Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Waiting for Coffee on Mars

Now we know that briny brooks flow down the mountain-sides on Mars. The news came yesterday in a paper in Nature Geoscience (link). The immediate speculation turned to the possible presence of Life on the red planet—not presently, presumably, because the water is way to salty to allow that—but a ways back in time. Good stuff for the science fiction writer, myself one such, only we’ve already been there. We’ve done it by imagination—and quite old knowledge that Mars has water; the planet has an ice cap on its northern pole. The NASA team used satellite-based instruments to discover the flowing brine. What strikes me as interesting, here, is our strong faith in our own theories of how life begins and then develops. All one needs is water, some heat, minerals, and lots and lots of time. Given these minima, Life’s sure to begin. Now as for intelligence, that’s a little bit more difficult. But I am sure that science, in its dogged determination, will one of these days discover the presence of coffee on Mars. That’s when I’ll get excited—knowing, as I do, that without coffee in the morning, my own intelligence is almost non-existent.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Shadow Moon

The earth would throw its reddish shade
Over that Mayan heroine
“Blood Maid”—whom we call “Supermoon”
These days (a new term for Luna
At her perigees)—when streaky
Clouds began to spread dense veils leaving
Unwelcome snaky dark-grey trails.

Then came a call from Pat next door
To say that clouds had now at last
Begun to fray. The Supermoon
Was in the sky again. Its diamond
Shine had now begun to wane as
Pac Man Earth’s dark shadow took the
First bite it would now swallow.

We sat in a deep pool of black
Between the house, garage, and the
Dark green of grass, the gazebo’s
Shapely silhouette—marked by faint
Solar beads of lights—ahead and
On high a mirage—a gaining
Moon its dark parts faint maroon.

It took a while until real light
Had fled leaving behind a shade
Of glowing red. Here was “Blood Moon”
Named so, they say, by our prophets
Predicting the Last Days. We read
The message, agreeing with the
Sky, and hoped that Light would yet
Return, if only by-and-bye.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Minding the Nones of July

We’re frequently reminded that an exercised mind retards the onset of senility. Minds aged eighty or thereabouts and higher tend to notice stories like that; the ballpoint marks the article for closer reading. Keeping the mind sharp is our excuse, hereabouts, for working crossword puzzles, as in “you learn something new every day,” e.g. that OREO is an almost indispensably useful word in crossword puzzles. Well, the other day, we had the following clue: July 7, e.g. Brigitte and I always do puzzles together; and what with our respective backgrounds, we fill in our respective gaps of knowledge and never fail to solve a puzzle. This time, again, we found the answer to that clue—but only by finding the other words that intersected with it. The answer was NONES. But what does that mean?

Nones, of course, vaguely hinted at the ninth canonical hour, but the clue was July 7. So how do we get from 9 to 7. To get an answer to that illustrates what might be called the useful activity of “extended crossword puzzle solving.” One has to research the subject. Well, Brigitte and I are both quite familiar with the Ides of March; assassinations of important people have a way of lingering in racial memory. We also knew that it was the 15th of the month. Oddly enough, as we discovered, counting backward from 15, with 15 being 1, the 9th day turns out to be the 7th. So if you count back from the Ides of July by nine, including that day in your count, the ninth (nonae in Latin) day will be the 7th.  Nones is always the 9th day of the month in the Julian calendar—but it falls on the 7th of the month only in March, May, July, and October—because the Ides falls on the 15th. In all other months, the Ides fall on the 13th and hence Nones is on the 5th of the month!

Having discovered this, we learned that Roman naming of the days was rather awkward. The Romans only had three “named” days, Kalends (the first day of the month), Nones (5th or 7th depending on the month), and Ides (15th or 13th, again depending on the months). All other days were defined with reference to these three. The following table shows the naming conventions, which seem very hard to remember for us, for the month of July:

Kalends (of July)
Day 15 before Kalends
Day 5 before Nones
Day 14 before Kalends
Day 4 before Nones
Day 13 before Kalends
Day 3 before Nones
Day 12 before Kalends
Day 2 before Nones
Day 11 before Kalends
Day before Nones
Day 10 before Kalends
Day 9 before Kalends
Day 7 before Ides
Day 8 before Kalends
Day 6 before Ides
Day 7 before Kalends
Day 5 before Ides
Day 6 before Kalends
Day 4 before Ides
Day 5 before Kalends
Day 3 before Ides
Day 4 before Kalends
Day 2 before Ides
Day 3 before Kalends
Day before Ides
Day 2 before Kalends
Day before Kalends
Day 16 before Kalends
Kalends (of August)

