Sunday, February 28, 2010

Tired poet

After his outing yesterday at Ayr Mount, Siegfried napped toothfully.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Jimmy V for you

"If you laugh, you think, you cry, that's a full day." –Jim Valvano

My North Carolina readers aren't the only ones who know who Jimmy V was. Californian Ed Ort, an old colleague of mine at IBM's Santa Teresa Laboratory, knows too and has named his blog "For Jimmy V." I recommend it.

Friday, February 26, 2010


In the mid-1800s, thousands of treasured documents vanished from the Institut de France, stolen by Italian mathematician, Count Guglielmo Libri, who fled to London in 1848 with a collection of 30,000 books and manuscripts, including those by Descartes, Galileo, Fermat, Leibniz, Copernicus, Kepler, and other scientific and mathematical giants. Among the audacious thief's trove were seventy-two letters by René Descartes, the founding genius of modern philosophy and analytic geometry.
    Yesterday's article in The New York Times, "Descartes Letter Found, Therefore It Is," by Patricia Cohen, reports that
one of those purloined letters...dated May 27, 1641, [concerning] the publication of Meditations on First Philosophy, a celebrated work whose use of reason and scientific methods helped to ignite a revolution in thought...has turned up at Haverford College in Pennsylvania.
    ...The document, experts say, reveals just how much Descartes tailored his writings to answer his contemporary critics. Frequently suspected of heresy, Descartes sent copies of his arguments to well-known theologians to gauge their opinions and answer their objections within his text.
    It would be disingenuous of me to say that I thought of Descartes last night while watching a 2009 TV program about Charles Darwin, who, more than 200 years after Descartes, also had reason to fear being thought a heretic, for I read Ms. Cohen's article only this morning. But I might very well have thought of Descartes, or of countless others who tailored their statements or their dates of publication (to follow their death, for example), in order to avoid censure (or premature death at the hands of inquisitioners).

The current meaning of the word "egregious" may have come about under the same pressure. The theologians and other powers that were (and largely still are) thought Descartes and Darwin outrageously bad or reprehensible. They were egregious in the sense of being outside the flock; "egregious" derives from Latin egregius, separated or chosen from the herd, from e-, ex-, out of, from + grex, greg-, herd, flock.
    But the other day pointed out that
Egregious was formerly used importing a good quality (that which was distinguished "from the herd" because of excellence [emphasis mine]).
    One would hope that the original meaning will come back. But if herd members can compliment Descartes now (assuming that they've heard of him), it's largely because he has been dead for almost 400 years. Many people still have trouble with Darwin. And look how egregious in the bad sense Richard Dawkins is considered to be. He's just too alive in his distinction from the herd of people who still reject evolution.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Touches mean so much

I had recently read an article about human touching (including humans engaged in competitive basketball), "Evidence That Little Touches Do Mean So Much," published February 22 in The New York Times on the web, in which its author Benedict Carey wrote:
The evidence that [touches] can lead to clear, almost immediate changes in how people think and behave is accumulating fast. Students who received a supportive touch on the back or arm from a teacher were nearly twice as likely to volunteer in class as those who did not, studies have found. A sympathetic touch from a doctor leaves people with the impression that the visit lasted twice as long, compared with estimates from people who were untouched. Research by Tiffany Field of the Touch Research Institute in Miami has found that a massage from a loved one can not only ease pain but also soothe depression and strengthen a relationship.
    ...In a paper due out this year in the journal Emotion, Mr. Kraus and his co-authors, Cassy Huang and Dr. Keltner, report that with a few exceptions, good teams tended to be touchier than bad ones. The most touch-bonded teams were the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, currently two of the league’s top teams....[I sent a link to Roy Williams, the coach of the North Carolina Tar Heels, whose league standings might benefit by a little more touching among his players. Or not.]
So naturally the following paragraph jumped out at me this morning from Karen Pryor's 2009 book, Reaching the Animal Mind. She had been conducting dolphin research underwater inside a huge tuna-fishing net, toward finding ways to avoid harming dolphins:
I think of one more curious event I witnessed in the net: a message about connection. I am taking data on a senior-male group of four animals, cruising slowly beneath me, when I realize, by her slimmer build, that the central animal in the group is an equally senior and black-masked female. She is "holding hands," overlapping pectoral fins, with the male on her left, and with the male on her right. A third male swims slightly below and behind her; as I watch, she reaches down with her tail and pats that male gently on the forehead. The hussy! Or maybe, since they look to be age-mates, they all grew up together and were cousins. One thing I am quite sure of, though: she is truly fond of them all. [p. 115]
    Most of us Mother Nature's living organisms—be we basketball players, dolphins, pets, or pet owners—touch, and mean so much by touching. I love it when Siegfried comes over and briefly touches my hand with his nose. I think I know what he means by it.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Not dedicated to Waldo

There's a sign a little ways down Poet's Walk.
Write a poem while walking.
Or write it about the walk.
Or while walking write a poem
    about walking.
Write a poem on the trail,
    on the walk, on walking, on "on."

