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Rumilluminations October 2014
By: Esther M. Powell
Posted on: Wed, October 01 2014 - 9:44 am

October 31, 2014                                        Madison, IN

I think I know why so many young people are fleeing to the East to join ISIS.

They are suffering from terminal isolation.

October 30, 2014                                        Madison, IN

Maybe the Republicans are against the absentee and early voting because they have a ton of money to throw an advertising blitz at the voters at the last minute.

The Democrats who have been sending us mailers for the last week or so are wasting their money too, though.  We already voted.  At the same time political parties are begging me for more money, they are wasting  on people like me who have already made up their minds and voted.

As one poster recently published on Facebook noted, if one party or the other would just get a larger percentage of its supporters voting at all with no further ads, that party would win.

Unfortunately more of us are willing to go out and buy costumes and candy for Halloween than are willing to go to the polls.

Now there's a scary thought for you!

October 29, 2014
                                        Madison, IN

Today we got what we have been waiting two and one/half years for - a walk into Kentucky via the Milton-Madison Bridge over the Ohio River.

As we headed toward the East at dawn this morning it occurred to us that the pedestrian bridge might finally be open.  As we got closer, I noticed that the barriers were down at the same time my partner saw a man walking up there!

Just as being able to walk straight east on Vaughn street opened up that direction for us, being able to walk across the bridge for the first time opened up the south.  The old bridge was dangerous for walking and I don't think I ever saw a pedestrian on it, although we have elderly neighbors who crossed it often as children.

The walkway is at traffic level on the western side of the bridge, so the bridge itself obstructs the view to the east somewhat, but it is still possible to enjoy its beauty.  I guess they put the walk on the west side figuring more people would be up to see sunsets and would want to see the sight of Madison more than sunrises and nature.

It was exhilarating to finally get that new branch to our daily walk.  The third person we saw on the bridge today was someone who normally speed walks up and down the river park seven times to get his five miles in - I hope he is as happy with his increase in range as we are!

I plan to take that walk several times a week at least - winter or summer.  Our world has opened up.

October 27, 2014                                        Madison, IN

I just looked up the "cloud" computing term in Wikipedia.  Their article said the origin of the term is a little unclear.

I would like to suggest that it might have come from an idea of Kurt Vonnegut's in The Sirens of Titan about a source of information easily available to all.  As well as I recall from the novel, the cloud was somehow in the ether.

Later the meaning of many of the early hooks mentioned in his novel is changed radically by the reality of what they actually meant, but when I first encountered the word in his book I immediately thought of the Internet cloud.

It seems that perhaps the Internet cloud is different in concept from Vonnegut's idea, but the resources it provides at least indirectly supply an infinite (no, no not literally) amount of information to those of us who use it:  probably everybody, whether we know it or not.

So whoever first used the term "cloud" in this concept, speak up!  How did it arise in your mind?

October 25, 2014                                        Madison, IN

It's too bad.  The PBS series about National Parks is beautifully and meticulously done, but the subtitles are unsatisfactory.  Not only are they inaccurate, but sometimes the message conveyed is the exact opposite of that intended.

I understand the need to change wording slightly to reduce the number of letters on the screen.  If the meaning remains unchanged, I remain silent.  But all too often what the screen says is not what the person is saying, with really inexcusable inaccuracies.

For instance, the person on the screen is saying, "We must curb our acquisitivess..." while the subtitles report "We must curb our inquisitiveness...."  This is not just messy work.  This is a mistake that changes the whole meaning of what is being said.

Now I can just imagine someone saying sarcastically, "If you hear so well, why do you have the subtitles on anyway?"

Well, to tell the truth, even though I have been watching British TV and movies for years I am still not that good at understanding British accents.  My partner and I have started using the subtitles to make up for what our ears, eyes, and minds are failing to pick up.  Now even if it is an American talking, we use the subtitles for pretty much everything because we have discovered that the music is often so loud that it covers the voices and we don't want to miss any dialogue.

