Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Just DO

May 16, 2014

Sponge Bob

Ok, I resubscribed to the Harvard Business Review in hopes of finding something of value for my entrepreneur son. First issue to arrive was April 2014* and a quick look at the table of contents led me to page 30 and the “Idea Watch – Defend Your Research” section with: “The Challenge – Does touching men’s underwear really make women more likely to indulge in risky, reward-seeking behavior?” The title of the article gave away the findings of this important research: “Women Too Respond to Sexual Cues by Taking More Risks”.

Hmm. Interesting. Oh ya, I remembered an MTV interview with candidate Bill Clinton during which he was asked “Boxers or Briefs?” by a cute young woman and we all know how that ended. Further recollection brought to mind the series of events that led (eventually) to the birth of all three of our children and indeed tactility and boxers had been involved! I’d long wondered what could induce a young woman in the throes of youthful exuberance to risk all for reward of unknowable dimension. It all suddenly seemed so obvious.

Unfortunately though, a complication inflected these cerebrations at the very next visit to my reading room and what else but the Economist**. Recent experiments have conclusively shown that some lab animals are so scared of men (and not women!) that pain producing nerve cells shut down. “Simply put, the animals were being scared painless. A significant increase in faecal pellets suggested they were scared shitless as well.” And, relative to the above, the mere presence of an article of men’s clothing is enough to induce the phenomena.

Hmm. Go figure. That doesn’t seem conducive to you know what. I guess it must have been my good looks and scintillating personality way back when. But maybe I’m over thinking this whole thing. Recently, while reading of correspondence between artists Eva Hesse and Sol Lewitt, it occurred to me that once again I should meditate or take a run or something other than cogitate.   Hesse was agonizing about aspects of her life and work to which friend Lewitt advised: “Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rumbing, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning… Stop it and just DO!***

*No foolin’: HBR April 2014 P 30
**Economist May 3-9, 2014 Sex, writhes and videotape
***WSJ 4 23 14 “Converging Lines: Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt
Note: Lewitt’s “just DO! was written fifteen years before Nike took as its slogan a convict’s entreaty to his own firing squad cf April 6, 2012 below

 

Pirouette

January 18, 2014

Ceres Chair

Went to the movies the other night and saw August-Osage County which I just learned was nominated for several Oscars this year.  Hmmm.  Interesting performances, but I just couldn’t relate.  Never interacted with a family so rife with dysfunction.  Film starts off with senior male member of the clan, played by Sam Shepard, taking his own life.  Mother, played by Meryl Streep, drops the f-bomb with great frequency.    If I ever heard my mom utter that epithet I’d know the end to be near.

Sitting there attempting to get comfortable I thought a bit about Shepard.  He’s good in everything and makes memorable the smallest bits of a role.  There’s a personaI connection: I always think of his crooked teeth when I look in the mirror.  Anyway, as you may know he’s also a playwright and something he said about the craft came to mind.  “For me, playwriting is and always has been like making a chair.  Your concerns are balance, form, timing, lights, space, music.  If you don’t have these essentials you might as well be writing a theoretical essay, not a play.”

Well, for me, those concerns weren’t well addressed in that film, but as luck would have it, I got a new chair for Christmas and thus have been given to think about Shepard’s metaphor in relation to the gift and my way in the world.   Visitors to this space will know that I’m a world class daydreamer and should thus expect that facilitation thereof to be important to these ruminations.  Call me VP in charge of staring off into space.

The factors Shepard mentions are all important, but for me light and music stand out. In a chair you ask?  They’re not important for mushroom theory of management* sorts, but reign supreme wherever creativity is important.  And where is it not? I read an article in the Harvard Business Review a while back that described an incipient trend in which job candidates with an MFA were hired over those with an MBA.  They’re better equipped to develop ‘over the horizon’ scenarios.

