Saturday, January 29, 2011

"Thank God" I was an ID Boy?

Some years ago I participated in a musical performance at an all-hands meeting where I worked. Many large companies have such meetings, to inform and indoctrinate employees and try to improve the mood of their ever-changing, ever-vulnerable morale. To the tune of John Denver's classic hit, "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," the Information Development department sang lyrics specially written for it by one of the ensemble's members.
    You can see their performance on YouTube. That's me, fourth from the right, wearing suspenders to hold up my pants:

Below are the lyrics, written by my colleague in Cary Information Development, Bruce Korn (as indicated on YouTube). I found them printed in the January 1992 issue of What's Up?, the department's newsletter (of which I was the proud editor).
Well I write all day and I try to make a living
Developers are here and they're looking kind of coy
My wife never sees me; still she's loving and she's giving
Thank God I'm an ID Boy!

[refrain] Well I got me a pen, and I got my Xedit
Got a great big draft, but no one's ever read it
The pressure tries to get me but I'm never gonna let it
Thank God I'm an ID Boy!

The books are never done cause the code is always changing
My editor is here and he's eating Almond Joys
He says don't stop--you must keep on rearranging
Thank God I'm an ID Boy!

[refrain]

I'm working real hard but I'm never getting finished
My manager is here and she's working on a ploy
She assigns more people but the work just won't diminish
Thank God I'm an ID Boy!

[refrain]

The pubs are finally done, though I really don't believe it
Some customers are here and are filling up with joy
The work starts again though it's hard to just conceive it
Thank God I'm an ID Boy!

[refrain]
To review a rendition by John Denver, to try to decide which you prefer:

An aside was prompted by the comment of a friend who watched our YouTube performance:
    She emailed me, "Guess you weren’t always an atheist...," seeming to imply that an atheist (one acting with intellectual integrity, anyway) would not participate in singing a song that includes the phrase, "Thank God."
    First, of course, if she's right, atheists would have to find an alternative to United States currency. I haven't checked all of the denominations lately, but I believe that at least one of them has "In God We Trust" engraved on it.
    Second, it isn't relevant that when "ID Boy" was performed, I hadn't yet summoned the courage to face up to the more than adequate evidence that God does not exist. (I finally did so in the months leading up to September 9, 2007.)
    Third and finally, of course, we can read or utter any phrase we can decipher or wrap our mouth around, since we're capable of distinguishing between art, science, philosophy, history, journalism, and politics, on the one hand, and personal beliefs about what it's all about on the other. Well, "anyone" perhaps but religious fanatics who commit real crimes like burning down buildings or beheading other human beings to protest a fantasy crime like a cartoonist's or a novelist's lampooning the Prophet Muhammad or a thinking person's subjecting religion to rational and moral scrutiny.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Today I blitzed a gold-rated Sudoku

"Jim," I said to a friend and colleague at work, "something really wonderful happened this morning. More often than not, when I attempt a gold-rated Sudoku, I give up before I manage to solve it. But this morning—"
    "What do you mean, a gold-rated Sudoku?"
    I explained that different suppliers use different rating systems for easy, moderate, hard. "There's the 1-2-3-4 rating system, for example, and the bronze-silver-gold system."
    Jim nodded his understanding.
    "Anyway, this morning I did this gold-rated Sudoku about as quickly as I've ever done a bronze or a 1."
    I said, "Now, I figure that this means one of two things."
    "At least," Jim said.
    "Right. It means either that they mis-categorized the Sudoku, and it was really a bronze, or—" I made fists, drew up my arms, and wiggled my body like a football player after scoring a touchdown. "Or I'm really clicking today!"
    "And, of course, you're going to go with the second possibility."
    "You know I am, Jim. How empowering that is! If that's what it means, then today I can succeed in my most difficult tasks, I can—"
    "But doesn't this call for you to carefully consider which difficult task you ought to focus on? You don't want to waste today's brilliance on a relatively unimportant goal."
    "Jim! You're a brilliant consultant! Of course, you're right."
    "Maybe you shouldn't be here at work today. Maybe you should—"
    "Maybe I should look at my life goals and choose something that could make a much bigger difference in my life than anything I might do here at work today?"
    "Exactly."