The downside of this habit is that the subtitles of movies and TV often confuse and/or irritate.  What about the poor individual who can truly hear nothing, who is dependent on the subtitles to know what is going on? 

Good luck to him, I say.  It is definitely a case of the "medium is the message" and this medium has an intolerable level of noise.

Of course I do tolerate it; my partner and I try to listen to the show, read the subtitles, do a little lipreading and listen to the running commentary issuing from the other recliner throughout.

Why, we are juggling commentary like crazy - armchair multi-taskers!

October 24, 2014                                       Madison, IN

October, although visually one of my favorite months, is also a very difficult time of year for me.  I wonder if that is true for many others; maybe that is why Halloween really exists.

Darkness is upon us, and with it all kinds of dangers: cold, hidden threats, inclement wet discomfort and slippery treachery.

Maybe Halloween is an attempt to headlong address these unconscious fears:  either take on and "play" at being evil personae like witches, devils, and pirates, or conjure them away by being a princess, a fairy, or a kitchen appliance!

Upon a quick superficial search I haven't really found anything traditionally comparable in the Southern Hemisphere to what we celebrate in the North.  I'm kind of curious.  Don't these peoples need some help facing their winter?  Doesn't Christmas preparation seem kind of a waste of time when it is beautiful outdoors?  And what do the folks in South America and Africa do on the shortest day of the year?

Obviously more research is in order.

I wonder, though, if the religious sects that don't allow their children to participate in the national catharsis on Halloween aren't being counterproductive when it comes to dealing with real unconscious (or conscious!) evil.

October 23, 2014                                    Madison, IN

People are marveling about the polarization of populations these days.  How do three teenage girls get so obsessed with ISIS that they decide to fly to Frankfurt to try to join up.  (And WHY???  It has occurred to me that they were going to try to infiltrate the group and try to fight it from within.  ...but - teenagers?)  Why do men who could have difficult but peaceful lives decide to kill random soldiers in a prosperous, relatively stable country?

(Note to everyone - the people on this planet who do not experience their own lives as difficult are fewer than 1%!)

Reading It's a Jungle in There has really informed my understanding of how this can happen, especially in the face of Facebook's terrifying "experiments."

If I understand correctly, Facebook is not giving me all my friends' status reports and shares - it is giving me the kinds of shares that I have responded to in the past.  This sounds like Facebook is acting as if it were part of my own consciousness and my own conscience.

In other words, Facebook is channeling your personal attention (which is more important than you might think!) in ever-greater rivers onto the same subjects, reinforcing your opinions and possibly even stoking your passions by choosing what you are viewing.

Now there's a creepy thought for you.  Talk about mind-control!

October 22, 2014                                          Madison, IN

Oh, the delightful shivers of Halloween!  The shivers we feel with the cold weather coming on blend right in.

The Atlantic Monthly article that has been making the rounds on Facebook about cat parasites (Toxoplasma gondii) that can invade humans and make them crazy (to speak colloquially) begs for retrograde thoughts about witches and their cat media - er, or mediums?  Or are they called seconds?

Oh, that's right!  Witches and their familiars!

With the coming of Halloween (and that test that indicated that in my last life I died burned at the stake as a witch,  (heh, heh, would that have made me a stake steak?)) has made my thoughts turn to the poor souls who have been drowned, burnt at the stake, and otherwise tormented for being "witches" over the centuries.

Charles McKay has written that if a woman was was old, ugly and poor she was perfect fodder for witch-hunters.  I might add alone to that list, but McKay may have mentioned that also.  (We humans love to pick on the defenceless, don't we?)

Now add to that list of disadvantages the possibility that the poor old woman had a cat that might have transmitted its parasites to her, making her more than a little odd, and it seems even more likely that she might suffer from the predilections of her society to "create" and punish witches.

Did you know that people used to be paid for their services as witch-hunters?  Now there is a scary thought for a scary time of year.

Darkness is increasing!  A colder wind is blowing.  Halloween is coming.


P.S.  I just went back to my administration page and noticed that the number of recorded visitors to my site this month is 666!

Triple Brrrrrr!

