Monday, May 24, 2021

On the Cusp of Illiteracy Again

I wouldn’t have dreamt it few years ago, but these days my fluency in computers is almost gone. Did I ever speak that language?

There was a time, after I had bought an Apple Computer (because it was by far the cheapest), when I grew curious about computer languages and decided to try… now here I have to stop because the name of the language refuses to come. But as I typed on, it came back. I decided to see if I could program in…Basic. That was then the simplest language. The screen on my machine only held forty characters across (as it seems now). I bought myself a big green card and after many sweaty but prayerful efforts, I managed to stick it into a slot inside my computer. Amazingly it worked. Now I had 80 characters across. The next step was to get Basic to draw me a line on that 80-byte surface. That took about a week. Finally I’d done it. Not only that, but I also managed to print that line on a sheet of paper.

Brigitte was in the kitchen (no doubt cooking something she couldn’t replicate now [because she has the same problems I do]). She still recalls my triumphant entry holding that sheet of paper with the single line showing at the top.

“I made it draw a line,” I cried, showing the line to her. Pause. Well, that was the beginning. In a year or two I was earning a living by programming computers of all sizes and using all sorts of languages. The list of those would take me weeks to dig from memory, so I’ll spare you the pleasure of reading them, but machine language was one of those. Programming in that “language” is a little like scratching the inside of the machine with a screwdriver rather than speaking to it through a higher level language.

These days, alas, when some invading something wants to take over the job of protecting me from viruses (no, not that one), I have to call daughter Monique to tell me how to remove that something forever and ever—until it returns.

Among the illiterate now, the old problems are back again. How do I copy this page so that it will appears on my blog? If you are reading this, I succeeded. If not, I’m no longer in the company of humans. Time to learn how to use an IPhone…

Monday, May 10, 2021


Just saw a crow land on our birdfeeder; it was way too big for it, therefore awkward, and quite unable to get a seed from the evenly placed feeding holes. Moreover, something nasty hung from its beak, perhaps the remainder of a worm.

At last it flew away and left me thinking that it was so shamelessly just like a bird.

Most of our bird visitors sit there seemingly proud of their grace and peck at the seeds on offer sharply, accurately, with a kind of swift élan.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

No. No Moose.

An article with illustration in the NY Times today once more brought to mind that there is an unfinished list in my mind or things I’ll never do or will never pay for. Among the “never do” items belongs “Tightrope walking between two skyscrapers in New York City.”

Among the “never pay for” items belongs paying for a wig to cover my bald spot. That one’s easy because I don’t have a bald spot. But even if I had one…

Combining these two categories, I am sure I’ll never shoot a moose and, having shot it, pay to have its skull removed, preserved, and mounted on a wall of my house. No thank you!

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Life Briefly Analyzed

Is life energy? It’s reasonable to think so. After all, all the motion that we see here on earth or up in the sky is produced by energy—either by suns of or by the original Big Bang that created the universe. Trouble is that energy as such lacks one of the important features of life, consciousness. If consciousness is viewed as more valuable or in a higher order than mere energy, then to say that life is energy is to assert that something (consciousness) can be derived from something that does not have the potential for it (energy). With a little effort, we can in virtually all instances trace energy to specific chemical or physical causes. Okay. The Big Bang is a little more difficult to prove.

Is life purposive? Of course. But by purposive I don’t merely mean such things as satisfying hunger or building a career. Nor do I mean the capacity for reproduction. Reproduction, after all, simply builds other individuals like myself; all of them, myself included, must die. So life’s purpose is to die? Absurd.

It does not surprise me, therefore, that humanity has ages ago postulated that life’s meaning must be found beyond bodily existence. Death is too poor a purpose to justify the complexity of life or the maintenance of the incredible chemical machines that we are just to let them return to “dust”.

Now materialists will claim that humanity’s projection of an afterlife is just another human desire to “hang on” to life. That charge seems reasonable until you become genuinely old. When you finally are, you become indifferent to such things. Fall asleep dreamlessly and never awaken? That’s perfectly OK for most of us.

Monday, April 26, 2021

Lawless Complexity

One reason why societies decline—and are then restored to life by revolutions—is lawless complexity. No. I’m not against complexity. But there is a lawful and a lawless variety. What lawless complexity is like is all around us—mostly on cable news. Each one of us, with our organs, muscles, lungs, hearts, circulatory systems—we’re lawful complexity. And woe to us when it stops obeying laws.

