Iguana Man's World

(Those closest to Iguana Man will understand the derivation of the name.  All others may guess.)


Introduction

Creation of this website was the spontaneous act of Iguana Man--a cautious person who rarely acts impulsively.
The extrovert wife in his marriage hails this act of his--this following through on a whim--as a breakout moment.  Iguana Man himself, an
introvert, is simply pleased that a small technical challenge has been mastered.
Wife has another motive in lauding this action.  She has long been the sole audience for Iguana Man's "Commentaries"--she now envisions this burden being shared by a larger audience.  She, of course, has her own things to do, places to go, people to see--a life full of subject matter for its own set of "Commentaries."  Hopefully, she may be induced to contribute "Commentaries" herein as time goes on.
The designation "Iguana Man", or its frequently used abbreviation "IM", serves the useful purpose of anonymity.  The arguments for and against "Anonymity" will be the subject of a near-future Commentary.

Read on or mouse-click elsewhere,
Iguana Man

E-mail:  iguanaman@iguanaman.org
02/20/06

(Commentaries::  31-Places, 30-Flying, 29-Haiku, 28-Edinburgh, 27-U.S.into Space, 26-Yeats, 25-Five Books, 24-Famous People, 23-The Constitution, 22-Music, 21-Episttemology, 20-Chickens, 19-Dichotomy, 18-Games, 17-Botany, 16-The Wheels, 15-Office Decor, 14-Alfred the Great, 13-News Junkie, 12-Trees, 11-Neanderthal, 10-Maps, 9-Dostoyevsky, 8-Comics, 7-Dalai Lama, 6-Evolution II, 5-Russia, 4-Beer Cans, 3-Denmark, 2-Anonymity, 1-Evolution) 

  Commentary No. 31

 Places 

A relative of IM wanted to know all the places to which he had beenHence thefollowing list.

North Ameridca

United States

41 states, missing Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Canada

 Province of ManitobaWinnipeg, Gimli

Province of OntarioFort Frances, Thunder Bay, Toronto, Niagara Falls, Kingston.

Mexico

Nuevo Laredo, Ciudad Victoria, Mexico City, Cuernavaca, Acapulco, Monterey, Matamoros, Ciudad Juarez

Africa    

 Eritrea, Asmara

Egypt, Cairo 

Asia

Turkey, Istanbul, Ankara, Sinop, Samsun

Iran, Tehran, Mashhad.

Europe

Greece, Athens.

Italy, Rome, Florence, Milan, Coltano, Tyrennia.

France, Paris.

Spain, Madrid, Jerez de la Frontera, Rota, Torrejon,

West Germany, West Berlin, Hannover, Frankfurt, Helmstedt,

England, London, Croydon, Reading.

Wales, Newport, Caerwent.

Scotland, Edinburgh, Prestwick.


Commentary No. 30

Flying

From one of IM’’s old floppies:

1 Dec 71

Glare and cotton form our world

At 35,000 feetC

A surrealistic voyage

Strapped in a bucket seat.

 

An environment synthetic,

The pride of the Boeing men,

Cannot still the nagging gnaw

Of wondering where or whenC

 

This artificial speck with wings,

Filled with precious souls,

Ventures into the heavens

To further earthly goals.

 

And when the bird comes down to rest,

Tenseness leaves the air;

But then we folks will laugh and say

That tension wasn=t there.

 In a drawer in a file cabinet beside IM’s desk is an old file folder with 19 pages of old lined paper.  Each page has 10 columns.  The column headings are:

 DATE, DEPART, TIME, ARRIVE, TIME, AIRLINE, FLIGHT, EQUIPMENT, MILES, CUMULATIVE

A typical line might read:

7 MAY 82, ATLANTA, 0610, WNAP, 0740, EA, 138, AIRBUS 3000, 550, 296,559

 These papers are a record of every takeoff and landing that IM ever took over 21 years and four continents. 

 They might also be a history of the airline industry during those years.  In the example above, Eastern Airlines is long gone, and as IM recalls, the Airbus was the first foreign-built plane to fly U.S. domestic routes.

 For this Commentary, IM will restrain himself to a few of his more memorable experiences while flying--what he was doing on the ground at some of the more exotic locations will be the subject of a future Commentary.

  67  Torrejon AFB north of Madrid to Rota Naval Air Station on south coast of Spain near the Strait of Gibraltar.  Flying in a DC-3, a 2-engine prop plane that had been around since the 1930s.  (One of its more memorable roles in WWII was flying the Hump.  The Hump was the Himalayas and was the route used to fly supplies from India, then a British colony, to China who was fighting the Japanese.  The non-pressurized DC-3s had to weave thru the less-high passes, the crew wearing oxygen masks.)  IMs DC-3 flew at 5000 ft which is lower than Denver’s altitude.  As he passed Sevilla he could see to the southwest of it a rather barren looking expanse.  This was Extremadura, Spain’s Appalachia.  Some of the more notable New World explorers (Cortez, Pizarro, Balboa) came from Extremadura.  When IM landed, he learned what lack of pressureization  can do.  The can of shaving cream in his toiletries kit had exploded and the kit was completely filled with foam.  It took IM an hour to clean all the items in the kit and then clean the kit itself.

   

Douglas DC-3

24 MAY 68  Albuquerque to Dallas on a DC-9 (to IM the DC-9’s silhouette overhead is sill the most graceful-looking of any plane flying).  IM’s seatmate was a CIA agent whom he had become acquainted with at a Nuclear Weapons Seminar at Sandia Base.  He was the epitome of cool.  Laid back, unflappable, Sherlock Holmes pipe in his mouth.  The plane ran into turbulence -- bad turbulence.  It was the first time IM had ever been in a plane that was actually blown sideways.  IM looked over at his cool seatmate.  He had his pipe in his mouth -- unlit of course, but he was puffing on it at least 60 times a minute!

 

Douglas DC-9

13 JUN 69.  Asmara, Ethiopia, to Cairo on an Ethiopian Airlines 707.  (Asmara is now the capital of Eritrea which broke away from Ethiopia after a bloody civil war.)  IMs meal was something undescribable but tasty.  The plane was half-empty so he could look out the right window and see the Red Sea and very dimly in the distance Saudi Arabia.  Out the left window he could see the NileRiver which the plane followed most of the way to Cairo.  There was a strip of green along both banks of the river.  Beyond that was desert.  As the plane came in for the landing, IM could see the all green Nile Delta where most Egyptians live.  Then he saw the great Pyramids of Giza.  On the ground it was at least 110°.  IM took one step off the plane and then returned to its air-conditioned comfort where he stayed until the plane took off for AthensGreece.

 

Boing 707

15 JUN 69.  Samsun, Turkey, to Sinop, Turkey, on an Army L-20 Beaver.  This was a single engine plane that could carry up to six people.  Sinop only had a single runway so whether a plane could land was dependent on which way the wind was blowing.  IM was lucky and the winds were favorable.  Moreover, they were blowing in the direction that caused the plane to fly along the Black Sea coastline so IM could look down and see that farmland beyond the coastal cliffs.  The cliffs were forested and reminded IM of the northern Minnesota coast along Lake Superior.  The plane flew low enough so there were no pressurization problems.

 

Army L-20 Beaver

That's enough for now.  IM could go on for a hundred but he won't.

06/06/12


Commentary No. 29

Haiku


IMs old floppies
Reveal writings by the ream
Here’s a few to start.

Choose your favorite
Better yet, take pen in hand
And compose your own.




11 Feb 73

October mornings
Greet me and Washington Post,
Frosty, clear, and bright.


IM submitted several haiku and other poetry to a literary magazine once. The following two were the only ones published.

17 May 74

Arriba el sol!                       (The sun rises!
Vemos obras de Dios.         We see God's works.
Cante, corazon!                 Sing, heart!)

Uvas y pomes,                 (Grapes and apples,
Porque traen alegre,          Because they bring joy,
Son santa verdad.            Are truly holy.)


3 Dec 76

This is one of IMs favorites. Combines Japanese structure with Anglo-Saxon’s extensive use of alliteration.

The rosy red rim
Of the dark December dawn.
Calmness, cold and clear.

79

A crossword puzzle

Strict structure, left-right, up-down.
Freedom in a box.

The sun in autumn
Shines warmly through stark branches
And dies in still cold.

A wooden pencil
Yellow, simple, wooden-tipped,
Unites me and thee.

Cast adrift in space
A cosmic shipwreck, spinning,
Drifting, headed home.

Roast turkey, stuffed olives,
Sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie,
Stuffing, gravy, grace.

Three-thirty p.m.,
Gearing up while gearing down
Tensile paradox.

When I taste your lips,
I taste dry red wine. My tongue
Savors, drop by drop.

Immersion in structure,
Like haiku, feels good secure,
Till the temple falls.

17 May 83

Written when IM was on crutches.

Watch! Opening door!
Alert! Voices round corner!
Back to desk- haven.

Pain- you are here. Why?
Intimate as underwear
When gone, where are you?

Jul 89

Written in a hospital room.

Fly on the curtain,
Together we share this room.
We've a loving God.


Jul 95

Finally, a bit of whimsy.

9, 10, 11,
12, 13, 14, 15,
16, 17

                                                             

05/25/11


Commentary No, 28

Edinburgh


During his professional career, IM was able to travel to exotic locales on four continents. But if he had to pick a single trip that stood out, it would be his trip to Edinburgh (Edin-bur-a), Scotland, the summer of 1973.