Light and music in a well wrought play might refer to the manner in which truth about a character, or the plot, or life is revealed.  Think about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid maybe.  Ya, remember when they’re in Bolivia and Strother Martin asks The Kid to demonstrate his marksmanship?  The Redford character first misses the block of wood Martin’d tossed out, Newman winces, but the Kid then says “Can I move?” and with speed, agility, and grace destroys it.

I’m gonna quote myself to bring in a bit of science: “Recent article in the Boston Globe and WSJ describe new research into the emerging field of embodied cognition.  Investigators do indeed believe that movement and gesticulation enhance cerebration.  ‘People think with their bodies, not just their brains… arm movements can affect language comprehension… children are more likely to solve math problems if they are told to gesture with their hands….’”**

Ya gotta move and I can in this new seat like in none before.  I lean forward to type and then back to look at the ceiling or out the window and feel like I’m getting a massage as I stretch.  I think about Dad telling me not to lean back and rock in my chair, and then an article in the New Yorker about how those with Aspergers like to rock and then one in the same issue about how Bill Gates does too.

I quickly became so fond of my new perch that I traced its designer to Germany.    Guy by the name of Wolfgang Deisig.  “A chair should be like a comfortable jacket, you slip into it and it feels good” he says.  Interestingly, for me anyway,  Deisig has had a long relationship with the famed German Vitra firm.  At the Vitra Design Museum near Basel Switzerland recently launched an exhibition about the life and work of architect Louis I Kahn prominent in which is work by his collaborator Anne Tyng about whom I’m deeply engaged in research.

Tyng was fond of psychiatrist Carl Jung who coined the term synchronicity and amazingly enough, that’s just what we have here.    I’ve a long way to go, but look forward to a pirouette from time to time for inspiration and/or celebration.  My chair and I will see this project through to the end together.

Ceres Chair 2

*Keep ‘em in the dark and feed ‘em shit

** See post of January 24, 2008

***Chair is the Ceres by Hon

****Speaking of synchronicity, Ceres is the Roman Goddess of Agriculture-Perfect for this site, no?

D’oh!

January 3, 2014

I thought Homer coined that word and regarding that belief wagered with roommate who did not agree.  I lose virtually all competitions with said woman, but didn’t worry about this one, because knew that her confidence would render the notion of research ridiculous and thus it’d been long forgotten.

Imagine, then, my amazement and dismay having just come across that word in a poem written by Joseph Brodsky in about 1975.  From A Part of Speech:

…After all these years it hardly matters who
or what stands in the corner, hidden by heavy drapes,
and your mind resounds not with a seraphic “doh”
only their rustle.  Life, that no one dares
to appraise, like that gift horse’s mouth,
bares its teeth in a grin at each
encounter.  What gets left of a man amounts
to a part.  To his spoken part.  To a part of speech.

So I guess to Brodsky “doh” is almost a moment of awakening.  Homer occasionally gets it, while most of  the rest of us avoid the risk of introspection. Not all. Brodsky elsewhere wrote that: “The real history of consciousness begins with one’s first lie” referring to an incident in a library of his youth.  Asked about his religion, he chose feign ignorance rather than respond with the Russian word for Jew which led to quite a stream of consciousness for a seven year old.

*Amazingly enough, I just recounted an incident of my youth in a library involving dishonesty.  10 18 13

It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun…

September 3, 2013

  American Queen

  Ok, sorry, third time’s a charm.  Three posts in a row I’ve addressed my idiosyncratic combination of OCD and attention deficit disorder.  I easily (obviously, duh) get distracted from the principle task at hand and then commend a hugely disproportionate amount of energy and resource to whatever it was that diverted my cerebrations.   Today I was fixing to respond to a message from the Administrative Director of The Fleet Air Arm Officers Association (the FAA is the Naval Air Force in the UK)(for a current project) when I noticed The American Queen making for port.   Oh well, at least both involve boats and water…

  And at least I’m looking out the window.  A recent article in the Economist (8/17/13) was entitled: “Why go outside when you have an iPhone?”  Seems that “America’s national parks struggle to attract young visitors”.   The piece ends with a brief interaction between the reporter and a twelve year old.   Kid was waiting in line for a roller coaster ride at Dollywood.  He’d visited the place four times yet had never heard of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park through and along which he’d had to drive each time.