By the time the French revolution erupted—and we learned to spell “guillotine”—the country had become paralyzed. One simple example was the salt tax. If you wished to travel, every time you entered a new county you had to buy enough salt to last a lifetime. Nobody had that kind of money if travelling across a region—or paying bribes to avoid the tax. Paralysis. And the salt tax was just one of many such institutional knots that tied France into immobility.

Napoleon came and made order. All such nonsense was wiped from the blackboard. One faith, one law, one king—well, not a king yet. The same process happened in Russia where misgovernment had stopped Russian life in tsarist times.

A hint of what lawless complexity is like before everything stops is shown us daily by the Wall Street Journal. Companies that make things or provide services no longer appear very often on WSJ’s pages. What fills those pages are companies that buy and sell fluctuating moods. The companies are into futures—even if the future’s just tomorrow. They sell what many think will happen. What actually happens no longer matters. Futures, futures. If the future looks rosy that faith will build a Matterhorn of paper values—and they might disappear tomorrow. That mountain will be built even if millions are starving now. Conversely, a grim future might fill a Grand Canyon with losses even if everyone’s otherwise fine.

Revolutions work if lawless complexity stops all motion in a country or a region. But if the entire civilization has grown so complex that nothing moves any longer, the change is more profound and takes centuries to fix. Wait and see. As for us elders, we’ll see—but we won’t wait….

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Blinking Lights

Last night our overhead lamps in the house blinked out for a second or two and then came back on. This repeated with random pauses over ten minutes. Oddly, the plugged-in devices, including the TV, were unaffected.

I went outside to see if perhaps a bobcat had taken a bite into our main wire. No bobcat trail; no great broken branch either. Went downstairs to check the fuses. The fuses were peacefully in  the ON position.

Now this is a minor household hiccup; no harm done… Why then do I bother recounting it? Well, in my current mode of commenting on old age, I want to note that such events, signaling something unexpected (like hassling with workmen on the telephone, etc.), are a major fright if you live in a manner where even the rise and set of  the sun are somewhat traumatic (e.g. signaling dressing and undressing), never mind the moon’s eccentric coming and going—or NOT coming and going. Think I’m kidding? Just you wait!

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Our Physicality

It is odd to say this but true: Through most of life when we are most active physically we least notice that we’re animals; in old age our physicality becomes quite evident…perhaps because our soul is slowly detaching from the body.

Indeed a soul-body unit is characteristic of ordinary human life. That notion too is odd until at some point we realize that what we are is not our bodies. A little later we also realize that we’re our bodies’ prisoners.

In youth we never think it odd that we are clothed; it’s what we see everywhere—people clothed. Pondering life in old age, it’s more obvious that we’re a very peculiar species of ape, a species captured by souls and transformed into a kind of hybrid creature neither animal nor spirit.

One might argue that what in Christianity we call The Fall is precisely this temporary unity between animals and spirits—temporary because it ends. No. We’re not really physical. But until we return from this Eden to the Sky, it will be an issue, initially unnoticed, later rather to the front of attention. I better change my posture—my back, you know…

Friday, April 16, 2021

Weather Report

We’re usually only interested in weather immediately over us—unless we’re travelling today to another location. If so, and we’re driving and it’s winter, we will want to know about the weather along our chosen route. Will there be snow on the way?

A much smaller number, particularly those working in the weather business or have agriculturally sensitive businesses all over the geography, are much more interested in weather patterns on a larger scale and over longer periods—say decades.

The Wall Street Journal’s map shows parts of Canada and the entire United States. We look at it to see how our own area is forecast. Detroit itself is in a green-colored region (meaning colder) and just touching a region to the east which will have showers Buffalo to Boston and reaching down to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.  The western regions and the southern range, extending from Vancouver down to Lost Angeles, and from there around the southern border all the way Richmond on the other side, are colored reddish because they’re warmer. No image of the jet stream; not even a hint of how the North Pole or Antarctica are faring.

Probably the smallest number of people is keenly interested in global weather, its patterns, and overall trends. These signal global warming—but global warming will not really touch me today. If it did, and more or less daily, public support of changes in our carbon consumption would be present and growing.