Is it true, then, as it appears, that producing a self-satisfying daily blog post might be one of my main life goals?

Not followed by "followers"

Okay, I admit it. I'd love to have hundreds of followers indicated in the sidebar. But, alas, I don't, so I'll rationalize:
    Since I fancy myself a free-thinker, Moristotle naturally appeals to other free-thinkers. And free-thinkers are, one can reasonably assume, not generally disposed to follow anybody or anything (or to want to be known to do so).
    But of course I can't prove that I have many followers of either the sort who declare it or the sort who don't. I may need to think of a better rationalization.

Anyway, I'm grateful for the four people who have signed up to be known as "Moristotle's Followers," even if three of the four are my two children and an esteemed old friend! The fourth is a stranger. Thank you "all"; I appreciate you.

It's embarrassing, though, that at the moment I myself am listed as another of Moristotle's followers!
    But I can explain. I wanted to email the stranger, so I clicked on his icon. I was told that to send him a message I'd have to join the "friendconnect" network that would be used to convey my message to him. So, I clicked "sign in or join" and, voilà, I was shocked to learn that I had just become another of my followers. But by doing that I also became able to send the stranger a message.
    Something screwy there, obviously. If you know how to un-follow yourself, please let me know.
    It would seem that a blog's followers are able to email each other through the friendconnect network, sort of like Facebook, I guess.
    I'm not sure why an old profile photo is being used for my follower icon1. Maybe it's because, after inadvertently joining the friendconnect network, I saw that my profile for it has that photo and also my old quote ("I'm Nobody! Who are you? / Are you—Nobody—too?" —Emily Dickinson). I don't know why my current photo and quote aren't used.
    Vast and mysterious is the universe of Google.
_______________
  1. The next day I figured out how to edit the profile that provided that photo, and I updated it. But don't ask me to tell you how I did it. I just played "trial and error" and finally succeeded. Apparently, when you enter the Google universe, you acquire more than one profile.

The importance of Oscar Wilde

Quite a few years back, I shared a small office with a woman whose husband was named Ernest. One day I made the mistake of referring to him as Ernie. She let me know that his name was Ernest, and I was not to call him Ernie.
    Recently I learned from a friend who had had dinner with her and Ernest a couple of years ago that they were no longer married. The friend himself, I noticed, referred to Ernest as Ernie. I wondered about that.
    I mentioned this to another friend who had also known Ernest/Ernie and his former wife, and he suggested that maybe it was because she called him Ernie that they got divorced?
    I said, "Well, but our friend who told me that calls him Ernie too...."
    "Hmm," this other friend said.
    I said, "Maybe she called him Ernest one time too many?"
    He said, "Maybe she hadn't realized the extent, for her husband, of the importance of not being Ernest?"
_______________
The photo from Wikipedia was captioned: "The original production of The Importance of Being Earnest in 1895 with Allan Aynesworth as Algernon (left) and George Alexander as Jack (right)."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Not as I naively advertised

