Saturday, March 31, 2012

Red March

The  tale of my long love-affair with quince has been told earlier (here). Our new quince bush went through a species of hell after we removed its strangling straight-jacket-of-a-black-plastic-tub and gave it a new home. Removing that tub we also noted how its roots had been savagely butchered to fit the tub. I kept shaking my head and throwing up my hands. Then in the matter of a week or so its leaves began to curl up in advance of dying. The bush seemed to have given up. But then, surprisingly, new leaves appeared. Now Quincy has settled in and has grown its first reddish flowers—delighting us immensely. The first red in our garden this year. The second bit of red emerged indoors. One of our venerable geraniums produced a bloom quite early, and as the weather warmed it got to go outdoors. A recent cold-spell caused us to bring it in again, but soon we’ll cross the threshold a second time. Farewell to March of 2012. It’s been an interesting month.

That first post on quince, incidentally, has become a readers’ favorite. One never knows in advance. There are endless layers in reality, not least vast underground communities of people who love plants and peaceably live their lives beneath skies filled with mayhem and conflict.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sorting the Ranks

Reading Anthony Trollope’s novels collectively known as the Barchester Chronicles again—and also reading Joanna Trollope’s memorable novel, The Choir, also set in a cathedral—I am surrounded by clerics and church officials of different ranks. In Anthony’s The Warden there is an amusing exchange which justifies this post. The Dean of Barchester Cathedral has died, and the plot now turns on who will be named to replace him. And there, as the discussion swirls, someone asks: “What is it that the Dean does?” What indeed. Well, if the characters themselves don’t know—but do know, to the pence, what that “preferment” means in income—what is the poor reader to think?

(Parenthetically, nineteenth century English fiction has but one theme—although it is fed by two tributaries. One is what income a woman has (so that she is worth courting at all); the other is the “living” that a cleric can hope to earn (so that he can finally marry).)

I’ve spent a little time trying to inform myself about the ranks within the Church of England, and here is the list: archbishop, bishop, archdeacon, dean, canon, vicar, curate, verger, and sexton. This might be loosely matched to another list: province, diocese, archdeaconry, cathedral, parish, buildings and furnishings, and graveyards—and this because archbishops preside over provinces made up of multiple dioceses headed by bishops; each diocese is divided into archdeaconries; within each of these there might be cathedrals, headed by deans. Archdeaconries also hold parishes. The parish priest is the vicar; his assistant or assistants are curates. Vergers are lay people who manage the physical plant of churches and guide ceremonial events. Sextons, finally, are yet lower-level lay functionaries but have been associated principally with managing graveyards.

Now things need a little further sorting. The parish priest of a cathedral is the dean; and for this reason he is also a vicar; the vicar is always the senior cleric in a jurisdiction. Yes, fine. But what, then, do we do with the bishop? Well, in the Church of England the cathedral’s high priest is the dean, to underline it, and the bishop is viewed as a visitor or a resident. Just knowing this makes Trollope’s plots easier to understand. It’s sort of when the Secretary of the Navy happens to be on board of an aircraft carrier. He ranks the captain but the captain runs the ship. So now, finally, we know what a dean does.

Canon is a generic for any priest, but if he is the canon of a cathedral, that title is an honorific bestowed after long service in a vicarage and entitles its bearer to preach once yearly in a cathedral. In some jurisdictions, such honorees are also known as prebendaries; that word derives from a prebend, meaning an income (related to stipend)—once more emphasizing the important of those “livings.” In Trollope’s England many parishes were actually run by curates, thus junior priests, aka the minor canons; one wonders if that’s still going on. A good living accrues to the vicar, a paltry income to the curate; the curate’s income is rarely sufficient to marry on (or was so in Trollope’s time), especially if children began arriving. The rank of archdeacon, still alive and well in the Church of England, has faded from view in Catholicism; there, however, the same functionality is carried out by auxiliary bishops. To give the lower ranks their due, I show here a photo of Vergers at Work. I have it from The Church of England Guild of Vergers (link). They are shown here at their ceremonial work, thus leading a procession, in robes of their own. Notice that one of them is a lady. Progress, you might say; progress is marching on.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Under God

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. [Francis Bellamy’s original Pledge, adopted in 1892]
The Supreme Court’s current focus on the Affordable Care Act led to a discovery today. The issue in that act is a mandate requiring every person not already insured to buy health insurance. But does the government have the right, under the Interstate Commerce Act, to compel anyone to buy something? My dark musings on  this subject led me to mutter, “One nation, under Market, infinitely divided, with competition among all…”

So then, later, I looked up the history of the Pledge and discovered, with some surprise, that I was already a resident here when, in 1954, the two words in my title were added. 1954. Yes, indeed. By then the Pledge had undergone four changes. The first came in 1892 when the word to was added: “…to my flag and to the republic…” Note that flag and republic have lost their capital. In 1923, came another change: “…to the flag of the United States…” In 1924 (oops, we left something out) came the addition: “…of America…” In 1954, finally, that under God.

Pledge recital circa 1941
Amusingly, Francis Bellamy was a Baptist minister. Amusingly, the pledge was recited with a salute—and, ironically, with the arm extended forward, palm down. Later the palm was turned the other way (can’t be doing a “Heil” in the Land of the Free). Finally came the current salute of hand-over-heart, instituted by the U.S. Congress. This came as an amendment of the Flag Code, first passed June 22, 1942 and amended (oops, left something out) on December 22.

Endless contradictions. The U.S. Congress can “compel” hand gestures. Under a Constitution which prohibits establishment of religion, thus gives firm standing (with others) to atheism, we must say “under God” when Pledging Allegiance. But, some argue, Congress cannot compel anyone to buy health insurance. It might be time to revise the Pledge along the lines that I was muttering aloud.
Picture from Wikipedia commons (link).

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Where Do We Live?

The question strikes me as more complicated than it seems. There is, of course, the geographical fix on where our bodies are. But our bodies move about—and in this day and age of cars and planes, a precise answer would have to be calculated using statistics. Suppose we defined the location by the one where we spend at least two thirds of our time over the period of a year. With GPS technology and a little computer properly programmed, this sort of thing could be calculated. Using 66 percent, that would yield 15.84 hours in the same spot, that “spot”defined as one half of an acre. For those who do not work at home and those not yet retired, that target might be difficult to hit. And if we applied a cut off of 75 percent (18 of 24 hours), most people would have difficulty saying that they “live at home.” But now that I’ve managed to get you thinking about your body’s movements in space and in time, let me shift the subject slightly.