October 20, 2014                                       Madison, IN

People always expect science to be exact.

Maybe it is if it is taken far enough, but with biology that doesn't seem to have happened yet.  The assumptions we make aren't always safe ones.

Did you know, for instance, that not everyone's normal temperature is 98.6?  You hear all the time that it is.

I know people who routinely have temperatures than can dip below 98, even if they are sick.  What is a "low-grade" fever for someone like that?  If they have a temperature of 99 degrees, the fever is perhaps higher than it seems.

When it comes to infectious diseases, what might seem to be extraordinary caution might turn out to have been barely good enough.

October 19, 2014                                        Madison, IN


I admit it.  The corporations have defeated me.

Any job that requires an online application is inaccessible to me (unless I cheat (a whole other story I may already have told) and then the job itself is too fraught with outrage to be borne.)

When it comes to buying their products, I am not much more successful.  Er, don't get me wrong - I can BUY them.  I just can't pretend I can understand what I am buying.

I used to be under the illusion that I could be a smart shopper.  On the rare occasion that I bought anything already prepared I could look at the label and reject things that had undesirable elements like artificial sweeteners.

Now, of course, books like Salt Sugar Fat (or some permutation thereof) make me well aware that manufacturers can hide ingredients under chemical designations that I, even with hours of college-level inorganic and organic chemistry under my belt, cannot detect.

Before now I was able to convince myself that I was at least good at dealing with relative prices.

Take olives, for instance (I always do!)

Last week my partner chose "Queen Olives Stuffed with Pimiento" over "Hand Placed Queen Olives Stuffed with Pimiento" of the same brand for the weekly shopping cart.  I probably sneered a little.  I like what I have come to feel as the density of those hand-packed olives.  I felt that there might be less water weight to those olives.  A perfectly reasonable justification for the choice might be claimed on the basis that every day when I slice one portion of olives (i.e. one olive) on my salad it is less messy than the mechanically apparently more loosey-goosey jars of olives.  I believed that the extra expense might be worth the aesthetic pleasure of the de-jarring experience.

My mate, super-sensitive as always, began talking to me about price.  Well sure, I thought.  He is probably right.  And maybe he is - I'm not going to try to dig up weeks-old receipts to make an analysis.  Priced per ounce at the store, the hand-packed ones are more expensive.  (Although I have seen the relative per-ounce prices (at a different store in a different town) to be inaccurate, so wildly so that I actually noticed.)

It is when we brought the olives home that I really began to notice weirdness.

I had already idly observed that one olive from the hand-packed bottle is one serving, while from the other more automated bottle one olive is only half a serving.  Odd, I thought; one jar must have bigger olives.

So today I hauled out the jars and went to work.

Never mind that the new unhandpacked bottle had never before been opened and did not respond to a couple of bangs (both straight down and at an angle) so I had to heat up some water and dip the lid in it to open the jar at all.  Bottled goods not meant for drinking have ever been so.  My mom taught me the hot water trick when I was a girl.

No, although irritating, that is irrelevant, although come to think of it I don't recall having trouble opening the hand packed olives.  No, what is a mystery are the serving sizes.

What I did discover through my olivine research is that the olives are the same size - about .2 ounce.

The hand placed (and see?  the company doesn't call them hand-packed, but hand placed implying even more care in bottling) one olive serving has 1.5 grams of fat.  The other jar  olive serving has 2 grams of fat.  So per serving the hand-placed olive may not be meatier, but fatter: half again as fatty per olive. 

When it comes to salt, the olive in the hp jar is also saltier with 220 mgs of salt.  One half serving of the other has 175 mgs of salt.

The ingredients lists of both jars are identical.  The hand-placed olive jar net-weighs 14 ounces and contains "about forty" servings.  The other jar weighs 10 ounces and contains about 17 servings.  That would be 8 grams of olives (if weighed individually) in the former vs 6.8 grams of olives in the latter per jar.