  I’m greatly interested in consciousness, its individual development and continuing evolution.  I don’t think the quality or pace of either can be maximized without a bit of fresh air and a good slap from mother nature once in a while.  As I’ve frequently mentioned, all this looking at life through screens of various sorts reminds me of research undertaken during the Middle Ages in Europe.  Instead of going outside to investigate, say, certain wildflowers in a forest, the scholars would refer to texts written by Aristotle a thousand years prior.  Others tried to turn lead into gold.  The center of intellectual foment moved to the Arab world.

  And regarding a slap or backhand or more from Mother Nature,  think first how you would feel in the aftermath of a real thunderstorm while cowering in your basement watching the block by block TV coverage.  Then recall or imagine a storm of equal ferocity experienced from inside a tent, at sea, or maybe just caught out in a nearby field.  You feel alive.

  Like alpinist Mark Twight once remarked about finding oneself thrive in extenuating circumstance: “It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun”.

 

 

Stupid Squirrel

June 16, 2013

Father 1

I’ve mentioned this before, but in case you forgot, today is Bloomsday.  You remember, right?  It marks the life and career of James Joyce.  Why the 16th?  Well, Joyce chose the sixteenth of June to be that of the perambulation of the chief protagonist of his groundbreaking novel Ulysses.  Now, mining way down, to the bottom, why  June sixteenth?  If you’ve forgotten, I’m glad you’ve been curious enough to read this far.  That had been the date of his first outing with wife to be Nora Barnacle.

  They had children and Joyce said that children should be raised by love which is convenient because this particular June 16th is also Father’s Day.  Joyce would agree with Swiss child psychologist Alice Miller who looked at child rearing from the opposite perspective.  She wrote that the most pervasive and pernicious crime in modern society is child abuse which is at root of all evil in our world.  Her biographical analysis of Hitler serves her point well.

  I have been fortunate enough to have had both a great dad from whom I solicited advice for the last time the day before he died in 2007 and a great father- in-law (who died just a few months back) to whom I posed a big question nearly thirty six years ago.  The former’s words helped prevent me from electrocuting myself that day and the latter gave his assent to something incredible.  I miss both dearly and think of them every day.   I think they’d agree that men don’t really ‘get’ kids until they have one of their own and know that they would with the Navajo who “think that a baby is fully human when it laughs for the first time*”.

Father to the Man by Tom C Hunley

The OBGYN said babies almost never
arrive right on their due dates, so
the night before my firstborn was due
to make his debut, I went out with the guys
 
until a guilt-twinge convinced me to convince them
to leave the sports bar and watch game six
on my 20-inch rabbit eared, crap TV.  After we
arrived, my wife whispered, “My water broke”
 
as the guys cheered and spilled potato chips
for our little dog to eat up.  I can’t remember
who was playing whom, but someone got called
for a technical, as the crowd made a noise
 
that could have been a quick wind, high-fiving
leaf after leaf after leaf.  I grabbed our suitcase
and told the guys they could stay put, but we
were heading for the hospital and the rest of
 
our lives.  No, we’re out of here, they said.
Part of me wanted to head out with them,
back to the smell of hot wings and microbrews,
then maybe to a night club full of heavy bass
 
and perfume, or just into a beater Ford with a full
ash tray, speeding farther and farther into
the night, into nowhere in particular.  Instead I walked
my wife to our minivan, held her hand as she
 
stepped down from the curb, opened her door,
shut the suitcases into the trunk, and
ran right over that part of me, left it
bleeding and limping like a poor stupid squirrel.
 