I propose that where we actually live is not where our bodies are; that “place” is another and more difficult-to-pinpoint “space”; it is where our attention is focused.  Granted that our attention is actually focused on the narrowly physical some of the time, that slice of time seems rather narrow, in part because we do so many physical things below the radar of attention. Do we as we have our morning shower think about soap, skin, water, and such? A little. But our minds are already in funny space contemplating the day ahead. We divide attention between that first cup of coffee and the headlines. The drive to work may be entirely occupied—there was a time like that for me—composing poems in my head and straining to remember, by frequently repeating, particularly pleasing lines. Or is the time devoted to NPR’s Morning Edition—and our mind all over the nation, all over the globe, embroiled in Supreme Court decisions and what Putin might be up to?

We live most of our time in funny space, the mental dimensions of Meaning. That particular geography is vast; it has its own continents, in fact; in the course of a working day we may visit a number of them—and may be “at home” in some much more than others. And even if our contemplation happens to be about some activity by definition physical, say sports, do we think of muscles, leather, grass or artificial turf? A little. Most of that time, too, will be in the realm of Meaning, contemplating endlessly abstract concepts like the Red Sox or Ohio State, coaches, players, league presidents, and such.

Thinking of these realms of meaning, Factual, the company, founded by Gil Elbaz, comes to mind; it is an outfit with trillions of data items growing by nanobits per nanosecond. Yet even Factual would fail in the effort to calculate with any precision in which Geography of Meaning each of us spends most of his or her time—even if some telepathic radar could feed our thoughts and feelings to that company in what is known as real time.

What thoughts occupied your mind the last time you did the dishes? Did each spoon get the attention it deserved? Or were your thoughts at rest in contemplating Order—or reminding you that the garbage still needs taking out?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Literary Genes

This tale begins with my library. I love it, of course (because I’ve yet to meet a library I didn’t), but ours here is a poor relative living in a rich neighborhood—suggesting that great wealth and literary aspirations rarely coincide except in members of  the  third or fourth generation following the one that minted gold. Best sellers crowd the fiction shelves here; here and there between them one finds an old book, one of the classics—and sometimes not. In one of the branches I frequently visit while Brigitte does swimnastics, I went looking for Trollope. I found eight volumes by one Joanna Trollope but none by Anthony. Then the other day I was scanning the shelves again; I had no name in mind; I was, however, using my trusted technique: I ignore the slick-bound colorful volumes and look for something pale and old. Here’s one! I pulled it out. The title was The Old Country by Sholom Aleichem. Sholom Aleichem? Who might that be? More puzzlement followed. Julius and Frances Butwin translated this book from the Yiddish, and Frances wrote a foreword. In it she begins thus:

Years ago when Sholom Aleichem came to New York, Mark Twin was among the first to visit him. “I wanted to meet you,” he said, “because I understand that I am the American Sholom Aleichem.” History does not record the answer of the man who is called variously “the Jewish Mark Twain,” “the Jewish Dickens,” “the modern Heine.”

In the wake of these experiences I looked up these individuals—Joanna Trollope and Sholom Aleichem. And that in turn made me think that at least some part of literature might be in the genes.

Joanna Trollope (1943-) turns out to be a very popular British novelist with some twenty-eight novels to her credit, nineteen written under her own name and nine as Caroline Harvey. She is an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, an order of chivalry; she writes OBE behind her name; the award is testimony to her literary rank and reach. Several of her works have been turned into movies and one, The Choir, into a BBC miniseries. One of the Caroline Harvey historical novels is titled Parson Harding’s Daughter. Why goodness gracious. Wasn’t Harding the lead character in Anthony Trollope’s The Warden? Well, gentle reader, it turns out that Joanna and Anthony Trollope are relatives. She is a fifth-generation niece of the famed nineteenth century postal inspector. Joanna wrote her first novel at 14; it isn’t published, was all about herself, she says, and says she keeps it locked up lest her children see it. Fine and good—but also a clear indicator of the born writer. It’s in the genes. And my annoyance at that library shelf, missing Anthony, seeing the slick volumes of someone called Joanna, must now be revised. Next time I go, I’ll check one of them out. Stick with the genes.

Oh, before I forget. Trollop’s mother, Frances (nee Milton) Trollop (1779-1863), was also a writer, predominantly a novelist, with thirty-four novels and seven nonfiction books to her credit; the first of these latter was also her first book, Domestic Manners of Americans, a book said to be acerbic and witty (like mother like son). She’d moved to America and made a name for herself here (Cincinnati)—although in old age she moved to Italy and lies buried in Florence. Milton is a common enough name—but one kind of wonders…

Sholom Aleichem is of course a pseudonym, the Yiddish rendition of shalom aleikhem. Peace be upon you. The man behind it was Solomon Rabinovich (1859-1916), an extraordinarily prolific and popular author. He began writing in Russian and Hebrew then wrote the rest of his works in Yiddish, some forty volumes! Had I not been distracted when young, I would have learned something about Tevye the Milkman, and Tevye and his Daughters, stories that, by various bounces of fate became The Fiddler on the Roof. But my theme is literary genes. Solomon’s daughter Lyalya Kaufman became a Yiddish writer; his son became a painter and teacher of the arts. Lyalya’s daughter, Bel Kaufman, wrote Up the Down Staircase, which I did read and much enjoyed in my younger years. The genes march on. Sometimes they skip a generation or two or three or five. Sometimes they don’t wait.

In my own family the best-known literary figure is my great-uncle Károly Darnay (though only known in Hungary); he wrote histories, memoires, and romances. My aunt Olga was an accomplished writer. And some of those genes even reached Ghulfdom. We are, of course, but servants of our genes—to echo a modernist. When the genes want you to take the pen in hand, can you refuse?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Who is this Man?

jiH 'oH Worf, puq vo' Mogh
If you have perfected your linguistic abilities, a simple reading of the picture caption will tell you—well, not who this man is but at least the role for which he is justly famous. That role, played first in Star Trek: The Next Generation and in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, is that of Worf, and my caption, obtained with some painful searching, says “I am Worf, son of Mogh” in transliterated Klingon. The man I am depicting now is the actor who played Worf, Michael Dorn, a highly accomplished actor not only in science fiction but in other more conventional television series as well—not that you’d recognize him unless you carefully read actor’s names and make the right connections.