The occasion was a three-day international symposium at the University of Edinburgh on the use of technology in law enforcement. There would be about 200 participants and attendees. IM would present a short paper on the Corps of Engineer’s use of intrusion detection equipment. There were other U.S. participants, but the majority were from all over the western world. “Western” in the sense that 1973 was in the middle of the Cold War. There were probably attendees from what we today would call unsavory regimes, but all these regimes had to do was say they were against the Soviets and they became “our guys” and the recipients of U.S. dollars.

Enough on the symposium itself except for this: One evening there was a banquet. IM and the others were bussed from the University to Dalhousie Castle several miles southeast of Edinburgh. IM was not aware of its significance at the time, but nine miles east of Dalhousie Castle was the town of Ormiston. In 1795, IM’s great-great-great-great-grandfather sold his brewery in Ormiston and with his family came to America. Maybe IM was unaware that he was “coming home”.

How to get to Edinburgh was a challenge. The two-inch thick airline guide in the Corps’ travel office recommended New York to London’s Heathrow airport, then by bus 43 miles to the south of London to Gatwick airport, and then flying from there north to Edinburgh. That didn’t sound right. IM knew there was an airport on Scotland’s west coast at Prestwick. During World War II, the shortest distance across the Atlantic (for those planes capable of flying that far) was from Gander, Newfoundland, to Prestwick. Further digging in the airline guide showed that Prestwick was now an international airport and there were two flights a day from New York that landed there on their way to Scandinavia. IM called Pan Am and learned that a bus met each flight to carry passengers the 78 miles to Edinburgh. (Usually not many—the majority of those who disembarked at Prestwick were headed for Glasgow.) So that’s what IM did— JFK to Prestwick, then a fascinating 78-mile bus ride thru farmland and tiny hamlets across nearly the width of Scotland to a terminal in downtown Edinburgh. Then a short taxi ride to the University. (Other U.S. attendees that IM talked to had taken the London route.)

IM wanted to get as much of the flavor of the place as he could in his three-day stay. IM and most of the other attendees stayed in a University dorm rooms (private but the bathrooms were down the hall). We ate at the student cafeteria (bacon with hot stewed tomatoes for breakfast was actually quite tasty). We then walked to the auditorium across the street. (Many of the other U.S. attendees, IM learned, stayed at a Holiday Inn across town and taxied back and forth.)

One afternoon, IM and a few other attendees walked about half a mile thr
u residential neighborhoods (most homes’ yards were encircled with low brick walls) to the main drag, Princes Street. From there we could look up--way up--to Edinburgh Castle and looking to the east see the large hill called Arthur’s Seat, the centerpiece of Holyrood Park.

That was the extent of the “flavor”; then it was time to return. The return trip is best described on another old floppy IM found. Here’s what IM wrote to his wife:

5:45 p.m. Greenwich (12:45 p.m. home). Over the Atlantic near Iceland, I calculate. And sure enough! Just spotted some ships of the fishing fleets that are always southeast of Iceland. Neat!

Feeling very high.  Excited at the prospect of being with you before the day ends. (My day began at 2:00 a.m. Washington time.) Delightful trip back across Scotland from Edinburgh on the bus (big bus, just six passengers). Had time to kill, so checked bags, took a ca
b into Prestwick proper, got out, wandered around for two-and-a half hours, bought lunch, shopped, and walked back to the airport. I've decided I'm weird. I feel regret that you were not with me these past few days. And guilt  Maybe we should have tried harder.  Maybe we could have found someone to watch the kids somehow, but that is past now. Have to go to the john.

8:20 p.m. (3:20 at home). Southwest of Greenland. Icebergs putting on a great show through gaps in the clouds. Bright white spot with big circle of aqua around it and the blue-black of the ocean around that. You wouldn't think anything so beautiful could sink the Titanic.

Over halfway home now. I am really dreading that two hour wait at JFK. After the long flight, New York seems like it should be almost home, but it'lll still be 3-4 hours away. It's not fair!

8:45 p.m. Just passed over some land! Must be coast of Labra
dor. Even though it's only been hours instead of weeks, I still feel a trace of the exultation that the Vikings must have felt when they crept over this route 1000 years ago.

9:50 p.m. Flying lengthwise down St. Lawrence River. Quebec is pretty from 39,000 feet. Still an hour and a half to go. Feel impatient. We're across the Atlantic.  Why do we still have so far to go!

10:10 p.m. (5:10 p.m. home) Can reset my watch now that we're in EDT time zone. It's really been a pleasant flight. Smooth. Plane one-third full (have a whole row to myself). Sky clear ever since we reached North America. Am beginning to feel tired. That's a long way for me to fly this 707!

5:25 p.m. Spoke too soon. Only 45 minutes out of New York and we're in clouds and it's bumpy. Last thing I think I saw was Lake George. Brings back memories of our 1969 Tag-Along Trailer trip. I've been trying to work by reflecting on the conference and whether the Government got its money's worth and whether the conference got anything from me. Hard to tell. I have pages of notes that i will sift through at work this coming week. Can't concentrate now anyhow.

5:45 p.m. This is why I hate JFK Airport! The pilot just came on and said he'd been advised there would be a one hour delay in landing. That means circling (apparently over Albany) for an hour. I feel frustration-- like arriving at a store at 9:00 and finding out it doesn't open until 10:00. Probably related to the rough weather.

That was the end of my writing. We did land OK and I made it home late that evening with the sack of scones I had purchased at a bakery in Prestwick that afternoon. The fresh scones concept was cool; the scones themselves were rather blah


    

            Edinburgh Castle                                          Arhur's Seat                              Princes Street

08/23/10

Commentary No. 27

U.S. into Space

Manned launches into space are so routine these days that they barely rate a five second mention on the evening news, if that long. It wasn’t always so.

IM was there at the beginning. But first some background.
The Soviet Union shocked the world, and especially the U.S., in October 1957 when they sent Sputnik I into orbit. It was only the size of a grapefruit and all it did was beep every minute or so. But that was the beginning of the Space Race.

Events moved swiftly. The U.S. trying to catch up; the Soviet Union always managing to keep a step or two ahead. Then, on April 12, 1961, in the boldest step by far, Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in outer space as he made a single orbit of the earth and landed safely.

However, the U.S. with it’s more methodical approach, was almost there. Then, less than a month after Gagarin’s flight, Navy Cmdr. Alan Shepard was perched on top of a Redstone rocket in the Freedom 7 capsule at Cape Canaveral. He would make a suborbital flight of about 15 minutes that would end 300 miles out in the Atlantic. Every TV set and radio in the nation was on.

IM was working at the Bureau of Reclamation in Denver at the time (7:00-3:30). After the flight, he spent a few minutes jotting down his reaction. Sometime in the years since, IM transferred that handwritten “jotting” to a floppy. In going thru about 30 floppies recently, he found the “jotting”. (He also found dozens of other jottings that might be subjects of future commentaries.) Anyway, here’ what he wrote:

5 May 61
Listened to Cmdr. Shepard take off for his suborbital flight this morning. Launched at approx. 7:34 MST. Old Sam had brought a radio and the whole section crowded around to listen. Except Joe, that is. He sat hunched over his desk. Maybe he thought he was setting an example by working (or pretending to work). I think he really wanted to listen. (He did venture to ask whether the astronaut had made it or not when we were all back at our desks.) When the countdown reached about minus five seconds, Vern slammed a magazine on his desk and went, Voom! Vern thought it was funny. Everybody else just seemed irritated.
As the countdown approached zero, I gave a silent prayer for Shepard. During actual takeoff and flight, everybody was quiet and concentrating on the words from the radio. I believe they really sensed the import of the venture. I myself could feel my heart pounding throughout the entire flight. I couldnt draw a full breath until he had climbed from the capsule after it struck the water.

Joe Hufferd was the section chief for the Canals and Headworks Section.  A decent enough fellow who tended to come off as a bit pompous at times.  IM's immediate supervisor was Tom Goddard, a very nice gentleman whose right side of his face was a mass of scar tissue.  IM knew he had been a fighter pilot in World War II, but never felt it appropriate to pry.

                                                    

                                               Alan Shepard in Freedom 7 capsule before liftoff               07/28/10

28/

                                                 

Commentary No. 26

Yeats

Some time ago IM bought a book of William Butler Yeats poetry by mistake.  IM had long been enamored of the line “When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d.”  Maybe it was the alliteration.  It could have reminded him of the Anglo-Saxon poetry he enjoyed (Beowulf anyone?) which uses alliteration extensively.  Anyway, IM wanted to read more Yeats.

And then, even before the book arrived from Barnes & Noble, IM experienced one of those “What was he thinking!” moments.  Yeats never wrote that line; Walt Whitman did!  (A digression.  When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was in Russia recently, she dedicated a statue of Walt Whitman on the grounds of MoscowStateUniversity.)  So by this strange route, IM was introduced to William Butler Yeats.

Yeats was born near Dublin in 1865, a couple months after Appomattox.  He died in France in 1939, several months before the Nazis invaded Poland.  In between he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923.

.IM does not intend to present a bio of Yeats.  Anyone interested in his rather interesting life can start with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeats .

IM just wants to present a few random samplings of his work.

