Saturday, August 30, 2014

Sticking to Fundamentals

In a recent conversation, someone said: “Now as for the international news, who can possibly make any sense of that?”

This morning I noted, once more, anguish in the media over weak GDP numbers in Europe, with Germany, France, and Italy all showing negative growth. Angela Merkel is blamed and quoted as saying something like: “How long can you keep on going if you spend more than you take in?” That stance of hers is labeled as “austerity”; austerity, in turn, is turning into a four-letter word. But what Merkel is saying makes pretty good sense to me.

My own typical response to such questions is always to look at fundamentals. The comfort to be gained from that is minimal. One can see the picture clearly, but as for “What can be done?” the answer is almost always “Virtually nothing.” And in large part that is because nobody actually wants to look at fundamentals (except perhaps Angela Merkel) or is willing to do anything about it. The phenomena in question are also produced by such huge collectives that “doing something” is largely impossible; even very large collectives, like the United States, lack the means—often because of internal conflicts.

My reaction to the Growth Tremors in Europe are presented briefly on LaMarotte (link). As for the international news—by which the speaker was addressing the ISIS phenomenon in Syria and Iraq and the tug-of-war in the Ukraine—a look at fundamentals once more produces clear but unsatisfying answers. Unsatisfying? Yes. They displease those operating under a delusion that something like Progress is the benevolent penumbra under which civilization is unfolding and that the United States is its leading superintendent.

I’ve yet to see my view of the ISIS problem echoed anywhere. It is that this attempt to establish a caliphate is just another no doubt passing event in a much broader cultural transformation of the Muslim world which would be going on even if Europe had never risen to world power and America had never been discovered. Thus it is an internal cultural battle, akin to a Reformation. A decadent Muslim world is in upheaval. The reason why we are so powerfully drawn to interfere with it is the coincidence that a major portion  of the (slowly disappearing) oil resources of the world are more or less controlled by Muslim countries. Therefore, under the guise of bringing Democracy to the heathen, we are trying to control developments in a region that is impelled by much deeper cultural forces to undergo a major change.

As for the Ukraine, it is simply a fact that Russia will never tolerate what is a fundamentally hostile culture—Western Capitalism—to take a firm footing on its very border—and a border largely populated on both sides by ethnic Russians. Russia’s reaction is quite fundamental. And Russia is large and strong enough—and Capitalism way too distracted—to produce a solution by appeals to abstract principles.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Admiring the New Gutters

An as yet unmentioned bonus of our move to the West was the acquisition of a Gazebo in our now rather extensive back yard. I show it here complete with its iron goose which, striving so very hard to fly even further to the west-north-west, has bent the pole to which it is, alas, attached—like those folks in Plato’s cave (here). With time now beginning to free up here and there, and yesterday having been a rather glorious late August day, Brigitte and I were sitting about in the new Gazebo when Michelle, who had been busy painting our upstairs bathroom, came out to see what we were all about.

Brigitte sat in what was a rather meditative pose, looking up and toward the house. Michelle asked: “What are you looking at?” “I’m admiring the new gutters,” Brigitte said—and there was, you might say, just the hint of a catch in her throat. We all laughed—fully grasping the feeling.

Admiring the Gutters from the Gazebo. The full story herewith. Some things you do not experience until you’ve lived in a house for a while. In our case it was the fact that when it rained water accumulated on the long, long drive from one end of the house to the garage—and stayed there forming what we’d come to call Lake Wolverine II, a very irritating if tiny cousin of the much more majestic Lake Wolverine nearby. One simply couldn’t go to the garage without wearing the equivalent of rubber boots—and our little lake would hang around hours after the sun had already come out again. Why this phenomenon? This house, like many others hereabouts, didn’t have gutters. Therefore, in the process of adaptation, and making our new house really ours, we’ve had new gutters installed earlier this week. Needless to say, it hasn’t rained a drop since; we’ve been joking that it might never—what with the North Central Region’s most severe historic drought having just begun the moment our gutter folks departed. Well, it looks now like it might rain after all, come Saturday or Sunday. And the longed-for test of the new gutters is approaching. We hope that they will have put an end to Lake Wolverine II. If not, more expenses are ahead to straighten out the concrete’s unfortunate slope. And maybe not. Hope never dies.

Friday, August 22, 2014

From MAR to POI

A month and two weeks have passed since we made our move West to what might be called the Lake District adjoining Metro Detroit. It took that long since, yesterday, I braved an awesome traffic circle (a new one, and they’re very popular on new roads around here) to find our new library, formally the Commerce Township Community Library or, in modernese, CTCL. CTCL is associated to something that calls itself the The Library Network (TLN), made up of 65 regional libraries that, together, share a common catalog. The catalog is much more complicated and, initially, more difficult to use. The advantage is that one can order books from a rather large number of libraries and, patience playing its role, have it delivered at the nearest one to us.  That practice, Brigitte reminds me, is called an ILL, an inter-librart loan. I noted, this morning, that the larger libraries in our region, of which the Grosse Pointe System is one, do not participate in TLN. Nor does the most serious near one, the Southfield Public Library, an awesome library known to me because our offices once were near there. Alas.