One of his unusual accomplishments has been starring in a series of video games, largely also SF, most notably as the Duke of the House Atreides in Emperor: Battle for Dune. Other games include Mission Critical, and Mass Effect 2. I for one (I’ve only ever watched others play video games) was unaware that you could even do this.

The Klingons as a whole, and their wonderfully exaggerated culture, are one of the best creations of the Star Trek franchise. And Dorn is the very archetype of what it is to be a Klingon. Great bravery and endurance must have been his to labor under that massive makeup all those years while turning in such an authentic impersonation. Behind the mask a real person. I wish him luck in his career and mean every word when I say: ghlj qet jahmeyjaj (“May your enemies run with fear!”)
Picture credits: Wikipedia (link).

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Password to the Workplace

An amusing new brouhaha might soon have us cheering and jeering, all depending on our views of privacy. If you go to Google News and click on the Technology tab today, you’ll see a story on the latest threat—covered, at last look, by some 777 sources. The story? Some employers, evidently, demand surrender of a prospective employee’s Facebook password before finalizing hires. The media are careful to report that it’s all anecdotal—but a story of such moment must be reported, they say. They know what is important. Drama, tension. I note this here because it resonates so nicely with the last post. We live in a reality where virtual events draw eyeballs. Under that same tab on Google is a report that the crew members of the International Space Station had to vacate the ISS to avoid the looming problem of a potential collision with some debris from a dead Russian satellite; 275 stories on this subject. The crew fled to the Soyuz spacecraft anchored there for emergencies. Luckily the debris passed the ISS at a distance of nine miles. The crew is safe—as is my Facebook password. I don’t intend to take a job anytime soon.

Ludi Famis

We are lucky to have discovered and then developed, in sequence, electric power, cameras, film, television, computers, and finally digital recording of sounds and images. For this reason our circus games are altogether virtual. We are enabled to let our decaying imagination soar, if that’s the word, and produce exciting spectacles in which hundreds, thousands virtually die in various horrible ways—but no one actually does, not in the circus, anyway; the arrow thumps into the bared chest with a sound you wouldn’t actually hear; the shaft trembles nicely from the force that supposedly sent it to kill; blood spatters effectively in all directions—but it’s all pure illusion. Death, of course, may still cause the young to succumb to mishaps, like taking a bath, because “a history of drug abuse” lurks in the immediate past. But such deaths also enable us to have soulful retrospectives into the life of the celebrity. Unlike the backward Romans, who had to use real people to enact their combats in the ludi circenses, not least actually dying, our enactors are capable of flying and of physical achievements impossible in what was once admired as “real life”—meaning violence, vulgarity, drunkenness, bar fights, and broken noses.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Market v. Community

The second anniversary of the health care act, which is today, started me some days ago looking at data. Today I dug out the global rankings of health care outcomes produced a while back (1997) by the World Health Organization. It’s rather a complicated index built around the achievement of five health goals. One among them is that the national system’s costs should be fairly distributed, thus the degree to which everyone  contributes should be as equal as possible. I had to dig a little to discover how WHO visualizes fairness. Here is the process WHO suggests.

Measure first the total amount of each household’s contributions to healthcare—in whatever form. Next, calculate the household’s income net of the portion spent on subsistence—thus presumably food, clothing, shelter, and perhaps necessary work-related transportation. Now take the money contributed to healthcare and divide it by the net income figure. You’ll get a percentage. WHO’s idea of fairness is that all households should have the same percent.

Before I comment, one or two bits more. The total contribution above includes out-of-pocket expenditures, insurance premiums and co-pays, and that portion of taxes, paid by the household, directly earmarked for health care or later allocated to health care by government. WHO’s idea of fairness also stipulates provisions in the system that protect households from catastrophic expenses.

An equal contribution using percent of income naturally translates into actual total household contributions which will be zero for those who barely earn their subsistence, small for  relatively low earners, and high, indeed very high, for the rich. If one household’s residual income after necessities is $10,000, another’s $100,000, and the percent of health care contribution is uniformly 15 percent, one pays $1,500 the other $15,000. The pool, however, is distributed back to the contributors based on need.

The agency obviously sees health care as a communal system—not as a market. WHO is trying to find an equitable way to pay for it. From every household according to its ability to pay, to every household according to its needs. This, of course is the community model. Every sort of entitlement is best handled this way.

In this country two models are always at war. One is based on nature, the other on nurture. Health care providers like to speak of demand, of consumption—because they must compete to provide services and are thus forced to masquerade as merchants. Those who love the market join them in seeing health care as just another commodity. They think that the market will soon sort it if we just put the scalpel in its hidden hand. Those who are left out—and the market always leaves somebody out—are grudgingly given a dole. It is for this reason that some people abhor all programs that counter the hit-and-miss outcomes of markets. They have the means and want to keep them. They echo one of my daughters’ famous words when, still a little girl and urged to share her toys she announced: “I want to share by myself.” And therefore we have the equivalent of a feeling that all entitlements are theft—even when we paid throughout our working lives to collect ours in old age.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Stella's Keys

Original art appears rarely on this blog, and when it does it tends to be the work of granddaughter Stella. Here is her take on our recent trip to the Florida Keys, a little piece she prepared for Anna and Lexi, the two girls who live next to Monique's house here in Metro Detroit—good friends of Stella’s from summer vacations. Stella has captured all of the highlights in her own very original way. The usual advice: click through to magnify, Esc to return.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Schreber’s Garden

