Thursday, October 29, 2009

Poli Sci 101

These gems are from actual college exam papers:

"Anarcho-cyclicalists were socialists who could not bring themselves to believe in Marx. Bakunin was a flaming anachronist. Anarchism is a system of government headed by an Anarch. Canada, for example, became an anarchy in 1867."

--Despite this, it's been pretty calm there for quite a while.

"St. Teresa of Avila was a carmelized nun."

--That Spanish sun is wicked, all right.

"John Huss refused to decant his ideas about the church and was therefore burned as a steak."

--What is it about religious figures and the Food Network?

"When they finally got to Italy, the Australian Goths were tired of plungering and needed to rest. Italy was ruled by the Visible Goths, while France and Spain were ruled by the Invisible Goths."

--Led by Alice Cooper, probably.

"Plato invented reality. He was teacher to Harris Tottle, author of The Republicans. Lust was a must for the Epicureans. Others were the Vegetarians and the Synthetics, who said, "If you can't play with it, why bother?"

--C+. You left out the Plasmatics.

"The ball of events and stoppers that were used to stop it from rolling only added to its momentum which kept it rolling."

--This HAS to be the work of John McCain.

It looks like those parents who paid the tuition for these earnest scholars are due a refund.

Monday, October 26, 2009

What It's All About

Yesterday I happened upon a PBS documentary about the undeniable correlation between social/economic status, stress and health. Probably three other people were watching it on a Sunday afternoon (the other 200 million watching sports, of course), but I was slowly and completely absorbed by it. An expensive and well-done entertainment (such as an early Indiana Jones) doesn't engage me much anymore because it is not real -- except for enjoying the actual theater experience with quality seats and sound, wherein the content of the movie is only half of it. I learned this principle in the museum exhibit business -- the real thing is of intrinsic interest and value, whereas your mental interaction with even the best Disneyfied replication is only: "how did they do that?"
Einstein lusted after a unified theory to explain everything in the universe. A noble dedication, and a whole lot more useful/less harmful than the traditional non-scientific dead-end paths of religion and crackhead ideologies. But for the rest of us mortals, any good explanation of how we operate and why would be much more helpful, thank you very much.
I've put a link to the blog The Pragmatist on Just Sayin', hoping you would check out the recent one on the author's insight into using the Myers -Briggs personality profile to understand why 80% of the people are mighty attached to the status quo and won't be educated away from their fear of progress and change. However, an earlier one about our basic animal need for control over our environment relates to the PBS documentary on what the health and survival effects are on people who have that control and those who don't. Subordinate animals with no control (macaque monkeys are the example shown) suffer from constant stress, and MRI scans show this shortens the length and quality of their lives with major diseases -- the same ones humans have. Native Americans and renters in low-income neighborhoods, at the lowest end of control over their lives and destinies, have the highest rates of high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes. The reasonable, conventional wisdom is that the poor physical environment, substance abuse and bad nutrition would be the salient causes, but detailed studies of neighborhoods show a much more exact relationship between social status and health problems. Amazingly, the data is the same in societies which have universal health care. The availablity of such care and what look like the obvious causal influences are not really the determinants -- everything I and everyone else thought to be the truth or the reality is not so. We've been looking at things that can be changed (with great effort and expense) to solve the problem. What we're looking at now is something so basic throughout the animal and human world it's hard to think of a way to do anything about it, except on an individual level!
If you lack security in income, are jerked around at your job, see no opportunity to move out or up, are threatened by danger around you, and the best you can do is to be careful and keep your head down, you're living in stress which will inevitably take its toll in health and longevity. If life is good, and you've got choices, resources and the freedom to make plans and decisions and don't have to waste two hours bringing the groceries home on the bus, you even get the bonus of consistently better health.
It's good to be king. Inequality kills.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

For Free

Even if it didn't happen it's still true -- Ken Kesey
Nancy forwarded this story to me.
In a Washington, DC Metro station on a cold winter morning, a violinist played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. Two thousand people passed through the station during that time, and of course most were hurrying to work, constrained both by time and the unfriendly weather. Only once in a while did anyone stop for a few seconds; one lady threw money in the musician's hat but didn't stop. Ten minutes went by before anyone else paid attention; only six people in total stopped to listen during the three-quarters of an hour. Children tried to, but were pulled along by their parents. After collecting $32, the violinist finished and silence took over; there was no recognition or reaction.
The performer was Joshua Bell, a famous virtuoso, who had played some of the most intricate pieces ever written, on a superior instrument valued at $3.5 million. Two days before, he had sold out a theater in Boston where the seats cost an average of $100. We are extremely tunnel-visioned and rigidly conditioned to respond in prescribed ways to our environment, like lab rats, aren't we? Not to mention our appalling taste, lack of perception and questionable priorities...
In the movie American Beauty, it took a character who could not function "normally" to see exquisite beauty in the swirling image of an ordinary plastic bag caught in a rising gyre of wind.
If it's not in an accepted context, beauty, talent or value can be invisible -- as we move forward with eyes wide shut. Mr. Nelson's advice in The Tao of Willie: stop and smoke the roses!
On the flip side, there is often perceived value in valueless icons such as celebrities and other two-dimensional faux heroes (John Wayne, sports Hulks, Ronald Raygun), luxury merchandise, bestsellers that aren't even good fireplace fuel, or the latest complex and short-lived gadget.
You can pay a lot in money or time, and really get nothing. Something you happen across by cosmic accident might just be priceless.
I was standing on a noisy corner
Waiting for the walking green
Across the street he stood
And he played real good
On his clarinet, for free.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Volunteers, The Circle of Life, and Tomatoes

The season's winding down, but there's room and time for a few more surprises. The planter which normally houses petunias was filled with onions this year, because those little green worms that chew up 'tunias had infested the soil. The onions were great -- nothing like having salad ingredients just outside the door! After they were devoured, I left the planter empty to further frustrate bugs and worms -- but Nature doesn't tolerate fertile space going unoccupied, so seeds from last year's flowers sprouted and even bloomed. A piece of onion re-grew and is trying to get as big as his daddy was.
The mums have been side-by-side for years and are now comfortably doing their own thing: they were originally one color per pot, and are now merging and showing up in each other's domains. Is it seeding or cross-pollination? A botanist would know, but I just enjoy the show.
The garden at Zach's was supposed to have an Act II, that is, Fall crops, but has fallen victim to fungus and mildew; I don't know if it was the mild, wet summer, or that the yard is over 100 years old and probably harbors every pest in the Northern Hemisphere. I didn't get the soil mix right (ran out of time before we had to get something started) in the first place, and there weren't enough nutrients. JM and Pat added quite a load of chicken manure to their box garden in Camp Hill, and it went nuts. Next Spring, bird droppings and the compost we're making in the new bin will go in, and even more tomatoes, eggplant, peppers and other salad goodies will make this now forlorn box a Cornucopia (or so we hope)!
The greatest successes were the less ambitious undertakings. The lone Early Girl tomato plant we grow in a large pot every year on the deck graced us with cute, red and round tomatoes until just last night. The exhausted plant will go into the compost bin and live again next year, in a way. Out front, a basil plant has rocketed up toward the sky and despite almost daily picking, just keeps on and on. It will be a shame to see the frost end its vigorous youth, but I hope to pluck it just before and hang it out to dry in the garage. Winter, bah. We're all just hung out to dry until the explosion of another growing season...