*Thanks to Dr Brother for fixing me up with this bit from the 12/20/09 NYT Mag. You would not believe the size of my clippings file.

 
 
 
 

    

Jury Duty

April 6, 2013

jury-duty

   …Pretty soon all rose, we were sworn in, and one of the two young men in the center of the courtroom told us that the other guy, ‘The State’, got to go first, but that we should withhold judgment until his turn to present.  The twenty something Rebenesque brunette seated before us had been at a bar, admittedly, had had two beers, admittedly, and the on the way home rear ended a parked car.  “State’ll tell you she had been drunk.  Truth is she’d fallen asleep after two twelve hour shifts and then an emotional late meeting with her sister.”

  This should be easy I thought.  She had declined the breath test, but we were going to be able to see the squad car video of her performing the series of field sobriety tests.  Long story short though, no one thought that she appeared obviously inebriated.  Especially given the facts that she’d been up nearly twenty-four hours at the time of filming and that her last nimble moment had likely been more than several years prior.

  In the deliberation room a forewoman was quickly selected by reason of  previous experience and, well, her ebullience.  “it made me proud to be part of this system.”  Her charge was to help us get to a unanimous position “beyond a reasonable doubt” regarding the defendant’s sobriety or lack thereof.  There was considerable back and forth, give and take.  First vote was six to six.

  The basic contention was between those who felt that with the first gulp of the first Blue Moon the defendant was “under the influence” and those with a need to be convinced that to be guilty the young woman’s blood alcohol content had been close to or in excess of the state’s limit of .08%.  Some never spoke, some (such as me) offered pithy words of wisdom (“they have car wrecks in Utah”) and some regaled the groups with extensive tales of familial yore. 

  All conversation, but for one brief exchange, was reasoned, polite, and earnest.  After another vote, we had become eight with reasonable doubt of insobriety and four with none.  By 5:00PM there had been much repetition and no more changes of mind.  Clerk came with judge’s instructions to go home, not discuss (not even with wife or dog – I asked), and return at 9:30 AM the following morning.

   9:30 to noon more of the same.  We were summoned into the courtroom where sat the judge and stood the lawyers and defendant.  Told of no progress, the judge asked us to return to the jury room, reread his instructions, and wait for the pizza he’d ordered for us.  By this time we were all sort of friends and enjoyed good natured probing for weakness in the other side’s line of reasoning. 

  We all wondered why neither side had procured witness from the bar.  It was apparent that had some disinterested sworn soul have told us that defendant either had indeed imbibed only the two beers over the course of the two hours or  in fact had had more, deliberation would have ended with first vote.  Absent that, the group could not be convinced, beyond a reasonable doubt, that defendant was guilty of more than falling asleep at the wheel.  Or that she’d been drunk.  Hung.

  Afterwards, Judge told us that the case would never have come before a jury had not both sides good reason to be hopeful of holding sway.  That from his preview a decisive first vote seemed highly unlikely.  And that fully a third of the proceedings over which he’d presided had ended with a hung jury.  I was amazed.  And impressed that some combination of fatigue, boredom, and callousness hadn’t yielded a more decisive denouement.   

*I am thrilled that there was not more here at risk – for anyone.

 **I cannot but wonder about the numbers of incarcerated innocent and those guilty wandering about carefree.

*** We were each paid $70.00 for the experience.

 

An Incredible Life

March 21, 2013

Young Anne Tyng

 While back I mentioned a project I’d undertaken.  It’s a biography of the woman you see above pictured as a young girl.  She was born on Bastille Day in 1920 in an aerie nestled in a valley of the mountains of central China.  She led an amazing life and as proof that I’m not the only one with that opinion, behold a small portion of her papers held deep in the vault of an Ivy League archive.  Access is limited and they’re tended by several learned and caring souls.