That time has come when I engage in gardening chores, an activity as close to bliss as I’ve come to experience, but that’s the inward feeling. Outwardly it demands actual physical labor, lots of bending, lots of moaning, sweat, dirt, haul, scrape, on and on. But there is nothing like it. The thought arose: One genuine justification for owning your own house—even if small—if it has a bit of land behind it. Next thought was: Europeans living in apartment. The next was Schrebergarten! They too escaped, the Europeans—to the allotment. In Germany such gardens, some distance, sometimes quite a distance, from the house, quite small in size, usually a little shed for tools, are called that. And while I stood up again, groaning, I wondered where the name came from—and then, of course, I immediately surmised. Some German visionary, probably nineteenth century, helping the benighted of the age of industrialization, open your windows, expand your chest, breathe deeply, that sort of thing. At my age such guesses tend to be on target. Yes. There was a Schreber, Moritz Schreber (1808-1861), Leipzig, physician, university professor. He was a great advocate of physical exercise, his chief focus the (negative) consequences of urbanization during the Industrial Revolution. He is viewed as the originator of allotment gardening, at least in Germany. In England they trace it back to darker roots, the Inclosure Acts (beginning 1845), which robbed people of their commons. The first garden that Schreber inspired was in Leipzig and served as a place where children could exercise—and later garden—in pleasant surroundings. Their parents soon took to this recreation too. Schreber’s name came to be associated with this kind of gardening only after his death—thus gardening on land set aside by municipalities and rented at low rates. In this country the activity is called community gardening, and the first of these were the “victory gardens” set up during the two world wars to help grow food. To garden lifts the soul while getting the hands dirty. The name is secondary. But for us the word Schrebergarten has sunny overtones.  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


First spring, for us, is always forsythia and pussy willow—although I see here the faint early blooming of some trees. The background still obligingly retains the season that has just been left behind. Forsythia belongs to the olive family, which surprised me, but a branch that produces a dry capsule holding several little seeds. The pussy willow is, well, a willow—although that word evokes long, hanging branches and, for me, an immigrant, a famous verse:

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered thee, O Zion.
We hung our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. [Psalm 137:1-2]

Monday, March 19, 2012

Coptic Christianity

The death of Shenouda II, Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, got us wondering again about the origins of this branch of Christianity. I found some old notes of mine dating back to writing the second volume of the Ghulf Genes trilogy (which starts in Ethiopia) where I found the word monophysitism heavily underlined. That brought a vague memory of an arcane theological point, already forgotten again. The world’s too vast, history too deep. Here some notes on this subject. Christianity, like all great things, evolves. Coptic Christianity, it turns out, was the second of many great schisms within this tradition. I found a very useful graphic for it on Wikipedia (link):

The first two of these schisms, producing the Assyrian Church and the Coptic, are rooted in what is called the Nestorian heresy. Nestorius held that Christ was two persons in one, one human, one divine, while the Church asserted, at the Council of Ephesus (431) that Christ had two natures, human and divine, but only one person in which these two natures were present at once and simultaneously. The split-off of Coptic Christians came twenty years later, after the Council of Chalcedon (451) over a variant of the Nestorian heresy, monophysitism. It held that Christ was a single person with a single nature, both divine.

The third great division, which produced the Eastern Orthodox branch, was initiated by ideas of Photius (820-893), the patriarch of Constantinople. His assertion was that the Holy Spirit arose from the Father. The Church asserted, at the Fourth Council of Constantinople (869-870), that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (Filioque, in the Latin of the Nicene Creed, thus this word became the name of the controversy). Photius also disapproved of Leo III’s crowning of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor and openly criticized clerical celibacy. The Fourth Council set the stage for what is known as the Great Schism, the third. It took place in 1054 when the then leader of the Church in Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, shut down Latin churches in Constantinople; he was excommunicated by Leo IV, and the split became history.

The graphic, of course, also shows later separations and, in some cases, reunions of elements of split-off streams with the main stream, Catholicism.

Some will read this and smile, feeling superior. But, alas, in the realm where we are all sojourning, things get very messy—but, as Rumi, the poet, says, “the caravan keeps marching on.”

Déjà Vu

CNN presented a show yesterday titled GPS Road Map for Saving Health Care. The GPS there stands for “Global Public Square.” It was a well-done comparison of heath care programs around the globe, including the United Kingdom, Taiwan, and Switzerland. But I kept having a powerful sense of déjà vu—if not the genuine kind. I really remembered seeing something quite like this. As one segment ended I went to tell Brigitte what the next country on the list would be. Sure enough. I had been right. And after the show ended I said to her: “I’ve seen something very much like this, very much. The same absolute content, same sequence—even some of the people interviewed are the same.”

It turns out I was right; I did the digging this morning. Back on April 15, 2008 PBS’ Frontline presented a program called Sick Around the World. That program had segments on health care as delivered in the United States, UK, Germany, Japan, Taiwan, and Switzerland.  President Obama signed our health care bill on March 23, 2010, thus two years later. CNN’s program, presented by Fareed Zakaria, was quite excellent, Zakaria’s summation correct and eloquent. Such shows, however, have zero influence on actual political behavior. The reason for that is another interesting subject.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

More or Less Taboo

Aging. Therefore a story by novelist Louis Begley in today’s NYT Sunday Review caught my eye: “Age and Its Awful Discontents.” The inserted subhead says: “Is there anything good about getting old? No. Its gifts are bitter.”

This is modernity’s uncensored judgment; it rarely sees print. The ads instead show us busy, active seniors just getting ready, thanks to NevDyX-Plus (but do, by all means, ask your doctor), to go sky-diving with fetchingly silvery friends. Physical deterioration is certainly a challenge-plus. Mates, friends die, hence loneliness knocks on the door. The subject is taboo because in the official view, thus in the naked public square, a whole dimension of human life is missing—its meaning and ultimate direction.

Is there anything good about getting old? Yes, actually. We know a great deal more and, with age, the knowledge is more certain. The trip is almost over, and at its end a longed-for destination. This last leg, of course, is best shared. But even all alone a certain delight sometimes makes itself felt. Reunion with the dearly departed comes closer with every visit to the ER room.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Industry/Bureaucracy of Butterflies

Our trip to Florida featured a delightful afternoon at what we called the Butterfly Museum, but the formal name of the place is The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservancy (link). I’m showing an exterior view of the place—which hides the glass-domed conservatory where up to 60 butterfly varieties live peacefully with 20 exotic bird species, some wondrous orchids and bewilderingly many tropical trees and plants, and, in a little rock-ringed lakelet fed by running, bubbling streams some rather showy goldfish. Orchids are present, not least a variety called the Butterfly Orchid, because coevolution marks the growing and the flying creatures, among the latter, of course, also moths. The place is enchanting—but if you are a photographer also maddening. Nature has endowed these creatures with marvelous gifts of motion. They don’t hold still.

