Thursday, February 28, 2013

11 People On a Rope


11 people were hanging on a rope, under a helicopter. 10 men and 1 woman. The rope was not strong enough to carry them all, so they decided that one had to leave because otherwise they were all going to fall.

They weren't able to choose that person, until the woman gave a very touching speech. She said that she would voluntarily let go of the rope, because, as a woman, she was used to giving up everything for her husband and kids or for men in general, and was used to always making sacrifices with little in return.

As soon as she finished her speech, all the men started clapping ......

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What Bigots Lose

File:Van Cliburn.jpg

This is a salute to one of the greatest pianists of our time, Van Cliburn, who died today of bone cancer in shackman’s city – a city I like – of Fort Worth, Texas.  Click on the picture above and it will send you to the Wikipedia entry of his life.

I have never known this man who played for every President from Eisenhower to Obama other than as an icon, although I am transported when I hear his music.  I love his talent, his artistry.  Bigotry could lead me elsewhere if I so chose and this would be one of the great losses of bigotry.

Bigotry?  Why?  He was gay and many reject gay members of our society for that reason alone.  He played The Star Spangled Banner to begin each of his performances and many would reject out of hand anyone seemingly so obviously patriotic.  He was a devout Baptist and some would reject anyone who is a believer in God.  Some would even reject him because he was a man from the American South, obviously culturally inferior.

These are the losses of bigotry, for his life was a most generous gift!

Friday, February 22, 2013


Will Knott brought this topic to the LBC – and do me the favor of checking out what the other members have to say … after you read my take, of course.

I have lingered quite close to death once in my life, when at the age of five, I was hospitalized with what was believed (apparently) to be a systemic infection.  It turned out to be mononucleosis, something that doctors would not really suspect a five year-old of having, so that is not totally surprising.  The bad news, though, was that the nursing shift made a grievous error in my care and double-dosed me with penicillin for two weeks!  This played havoc with my system, as you can guess, and it was taken over by opportunistic fungal growth which almost did me in.

You are probably thinking that I am going to tell you of something that caused me to suddenly take a TURN for the better, or some such, but that is not so.  Instead, it is the conclusion of my hospital stay that is the mystery.

At the end of the stay, they took out my tonsils.  Even in the 50’s, this was not the most daring of surgery.  The nasty part was that the anesthetic was ether, and anyone who has ever come out of ether induced sleep can attest that the effects after are quite awful with headache and severe nausea.  But, that isn’t the point of the story, either.

No, the story is about what I “saw” or dreamed of during the surgery.  There was a current, an electric stream, that was so strong that it poured in a beam of almost unimaginable force.  The beam streamed from left to right, I remember that quite vividly, and was horizontal.

A massive man entered the picture, a man of immense strength and power.


Somehow, he grabbed that raging torrent and struggled with it mightily.  Slowly, ever so slowly, he bent it so that it gradually assumed a flow back over his shoulder.  His effort in doing this was Herculean, but his will was iron!

He turned that stream!  He succeeded.  And, somehow, I knew at the age of five that what he did was very important!

Why would a child have such a preposterous and involved vision?  I’ve often wondered what it meant at any level.

When I awakened, they gave me ice cream.  And I turned green ...

Monday, February 18, 2013

American Presidents’ Day


The pillars of the American Presidency, the largest historical icons, are George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  Washington is known as the father of our country and Lincoln as the great emancipator who got us through the Civil War and saved the Union.  These are the men that our national celebration of Presidents’ Day really focus on and they were conveniently both born in February, making it a bit more tidy.

Lincoln has been shown in a great new movie bearing his name, which I have written of recently in this post.  Following my viewing of that movie a few months ago, I downloaded the book The Ascent of George Washington: The Hidden Political Genius of an American Icon  by John Ferling to my Kindle.

The movie showed Lincoln as a real man, not an image carved from stone, but an warm man who invited you in.  George Washington, on the other hand, is seen in this book as far as I’ve read, as a master of persuasion and manipulation, an acceptor of credit and denier of blame.  He was incredibly capable at creating an image of himself as above politics while at the same time harboring burning personal ambition.  He was not a man who invited you in, he was a man aloof and cold, hardworking and meticulous, daring in battle and majestic in presence, who was precisely the individual needed for our country in his time just as Lincoln was in his own.

Gore Vidal once said that history creates roles to be filled and if the person we look back upon filling them had not, someone else would have.  In the case of these two men, with the particular roles they filled when they did, it is hard for me to imagine there was another who would have done so.  As great a collection as the Founding Fathers were and as great as many of the generals of the time were, none other seemed to possess Washington’s unique combination that made him an outsized leader.  Many were smarter intellectually in the Congress and many were better generals in terms of strategic understanding.  None projected the image that Washington did, an image necessary for an overmatched army and a fledgling nation.

