Musings of Navigating The Finite remainder of life from Porchville, with the hope of a glimpse of The Infinite

Friday, December 20, 2013

Solution to Google Doodle 100th Anniversary of The Crossword Puzzle

NOTE! Edit 12/22/13:  Google took the Doodle down on Sunday 12/22/13.  If you missed it or want to try it again, you can find a fully operational interactive version here:

You will still get the Congratulations box shown below when you correctly complete the puzzle. 

Today, Friday 12/20/13, the Google Doodle is an interactive crossword puzzle celebrating the 100th anniversary of the crossword puzzle on this weekend.  You can read about how Arthur Wynne created the first crossword puzzle 100 years ago for the New York World newspaper here:

Christian Science Monitor, December 20, 2013, Crossword inventor honored with puzzling Google doodle

Supposedly Google is not going to publish the solved puzzle, leaving that up to users.  I did the puzzle and my solution is shown below.  Warning, I am not very good at crossword puzzles!  I only cheated a little wee bit.  I am curious to see how many hits I generate on this post this weekend.

I found this site to be helpful with the solution:

EDIT:  When you solve the puzzle correctly, you will see this notification:

Sorry, the time was too embarrassing!


Rev 1, Wrong... See Rev 2
Click On Image To Enlarge

Indeed I had mistake in 51 down, 56 and 61 across.  Here is Rev 2 but I still didn't get a time from Google, so there must be another error.

Rev 2, Still Wrong... See Rev 3
Rev 2 Still Wrong! 

Rev 3, Tah Dah!  Correct!
Rev 3  Correct at last!

OK I finally got my time from Google and that will remain unpublished!   Rev 3 is correct!

EDIT: Midnight (Friday/Satuday) 12/21/13  This post was published at 6:47 PM on Friday 12/20/13.  It is now midnight (5 hours and 13 minutes later) and the post had 1018 page views.   My normal traffic is between 20 to 50 page views a day!

EDIT 12/21/13 This post has received 4500 hits in the first 24 hours that it has been posted.

EDIT Midnight (Saturday/Sunday) 12/22/13: Today this blog received 5555 hits (StatCounter).  My previous record was something like 250.  This post has received 5927 hits  (Blogger) since I published it on Friday 12/20/13.

EDIT 12/24/13 Tuesday,  12:40 AM  On Sunday the blog received 869 hits (StatCounter).  The post has received a total of 6673 hits (Blogger).  On Monday  the blog received 468 hits (StatCounter).  The post has received a total of 7015 hits (Blogger).  Here is the graphic screen from StatCounter.

StatCounter For Google Crossword Puzzle Solution

You can see my normal traffic on the left Tuesday thru Thursday.  Friday, the post was up for 5 hours. Saturday through Monday were for 24 hours each day.  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Failing at Failure...Teachers Say the Darndest Things

I am sitting here, retired, put out pasteur, and thinking what a general failure my life has been.  Lest you think that I am in some sort of retired, old age, depressed funk, actually I am quite amused with my failure.  While I wouldn't necessarily declare my life a grand success, I ain't rich, powerful, well known or particularly influential, I don't think I did all that bad.  I have managed to pay Federal income taxes every year of my life since turning 18, so by some measure touted about in last year's presidential campaign I am doing OK.  True, I do not have enough resources to worry about burying it in tax havens in the Cayman Islands, in fact I really don't have the resources to vacation in the Cayman Islands but none the less I am doing OK.  I am happy, got a modest roof my head, and a damned good woman at my side.  But alas I am a failure.

Under the category of Teachers Say The Darndest Things, I had more than one teacher tell me that I would be a failure in life.

After successfully completing first grade and even having a crush on my teacher, I sort of bombed second grade.  Frankly the teacher scared the shit of me.  I just didn't seem to click with her class.  One of her grand educational goals was jurisprudence.  She assigned the smartest kid in the class to be the chief justice of the supreme court of second grade.  This kid was smart and always good.  So he held a permanent position as judge.  A rotating position was the prosecuting DA in which she (as god of the class) both directed and assisted.   Three members of the class were a jury, (she couldn't use 12 because that would have cut into her pool of defendants).  There were no defense attorneys.  So this court would go into session and the teacher, like some Nazi SS goon, would ask the class for specific accusations against class members.  Trial would then be held for each accusation.  While she had these so called officers of the court on hand, she actually ran the whole show her self, only seeking agreement from the judge, DA, and jury.  Verdicts were issued and sentencing was done all rather expediently.  Fortunately the sentencing usually was just being yelled at and humiliated in front of the class.  I don't remember of anyone getting paddled or sent to the principals office.  We learned in second grade that it was good to be a tattle tale.  Anyhow these trials and just about everything else she did scared the hell out of me, and I spend most of second grade crying.  My academic performance was bad, but not failing.  She told my mother that even though I did not fail second grade, because of my lack of emotional maturity that I would most likely fail future grades and that I would never be a good student.  Third grade, I had a wonderful teacher and never cried once.  I failed to fail any future grades.

My sixth grade teacher told my parents that I was destined for blue collar work...end of conversation.  She was right!  This same teacher told my mother and father in law that my brother in law was not college material that they should plan on him being in a blue collar trade.  She had a thing for blue collars.  My brother in law got a bachelors and masters degree in education and completed 40 years as an elementary teacher winning many awards along the way.  Hey, even some of the best odds makers call the wrong horse.  But she right about me.  I was blue collar, even after I got into engineering, I was still blue collar.  As they said out on the floor, you take the mill hunk out of the mill, but you can't take the mill out of the mill hunk.

I had a seventh grade science teacher drag me and another kid out into the hall from study hall.  He asked us, "Hows comes youse guys is always wizen off?"  Which we were.  He then launched into a grim future based on our poor behavior in study hall delivered in language such as the above.  Yins was one of his favorite words.  I don't remember one thing this guy taught me about science.  But English grammar?  Priceless.

The gutter or prison? 

A music teacher looked into her crystal ball over my inability to properly identify a G clef in 7th grade.  That resulted in a 5 minute lecture to the class that started with "Now here is a young man that..." The lecture went from a failure identify a G clef to a failure to take good music seriously which of course would lead to a general failure in life. She fully expected that I would spend my life either in the gutter or prison.  I did fail to appreciate music until I took music appreciation in college six years later because it was a cake course.  

