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Rumilluminations April 2014
By: Esther M. Powell
Posted on: Wed, April 02 2014 - 2:55 pm

April 30, 2014                                            Madison, IN

This is April's last chance to counter folly with cruelty!  Or wait a minute, these qualities are not mutually exclusive - witness the death penalty.

I'm not going to go over these old arguments again.

I won't say a word about the morality of the States doing what individuals are not allowed to do.  Killing people is just mostly wrong - at least when it is against the person's will, but I won't make that statement.  The fact that there is no proof that the death penalty acts as a deterrent (look at the lists) will not cross my lips.  The human error that can produce the heinous death of an innocent party (which is enough reason for universal abolition the the ultimate penalty) is so obvious it needn't be stated.

Other costs of the death penalty I won't mention either:  the cost of the courts and attorneys for the mandatory appeals process, the costs of paying scientists to try to figure out better ways to kill people "mercifully," the money we pay to our legislators to hash out complicated statutes related to the death penalty and the cost of implementing the actual process of carrying out the sentences - I won't expound on these subjects because you have undoubtedly heard it all before.

Just thinking about it all exhausts me, so I won't waste my energy talking about it.

That would make me a fool!

But I'm looking seriously at making only one of the non-capital punishment states my next (and possibly final) state of residence.

I don't want what few taxes I pay to go to killing people.

Supporting that would make me cruel!

Announcement:  At 12 o'clock midnight tonight, April 2014 will be put to death for cruelty and folly.

April 28, 2014
                                           Madison, IN

Whew!  The apartment-building-shaking lightning bolt we just experienced was the scariest.  The world jolted around us and the lights went out.  I actually cried out in response.  No thunderstorm has made me do that before, although I admit I am a notorious yelper in the car on the road!

We were just agreeing it was a good thing I had minutes before drawn extra water in case the electricity went (with possible subsequent water supply breakdown) when -

it came back on.  As I write I am hearing fire engine horns and police and ambulence sirens going.  Something big has happened, but we can't see anything out our windows.  (At this point I would like to whine about the search engine I just tried to use to find out what happened.  Even though I typed Madison, IN into the search window, at least the first eight options were for Madison cities in other states.  You folks that program these engines - must you do this?  It is most unhelpful!)

We are thankful our world has been restored so quickly, but this storm could persist for most of the day, with the possibility of more severe weather into tomorrow.

Much of Central U.S. is under this threat right now and it is heading east.

Get ready, here it comes!


April 27, 2014                                            Madison, IN

What good is religion?  (A Sunday is the perfect day for an erstwhile Christian to entertain this question - especially in April.)

There are times when the imagery of religion has been a great help to me.  When I was having a rough time as a for-the-most-part unhappily married wife and mother, I had a vision that inspired a poem.

                   As you walk through your life,
                   In the shadow of your care
                   As you garland California's cross
                   And leave the Midwest bare,
                   As you cry into your tight-clenched fists
                   Before the bathroom mirror
                   Feel in growing up behind you.
                   Feel yourself disappear.
                   You don't bear your cross -
                   Your cross bears you.

For some reason this almost mystical experience was soothing and healing.  It didn't solve my problems, but it helped sustain me.

At another date it was a more Buddhist-like (I think!) image that was a soothing promise of spiritual growth.

I was sitting at my desk, suffering over a lost potential love, when I felt a big bloom - the many-petaled lotus comes the closest to visual expression of the feeling - open within my torso.

These two experiences of an almost mystical nature inclines me to approve of what religion can do for a person.

The other part of the story, though, is that if I hadn't been reared in a fairly strict religious tradition and cared more about my own mental health, I might never have remained in those situations that gave rise to the mystical coping inspirations (I want to say mechanisms?) in the first place.

And of course, would it have been better for all concerned if I had not?

Only God knows!

April 25, 2014                                            Madison, IN

One of the questions posed by riddlers is, "If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there, does it make a sound?"

Being a simple sort, my initial response was, "Of course there is.  Sound waves."

Whoever posed the question said, "But if there are no ears to translate the waves into what we call 'sound' is there still sound?"

That made me pause.  But how homosapiens-centric was that thought!  I thought of deer.  But even if there were only insects in the forest there would be sound - as I would define it.

Others might not agree.  They might not call what an insect responds to "sound."  They might call it vibration.  They might, in other words, say my argument wasn't sound.

And there is another multiple meaning word for you, English as a Second Language students.

Aural sound - the extra-human existence of which is debatable in some people's minds, is a relatively unsound concept for many.