A while back we spent a couple of weeks here at Monique’s “house sitting” for a spell. At that time, about a year or so ago, I noticed that the CTCL had had its DVD collection interfiled with books. Such an arrangement produces major problems, of course. Most films, do not have “authors” in the strict sense of the word. I did manage to find some of the Agatha Christy DVDs under C for Christy (or was it under A for Agatha? I forget.) In any case, I told Brigitte at the time that should we ever move West, I’d certainly volunteer to organize the Commerce films using separate shelves. Little did I suspect the problems I might encounter doing so.

Well, it turns out, they’ve actually done that job in the meanwhile. Some free space (and the library is pleasantly roomy) has now been equipped with shelves; all of the movies are now together. The classification system is by the title of the movie—which makes good sense. Commerce evidently uses the Concourse system, in use for a couple of decades by now and offered by BookSystems. Evidently the Grosse Pointe Library also uses the same classification approach; it too, like this one has made me wonder and shake my head. If you look for Agatha Christy movies, for example, and go to the letter C, you won’t see anything appropriate. By title, please, always by title. Looking for a Dorothy Sayers DVD? If you look under S  for Sayers you won’t find that worthy lady—but you might find Strong Poison—and Gaudy Night under G. Sometimes, however, given the interpretation applied by the librarian using the Concourse system, you actually might discover all of Sayers’ or Ruth Rendell’s DVDs together—because the largest name, on the cover of the DVD, will be the author’s name, not the title of the particular story. So it was in Grosse Pointe on some, but by no means all, such series.

Here at Commerce, Agatha Christy DVDs, clustered powerfully around Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, may be found under MAR for the lady and POI for the gentleman. But, at this stage, my research is far from over. Where, for instance are Tommy & Tuppence? Are they under TOM or TUP?

Monday, August 18, 2014


A possible consequence of moving—even if it is only roughly 50 miles away from where we were—is that the television channels available to us also change. To be sure, such a change has to do with the cable of satellite carrier, which is another major complication. In any case, moving here to the western edge of Metro Detroit, we discovered that we suddenly have access to two Public Broadcasting System channels. One of these is the familiar WTVS, the Detroit Public TV. The other one turned out to be a channel known as WCMU. For the first time ever we have two public stations to view—and the changes in programming were interesting. It took a while before we found the time and energy to research what exactly WCMU is. The CMU stands for Central Michigan University. CMU owns the channel and transmits programs in five northern Michigan locations: Alpena, Cadillac, Manistee, Flint, and Mt. Pleasant; the last is the location of CMU itself. Mt. Pleasant has a population of 26,000 and CMU an enrollment, at its campus, of 20,000 students. I assume that students do not count as part of the population; another nearly 7,000 students are enrolled at other locations operated by CMU in distant places.

The programming of our urban DPTV (Channel 56) differs significantly from that of CMU’s (Channel 28). CMU’s is divided roughly evenly between subject matter designed to appeal to a more rural population (a touch more religious, heavier on northern Michigan places and events, and much more likely to feature country music and especially blue grass). DPTV is much more urban in its coverage. 56 is now (again) doing heavy fundraising; the frequency of these campaigns appears to be every other month. Meanwhile WCMU, during this same time, has no rude interruptions of programming—one reason why we’ve gotten to know it.

As a byproduct of our search of WCMU’s identity, a subject arose one tends not to think much about. We managed rapidly to discover the meaning of the letters CMU—but not of the meaning of that W. I knew—in some forgotten corner of my memory—that the W is something arbitrary, thus having no inherent relation to the letter itself. It turns out that that W is ultimately traceable to Geneva, Switzerland. Here is why:

The International Telecommunications Union (founded in 1865) is headquartered there. The ITU manages call signs, as these things are called, for all the countries of the world. The United States has been assigned the letters AAA through ALZ, KAA-KZZ, NAA-NZZ, and WAA-WZZ. Entirely at its own option, the United States, while possessing, does not use the leading letters A or N. It uses K for all stations west of the Mississippi and W for all stations east of the Mississippi. Arbitrary is the right word! You’d have thought that it would have gone the other way at least, with W meaning “west of Old Man River.” No, sir. W here stands for east.

I expect it will take us about three years to forget this again. Until then this post will be here as an equally forgotten reminder…

But WCMU is worth watching—if you’ve kind of soured on urban sophistication.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

“Supermoon” Corrected

More accurately, my own calculations corrected. Last year (here) I gave some data on the recurrence of supermoons, better known, certainly in past times, as Perigree Moons. Peri means near; a Perigree Moon is therefore a full moon at a time when the moon is closest to the earth in its ever-so-slightly-elliptic path. I said at the time that Supermoons recur at 14 months intervals—and added “thus roughly every 378 days.” Now that number is clearly wrong.