A math teacher (retired navy captain) in college told me that I was not cut out to be a college student, my presence in this college was denying a more qualified student a seat and was lowering the standards and academic performance of the college.  He recommended that I immediately quit college and join the navy.  I failed his class but had straight As in the rest of my classes.  I repeated the class with another teacher, and yes I was no math wizard but I did miss a B by only a few points on the final.

While I was in the Air Force, I took some classes at a local community college near the base I was assigned in California.   I had a speed reading teacher tell me that people like me were going to be the down fall of western civilization.  Wow!  All from people like me.  In his defense he was blind with fury when he made this prediction.   The problem?  I had been in this guy's class for a month.  My other classes were early in the morning and this class was at one o'clock in the afternoon.  I had spent a month listening to how colonels from the base had benefitted from his speed reading course, how various professors at this school improved their speed and comprehension of reading...on and on... corporate CEOs, clergy, doctors, and lawyers.  This class was miraculous, I could expect to see my income improve, and the future would be bright, just by learning to speed read.   One month into the class and we had not done a damn thing about speed reading.  It was something more of a speed reading appreciation class rather than a speed reading class.  It reminded me a lot of the University of Phoenix commercials that we see on TV.  A lot of promises being bandied about.

Sextant, you pusillanimous pussyfooter,
nattering nabob of negativism!
So I wanted to drop the class and needed him to sign the drop form.  He was put out.  He couldn't understand why I would want to drop this opportunity to eventually become the Secretary of the Air Force, if not Secretary of Defense.  With my haircut it was obvious that I was from the base and for the 43 bazzionth time he told me that "colonels and master sergeants had sent him letters of appreciation in how speed reading had helped them in their military careers."  I said I didn't give a shit about colonels and master sergeants, I wanted to improve my reading not hear about colonels and master sergeants.  Yeah, OK, I was a bit snarky.  He blew up, disrespect for authority was why we were losing in Vietnam and that my attitude would result in the domino effect with the eventual communist take over of the US of A.  This guy was screaming at me, and I started screaming back.  It was really getting ugly.  Finally I said either sign the drop form or I will take this up with the college administration.  He signed the form and stormed off.  The predicted communist take over of the western world did not occur, but I was probably in some way instrumental for the fall of the Nixon Administration. Think of the damage that a pissed off staff sergeant with no speed reading skills could do to the administration's reputation. Oh I am giving my self far too much credit, I was just one of Spiro Agnew's "pusillanimous pussyfooters," "nattering nabobs of negativism"  and "hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history." Fortunately I did not possess the intellectual horsepower to make it into the "effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals."  In any event I apologize to the nation, had I simply remained in that speed reading class, our fortunes in Vietnam would have been reversed.  Ho Chi Minh City would now be Nixonville.

I had a dean at the University of Pittsburgh tell me that he was not in favor of allowing part time students in the College of Arts and Sciences but the university forced his hand.  "There is a synergy of the educational experience, living in the dorm, participating in college social life, taking full academic credit loads under which the full time student thrives and is denied to the part time student."  I explained that I was 32 years old, married,  mortgaged, working a full time union job but stuck on second shift which meant that I had to attend day classes and I was majoring in computer science to improve my lot in life.  He replied back that the College of Arts and Sciences was not for vocational training.  (To which I thought, then why the f--- is computer science in the College of Arts and Sciences?)  Staring off at some point 15 degrees off the horizon he told me that the mission of the College of Arts and Sciences was not "income potential" but rather to "broaden the student's horizons" and provide society with a "generation of thinking good citizens through a liberal arts education."  And here I thought I was being a good citizen by having spent 4 years in the Air Force.  Silly me.   Exasperated, I asked him would you have me divorce my wife, quit my job, sell my house, move into the dorm, and mix and mingle by taking  co-eds 12 years my junior to the spring fling?   He advised that I had missed my opportunity in life (alas going off into the wild blue yonder was not all that it was cracked up to be) and if I couldn't attend classes at the school of General Studies (night classes at Pitt--which I gathered he considered a waste of university resources) then I should consider attending a community college.  I didn't bother telling him that I already had two associate degrees.  The dispute?  My advisor insisted I take two classes.  I only wanted to take one.  Two is the requirement.  So I spend 20 minutes talking to this pusillanimous pussyfooter of a dean, listening to all this high falutin' bullshit, and then he finally says I am sorry but we will not waive the 12 credit a year requirement for part time students.  So after 20 minutes of undiluted liberal arts theoretical horseshit we finally get to the fricking requirement.  You have to take 12 credits a year.  Not two courses a semester but 12 credits a year.  Thank you your majesty.  I enrolled one class.  My stab at computer science was derailed not by failing to attend the spring fling, but rather by the propensity of the university to hire foreign teachers who could not speak adequate English.  I did not have a clue of what the teacher was saying.  After acing three classes toward my major (including calculus--which was sheer luck) I was forced to drop a class because at the first test I had nothing written in my note book and the teacher told us that she did not use the text.  Do not buy it. It was the only thing she said that I understood.  How do you study for a test with no notes or a text book?  I went up to the computer science department and the register read like the office directory of the United Nations.  My wife was pregnant, and I just came to the conclusion that maybe computer science is not for me.  In retrospect, the babbling teacher did me a huge favor.  I doubt that I would have made a big splash in the world of computer science, rather than inventing some language or money making app, I imagine that I would have found employment at our IT department.  Going around installing the latest version of Windows on everyone's PC didn't strike me as fascinating work.  Hard to know that when I was enthralled with a Commodore Pet.

So here I sit on the threshold of old age.  I have failed.  I failed to fail classes, failed to stay 100% blue collar although remaining so in spirit, failed at becoming a professional wizen off, failed at getting into the gutter or prison, failed the United States of America by not becoming a speed reader like so many colonels and master sergeants (Amazon is really pissed...if I could speed read I could spend more money on Kindle books), and failed to become a computer scientist despite the best efforts of the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.  So I think I will take my ne'er-do-well old ass, sit in a chair, fire up the Kindle, and read a couple of paragraphs at an abysmal rate and drift off in a nap with 7 year old  chief justices,  G-clefs, broadened horizons, and 20 year old co-eds spring flinging in my head.