Are the foundations of a house "sound" - that is, well-grounded in reality?  That definition of sound certainly seems inconsistent with the word as we usually use it.

Personally, I think people who doubt the existence of stuff they aren't present to see and hear must be mentally unsound.

Of course, the key to these different meanings lie in the etymology - roughly the "healthy" meanings comes from (roughly) Middle English "sund" from a German word.  (This word is related to "gesundheit" interestingly enough.

The noise meaning of the word comes most immediately from the Middle English "sownde", handed down through the French from Latin.

So why didn't we have two different words spelled, "sund" and "sownde?"  (They would have been pronounced differently, too by the way.)

One of life's foolish little mysteries.

April 24, 2014                                            Madison, IN

The older I get, the more I perceive and understand the "no blame" attitude towards the breakdown of intimate relationships.  The final external break (or breakdown, in the case of subsequent ruin of lives) is really only the farthest most obvious reach of a very long-term (usually) and invisible process.

If your partner is being short, why is that?

If you are feeling estranged, why?

If you are really honest with yourself, it becomes evident that relationships are a chicken/egg kind of conundrum.  (Yeah, yeah, now we now that the egg came first - it was a reptile egg in case you haven't heard).  Who is the real cause of a failure of relationship?  The answer, absent intentional using or malfeasance, is both parties - or neither.

If young people could really be convinced that the rejection they sometimes endure is not really their "fault" (or at least not in the way they may think) but something they must take at least partial responsibility for, we could all take the blame out of the break-up.

Years ago, I didn't really understand "no-fault" divorces except in certain narrow situations.

Now I realize divorce is probably never "no-fault."

More likely "both fault" or sometimes, "all fault."

April 22, 2014                                           Madison, IN

Oh, the broadcast news is wearying.

Why do they latch onto the same stories and go on and on with them?  Every day you are fed some little teeny tidbit of new information, which is supposed to make it all worth watching, presumably.

Well, this morning I figured it out:  the news channels have taken a page from the soap operas.

This kind of entertainment has proven itself very popular, but it doesn't work for me or my partner.

But then, I never had the patience for soap operas, either.

Heh.  It just occurred to me.  The slow movement of the plot is just too much like life, and obsessing too much on one story is dangerous.

April 21, 2014                                           Madison, IN

One of the hardest things about growing older is seeing others act as if an insight or discovery about behavior is not something they could have learned from someone, well - older!

One of the best examples of this I remember hearing from an older person in my youth, talking about (probably) my generation:  "They talk as if they invented sex."

Well.  About sex and love I have no hope of warning anyone - we are so ruled by hormones.  (At the very least, our hormones are trying very very hard to rule us!)  Everyone of the species has to learn his or her lesson about that.

But when I read an article in The Week (precis of an article by Claire Zillman in talking about the "taboo" on discussion of one's earnings in the workplace and saying, "salary transparency gives workers ammo to advocate for themselves" I just have to shake my head.

Well, DUH.  Why do employers not want their employees to talk about how much they are getting paid?  So they can pay each employee as little as possible (or as much as they want for possibly irrational or altogether too rational but irrelevant reasons) without justifying it or being accountable for it.

Well, DUH.  I've written about this before and here I am writing about it again.

Do you really think that someone has the right to fire you because you are open about how much you make?

Well, then, you don't believe in freedom of speech.

Corporations (or other employers, but I believe that corporations are the biggest offenders in this regard) should not have the right to fire you because you talk about what is your own business.  The fact that it is also their own business means to me that part of their business should be to treat their employees as equally and fairly with as much justice as possible.

What is freedom of speech for if not for expression of your feelings and the transmission of information?  Isn't that what freedom of speech is all about?

Anything else is slavery.

April 20, 2014                                           Madison, IN

Shortly after my daughter and her friend left Madison after indulging me in a Scrabble game every evening of their visit (how sweet was that?) I started playing by myself, with the players prosaically identified as NW, NE, SE, and SW.  (My partner said, "Which one is you?"  "They're all me!" I responded.  "If only one of them were the real Esther Powell I would be biased!"  (Ha, Spell Check just informed me that I was in danger of having two asses - being "biassed".  I have mocked Spell Check a lot, but I am embarrassed at how often it has helped me.  (Can an inanimate entity "help"?  I'll leave that question to the semanticists.))

The winter was so long and hard I started playing a game every day to deal with cabin fever.  Spring has sprung, my excuse is gone - I still play.

Yesterday was a milestone.  In the first round, three of the four players got 50 point bonuses for using all seven of "their" tiles in one turn.  Two rounds later, the one (NE as I recall) who hadn't succeeded the first time round got a eight-point word on the triple word tile.  The words?  Readies, canteens, crimping and sauteing.