The Romans used a standard annotation to name a day. Lets take the 13th of July here. They would write that as “a.d. II Id. Iul.” Spelled out: “ante diem II, Ides, Iulius.” Ante diem  stands for “day before”; it amuses me, however, that A.D. was used in calendars once—and still is, but with a different meaning. Iulius, is, of course, our July. The phrasing on the day immediately before the named days (e.g. July 14) was “prid. Id. Iul.”; the prid. is pridie and means “the day before.”

Keeping track of the days, particularly in the second half of each month, was rather a chore, it seems, best left to scribes who had desks with appropriate writing instruments on which to record time's passage.

Now, knowing that it takes such exercises to ward off the onrush of senility makes you kind of wonder just how bad senility really might be…

Thursday, July 9, 2015

It's a Gamble

What with Donald Trump suddenly so very visible in the Media, Brigitte got to wondering just where gambling is classified in the U.S. economy and, furthermore, just how big it actually is. An earlier post here, measuring the advertising industry as percentage of Gross Domestic Product was in the background of this question. How does the gaming “industry” compare to advertising? No doubt, to be sure, matters of chance were on her mind too—in view of the rather awkward fact that she managed to break an arm when, accidentally, slipping as she got out of the shower…

Well, gambling is part of Amusement, Gambling, and Recreation Industries (NAICS 713), specifically NAICS 7132, Gambling Industries. As best as I can determine, the industry’s revenues in 2013 were a shade over $33 billion, amounting to 0.2 percent of GDP in that year. Advertising, by contrast, was around 1.03 percent. Advertising is barely visible—and gambling is too small to see.

But if you go to Atlantic City and stand before the Trump Taj Mahal, especially when it’s lit up for the night, you get an altogether wrong impression of gambling’s importance—or Donald Trump’s as a presidential candidate. To be sure, if Trump triumphs, in both of his ventures—to get nominated or to rescue the Taj Mahal from bankruptcy— it will at least prove that our times are reaching the highest improbabilities even for a truly crazy state of the world. As for Brigitte, she’s got a few more  days before the present (sea-foam-green?) cast gives way to the (oyster-beige?) last one and the process of relearning to write with her right hand can be taken up in earnest…

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Neglected Typographical Symbol

In my handwritten diary the other day, I wanted to refer to a section of a book using the Section symbol. The attempt turned out to be something of a mess. I was doing it from memory, and my memory produced an image as of a 8 but with a little head on top. The symbol I was trying for in shown on the left, indicating that my memory was on the right track but now quite there. It is known as a double-S; indeed one person, known as Quora User, suggests that in handwriting one should try first writing an S and then another overlaying the first starting at about the mid-point of the one already written..

The double-S designation is also supported by its Latin designation, signmum sectiones—which, happily, provides the right sound as well. The mark is quite heavily used in legal documents but is otherwise essentially notable by absence in all other kinds of writings—unless one’s reading a nineteenth century work.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Very Fine Distinction

Word-lovers will, I think, appreciate what I stumbled across last night. I was reading Volume II of Phantasms of the Living, a classic in parapsychology by Edward Gurney et al, the real focus of which, broadly speaking, is telepathy; in detail it is filled with reports of people seeing apparitions, usually associated with the death of the person seen. Phantasms was the result of the first effort to conduct research by the Society for Psychical Research after its founding in 1882. In every meaningful regard, it is a classic and laid the groundwork for all future research in paranormal studies, not least its very rigorous reliance on statistical analysis of findings.

The story of the book itself, in a modern context, is amusing in its own way. I’m reading Volume II in the original, you might say: print-outs from a gigantic PDF produced by direct photocopying of the original. That task was then followed by digitization of the image, both tasks performed by Google. The actual reprint of the book, made from the digitization, turns out to be essentially unreadable.  The text has been reprinted—but without any attention paid to layout. Footnotes are reproduced as paragraphs wherever they fall—not at the bottom of pages—and without change in typography. New Chapters begin simply as new paragraphs in  the middle of pages. And so on. The photo images I’m reading, however, are clear, sharp, and laid out with the meticulous care applied in 1886.