Image credits:  Wikipedia

Friday, August 30, 2013

Book Review: An Intimate Life: Sex, Love, and My Journey as a Surrogate Partner

An Intimate Life: Sex, Love, and My Journey as a Surrogate PartnerAn Intimate Life: Sex, Love, and My Journey as a Surrogate Partner by Cheryl T. Cohen Greene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I guess I am one of the few who had never heard of the movie The Sessions prior to reading the book, well what can I say, I live under a rock.

I read the book out of a curiosity for the surrogate process.  I have read brief technical descriptions of the role that surrogates play, but I was hoping to get a better understanding of surrogacy which the book delivered but only partially to my satisfaction.   It is a memoir of her life with some surrogacy tossed in.  For most people this book probably is the correct mix of surrogacy and her life.  For me it was a dipping of ones toes in the waters of surrogacy.  While her life was interesting, I was far more interested in the surrogacy.  I think what I was after is Masters and Johnson delivered with her warmth, perspective, and human touch.  I would have liked a deeper understanding of how the specific therapies and exercises would help with specific problems.   I also would have liked to know how the field has grown or not since Masters and Johnson.   But also realize that I have an interest in sexuality, a lay hobbyist, like some people are interested in astronomy.

I found it interesting that she felt arousal and could experience genuine orgasm with her clients.  I would imagine that would be an essential ingredient in the surrogate process, and it has to require a special personality.  There is a curious mix of professional detachment and emotional availability that I find fascinating.  People in the therapeutic and counseling professions are always very careful to maintain professional objectivity and avoid transference.  A surrogate is in the odd position of taking that out to the hairy edge.  Obviously not every one can do this sort of thing.   As to the question, is she a prostitute?  Absolutely not.

I think there is very much a place for surrogacy in society.  I think that it does need to be conducted under the auspices of a regulating professional body that would provide research, training, therapeutic standards,  and certification to surrogates.  The training and certification process should be difficult and expensive (like any other professional education) which would guarantee the integrity of the surrogate and surrogacy process and  would serve to winnow out those would be practitioners with less than noble intentions.  I also think that surrogacy should the limited and a prescribed therapy as she described in the book.  That is, a visit to a surrogate should be prescribed by a sexual therapist (the talk therapist) much like a physical therapy is prescribed by a MD. The results of each session should be discussed and evaluated by both the surrogate and talk therapist   What I am driving at, I don't believe that one should be able to find a surrogate on Craig's List.  I don't say this in terms of moral judgement, but rather recognizing that someone that has a sexual problem or dysfunction needs professional help...not some quack seeking to make a fast buck or indeed a mere front for prostitution.  I also believe that surrogacy should be a treatment of last resort.  In my own thinking, I would much prefer that a problem be resolved with couples therapy where a talk therapist works with the couple with counseling and provides exercises to the couple and all physical intimacy is limited to that couple.  Of course the main difficulty with couples therapy is that it requires a couple.  With modern dating where a sexual relationship is often established early on, having a sexual inhibition or dysfunction could make the notion of dating terrifying and as such make the process of establishing a committed relationship extremely difficult.  This in my mind is where surrogacy can play an important role by allowing an individual to gain experience or therapeutic aid in a safe and emotionally neutral atmosphere.  That is the client knows the surrogate relationship is limited and does not fear the pain and loss of a break-up with a committed partner.  

Regarding the book, I feel that she did an adequate job of describing surrogacy for most people's tastes.  It first and foremost is a memoir of her life and while surrogacy is described, it is not the main emphasis of the book.

I read the Kindle edition, which at the time of the review is not listed at Goodreads.

View all my reviews

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Is There Quality in Growing Old?

I wrote this as a reply over in Goodreads  to a conversation about ZAMM.  It is not review.  As often happens with me I get mesmerized by my own bullshit and it became something of a monster.  What better place to post it, than here?  I added some reflection about some friends' losses here.   

Image Credit: Goodreads

 I have run into two classes of people regarding ZAMM, those who read it and find that it is one of those watershed experiences of their lives, and those who read it (usually as a college lit assignment) and regard it as a complete waste of time. I am in the former category. 

I read this during my mid-life crises years, instead of buying a red sports car and making an ass of myself. I read ZAMM and dreamed of telling my boss to go f--- himself, jump in the car, and go to Montana. Fortunately enough common sense remained through the dropping testosterone levels, and middle aged angst, that the question THEN WHAT? was asked not only by myself but by my loving wife, a realist who fought menopause with far more aplomb than I battled mid-life crisis. My wife saved me from making a bigger ass of myself. I owe my life to her. 

ZAMM was a story within a story within a story. On the surface was a guy and his kid on motorcycle trip. Then within that frame work was Pirsig telling Chautauquas about Quality. Within that was Phaedrus, Pirsig's brilliant philosophic internal demon, whose victory over the chairman cost Pirsig his sanity and his family. I suspect that within Phaedrus there may be even deeper embedded stories that are too deep for the likes of me--rhetoric and dialectic. One thing I learned from ZAMM and some of my other readings in can have intellectual pursuits and interests, mount them on your ego like a veneer on cheap furniture, but unless there is some IQ horse power embedded in one's skull, understanding evades one. Such it was with the philosophical battle of Phaedrus and the chairman. I doubt that the analogy of the two horsed chariot will ever sufficiently explain the difference of rhetoric and dialectic to me. I had to be pretty much satisfied with Phaedrus catching the Chairman, the guy who writes articles in Britannica about dialectic, pompously bullshitting the class. 

"Were he a real Truth-seeker and not a propagandist for a particular point of view he would not."

Pirsig, Robert M. (2009-04-10). Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (p. 383). HarperTorch. Kindle Edition. 

Rather than getting some huge overlying philosophy of life from ZAMM, I picked up bits and pieces. I loved the concept of the Chautauqua, a dialogue to not only edify but to entertain. I love the idea of Quality, don't know what the hell it is, but you can recognize it...some mysterious property that defies explanation yet is obvious. Then there was the idea that problems were opportunities for growth. Don't despair at intractable difficulties, do the work to solve them, and learn from it. Problems then become Chautauqaus in the pursuit of Quality. Beware of the gods, the bullshitters in life like the chairman who use power, influence, and position to bullshit their way past Truth and Quality. 