True, the first two players "cheated."  The player who started out the game put down readie_ (the blank being an "r") but upon finding the second player could use all its (?) tiles if the word became readies instead, graciously changed the unknown.

My (our) deciding rationalization for this alteration of "reality" became:  readies is a more commonly-used, legitimate word than readier, though I have seen both used in literature.

Cheating?  Maybe, but I'm playing with myself and everybody benefited.  "Reality" and Mother Nature don't really figure in this word game, except as I have been fitted out to play it.

So here is a moral question for you on this Easter Sunday celebrating a "phenomenon" that a majority of humans might consider a cheating of reality.

Is it okay if you are all one body?

April 19, 2014                                           Madison, IN

Well, the Milton Madison Bridge opened day before yesterday in the early evening.

Yay!  Now I just have to get my bike prepped for Spring.

I have not ridden for over two years now.  Probably riding the mile or so from here to the other side of the bridge and back will tax my buns enough for a first ride.

Somehow riding around in Madison is not so appealing.  The steep hills to the north and the highway-only riding after a minimal distance in either direction east and west along the Ohio River make the bridge vital for getting into rideable country.

Who am I kidding, though?  There are steep hills over there, too!

Ay, yi yi, sometimes I think I might as well be in the mountains of New Mexico!

April 15, 2014                                           Madison, IN

We are halfway through April.  We are in the height of the throes of April folly!

The other day I was walking along the Heritage Trail.  Close to the end of my walk I encountered hikers going up attended by two unleashed dogs who were heading towards me as if I were the most interesting thing in their day.

Sigh.  They didn't look hostile, but what if they felt threatened by my shiny silver-gray water bottle?  I decided that if I knelt and prepared to receive their attentions, they wouldn't go into self-defense mode and possibly snap at me.  Their owners looked friendly and relaxed enough.

So I squatted.  The first scarier dog, when he saw I was making obeisance, appeared to immediately lose interest and trot by me, then relented and allowed himself to be patted.

The second dog came straight for me and submitted to a little friendly greeting, but was pulled away onward and upward in the direction of his canine companion.  The owners smiled and said hi and moved on.  As did I.

I couldn't help musing on the incident, though.  Here I was, on Sunday morning, in nature instead of in church.  I live in a country that does not require me to kneel down before God, and yet I had just knelt down before Dog.

Isn't that kind of backwards?

April 14, 2014                                           Madison, IN

If cleanliness is next to Godliness, what is next to cleanliness?


And what would be next to orderliness?  Functionality?

Ha, ha that would be a real comedown from orderliness, because functionality is a different order of word from orderliness, all right, or else it would have to be functionliness.  And besides, doesn't functionality depend on orderliness?  Maybe it should be closer to cleanliness, ranked number three in cosmic quality.

Which brings us to the word "rank" itself.  Or should I say words, because for a word that often signifies an attempt to impose order, it is itself subject to rank confusion!

It is an adjective.  It is a noun.  It is a verb.  It's meanings derive from multiple languages and contexts.

I just learned from looking it up in the Wikipedia dictionary that a meadow full of rank grasses wouldn't have to stink at all!  Rank could (or used to) just signify luxuriant, but of course once something develops a negative connotation all the positive meanings of the words tend not to be used.  Still, there they are in the Wiktionary.  Rank means strong or strongly something, at any rate.  It can mean "completely."  That is usually negative, unfortunately; the dictionary gives the example of "rank amateur."  You would not hear anyone call someone a "rank professional."  I certainly wouldn't risk calling anyone else a rank anything.

Rank as a noun is not necessarily used pejoratively, however.  It can be a row of something - good or bad.  It can be a level of society or any kind of numerical designation.  Higher is supposed to be better, of course, and lower worse.

I myself get offended by the idea of rigid caste or a rigid social system.  When rank becomes too strong it becomes rank rank rank!

(And I mean that literally.)  

April 13, 2014                                                    Madison, IN

Ah, the follies of April!

Are they foolish loves, foolish beliefs, or the architectural whimseys of a woman named April?

The English language offers more foolishness and opportunities for folly than any month (or woman) named April.

My first semester in college, I remember a fellow student making fun of some of the coursework:  "What do you mean by 'mean'?"

At the time I shrugged it off - the meaning of the word, of course.  In the context of the sentence, its meaning was obvious.  (Definition.)  Alas, it is one of many observations and questions whose higher meaning (or rather, the higher meaning of which) I didn't get - didn't even think about.

