up with less of it.

The remedy is to liberate ourselves from Franklin's equation.
Time is NOT money!

"Time..." as Joyce Carol Oates put it,
"...we are either borne along by it, or drowned in it."

(Stefan Klein is the author of "The Secret Pulse of Time":
Making Sense of Life's Scarcest Commodity)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Mail From Gail

I couldn't remember when I wrote you last so looked in my sent box -- it was that short letter about my nose and my nose for jokes. The less said about that the better. I clicked on "One Single Impression" and saw the header (which looked good) and some out-of-usual-form haiku, but didn't click on anything else, the names, etc., because I wasn't sure what I'd be getting. I didn't think any of them were YOU anyway.

Last Monday I responded to a blurb in the church newsletter that there would be a "brainstorming" mtg. about activities for Earth Day!! I figured I should go, as this is one of the few areas I have some experience in. It looks like I may be organizing a poster contest. The reason I say "may" is that everyone is enthused about the idea but I haven't got stuff really firmed up for putting in the press release and flyer.

One biggie is that it's for all kids in the school district, so I think something should be said in the small print about the fact that even though a church is sponsoring this, entries should reflect themes everyone in the community can relate to, rather than religious themes.I don't want people wondering if they're expected to say something like "Protect the world because God made it." Or wondering if extra credit would go to those who do.

Today I went to breakfast with two women from the church that I like. It lasted about 2 hours and was very enjoyable conversation. Mary is probably 50-55 and involved in many education-oriented aspects of the church, including heading this Earth Day committee. The other is Juanita, probably in her 80s, sharp as a tack and friendly with all ages. I wish I could be like her when I'm that age (but I think I'm too serious).

Then I had to do some shopping, took a walk, fell asleep for about half an hour, and here I am. I better get going on that flyer for the poster contest. I haven't done anything much on InDesign since moving here. I will not let myself be too much of a perfectionist on it!!

Tomorrow I was planning to go see a rather different musical act (will tell you about it later ... for now let's say Nerd Perfect meets Cabaret via an English Music Hall). Was supposed to go with Laure, but I heard that Frances Lappe was gonna speak in Arcata and I will not be surprised if she calls and says she wants to go to that instead ...... of course they're the same time.

(Gail Slaughter is our California Correspondent)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

"Stranger in My Mirror" by Mary Stebbins Taitt

It's an old story, as old as the human race. But for every individual it's brand new, all over again.

We are young... and then we age. No matter how gracefully we age, we lose some of our vitality and some of our beauty. My mother always used to say how she felt the same inside, old or young, and was shocked when she looked in the mirror. Who is that old hag? Not the lithe and winsome creaure she used to be!

Mother got old... and then she got older... and then she died. And now it's my turn.

I don't recognize myself in current pictures. Only just barely. My mother reached a point where she didn't recognize herself at all. "Who is that old lady?" she would ask. At first, it was a joke, but later she really meant it. She truly didn't know it was herself.

And I'm almost there already.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Monday, February 25, 2008

"Making a Mark" by Michael Serafin

I am not a rich man or very influential, and most of the people I've met weren't either, by the measure of gold or power. Looked at statistically, so few individuals meet this standard definition of "world-shaker" we write books about them, as if they were all-worthy of worship.

Well, maybe they are worthy of praise. They have excelled. They made a mark on this planet, and they are in our memory banks as legends, living or dead. Some are more notorious than beloved, of course (we could name names) but what should that matter, really? In virtually every case someone listened to them, looked to them as leaders, or admired their spirit.

These famous people were not "loners," none of them were. Oh, they may have lived and even died alone, but they persist in history because they were not as normal as we are. They were beyond and above normal. Perhaps you could even say ABnormal. They were Special. And because of that, they were noticed. And because they garnered this notice, you really must say they were Social people... their thoughts and passions became patterns for us all.

Do you think you are Special? I hope you do. I hope that you try to prove you are worthy, every day. But bear in mind that to be special, to excel, to carry on abnormally in a very normal world, you don't have a hope without someone to share it. You can't have a dream without help with its dreaming. You won't make a mark with no eyes wide to see it.