I apologize for recommending last week that you watch Paula Zahn Sunday night on Ray Krone's case. I of course did not then know how the show would be, especially since I'd never seen any other of Zahn's episodes. In my judgment, the show sucked.
    It was an uncritical, exploitive act of pandering to emotion. The repetitive re-enactments, done in a dramatic, grainy, documentary style, quickly became tiresome. Paula Zahn didn't seem to be interested in much besides the obvious sentiments of the case.
    Netflix has a category for shows like On the Case with Paula Zahn: tearjerkers.
    The person whom I quoted as having told me that Paula Zahn "is definitely someone that public officials don’t want in their offices, much like Mike Wallace or Dan Rather" must have been thinking of someone else. Zahn on Ray Krone's case let the prosecutor get away with about as big a lie as gets uttered in the criminal justice context. "Justice was served." How can justice have been served when an innocent man was wrongfully imprisoned for ten years and his family and friends suffered all that loss and pain? Not to mention the family and friends of the victim, who mistakenly assumed for ten years that Kim Ancona's murderer had been prosecuted and sent to prison for the crime.
    Zahn had a juror on the show, but she failed to bring out the real reason for the second jury's ignoring the copious doubt ("Shadow of Doubt," the episode's title, was a gross misrepresentation) and finding Ray Krone guilty. That reason, I think, is that they were more afraid of failing to convict someone who might have committed the crime than they were of convicting someone who didn't do it. Some juries can't stand the thought that they might possibly let a criminal go free. It's the same fear thing, I think, that politicians (especially Republicans these days) depend on to stir up voters' emotions and win elections.
    Jim Rix could have made much better use of thousands of hours (and tens of thousands of dollars) than by traveling all over and writing Jingle Jangle if true justice had been served and the real killer(s) prosecuted for the murder of Kim Ancona.  In case you didn't already realize it, Jingle Jangle's subtitle, The Perfect Crime Turned Inside Out, refers not only to the fact that the likely killer(s) are still at large, but also to the crime of justice's-not-having-been-served, and to the fact that the police and prosecutor (and their hired forensic "expert," whose mission was to hoodwink the jury into buying their foregone conclusion) got away with the crime for all those years (and of course will never be held accountable for it).
    I have to hand it to Paula Zahn, though. She sure can act.  She really seemed to care when she looked at Ray and Jim so awfully sincerely and asked them how they felt about what happened. I wondered whether she took lessons from Barbara Walters or Oprah Winfrey.
    The only solace I derived from the show (which aired on the Investigation Discovery channel) was that it acknowledged Ray Krone's heroic and stoic acceptance of his incarceration, and saluted Jim Rix's generous devotion to the cause of freeing a cousin he'd never heard of until his mother told him he had a cousin on Death Row in Arizona. "And he's innocent," she'd told him, although he didn't believe it at first.
    But the show's failure to serve justice (even to the extent of reflecting some of Jim's book's criticism of our criminal justice system) was appalling. The fact that it merely exploited Ray and Jim's story to titillate viewers and try to sell them merchandise and services leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
    For therapy to recover from watching the program, I think I'll re-read Jim's book.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Death Mask not quite yet available

I was about to announce that Steve Glossin's second published thriller has been brought out on Kindle, and, in fact, Death Mask was brought out by Amazon a couple of days ago. But when I claimed my copy (in Kindle-for-PC format), the cover didn't come with the book, so a bit of scrambling is underway to correct the situation. Stay tuned.
    But, in the meantime, Steve informed me that I had chosen the same new blog template for Moristotle that he had selected for his Prophecy of the Medallion blog. I probably didn't notice it because Steve and I chose much different looks in the sidebar. And I had quickly changed my main background color from the default color to the same dark green Moristotle has had since almost "forever"(#2F4F4F).
    Hmm, I wonder whether Steve has noticed the similarity between that color and the "turquoise" (#3D6658) in Death Mask. (Of course, to a better eye than mine, they may not look that "similar"; the code numbers aren't that close.)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Moristotle evolved

Moristotle underwent an evolution of sorts today. Its template was upgraded and some bells and whistles were added.
    No more masthead photo, but a feature photo at the top of the sidebar, followed by a Blogger-provided "table of contents," now pointing to separate "feature pages" instead of sections of the sidebar. I've consequently expanded the number of recently read books and recently viewed movies and TV series displayed, to 30 as homage to "dirty books." Plus the possibility of creating additional feature pages, up to ten in all.
    Much more accessible archives, with drop-downs displaying titles by month selected. Perhaps the single most valuable enhancement.
    Plus various "gadgets," such as one identifying followers and providing an easy means for others to register as followers. (Registering as a "follower" signifies that you consider a blog a favorite and want to let the author and readers know that you are a fan.)
    Another gadget lists (or shows a "cloud") of selected labels with which I've tagged posts. In reviewing the very long list of labels to select ones for display in the sidebar, I saw that I seriously need to prune synonyms. For example, I found "photo" and "photos," and "theism," "theist," and "theists." That's going to be tedious to fix. (I may even give up my practice of just throwing in a label as a way of commenting on the subject of a post, such as "nincompoop" for George W. Bush.)
    But overall: Wow, what fun!