He has been quoted.

“No country for old men” from Sailing to Byzantium became the title of both a book and the 2007 film that won “Best Picture” Oscar.

“Golden Apples of the Sun” from The Song of Wandering Aengus  became the title of a collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury.  (Ray Bradbury:  Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles.  Bradbury himself may well be the subject of a future Commentary.)

He could write whimsical poetry like the following, one IM particularly enjoyed.

THE FIDDLER OF DOONEY

When I play on my fiddle in Dooney.
Folk dance like a wave of the sea;
My cousin is priest in Kilvarnet,
My brother in Mocharabuiee.
I passed my brother and cousin:
They read in their books of prayer;
I read in my book of songs
I bought at the
Sligo fair
When we come at the end of time
To Peter sitting in state,
He will smile on the three old spirits,
But call me first through the gate;

For the good are always the merry,
Save by an evil chance,
And the merry love the fiddle,
And the merry love to dance:
And when the folk there spy me,
They will all come up to me,
With 'Here is the fiddler of Dooney!'
And dance like a wave of the sea.

And he could also write what must be one of the most chilling poems in the English language. 

Yeats wrote this in 1919, in the aftermath of World War I, but, to IM, its implications for the
present are ominous.  Presentation of this poem is IM’s principal reason for writing this commentary.

THE SECOND COMING

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

                                                        

01/08/10

Commentary No. 25

Five Books

Rhetorical question:  If you were exiled to a tropic island and could take only five books, what would they be?

(While not a book, the first thing IM would want to take to that isle would be a DVD of Discovery Channel’s “Survivorman”, season 2, episode 5, South Pacific.  As IM recalls, there were a few minutes on how to make fresh water from sea water.  But then IM would need a portable DVD player and a suitcase full of batteries.  Enough of this digression.  On to IM’s list of books.)

1.  The Brothers Karamazov  by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  Readers who recall Commentary No. 9 might have seen this coming.  Go read it again to see why IM places this book first.

2.  The Myth of the Eternal Return  by Mircea Eliade.  IM first waded thru this short book, dictionary at his elbow (example: chthonic), in the early 1970s.  Here he was introduced to two views of time.  One or the other of these views is incorporated in each of the world’s religions.  These views are cyclical time and linear time.  The “western” religions—Judaism, Christianity, Islam—for the most part view time linearly.  There was a beginning; there will be an end.  “Eastern” religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, and tribal religions—view time cyclically.  The past can be repeated.  In a way, Kipling was partially right: “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”

Eliade himself was an interesting case.  A Romanian, his scholarly credentials were well established before World War II.  It is frequently overlooked that Romania (along with several other Eastern Europe countries) was an ally of Germany during most of the war, contributing their fair share to the Holocaust.  Eliade’s worked for the Romanian government during war, mostly as a cultural attaché in neutral Portugal, never really repudiating Romania’s sins.  After the war, he eventually made his way to the University of Chicago where he was welcomed with open arms.  This is no different than Werner von Braun finding his way from Berlin to Huntsville, Alabama.  Von Braun got the U.S. into space, and Eliade gave the world a new academic discipline, the History of Religions.

3.  The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James.  The book is a compilation of a series of lectures that James gave at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland in 1901 and 1902.  (IM was privileged to spend a few days at that university in the 1970s and give a short talk there.)  The key word in James’ book is “varieties”.  Connection with the ineffable spans the spectrum from the forehead-thumping, speaking-in- tongues trances of Pentecostalism to the carefully reasoned intellectual discourses of Thomas Aquinas (these are my terms, not James’).  Without passing judgment, James goes into the psychology underlying these varieties of behavior.  IM found this book to be a real eye-opener; not that it removed all his judgmentalism (a characteristic of his since birth), but it started a process of understanding.

William James is widely regarded as the father of the discipline we call psychology.  He started out as an M.D., but soon realized that philosophy was his true interest.  He was independently wealthy enough (thanks to his father’s real estate dealings) to be able to travel extensively, including a trip up the Amazon with geologist Louis Agassiz in the 1860s.  He was the younger brother of novelist Henry James, a major literary figure of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who is probably better known to most people than William.

4.  The Bible by “God”.  Not any Bible.  It would be the King James version.  IM is not selecting this for theological reasons.  Some of its theology is suspect and modern translations more accurately reflect the ancient writers’ intent (20th century scholarship vs. 16th century scholarship), and the modern ones are easier to read.  No, IM is selecting it for its literary value. 

The KJV is a treasure of Elizabethan language, or to be more precise, Jacobean language.  To IM, much of it reads like poetry.  A few examples: the KJV vs. the NAB (New American Bible).

Genesis 1:1-2

KJV  In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.

NAB  In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.

Psalms 23:4

KJV  Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

NAB  Even though I walK in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.

And finally, IMs favorite verse, Job 19:25

KJV  For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.

NAB  But as for me, I know that my Vindicator lives, and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust.

5.  The Oxford English Dictionary.  In a way, IM is cheating here, for the latest version (1989) contains 20 volumes.  It has over 300,000 main entries.  A single entry might run several pages.  IM would not live long enough on that tropical island to finish it.

There they are.  IM is open to suggested alternates, but not very open.

10/06/09

Commentary No. 24

Famous People

IM can drop names with the best of them!  Here’s a rundown of some famous people he has seen.  For the most part they were just that—“seen.”

Before listing more important personages, he will present, in no particular order, performers he has seen live.

Eartha Kitt, Paul Anka, Dorothy Shay, Alice Ghostley, Dionne Warwick, Lucie Arnaz, Robert Klein, Robert Clary, Ralph Martieri, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Richard Maltby, Dorothy Hamill, Paul Lynde, Carol Lawrence.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy.  In 1961 on Pennsylvania Avenue across the street from the White House.  JFK was riding in an open convertible accompanied by some “Colonel” who was the current strong man of Sudan.  The mini-parade (he was escorted by a fleet of cop cars with lights flashing) had started at Andrews AFB and its purpose was to honor the “Colonel”.  In those days, all any tinhorn dictator had to do was declare he was against Communism and he was immediately America’s friend as well as the recipient of many American dollars

Dwight David Eisenhower.  In the fall of 1952, Ike made a campaign stop in Rock Island.  He spoke at the Armory which when necessary could be converted into an auditorium.  IM and several friends listened to his speech and then afterwards went behind the Armory and saw a lighted window just behind the Armory stage.  It was about seven feet off the ground.  One of IM’s friends was inspired to stand on someone’s shoulders and peek in.  There was Ike and his party!  IM and the others took turns standing on shoulders.  IM saw Ike mopping his forehead with a handkerchief.  He saw Mamie Eisenhower sitting on a couch smoking a cigarette. Then it was someone else’s turn.  Were IM to attempt such a stunt today, he would be shot.

John Glenn.  In 1962, again on Pennsylvania Avenue.  There was a parade to celebrate his being the first American to orbit the earth.  He sat up on the back seat of a convertible and waved.  Just behind him were two convertibles with the remaining six of the original seven Mercury astronauts:  Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, Scott Carpenter, Deke Slayton, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper.

Lyndon Baines Johnson.  He was in the same parade with the astronauts—sitting in a convertible right behind them.  He was vice-president then.  In the convertible with him was Lady Bird Johnson.

Thomas E. Dewey.  He was the unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate in 1944 and 1948.  In the fall of 1948, IM was in 8th grade and Dewey made a campaign stop in Rock Island.  He gave a speech in a downtown park calledSpencer Square(which has long-since been converted to commercial use).  IM’s principal recollection of the event is that he and anybody else who wanted to go were excused from school. 

Red Grange.  The legendary “Galloping Ghost” football player of the 1920s and 1930s.  College: Univ if Illinois.  Pro: Chicago Bears.  At a high school post-season football banquet in 1951, Grange was to be the speaker.  IM was sitting in the back row (with the rest of the scrubs) and there was a vacant chair beside him.  A man came into the room from the back, sat in the vacant chair, extended his hand to IM, and said, “Hi, I’m Red Grange.”  Shaking hands with Red Grange—heady stuff!

Rogers Hornsby.  Hall-of-Fame baseball player.  Played in the 1920s and 1930s.  Still holds many batting records including the season average of .424.  In 1947 IM played on a team in a City Parks & Recreation league for kids.  At a gathering to kick off the season, Rogers Hornsby came.  He reminisced a bit, but what IM mainly recalls was his demonstration of batting techniques and the tips he gave.  To IM and his teammates, Rogers Hornsby was a demigod.

General Mark Clark.  World War II general in charge of Italian campaign.  Several of his command decisions are still controversial.  On a lecture tour in 1954, he stopped at IowaState and spoke at the Student Union auditorium.  IM was in the audience listening to his war stories.  At the time he was still a semi-mythic character from WW II who ranked with Eisenhower, McArthur, and Patton.

Frank Buck.  No longer the household name he was in the 1940s.  His nickname, “Bring ‘Em Back Alive”, referred to his reputation for collecting live animals and delivering them to zoos around the world—elephants, tigers, cobras, crocodiles, you name it.  He was a celebrity as a movie director, actor, lecturer, and circus performer as well.  In 1947 IM attended one of his lecture/slide shows at the Rock Island High School auditorium.  The place was packed, and he did not disappoint.