As we ambled along, I approached an attendant. “Tell me,” I said, making a gesture in the air. “How do you raise so many kinds?” “We buy them,” he said. This was the start of a brief but enlightening exchange. I learned of butterfly farms, many in Florida, that breed many varieties and supply them to conservatories and also sell a more limited variety to the public at large. Do you wish to release a quite visible swarm of them at your wedding? No problem. Or perhaps you wish to include an “activity” for your grade-school biology class? The industry is waiting. It is ready to supply you with eggs, caterpillars, chrysalides, or the living butterflies themselves—and ancillary products are on sale as well, not least dozens of varieties of butterfly plants, translucent containers in which your butterflies can gambol (some taller than a man), and other objects that, together, are sold as “kits.”

Later I learned that transporting butterflies (at any stage of life) across state lines is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Butterfly raisers must get certifications for every variety. Why? Well, some are viewed as plant pests, and the long arm of commercial interest is aided by USDA regulation. The stray thought occurs (but then vanishes again as rapidly as a butterfly eludes the hand-held Kodak) that butterflies may be much more stringently regulated than financial instruments that swarm outward from Wall Street.

As for us, we intend to stay beneath the radar that flies threateningly but invisibly in the skies above us. If a Monarch or a Swallowtail, a Painted Lady or a Red Admiral should fall in love with our dill and lay an egg, we’ll nurture it in coming months and only inflict on you, the anxious public, a photo or two of what comes forth…

The Duke in the Dock

If we trace that phrase back to its origins, we could render it “the leader in the cage,” and this because “duke” comes from the Latin ducere, to lead, whereas “dock,” in the sense of a place where the accused person stands comes from the Flemish dok, meaning a pen or cage. But if I changed the phrase to “the duke at the dock,” this time meaning something that separates water from the earth, the meaning could be rendered “the guide by the guide,” once more going back to Latin, because to lead is also to guide, and because “dock” in the watery sense derives from aqueduct, thus some structure that guides the water, also from ducere. But if the duke in the dock was fined a certain sum, we could render that as “the duke was docked.” Now that last meaning of “dock” in this case comes from yet another meaning of the word, namely to chop off an animal’s tail—and specifically the fleshy, muscular part.
Now while I have these words under interrogation, I might as well note that both Hitler and Mussolini were dukes. Hitler was called Der Führer, which means leader or guide in German, and Mussolini was, of course, Il Duce. And no. The Doctor didn’t get his name from chopping off damaged muscular appendages. That title derives from docere, “to show, to teach” and by implication to make something right by correcting. That was a step up from being a plain old leech, a name that had its origins in what doctors did in medieval times—namely to bleed people. Me duce lingua dulcis…

Friday, March 16, 2012

Temper, Temper

Temper, temper inveterate
Defender of obscure mysteries.
Okay. Buddhism is not a subject
Suitable for TV coverage—
Least of all if commentators
Are professors of religion
And a shrink. It’s only PBS.
Cartoons appeal to every inner
Child. The music is sitar-like
Soothing. The hard won truth the Buddha
Reached seated beneath that Banyan tree
Amounts to saying that we’re all right
Just like we are if only we embrace
Our Gaia Mom and we are nice
To one another while we ignore
All of that kinda bad stuff that
Just happens to come down.

The Buddha, by David Grubin, shown on PBS December 2010. Available on DVD in a library near you.


My cousin Tibor and I (we’re of the same age) were exchanging, with help from HP Photosmart, very yellowing family-tree information that reaches its frail bony fingers all the way back to 1645 to an ancestor of ours called Peter—indeed bemoaning that the finger doesn’t reach all the way back to 1470, when an even older male forebear, according to a coat of arms, gave rise to the famed Darnay name—only, alas, it was then still just Dorner. Men’s names everywhere, in heavy ink, the progenitating ladies sort of sidelined with less obvious emphasis. But this is a patriarchal time—and has been since somebody way, way back in the pre-BC era, as it were, decided that things really pend from men.

Contrarian that I am, naturally I thought of mitochondria. These are, in a way, my favorite organelles, found in eukaryotic (read “advanced”) cells. They manufacture ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the fuel of chemical energy. The mighty mitochondria, therefore, are the power plants inside our cells. Now nature knows best—and knows what really is important. It’s about energy, stupid, not male descent. And nature also knows that women are, as it were, slightly better designed than men. For this reason the mitochondria in our bodies—and they have their own DNA—all come from the female. To be sure, sperm cells bring mitochondria from the male parent, but in the embryo only the little power-plants from the female egg are reproduced. What happens is a kind of culling. During the formation of the embryo, the mitochondria introduced by sperm are marked by a regulatory protein called ubiquitin (the name deriving from ubiquitous, because they are). The presence of this marker means that the unfortunately tagged mitochondria from the father’s side are recycled into proteins—not used to make ATP. If they lived in a male, they are suspect; the male metabolism probably messed them up by recombination and such like shenanigans. The female rules.

For this reason a really, really long look back into the very dawns of time makes use of tracing mitochondrial DNA backward. A book that reports on  such efforts is Bryan Sykes’ The Seven Daughters of Eve. Sykes is a professor of human genetics. The book, alas, is only mildly fascinating. Humanity as we know it can be traced back to seven females and is also, incidentally, useful for tracing the geographic origins of various population groups.

The most intriguing aspect of mitochondria, for me, is that they are clearly immigrants to the eukaryotic cell—acquired along the line to provide a sophisticated functionality. That is why they have their own DNA. All that’s left now of their once glorious origins is the power plant they’d originally built. Which, in turn, resonates with our family’s history too. We were German immigrants who brought hi-tech to the backward regions of Hungary—iron-working skills that one branch of our family, recorded on those yellowing sheets, still practiced in my grandparents’ generation.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Mother’s Milk