AT Archive

  The lady has left us, but relatives, friends, colleagues, as well as a few detractors are yet around to recollect.  Interestingly, the level of candor is in direct proportion to emotional proximity.  The process of going through papers, reading books, and talking with these folks feels like having embarked upon a treasure hunt, the spoils of which to transmute into a fabric of essential truth. 

  Only part way in I’m incredibly humbled by both the scope of the undertaking as well as the tremendous responsibility I owe the entire cast of characters.  In each of those with whom I’ve had the good fortune to cross paths a subtle apprehension has manifested one way or another.  They know that a tale of high point short shrift would be easy, quick, and likely command rapt attention.

  Nope.  This is going to take a while.  Besides, I’ve got to figure out how to go about it.  I’ve never done anything like this before.  “I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I learn how to do it.”

*Picasso

**Toyo Ito won the Pritzker Prize.  Read about him below at 4 13 12 and 2 12 10      

Oubilette

January 28, 2013

  oubilette 3

  Translating something from one language to another, it is impossible to convey the depth and richness of meaning of the original.  The essence with any luck, but not the full flavor.  Surprisingly perhaps, a good way to demonstrate this is by first examining a random passage in English.  The last page of, say, of the Economist, which is usually an obituary.

  Indeed, the last page of the January 19, 2013 issue of the magazine is the obituary of computer programmer and activist Aaron Swartz.  In it will be found the following sentence: “He already had access to the library network; no need to hack into the system.”  Fairly simple and straightforward, right?  Well not so much as it might seem.  The word “hack” proves to be problematic.  In my pocket French/English dictionary there is no ‘hack’, but the translation of ‘hacker’ is given as “pirate informatique”.  “Pirate” is basically the same in both languages.  So “hacker” translates into French as “computer technology pirate”.

  Gets the point across, but not the etymological provenance and thus much is lost.    Look up “hack” in an American dictionary and you get: “To cut or chop with repeated and irregular blows; To break up the surface; To cut or mutilate as if by hacking; taxi driver”.  Only in new dictionaries do the final possible definitions refer to computers.  Thus with “technology pirate” one would not understand what we here do innately, that “to hack” is the infinitive form of a verb  adapted by Americans to describe the process of unauthorized entry into or usage of an information system through actions analogous to the cutting and chopping in days of yore. 

   This all came to mind while attempting to translate an article* from French to English about lessons for the French from the sexual harassment case of Dominque Strauss Kahn in New York City some months ago.  L’Affaire DSK caused quite a bit of discussion about “harcelement sexuel” in France where it has had a much lower profile and different tone than on this side of the Atlantic.  Hard for us to imagine, but a former French minister essentially said about the DSK incident: “what’s the big deal, it wasn’t a murder”. 

  As opposed to in the USA, the rare person accused and convicted of workplace sexual harassment in France may suffer minor punishment, but not the employer.  Thus, there is not in place a system of sensitivity training, reporting responsibility, and serious adjudication with the potential for severe penalties.  There has even been some snickering about American prudishness.

  The article concludes with the following: “… le subject ne risqué pas de tomber aux oubliettes”.  First part is easy: “the subject doesn’t risk falling into…”  The last word is the problem.  A quick glance at my dictionary has the whole phrase “tomber aux oubliettes” and translates it as “sink into oblivion”.  The word alone translates as jail cell.  So, now, in France, due to  all the publicity surrounding the affair DSK, a reexamination of sexual harassment doesn’t risk falling into oblivion. 

   Good thing certainly, but as above, richness of meaning is lost.  Knowing that the infinitive “oublier” means “to forget”, I was curious and got a bigger dictionary where I found that an “oubliette” is a particularly awful sort of medieval dungeon down into which prisoners were lowered through the only opening.  Native French speakers would have understood the emotion attendant to the use of that word and that all hope would have been lost for the occupant of the oubillette as well as any relatives, friends, and sympathizers.    