Henry A. Wallace.  (IM saved this one for last.)  Wallace was Roosevelt’s vice-president from 1941 to 1945.  Before that he had been Secretary of Agriculture for eight years.  In 1948 he ran for president as the candidate of the Progressive Party which advocated the end of segregation and universal health insurance.  He lost, of course.  The country wasn’t ready, and largely still isn’t ready, to deal with these issues.  In 1953 Wallace came to IowaState, his alma mater.  IM was privileged to not only shake hands with him but to sit at a table with half a dozen other students and have breakfast with him.  He would not talk about politics.  All he talked about was the advances in agricultural science that his research was responsible for.

That’s it.                                    11/15/07

Commentary No. 23

The Constitution

Full title: The Constitution of the United States.  Not long ago, IM realized that while he was aware of bits and pieces of the Constitution, he had never read it in its entirety.  Shame on him!  It’s not that voluminous.  A printout from www.usconstitution.net only runs to 17 pages.  So he printed it out and read it, the basic Constitution and its 27 amendments.


IM found it to be a remarkable document.  While written 220 years ago, it is for the most part as easy to read and understand as today’s newspaper. However, some provisions and terms are quaint:

 - Title of Nobility.  Neither The United States as a whole nor any individual state can give someone a title that can be passed down from generation to generation.  (A complete break with European practice.)
 - Treaty,
Alliance or Confederation.  Only the Federal government can enter into agreements with other nations.  Individual states can’t.
 - Letters of Marque.  Giving  private ship-owners or mercenaries the authority to act on behalf of the nation.  Probably hasn’t been done since the mid-19th century.
 - Bill of Attainder.  The loss of all civil rights for anyone convicted of a crime.  The Constitution says we don’t do this.
 - Corruption of Blood.  Forbidding the family of anyone convicted of a crime from inheriting his estate.  We don’t do this either.
- Protection of States.  If any state gets invaded, the Federal government will come to its aid. 

In reading the 2nd Amendment, IM has to admit that Charlton Heston is right.  The language about the right to keep and bear arms is clear and unequivocal.

IM found the list of signatories particularly intriguing.  Forty names appear.  Some are very familiar: George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison (actually signed as James Madison Jr.)  But who were the other 36?  Here are a few thumbnails:

 - Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer  IM couldn’t resist checking out this strange name.  Delegate from Maryland.  As a wealthy planter, mainly concerned with taxes and financial stability.  Had a great sense of humor and used it extensively and productively at the convention.
 - Robert Morris.  Delegate from
Pennsylvania.  One of wealthiest delegates.  Personally paid Washington’s troops in December 1776 to keep the little army from disintegrating.  Lived under continual cloud because of war profiteering accusations.  Robert Morris Univ. in Philadelphia named for him.
 - James McHenry.  Was curious to see if there was a connection to Ft.McHenry in Baltimore where ”The Star Spangled Banner” was written.  There is—it was named for him.  He was Secretary of War from 1796-1800.  Came to America from Northern Ireland as a teen-ager.  He was one of three physicians who were signers.
 - William Few.  Delegate from
Georgia, he was the “rugged frontiersman” of the convention.  Came from poor family and was self-educated.  Pushed hard for strong central government to protect rights of individuals.  He refused to own slaves.
 - William Jackson.  He was the convention’s secretary and not an actual delegate.  A war buddy of Washington (who was president of the convention), he asked for and got the job from him.  Probably sorry.  What a job that must have been—all the writing, re-writing, keeping minutes—and without a word processor or even a typewriter!  He was a South Carolinian and was
Washington’s secretary during the early years of his presidency.

From a broader perspective, IM was struck by how much power was given to the legislative branch.  The framers were obviously fearful of a strong, unfettered executive branch.  It would appear that over time, never more so than in recent decades, the executive has assumed more and more power.  This is what the framers feared yet the Constitution contains all the necessary tools to control the situation.  IM is afraid the legislative branch has dropped the ball.

Below is a painting of the signers of the Constitution.  It is fitting that IM posts this on September 17 which is Constitution Day.  It would also have been IM’s fathers 100th birthday.        09/17/07

                     


Commentary No. 22

Music


IM’s musical career:


One of the more memorable moments of IM’s childhood occurred early in 1944 when he was nine years old.  He and several others of Miss Beck’s piano students were presenting a concert at the Veterans Hospital in Lincoln.  There were hundreds (so it seemed to IM) of wounded World War II servicemen in that auditorium, many on stretchers.  (There must have been more to that evening’s program than half a dozen kids playing the piano, but IM does not recall.)  Anyway, IM opened the show by playing The Star Spangled Banner.  He remembers looking out the corner of his eye and seeing all those men coming to their feet, many struggling to do so, and saluting the onstage flag.  Even many of the men on stretchers saluted.  It was a sight never to be forgotten.  But Miss Beck had trained IM well.  He played flawlessly, bowed in recognition of the ovation when he was finished, and walked briskly away from center stage to the wings. 

                                                              

                                                           Lincoln Veterans Hospital--a 1936 postcard                                                 

A few years later, IM took some piano lessons from an elderly lady named Miss Smith.  (Miss Smith wore a hearing aid!)  She kept pushing him towards classical music (He particularly remembers playing Chopin’s Minute Waltz even though he never came close to a minute.)  But her greatest contribution was teaching IM to read the chording notations on sheet music.  And with a knowledge of how chording works, he soon found he could play almost any tune for which he knew the melody, like Christmas carols—he needn’t resort to sheet music.  From then on he simply played the piano for fun.

                                         

                                        Similar to IM's--same brand (a 1940s ad)


In junior high band, for three years, IM played the cornet.  A cornet is almost identical to a trumpet except it has a mellower tone—less brassy.  He played the cornet because Sholem Sabbath, a friend of his father, had one for sale cheap.  His son had played it in the high school band.  (A few years later the son committed suicide by jumping out of a high office building window in
Des Moines.  IM never knew the full story.)  Anyway, back to junior high.  IM played well enough to occupy second chair.  First chair was always occupied by Bob Cook who, it seemed to IM, had played the trumpet since birth, and who subsequently played in local dance bands for years.  He still has a small jazz band.  One Christmas season, IM, Bob Cook, and Ronnie Gardner played Christmas carols at downtown street corners to help the Salvation Army

During those same years, IM participated in a Boy Scout Drum & Bugle Corps that regularly marched in parades.  The bugle is an interesting instrument.  It looks like a trumpet with no keys.  It is only capable of playing four notes.  If one listens carefully to Taps or Reveille or any other military bugle call, one will only hear four notes being used.

                                                

           Cornet                          Trumpet                              Bugle

Since junior high, other than occasionally playing the piano, IM’s musical career has been devoted to listening.  Concerts, 45s, 33s, tapes, and now CDs.  He has an eclectic collection, probably weighted towards the classical.  Many items he can’t even find any more—he knows they are stored somewhere in the house.  And then there were Napster downloads—which was great fun while it lasted.  Maybe someday IM will conduct a tour of his favorites.

So there you go.        07/18/07

                                                                           

 Commentary No. 21

Epistemology

         ( e·pis·te·mol·o·gy  [i-pis-tuh-mol-uh-jee]         –noun

a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge )

Epistemology is IM’s latest kick.  How do we know what we know?  Where do we go when logic fails us? 

IM enjoys paradoxes.  Like this one:

“The following sentence is true.  The preceding sentence is false.” 

If the second sentence is true, then what the first sentence said was false.  Or if the first sentence were really true, the second would have to be false. And on and on.  Logic can’t handle it.  There simply is no resolution.  Cool!

On another track, how do we really know something?  There is a concept called the Tripartite Account that IM likes.  Or more simply, “justified true belief”—those are the three parts.  Like we believe the earth is round.  This belief is justified (we can see it so from space; Magellan went west and came home from the east).  And it is true—the earth really is round.  So we have a belief that is justified and is true.

The preceding example is so simplistic it’s boring.  But apply this analysis to some other beliefs.  There are those who believe the world was created in six days.  They believe with the same conviction as those who believe the earth is round.  However, this belief cannot be justified and is, in fact, untrue.  Therefore, this belief can have no credibility, regardless of how intensely it is believed.  There are holes in the Tripartite Account concept, but in general it is interesting to apply such a rigorous analysis to almost anything.

And then there are fallacies.  IM smiles when he watches a TV commercial that says “XYZ Elixir cured my cough in a week.  My friend didn’t take XYZ Elixir and he is still coughing.”  In any such situation there are four scenarios:

1.  A person takes XYZ Elixir, and his cough is gone in a week.

2.  Another person doesn’t take XYZ Elixir, yet his cough is gone in a week.

3.  A third person takes XYZ Elixir, and after a week he is still coughing.

4.  A fourth person doesn’t take XYZ Elixir, and after a week he is still coughing.

The TV commercial only addresses scenarios 1 and 4.  It conveniently skips over 3 and 4.  Use of this fallacious reasoning is endemic to the advertising industry.

Are we having fun yet?                     06/11/07

Commentary No. 20

Chickens

When IM recently read that chickens may be closely related to Tyrannosaurus rex, he was not surprised.  For those who missed the story, here’s a link: http://www.dailymail.com/story/Life/2007041620/T-Rex-may-be-close-relation-to-the-chicken/   IM was not surprised because of his own experience with the beast.