Our sense of the greater world reaches us, as it were, through our mother’s milk—because the world’s so vast. A visceral sense of this rose up in me thanks to the confluence of some personal associations and some dark news events. The personal aspect came when I found an old book on Mallarmé no doubt part of my Mother’s library—and the memory of a memoir of World War I which probably reached me through her as well. My sense of culture was heavily influenced by literature and humanistic values, and all else I saw through my mother’s interpretation of them as influenced by such values. At the same time came news yesterday of African atrocities, first a video of Ugandan horrors, then interviews of George Clooney, the actor, making a brave attempt to draw attention to the suffering of Sudanese living on the new borders between Sudan and South Sudan. The thought came: what sort of culture reaches the children of those regions through their mother’s milk—if they are fortunate enough to survive? Our earliest memories are privileged. Only with great reluctance do we yield to the successive onslaughts of wider and wider experience. What I still powerfully feel as real culture—at least European culture—was barely alive when I imbibed it—but, of course, my dear Mother didn’t know that either. She carried a treasure and passed it on—and she was so young then. Mothers are, aren’t they. The actual reality of the world? Ultimately it is an incoherence. Fortunate those of us who carry a little light forward from childhood. However dim it seems, it continues to guide.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

War Memoirs

I mentioned a memoir of the Great War (later renamed World War I) by David Jones: In Parenthesis. That appeared quite late, in 1937. Robert Graves wrote Good-Bye to All That in 1929, the same year in which Erich Maria Remarque published All Quiet on the Western Front. Arnold Zweig wrote six novels about the conflict, collectively known as Der große Krieg der weißen Männer (The Great War of the White Men); of that collection I’ve only read The Case of Sergeant Grischa (1927). My own reading took place in my youth, thus in the 1950s. A little later I also read some of the World War II books, thus Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead (1948) James Jones’ From Here to Eternity (1953), and Pierre Boulle’s The Bridge Over the River Kwai (1954). Even later I tried to read Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), but it just didn’t hold me. And after that? Korea, Vietnam, the current era? Nothing. I’d passed beyond “all that.”

Which made me wonder this morning if, say in the 1940s and 1950s, people who were then well into their sixties and beyond had bothered reading the Great War memoirs and novels? Is the reading of such books part of a person’s relatively early orientation of what this realm is all about? And once that’s known revulsion sort of gets the upper hand? Another book produced in 1974, Joe Haldeman’s science fiction work, The Forever War, succeeds in producing the perfect title for this genre. I was just 38 when it appeared—but it already failed to tempt me. Or was Joe’s book, as it were, an introduction to something altogether new? Has war—no longer the collective effort of the entire citizenry—sunk below the radar? Surfacing only when some unfortunate specialist, on a third or fourth deployment, goes altogether mad and lashes out insanely against innocent civilians? And the literature of war has consequently sunk to mere shock journalism?

EB Digitalis

I note here that the Encyclopaedia Britannica is leaving print, a fact worth noting for people like me. I belong to two small communities members of both of which should take an interest: those engaged in reference publishing and those who study cyclic history. Back when in the Long Ago Brigitte joined what then was a leading reference publisher, Gale Research, we soon observed that making such tomes is a kind of journalism—because successive editions of reference works are snapshots of their times. My “latest” copy of EB is the 1956 version. The first one I consulted was a 1919 version my mother obtained used when we came to the United States. Each edition reflects the fashions of its time, and future EB editions (if that concept is even retained) will reflect modernity: the culture they’ll portray will be virtual. Now this comes just a few sad months after the U.S. Statistical Abstract succumbed (was it murder? suicide?—we miss you, M. Poirot)—having seen 131 editions last October. Will this mean that printed encyclopedias are doomed to disappear forever? Sooner or later? Rather the contrary, I would assert. One of my strongest convictions is that when curves appear to head straight up—thus threatening to leave the paper on which they’re printed—the trend they represent is almost over. I am quite certain that a century from now, thus 2113 at the latest, a modestly-sized bound EB will once more be available. But by the time conditions shall once more favor print, the world will have changed; headlines might be no more. Hence no one will be there to hype the renaissance of print. But it will come. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The “In” of the Parenthesis

I’ve used the phrase “in parenthesis”—never mind having read it thousands of times—without becoming aware of the fact that the word already contains an in. In what follows my source is Online Etymology Dictionary. It tells me that the three roots of the word are “beside” (para-), “in” (en), and the Proto-Indo European “put in place” (thithenai). Thus it originally signaled an action—the putting in of something, a letter or a syllable, beside, betwixt, between something else textual. Thus that which we put between parentheses, is already something “put in.” 

Now this on the surface absolutely pointless exercise in etymological investigation—after all the word now means a marker that begins or ends an “aside,” a kind of secondary or whispered addition to text, a kind of “you might be too stupid to know, but here is what it means, chum; but since I don’t want to insult you, I’ll make it easier to skip—if you are bright enough to know what those marks mean”—this pointless exercise arose from a medical day in this household or, more precisely put, a medical twenty-four hours. One of us had to spend that time in hospital; the other was the Accompanying Fellow Sufferer (without actual pain). This experience, thankfully over now, reminded me of a very troubling, very powerful book I’d read in my youth. It was David Jones’ In Parenthesis. The book appeared in 1934 and was a recollection of the horrors of World War I. Jones’ title makes use of yet another meaning inhering in parenthesis: that of separation, that of holding apart. Some of our experiences are of such a nature that we do not wish to dwell on them. We’d just as soon put them between parentheses. Jones separated his experiences using his title—but told us all about them nonetheless, thus illustrating the altogether ambiguous nature of this separation in some cases.

The thing is over. It was, as they say, a learning experience. But sometimes even if you learn, you don’t actually wish to retain the new knowledge of the way, sometimes, our health system manages the little particles that are poured into its efficient-seeming maws. So let’s transcend those memories by means of arcane word-craft.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Third Kind

An illuminating article in The American Conservative (March 2012) by Rod Dreher (link) brings a portrait of the Prince of Wales under the title, “Philosopher Prince.” Dreher describes Prince Charles as a revolutionary anti-modernist. Well worth reading. When classification time recurs, as it often does during the perpetual campaign which is American politics, I have a tendency of trying to opt out; thus I call myself a “royalist” which, it seems to me, describes correctly the stance I have—embracing elements both of the left and right but omitting major portions of both. Such, indeed, seems also to be Prince Charles’ view of things—so that Brigitte, when she came across this article, made quite a showy preparation before she settled me at table for my lunch before she began to read it out loud. We kept high-fiving across the table at right regular intervals.

The royal gentleman’s conservatism is of the third kind. The two well-known varieties are social and economic. For the first it largely suffices to be anti-abortion and pro-Israel; the second kind ranges from what I call country club republicanism to libertarianism. The last two are actually liberalism as it was once understood, but never mind. The third is a kind of traditionalism based on values—the commitment to preserve them. Yes. The underlying structures keep on changing rapidly under the dissolving acids of modernity—and what but time will stop that vast chemicalization fueled by oil? But values are always clearly discernible—and commitment to their conservation is a worthy stance.