Now to my little discovery. It comes from Chapter XIV, p. 58 of Volume II. It is yet another case (Number 239) of an apparition, written by one J. Merrill. In the commentary on the vision, Mr. Merrill says:

Moreover, I used the Scotch word ‘wraith’ instead of ‘ghost’ or ‘spirit,’ as I had an idea that the former word was applied to appearances before death.

The comment is added because the subject revolves around this issue: was the person whose apparition had been seen dead at the time—or still alive? Mr. Merrill thought it was best to assume that the answer was “still alive” hence the use of the word wraith. Well, I didn’t know that there was such a distinction expressible by choice of word.

Indeed, it turns out, there is. My 1961 unabridged Webster’s International provides the following as its first definition: “1a an apparition of a living person in his exact likeness seen usu. just before his death.” The word is further defined as a “ghost” in 1b—but the first definition agrees with Mr. Merrill’s sense expressed in 1885.

Webster’s does not indicate a Scottish origin, but Online Etymology Dictionary does; that source, however, says nothing of the fine distinction in J. Merrill’s mind.

Now for those who have little interest in obscure words, never mind phantasms and such, this post is presented, also, as perhaps of some future value. Ever wonder how people in their very late 70s and 80s spend the ample time and leisure they have from housekeeping, gardening, and shopping? Here you have an example. Words, particularly for those who’re almost-wraiths (there ought to be a word for that too) are a great source of amusement, indeed of merriment. Merriment, incidentally, finds its rooting in mirth.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Butterflies and the Bush-on-a-Tree

Sunday last we saw our favorite butterfly for the first time, the Black Swallowtail, feeding in all leisure off the blooms of a rather curious tree of ours. It is a Dwarf Lilac known to the botanists as Syringa meyeri ‘Palibin’. I call it a curious tree because it is actually a combined form of a tree below and a bush above accomplished by grafting. The Korean Dwarf Lilac ordinarily has a very short stem of no more than 5 inches, so that the lilac hugs the ground. But look at these pictures:

The trunk of this “tree” measures 3.5 feet from the ground to the point where the branches articulate—thus way taller than the Korean Dwarf Lilac’s natural height. Our tree, therefore, is what they call a topgraft. The top part is a Dwarf Lilac and is called the scion; the trunk must be from a genetically related plant that grows quite high; it is called the interstem. With dwarf lilacs the two interstems normally used are Syringa villosa or the Japanese Lilac (Syringa reticulata). Our interstem is definitely a Villosa, commonly known as Lilac, Late; note, on the picture above, the green branches growing at the stem’s bottom; those leaves are the original leaves of the stem and helped me identify it. The Dwarf Lilac’s leaves are much smaller, darker in color, and of a different shape. But let me emphasize, again, that both the trunk and the top belong to the same genus; genetic similarity is a must for successful topgrafting.

The bloom of our little lily is shown on the left. It has a very faint odor now, but that odor will grow more and more pronounced as we enter the month of June.

Our Black Swallowtails arrived in pairs, one significantly larger than the other. They are very dark butterflies with a distinct yellow marking on the wings. They stood out splendidly against the lilac blossoms so that we could clearly make them out even from a distance; they were our own. Among other butterflies we’ve seen thus far are a Monarch (still alive, looks like), a Yellow Tiger Swallowtail, and a handful of Cabbage Whites. We feel quite comfortable with the butterflies. As for the Syringa meyeri, it will take some time before we get used to its curious duality.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Hidden Logic of Health Care

At my birth in 1936 in Hungary the country already had 30 years of experience with a nationalized health care system, founded in 1907. That program was called “National Workers' Sick-Benefit and Accident Fund”; it was replaced, in 1928, with the “National Social Insurance Institution.”  The country has had such a system ever since, more and more inclusive and entirely state run and funded.  By the way, the first insurance program that only covered part of the population, miners, went back all the way to 1496.

With this in my background, is it any wonder that I have a rather negative view of the health care debates in the United States. Every member of my own family had directly experienced the benefits of so-called “socialized” medicine from birth on forward. In addition, my Grandfather was a doctor; and his grandfather had been a very prominent doctor as well, responsible for all mental diseases in Hungary. Therefore we all had close contact and knowledge of the profession that delivered the services—always being paid civil services wages.