On the little farm where he lived part of his childhood, the family kept several dozen chickens.  This was considered patriotic during World War II when meat was rationed.  Selling the excess eggs and the non-egg laying chickens was also a nice little source of extra income.  Those chickens were White Leghorns (see pic below).  White Leghorns constitute at least 90 percent of America’s chickens today, but they are just one of countless breeds.  But those Leghorn chickens of ours were not beasts.  They were almost like pets.

Now for a real beast.  Some friends had given their children a baby chick for Easter.  After a few weeks, as is usually the case, they could no longer deal with the chick, so it was donated to IM’s little farm.  It was easily distinguishable among our Leghorns because it was a Rhode Island Red (see pic below).  “Red”, the family learned, was a rooster, not a hen, and he grew and grew, eventually towering over the Leghorns.  Then Red turned mean.  He could not be approached without his lowering his head and raising his hackles.  One day he went too far and chased IM’s little sister screaming across the yard and into the house.  IM’s father tried to catch Red, but Red was too wily.  Plan B was implemented.  IM’s father took his rifle (.22 Remington bolt-action, see pic below), carefully aimed, and shot Red in the head.  Red was then prepared for dinner.  Family members told IM that Red, while tasty, was the toughest chicken they had ever chewed.  IM himself did not eat any of Red that evening because he had consumed lots of chicken at the school cafeteria at noon and still felt full.

And now for another beast.  About a year later, IM was visiting his uncle’s farm.  He, too, raised several chickens, mainly for eggs and an occasional dinner.  His chickens were Plymouth Rocks (see pic below).  He mentioned that one of the roosters was mean, but IM paid little attention.  IM was playing with toy boats in the stock watering tank when he noticed a chicken—a rooster—pecking in the grass a few feet away.  For fun, he splashed water on the chicken.  It ruffled its feathers.  IM splashed more water.  Now its hackles were raised and it was staring at IM.  IM splashed it a third time.  That did it.  The rooster charged and IM raced for a nearby open barn door.  Just then IM’s uncle came out that door with a bullwhip in his hand—the one he used to drive his team of mules (see pic below).  With a flick of his wrist he caught the rooster around the neck with the whip and flung him across the yard.  The rooster raced away.  To this day, IM does not know how the rooster survived that event.  I later learned that the rooster did not survive a subsequent event a few weeks later.  Apparently, he was in the pigs feeding trough pecking away at their food.  That wasn’t so bad, but then he started pecking at the pigs to keep them away from “his” food.  That did it.  Pigs, despite their homeliness, are very intelligent animals—even more so than dogs.  A few of them ganged up on the rooster, cornered him in the pen, and killed him.  And then they ate him!  My uncle said only feathers were left.

Now readers can never again enter a KFC restaurant or sit down to a chicken dinner without remembering those beasts and their Jurassic ancestor.     05/04/07

                                      

     White Leghorn                Rhode Island Red              Plymouth Rock

         

           Remington Bolt-action .22                                     Bullwhip

Commentary No. 19

Dichotomy

“The past is never dead. It's not even past.”   William Faulkner.

                                                                                                                                                                       

"The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once."   Albert Einstein.

                                                                                                                                                              

(Two clever quotes IM likes that are more or less germane to the topic.)

When IM was in high school, in what passed for career counseling in those days, he took an aptitude/interest test.   The results were a virtual tie between science and history.  (Following the money, of course, IM went the science route career-wise.)  But through the years, he has been continually cursed (or blessed) by the dichotomy of those test results.

Even in high school.  His senior English term paper was on prehistoric England.  His senior physics project was constructing a Wilson cloud camber, an early atomic-age device that could trace tracks of protons and electrons from a radiation source.  The paper got an A; the project got a blue ribbon at a science exhibition.  The point, though, is that IM got equal pleasure from working on each.

This dichotomous behavior continued in college when in the evening, after completing his thermodynamics homework, he would turn and read a couple more chapters of Tawney’s Religion and the Rise of Capitalism.

Today, IM is fascinated when he reads an article on the latest thinking by physicists about the possibilities of time travel (into the future might be possible; into the past probably not).  Then he is equally fascinated by an article on archeological findings that shed more light on the mystery of Stonehenge (a picture of Stonehenge has been IM’s computer wallpaper).

Not long ago, IM downloaded, printed out, and studied a paper on Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity—that’s the one where it has been shown that an astronaut after a space flight is a few milliseconds younger than anybody who stayed on the ground.  After studying that paper, IM now actually understands how that can be.  And then IM went right into reading Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August about the first month of World War I.  IM now understands the straight-line connection between the actions of a single German ship captain in the Eastern Mediterranean in August 1914 and our presence in Iraq today.

IM really doesn’t know where he’s headed with this discourse, so he will stop.  One might be justified in asking how society benefits from these activities of his, but he has no answer.  He only knows that the dichotomous behavior will continue—IM has finally concluded that it is more blessing than curse.

His predicament is illustrated by the yin-yang symbol.  There is no way to cut the symbol in half without getting half white and half black.                               04/05/07

                                                                                 

 

Commentary No. 18

Games

“Oh the Games People Play Now”, 1969, written by Joe South, sung by Rick Price (and later by Dolly Parton).

IM indulges in games.  Not frivolously, of course, but for their challenge to his intellect.

A crossword puzzle about once every two weeks.  Good vocabulary builder.  Most puzzles he can handle, but he finds the one in the Sunday Washington Post impossible.  IM always works crosswords with a ballpoint, not a pencil.

The Next Tetris on the computer about once a week.  More challenging than Classic Tetris.  Great for hand-eye coordination.  After ages on the Level 6 plateau, IM recently made it to Level 7.

Computer Scrabble against Expert level.  IM is here for 15-20 minutes daily.  He pretty well has its vocabulary of accepted words memorized.  No two games ever the same, but it’s starting to get boring.

IM has almost stopped doing jigsaw puzzles.  Takes up too much space and too much time.  A great ride while it lasted!

Mental games with prime numbers.  Prime numbers, as everyone knows, are whole numbers that cannot be divided by anything other than one or itself.  The numbers 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13 are prime numbers.  Euclid, about 300 B.C., proved that there are an infinite number of primes.  IM recently rediscovered Euclid’s proof, followed through it, and actually understood it!  Anyway, a corollary is that any number is either prime or is a multiple of primes.  Like 105 is not a prime number, but it is a multiple of 3, 5, 7.  IM enjoys pulling a number out of the blue (always an odd number because any even number is always non-prime) and in his head determining if it is prime or not, and if not, what the prime multiples are.  This is how he puts himself back to sleep if he wakes in the middle of the night.  Are we having fun yet?

Prime numbers is not an entirely arcane subject.  Here is a New York Times article from a few days ago:  http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/13/science/13prof.html?ref=science

Chess on the computer from time to time.  IM knows the moves, but he’s rusty on strategy.  He needs to play it more frequently.

About once a month, IM will work one of the newly-popularized Sudoku puzzles.  These are not really new, just the name is.  They were a staple of the puzzle books that IM took on long plane flights 30 years ago.  One is displayed below.  Despite appearaces, they are not math puzzles; they are logic puzzles.  Even though the digits 123456789 are shown, it could be played the same way using the letters ABCDEFGHI.  Try it.  You might get hooked.                              03/13/07

                

Commentary No. 17

Botany

Definition of a weed:  A weed is simply a plant growing where it is not wanted!

This is a confession of IMs ignorance.  Except for the superficials, he is ignorant regarding the life and times of at least 50 percent (just a guess) of the living entities on this planet—plants.  Without these lifeforms, IM would not exist, yet he knows almost nothing about them.  So many questions!

*  It is January yet there are patches of little leafy green plants in the yard.What are they?  Why aren’t they dormant like the rest of the yard?

IM read that some trees communicate—when one is infected with a fungus, its neighbors sense this and develop defensive substances.  IM finds this amazing!

Researchers have learned that the genome of a rice plant is more complex than that of a human being.  Also amazing!  (One speculation:A plant can’t move around like an animal, and therefore has had to develop special survival tools.)

*  Many plants sleep.  IM has personally watched oxalis  fold its leaves at sundown.How does it know?

*  IM read that plants live in extreme environments where animals can’t—like Antarctica—and maybe Mars?  What can be learned from this?

Evolution.  Plants have evolved over millions of years just as animals have.  A flowering daisy is as far removed genetically from a fern as IM is from an oyster, yet both plants grace America’s lawns!  Can we take lessons from their ability to coexist?

Maybe someday IM will read a book and return with answers.  For the time being he will plod along in ignorance.

A digression:  As IM writes, he recalls “Botany Bay”.  Botany Bay in southeastern Australia was where Adm. Arthur Phillip in 1788 established the first penal colonies as a place to dump England’s riffraff.  Because of its lush foliage, Botany Bay was so named by the noted naturalist Sir Joseph Banks during Captain James Cook’s 1770 voyage of discovery.  (IM is now on a stream-of-consciousness roll.)  On this same voyage, Sir Joseph visited Tahiti where he was introduced to the breadfruit tree.  Back in England several years later, Sir Joseph came up with a solution to a vexing problem—finding a cheap way to feed all the slaves at England’s Caribbeancolonies.  He remembered the breadfruit tree.  He arranged for a ship to sail to Tahiti, load up on breadfruit seedlings, and then take them to the West Indies.  The ship was the Bounty, the captain was William Bligh, the first mate was Fletcher Christian, and the rest, as they say, is history!