Or from the bumper sticker:

Trust those who seek the Truth. Doubt those who find it. 

Learn to the beginning of the book, the narrator makes a big production about the advantages of the motorcycle trip for bonding with his son...horsepower, wind in your face, one with the road and the natural beauty flying by. At the end of the book Pirsig realizes the trip would have been far better in a car. He and Chris were isolated by the noise and the wind...they became prisoners to the motorcycle, conversation and bonding being impossible on the bike, and nights around the campfire spent in exhaustion from having the shit beat out of them by hundreds of miles on the bike. 

The final lesson of the book for me was in the afterward. In real life Chris was murdered in 1979. Pirsig then asks:

Where did Chris go? He had bought an airplane ticket that morning. He had a bank account, drawers full of clothes, and shelves full of books. He was a real, live person, occupying time and space on this planet, and now suddenly where was he gone to? Did he go up the stack at the crematorium? Was he in the little box of bones they handed back? Was he strumming a harp of gold on some overhead cloud?

Pirsig, Robert M. (2009-04-10). Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance . HarperTorch. Kindle Edition. 

I read ZAMM during my mid-life crises, perhaps I should read it again now that I am on the threshold of the "golden years." Perhaps I could gain further insights. I had hoped for such an understanding from John Jerome. His Stone Work: Reflections on Serious Play and Other Aspects of Country Life was another book that greatly affected my life.  Zen and the art of rock wall building. Jerome and Pirsig said many of the same things, but Jerome was far easier to understand. I was delighted to find Jerome had written On Turning Sixty-Five: Notes from the Field. Just the thing I needed on the eve of an impending retirement that I was pretty sure I didn't want. Stay and go crazy and die before you are 65, leave and go crazy and die before you are 65. So Jerome was putting this into context. About half way through the book, I thought "gee I wonder what Jerome is doing now?" A quick google search and I was shocked to find out that Jerome, a fitness buff, died two years after the book was published of lung cancer. I tried to go back to the book, upon reading of plans for his future together with his wife, trips and intellectual pursuits designed to stave off mental decline, I couldn't do it. I could not sit and read of optimistic hopes for he and his wife when they were in their 80's knowing full well that he never saw 70. 

Some dear internet friends have suffered the losses of loved ones as of late, and another is probably about to lose her mother.  You look at the pictures they post, you see wonderful loving human beings.  Indeed where do they go?  I looked at one photo yesterday and unbidden tears rolled down my cheek.  You see love in the photo.

Roland Barthes spoke of there being two qualities of a photograph.  Studium and punctum.  Studium is the physical facts of the photo.  There is a couple, they dressed a certain way, have certain hair styles, wear glasses or not...etc.  Then there is the punctum, that which pierces the heart.  It was the love in that photo that pierced my heart and brought the tears coursing down my cheeks.  It is just an ordinary photograph of an ordinary couple, yet love like Pirsig's Quality just exudes from the photo--we may not know what it is but we recognize it. Where will that love go?  Where did he go?  Will the love continue to exist in half transmissions from the remaining spouse and silence from the parted one?  How do you look at  a photo of people in love, realize that half is gone, where we don't know, and then write something meaningful to her?  There is a whole body of work of dimwitted cliches that you can utter but beyond that what can you say to comfort people?   Do they really want to hear cliches?  Does some well worn trite phrase do anything to help the blackness of pure grief in their hearts?   Perhaps I should write my friend and tell her that with her photograph, she gave us a gift...see our love, don't waste a precious second.

I am not sure that ZAMM will do for me at 64 what it did at 39. It is a middle aged book. Perhaps I should dust off Jerome and pretend that the golden years will be golden.  I think of that photo, and think how much there is to lose.  The golden years are a cruelty. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Book Review: The Art of Sleeping Alone

The Art of Sleeping Alone: Why One French Woman Suddenly Gave Up SexThe Art of Sleeping Alone: Why One French Woman Suddenly Gave Up Sex by Sophie Fontanel
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Disappointing.  I don't think her experience is all that terribly unusual.  Many people go through periods of abstention, usually not as long, and usually not self enforced.

Caution Spoiler:[ Her story struck me as though she grew weary of and her body rejected being used by men who did not love her but found her a convenient lover.  I believe that she was tired of being an appliance.  I can understand her desire to get away from that situation, in fact I think it was noble of her to do so.  If a situation is not fulfilling one's happiness then they should endeavor to change.  Take a vacation from men, and leave loveless sex forever.   But then it struck me that rather than trying to find a meaningful loving relationship, she just seemed to take much smug satisfaction at being the odd woman out and watching her friends scramble to fix her life, while their own were so obviously full of faults.  So after quite some period of time she began to feel "insinuating vibrations" and the book ends with her starting an affair with a married man.  Perhaps all she wants from life are on and off periods of loveless sex.  It struck me that she wasted her sexual prime trying to prove some point to herself and her friends, but in the end what ever that point was, she didn't seem to learn it very well.  (hide spoiler)]

Her story struck me as though she grew weary of and her body rejected being used by men who did not love her but found her a convenient lover. I believe that she was tired of being an appliance. I can understand her desire to get away from that situation, in fact I think it was noble of her to do so. If a situation is not fulfilling one's happiness then they should endeavor to change. Take a vacation from men, and leave loveless sex forever. But then it struck me that rather than trying to find a meaningful loving relationship, she just seemed to take much smug satisfaction at being the odd woman out and watching her friends scramble to fix her life, while their own were so obviously full of faults. So after quite some period of time she began to feel "insinuating vibrations" and the book ends with her starting an affair with a married man. Perhaps all she wants from life are on and off periods of loveless sex. It struck me that she wasted her sexual prime trying to prove some point to herself and her friends, but in the end what ever that point was, she didn't seem to learn it very well.   