An evolution "of sorts," not evolution by natural selection. As Sam Harris writes in his latest book, The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values,
The obvious difference between genes and memes [from Richard Dawkins's Selfish Gene, 1976] (e.g., beliefs, ideas, cultural practices) is also important to keep in view. The latter are communicated; they do not travel with the gametes of their human hosts. The survival of memes, therefore, is not dependent on their conferring some actual benefit (reproductive or otherwise) on individuals or groups. It is quite possible for people to traffic in ideas and other cultural products that diminish their well-being for centuries on end.
(I suspect that millions of men and women's sitting on their keesters blogging and reading blogs will indeed diminish their well-being over time.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

"Dirty books"

I listen to digitally recorded books I've downloaded from Braille and Audio Reading Download and saved on a USB "thumb drive"; I play them on a device lent me by the Library of Congress's National Library Service. Because I have over two dozen books stored on the thumb drive, it takes the player a few seconds to count them all and discover where I left off. It goes, "Beep...beep...beep...," then finally says, "Dirty books."
    Actually it says, "Thirty books," for that's how many I have saved on the drive at the moment. And, in fact, I don't consider any of them "dirty," although possibly some religious folks might do so. For the titles include books by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (highly critical of Islam) and Richard Dawkins (extolling Darwinian evolution).
    Anyway, that "dirty books" starts me off with a chuckle each time I turn the player on to continue reading. I can't think of any other number of books I'd rather have on my drive.

Note that clicking the photo takes you to a page on the NLS website where you can find out more about the National Library Service.
    I hope that someone reading today's post will be able to use this information, either for yourself or for a loved one.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

All creatures

At a retirement luncheon yesterday, the honoree asked me what I was reading. I said, "Richard Dawkins's Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution."
    He said something about our really needing that, which I took ironically to mean that more evidence isn't necessary, we all know that Darwin's theory is fact.
    But I wondered whether he wasn't perhaps annoyed at Richard Dawkins's atheism, so I went on to say, "I think that Dawkins ought to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Bertrand Russell [another atheist] received it [in 1950] for his humanitarian writing, and I think Dawkins deserves it for his science writing."
    My colleague seemed at least a little bit impressed by that pronouncement.
    And I wasn't just exaggerating for effect. I've thought for some time, as I've read book after book by Richard Dawkins, that he should be considered for the Nobel Prize in Literature. In fact, his very first book, The Selfish Gene, is often cited for its influence in evolution science. That is, I suppose he could even be considered for the Nobel Prize in Biology.

Anyway, in The Greatest Show on Earth, Dawkins quotes Monty Python's parody of "All Creatures Great and Small" (I think of the stories of the veterinarian James Herriott, pen name of James Alfred Wight, pictured above), and I relay it here for your enjoyment:
All things dull and ugly,
All creatures short and squat,
All things rude and nasty,
The Lord God made the lot.

Each little snake that poisons,
Each little wasp that stings,
He made their brutish venom,
He made their horrid wings.

All things sick and cancerous,
All evil great and small,
All things foul and dangerous,
The Lord God made them all.

Each nasty little hornet,
Each beastly little squid,
Who made the spikey urchin,
Who made the sharks, He did.

All things scabbed and ulcerous,
All pox both great and small,
Putrid, foul, and gangrenous,
The Lord God made them all.
What we might call the Monty Python Objection has been made before to try to counter people who Argue from Design that God made everything. It's all so perfect, you know.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Jingle Jangle on the case with Paula Zahn this weekend

On Sunday, January 23, at 10 p.m. Eastern (7 p.m. Pacific), The I.D. Discovery Channel will air On the Case with Paula Zahn, featuring the episode titled, "Shadow of Doubt." I plan to watch it, because it is based on my friend Jim Rix's book about his cousin Ray Krone's wrongful conviction for murder. That is, Ray didn't do it.
    I've visited Ray in his home in Pennsylvania, heard him speak at the University of North Carolina Law School, and celebrated his freedom with him at a Lake Tahoe party. I look forward to seeing both him and Jim interviewed on the program (as well as others involved in the case).
    I also look forward to seeing Paula Zahn in action; I've never watched her program. Says a North Carolina friend familiar with her work: "I think she is definitely someone that public officials don’t want in their offices, much like Mike Wallace or Dan Rather."

