Monthly Archives: November 2012

Reflections ~ November 25, 2012

If I could
chase away
the watchers
in the yard
the voices
in the night

If I could
drop everything
fix the phone
fix the bookcase
find your friends,
make it work

If I could
find the lost
you can’t describe
move the things
you never saw
put it back

If I could
say where she went
where he went
why we’re here
and not there
wherever there
might be

If I could
know what
you’d eat
what you won’t
what you’d wear
or not and when

If I could
I’d change
your world
give it shape
and harmony

I’m sorry, love
I truly am
I only wish I could

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Reflections ~ On the Season

Each holiday season I tend to spend a bit more time than usual reflecting on our world.  Where we are, where we appear to be going, things mankind might strive to do, if only…  It is a time when I experience joy, and sadness.  It is a time when I wish for our world a true sense of brotherhood for all our differences.  For whatever creed, nation, tribe, geographic location, gender (of whatever persuasion) or station in life; we all, each one, contribute something miraculous to the universe.  The existence of the human spirit.

I want to challenge you this season to look at one thing – just one – that bugs you.  Something that you don’t like.  A person, a place, a thing, an idea, a group of people.  Find a way to see that “thing” in a different light.  Not necessarily to change your mind or your convictions; but maybe to bring a little understanding into why that “thing” is so bothersome to you.  I challenge you to see that “thing” from a different point of view.  Can you know the inner feelings of that person?  Why they chose the life they chose?  Can you know how people in that place and time feel and why they feel the way they do?  Is there somewhere that you can learn and, perhaps, find a bit of yourself in their hopes and dreams?  Can you, if for just a moment, realize that they do have dreams?

Take an idea, turn it inside out and truly understand why you don’t like it.  Do you fear something in it?  Does it bring thoughts or feelings that make you uncomfortable?  Is it that you just never took the time to understand where the idea came from?  Have you given thought as to why that person or group of people feel so terribly convicted of their own thoughts and feelings?

I am not saying that all actions are good, or that they all have some valid goal.  I do not follow a philosophy that makes all things “relative.”  Part of the sadness I experience is how determined some of us are in following a course involving the destruction of others.  I cannot grasp the purpose.  But you know what?  I can grasp the pain.  I cannot not fathom the need to control others; but I can grasp the fear of lack of control.

Take this season to reflect on what thing you can see differently; even if you will never agree or like it.  And, while you’re at it, find some small piece of good you can give to the world in return for the simple miracle of having been given life and the chance to have the education, the means  and the opportunity to read such things as this.

Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.
— written by Max Ehrmann in the 1920s —

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Filed under My Journey with Job, Personal Journeys

Reflections ~ November, 2012 continued

Short apology for missing things this past weekend.  I’m afraid my work life has been a bit intense of late.  I will be back with a post this weekend.  In the meantime, I thought I would share a tradition of mine for Thanksgiving weekend.  It always seemed a quiet time before the onrush of the Christmas season.  A bit of reflection, a bit of preparation.  Sometimes, if I’m not spending hours in the kitchen, I actually start to prepare for the upcoming season by sorting out Christmas card lists, thinking about what I will decorate (no, I wait until much closer to Christmas to actually do so), and what the year has meant to me.  This year’s Christmas card reflects that to some extent.  So, to make up for my absence last weekend, here is a bit of art from my friend PansyLee VanMeereren and a bit of verse from me:

A year of change

A year the same

Memories lost

Moments gained

Fears conquered

Goals achieved

A season

To reflect

The reason

To believe

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Reflections ~ November, 2012

I saw his eyes today
The fierce love of life
The constant challenge
To the God he loves
The unending wonder
The intense love of me
I saw his eyes today
Then they were gone

 

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Filed under Caregiving Backstage, Poetry

Building Bridges ~ Building Societies

Discover Magazine: “Cooperation Instinct” by Kristin Ohlson, December 2012 Issue

Courtesy WANA Commons
TShearer226

While taking a day “off” I became quite interested in an article that my husband brought to me to read.  The article was published in the December issue of Discover Magazine and it is about the research of one Martin Nowak.   He has, evidently, caused quite a stir in the scientific community.  Rather ironic, or perhaps typical.  Said “community” can show both extremes of cooperative effort at any moment in time with very interesting results.

Dr. Nowak is a Professor of Biology and of Mathematics at Harvard University and directs the program for Evolutionary Dynamics.  In other words, he works through the mathematical interpretation of evolutionary processes.  His ideas on how we learned to cooperate have caused quite a kerfuffle amongst evolutionary biologists.  It was his contention, however, that the original model of “inclusive fitness” just didn’t work when it was put to the test mathematically.  He came up with something quite a bit different by using a page out of game theory called “the prisoner’s dilemma.”  Lost you?  Okay, let’s go back to the beginning.