The small picture, the large picture. But I’ve said all that above to make another point. We know as little about global weather trends as we know about historic change. One might liken weather to history. It might “rain” here but not elsewhere. The very few aware of such matters as cyclic history—as presented to us by people like Arnold J. Toynbee (A Study of History), Oswald Spengler (The Decline of the West), and Pitirim Sorokin (Social and Cultural Dynamics and, in a shorter version, The Crisis of Our Age)—have the best ideas of history as a system and where today’s history  will carry us sooner or later.

In one’s advanced years it is good to know not only about weather globally and history cyclically but also the ranges of reality well beyond either. Can anybody help me see the weather locally at Heaven’s Gate. I can leave knowing weather in Heaven more generally to a later time.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Refuge Harbor

In my last post I focused on Yves Paret, who died on the day of his wife’s, Madeleine’s, funeral. Madeleine was buried; Yves was cremated. Such choices of final disposal are real issues for those of our age group. Indeed, my father was buried, my mother cremated; going in different directions is not uncommon—at least not in our family writ large. The choice tends to reflect personal traits. My father was a traditionalist; the well-designed grave stone was, as it were, his last acknowledgement of social status; he valued standing in the world, and his stone still stands there today in Kansas City.

My mother drew her inspiration from nature and art; she was dynamic even in her passing. She’d go on as a flame, her residues ash—but with the wish, often expressed while she still lived, that her ashes should find their rest in water and, presumably, keep moving in rhythm with nature’s never-ending stir.


We’ve never lived on or near the ocean; if we had, we’d now remember Mother’s resting place as the Pacific or, preferably, the Atlantic. Preferably? Yes. We’re thinking of the Gulf streams motion. But, no ocean for her. Years after her passing she found her place in Lake Huron; if not the ocean then at least the Great Lakes.


The place we eventually found was on the east side of the Michigan thumb. The locality was Port Sanilac, the place Refuge Harbor. We learned the name of the spot after we had strewn Mother’s ashes in the Huron. And we nodded in wistful pleasure. Refuge Harbor. After a long, hard life Mother had at last arrived. And she would have approved.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Yve's Passing

Michelle’s Father-in-law, Yves Paret, only waited until his wife was buried; then he too died to join her in that world beyond. Both had been in the same hospital but in separate wards. Yves was heavily sedated with morphine to lessen the pain of terminal cancer. Did he know his wife had died? Or didn’t he? We can’t be sure because we cannot see beyond the boundaries of this dimension. But it is perhaps meaningful that these two people, having spent a lifetime side by side, departed together holding hands—or so we see it from this side.

A time of departures is now upon us. Susie’s Rex went first. Then my younger brother Baldy. (In the next world he’ll now be older brother Baldy.) That was 2019. Spring of 2021 Madeleine and Yves. Brigitte and I are next in line. We know this—but in a casual sort of way. In one’s advanced years such things as passing become quite commonplace.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Au Revoir, Madeleine

 Speaking of old age and its ultimate consequences, we learned four or five days ago that Madelein Paret—Thierry’s mother and hence grandmother of Michelle’s children—has passed away after brief hospitalization in France. As Brigitte put it hearing this news: “Madeleine is home now.”

We barely knew the lady, but in the course of at most three visits to France we came to like her very much. The elder Parets lived (and still live) in Haguenau, a small city almost at the north-western tip of France—close enough to Germany so that Madeleine and husband Yves could speak a little German. Our meetings go back some 30 years yet produce sharp images of crowded dinners (all family) and Haguenau, the curious border town. Between then and now, we kept abreast of one another by mail and, later, Facebook.


Memory at our age: sharp enough to picture vividly aspects of events. But structured and chronological memory is week. I had to look up Haguenau in a Christmas list and then on a map. How long ago? I got there by taking our oldest grandson’s, Max’s, age today…


Requiescat in pacem, Madeleine. We’ll see you probably soon when the Earth train stops us at heaven’s gate.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Longevity – Reality and Appearance

It seems to me that deeply layered as it has become over time, materialism is one of the reasons that long life—and the longer the better—and even when it is maintained by drugs and machinery—is viewed as a highly desirable condition. A minor side-effect of that view is that some in science and medicine are laboring hard to prolong life well beyond its utmost range, say 100 years.

Long life as actually experienced by most of us in our 80s and 90s is viewed more as a burden than delight. And if the life oldsters live would extend 20, 30, or 40 years longer, we’d dread the prospect rather than celebrate it as a wonder of science.