Looking at the men behind the image only can go so far when they are centuries dead, but these glimpses are both definitely worth the viewing.  It’s always good to look behind the image, to see how history is constructed in context, to see the human frailty beneath the projected majesty.  Usually, you find that the Great and Mighty Oz is not really that hard to relate to once the curtain is pulled aside.

Friday, February 15, 2013


Dear LBC members,

I am sorry I am late.  I have put myself in the corner.  There were matters that required my attention, however.  Really.

The Old Fossil

This topic was brought to us this week by Grannymar.  It’s a good one!  Check out what the other members have had to say – clickable list on the right hand side of the screen – and I’m betting many of them are actually on time.

Oh, wait, I’m not late.  I was just early.  I had paid no attention to the topic until last night and I had other pressing matters by then.  But, I had already written on the topic earlier in the week via the infamous synchronicity of Ramana.  It was contained in the post on epigenetics that immediately preceded this one:

lab rats raised by “licking” mothers, mothers who lick the babies and give them attention, lab rats that grow up to be cuddly and sociable. Non-licking moms raise anti-social rats. It can be shown that these tendencies are created by the experience by swapping litters at birth. The non-licking moms raising offspring of licking moms raise unsociable little characters. The licking moms getting the offspring of the non-lickers, raise sociable pups.

This probably has very real implications for humans.  What I haven’t read or seen is whether these antisocial pups grow up to not lick their offspring.  In other words, do they pass this down through the generations.  Just as frightening is that it is possible that they would pass along the genetic tendencies toward antisociality to their own offspring.  Has a chain of difficulty been started at the early raising of these pups that may set a negative trend.

All because their momma didn’t touch and caress them when they were little.  Is this what happens to whole neighborhoods, to whole socioeconomic groups, to groups of people who eventually become social biters – which equates to gang bangers in our urban environments – simply because they needed caring touch?

It may well be more complex for people.  But … then again … it may not.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Nature and Nurture: The Epigenetic Monkey Wrench

For those of you with a little science background, do you remember the Lamarckian theory of how traits developed?  It was like this: a giraffe finds itself doing well in a habitat where the best and most plentiful food for it is in trees, specifically the leaves.  So, the giraffe stretches for the leaves and can reach a few.  The continued neck stretching has tends to develop a bit longer neck which is then passed on to his kids.  Likewise, these kids stretch for higher leaves and eventually, a few years down the line, we have the modern giraffe with the long neck.


This is called soft inheritance.  It means that if I read a lot, I will pass along more reading/comprehension ability to my child.  If I spend time in the gym developing biceps, I will pass along a tendency for my child to have stronger biceps.  Kind of like Darwin, except that the changes are not coded in a hard way and then, over time, weeded out by nature, but rather acquired through life experience.

According to Darwin, the taller giraffes were more able to get leaves and thus more able to live.  They were more fit for their environment.  That, in turn, meant that they were more able to reproduce other giraffes kind of like them and over generations the giraffe gets taller.  We all know that Darwin won that argument, right?

Well, yes.  But it is more complicated.  In the past 40 years another factor has come to light, only really studied for the past 20.  Superficially it seems like Lamarckism.  What it is more accurately described as is life experience turning certain genes on and off and these new switches often passing to offspring.  And, it is a theory with very rigorous proofs and observations behind it, quite as solid scientifically as what Darwin brought us.

For example, the Nova episode below shows lab rats raised by “licking” mothers, mothers who lick the babies and give them attention, lab rats that grow up to be cuddly and sociable.   Non-licking moms raise anti-social rats.  It can be shown that these tendencies are created by the experience by swapping litters at birth.  The non-licking moms raising offspring of licking moms raise unsociable little characters.  The licking moms getting the offspring of the non-lickers, raise sociable pups.

This is the real zinger.  They discovered what the switches were, and seeing precisely what they were, they gave non-social rats one single shot from a hypodermic designed specifically to erase these switches and … voila, the rats became sociable!  After one shot!  AND THE CHANGE WAS PERMANENT!


That is only one of the things shown through epigenetics.  The Nova show also shows how the diet of your grandparents can skip health effects on your parents and affect YOU.  Chew on that for a bit.

That is why I said that the “Nature vs. Nurture” idea was more complex than most people think.  I leave you to enjoy your own research of epigenetics.

For further study (the first in the list from Nova is my favorite):


Friday, February 8, 2013

Nature vs. Nurture

I have a wealth of experience to draw from on this topic, brought to the Loose Blogger Consortium this week by my good buddy shackman.  There are clickable links on the right hand side of this page that you can use to check out what all the other active members of the LBC have to say on the same topic.