The program's website blurbs the episode:
A mother of three is found brutally murdered in a downtown bar. A former Air Force sergeant is charged with the crime, but his family's crusade for justice leads to a surprising conclusion.
    It will be repeated at 1 a.m.
    See my review of the program.

The book, Jingle Jangle: The Perfect Crime Turned Inside Out, was recently published for Kindle. And it's still available in hardcover.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Thought for the day

My wife reads The New Yorker. I would too if I "had the time." The only time I read the magazine is when she recommends something.
    For example, she most recently said I should read an article by Jonah Lehrer from the Annals of Science column for December 13: "The Truth Wears Off," about "the decline effect," a difficulty scientists often have trying to replicate experimental results. Here's an example of the effect:
In 1991, the Danish zoologist Anders Møller...made a remarkable discovery about sex, barn swallows, and symmetry...[F]emale barn swallows were far more likely to mate with male birds that had long, symmetrical feathers. This suggested that the picky females were using symmetry as a proxy for the quality of male genes. Møller’s paper, which was published in Nature, set off a frenzy of research....
    In the three years following, there were ten independent tests of the role of fluctuating asymmetry in sexual selection, and nine of them found a relationship between symmetry and male reproductive success...Before long, the theory was applied to humans....
    Then the theory started to fall apart. In 1994, there were fourteen [emphasis mine] published tests of symmetry and sexual selection, and only eight found a correlation. In 1995, there were eight papers on the subject, and only four got a positive result. By 1998, when there were twelve additional investigations of fluctuating asymmetry, only a third of them confirmed the theory. Worse still, even the studies that yielded some positive result showed a steadily declining effect size. Between 1992 and 1997, the average effect size shrank by eighty per cent.
    What people who have studied this problem have concluded is that researchers are like the rest of us. "We like proving ourselves right and hate being wrong."
The problem, of course, is that such dramatic findings are also the most likely to get published in prestigious journals, since the data are both statistically significant and entirely unexpected. Grants get written, follow-up studies are conducted....
    This suggests that the decline effect is actually a decline of illusion. While Karl Popper (1902-1994) imagined falsification occurring with a single, definitive experiment—Galileo (1564-1642) refuted Aristotelian mechanics in an afternoon—the process turns out to be much messier than that. Many scientific theories continue to be considered true even after failing numerous experimental tests....
The article concludes a couple of paragraphs later with today's rather profound thought:
Just because an idea is true doesn't mean it can be proved. And just because an idea can be proved doesn't mean it's true. When the experiments are done, we still have to choose what to believe.
To me, the thought is all the profounder for applying to ordinary, everyday ideas and beliefs as well as to science.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

An un-odd semantic solution

Last Monday, I reported my "insight" that there seemed to be more even numbers than odd numbers. I labeled the report humor to signal that my tongue was in my cheek. But I also labeled it parody to signal that I was seriously making fun of a certain way of trying to think (exemplified by numerology and astrology and, perhaps more often than not, by theology).
    Commenter Ken provided a serious, logical counter to the "proof" that there are more even numbers than odd. There's an infinite number of both, he pointed out, and one infinity is just as numerous as another. Actually, as Georg Cantor (1845-1918) theorized,
there are infinite sets of different sizes (called cardinalities). For example, the set of integers is countably infinite, while the set of real numbers is uncountably infinite. –Wikipedia
But Ken is right, because, with even and odd numbers, we're confining ourselves to "countably infinite" sets.
    Of course, I never thought for a minute myself that there were more even numbers than odd numbers. But the semantic example I contrived (the asymmetry of "even number of odd numbers" and "odd number of even numbers") did sort of make it look as though there might be more even than odd numbers.
    While Ken's logical objection is well and good1, I've been waiting for my muse to provide a fitting semantic retort. Alas, I've been disappointed, and I've even had grapefruit almost every morning. I'm going to have to work to provide a proportional solution.