These memories arose today because Brigitte came across a brief book review, H. Gilbert Welch’s Less Medicine, More Health (Beacon Press, 2015). Welch argues that we have too much health care with many decidedly negative concomitants—and that it costs way too much. The brief article also suggested to me that we tend to overlook the fundamental logic of health care—and how that logic is violated when we let the Hidden Hand decide how medicine should be practices.

Another memory arose as well. Once long ago in Kansas City I gave a talk to a group of medical students. I’ve completely forgotten my subject, but afterwards I had a chance to socialize with a small group of students. I made an attempt to discover what had motivated these men (all men then) to follow their chosen profession. An amazing six of the seven people I talked with all pointed to the potentially high income medicine promised them. One man only half shamefacedly confessed that service to humanity had drawn him into doctoring. And yet another: While living in Minnesota, we got to know a skin doctor who’d moved to the United States from Canada and, well-established there, actively boasted that he’d crossed the border because the Canadian system had failed to give him the opportunity to turn his arduous learning into wealth. I’m actually understating what all he said…

The logic of health care therefore runs something like this. Medicine might attract too many people to practice it for the wrong reasons. For them a Free Market medicine provides all sorts of wrong incentives—to treat more, and more intensively—because every transaction increases income. In a socialized framework they can never get rich; therefore those drawn to medicine will be drawn by its inherent character, the opportunity to help people. Much as in Minnesota we changed skin doctors, so throughout our life here we’ve sought out doctors who have the genuine motivation and avoided the others.

With nationally controlled income for doctors, many of the problems cited by Dr. Welch would disappear on their own accord. We’d have much less unnecessary testing, fewer visits, lower administrating staffing, and much more affordable and probably more effective health care. We’ve seen it practiced like that in Hungary, Poland, Germany, and France. When you work as a provider of care in countries like that, you won’t need anyone to manage your wealth. You won’t have any. But you’ll live in comfort. And I’d like to tell all this to the Hidden Hand—if only I could see it.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Our Close Maple Neighbors

It is that time of year again—when Maples rain their seeds (link). At our new house we have two maples in quite close proximity, growing on the edges of our neighbor’s lawn. One is a rather stately Silver Maple; its branches shadow parts of our roof from on high, and I mean very high. In the image I show, the maple seeds covering our roof are from this oldster. Next to it, separated by a rather rich spread of lilac bushes, is a Red Maple shading our garage. It is small, with smooth bark (indicating youth) and, at this season, very green leaves. If you are persnickety about concrete, and want it pristine, do not associate with maple trees that shade it. All year long they continuously rain down something: not only seed but of leaves, twigs, and branches too. But sweeping them up at right regular intervals provides a benefit: a feeling of accomplishment on the cheap. It all looks so neat—and tomorrow it’ll need the broom again…

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Self-Evolving Technology

The Self-Driving Car (SDC) shows an interesting aspect of Technology—namely that it seems to have a mind of its own and operates in a Self-Evolving way. If I were still writing science fiction, I’d write a novella with that theme. Not that it would be very original. SF is full of tales in which Technology, usually in the form of robots, evolves to such heights that it dreams of taking over everything.  But why am I picking on the SDC? Because it is one of the cleanest examples of a technology we do not need. So long as some people will be driving cars, the SDC will represent a danger to people, whether in those cars or not. And if people no longer use cars, what use would SDC be? Or is this technology ultimately aimed at eliminating flesh-and-blood drivers in trucking?

Two phenomena seem to be behind the self-evolving character of technology. One is illustrated by that old answer given by the mountain climber. Asked why he wants to risk his life and limb to conquer Mount Whatever, he answer by saying, “Because it’s there.” The other is that at least in its early stages, technology has generally proved beneficial to humanity; its negative aspects have tended to be half-obscured and slow in manifesting; therefore the public, presented with a new device—like the SDC—not only imagines that it will be a blessing but is also inclined to believe that the device will carve a place for itself whether we like it or not. Submission, therefore, is the natural way, no matter what the new technology might be.