Looking at the net weights, I calculate that one serving of hand packed "weighs" an average of .35 oz (almost twice the weight of the actual olive involved) and one serving of the other packaging process (two olives) weighs an average of .58 ounces.  If you help yourself (as I did for many months) to a "serving" of two olives in the seemingly cheaper bottle you are getting more fat, more salt, and more olives - but not more weight per olive.

Is anyone else getting confused yet?  I am totally confused.  Maybe I was right and the difference lies in the water content, but it seems that the case might be the opposite.  I'm not sure, because I am too thoroughly quandrifried.  (Don't bother to look it up; it is not a word, but it is meaningful!)

I don't know and it doesn't really matter because according to me I have won my point.

These corporations have brainstorm meetings to out-psychologize and professional mathematicians to crunch their numbers and out-calculate us.  They put the same ingredients in the same proper order but the relative quantities (by weight and percentage-wise) remains obscure.

There is no way that I can lick the manufacturers' ability to obfuscate their marketing.  All I can do is, lick, lovingly, their, er  products.

Unless I decide to boycott their fatty salty olives thus making my salads healthier and, let's face it less yummy.  (You would think that holding a serving to one measly olive would have been enough!  In the old days I would have considered 3 such olives as an ordinary serving!) And think of all the stress these purchases cause!  Is that good for my health?

Er what did you say?  About the weekly marketing?  What about the humus and the yoghurt and the almond milk?

Which brings me to my last point: this has all been about - just olives!

I'm licked.  And I hope the megacorporations are enjoying the experience!

October 14, 2014                                        Madison, IN

Um... not to be disrespectful or anything, but I think it is important to remember that Jesus, wise and right as he was about many things, was only 36 when he died.

Think of how many societal values he must have just slurped up along with the rest of his fellows - especially those "truths" that didn't interfere with his own personal inclinations.

Sure he was a revolutionary (and yes, I believe he was, quite literally, a revolutionary) but in the face of Roman occupation and struggling with class and religious narrow-mindedness, he might not even have questioned the wrongness of certain sexual practices.

It is almost laughable to have a whole bunch of old men (here and abroad) stymied and perplexed and challenged by an issue that had Jesus lived to a ripe old, say 70, he might have encountered and addressed.

More power to the Catholic Church, the last Christian institution I would have expected to grow in this respect.  They have preceded in humanity many Protestants and other "Christian" sects over here in the supposedly liberal New World.

October 13, 2014                                        Madison, IN

Sounds like it is time for mandatory quarantine for people who have been significantly exposed to those with the Ebola virus.  I read in The Week a while back that in the face of epidemic people become irrational and reckless, and it sounds as if at least the irrational part is accurate.

I guess we don't have the judgment in the face of our own experience that we have when it comes to other people!  No surprise.

What puzzles me is people's use of Fate in a way that to me sounds like an excuse.

Just finished Carl Hiaasen's Basket Case (much fun, with large doses of reality thrown in about the quandary of present-day newspapers) and he has a ninety-two-year-old endearing though minor character who decided "early on" that he was going to die of old age and proceeded to quit smoking, stop hunting (for fear of gun accidents) and eat more fish, among other potentially dangerous activities to improve his chances of doing so.

Sure, bad weird crazy things happen.  People do bad weird crazy things that put others at risk for selfish reasons of their own (and I do not plead innocent here.)

But if you just shrug and say "It's fate" it's the same as saying you don't believe in free will.

And I guess I'll say the same thing on the subject.  True for you, but not for me!

Your Fate is my Circumstances Beyond My Control.

When it comes to Ebola, I would rather, thank you, not be subjected to sublime or Divine irrationality. 

October 12, 2014                                        Madison, IN

One of the most helpful psychological ideas I have ever read was the observation that conflict in an individual is a sign of growth.  One part of the psyche is trying to change and it is meeting with resistance from another part.  There is a lot of internal warring going on.

It occurred to me this morning that this is also true of nations.  Our civil war, for instance, was due in part to changing concepts about statehood and human rights.

Just as an individual in conflict will at least temporarily have trouble acting for his/her own (or, sometimes anyone's) good, so nations in conflict can suffer severe trauma and dysfunctionality (not to mention mayhem and death).