The physical side-effects of "being old" are obviously the most evidently undesirable—but these science might mitigate. A deeper problem is boredom and disgust. The "thrillingly new"? We’ve seen it all before. The trends, the trajectories? They are obviously down. We grieve for our grandchildren’s children’s future. No medication can cure that boredom and disgust; they are caused by cultural decline; and we’re not likely to live hundreds of years longer when, perhaps culture will be reborn.


These thoughts as a starter. The subject of aging is deep. The young can’t write about it effectively. But with a little help from lots and lots of drugs and vitamins, we can.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Passing Has Commenced

In December comes the task of writing the Christmas letter; it’s meant to help those people who are not in frequent touch keep track of our general status; the letter therefore is sent with some of our Christmas cards. Reading last year’s letter, I noted that 2018 ended with Rex Turner, my sister Susie’s husband, passing from our midst; Rex was the first of our generation to say farewell. In preparing the 2019 letter, I noted that this year’s early events circled around my brother Baldy. He was brought down by dementia at the time, roughly, of Rex’s death. Then Baldy deteriorated rapidly; he died early in 2019.

Age colors one’s own reaction. Rex was older; I expected him to leave before me; but Baldy was our “little” brother—and in every way, I think, healthier and more energetic than I am. So a kid brother passes before his creaking elder.

I note this here in passing, almost. The end days are not really in any sense a public matter. Others of our age, of course, will know what I am saying and can rest in the knowledge that the strange feelings of lifting a hand in farewell to someone you’ve lived with all your life is odd, to say the least. And the desire to see him or her again, soon (Auf Wiedersehen, as the Germans put it) is a quite perceptible feeling.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Good-Bye Old O

Through a glass dabble-blurred by raindrops and the faint presence of the summer screen I see the vague dark roof randomly decorated by wet yellow leaves from a combination of maple and linden. Very distantly it seems a tall dark green mass is the top region of a wide pine or fir; it never sheds. Very far away behind it trees light green and yellow brown stand in line like words that run together; the telephone pole in that direction is a very tall comma or perhaps a dash. Days on end with rain we cannot see but feel when outside even before the first drops touch our face. Halloween is here to put an end to a short October in which, it seems, the highlight came last night in Houston where Our team (we lived there once) (and yes, the oldest, as we are) won the World Series away from home. For some reason the word cilantro wants to be written. My mind wants to spell it with an S and the Internet tells me that it is coriander; confusing in a way. But it’s not even nine o’clock yet I’m already closing on October by wishing for a heat wave in November. With Global Warming here with us, anything is possible and in California already is.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

We May Have Been Immune

By a strange coincidence, Brigitte and I had a discussion yesterday morning about viruses. The context was reading the phrase “going viral” for the 50th time that  morning in the papers. Then, yesterday evening, we heard a new word on MSNBC’s The Last Word. Lawrence O’Donnell was interviewing Norman (“Norm”) Ornstein; Ornstein is a political scientist who is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. The AEI is a conservative think tank.

Now the coincidence I started with is not at all obvious; but I discovered this morning that the word Ornstein was using, unknown to Brigitte and me, kakistocracy, had been virtually unknown until April 13, 2018. On that date, the former CIA director, John Brennan, had used it on twitter to describe Donald Trump’s administration: “Your kakistocracy is collapsing after its lamentable journey.” You know what comes next already. The word went viral!

Yes, it went viral. But to our great surprise in this humble household, it took 556 days to reach us. Thus something is wrong with us—or else we were immune to viruses. Another way to say that is to use another old-fashioned phrase: we must sit “below the salt” (link). Otherwise we would have been using the word by at least by April 15, 2018. But no. We’ve only heard it yesterday. Shame.

The Internet gave us choices when we tried a search: cacistocracy or kakistocracy. We were betting on the K; the start of the word sounds Greek. Yes, so it turned out. The Greek for “worst” is kakistos. And if children are listening, I must tell them that, yes, it derives from kakos, meaning bad, and may be related to kakka, “to defecate.” Anyway, kakistocracy means the worst government one can imagine.

Finally, what took us 556 years to learn took modern humanity 375 years to remember. (Trump would claim that he is the Greatest Word Associationist who’s ever lived.) The first usage of the word (link) has been traced back to a sermon given in 1644 during the Civil War—no, not ours!  —the English Civil War.

Now if you are sitting even lower at the table than we are, thus even further below the salt, then even you will now know what hides there in that potty.