Reading The Aeneid in the Florida Keys

Anyone inclined to follow G.K. Chesterton’s advice to read Virgil (ht), might consider the Robert Fitzgerald translation of The Aeneid for starters. Back a year or two ago now I was reading Dante’s Divine Comedy. In that work Dante, borrowing fame and name, makes Virgil his principal guide. Nearing the end, thus beginning Paradiso where Beatrix takes over, I resolved to read Virgil too. It took a while. Then I came across Fitzgerald’s translation which, wow!, offers the famous poet in a most accessible and vivid form. The book arrived from Amazon some weeks before our scheduled trip to the Florida Keys, and I had the notion of reading him there, in the sunshine, the Atlantic my foreground. And, indeed, I did, but just for part of one brilliant hot morning. The time and place claimed all the rest of our collective attention. Now I’m reading the Aeneid again in still wintery Michigan, although the first green shoots are up and, on a recent walk, I saw the first tiny lilies braving the challenges of Spring.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Description Minus Explanation

Where scientific knowledge is concerned, it is well to remind ourselves occasionally that description isn’t explanation—and that, therefore, all explanations (except for the most crudely mechanical that we can actually observe) are products of our own minds. Descartes (1596-1650) still tried to explain physical phenomena mechanically—but to do so he had to rely on supertiny invisible physical particles that completely filled the cosmos—and thus such things as gravity, the orbit of planets, the lightness of air, objects falling to the grounds, etc. all had their explanation in the relative motion (“agitation”) of invisible particles. Descartes’ vortex theory powerfully reminds me of the atomism of Lucretius (99-55 BC).  Descartes’ contemporary, Galileo (1564-1642), introduced the modern way—description. To be sure, the description had to be mathematical, thus based on measurement and observation. But while this approach is very fruitful for the manipulation of matter, it explains nothing at all. It’s an old, old problem, to be sure. The ancients had problems giving an account of motion. Calling what lies behind it “force,” is nice—because it is a different word—but nobody has ever seen force. Gravity has no explanation either. Description without explanation has a peculiar character if, say, we applied it to history.

In 1934 in Germany a man named Adolf Hitler rose to prominence. Thereafter his uniformed followers marched about and raised their right hands, palms stiff out, and shouted Heil Hitler. His armed forces crossed borders and did damage to other organized forces and herded civilians in certain quarters into camps. This in turn led to many other regions to dress males in uniforms and to move steel objects about, some lifting themselves in the air and dropping smaller objects that, falling, came apart and did much damage. Eventually these other forces crossed the borders of Germany until Adolf Hitler disappeared…

Something’s missing here. Something is also missing in cosmologies based strictly on the description of the behavior of matter—and something called energy that we all know but have never actually beheld.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Ardea Alba

During our time in the Florida Keys, we amassed more than 1,300 photographs collectively using some eight or nine cameras and at least one unsmart telephone smart enough to take quiet excellent pictures. Monique collected them all and then graciously distributed 4GB flash drives to each group holding all of them—combining thoughtfulness with USB ports. As might be expected, most of these are family photos, but sprinkled among them are shots that show the nature of this tropical setting. Michelle and I, on a morning’s walk, came across one of a Great White Egret (its Latin name my title) having a stroll of its own—or inspecting its property. The bird just went about its business, altogether unperturbed.

After we watched it for a while, a big van drove up with So-and-So Plumbing stenciled on its sides. It turned into this driveway and then came to a stop. The egret at first wouldn’t yield, but it began to walk toward the invisible mansion with the plumbing problem. And only quite a way up the drive did Her Magnificence (if I have the gender right) deign to step aside and let the van proceed.


My brother Baldy sent along a brief brochure explaining the etchings, by Johann Adam Deselbach, that illustrate a box of gingerbread from the firm E. Otto Schmidt of Nuremberg in Germany. A friend of his had gotten the box and wished to know what the sheet said. We got to talking about the city, one of the great places in Bavaria where we’d begun our life as immigrants just after World War II. “Around here,” Baldy said, “it’s only known as the place where the Nuremberg Trials were held.” That’s probably right on—and it suggested to me that it might be well to say something more about this very splendid medieval city. It was founded around 1000 AD; the illustration I am showing is dated 1493, but the modern place remains as splendid to this day as it appears to be from the fifteenth century image.

Curious place, Nuremberg. In a way it has always been quite central in Germany without being in any way, officially, its governing center. It was part of the Holy Roman Empire (962-1806) and a favorite residence of its emperors. Kaiser Friedrich II established it as a free imperial city in 1219. The Imperial Diets were regularly held at its castle—and for that reason the city came to be known as the “unofficial” capital of that famous realm. For this reason, evidently—Hitler’s ego here played a part—the city came to be the place for massive Nazi propaganda events, held annually from 1927 through 1938, the Nuremberg rallies. And for that reason later, when the Allies had overcome the Third Reich—and because the Palace of Justice in the city was large, suitable, and undamaged by allied bombing, plus having ample prisons attached—it was chosen as the right symbolic location for the trials. Nuremberg today has 500,000 inhabitants, so it isn’t some small place hidden among pines, only its crumbling towers showing above the tree-line.

I for one, having my own peculiar perspectives, have always viewed Nuremberg as Albrecht Dürer’s place of birth, a great artist whose work transcends all that other stuff. Come to think of it, he was also a great etcher, so this business begins and ends with references to the copper plate.
Images from Wikipedia (link). I think that the tower in the modern image corresponds to the right-most tower in the central cluster of the old illustration shown above it.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Pilate the Gentile

The Easter season reminds us of the name. He was the Roman governor of Judea, a procurator. Now that title was predominantly associated with finance in those times—and in those times the money flowed the other way, thus the title made some sense. The conqueror extracted money from the conquered, and when the region the Romans called Judea came under their rule, it began as a tributary kingdom before, later, it was made into a province.  It was already a province under Pontius Pilate, whose full title was procurator cum potestate, thus a collector of tribute with power. He had full authority, was the top magistrate, hence the power to condemn someone to death was his, not of that of the more or less self-governing region he superintended. (Amusingly the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia uses the word porestate, which typo seemingly hundreds of people echo on the web and kept me shaking my head and searching my Latin dictionaries in vain.) Anyway. Pilate was a relatively low level official in Roman terms. Had there been media in his times, his appointment to Judea would have made the Roman television viewer say: Who? For a modern parallel, consider Paul Bremer, the governor of Iraq—indeed a distinguished person with stellar credentials, but who’d ever heard of him until his takeover of our conquest wearing boots under a suit. The big difference is that in our days the money flows the other way. Our conquests invariably mean the big outflow of billions—for which our only compensation, evidently, is a feeling of security. Things have changed in the Age of Oil.