The seedlings never made it out of the Pacific.  They lie in the sunken Bounty off the rocky shore of Pitcairn’s Island  where the descendents of the mutineers still live.  The classic rendering of the Bounty story, although slightly fictionalized, remains Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall’s 1936 work, The Bounty TrilogyTheir 1941 book Botany Bay is also a classic describing the founding of AustraliaUpper-crust Australians trace their ancestry to the Botany Bay convicts, just as upper-crust Bostonians do to the Mayflower.

Back to botany again, here’s the infamous breadfruit tree.       01/29/07

                                                                

Commentary No. 16

The Wheels

Summer of 1953, 18-year-old IM, just out of high school, had a summer job at International Harvester’s Farmall Tractor Plant in Rock Island, $1.56/hour, triple his wage of the preceding summer at the YMCA.  From 7:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m, IM raked metal chips and shavings out of oil baths under big lathes in the Gear Department, always covered with oil, working in dim lighting, stifling heat, smell of oil everywhere, ears pounded by deafening noise.  Single 10-minute coffee break and 30-minute lunch break, both controlled by a whistle.  Locker changing rooms that could be used before punching the time clock at 7:30 and after punching out at 3:30.  IM was only there for the summer, but the quiet, friendly men standing at those lathes were committed for decades.  Until that summer, college to IM was just something someone did after high shool.  That summer he I learned college would keep him away from those lathes.  (That summer also made him a supporter of the union movement.  IM hopes the union was there for those men when International Harvester closed its doors a number of years ago.)

There were wheels everywhere in the Gear Department.  The gears created there were themselves wheels.  Everything seemed to go round and round.  IM composed this “poem” in his head as he wheeled his cart from lathe to lathe.  He wrote it down later then put it away.  Not long ago, IM found that sheet of paper.  It was browned by time, but the handwriting was quite clear—certainly clearer than his present handwriting.  Here it is:

The Wheels

Round and round and round and round go the wheels that mark man’s destiny; the cause and effect that guide his existence on earth.

Round and round and round and round go the wheels of time; all conquering time, before which we each rise, glow dimly or brightly as the case may be, and fade away, only to be replaced by another.

Round and round and round and round go the wheels of culture; each generation’s different from the one before, each similar to the one before that.

Round and round and round and round go the wheels of government; slavery followed by license, each ruled by man’s worst enemy— man.

Round and round and round and round go the wheels of war; each one supposedly the last, each but the prelude to the next.

Round and round and round and round go the wheels of faith; unbelieving, believing, unbelieving again, with God, ever merciful and ever patient, waiting, waiting, waiting—

IM never read the Bible’s Book of Ecclesiastestill many years later.  The similarities are striking, not in the words necessarily, but in the concepts.  See for yourself.         11/24/06

http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/RsvEccl.html

                                                                                 

Commentary No. 15

Office Décor

IM’s commentaries are not prepared in a vacuum.  They are prepared in a real-world environment.  In short, IM, like other mortals, has an office.  So what is the ambience of IM’s office?  He will try to explain.

He will do so by scatter-shooting around his little room describing various objects.  These objects will notinclude the many photographs of people on his walls and desk—grandchildren, children, spouse, siblings, parents, grandparents, great-grandparents.  Maybe another time for them.

On one wall is a framed landscape picture.  The landscape is of a tallgrass prairie preserve in Lancaster County, Nebraska.   IM as a child lived near that scene and the views around the small farm where he lived were similar.  That particular picture was on the cover of NebraskaLand magazine, but it had writing across it.  IM contacted the publisher and bought a clean print.  Not long thereafter NebraskaLand sent a free calendar to its subscribers.  The picture for one of the months was the same as the one IM bought!  Had he waited, he could have had the picture for free.  Oh well.

Right above the landscape is a painting of a Victorian-type structure with a clock tower.  It is the CB&Q railroad depot in Rock Island, Illinois.  CB&Q stands for Chicago Burlington and Quincy, although the line was usually referred to as the Burlington.  Sharing the depot was the famous Rock Island Line.  The Burlington’s marquee passenger train was the Zephyr; the Rock Island’s was the Rocket.  Both lines ran by different routes all the way to the West Coast.  Both IM and his spouse have boarded trains at that station, back in the days when rail travel was the norm and air travel was still considered exotic.

A shelf full of tools.  Not big stuff—that’s out in the garage.  Small hammer (long ago it was said that the solution to any carpentry problem was to get a bigger hammer!).  Screwdriver’s of various types (including, off to one side, an electric one that to IM’s thinking real men don’t use.)  Wrenches: Real wrenches, box and open end of several sizes; Allen wrenches (now called hex wrenches); numerous crescent wenches that can easily mess up bolt heads (it used to be said ,”If you can’t find a wrench, get a crescent.”); small socket wrenches.  That’s enough about tools.

Some drafting equipment acquired as a freshman engineering student in college.  Two plastic triangles (one a 45-45-90, one a 30-60-90).  An engineer scale and an architect scale.  A compass and dividers.  (A T-square hangs in the garage.)  IM has used these when designing various house improvements.

And, of course, computer, router, cable modem, two printers, camera dock, scanner, unorganized trays of CDs, unorganized trays of floppy disks.

On another wall is a frame holding a fading piece of paper upon which is inscribed:

          MAKE IT DO

          WEAR IT OUT

          USE IT UP         

          DO WITHOUT

Wonderful words to live by for Great Depression-born IM.  These words came from a 1950s humorous novel by Max Shulman called “Rally ‘Round the Flag, Boys!”  The book was later made into a movie with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.  It is with futility that IM has tried imprint these homely little maxims upon other household members.

IM’s spouse has countered the preceding maxims with a gift sitting on one of his file cabinets.  It is a plaque with a happy face in a sunburst that is inscribed “Smile—and life smiles back.”  IM glances at it daily and actually does smile.   10/24/06

Commentary No, 14

Alfred the Great

IM once saw this rhetorical question posed:  Of all the famous individuals in history, with whom would you most like to visit during a leisurely two-hour lunch?  IM’s imagination roamed.  Political leaders?  Religion founders?  Generals?  Literary figures?  Scientists?  Social movement leaders?  Criminals?  IM did not come up with a flip answer.  At random moments over the next few days, one name after another would pop into his brain.  Finally, one name came and stayed put:  Alfred the Great.

Of all the kings of England, only one has had “the Great” affixed to his name.  And in IM’s view the appellation fits.  He died in 899 at the age of 50 after being king for 28 years.

First a bit of history.  When the Romans abandoned Britain in the 5th century after a 400 year presence, the island was then open to the cousins of the same tribes that were besieging Romeitself.  The Angles, Jutes, and Saxons came and settled down for good.  The Britons already there were simply pushed out of the way, much as their descendents over a thousand years later pushed the American Indians out of the way.  These Britons ended up in Ireland, Wales, Scotland, and in the Cornwallarea, the far southwest of the island, where the legend of King Arthur began.  Over the next several hundred years, these tribes established farms and towns and developed a culture.  All Europeans had languages, but these Anglo-Saxons, as they were known, were the first to develop and use a written language other than Latin, and in that language to create literature (Think the Beowulf epic which IM has read in its entirety, not just the Grendel part.)  They created a unique form of poetry based on alliteration.  Christianity flourished.  (Think the Venerable Bede and his best-known writing The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, which IM has also read.)

But then came the Vikings.  For a century they raided coastal settlements, but in the 800s they came to stay, bringing families and livestock, and settling.  (One might say this was payback for what the Jutes, Angles, and Saxons did to the Britons.)  Anyway, the stage is now set for Alfred.  He managed to unite the various little kingdoms not yet overrun and was able to fight the Vikings to a draw, working out a deal where they would stay only in the northeast portion of the island.  Who would have thought a war could be ended by negotiation and compromise?  (Over succeeding generations, these Vikings, already a kindred people ethnically, were assimilated into the general population.)  When his campaign began, Alfred was simply king of Wessex.  When it was over, Alfred was king of a unified entity called England.  That is, as IM said earlier, a bit of history.  For a fuller telling, start with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Alfred_the_Great

IM's luncheon conversation with Alfred, however, would not center on his military, political, and diplomatic prowess but on his literary prowess.  At a time when most monarchs could not read (Why bother?  Monks and clerks could read for them!), Alfred could not only read but could write.  When peace came, he took it upon himself to re-build the devastated Old English heritage of education and learning.  He established a Court School and imported scholars to teach.  He himself attended.  But most of his efforts went into having translated into Old English from Latin all the important writings extant at the time.  Subjects were philosophy, theology, history.  Some translations were his personally, and for most works he wrote forewords and made additions to the texts where he felt it appropriate.  Then there were the works of Alfred himself, both prose and poetry.  So I would want to find out from Alfred what made his mind tick!  Why didn’t he just sit around with his wife and six kids enjoying his renown?  Why did he feel this need to re-create a culture?  How did he determine which works were worth translating?  IM’sWhy did he send delegations to Rome, Jerusalem, and possibly India?  Alfred would probably end up the conversation with one of his own quotes:  "My will was to live worthily as long as I lived, and after my life to leave to them that should come after, my memory in good works."