One of the issues with pure Darwinism is that “survival of the fittest” does not describe how communities of creatures manage to live together; how they learned to cooperate.  How the individual came to the conclusion that risking its life might be to the advantage of the group as a whole.  At face value cooperation appears to be counter-intuitive.  This includes humans as well as communities involving cooperation between humans and other creatures; even communities of other creatures.  Now, I know I have friends that will say something such as, “Oh, Dear.  NOT Evolution!”  However, if we are to understand human culture (anthropology) we do need to know how our institutions evolved even if you choose not to agree with biological evolution.  (We will get to that one day, so stay tuned).  So, let’s look at the question of “where did cooperation come from?”

As mentioned, the accepted theory at this point is that cooperation, altruism, and all those tendencies that cause an individual to risk their own life for the public good (or for another individual) arise from the drive to “protect ones relations.”  Even if you are not protecting your own ability to procreate, you are contributing to the preservation of your kinsmen.  Dr. Nowak threw a big cherry-smoke bomb in the middle of that theory.  He didn’t like the math.

It all started when Nowak was at the University of Vienna and happened to meet a gentleman by the name of Karl Sigmund, a mathematician.  Dr. Sigmund gave a talk based on the prisoner’s dilemma, a game theory model devised in the 1950s.  For fans of the TV series Numb3rs, you may remember an episode based on this mathematical model.  The theory is based on the responses of various “players” given the risk/benefit ratio for each participant.  It goes something like this:  You and another individual have been arrested on suspicion of being involved in a crime.  You are each being held separately and have no contact.  The police offer a “deal” to each of you.

“If you confess and incriminate your accomplice while he or she remains silent, you will be convicted of a lesser crime, serving just one year in prison while your accomplice serves four.  In the parlance of the game, you have “defected” from your friendship.  If you and your accomplice both refuse the deal and stay true to each other – remaining “cooperators” in the game’s lingo – you will both be convicted of a lesser crime and serve two-year sentences, since the police do not have enough evidence to convict either one of you of the more serious crime.  If you both testify against each other – that is, if you mutually defect – then the police will convict both of you for the serious crime but give you only three years, since you provided some evidence.”  (from the article, age 37)

So, if one or both “defect“the sentence is less.  If you happen to be the one that didn’t defect, then you get the full brunt of the consequences.  Nowak and Sigmund developed a program to test iterative occasions of the prisoner’s dilemma.  Who would survive and what would be the social trends?  The model also provides many, many variations that can be mathematically assessed.

During some two decades of crunching numbers and testing results, it was discovered that there is a progression from one outcome to another.  At one point, when Nowak returned to the lab in Vienna, he discovered the math had arrived at a new modification (or winning strategy for survival), the advent of something he called, “generous tit for tat.”  This was the development of “forgiveness.”  This version indicated that we never forget a good turn, but we do occasionally forgive a bad one.

As a consequence of his research (at that of his colleagues) Dr. Nowak has developed many variations to test his theories and has arrived at five basic mechanisms that characterize cooperation.

  1. Tit for Tat, direct reciprocity.  We are all familiar with this one!  I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.  In Facebook jargon this would be “I’ll like you if you like me.”
  2. Indirect reciprocity or reputation.  When I was growing up there were all sorts of sayings about protecting your reputation and that once broken it was very hard to fix.  Well, the math bears this out.  People who do not have experience with a particular individual will grant cooperation to those who have a reputation for cooperating.   Without that reputation support is far less likely to occur.
  3. Spatial selection.  This means that we tend to support those who are closest to us physically, a type of cooperation and interaction that comes from proximity.  Social networks aid in survival which nurtures and expands cooperation.  Think, barn raising.  With the advent of the internet the definition of “close proximity” is changing dramatically.
  4. Multilevel selection.  This expands the cooperation into large groups such as cities, countries, organizations.  Such larger communities cannot survive without a reasonable amount of cooperation.
  5. Kin Selection, something similar to where evolutionary biology started and seems determined to defend.  We cooperate with blood relatives to protect our “family” progeny.  Dr. Kowak has discovered this develops within the scope of a broader social base and not under the guidelines of strict kinship.

Nowak himself is not really clear about why there was such a “foaming at the mouth” reaction to his paper (first published in Nature).  Some mention is made in the article that the field may be super-sensitive to showing any chips in the armor of evolutionary science in the face of opposition by creationists and intelligent design adherents.   I find that rather sad since the premise of science is to seek, test, try, break and rebuild and see what comes out.  It is, in many ways, a cooperative effort.

In addition to finding out what makes humans tick, Dr. Nowak’s theories have been used to test the risk/benefit ratio in non-human scenarios.  When the model was applied to the treatment of HIV, the indications were that the virus propagated so rapidly that the best way to treat it was with a multiple drugs, all at once.  This, of course, is what we have found to be successful and why we use a “cocktail” to treat people suffering from AIDS.  There is much more in the article and I highly recommend trying to locate a copy.