Without pencil or paper,
Take the walk and talk it.
Go on a walk and talk on it, on it.
Talk the poem, talk the walk.
Talk on and on ambiguity, ambiguously.
Moristotle's current masthead photograph features the pond at Poet's Walk (during the summer).

Friday, February 19, 2010

A guide horse?

Intelligence flourishes throughout the "Animal Kingdom," created there by the blind watchmaker, Mother Nature. We've all heard of guide dogs for the blind. Today I learned of guide horses. There's even The Guide Horse Foundation.

I learned about guide horses from Karen Pryor's wonderful 2009 book, Reaching the Animal Mind: Clicker Training and What It Teaches Us about All Animals:

Well, of course the polar bear needs a brain. It's a predator; it has to outwit its prey. Some people maintain that prey animals, therefore, such as cattle, horses, and sheep, have no need for this level of adaptability...Horse trainers, particularly, love this piece of sophistry. Since horses are prey animals, the theory goes, they can't learn from being given food; avoiding danger is the only thing they can really understand....
    People are clicker-training horses all over the world now....
    Miniature horses are a special breed...Miniature horses live a lot longer than dogs. Once trained, a guide dog has six or seven years left before it is too old to work. The owner of a guide horse, however, can expect to enjoy the services of this faithful animal for twenty years or more.
    The guide horse I know personally is a black-and-white mare named Panda. She belongs to Ann Edy, a college professor in New York State who has been blind since birth.
    ...Watch the "Panda the Guide Horse in Action" video in chapter 5 at [pp. 91-93]

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Siegfried's special couch pose

For Reina in Little Rock

Prompted by a friend's inquiry whether Siegfried not only looks like Wally but also has a similar personality, I think this is a good place to report that Siegfried's personality is actually a lot different from Wally's. We suspect that he wasn't well socialized during the seven weeks before he came to us (as we know for a fact Wally was), so he's sort of fearful of noises, people he doesn't know (or know well), and other non-human animals.
    That's very significant. Four other significant differences are:
    (1) He's very mouthy; he seems to have to feel things with his teeth, and nipping us seems to be a way to express affection (as strange and annoying as that can be at times).
    (2) He seems to be a good deal more energetically (assertively) playful than (I at least remember) Wally was as a young dog.
    (3) His physical dexterity (his ability to dance and leap and cavort) is amazing; he could be a circus performer!
    (4) He will assertively push open a door to go through it (something Wally would NEVER do) and, related to this, he is ever getting in to anything he can reach (Wally would of course "get into things," but he didn't seem nearly so persistent about it).
    Ha, when I started that list, I said "two," then "three," then finally "four [other significant differences]"; I kept thinking of something else different about Siegfried.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Snow art in Arkansas too

But this snow art (unlike that shown yesterday from West Virginia) is the work of human hand, not of...Nature. I hesitate to make the comparison, not sure whether it is appropriate to consider Nature an artist. Nature, after all, is Richard Dawkins's "blind watchmaker." Art requires intention, doesn't it? And, besides, snow isn't biological but simply "physical" (as in physics). But then again, water in a sense evolved from simpler elements, so...?
    Hmm, the human hands involved in this snow art from Little Rock are another work of Nature, as is the brain (or mind) involved, with the intention it focuses on the world.
    Marvelous, isn't it?, that a blind watchmaker could have crafted an organism (a person) capable of producing art?

Anyway, Sara, that's a mighty fine snow sculpture! Did Alix (that is Alix, isn't it?) help you craft it?

Monday, February 8, 2010


Two February photos from a friend who lives in the eastern panhandle of West Virginia ("Metro-DC—near Historic Harpers Ferry and Charles Town"):

Says she:

That's our front and back yard. The photos are taken from the porch. This is a 6.3 acre mini farm (perfect for raising dogs).

Reminds me of something that happened when I got up this morning. I at first felt more like going back to bed than getting dressed. I resisted (it was, after all, "time to get up") and, for some reason, I remembered Zig Ziglar's lesson on revving oneself up by imagining, for example, that you're going on vacation tomorrow and you need to get a few things done today so you can get off on time. I immediately (let me say that again: immediately) felt zestful about getting dressed, letting Siegfried out into the back yard, and getting on with life!
    And I didn't even imagine a vacation; just Ziglar's reminder that we can effect our own feelings.
    Besides, I'm generally more excited about being at home than about being on vacation.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Montaigne diet