Many years ago (in the early seventies), I became interested in "creative problem-solving." One of the things I learned from my mentor, Moe Edwards ("Moe" was simply his initials; there's a reference on the web to a book titled Doubling Idea Power, by M.O. Edwards, Palo Alto), was to "ask provocative questions"—or to ask any question at all, to see whether it can spur a thought.
    Okay. What's going on when you (1) double an odd number and get an even number, but (2) take an odd number of even numbers and also get an even number?
    What this struck right off is the realization that when you double two things, you get an even number of them, and when you take an odd number of things, you get an odd number of them. So something fishy or sleight-of-hand seems to be going on in (2), taking an odd number [of something]...and getting "an even number."
    And the clue as to what's going on is that the phrase, "of them," was coyly omitted in Monday's "proof." That is, it didn't say "getting an even number of them," but "getting an even number."
    I'll go on and spell this out later (perhaps tomorrow), but for now, as a gift to my readers, I'll leave it to them to work it out for themselves, perhaps while eating a grapefruit.

Proof more odd than even
The proof "more even than odd" was semantic,
Playful, good-humored, a little pedantic,
    Done for good fun,
    As well as the pun,
And while not even odd, it was, flatly, antic2.
_______________
  1. "Acceptable, all right, as in 'If you can get a better discount elsewhere, well and good.' [The] redundant phrase ['well and good'] was first recorded in 1699." –yourdictionary.com
  2. antic. adjective: ludicrously odd
        Example: "Hamlet's assumed antic disposition."

Friday, January 14, 2011

Cryptoquote [solution] for the day

To succeed in the world it is not enough to be stupid, you must also be well-mannered.
Voltaire (1694-1778)
(My wife's solution to today's Cryptoquote in our local newspaper.)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Prophecy of the Medallion E-Book Giveaway

E-Book Giveaway: "[Author Steve Glossin invites you] to submit an entry to receive one of ten free E-Book copies of the international thriller, Prophecy of the Medallion...."

More even than odd

I was amazed this morning to discover a "proof"1 for something that is quite counter-intuitive. I mean, there are as many odd numbers as even numbers, right?
    Wrong. There are actually more even numbers than odd numbers. Here's the proof that came to me while I was eating my grapefruit half:
    If you add an even number of even numbers, you get an even number.
    But you also get an even number if you add an even number of odd numbers! And you don't conversely get any extra odd numbers when you add an odd number of even numbers. Rather, you seem to gain some even numbers—or lose some odd numbers, depending on how you look at.
    Therefore, there are apparently more even numbers than odd ones. And I haven't even tried to find other ways we might gain even numbers or lose odd ones.
    Isn't that amazing!

How can that be? Can that possibly be right?
    If true, it is so astounding, do you think maybe this might be a clue toward discovering a proof for the existence of God? Or maybe for the existence of two of them (God even rather than odd)? Or for their nonexistence? Wow.
    What if duotheism is the True Way, rather than monotheism? Or if atheists have to deny the existence of two Gods in order to be atheists? "Aduotheists" is hard to pronounce.

An odd God limerick
More even than odd...the truth about God?
Then let's swell the ranks of Their Squad,
    Double Their pronouns,
    Use King and Queen crowns,
And on Fridays eat twice as much cod.
Notes for further analysis:
  1. The operator "even number of" is equivalent to "multiplied by two" (or "the numerical result made even").
  2. The operator "odd number of" is not equivalent to "the numerical result made odd" (if the things there are an odd number of are even numbers).
    Further disquisition
_______________
  1. Note: This post is labeled "humor." I only added this note later when I suspected that some readers had not detected the post's parody of wishful or theological thinking, possibly because they'd noticed that I'd lately been taking myself so very seriously.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

What pain

Hogmanay 2010, revisited. I was told yesterday that my new blog picture captures me looking "pained."
    In 1965, in Edinburgh, Scotland (the city whose Hogmanay celebration was portrayed in the photo I used on January 1), as I was walking by a long mirror on a street one morning, on my way to the divinity school, I thought I recognized someone mentioned in Kierkegaard. I had a few years earlier read his essay in Either/Or titled "The Unhappiest Man," which I seem to remember he developed from reflecting on the New Testament "Man of Sorrows." I suspect that I was merely flattering myself by borrowing Kierkegaard's label from the person my mother had associated me with from my infancy. (Yes, apparently. At any rate, in our home my official baby portrait was hung alongside a representation of Jesus Christ.)

