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Rumilluminations February 2012
By: Esther M. Powell
Posted on: Wed, February 01 2012 - 7:25 pm

February 29, 2012                            Valparaiso, IN

Yesterday in our movie club discussing Spellbound the documentary about the national spelling bee and Spellbound the Hitchcock movie, we started talking about learning via a computer as compared with learning in a classroom setting.

"...Discussion...makes learning become many-sided and take on a cheerful lightness, whereas there is always something ponderous and one-sided about the learning of the self-taught."

I thought I knew where that idea came from.  When I got home I picked up the I Ching and looked up the hexagram for Tui, the Joyous.

Yes!  There it was!  This morning I was ruminating about the I Ching and how much I have learned about how to behave because of reading it.

Not to downplay the Ten Commandments, which are of course the basis of our Western morality, I think the I Ching makes your awareness of the motives of your own behavior more refined.  The I Ching holds us to a higher standard than the Bible.  Although Jesus' admonition to love others is a great general rule there are definitely more specific guides to good behavior in the many situations depicted in the I Ching.

Somehow the I Ching seems more timeless. 

February 28, 2012                            Valparaiso, IN

Yippedy-doodle!  February is almost ending!

Sunday we took a walk and saw snowdrops at the base of a beech tree.

Yesterday we saw a little row of pinkblooming heather at the southern base of a hedge.

Spring is coming!

So why am I still depressed? 

For one thing it is depressing to see an article listing the richest countries of the world based on the Gross National Product divided by the number of people in the countries as if this number were meaningful - that is to say, as if all the populace shares equally in the GNP.

This completely artificial number means NOTHING about the way most of the people in these countries are living.  Even average income means NOTHING about it.

Median income (which I have seen used interchangeably with average income in some comments) comes closer to being meaningful, but even that is not truly representative of the state of the poorest in the society.

Add to these factors all the other variables of what a society has to offer such as free medical care (in France) that affect an individual's quality of life, who cares which countries are the richest?

The numbers are meaningless.  It is really depressing that anyone even bothers to make such a stupid list.

Dang.  February is almost over and I'm still depressed.  What could help?

...maybe if we see some crocuses outdoors today?

I wonder how much a crocus rates in the worldwide scale of the quality of life?  

February 26, 2012                             Valparaiso, IN

My mate and I were talking this morning about states with a relative large amount of secession-talk (such as Rick Perry's Texas) being the states that receive the biggest proportion of federal welfare handouts.  (The amount of money Texas gets from the federal government exceeds the amount its population pays in federal taxes, according to MSNBC last year.  Keith Olbermann?  I forget which commentator.)

Reminded me of a very conservative ex-friend of mine who disapproved of welfare but went to get help paying his electric bill when he had no money.  I protested against the hypocrisy of his actions - not supporting welfare and then applying for it.  "William F. Buckley said it was all right," he responded.

"Well, I say it's not right!" I exclaimed.  "What makes the rule different when it's you?"

Of course, not being a household name, my opinion didn't matter.

Ha, ha, ha, ha!

February 24, 2012                              Valparaiso, IN

One of my daughters sends greetings from Washington D.C. and comments on the museums there.

"They are wonderful!" she enthuses.  Not only are the collections magnificent, but she says the atmosphere in the museums is completely different from otherwise fine museums she has visited in other cities.

"I think it is because they are free.  People just go in and wander around and enjoy them.  They aren't rushing from one exhibit to another trying to get their money's worth.  It is a completely different feeling."

Cities, take heed.  I have already been shocked at the price of entry in many of our museums (e.g. some of Chicago's.)

If people young and old have the incentive of free museums to bring them downtown, they might have a healthier attitude towards their city and life in general.  They might have a little more money that they can spend in downtown businesses instead of a price of admission to institutions which, I'm sure, are partly supported by their taxes.

And everyone can have more fun in a literally freer atmosphere!

February 23, 2012                             Valparaiso, IN

The other day when I went into my Tai Chi class folks were discussing political philosophy.  Jack, the wonderful teacher at the senior citizen center at Banta, was talking about Plato maintaining that the best form of government was a benevolent despotism.