Note.  IM’s closest personal contact with Alfred came during his trip to Englandin 1974.  A highlight of that trip was a few hours in the BritishMuseum in London.  A highlight of those few hours was staring at a reconstructed Anglo-Saxon farmstead.  He could visualize Alfred sitting on the bench in front of that thatch-roofed hut visiting with the farmer and his family about their life—an activity he often did.

Note.  He was the first English king to realize the necessity of a navy and designed ships himself.  (The first one sank!)  Both the U.S and British navies look to him as their founder.  The first ship commissioned by the Continental Congress in 1775 was christened Alfred.

Note.  The song Winchester Cathedral lby The New Vaudeville Band was a top single in 1966.  Winchester Cathedral is where Alfred was buried.  The statue of Alfred pictured below stands in front of the cathedral.

IM now re-poses the rhetorical question.  What famous individual in history would his readers like to visit with during a leisurely two-hour lunch, and why?        09/10/06

                                                                    

Commentary No. 13

News Junkie 

IM admits it.  He has a vice.  He is a news junkie.  He has yet to find a 12-step program to cure this addiction.  Furthermore, IM is not even looking very hard to find one.  He may be incurable. 

His day begins with black coffee and two newspapers—a local one and the Washington Post.  On the TV is either CNN or MSNBC, not FOX.  IM can’t handle FOX News—too biased.  (Once, in a sincere attempt at impartiality, he forced himself to watch the Bill O’Reilly Show for a full hour.  Much of the show was spent discussing how poor Rush Limbaugh was being picked on by Customs Agents.  That hour was enough.  He has often since thought of all the more useful ways that hour could have been spent.) 

By mid-morning it’s time for IM’s New York Times fix.  The Times.  “The Old Gray Lady.”  America’s leading newspaper.  It’s editorial page and columnists are invariably on target—much to the current administration’s discomfiture.  Try it:  http://www.nytimes.com/ 

Later in the day, IM browses among his bookmarks.  To name a few: 

AlJazeera (English-language version).  Surely toned down for our eyes, but still a good window into another mindset.  http://english.aljazeera.net/HomePage  

BBC.  A view of the world from across the Atlantic.  Lots of stories that don’t make it into U.S. papers.  Scads of links.  http://news.bbc.co.uk/  

Indian Country Today.  Covers issues facing our mostly-forgotten minority.  Real eye-openers.  IM’s Medicine Wheel garden design came from here.  http://www.indiancountry.com/  

Pravda (English-language version).  Front page very innocuous.  The opinion pages are where IM gets a sense of current attitudes of our old adversary.  http://english.pravda.ru/  

National Center for Science Education.  Not exactly a news site, but it’s one place where IM can keep tabs on his pet peeve—the anti-evolution” Luddites.” http://www.natcenscied.org/  

C-Span.  Either on TV or on the web.  In-depth interviews, panel discussions, book reviews, call-ins.  No commercials.  One seldom hears voiceovers.  Website valuable for links and program schedules.  http://www.c-span.org/  

PBS.  IM tries to catch Gwen Ifill’s “Washington Week in Review” on Friday evening.  A roundtable of journalists discussing issues where no one yells at anybody.  “Now” with David Brancaccio, also Friday evening, is usually worthwhile.  All PBS links start at http://www.pbs.org/  

And IM could go on, but he won’t.  It’s time for the news!   08/24/06

                    

Commentary No. 12

Trees

Alfred Joyce Kilmer’s famous little poem Trees was written in 1913.  In July 1918 towards the end of World War I, as a soldier in Douglas McArthur’s Rainbow Division, he was killed by a German sniper during the Second Battle of the Marne in northeast France.  Thus he joined many other famous poets, like Byron, Keats, and Shelley, who died young.

For those who did not have to memorize and recite this poem in grade school, as IM had to, nor listen to the musical version which was a standard offering at most choral concerts decades ago, as IM had to, here is the text:

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast; A

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.

The poem, however, enchanting though it may be, serves here only as an introduction to IM’s involvement with trees.  IM grew up on the prairie where trees were few and those few were precious.  Arbor Day, the last Friday in April, was a big deal. 

On Arbor Day when IM was in 2nd grade, a small tree was to be given away in each class.  IM’s teacher had a basket full of folded slips of paper.  One slip had a blue spot; all the others had red spots.  Whoever drew the blue slip from the basket got the tree.  IM seldom has premonitions, but he had one then.  He simply knew he would get the slip with the blue spot.  And he did.  He took home a little American elm and planted it in the front yard.  When the family moved about a year later, the little elm was dug up and replanted at the new home.  It was too large at the next move, so it was left behind.  It probably perished in the great die-off of the 50s—Dutch elm disease wiped out the American elm, the tree that had shaded residential streets all over the United States for over a century.

Years later, IM and his family moved into their first home—a new suburban tract house on a treeless lot.  This was an incongruity because that home was not on the prairie, but in the Middle Atlantic region where the land’s natural state is forest and the excess of trees is more often a nuisance than a treasure.  Maybe the subdivision developer thought he was doing IM a favor!

After installing a chain link fence to keep kids corralled, IM began planting trees.  Since the homebuilder had left the lot with lousy clay soil and a thin layer of sod on top, IM had to find and dig up baby saplings that we’re growing naturally in that junk, then transplant them, then force-feed them fertilizer using a homemade root waterer.  Trees were planted strategically for shading and privacy.  No elms, of course, mainly maples.  The system worked.  When the family moved away 17 years later, the originally treeless lot was a grove.

Now IM lives on a lot with a plethora of trees, both in number and in species.  And in a link to the past, on his deck railing are pots with baby trees obtained from the National Arbor Day Foundation.

For those who have never seen one, here is an American elm.          08/07/06

                     

Commentary No. 11

Neanderthal

IM was recently scanning the Yahoo headlines.  Lebanon—old news.  Iraq—old news.  Wildfires—old news.  And then he read “Neanderthal Genome Being Created”.  That was NOT old news!

IM has long been intrigued by homo neanderthalensis.  If a chimpanzee is modern man’s cousin, then Neanderthal would be his half-brother.  Neanderthal, although somewhat different in appearance from us, did not look like the cartoon caricatures.  He was a little shorter, heavier brow, receding chin, very muscular.  If he had a shave, haircut, and a nice suit, he could probably walk down most streets attracting little notice. 

Neanderthal died out 15,000-20,000 years ago, a blink of an eye by evolutionary standards.  He thrived in the Middle East and Europe for about 100,000 years before that.  His demise at about the same time that homo sapiens moved into his territory is probably no coincidence.  Just what happened as these half-brothers interfaced has been one of paleontology’s enduring puzzles—the subject of many speculative hypotheses.

Differing cognitive abilities seems to be the leading candidate.  Not that Neanderthal was dumb, he just thought in a way that is different from how we think.  His way served him well in both the desert and through numerous Ice Ages.  He used fire and tools.  He cared for his ill and injured companions.  He may have had a religious sense—the remains of flowers have been found at burial sites.  But his way of thinking may not have been up to countering crafty, resourceful, innovative, and possibly aggressive homo sapiens when it came to competing for resources.  He drew back and drew back until finally the grey Atlantic was at his back and then he was gone.  IM wonders what the world may have missed through his disappearance.

The genome project, a collaboration of U.S. and German scientists, hopes to discover (1) what made Neanderthal tick, and (2), more self-servingly, what makes us so superior.  IM would be smile if the differences prove to be negligible.

Here is the re-creation, from skeletal remains, of a Neanderthal girl’s face.       07/23/06

                                                                            

Commentary No 10

Maps

A little couplet composed by IM:

          Mapquest is fast, but paper maps last.

IM entered the world of maps on paper as a child during World War II.  His home contained a large green world atlas and gazetteer—coffee-table-book size.  IM would read of war events in the newspaper or hear of them on the radio, then locate the site of the event in the atlas.  Later in the war, he acquired larger maps of Europe and the Pacific which he mounted on the wall of his bedroom.  There, with pins, he could keep better track of the war’s progress.

After the war, when traveling vacations were again possible, IM started collecting state highway maps—given away free at nearly every gas station.  Many might now be collectors’ items, but IM foolishly threw most away when newer updated editions became available.  He enjoyed riding in the car with map in lap, comparing it with the lay of the land.  Also a National Geographic subscription with its accompanying maps kept IM up to date on all the post-World War II changes as colonialism waned and new nations cropped up almost monthly.  The old green atlas and gazetteer quickly became obsolete.

IM still has quite a few maps.  He has highway maps—of varying vintage—for most states, as well as many city maps.  Probably the most cherished is a beat-up old road atlas which has highlighted every highway in North America that he has traveled upon.  Next would be the U.S. map that has highlighted the route taken by IM and his family across the country and back in 1976.  He has a city map of Los Angeles showing every street driven over during his many business trips there.  He has a map of London showing every street walked during free time on a business trip in 1974.  He has a U.S. map with little green circles showing every airport ever landed at or taken off from.  He has a related U.S. map with lines showing flight paths that connect all the little green circles.

Then there are various odd maps:  Canadian highway maps for a planned-but-never-taken trip to L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, the site of the Viking settlement.  A highway map of Spain and another highway map of all southern Europe.  Highway maps of England and Scotland and a city map of Florence, Italy.  And many little local maps. 