End of Spoiler

This book was very short, possibly thankfully so.  It is divided up into short vignettes that I invariably found were just starting to get interesting and I would flip the page to find that it ended two or three sentences later.  It seemed to be written with some artsy Victorian modesty that implied much but told very little.  I found the prose too flowery and vague.  Its not 1850, so there is no need to appeal to the delicate sensibilities regarding subjects not suitable for mixed company.  

My biggest disappointment with this book was that I was hoping to learn something and it didn't happen.  I spent my teens and early 20s mostly in a state of celibate longing for love and intertwined with that love,  sexual intimacy.  When I found it, I regretted the time that was squandered.  I didn't like sleeping alone, and I was hoping for something that would shed a positive light on her experience.   If there was a lesson in the human condition to be had here, it went over my head.    

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Schuman Symphony # 3

Last night I listened to a segment of a radio show called Q from CBC on our local NPR station.  The segment was an interview with Jennifer Senior who has been studying the lasting effect that high school has on us.  One thing she said that struck me was something to the effect that our brains are extremely plastic in the age range of 15 to 25 and the concepts, beliefs, ideas, and art that we are exposed to during that age tend to stick with us for  our entire life.  Here is Ms. Senior's article in the New York Magazine that was the basis for the interview:   

I don't really feel that much of anything that happened to me during high school, stuck.  I rather detested high school and for the most part I have relegated those years to the basement of the museum of my memory and seldom visit.  However, I did enjoy my time at the small community college that I attended, and I believe it is the concepts, art, and music from my college years that stuck with me rather than the stupidity of high school social drama.

William Schuman 1910 - 1992
One of the most enjoyable courses I took in college was music appreciation.  I was in a technical field, Drafting and Design, but we had to take 3 credits of arts and humanities to fulfill our graduation requirements.  Stupid arts.  What the hell am I going to take?  I hate the arts!   I had learned a deep and abiding hatred of music from my junior high school music teacher, so the thoughts of taking anything remotely related to music was tantamount to torture.  My son can thank God this music teacher didn't teach sex ed--I would despise fact thank God there was no sex ed back then, I hated gym teachers (who always taught health) with equal passion.  Despite my hatred for serious music, there were several diaphanous influences that seemed to congeal and push me into the direction of music appreciation.  One, I had bought a stereo that summer and being an "audiophile" (yeah right) I was being gently pushed for a desire to find music that would demonstrate the magnificent fidelity of my stereo.  Two, my father in some fit of cultural envy, picked up an LP record in the grocery store...The World's Greatest Music.  It was one of those deals that were common in grocery stores at the time...every week you bought the next volume, plate, or in this case LP and within three months you would have a set of encyclopedias, a matching china set for 4, or the entire repertoire of classical music but only in samples of select movements.  They didn't give you the entire piece of music, only what they considered the best movement.  So each album was a smattering of different movements of entirely different works by different composers--they must of got some deal on licensing from ASCAP.  Not realizing this, chunks of  Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade and Le Coq d' Or were mixed into a couple of hunks of Bizet's Carmen Suite, to form one piece of music in my mind.  Anyhow,  I had to admit that some of this music sounded...well OK, like the soundtracks from cartoons.  The third diaphanous influence was the most concrete.  You didn't have to buy a book and people who had taken the course said it was cake--you just sit around and listened to some long haired music.  So music appreciation defaulted into my education even though I vowed to always hate serious music as an eternal punishment to that old crabby music teacher.  May the stereos in hell only play Schoenberg's 12 tone music.  Music appreciation in college ended up being one of my all time favorite classes.

This was not the album cover, but similar.

Our home work for this class was to go to the library and take out an album of serious music, listen to it,  and write a short paper about the piece.  My first selection was William Schuman's (20th century Bill, not 19th century Bob with a double n) Symphony # 3.  I chose this album because Schuman appeared in a photo on the cover of the album, and he looked like the composer next store.  Just a normal contemporary 20th century guy wearing a suit, instead of an 18th or 19th century dandy dressed in clothes suitable for the rag bin.  If I had to gag through this, why not listen to somebody from this century (remember this was last century...I haven't quite accepted that it is no longer the 20th century).

So I took Schuman's Symphony # 3 home with me.  I had some drafting home work to do, and it was getting late, so I put on my trusty Super Ex headphones, slapped Bill on the turntable and started taping a piece of paper to the drafting board.  The music started and right from the opening bars,  I was knocked right off my cocky I hate serious music ass.  I was floored with this music.  I could not concentrate on my drafting home work and gave up.  I probably listened to that album 5 or 6 times that evening and ended up with sweaty ears and a smashed head that the headphones of that era gave one.    The magnificent sweep of the strings, from the low drawn bow strokes of the bass viols to the high rapid notes of the violins just amazed me.  Rather than me telling you, listen for your self.  It is 31 minutes long.  Leonard Berrnstein does his usual masterful work.

My favorite section is the slow moody chorale that runs from 13:42 until 23:20 with a special love for the section from 18:20 which rises triumphantly with a vibrant full spectrum of strings and then at drops off at 20:40 for a somewhat morose conclusion of the section.  Another favorite section is the heavy strings that start at 25:45 after the frivolous flutes.

The video of course is not the rendition that I listened to, I believe it was conducted by Schuman.  I probably listened to the album 30 times in the 7 days that the library allowed me to keep it.  I searched  record stores and record clubs for the album for years and was never able to find it or any other rendition.   In the late 80s I did find the symphony, but only on an vinyl LP.  I had no way of playing it.  I bought it anyhow and had a friend at work make me a cassette tape.  Now I have the same CD as the video.   For 20 years, this piece of music remained illusive for me.  It was something of a standard for which all music had to aspire, but in reality only because it was the one piece of music that I could not find.  When judging against a memory, everything falls short.   Now that I own it, well, yes it is good, excellent actually, but there are other pieces of music that I listen to far more often.  Yet this piece of music, very 20th century and very American in character sparked my interest in classical music that has remained for a lifetime.

We should probably give thanks that Schuman did develop beyond his high school years, according to Wikipedia, Schuman while in high school formed a dance band, Billy Schuman and his Alamo Society Orchestra.  He played at weddings and bar mitzvahs.