There is no doubt in my mind that our nation became much stronger and more powerful because the states stayed together.  It's too bad the conflict could not have been worked out more peacefully, but I'm still glad the country stayed at least workably unified.

Just look at the Christian Religion in the Western Hemisphere:  once the Protestant movement took root there were offshoots and splinters galore.

The tendency so many countries now with citizens who talk of "independence" and "secession" I cannot see as a positive thing.  The ironic thing about the fact that this is occurring so much now is that the constant turmoil in the Middle East should show us how impossible peace and growth become when negotiations between factions break down.

Gee, come to think of it, our own Congress can provide one of the best examples!  Come on, folks, grow up!

It reminds me of another valuable psychological truth: it is better to make a mistake while attempting positive action than to suffer complete paralysis!

October 10, 2014                                        Madison, IN

When did Ebola first make the national news in the United States?  I swear I was still living in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the time, which would make it back in the nineties!

So why did the pharmaceutical companies not jump on this and work on a vaccine?

Is it because the problem was "over there" the same way AIDS was "over there" and then "them?"

Is it because there weren't enough victims to make the prevention or cure worth while?

What kills me about this is because we repeat this behavior again and again, even though we already know the world is now too small to ignore what is happening over there.

And why did I not talk about this until the Ebola virus was on the threshold of our country?

Well, duh.

October 9, 2014                                          Madison, IN

I guess I've written about this before, but I was struck again by the phenomenon yesterday morning, when my partner and I went out to witness the eclipse of the moon, or what is supposedly called a "blood moon."

Maybe the description is more apt in the Southwest, where there is more dust in the air, but here the moon could more accurately have been called a blush moon - and even that would have been stretching the truth.

That moon was about as red as Mars.  Maybe you can see the red through the telescope, but with the naked eye it seems like something that well, yes, you can imagine.

Yesterday we had binoculars, and to tell the truth I got more pleasure from the unusual changing shapes and aura of the white light reflecting from the moon than anything else.

Still, my wondering at the excessive dramatic flair of the people who named the blood moon is probably geographically inappropriate.  In Indiana, cloud-prone as it is, we are lucky to have seen the eclipse at all!

October 7, 2014                                          Madison, IN

Language is something that never ceases to amaze.

(Amaze, for instance.  Is that a striking cease of confusion, for instance?  Never mind - I'll look it up later.)

No, what I am thinking about right now is communication.  A letter, a discrete symbol of communication (e) becomes something that is not a letter at all but a big mongo bunch of letters all strung together to compose something else - a letter!

Amazing!  Is this an example of the part representing the whole?  (That defines a poetic term which I forget at the moment, something else to look up, sigh.)

Was the first man of letters a man of missives or a man of texts?

And there is another polyseme for you (no, Spell Check, don't tell me that's not a word!  I saw it when I was looking up revelations.  Another thing to check out, another sigh.)

Text was originally - what?  The printed page as published by Gutenberg, or something earlier done in handwritten script?  When we are in school talking about our texts we mean textbooks.  (Er, correction that should be in the past tense.  Nowadays a text is something you read on your phone.
This new text is a shortened kind of email, both of which are read from screens.)

The text is to the email kind of what a postcard used to be to a letter - something done in a hurry.

What a luxury it used to seem, I imagine, to have the leisure to pick up a leaf (not directly from a tree!) of paper, position it in front of you, pick up your pen or quill and write a genteel letter to a loved one, to be delivered later by Pony Express!

I imagine a wrist enclosed in ruffles affixing a commemorative stamp.

Nowadays it is just too much trouble, I guess.  People don't even send postcards any more.

October 6, 2014                                         Madison, IN

It is sure hard to be objective when talking about family in the abstract, even.

People's perceptions about their own families are often very different from others' (gee, put that way it sounds so obvious, doesn't it?)

A person who puts his child into the hospital who says he is not a child abuser, for instance.