I maintain that "benevolent despot" is an oxymoron.

The logic?

"Benevolent" means of a kind or generous nature;  "despot" means a ruler of absolute power and authority.

If you believe, with Lord Acton, that "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely" (and I do) then "benevolent despot" is an oxymoron.

There is no such thing as a benevolent despot.

February 22, 2012                             Valparaiso, IN

No one plays a sour note like a musician sounding off about the work ethic.  A recent bit in The Week that has Merle Haggard chiding Americans for not having a good enough work ethic was a real dissonant noise.

He says we don't want to work our asses off.  No one sane would, when a career in the lettuce fields yields a life expectancy of 45 years.  Slave labor in the cotton and cane fields had an average duration of about eight and four years respectively.  At the end of that time, the slave laborer didn't quit - he died.  Getting rid of slavery without getting rid of health-abusing slave labor is not progress.

Haggard says we don't want to do stoop labor, but if he himself had done it he wouldn't be alive now.  Have you ever picked your own strawberries in the Spring, Merle?

The only stoop labor musicians have to perform is bowing to their audiences at the end of their performances!

February 21, 2012                              Valparaiso, IN

We had a sobering thought this morning.  What if the fear of exposure of sexual secrets or improprieties makes people afraid to run for office?  What if the only people that would run would be rigid uptight overly-moral Fundamental Christian types?  People with no skeletons in their closets?

That last made my partner chuckle.  No fear of that!  Good Christians have as many skeletons in their closets as everyone else.  Thank the Lord!  (ha, ha.)

Which is more distracting and crazy-making, I wonder?  Engaging in bad behavior or spending a lot of energy and thought trying to avoid it?  Which is worse for a person's job performance?

I wonder if anyone could design a scientific study that could measure that?

February 20, 2012                               Valparaiso, IN

I remember where I was when I heard Kennedy was assassinated.

I remember where I was when I heard about what they now call 9/11.

I don't remember where I was, but remember the shock I felt when I first heard that Kennedy had tried to get Castro killed.

Now Iran's nuclear scientists are under attack, evidently, and people are wondering if we are right to be supporting their killings.

Oh, sure, we are the good guys.

When we invaded Iraq because Hussein was supposedly supporting bin Laden, our leaders were convinced (they said) that he was guilty.

Now they say that they were deceived by "bad intelligence" - in other words, bad information.

Should our leaders have been assassinated by countries protective of Iraq's fate?

If our leaders could have been deceived about the true state of international affairs, how much more could Iran's scientists be deluded about the purpose of their country's nuclear projects?

Nuclear energy is a key to very cheap energy.  Who is to say that the scientists pursuing the goal of cheap energy for Iran don't have altruistic motives for the good of their country?

Don't get me wrong.  I'm not saying they are all good guys.  But if the Iranian government is trying to get nuclear power to hold over the rest of the world, let it be accountable - don't pick on the scientists!

It seems to me that every government wants to pretend to be on the side of right.  But when a governmental action violates international laws that the government itself helped create when the issues were merely intellectual and ethical theoretical problems, then that government has crossed the line and done wrong.

Do we have to do those things to win?  To survive?

I hope we don't.  But if our government (or any other) does them, they have lost the right to any claim to virtue.

And when it comes to government, I have lost my innocence.  No government is "one of the good guys."

February 19, 2012                                Valparaiso, IN

My mother will most likely have to be leaving her home of fifty-seven years at some point this year.

She had cancer a couple of years ago, and they didn't get it all, so I was feeling kind of bad about us calling it quits as her caretakers.

Last week she had a blood test, though, and it came out negative more markers for cancer.

Now I can feel more positive about the fact that she has to have a new stage of life.  As far as anyone knows, she has had no resurgence of the dreaded disease.

That's not to say Mom doesn't have other health issues, and maybe it would have been better if I had waited longer to take on her care.

I would have liked to be able to allow her to be able to stay in her own home for even longer, but my tenure has mother-carer-in chief is coming to an end.

As I told her, I never promised anyone "until death do we part," not even in a wedding ceremony!