Oh, the class didn't quite end up as cheap and as cake as I had been led to believe.  Yes we didn't have to buy a text book, but we had to attend an opera.  I bought two tickets to The Marriage of Figaro and couldn't get one lousy friend to go with me.  I went by myself but enjoyed two seats!


For more information on William Schuman see the following links:

For programme notes on Symphony # 3 see:

Image & Video Credits:

William Schuman:  Wikipedia, William Schuman

Tribute To William Schuman album cover:

Video: YouTube, William Schuman, Symphony # 3, TheMasterDecoder

Music Credit:

Due to the fact I do own the CD that is featured In the video, I can give the particulars on this performance.

William Schuman Symphony # 3.  New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Conducted by Leonard Bernstein.  Recorded at Manhattan Center, New York City, October, 17 1960.  

Part I
Passacaglia and Fugue    13:42

Part II
Chorale and Toccata       17:14

(C) 1997 Sony Music Entertainment,  SMK 63163., Schuman: Symphonies Nos. 3, 5 ("Symphony for Strings") & 8 Available in CD or MP3

I almost fell out of the chair, when I saw the recording date, emphasis mine.  Four days earlier Bill Mazeroski knocked the ball out of Forbes Field in the bottom of the ninth, and sent the Yankees back home to listen to Casey Stengel play them some classical music.  I don't know if Schuman was involved with this recording, but he was quite a baseball fan and could have very well been licking his wounds from the beloved Yankees getting their asses whipped by the Pirates in the 1960 World Series.  The who?  They hadn't won a world series since 1925 and they beat the Yankees.  Forgive me it was the only sporting event that ever meant anything to me.  They haven't won since 1979 so maybe I will follow them again next year.  What I find amazing is the quality of this music.  I was 11 when this was recorded.  It could have very well been the rendition I listened to 8 years later.  I don't remember of Bernstein being associated with the album, but my memory is not an instrument to be envied.  Oddly I do remember it being a Columbia (now Sony) release and it was a very modern album cover verses my usual purchases at the time of the 99 cent specials done by some post war orchestras you never heard of.

EDIT 8-17-13:  Copland and Shostakovich "out Schuman" Schuman.  A statement guaranteed to anger any knowledgeable 20th century musicologist!  My statement is in my own personal terms.  Schuman's Third Symphony was my first exposure to 20th century symphonic music.  So Schuman's Third is the ideal of 20th century music for me, an unobtainable ideal for two decades.  In the late 80s I discovered Copland's Appalachian Spring and Shostokovich's Symphony # 5, both of which reminded me of Schuman.  When I finally procured Schuman's Third after having listened to these other 20th century pieces, I was shocked to find that I liked both more than Schuman.   Listen for yourself:


YouTube: Shostakovich - Symphony No.5 - Third Movement 

EDIT 8-21-13: Last night while my wife watched America's Got Talent, which I can't stand, I sat out on the porch and listened to Schuman's 3rd, 5th, and 8th symphonies on the above CD.  I had the volume fully cranked to compete with the 17 bazzilion crickets and katydids and the full moon filtered down through the walnut tree in the backyard.  It was mystical...while I was listening to the third.  I have never fully listened to the 5th and 8th before.  So I forced myself to sit through them.  Fifty minutes of hell despite the lovely moon light and serenading insects.  I couldn't wait for it to be over.   For the record,  my love for Schuman is thus far limited to the 3rd Symphony.  

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Soul of a Machine

Image Credit: Goodreads

Note!  Spoiler Warning!  If you are interested in reading The Golem and The Jinni, you may want to avoid this post.  I am only a third of the way through the book, so I can't at this juncture offer an opinion as to whether my musings here are a spoiler or not.  This is not a book review, but rather a desperate attempt to write something in my blog, long overdue a post, and taking the cheap and dirty way of copying and pasting a comment I made at the book club.  There should be a dumb post warning on this as well.

I am reading The Golem and The Jinni by Helene Wecker for my book club at Goodreads this month., The Golem and The Jinni, Helene Wecker

As a matter of explanation for the post that follows, a Golem is a being from Hebrew myth made of clay that will serve its master and can only be destroyed by its master.  So in this book, near the turn of the 19th to 20th century, a man seeks a perfect wife and goes to an evil failed rabbi wizard and asks for a Golem to be made but seeking a companion, specifies that the Golem should be intelligent and curious.  For a sum, the wizard creates a near perfect female Golem of clay and instills in her intelligence and curiosity, but no free will as she will be under her master's control.   The Golem has two basic commands one that will wake her, and one that will destroy her.  So the man takes his still inanimate Golem in a crate and heads off the New York on a steam ship.  Along the way, consumed with the fear that the wizard cheated him, he wakes the Golem against the advice of the wizard.  She is fully functional, however the man immediately dies of a burst appendix, and the Golem is left masterless.  Having no master she is receptive to all the immediate desires and wishes of those near her and it is driving her a bit mad.  Also having no master she appears to have free will and a sense of morality.  She arrives in New York and is aimlessly walking about.  She is involved in a minor theft, stealing a treat from a rich man and giving it to a hungry child.  A retired rabbi happens by the gathering crowd demanding that the woman be punished for the theft.  He recognizes her as a Golem and takes her in.  Rabbi Meyer is old and frail.  He fights a moral battle of whether he should destroy the Golem, little good comes from Golems, and yet Meyer grows fond of the Golem because of her intelligence, morality,  sensitivity, honesty, and kindness.  Yet he worries that she may as all Golems do, eventually go bad.   So this is the back drop for the comments that follow.

I am intrigued with Rabbi Meyer's musings as to whether the Golem has a soul and if destroying her or enslaving her to a new master is tantamount to murder. The Rabbi felt not, that only God can create a soul, and the Golem is made by man, ergo her destruction would be of no more moral consequence than you sending your car off to be smashed up in a cube of metal to be recycled. Yet the Rabbi has troubling doubts prior to his death, and he has fears that this entire situation is damaging his soul. 