Now the meanings of words torment me (playfully - like a cat with a mouse.)

How can anyone be expected to learn English?

"Mean" has a mean definition as well as a helpful one.  In fact, it has at least two unhelpful definitions:  "Mean" as cruel or spiteful, and "mean" as cheap and stingy.  And the subtleties involved in those meanings!  People call people and servings mean, but they don't call animals "mean."

A helpful meaning of "mean" can be definitional, or it can be mathematical (or statistical to be more precise, I guess.)

Any word in English can be ironical, maybe - except maybe words like iron and steel!  (Although steely could rate.  Oh, and sarcastically saying a wimp has a will of iron.  Forget it.)

April is the meanest month?  Not as in "meanwhile" as far as the calendar year is concerned, although if I am presently doing something "meanwhile" it is certainly in April!

And this is just bandying about the written word.

How about "April is the cruelest month?"  If you heard that spoken and English wasn't your native language, would you wonder if April is the most inspirational for the craft of crewel?

No, I'll try not to be cruel like April.  I'll leave off now.

But I'm hoping my April folly of exploring the multiple meanings of English words will help English as a Second Language students understand what the hell is going on in this incredibly complicated, impossibly nuanced language.

As if I knew.

April 11, 2014                                           Madison, IN

The slide is complete!  see the website below if you want to see a video of the slide.  It is very cool.

Sure, the bridge will be closed for another week for the finishing touches, and it may be a while before the "cantilevered" sidewalk is constructed, but the project is close to being complete.

The bridge has ended up being closed much longer than originally planned, but it is still a far cry from having it closed for a whole year, as used to happen with bridge construction projects.

As far as I can tell, big cities often often have the resources to just build additional bridges.  If I understand correctly, Kentucky and Indiana are building two new bridges in the Louisville area.

That, however, is a whole different story - not visible from my balcony!

At any rate this bridge project has made more than an April fool out of me.  When we moved here almost two years ago, I was looking forward to walking and riding my bike across the bridge that fall.

Maybe this coming summer!

April 9, 2014                                             Madison, IN

According to the bridge has been moved 16 feet.  (It sure doesn't look like it from a distance, but the total it has to be moved is 55 feet, so they have gotten a good start!)  The slide has been suspended due to wind conditions.   Let's hope the next two days have perfect weather so they can finish.

Ferry service, according to the site, will be suspended until the job is done, or until given the go-ahead by the Coast Guard, which has stopped traffic for one/half mile in either direction from the bridge.

In the middle of the afternoon or so, the tornado warning sirens went off.  Obviously they weren't announcing a tornado, so I'm wondering if they had a deal with the bridge construction company to blow the sirens if there were some weather conditions that would advise the halt of operations.

Sigh.  To think that some folks had a slide party for this occasion last Fall!  It's not quite time to break out the champagne yet.

April 8, 2014                                              Madison, IN

Tomorrow is the big day for the bridge slide!  Yay!

If you still need to take the ferry, though, I have heard rumors of people getting soaked - even when it wasn't raining - so dress for wet or take a change of clothes.

In spite of the potential discomfort, these Rockin' Thunder folks deserve kudos for their work, risking themselves in lightning and choppy water.

I heard that at one point there were 60 people waiting to be taken across the river.  With that kind of time pressure and choppy water, no wonder folks were getting sprayed!

At any rate, the end of the bridge closing is in sight.

I can hardly wait to walk across the bridge - not to mention riding my bike across and cruising along some of those country roads!

P.S.  I just talked to Janet of Rockin' Thunder.  Boats aren't allowed within half a mile in either direction of the bridge tomorrow because of the slide, and unfortunately that includes their ferry service.

The slide itself is supposed to last twelve hours, so they will be available again on Thursday to ferry you to work or school.

April 7, 2014                                              Madison, IN

"Guns don't kill people."

April Fool!

Guns do kill people.

You hear a lot these days about how stupid Americans are.  Well, if we are, maybe it is because people think they don't have to use their wits and compassion and their powers of persuasion to make their way in the world and defend themselves.

I keep hoping to see a movie scene inspired by Conrad Hilton's autobiographical account of witnessing his father in confrontation with an angry gunman in old New Mexico.  The father, who habitually went around unarmed, talked the man out of his homicidal rage.  Going home with his son after the encounter, he told his son, "That's why I don't carry a gun.  If I had had a gun, one of us would be dead."

Now that kind of response to a threat displays real courage and confidence, but more than that, it displays concern for other lives than our own.