Very slowly the world is transformed; but whether in the direction of the better is dubious—and dubious in part because other paths have never been walked. Around here another technological nexus is often much examined: the medical. It has grown in Brigitte’s and my lifetime from a doctor with a black bag making house calls into a veritable Himalaya of large machines on high and a vast jungle of small machines below —thus MRIs, CATs and so on top to small hand-held ultrasound pods on the ground that, pressed against the body, show its innards on a screen darkly. Now Artificial Intelligence is trending toward diagnostics by keyboard and screen. And as the car’s driver is being slowly marginalized, the doctor is gradually becoming a technician. A rather paradoxical outcome of medical technology’s ever growing perfections and spread—the reader should see the medications I’m forced to take and watch me labor dispensing them daily from a forest of containers—is that people live longer and longer, but the joy of that living is less and less and, at shorter and shorter intervals, requires for its maintenance entry into a bizarre machine—which itself holds other smaller weird machines—until, at last one enters the tunnel a final time and passes on with masses of tubes coming out of one’s nose and mouth and creatures holding thunder-dispensers in each hand approaching the chest to start that poor heart again until it cannot any more.

Seriously. The old ways are still with us over very large stretches of the globe’s geography. But another technology, the Media, make us think that leaving the Paradise of Technology for that primitive world would be dreadful. From a distance, perhaps. From up close, Self-Evolving Technology can be quite hellish too.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Tea without Sympathy

Thoughts about the coherence of culture arose yesterday as a subject of our morning conversation. Put another way, is there anything resembling consensus in this country or is it rather that multiple groups, with contradictory views, are competing for followers? It might be argued that “competing groups” are a rule and that a situation we see in 2015 was just as true in 1815 or in 1915. Furthermore one needs to be on guard. Chaotic times produce a kind of pervasive discomfort—and the feeling that today’s situation is both new and in a way permanent. Not so. Ours is not the only time when “the center cannot hold.”

Part of the problem with incoherent times is that such periods are matters of perception or feel. They don’t quite reach down to the ordinary levels of practical daily life. When they do, we’ve entered a Time of Troubles. The feel in the 1960s was one of broad consensus; now the feel is one of sharp polarization. But objective measurement of such a pair of suppositions is difficult. One just knows—but how does one know? Largely from the media.

In 1960, for example, the three television stations, ABC, CBS, and NBC, were not meaningfully different. Today there is Fox in addition, MSNBC attempting to balance Fox, and neither much interested in international matters. For that we have CNN—unless a train derails. In 1960 both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal were bland; both have developed clear ideological edges since. In 1960 radical right radio had not yet appeared; Rush Limbaugh was still 30 years away; now it is present. Once Congress regularly passed annual budgets; now it is in perpetual deadlock.

From the media, yes—because, in the neighborhood the rule is still to suppress any kind of controversy by simply not talking about polarizing subjects. Therefore the sound of deep conflicts necessarily comes from the media. Polls taken of public opinion are unreliable because, on hard subjects, people echo the blandest opinions, especially if their own gut feel is unpopular in the media. All disagreements are labeled “phobic” and no one wants to be labeled “phobic.” Reasoned opposition to many movements is not heard in an age of abbreviation and slogans. Thus even what little consensus seems to exist is in actuality questionable. Therefore it’s all just a feeling—but we also live in an age in which feelings rank higher than thought.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Where Search and Social Draw their Funds

The Business Pages these days tend to focus on Mergers & Acquisition, Finance, Mobile Devices, and that sector of Internet business represented by big search engines and the social Media.

It is the last category that interests me. There is a great deal of hoopla about Internet companies, but those that provide a free service all draw their income from the Advertising expenditures by the rest of the economy.

So the question arises, how big is that “funding sector.” Is it as large as the media’s interest in Internet startups and IPOs? The surprising answer is that Total Advertising Expenditure in 2014 was $161 billion; that comes to less than 1 percent (0.92%) of the Total Economy measured by GDP, or $17.4 trillion. My number for Advertising comes from Group M, a global media company. Some put the 2014 number at $180.12 billion (1.03% of GDP). In 2008, advertising was $141.7 billion, 0.99 percent of an economy of $14.3 trillion. The Total Advertising Expenditure category has actually shrunk as a percent of GDP.

A great deal of media hoopla, but in reality a tiny and shrinking slice of the economy.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Bradford Pear

A central feature of our backyard is a Pyrus calleryana, commonly known as a Callery Pear, its most widespread variety being the Bradford Pear: a pear tree, in other words. But what we understand when we hear a word like “pear” is not always what is meant by those INON the true situation (to use a Crosswordese phrase). The pears of the Bradford are tiny and brown; most small leaves would support several of the fruit. They become quite hard with time but are good food for birds.