February 18, 2012                                Valparaiso, IN

Why do the introverted and the extroverted so often seem dead set against each other?

I'm a little of both, so if I followed the lead of so many others I would be at war with myself all of the time!

Why must introverts look upon extroverts as superficial and shallow?

Why must extroverts think introverts are misanthropic and possibly evil?

Can we lighten up?

If we do, maybe we can all get through February, even if it is one day longer this year!

The internal light will have to make up for the dearth of sunlight in these last few weeks of winter.

February 17, 2012                                 Valparaiso, IN

Actually now that I think about it, "a whole nother matter" should be "a whole other matter."  The "n" is made unnecessary by the intervening "whole", of course.

So why do we not want to let go of the "n?"  I think it is because we have often heard the words, "a whole new" subject, or consideration, or whatever.

Maybe the creative tension between habit and boredom are what make language such a slippery slope.

On the one hand, you find people who do not find correcting grammatical errors in printed text boring;  on the other, there are those who find the whole damn thing boring - unless, of course, the writing is rife with invention and novelty!

Now that I think about it, "creative tension" between opposing tendencies and ideas was a phrase I encountered way back in college.

Why is tension in ideas considered creative?  In my experience, tension between people is not very creative at all!

Destructive, in fact.  Deadening.  Something entirely other than creative - a whole nother thing.

(Damn it, I need that "n!"  The "other" would be naked without it!)

February 16, 2012                                  Valparaiso, IN

Does lambasting have anything to do with basting the lamb?

How come we never say we strang up the decorations?

Anything to do with not wanting to be accused of strangling?

Language is so odd.  I can't figure out how it comes about.

Verbs are the trickiest.  Is it because they represent action?

Since they are so active, they must alter?

They must have irregularities because actions are so much more labile than things?

If we say an irregular verb wrong, it isn't like having two different words for the same object.  Why not?  Especially when we usually know what is meant.  "Look what the cat drug home" is never interpreted as the cat trying to drug the house or bringing them home, for that matter.

I have written before that I am the first person I remember hearing say, "It is a whole nother thing."  I have heard a few other people say it since, but I have never seen it in print.  Of course it isn't "correct" but it is completely comprehensible.

A shortcut, of course, but aren't lots of language changes shortcuts?  You know, things like contractions?

What other words have arisen by division?

Maybe not many.  Maybe people find combinations more acceptable than divisions.

Does divisiveness tend to denote negativity?

Heaven help the poor grammar student if he splits an infinitive!

P.S.  I can't believe it!  I just saw a whole nother in print on my MSNBC homepage, in an article about a bug-eyed basketball fan.  They wrote it, "a whole 'nother..."


February 14, 2012                                   Valparaiso, IN

Valentine's Day!

Vestments' divestment

Voluptuous decor

Venereal disease

Vapid discourse

Voluntary deference

Voluminous distractions

Valued determinations

Voluble declarations

Viscous displacement

Whether Valentine's Day makes you feel ecstatic or rotten, you have to admit that for one day you can think about something other than

February's depredations!

February 13, 2012                                   Valparaiso, IN

Today has been a rough day.  My mom has lost her head and today I lost just about everything else.

I usually have my reliable constellations of possible locations of keys, bags, books and other items, but today even they were clouded over.

My father used to shake his head over my scatter-brainedness.  "If your head wasn't attached, you'd lose it."

Little did he know how many of us, including him, lose our heads anyway!

I try to practice all the anti-mind rotting, anti-Alzheimers tricks I can to avoid the decline, but I know I must hope for luck above all.

Meanwhile, I just hope I won't lose anything that refuses to reappear!

Meanwhile, February is longer this year - Leap Year.


February 12, 2012                                   Valparaiso, IN

You know what a tidbit is.  A nibble.

What is a titbit?

Ha, ha!

Here's a piece of colorful language for you about an ornery person:  "Let someone else grate up against her for awhile." 


Humor is whining sublimated.  A made-sublime whine.

Humor is aided by a fermented extraction of grapes.  Sour ones?

Too much wine makes you roll around on the floor.

So does humor - but you can never have too much!