*Les lecons de l’affaire DSK, interview of Abigail Saguy by Anne Senges, France – Amerique, September 2011

Hope I Get Asked Back

December 8, 2012

 

  Yep, it was time again earlier this week.  I had put it off longer than the recommendation and had not been made fearful by a “you’re overdue and consequences may be severe” letter from the office.  Well, not fearful till I finally scheduled the dang thing.  Started to think about a friend who recently left this world because he’d put it off a bit too long.

  You know how your mind works.  As the appointment drew near, I began to consider rescheduling because our insurance will soon change and if it was to be that something nasty was lurking within, the transition could prove problematic and/or expensive.  Being a college grad I realized that was stupid.

  Night before, I opened the prep kit and read the instructions.  “Sulfate salts provide sulfate anions, which are poorly absorbed.  The osmotic effect of unabsorbed sulfate anions and the associated cations causes water to be retained within the gastrointestinal tract.”  You can say that again.  I was so squeaky clean that wife, little black angel, and I took a five mile run early in the AM before my 7:00 inspection.

  Was soon there, signed voluminous “hold harmless” sorts of documents, changed into one of those gowns that would only flatter a Reef model (www.reef.com/culture/miss-reef), had IV inserted, and was rolled into the chamber where several smiling faces looked down upon me.  Very strange sort of perspective.  And it got stranger.

  There was a big screen and pretty soon we were all watching something that looked exactly like when, in Star Wars, Han Solo piloted the Millennium Falcon through a deep cavern which turned out to be the bowel of a huge beast.  Remember that?  Anyway, Doc kept making comments in the manor of a geologist following a vein.

  He found nothing of interest.  Not even one bit to clip off and send to a lab.  I was under the influence of something certainly, but just as obviously had some level of awareness and so a quick feeling of relief gave way to a few jokes.  I’m not sure, but think that I told a favorite involving mice in a bar, a cat, sex, and the f-bomb.

  Doc said, “see you in five years”, but I guess I hope I didn’t offend anyone present, my file doesn’t get “lost”, and I do in fact get asked back. Everything considered, it wasn’t all that bad.

    

 

… he can’t be any worse.

November 16, 2012

 

  The Palladian style building you see above was designed by Chicago architect William C Jones and built in Rock Island, Illinois in 1915.  Its original purpose was to serve as a Christian Science Church, but it now serves as the latest of the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museums scattered across the country.

  These museums, from Santa Barbara to Tacoma to Duluth to Buffalo to Charleston, to Jacksonville (and others – not to mention over 200 mini-museums), house an astounding array of historical drafts, letters, and documents.  The Museum brochure mentions stuff by Napoleon, Washington, Lincoln, Henry VIII, Pope Lucius III, Wagner, Martin Luther, and others and more.  Whew!

  Major restoration is underway on the building in Rock Island (though the main meeting room is closed off, it is interesting to stand in its center, beneath the dome, and imagine the presence of a congregation – especially if your notion of a place of worship is more of the cruciform sort), but the narthex holds a dozen or so fascinating pieces of history.

  There is a draft treaty between the USA and the people of Tripoli and the Barbary Coast which inspired the Marine Hymn and is sadly ironic to consider in light of what happened in Benghazi a few weeks ago.  Nearby is a model of Lord Nelson’s flagship the HMS Victory and his handwritten battle plan for the Battle of Trafalgar.  You know, the naval battle in which his outnumbered fleet defeated Napoleon’s and confirmed British Naval Supremacy.

  Ya, pretty dang eclectic.  There is though a cohesive group of material by and/or related to Mark Twain including a draft of a document describing the origin of Samuel Clemens’ pseudonym.  Perfect.  I’d been thinking about Twain during the too many torrid months of the presidential campaign.  Can you imagine what he’d have had to say?

  Pretty sure I know who he’d have voted for, but am also confident Mr Clemens would have had choice words for him too.  “I have no color prejudices nor caste prejudices nor creed prejudices.  All I care to know is that a man is a human being and that is enough for me: he can’t be any worse.”