The tree flowers white in Spring, is green in the summer, dark purplish in fall—with the dark, curled leaves clinging here and there well into winter and persistently littering the ground long after the latest raking. And I assure you that raking our yard is a chore.

The loveliness of the tree in Spring—and its equally colorful Autumnal accent—would make you believe that the Bradford is universally admired. It turns out that it has many detractors. I found our tree’s identity almost immediately because the web has many postings with titles like “A Mixed Blessing in the Landscape” and “I just Hate Bradford Pears.” They die young (20 years); their branches angle too steeply into the vertical (exposing them to storm damage), and they are invasive. So far we’ve not encountered any of the negatives and so, with sunshine for an hour or two still ahead, we’re just enjoying our latest inheritance while ignoring the dire warning of the world at large...

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Forgotten Fault Lines

Yesterday, just past noon, an earthquake measured at 4.2 magnitude took place near Galesburg, MI. Its center was three miles underground. No serious damage or casualties resulted. News reports were reassuring: No, rest assured. We’re not in an earthquake zone. Our governor announced that appropriate officials were closely watching developments and ready for anything in the way of aiding the population should more tremors follow.

Back in 2011—I don’t remember what prompted me then—I discovered that our area does too fall into a seismic zone, specifically the New Madrid Seismic Zone—so named because of two quite devastating earthquakes that took place in New Madrid, MO in 1811 and 1812. Herewith a map of the zone showing its extent. From its epicenter in New Madrid, the quakes traveled north- and south-eastward. Eventually they faded away near Boston to the north and New Orleans to the south.

The New Madrid Fault itself is of limited extent, with a length of 150 miles and touching Arkansas , Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, and Tennessee. But when it becomes active, its radiations go very far.

By chance, certainly, yesterday’s Michigan quake, which did little damage and was hence not much reported, coincided with the riots of Baltimore. We linked the two events here because it occurred to us that the cause of both were “fault lines,” if of quite different kind and origin. The Baltimore fault line may also be found in virtually all large metropolitan areas of the United States. Those fault line began with slavery; hence the fault can be discovered in ourselves; we can’t blame tectonic plates for it. But it did occur to us that where very large collectives are concerned, situations of quite geological magnitude, duration, and unpredictability can be created and, like earthquakes, are virtually impossible to prevent. All that is left to do, after they happen, is to remove the debris and bury the dead. And that activity does not really get at the fundamental problem. For that our collective wisdom, will, and energy are insufficient. Just check back in twenty years and see if anything has really changed—in either kind of possible disaster.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Gertrude Stein and Sisyphus

Strange how a phrase with quite profound meanings can arise from a fairly common experience  when it is expressed in high compression as a kind of poetic line. Such a case is of Gertrude Stein’s saying: “There is no there there.” Stein was revisiting Oakland, CA where she had lived as a child. The farmhouse when she had grown up had been razed and built over. In her mind “there” meant “where I grew up”; but that place was no longer “there,” meaning the physical arrangements at that spot.  The poetic touch—to be pedantic about it—is the contrast between two meanings of “there.”

The phrase came to mind this morning when I was contemplating the evanescent nature of reality as we experience it here, which, by a small mental step, produced the notion that the values we create or manifest rapidly vanish with the rush of Time. Or do they? Is it with values as it is with people? The body soon ages and then, transformed into dust or ashes, disappears for practical purposes. But the soul moves on. This line of thought then brought to mind that, as long back as I can remember, work has always been the center of my life—going right back to my humblest tasks in my early teens working as a bus boy at Plaza Royal restaurant in Kansas City. Work produces value—at minimum a certain order. Which vanishes sooner or later—so we never run out of work. But the value of that labor, it seems to me, must be preserved somewhere. Over there, perhaps. Which then suggested to me that Sisyphus’ labors are not fully appreciated. Yes, condemned for his hubris he was set the task of rolling a huge boulder up a steep hill—but just before he reached the top, the rock got away from him and rolled down, down, down again.

Aside from being a great pre-scientific discovery of the laws of entropy by the Greeks, the story also symbolizes the work of our lives here—which, while never-ending—never produce a genuinely lasting achievement either. And since we can’t really see the other side of reality from here—from here we cannot see what is really there—we think there is no there there. But faith tells us that values are there, piled high, not least the value of Sisyphus’ labors. Bits and pieces of his pride kept rolling down the hill—but his efforts to overcome them are there, on the other side.