Imagine going to a local MacDonalds or Seven Eleven and everyone in the place over five years old is packing a gun.  Even the kids have pink or purple models.  Would you feel safer?

If we ever get to the point where all of us carries a gun, there is no doubt in my mind that gunshot wounds will be far and away the first cause of death - and if you get shot, don't expect the best local surgeon to be able to help you.

He'll be in the next bed, incapacitated by a gunshot wound.

April 6, 2014
                                             Madison, IN

We are all fools - whether it is April or not!

I remember once in my thirties, I told a psychiatrist, "Once I have imagined something I am not sure whether it is true or not!"

He probably thought I was looney-tunes, and I kind of did, too.  I wasn't sure later if my statement was the truth, although I'm sure I thought it was at the time.

It turns out, though, that everybody is like that to some extent or another.  Start reading the psychology of "memory" and you find out that people believe what they are told altogether too much!  After being told something by people they trust, they repeat it as truth.  Maybe even having imagined it after they were told, they thought that they had witnessed it themselves!

There is a program on these days that I have not seen yet about people on death row unjustly convicted.  This happens even though the witnesses against them don't realize they are bearing false witness.

If we can be so mistaken we condemn innocent people because we are confused, maybe the only way not to commit false witness is not to bear witness at all unless we know the parties very well.  Even then...

And I won't even mention the intentional false witness and intentional framing of people like the Libyan man who was falsely imprisoned for the Lockerbie jet bombing (I just found out today!  He was the man released on compassionate leave in 2009 - I wondered why at the time.  Maybe because he was innocent?  Generous of them to give him his life back when he was losing it to cancer anyway, don't you think?)

The slipperiness of the truth (and those who only pretend to tell it) does seem to be a good argument for willful oblivion.  Why bother?  That attitude, though, is extremely unhelpful.  The example in the natural world - that of the ostrich burying his head in the sand - is a myth.

I don't think willful oblivion has any survival value at all - except maybe stress reduction.

April 5, 2014                                            Madison, IN

Yesterday I was at the library and grabbed Martha Grimes' new book, The Way of All Flesh [sic - in my mind!]  I felt a little defensive for Samuel Butler (who has long since entered the realm of no flesh) and then got intrigued.  Why would Grimes choose that particular title?  Before I could speculate too much I got to the desk and found, to my chagrin, that the title was The Way of All Fish.

There is no doubt that this was intentional on the part of Grimes and/or her publisher.  I haven't read the mystery yet, so my question of why hasn't had an answer yet (although, like anyone else in the absence of information, I can speculate to high heaven!)

What I would like the answer to, is why am I so willing to jump to conclusions (heh, I almost wrote contusions - or concussions?)  Experience, for one.  We get used to patterns; we get into the habit of patterns.

For another - maybe - confidence teetering over into complacency?  It seems that many of us become more know-it-all as we get older.  I had managed to convince myself that I am less know-it-all than I used to be, but my misreading of this title leaves me not so sure.  What else am I making misreadings - or worse (horrors!) assumptions about?

April Fools were perhaps called such because they were bucolics who had not yet adopted the Julian Calendar which puts the New Year in January.  But if you are going to put the New Year when the light starts returning, shouldn't December 21st be New Year?  And if you aren't going to be scientific about it, isn't April a better time to call a New Year celebration, when Spring is busting out all over?

Ah, from the point of view of everyone else, any one of us could be seen as a fool.

It's the way of all fish!

April 3, 2014                                            Madison, IN

April petal-thrill nothing's still
Lightning bolt wind-volt whinny-colt
Shoo-in moo-in twin fin anythin'
Winter go gungy-ho bye bye do fly
Done gone singy-song yay yay
Happy day better still
Hey, hey May May!
Trill trill

April 2, 2014                                            Madison, IN

April Fool's Day was trying to convince us yesterday that it was June.

Today April is back in character, with showers and even a little bit of thunder.

Janet and Paul who run the Rockin' Thunder business here in Madison giving people boat rides for thrills and scenic tours, have been acting as a ferry for working people who can't use the Madison Milton Bridge, which will be closed for longer than originally planned.

I was wondering about a ferry, but didn't even think about these folks because their boat is a jet boat usually used for recreation.  It is really wonderful that they have stepped up to give the communities on both sides of the Ohio River this service, helpful to the environment as well as the people.

Do they know that they are carrying on a time-honored tradition of service that Abraham Lincoln also performed for a while?  Lincoln, as I recall, did it as a youthful moneymaking venture, while Janet and Paul may only be reimbursed for expenses.  If so, they are being truly noble today, transporting people in the rain.


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