Cooperation, as we know, is not just a human trait.  We find it all over nature.  Orcas and dolphins organize their hunts and cooperate to gain the greatest take.  Male Emperor Penguins keep each other warm during Antarctic winters.  Pack animals organize to hunt larger game and some of those targets will organize to protect the young; as a herd and not just as parents.  Various insects organize to feed the whole community.  All across nature we see ways and means of protecting the whole even when it may endanger the individual.  I have, in fact, observed domestic cats cooperating to catch a rodent hiding under a shed when there was only enough rodent to feed one cat.

As it happens, I find this whole subject rather timely.   We in America are suffering from a major crisis in “cooperative effort.”  Cooperation is not something that will turn us all into socialists; it is a matter of survival.  After millennium of development, the world has consistently learned that cooperation can lead to more than mere survival; it can help us accomplish fantastic goals.  It conquered uncharted territories from the land across the river to the moon and beyond.  It created technology that provided advances in medicine, engineering, science, social justice and social responsibility.  It helped the human race improve shelter, clothing, food, general welfare and access to knowledge.  One does not have to agree in all points to cooperate.  In fact, many times through cooperation we find a solution better than either original idea.  “Divided we fall” is not a cliché; it is a fundamental fact of life on earth and a critical piece of basic survival.  So, which prisoner are you?

Love to hear from you folks!  I get ideas from friends on Facebook, comments, random readings and pointed glares.  Let me know what you would like to hear about and I’ll see what I can dig up!

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Journey with Job, Natural Sciences from the Observation Deck

Book Review ~ Walking the Streets of Ancient Salisbury

Sarum, by Edward Rutherfurd, available for under $15.00

So, this week we are back to reviewing books from the library in my head (and in my basement).  Some unknown years ago I managed to acquire a copy of a rather large book (1056 pages) entitled “Sarum.”  At the time I wasn’t really drawn to the types of historical fiction that started with the first cooling rock.  Rutherfurd changed that opinion forever.

The book is written about Salisbury, England and starts not quite at the first cooling rock, but at least at the point that England, destined to become an empire, becomes an island.  What I found intriguing about Rutherfurd is his ability to tell fiction through the eyes of the man and woman on the street (or around the fire).  Yes, all the events and dates we learned in world history are there, but they happen in the parlors and dining rooms, shops and farmhouses of the people of each age.  He is able to engage the reader with each turn of events by building his story using five families whose personality and physical traits seem to follow them throughout history; even as their fortunes change.

I also found his interpretations and presentations fascinating.  One bit of story line starts with an ancient hunter/gatherer who carves a stone into a representation of his beloved wife.  This bit of carving is found during the building of the great cathedral by a worker.  Thinking that it was a precious idol from some ancient ancestor, the worker hides it high in the superstructure of the church where he is working.  A love note from the distance past preserved in a monument ostensibly constructed for love of God in the distance future.  Almost poetic, don’t you think?

Another sequence I found delightful was the great debate over whether or not women have souls as well as the spiritual struggle of many when England began the transition from Catholic to Protestant doctrine.  Rutherfurd describes the heart-rending decisions of a populace well saturated in the teaching of a Roman church taking the first steps toward a different religious practice.  Is one sure to earn eternal damnation if one accepts the Eucharist from the hand of a priest NOT ordained by Rome?  Is it sacrilege to accept the Eucharist from a man who does not believe in transubstantiation; a belief that the wine literally turns into the blood of Christ, the bread into his body?  This argument is again played out in living rooms, dining rooms, and the thoughts of the characters.

Some would say that the book can come across as an anthology of sorts rather than a cohesive tale.  I think that Rutherfurd chose what, for him and many others, were the defining points of the place of his birth and wove them into story lines of the many generations, sometime with short vignettes, sometimes with well developed tales.  This somehow echoes the amount of information we have for each era.  He covers such things as the construction of Stonehenge, the building of the Cathedral, the arrival, departure and absorption of England’s many conquerors, royal marriages, World War II, the Reformation, the Black Death and many more momentous and forgotten moments of English history.   To cover this much territory with any sense of consistency is quite a challenge.  I believe the challenge is well met.

Meticulous in his research, skilled in his story-telling, you will find this author will walk you through the streets of Salisbury throughout its long history of else-when.  Say hello to folks when you visit.
How do you like your history served up?  Text book style?  Narrative, but all factual?  Cast in light of fictional tales?  What parts of history have you grown to love?  If there was any other time that you could live in, what would it be?  I really love to hear from folks!  Drop a line.

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Filed under Humanties for the Unbound Mind, My Bookshelf (and a movie or two), My Bookshelf ~ Fiction