Does "sublime" mean "under the lime?"  That doesn't make much sense.

Sublime usually means over-the-top wonderful.  So how can it be "under" anything?

Or sublimation for that matter.  Physically sublimation refers to the change from solid to vapor form without going through a liquid state first.

Does that mean that wine cannot, by definition, be sublime?

Oh, wordplay can tie you up in knots.  Etymology may be fun, but Esthermology is the limit!

How do linguists know the real origins of words, anyway?  I bet they are just making educated guesses.

Now there's sublimation for you!

February 10, 2012                                   Valparaiso, IN

Start reading history, and learn about monopolies and international trade.  1942?  More like 1642!

The corporations are trying to rule the world!  1984?  More like 1684!

Start reading history, and you are surprised by the sophistication of our supposedly relatively benighted forbears.

We are the ones who have been benighted!

One reason (besides cover-up) that lots of stories haven't made it into our popular consciousness.  One of them is, I believe, that we don't know enough about them to make an entire book out of them.

Thank writers for literary journalism that zooms out to embrace a bigger picture that allows essential stories (for our education and knowledge of our country and the world) to be told as part of a bigger whole which still puts that story in the central position of prime importance.

Thanks also to computer wizards who have created a medium in which all kinds of knowledge can be delivered in packages of all sizes.

Too bad there is no God of Truth who can press the delete key and get rid of all the misinformation!

Then again, opining and speculating is kind of fun.


February 9, 2012                                     Valparaiso, IN

It is interesting that we seem to think that people who want to relate to God are good people.

We tend to honor them.  The more charismatic they seem to be, the more spiritual they seem to us.  Storr maintains, however, that these charismatic saviors and gurus are narcissists.

Even if they aren't narcissistic, though, think about this:  the more time they spend thinking, praying to, and worshipping God, the less time they have for you.

I met a man in Santa Fe years ago whose wife, the mother of their two children, spent a good deal of time in meditation, because, as he put it, "She so much doesn't want to be here."  He obviously was not finding her spirituality helpful to him.

The Catholic Church liked their priests single, they maintained, so that they could maintain a good balance between their relationship with God and the demands and needs of their flock.  (I have also heard speculation, though, that the Church did not want to compete with priests' families for the donations of their parishioners.)

Mystics who sit in a room alone fasting and meditating for forty days are definitely not devoting that time to their families.

So I ask, what good is it?  Oh, it may be good for them, but how does this spirituality help the rest of us?  Sounds like the trickle-down theory of economics to me!

February 7, 2012                                     Valparaiso, IN

Clouds like piles of gray mashed potatoes ornament the sky.  Oh, for some streudely-noodle cirrhus clouds that would leave some blue!

Nah.  There is no blue up there, anywhere.

It is February, with stinging almost-precipitation intermittently hitting our cheeks.

The I Ching says we should not be oppressed by certain things; I'm wondering if it means things like the cloudy February weather.

Nah.  There is no blame in being depressed - even oppressed - by February.

February 6, 2012                                     Valparaiso, IN

Sometimes I wonder how much of my present equilibrium (only relative, I assure you!) is not wisdom at all, but just old age.

Of course, I do not really see myself as old, but every once in a while, the torments of younger souls on stage and screen remind me:  yeah, I felt like that once.  How did I survive?

We like to think we have learned, but maybe we have just slowed down.  We like to imagine our reading and thinking has matured us, but maybe the hormones have merely subsided.

Just as no one can tell you how life-altering it is to have children, no one can convince anyone how stressful it is to care for an old, old child.

I guess people don't want to be convinced; they don't believe they will ever have to assume that role of caregiver for the elderly.

My mother has returned home this time to die, I think.  It is very sad.

The year's first cold, dark cloudy week of February is not making it any easier.

February 5, 2012                                     Valparaiso, IN

Bill Clinton said that crosswords helped him learn how to problem solve.  You start with what you can do, which helps show the way to the solutions for what you originally are not able to do.

Reminds me of when I was taking biochemistry.  I would swear that the problems were not giving me the information I needed to solve them, but after trying two or three times (with breaks for beating my head against the wall for relief) I would see that I indeed had all the info I needed.  To solve half the problems, anyway.  I ultimately dropped out of biochem.  (Hint - don't take it if you haven't had calculus.)