Does a 57 Chevy have more soul...
I may be a poor philosopher regarding this car metaphor, my wife and I name our vehicles and feel bad when we get rid of them. I don't necessarily feel bad, other than cost, about replacing the car chunk by chunk. A new transmission hurts only my wallet, not my psyche, although the engine might cause me moral qualms--is not the life and the soul of the car its engine--a body of earth, a metabolism of fire which combines the black magic of petroleum (perhaps a form of aether) with air, and cooled by both air and water. The automobile is a basic elemental being that can serve us or destroy us (especially when mixed with that 6th basic element, alcohol). Or is the automobile's soul, its on board computer?  

... than a Prius?
Is it more immoral to junk a Prius than a 57 Chevy? Sorry my vote goes to save the 57 Chevy despite the lack of the computer! But that is just simple testosterone fired adolescent mindedness...what is more romantic, driving in (or having a fling in the back of) a 57 Chevy or a Prius? Yet get into a head on collision with a 57 Chevy and you will die a nasty death impaled on the steering column.  The Prius will "sacrifice" itself absorbing the energy of the collision in the collapse of the structural elements of the car around you rather directing it into you. There is a very good chance you can walk away badly shaken up but physically unscathed. So does a car that sacrifices itself to save you have more morality than a classic? 

Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter getting their asses kicked
by IBM's Watson on Jeopardy. 
We stand on the threshold of having to make Meyer's decision. The old Turing machine argument. If it hasn't happened yet, it will soon, all humanity will lose to the computer in playing chess. On a recent battle of the minds on Jeopardy, Ken Jennings and another star player got their asses whomped by Watson, a parallel processing behemoth built by IBM for the very purpose of kicking ass in a contest rigged by the ambiguity of  common language and meaning to favor humans. Start a reductionist fishing trip in the human mind and it boils down to a vast collection of synapses...a gap for ion exchange. Where the hell is a thought, love, holiness, or a soul in that? Does a collection of synapses have any more moral justification than a giant collection of transistors connected together by copper busses and telecommunication satellites? 
Reductionist's view of the human soul?  

So getting back to Chava the Golem. If she indeed passes a Turing test for human like qualities: intelligence, free will, moral agency, love, hatred, greed, fear, or perhaps distilling it down to what I have read in my new age flakey readings, the two elementary basic emotions, love and fear, which she seems to possess, does Meyer have the right to destroy her? This business of only God being able to create a soul, well let's put all the men on one continent and all the women on another continent separated by a vast ocean, and let's see how many human souls God creates. So in that way is the Golem being made by man any less of a creature than a human child? Does the circumstances of a human child's conception ranging along a vast spectrum from sacred loving intent, to hot loveless (perhaps drunken) lust, to cold and evil rape in any way affect the quality of the soul of the conceived child?  Does a child born of rape have any less of a soul than a child born to parents that were lovingly trying to conceive?  

But what of the Golem's dangerous qualities, extreme strength, the tendency to run amuck, should she not be destroyed before its too late? But then are we not destroying her based on unrealized potential? Who among us is born incapable of murder? 

So what are your thoughts, is Chava any less of a being than we are? Does she have a soul? 

Image Credits:

Synapse:  Wikipedia, Neuron

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Basic Science is Pissing Me Off

Image Credit:

This morning,  I was listening to the Diane Rehm show on NPR while in the car.  She had a panel of experts on climate change on the air.  Just as I got to my destination, the question of the rate of change of temperature increase was raised.  Immediately an argument broke out between the "climate change naysayer" and one of the "climate change alarmists" (terms I heard used on the show). Unfortunately I got to my destination and had to leave the car before the argument was resolved.  But the gist of the argument up to point that I departed was that the naysayer claimed that the rate of temperature change had not changed appreciably and one of the alarmist said that it did change appreciably.   

OK world, do you mean to tell me that how much the rate of change of world average temperatures has changed in the past x number of years can be an arguing point?  Is science that fricking arcane that something as simple as how much change has there been in the rate of change in the increase in global temperatures is up to debate?  To be honest, I am afraid to go will probably result in an afternoon vastly different numbers supporting what ever conclusion that you wish to have prior to looking.  State your conclusion, then go look for the facts.  You can find a website to support any conclusion you wish.    

One would think that it should be fairly easy.  In 1910 the average world temperature was bla.  In 1920 it was bla bla.  Bla bla minus bla equals so many degrees per decade, divided by 10 equals so many degrees per year.     Of course it will be in fractions of a degree.  Do the same for 2010 minus 2000 and you have another piece of data.  Do it for all the decades in-between and you should have some idea of WTF the rate change is and if there is an increase in the rate of change of the rate of change in the last 100 years.  It would seem to me that this could be done with a table of accurate temperature statistics and a calculator.  So how under the sun can there be any room for experts to be arguing with each other on a national radio show?  Well it is obvious that I don't have the intelligence to understand why something as simple the rate of change of the rate of change of world average temperatures over a period of time could be open for argument.  So who do you want to believe?  

Figures don't lie but liars can figure.  

Another example that has been biting my ass here recently... let's presume that I am about to be the proud parent of a baby boy.  The question of circumcision comes up.  I want to do the best thing for my son.  Can I get an honest answer, should I circumcise my son?  Go to the American Academy of Pediatrics and you will find a wishy washy perhaps...something that falls along the lines of well the medical efficacy exceeds the risks so it should be available to those who wish to do it and insurance should pay for it but we do not at this time recommend it as a routine procedure.  Well if it is so damned wonderful, why shouldn't it be routine?  

So you start to look a little further and you find out about the AFRICAN STUDIES!!!!  SIXTY PERCENT REDUCTION IN HIV TRANSFER!!!!  Holy hell, sign that lad up for a snipity snip on the little pee-pee. What the hell it is just a flap of skin!  But then if you stop and ask yourself well wait what does a 60% reduction in HIV transfer mean, it gets a bit murky.  Do 200 guys go get laid without condoms on Saturday night with infected partners, 100 of them are circumcised, 100 are not.    On Sunday morning, are there going to be 140 guys infected with HIV and 60 circumcised guys that are not?   No.  It was something like 1300 guys in each group over a certain period of time.  At some point in time, 3.something% of the intact guys had HIV.  But, 0.6% less of the circumcised guys had HIV.  The study was stopped for humanitarian reasons.  You see 0.6 times 100 is 60 voila!  A 60% REDUCTION IN THE TRANSFER OF HIV.  Why was the study stopped?  Oh humanitarian reasons, but now do we know how the numbers pan out over 5 years or 10 years?  Could there be a convergence?  Could there be any chance that the study was stopped when nice set of numbers that proved the researcher’s preconceived conclusions were obtained?  