The last Supermoon came on June 23, 2013. Today is the date of another. The distance in time between those two dates is 413 days. What I did wrong was to multiply 14 by 27, which equals 378. I was using the number of days the moon orbits the earth, but rounded. The actual time for that is 27.3 days. StarDate reports, however, as follows (link):

The Moon takes 27.3 days to orbit Earth, but the lunar phase cycle (from new Moon to new Moon) is 29.5 days. The Moon spends the extra 2.2 days “catching up” because Earth travels about 45 million miles around the Sun during the time the Moon completes one orbit around Earth.

That “catching up” phrase is perhaps a way of avoiding the task of explaining that the 27.3 day measurement is a measurement relative to the stars (called sidereal time) whereas the 29.5 day measurement is a measurement relative to the sun (called synodic time). Synodic time is slightly greater than sidereal time due to small changes in the earth’s and moon’s rotation over what might be called absolute time.

In any case if we multiply 14 months by 29.5 days, then we get a 413 day interval between Supermoons.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Wood and the Crick

When uprooting of a household after a quarter of a century, things are set in motion. Life because very physical. Everything’s always displaced. Where is my knife? That knife lived in a cup on my desk for decades, used only every now and then. It is a great knife, mind you, a gift from my sister Susie—she who still remembered that a pocket knife’s a great gift for a male. Now that knife has been used on countless boxes and lost twice or three times every day. And where’s the tape? It was here just moments ago.

In midst of such turbulence, one depends on luck—and prays to St. Anthony of Padua, patron saint of finding things. Quite often, during this busy time, luck was with us, sometimes even quite amazing luck—and we would be knocking on wood. That happened again yesterday, and then we got to wondering about the origin of that phrase: “Touch wood” or “Knock on wood”—accompanied by the action.

Wikipedia calls such an action apotropaic, thus a warding-off gesture. Things get very complicated here. We knock on wood when good things happen. So what are we warding off? Well, the opposite of the good. We don’t want to claim the good as our possession, as our right. Arrogance is punished; the good may be taken away again. Therefore we knock on wood. But why are we knocking on wood? Wikipedia has the answer to that as well. It tells me that the phrase may point back to a time when people believed in benevolent tree spirits, nymphs. The Greek word for those creatures is dryads. And that word itself comes from “oak.”

The ordinary human heart is humble. It’s quite naturally so. We don’t really believe that we deserve good luck, that we merit it in any way. We acknowledge that such things are gifts from a higher source. An old friend of mine, Joe Dennis, used to say quite frequently: “Good willing and the crick don’t rise.” Apotropaic sounds too academic in such contexts. The root of touching wood was no doubt giving thanks to the wood nymphs—rather than to our egos—and hoping that the Dryads agree. The Arabs say Insha’Allah, meaning “God willing,” just like my old friend. Back then I didn’t know that phrase. Things change over time. We were fighting communism then, in Vietnam of all places. And the crick was actually rising then. I also discovered, by the way, that the Arabs also knock on wood, just like we do: “duqq al-khashab.”

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Westward Transit

With a feeling quite akin to anxiety—but nudged to do so by Brigitte—I can now report that our move, last referred to on June 4 (here) has now been completed except for the “closing ceremonies” on the sale of our old home, which still lie about a week ahead. Brigitte’s views are that now, what with a “new normal” gradually taking hold, some of the old normal, thus blog entries, should also be part of life again. Therefore…

We moved clean across the metro area from its eastern edge marked by Lake Saint Clair and, across her waters, Canada to the western region of Oakland County, not far from Ann Arbor, a region of countless little and big lakes. Ours is Wolverine Lake—but ours is surrounded by others: Loon Lake to the west of us, Mud Lake and Walled Lake to the south, Hawk Lake to the east, and Bass, Commerce, and Reed Lake to the north of us. Not surprisingly, perhaps, around here the street terrain has a European character. There is no real grid in any sense of the word. Main arteries that generally move in one of the map directions don’t do it in straight lines but resemble, rather, the paths of donkeys going from one to the next visible cactus. The environment is almost rural here—and my sidewalk edger, acquired not very long ago, is, still in a shiny state, probably entering its early retirement. No sidewalks here—but there are bicycle trails—and view of water, sky, and swans galore—yes, even from my current office, looking out the window; but I do have to roll back in my chair a little bit on this very blond and mutedly shiny hardwood floor…

We bought this house on May 30—and sold our old residence exactly the day before we planned to put it on the market. We view that event as miraculous—and bow our heads even thinking about it.

The move itself was a challenging experience, at our age, and therefore occasion for observing that one is called upon to learn even when approaching the last days when, as Tolkien’s tales have it, one is moving West. The challenge would have been impossible for us but for the massive assistance that reached us: All of our children came to help—as did my brother Baldy and Peggy his wife, and in the last week and counting, two of our grandchildren, Malcolm and Henry. What we left behind, most notably, from our family perspective, are the following words still written in chalk on the brick of the old house:

In large letters:
In smaller letters adjoining that AND:


Generations come and generations pass. The one constant is change. It is very nice when one big change has come and gone and one settles down to await the next one down the line…