My son is my step son, but I've been with him and the Lady F since he was 1 1/2 years of age.  In other words, I was the one there to nurture him the whole distance while contributing nothing to what nature handed him.

You can see that we do not look alike.  My voice is kind of reedy and not very deep, while my boy's voice makes Ramana and his sonorous baritone sound like a Vienna Choir Boy.  He is taller than I am.  And I'm about as far as I'm willing to go with physical comparison, LOL!!!

We knew the physical would have little resemblance unless by chance.  The interesting part is to compare the behavioral traits, because that is potentially affected by both genetics and experience.  Since I was always the dad in his life and since he never spent any appreciable amount of time around his biological family (even though we are close to them), you would expect him to behave somewhat like me, modeled after my behavior.

Well, he is 33 now, so the results are pretty much ready to be tabulated.  And the answer speaks strongly in different ways for both sides.  His values are pretty consistent with mine, his sense of right and wrong, but he has mannerisms, skills and likes much more consistent with his biological family.  He doesn't think like me even if we are very close.  My daughter, who is my biological heir, does think like me in many ways that immediately jump to my attention.

Biology is a very powerful influence and it has amazed both my wife and me how much is obviously biological that we would never have suspected.  It is very clear that my son is an inheritor of his biological family.  I've got to tell you, though, that the combination sure seemed to work magic.  He is a great father, a sensitive man and ... one helluva plumber and construction boss!  Really!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Why I Loved the Movie "Lincoln"

Since seeing the movie about the last months of Abraham Lincoln's life, the period of his life when he was trying to pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that prohibited slavery and working to resecure the Union and bring the Confederate States back into the fold, I have seen Lincoln described as the American Sphinx.  Before the movie, I would not have known why.  Now, it makes perfect sense.

My acquaintance with Lincoln before the movie was through the ubiquitous image on pennies and five dollar bills, the pictures in American classrooms hanging on the wall and, later, a visit to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.  The Memorial is immensely moving, more than any of the other Memorials in the Capitol as I see them, dominated by the immense sculpture of Lincoln sitting and observing in majesty and compassion, surrounded by writings he made that had an eloquence seldom matched in American history.  Impressive as they are, all of these images are static and somehow two-dimensional.

Daniel Day Lewis and Steven Spielberg have changed that.  Together, they have managed to bring Lincoln to life like never before.  He becomes a living, breathing presence, meticulously researched by Day Lewis - he read over one hundred books on Lincoln preparing for the role - for the consummate actor took on as many of the characteristics of Lincoln as history has recorded.  The voice is high and reedy, the gate somewhat awkward, the posture slumped.  But, it is the portrayal of wisdom, perception and character that leaps off the screen as Lincoln engaged a momentous time, filled with unimaginable potential for loss, working with others of often lesser and more often different visions of what was possible.

Not giving the movie away, one scene most illustrative of this is when one of his potential allies who, like so many of our modern politicians, is unbending in his idealism threatening to derail Lincoln's desired goal through legislative inflexibility.  The legislator tells Lincoln that one must have a moral compass that one stays true to.  Lincoln responds that it is true that the compass will unerringly show the direction north and thus keep one on a straight course, what the compass cannot show on that straight path is the swamps one will encounter that must be detoured around.  This is one of the best illustrations of political understanding and balance that I've ever seen.

Throughout the movie, Lincoln employs folk wisdom and comraderie while remaining something of a mystery at all points to those around him.  Thus, the American Sphinx.  It had to be so, for he saw beyond what his contemporaries saw and that always made him something of a mystery to them.  His interaction with his tormented wife and the torments that he experienced on that life journey traversing terrain with mountains and swamps is what gives depth to the performance, illuminating his almost superhuman effort to fulfill his calling.

I encourage one and all to see this marvelous movie and put aside petty politics for awhile to see what high political aspiration can achieve.  It is Hollywood, of course, but it is Hollywood at its best, weaving a mesmerizing tale that draws the viewer into a world so fully that they exit enriched with new understanding.  The movie making art cannot aspire to more.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Half Full Glass


It is so classic that as soon as it is mentioned everyone knows what you are talking about.  Padmini brought to the Loose Blogger Consortium the “Glass Half Full.”  And it always is used to demonstrate the different view of the same thing by those with an optimistic outlook on life compared to those who are pessimists.

Well, it has been used so much that it is becoming … predictable.  So, let’s see if we can throw a monkey wrench into the works.  Let’s add one more person to the mix, the rational, logical man.  Let’s add the engineer!

Question: What do you see above?

Optimist: I see a glass half full of water.

Pessimist: I see a glass that is half empty.

Engineer: I see a glass twice the necessary size for the water available.

As Ramana showed in a post earlier this week, context and perspective is everything!  Do you know anyone like our engineer?  I’m already thinking of a couple.