There is a lot of criticism of the African studies, and a lot of criticism of the criticism of the African studies.  So what is a parent to do?  

Well first you may ask yourself,  what are the prevailing rates of HIV transfer in Europe where circumcision is rare compared to the US where it is very common.  You will find that Europe is not dying off 60% faster than the US from a plague of AIDs.  Depending on who you want to believe you may find that the rate of transfer is less in Europe, and I am sure you can find numbers that would say that it is greater than the US.  

You may further want to ask yourself, with this 60% reduction in the transfer of HIV why is not the whole world embracing circumcision and, shit, while your at it trim of some earlobe as well just in case you get bit by a rabid bat on the ear.   

You might also ask what does severing 15,000 nerve ending do to a penis?  Oh look at the US, no effect! Oh really?  Do we know that or do we assume that?   If you don't study a problem, you will not discover any deleterious findings.  Everything is OK.   Have we ever studied what circumcision does to marriages over the long haul?  No effect?  No pre-mature ejaculation?  No effects at an advanced age?  I have read that Viagra sales are the highest in the US and Israel.  Could that be due to the fact both countries are in the northern hemisphere?   

So why can't I find a simple answer to should I get my kid circumcised?  All this science, all these experts, and I have to rely on good old basic common sense.  

Do you play Russian roulette with two bullets in the chambers of a six gun?  That's what a 60% improvement works out to.  Yep it is better than playing Russian roulette with 6 bullets in the chambers, but not as good as playing with an empty gun or better yet a cap pistol.   Anyone who thinks they are not going to get HIV because they are circumcised is playing Russian roulette (with two bullets by the African study numbers, and all 6 by what I believe).  Play it long enough, you will blow your head off with one bullet in the chamber none the less two.  

So here is your choice parents.  You can get your son circumcised and if he does not want to get HIV, or HPV, or gonorrhea, or syphilis, or genital Herpes, or super gonorrhea, or chlamydia, or something we don't even know about yet because unprotected sex will always be a wonderful vector for disease, he will have to wear a condom 100% of the time when having sex with casual partners.  Or you can leave your son intact, and he will have to wear a condom 100% of the time when having sex with casual partners.  

Oh wait I forgot the old standby.  Penis cancer.  Circumcision reduces the chance of getting penis cancer.  One in 100,000 men get penis cancer in the US.  In Denmark, where circumcision is rare, it is 0.82 men per 100,000.  In the US, a man has a 1 in 1437 chance of getting penis cancer in his life time.  Denmark it is 1 in 1694.   An American male has a 1 in 769 chance of getting breast cancer.  To put that in context, a woman has a 1 in 8 chance of getting breast cancer in her life time.  I haven’t seen any plans for routine infant mastectomies.  Oh wait I am bringing in a straw man in the argument, we are talking circumcision here.    

Well the choice for circumcision is yours.  It should be your son’s choice and only his choice, but that is not how we play it here in the US because we have rights, and no one has the right to tell us what to do with our children.  And remember, if your son decides that he is a little pissed off at you 20 years from now because he has something less than a fully functional pecker, well just remind him that it is none of his business.  Nobody can tell you what to do with your kids.  Also remember that once the steak has been put through the meat grinder, you have ground meat...but you can never get the steak back.  Choose wisely!     

So going back to my title,  is it that I am really pissed at basic science, or am I pissed at how basic science can be manipulated by any lying bastard to prove or disprove what ever piece of bullshit chicanery that suits their needs?   Is anyone interested in the truth?  Why can’t I trust the opinion of experts? 

EDIT June 16, 2013:  It seems that I am not the only one concerned about basic science.  I found this article in today's paper:

Pittsburgh Post Gazette, June 16, 2013, Science, heal thyself: The threats from within and without        

EDIT June 17, 2013: It seems that I am not the only one concerned about the AAP's recommendations regarding circumcision:

Pediatrics, Cultural Bias in the AAP's 2012 Technical Report and Policy Statement on Male Circumcision, March 18, 2013

Note: Pediatrics is the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

EDIT 7-26-13:  There is a very well written and poignant account of a mother's struggle with the decision for circumcising her sons at Lilly Cannon's Moralogus:

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Palace Malice and Mike Smith Win The 2013 Belmont

Image Credit: Wikipedia, 2013 Belmont Stakes

It was a disappointing day for Rosie Napravnik fans.  I was really hoping for a win for the girls, Rosie and her filly horse Unlimited Budget.  It would have been a great day for women, Julie Krone won the Belmont 20 years ago and I was hoping for a repeat performance from Napravnik.  None the less, Rosie still made history yesterday, she is the only woman to ever ride all three Triple Crown Races in one year.  Rosie finished 6 and received no purse earnings in the million dollar race.  All was not lost however, Rosie won the Easy Goer Stakes aboard Power Broker.  The $150,000 Easy Goer Stakes was another race ran at Belmont yesterday.

Here is a video recap of the Belmont Stakes:

Mike Smith aboard Palace Malice wins the Belmont.
Image Credit: Julio Cortez/ AP
Congratulations to Mike Smith and Palace Malice who won the race with a 3 and 1/4 length lead over Oxbow in second and Orb in third.  Orb was the favorite with 3 - 1 odds.  Preakness winner Oxbox had 5 - 1 odds and Palace Malice came in at 13 - 1 odds.  All theoretical to me, I don't bet.  Even though there was no chance for a Triple Crown winner this year with Orb winning the Derby and Oxbow winning the Preakness, the Belmont proved to be an exciting race that was supposed to decide the Triple Crown feud between Orb and Oxbow...Mike Smith and Palace Malice had other ideas...great race.

Image & Video Credits:

Belmont Logo:  Wikipedia, 2013 Belmont Stakes

Belmont Video:  YouTube, Palace Malice - 2013 Belmont Stakes (G1), New York Racing Association

Mike Smith Wins:  The Miami Herald, Palace Malice gana el Belmont sorpresivamente