Anyway, jigsaw puzzles are showing me similar learning techniques.  In this case, though, the solution to the puzzle involves looking at the big picture.  Pieces that on superficial observation seem to go together, upon more minute comparison are seen not to go in quite the same area.  If you just concentrate on those deceptive pieces, you will get nowhere in getting the puzzle done and off the dining room table and your mom will get frustrated and mad at you.

I think the purpose of religion is partly to try to get us to look at a bigger picture than we might be inclined to examine if left to ourselves.  But, please!  Consider the possibility that there are a whole lot of huge pictures in our lives that can be examined without the aid of the supernatural.

There are bunches of choices beyond Pepsi and Coke.


February 4, 2012                                      Valparaiso, IN

How do we guarantee that in addition to freedom of religion we can have freedom from religion?

The right to believe in certain ways necessitates, in some peoples' minds, the right to act in certain ways.  It horrifies me that some parents are prosecuted for not giving their children medical care, while others are not prosecuted for offering up their children to statutory rape and/or involuntary female circumcision.

These religious practices are not comparable to some Native Americans' use of peyote in religious ceremonies.  Drug use in a ceremony, if considered a crime, joins other drug use as a victimless crime which society considers self-abuse, maybe, but within the discretion of the user.  (After all, there are still, I believe, members of the Catholic Church (monks?) who legally self-flagellate at Easter time (at least they were still doing it in northern New Mexico in the nineteen-sixties.)

Public sentiment, according to a book I'm reading now (Under the Banner of Heaven, 2003) often sides with the community under scrutiny because of the traumatic nature of breaking family ties to put the perpetrators into the legal system and hence into jail.

I'm becoming convinced, however, that the rights of individuals trump the rights of family ties.  Girls who are forced into marriage (or even those who think they are voluntarily choosing to marry) when they are fourteen years old do not have real freedom of choice, any more than seemingly seductive-behaving subteens do when subjected to statutory rape.

Any psychological damage suffered by these folks in their liberation can be ultimately blamed on the servitude and lack of freedom they suffered in the first place.

We should not confuse freedom of religion with freedom of tyranny.

If the elected officials in the states where these communities reside cannot deal with the problem, bring the Feds in!

February 2, 2012                                       Valparaiso, IN

After being two weeks overnight in points no closer to home than Nashville, TN, my farthest point from home today was the bank.

Alas!  What a comedown!  From adventure to misadventure, from pleasure to piss-offs.

In order to avoid a five dollar per month service charge for the privilege of receiving a paper statement, I must perforce resort to online banking.

Family has been suggesting I do this for years, but I have resisted.  Why should I go online?  I live a scant mile from the bank.  I don't even need a statement on this account, which probably has no more than two deposits and two debits per month.

Don't tell me issuing a paper statement costs the bank $5 (as an employee told me today).  They don't pay their clerical people $60 per hour!

I don't really need even ten more minutes a month in front of a computer screen.  I already neglect my email.

But as my sister says, "The bank is not your friend."

Amen to that.  I agree.  But why do they keep trying to pretend they are?

Their employees are required to be sympathetic and understanding while they absolutely get the bank its own way.

Okay.  I'm leaving town, and I will take my money with me when I go.  Kind of.  Eventually, when I can get my automatic deposit transferred.

And my friend the bank won't be going with me.

Their poor employees will probably give a sigh of relief.  "Glad the old folks are moving South.  Boy, those people have to be dragged into the modern world kicking and screaming!"

And we, like every other older generation, are half envious and half pitying of the younger generations.  They are so privileged, and such slaves!

February 1, 2012                                        Valparaiso, IN

February flagellations!  Flagging flatulent frustrations.

Febrile infatuations and fraudulent confabulations.

Fool's Day for fewer fanatical flayings.

Fount of funky oobleck precipitations.

Fie!  Fie!  Foggy foundations, flailing exfenestrations.

Rumilluminations Now?  Maybe enow!

February always inspires such mewling fantasias.


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