Now this line of thought arose when Brigitte and I were looking at the Gospel reading for Wednesday, March 7 (Matthew 20:17-28) in which the following are the first three verses:

And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “Behold, we are going to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.

That word, Gentiles, caught our eye. It occurs in all translations except for the Living Bible which renders it as “the Roman government.” Therefore my title here: Pilate the Gentile. The great wheel turns and what goes around comes around—with interesting minor changes like the direction of the flow of money. But all else has remained the same. The rest of that passage is worth perusing should the thought arise that we are not the gentiles of our day. No. We’re different. The passage suggests the contrary.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


The word has come to mean the whole, meaning of humanity, derived from the Greek for “inhabited.” The word was a great favorite of my one of my mentors, Arnold Toynbee. Ecumenical derives from it—and Toynbee saw a deep movement in history, a repeated attempt rooted somewhere in the human soul, for unity. To be sure it comes paired with a powerful contrary drive to separate and thus to differentiate. The two are joined these days to bring us the thematics of the Republican primaries, in which candidates run hard for something in order to be against it—thus running to control the national government in order to save us, beleaguered voters, from it. The logic of the libertarian view taken to full power is really to have no government at all—but for which, paradoxically, control of the government seems a prerequisite.

In the wake of Super Tuesday pundits confessed their puzzlement because Santorum, although a Catholic, evidently failed to sweep the Catholic vote, getting only about a third of it. I’m not surprised, I thought. The Catholic culture is deep down colored by the oikoumene, hence Santorum’s “government-as-enemy” makes him sound a bottom-up type of guy whereas the Catholic culture is top-down:  God, Church, Kings, Estates, and people each with an immortal soul. But this has been going on for quite a while already, this pull in the direction of scatter—no doubt since the sixteenth century. The oikoumene had gone a little sour about that time, and the effort to reform that corruption has, over the centuries, produced more and more shatter—as if a vast explosion had taken place back then and its detritus is still raining down on us in these latter days.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Odd Geography of Literature

One of the fascinating aspects of our trip to Florida was that out there on the Florida Keys, the vanishing edge of America, several of us were reading a book entitled Dakota. To give this wondrous book its full name, it is by Kathleen Norris, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, Mariner Books, 2001. Michelle brought the book from Paris, but it had been sent to her by one of her closest friends in Hopkins, Minnesota—but the friend now lives and teaches in Michigan. Michelle handed me the book one morning in Marathon, FL to read one chapter. Lord, I thought, finishing my assignment—and reading right on. Then I gave it to Brigitte—and had difficulties getting it back from her. Monique was next. Soon she’d bought it for her Kindle and thus had her own personal electronic copy. Odd, very odd, to be reading about windy western Dakota in a fierce wind which, for about three days, battered us in Marathon. Odd, also, to read a book which ranges geographically from the borders of the two Dakotas to the Scetes desert of Egypt where the Desert Fathers founded Christian Monasticism—and southern Italy where St. Benedict formed his famous order—well represented by multiple foundations in the deserts of South Dakota still. A wonderful book. A poet’s book. A hermit’s book. A rare find…

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Immersed in the Inhuman

Miami dominates the tip of Florida and around it thick and vast lies Dade county. Both are aggressively vibrant expressions of the modern and the human. But just a few miles south and east, in the Florida Keys, extends the ocean, coral reefs, and shores thick with wild-life, mangroves, pines, palms, and, here and there, the vivid colors of the bougainvillea. For us it was a family gathering in Marathon, FL, a patch of summer punctuating winter: three generations briefly reunited. Such events have many aspects. One of them for me, early mornings, evenings, nights, was temporary immersion in the inhuman, that word used not in its usual negative sense but to designate a vast, virtually limitless expanse, beginning there, on the shores, but extending up and outward, including the planets we admired every evening marking the ecliptic, Mars, Jupiter, Venus, and even Mercury—visible just above the horizon—and beyond: Orion bright above, Canis Major to the left, topped by brilliant Sirius, and (this was a special thrill for me) even Canopus visible dimly lower down. And this great, shimmering, moving, every-changing, colorful, windy world was by far the dominant impression. Well, that is now over; we are back. I’d planned to write posts marking our stay; I made a beginning, but I made all posts labeled “Florida notes” after our return from notes scribbled in the shade, and in the wind. That other world drew me far from the computer. I spent my time watching birds at low tide, admired sunrises, sunsets, and watched palm trees grimly enduring a very strong wind while their coconuts sullenly ripened.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Now Here’s A First

On the way back from Florida, in a Days Inn motel in Gainesville, no less, we opened the drawer of the nightstand and found in it, next to the TV remote, a copy of the Bhagavad Gita. Years ago—to be sure that was in Utah—I’d once encountered the Book of Mormon instead of the ubiquitous Gideon Bible, but this holy book was a genuine surprise! This particular version is subtitled As It Is and is a rendition of the text by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Now by way of completing the interestingly evolving picture of American Culture in the twenty-first century, this particular Days Inn was evidently owned and managed by a Chinese family—whereas, in Northern Michigan, for instance, virtually all motels are managed by Hindus. And this find, to give it more underlining, was in Gainesville, Florida. We live in wondrous times… (Florida notes.)

Friday, March 2, 2012


Our last day here. The pain of saying goodbye—again! The emotion is impossible to rationalize—much as love is. Parting is simply an aspect of it, and contemplation of moments of togetherness in light of it are overwhelmingly painful. Our hearts don’t wish to experience it until some temporal distance has eased their intensity. Ultimately there shall be union, not in this valley we evidently chose to enter voluntarily…perhaps, who knows, to learn to value what, in search of lesser goods, we lost in the descent. (Florida notes.)