People yak about the importance of family, but family sure seems more important to the poor than the rich.  If the rich think family is so important, why do the statistics say otherwise?  The rich have fewer children.  (Where did I read this?  Um... maybe in that book about the Coming Population Crash but I have seen it in several places.  The betterment of the economic condition of the Japanese and the resultant lowering of the child/parent ratio are often used as an example.

I love my family, I believe, as much as your average person.  Maybe more, since I don't romanticize it.  That means "the family" must be be a living reality for me.

Ha, ha, I just realize since my parents' death I have been romanticizing them more.

See what I mean?  It's hard to be objective.

October 5, 2014                                        Madison, IN

I remember reading an observation that the Romantic poets made a big deal out of nature because so many people were already cut off from it due to the Industrial Revolution.  Once people started romanticizing about it, evidently, it was already gone.  That was, of course, in the old world.

It makes me wonder, though, about our nation's current obsession with family and death - especially, if Breaking Bad is any indication, the combination thereof.  There is a lot of lip service paid to family in this country.  In my view the family is definitely romanticized by many.

Makes me wonder if our dual obsession is a sign that in our Western civilization, the family is already dead.

If fundamentalist religions are the best example of the importance of family (and for sure the male members thereof!) maybe the death of the family is not such a bad thing.

Now I guess it's time to stone me.

October 4, 2014                                         Madison, IN

As much fun as they are, I have come to view Facebook quizzes as an evil.  (By this I mean fun quizzes that are to be found on Facebook - and probably used by them, I bet.)

Note I do not say they are Evil, just evils.

Multiple choice tests are insidious.  They try to force the taker to choose between responses, none of which is, perhaps, as accurate as the one that could be composed by the testee.  (Yeah, yeah, I know, "testee" isn't really a word, at least according to Spell Check.  But you understood what I meant, didn't you?)

Anyway, I started to take a Facebook test yesterday (I forget what it was about - for me they are Recreation) and I could not honestly pick out a response.  The only one that was accurate included an explanation that certainly would not be mine!  What a drag.  I just left the exam room.

Why am I bothering to take exception to these tests?  Because I believe that they lead to carelessness and a high tolerance for inaccuracy.  (I realize these might be the same thing.  ???)

I consider the possibility that we might accustom ourselves to and tolerate the condition of having to choose among a limited offering of bad options.

Why should we train our minds in a habit like this?

What's more, I think, in imagining that these tests tell us about ourselves or others about us, they lead us all farther from the real truth.

Ergo, they are a waste of time.  Not Evil, but certainly not good.

I prefer to waste my time on pursuits that instruct me and foster precision, not those that merely obfuscate and mystify me.

October 3, 2014                                         Madison, IN

Hmm.. I violated my both/and rule when I compared our fear of Ebola to what should be our fear of childhood obesity.  They both pose dangers, and why play one off against the other?

I knew that Ebola would invade our population eventually but I expected it to be months, or at least many weeks!  Luckily it is not the most contagious virus in the world, but it does pose a threat.

The incubation can be as much as 21 days, but the usual time for the display of symptoms after exposure is 8 - 10 days.  Supposedly it is not contagious before symptoms manifest themselves.

I wish I could believe all these assurances.

Meanwhile, I just happened by a drug store yesterday and got both flu and pneumonia vaccinations (the latter of which, I am told, I because of my age will not have to get again).  They hurt more than usual.  Loss of muscle mass?

Must start working out again.

October 1, 2014                                         Madison, IN

If God were the Creator, why does it necessarily follow that he should have control over his creations?

I don't have control over my creations.  I made quilts, gave them away, and completely lost control over what happened to them.

I write stories and mini-essays, and in a way, the less control I have over them, the better.  They are for no one but me if they are not read!

Anyone who has ever had children has experienced the phenomenon of loss of control.  In most people's case, this happens during or shortly after the teen years.  In my case, I felt that I lost control of my children right around year three!

If people had to invent God, it seems they also had to make him absolutely controlling.

Last night I dreamt I was talking about God, and I said, "He wants to control everything, and I don't like it!"

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