It finally dawned on me, only very recently, that people's idea of what their diet ought to be comes to them in much the same way as their idea of what their belief about God ought to be—from their parents and culture. Diet and dogma have much in common.
    It was appropriate, then, that I found the following quotation from Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) in John A. McDougall, M.D.'s 1985 book about diet and lifestyle, McDougall's Medicine: A Challenging Second Opinion:
Whenever a new discovery is reported to the Scientific world, they say first, "It is probably not true."
    Thereafter, when the truth of the new proposition has been demonstrated beyond question, they say, "Yes, it may be true, but it is not important."
    Finally, when sufficient time has elapsed to fully evidence its importance, they say, "Yes, surely it is important, but it is no longer new."
    McDougall's "new discovery," which he was disappointed hadn't been immediately accepted as certainly true and important (and to salve which disappointment he seems to have been in need of Montaigne's help), was that
the diet and lifestyle which best supports your natural tendencies to heal and stay based around proper foods, moderate exercise, adequate sunshine, pure air and water, and surroundings comfortable to your psychological well-being.
    The primary component, the diet, is centered around a variety of starchy plant foods such as rice, potatoes, and pastas with the addition of fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. Animal-derived foods and plant products that are refined or otherwise processed are not health-supporting....[p. 307, from "A Brief Summary of the McDougall Plan"]1
This dawning calls on me to revise my eating choices, as my theological dawning called on me to amend what I believed about God.
  1. It is interesting to note that Dr. McDougall's views on health are compatible with those of Dr. Nortin M. Hadler, author of (for example) Worried Sick: A Prescription for Health in an Overtreated America, and that Dr. Hadler is scheduled to be at Dr. McDougall's Advanced Study Weekend, February 19-21, in Santa Rosa, California.
        Santa Rosa is just fifteen miles from where I went to elementary school and was taught what I should eat and believe.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Geez! What gives?

When I revised yesterday's post slightly just now, and Blogger confirmed the action, I was startled to see displayed to the right by Google the concentrated advertising:
  • The Shepherd Project
    Cutting edge Christian speakers,
    including Craig A. Smith
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  • God Loves You
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  • † Play Jesus Songs Now †
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Is this just an artifact of Google's sophisticated (if mis-) direction of advertising, or are Jesus and God pursuing me (like hounds of heaven perhaps)?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

An unexpected giving opportunity

When someone offers to help you, do you let them? If you're reluctant to receive help, consider what a friend told me today:
You know the good feeling you get when you help someone? It's easy to give help, so much harder to take it. But if you refuse help when someone offers it, you're taking from them the opportunity to experience that feeling too.
So share the joy of helping by letting others help you. And think of the extra help you'll receive!
    In accepting my friend's words of wisdom for today's post, I trust I provided an opportunity for her to have that good feeling herself.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My grandson's championing Dramsha

On December 24, my grandson, Christopher, was featured in a news segment on Bulgarian National Television. The segment reported his creation of a newsletter for the village of Dramsha, located about twenty miles north northwest of Sofia. (The photograph shows a road into the village.)
    A clip of the segment opens in Dramsha with short interviews of a few of the locals. At a minute and forty seconds in, we find ourselves in Christopher and his mother's home in Sofia, as he talks about the newsletter. Following a practice common in Germany, the newsletter is written in the local dialect.
    Christopher and his mother also collaborated in writing the lyrics and music for a song for Dramsha dedicated to Banat Bulgarians—Bulgarian Catholics. They are shown performing a portion of it, she playing the harp and both of them singing.

Christopher also set up a web newspaper for Dramsha (housed at, where Moristotle is located). Currently it can be displayed only in Bulgarian, but (assuming that you don't know Bulgarian anymore than I do) you can at least appreciate the coat of arms Christopher designed for the town, shown here as it appears in the blog's masthead:

Afterword: Christopher invites me to give you a small lexicon of Bulgarian words to learn:
selo – village
sega – now
arfa – harp
krastove – crosses
diado – grandpa
tradicia – tradition
edno – one
pesen – song
vestnik[vesnik] – newspaper (вестник)

Diado signing off now!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The orbiting teapot

I'm parsing a statement that recently came across my desk (so to speak):
I have religious duties to perform at my church. I cannot say for sure that God exists, but if he does exist, he wants me to be doing these things.
Whatever the content might be, it has to reside in that final indicative, "He wants me to be doing these things [i.e., performing my religious duties at church]."
    The question of course is, how does the speaker know what God, "if he does exist," wants him to be doing? How can he know that if he doesn't even know whether God exists?

My dear Watson! In a trivial sense, it's elementary. He knows because his conception of the God that might exist is of a God who wants him to be doing those very duties. That is, the speaker's statement, "unpacked"—as Professor Wildrid Sellars liked to say—amounts to this:
If God (defined as a being who, if he existed, would want me to perform these religious duties) exists, then he wants me to be doing these things.
It's as if I were to say (to use Bertrand Russell's famous example1):
If an undetectably small china teapot were revolving about the sun, I know that it would be undetectably small.
Among other things, this sort of statement is called a tautology. The predicate doesn't add anything not already contained in the subject. If you assume that God exists, then (in your world) God exists, and he wants you to be doing whatever you specify that he wants you to be doing.
    Welcome to your world!
  1. Wikipedia conveniently quotes the passage from Russell in which the teapot is specified:
    In an article entitled "Is There a God?" commissioned, but never published, by Illustrated magazine in 1952, Russell wrote:
        If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by our most powerful telescopes. But if I were to go on to say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it, I should rightly be thought to be talking nonsense. If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time. [emphasis mine]

Monday, February 1, 2010

Snow still not fun, but at least pretty

The sun came out yesterday and today.

Compare that one with the first one from two days ago.

Siegfried's creaminess comes out too, against the snow.