However, I seem to have been misremembering Kierkegaard's concept of "the unhappiest man," which may have had nothing to do with the New Testament. Says Wikipedia:
The third essay, called "The Unhappiest One," [even the title is apparently different from what I remembered], discusses the hypothetical question: "who deserves the distinction of being unhappier than everyone else?" Kierkegaard answers, "The unhappy person is one who has his ideal, the content of his life, the fullness of his consciousness, the essence of his being, in some manner outside of himself. He is always absent, never present to himself."
How, then, could I have been unhappy, or be unhappy now? I seem perpetually to be "present to myself"—unless I fail to understand what Kierkegaard meant by that; am I in some sense of his hardly ever present to myself at all?

Today, certainly, forty-five years later, I don't think of myself as unhappy, let alone "the unhappiest." But I do feel some of the sorrow of the world. I can't read about a newly elected congresswoman's being gunned down yesterday and six people's being dead today as a result without feeling some sadness over it. I couldn't even take bird feed out a little late this morning without feeling sorry for the birds who'd already arrived to find the feeders empty from yesterday. I can't think about even the concept of the food chain without some generalized sorrow over the profound injustice of Nature itself.
    Yet, I didn't recognize someone in pain when I posted my new blog profile photograph the other day. Since learning that to someone else I looked "pained," I've examined the photo more closely, and I think I might see something, in the set of the mouth, perhaps.
    At first, I "remembered" taking the photo on New Year's morning, by mounting my camera on a tripod and clicking a remote control, but when I got out the uncropped original it reminded me that I preferred the photos I had taken the night before by holding the camera up with my left hand and, with some difficulty (for the Nikon D60 SLR is a bit heavy), pressing the release with my index finger:
 

And here are two others, taken in the preceding minutes:
 

    From the angle, I can confirm that the camera was definitely not on a tripod. I was sitting as close as I could to the big lamp on the long, narrow library table I made years ago. No room for the tripod.
    So, it's possible that the set of my lips is just because of the weight of the camera—or perhaps a twinge of arthritic pain.
    I took the pictures on Hogmanay, New Year's Eve 2010, just before going to bed a little after eight o'clock. I think I might have been feeling the weight of the year. Something, at any rate, prompted me to do a few self-portraits, not something I'd ever done just before retiring for the day...
    ...or before retiring for the year, a year of unbroken days of sad headlines and the murderous operation of Nature.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Taking myself too seriously?

The episode of my new blog pic and its attendant quotations (from an old friend and from Henry James—another old friend of a sort) led to my realizing that I seem to have been taking myself a bit too seriously lately (and for who knows how long before that).
    Horace Fletcher (1849-1919) was known as "The Great Masticator," and according to something I read somewhere, Henry James followed his prescription to swallow thirty-times before swallowing. Seems to me that you should follow the same advice when reading my blog (or maybe any blog).

And, in the process, I may have hit on a third new year's resolution, if resolving to take oneself less seriously isn't a self-contradiction. (I'm not sure that it isn't.)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Formidable

Having quoted an old friend1 in my profile on the subject of my new blog pic (craquelured in Photoshop to resemble an old painting), I thought it would be well to display Merriam-Webster's definition of formidable:
  1. causing fear, dread, or apprehension
  2. having qualities that discourage approach or attack
  3. tending to inspire awe or wonder
A niece who commented on this and related self-portraits on my Facebook account seemed to be in with sense #1. She commented on the photos by quoting from the movie The Sixth Sense: "Be scared, be very scared...."

I don't know in what sense my friend intended the term. Senses #1 and #2 seem to me to derive from sense #3. (And, if the order of senses weren't descriptive rather than logical, Merriam-Webster might do well to renumber the list 2, 3, 1.)
    In French, the word is often used in a highly laudatory sense, and it is synonymous with
extraordinary, formidable, gigantic, huge, enormous, immense, colossal, horrible, tremendous, fantastic, wonderful, sensational, terrific, splendid, marvelous, super, mighty, smashing (fig.).
    But as About.com on the French language says on the subject of "Formidable (F) vs Formidable (E)," they're "almost opposite":
Formidable (F) is an interesting word, because it means great or terrific; almost the opposite of the English. Ce film est formidable! - This is a great movie!
Formidable (E) means dreadful or fearsome: The opposition is formidable - L'opposition est redoutable/effrayante.
Anyway, since, as I think, I bear a remarkable resemblance to Henry James2 (except that I'm less bald and fat), I don't mind the controversy.
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  1. "Your new blog pic shows a formidable if not defiant person...."
  2. Who wrote [in the precise source I have not discovered]: "Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue."

Monday, January 3, 2011

Тук не е Америка: 20 years in Bulgaria

The first Monday of 2011: "Not a lot of people on the streets, and many stores along my 20-minute route to the heart of downtown Sofia won’t ..."
    Thus begins the first "random note from the daily life of an American musician in Bulgaria." I recommend this and (I'm sure) each future note.

A new year's resolution (two of them!)

I didn't think I had any new year's resolutions, but this morning I realized that there's one I should make and try (yet again, for how many times?) to stick to:
Talk less, listen more.
And my wife suggested another one for me:
Write less, talk more!
I accept this in the spirit of self-improvement (especially when it comes to being a more companionable spouse).

I found the following links while searching for the graphic:

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Limerick hogmanay

My thanks to Ken for giving "come and play,"
And even more than that and "canapé"—
    His own best kind of present,
    A heart and mindful bezant—
So I could write a verseful hogmanay!

And just in, this from another friend, Kat:
Oh, hogmanay, hogmanay, hogmanay!
When fireworks blaze to paint-start the day;
    First footing & redding,
    Bells, dancing, late bedding,
And juniper burned to keep ghosts at bay.

A belated hogmanay

Dictionary.com's "Word of the Day for Friday, December 31, 2010" was
Hogmanay \hog-muh-NEY\
noun: 1. a gift given on New Year's Eve.
proper noun: 1. New Year's Eve in Scotland.
    Hogmanay is the name for Scottish New Year's Eve. It probably comes from the Old French aguillanneuf, "last day of the year."
The photo is of a Hogmanay celebration in Edinburgh. I recognize the castle from my 1965 time in Auld Reekie. In copping the photo, I also found "10 facts about Hogmanay":
  1. Many Scots still use Hogmanay to practice the tradition of first footing, when it is customary to visit a friend or neighbour just after midnight to celebrate the New Year. [I'm glad no one tried this with us last night; we were asleep by 8:30.] While the traditional gift of a lump of coal for the host's fire may not be as common as it once was, it's still bad luck to show up empty handed, so be sure to take along your tipple of choice.
  2. Edinburgh's Hogmanay celebrations were the site of the World Record for the largest country dance. 1914 people danced Strip The Willow at the "Night Afore Fiesta" on 30 December 2000.
  3. Mystery still surrounds the origin of the word "Hogmanay"....
My belated hogmanay1 to you is my wife's solution to today's cryptoquote:
Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man. – Benjamin Franklin
    I'm reasonably certain that Mr. Franklin meant "man" in the sense of human. I, at any rate, offer this hogmanay to women as well as to men.

Hogmanay, hogmanay, hogmanay! I love the way it's pronounced. It needs to be a rhyme word in a limerick. Unfortunately, my brief foray in rhyming dictionaries came up empty. I shouldn't let that be an unsurmountable obstacle—or not for my muse, anyroad. So, let's see whether she comes up with anything during this first day of the new year.
    You're free to challenge your own muse, too, of course. An entry from you could be your own belated hogmanay to me.
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  1. I've capitalized the word when it refers to the day, not when it refers to a gift for the day.