And finally, here’s a map that is meaningful to IM and may be others as well.    06/29/06

                                                                    

Commentary No. 9

Dostoyevsky

Most people’s acquaintance with the writings of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, if there is acquaintance at all, is limited to a hurried reading of a selection or two in a college History of Western Civilization class.  What a shame.  Many acclaim him to be the greatest novelist who ever lived.  But there’s more.  To quote Encarta Encyclopedia:

  “His influence has been immense, and not only in literature. His novels anticipate the 20th-century antiutopian worlds created by British writers George Orwell and Aldous Huxley. His psychological explorations, which intrigued Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, show the workings of the unconscious mind and the complexity of the human personality. The religious dimension of his works explores the consequences of a world without God. Even though they are deeply rooted in 19th-century Russia, his novels are surprisingly relevant to the 20th century in that they anticipate contemporary problems of alienation, social disruption, and totalitarianism, and the implications, both positive and negative, of human freedom.”

IM made his acquaintance with Dostoyevsky in college also but not by taking a course.  To this day, IM cannot fathom what prompted him to buy, BUY, that paperback copy of Crime and Punishment in the college bookstore.  Who would ever think that a book written by a Russian in the 1860s could become a page-turner for an engineering student?  IM soon found himself hurrying through his evening homework in math, physics, and structures so he could resume reading.  Finishing the book surely helped raise IM’s grade-point average that quarter.

About a year later, The Brothers Karamazov movie came out, based on Dostoyevsky’s most famous novel.  IM never saw it and according to the critics that was a good thing.  Despite an all-star cast (Yul Brynner, Claire Bloom, Lee J. Cobb, Maria Schell, Richard Basehart, Albert Salmi, and a young William Shatner), it bombed.  But the movie hype did cause IM to go out and buy the novel (in paperback, of course).  He found it to be another, even more intense, page-turner!  Again, all other activities suffered until the book was finished.  It was then easy for IM to see why the movie flopped.  There was no way in the world that the immense scope and multitudinous themes of this 900-page novel could be compressed into two hours.  On film, it became simply another run-of-the-mill murder mystery.

Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky (1821-1881):  Epileptic, compulsive gambler, procrastinator, always in debt.  The defining moment of his life came when he was 28.  For the crime of sedition (bad-mouthing the government), he and a group of friends were sentenced to death.  They sat in prison for eight months, were then brought out before the firing squad, tied to stakes, blindfolded, and then at the last minute told that their sentences had been changed to four years of hard labor and four years in the Army, all to be served in Siberia.  This was Czar Nicholas I’s idea of a joke.  That horrible incident scarred his psyche for the rest of his life, but may have been responsible for the philosophical, criminal, psychological, moral, and spiritual themes found in his four greatest novels, all written in the 1860s and 1870s.  Those novels are the aforementioned Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov plus The Possessed and The Idiot.

Now back to IM’s involvement with Dostoyevsky.  Crime and Punishment was reread several years ago.  Much, much more meaningful the second time around.  The Brothers Karamazov cannot be read too many times.  Over the decades, IM has read it four times.  New insights at each reading.  Now, thanks to a daughter’s gift, it can be listened to from a set of CDs.  The Possessed was read a couple years ago.  The strangest and most violent of the four.  And finally, The Idiot was read recently.  His most-nearly autobiographical novel.  It should have been read years ago so that IM could now be reading it again.

So where is IM going with this dissertation?  No place in particular.  And what does Dostoyevsky have to do with everyday life today?  Nothing and everything.

                                                                      

Commentary No. 8

Comics

The rhetorical question has been posed, “Does Iguana Man read the comics?”  His answer is, “Yes, of course, but selectively.”  So what comics does IM read?  And what significance can be drawn from this listing?  Hopefully, none other than that it’s a fun way for IM to spend a few minutes each day.

Daily IM reads

Non Sequitur.  Danae can be almost as topical as Doonesbury at times.

For Better or Worse.  Canadians pretending to be like Americans.

B.C.  Stays clever as long as the cartoonist’s fundamentalism is held in check.

Beatle Bailey.  Starting to get a bit stale but still readable.

Wizard of Id.  Similar to B.C. but in general sicker, thus funnier.

Close to Home.  Occasionally quite funny; more often not.

Frank and Ernest.  Master of puns!

Blondie.  A sixty-year habit.  There’s comfort in the old running plotlines.

Garfield.  The cynical cat is where it’s at (a rhyme)—most of the time.

Shoe.  Lots of clever put-downs.

Dennis the Menace.  Continues to be cute, day in, day out.

Dilbert.  So strange it defies categorization.

Doonesbury.  Easy to see why many papers won't display it with the other comics.

On Sundays IM adds:

Hi and Lois.  Just a pleasant little strip.

Prince Valiant.  You can’t beat the Dark Ages for good clean fun.

The Lockhorns.  More funny put-downs.

On the web every few days:

Herman.  Perennial pathetic losers.

Ballard Street.  Probably the current funniest.  Alerted to it by IM’s son.

Almost any comic strip there is can be found at:

http://www.comics.com/    

And finally, the greatest, even tho no longer in the paper:

Far Side. With a daughter’s gift, IM has now re-read the complete works.

To conclude, here is one of IM's all-time favorite Far Side cartoons:   05/21/06

                                              

Commentary No. 7

Dalai Lama

IM has felt an affinity for the Dalai Lama ever since, a few years ago, he learned they were the same age. After reading his newest book, The Universe in a Single Atom, IM decided to compare their lives.

Lhamo Thondup was born in a farmhouse in Amdo province, Tibet, on Jul 6, 1935. IM was born a few months earlier at a nice hospital in a medium-size Midwestern city.

In 1941 at age 6, Lhamo was whisked away to the Pagoda in Lhasa, renamed Tenzin Gyatso, and began his instruction as the 14th incarnation of the Dalai Lama. At that time, IM was walking six blocks twice a day to and from 1st grade where he was learning to read.

In 1950, now enthroned as Tibet’s ruler, 15-year-old DL was in Beijing, futilely negotiating with Mao Tse Tung for Tibet’s independence. That year IM was transitioning from junior high school to senior high school, having spent the summer mowing neighbor’s lawns (with a hand mower).

In 1959, DL fled the People’s Republic of China’s invading army, and established a Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamsala, India, in the shadow of the Himalayas. That government-in-exile is still there today. That year IM fled the U.S. Army and with his young wife awaited their firstborn in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains.

In September 1979, DL accepted the key to the city of San Francisco from Mayor Diane Feinstein. That year in November, IM was in San Francisco to coordinate the Army’s security design manual with the Navy’s.

In 1989, DL was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his non-violent efforts to liberate the people of Tibet. That year IM was nearing completion of a technical manual on designing structures to resist the effects of electromagnetic pulse, one of the by-products of a nuclear explosion.

In 2006, their lives converged when IM read the above-mentioned book. The Universe in a Single Atom. First, IM was astounded at DL’s knowledge of science, especially physics, and in particular quantum mechanics, which is about as esoteric as you can get!  Also heavy into genetics.  This is all a lead-up to the book’s later chapters where he discusses, surprise!, evolution.  DL sees no conflict at all between Darwinian evolution and Buddhism, nor, by implication, should any other religion.

One of his notable quotes is:

         "If science proves some belief of Buddhism wrong, then Buddhism will have to change. In my view, science and Buddhism share a search for the truth and for understanding reality. By learning from science about aspects of reality where its understanding may be more advanced, I believe that Buddhism enriches its own worldview."

(IM has no problem substituting “Christianity” for “Buddhism” in that quote.)

Two remarkably different paths to the same conclusion!          05/05/06

                                                                 

Commentary No. 6


Evolution II 
(A quick re-read of Commentary No. 1 is advised before reading further here.)

IM stands corrected.  Cobb County, Georgia, is not in the hinterlands of the state.  Cobb County is a bedroom community just north of Atlanta.  Who knew?  It appears ignorance can arise anywhere.   The National Center for Science Education keeps tabs on all the entities who try to push this stuff into school curriculums and other public forums.  Their list is quite an eye-opener for its length and can be found at http://www.natcenscied.org/.

A priest friend of IM’s years ago coined a term for those hell-bent on forcing their views onto others.  He called them “the urgent ones”.  In the present context, the urgent ones try various angles.  Their favorite is, “Evolution is just a theory.”  They know full well that not one in a hundred will pick up a dictionary to see how “theory” is defined. 

Most dictionaries have several definitions.  Down towards the bottom of the list is usually found:

          An assumption based on limited information or knowledge; a conjecture.This is the definition the urgent ones assign to evolution—a conjecture.

But at the top of most lists is this, the scientific definition:

          A set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena.

The two are a world apart in significance.  The first could say, for example, that Newton’s Theory of Gravity is just a theory, having equal validity with the theory that every object is held to the earth by invisible rubber bands. 

The second requires that a phenomenon be observed, that a hypothesis to explain the phenomenon be developed, that experiments to prove or disprove the hypothesis be conducted, that the hypothesis be revised in light of experimental results, that more experiments then be conducted, that this process be repeated until the final hypothesis is proved, and that at last the same results can be attained every time, not just by the originator of the hypothesis, but by anybody else (a process called “peer review”).  At this point, the hypothesis becomes a theory.  This procedure is known as the scientific method, and underlies almost every physical aspect of the world as we know it, from toothpaste to plate tectonics.  Darwinian evolution has been subjected to the scientific method and has passed.

What IM finds most fascinating in this “debate” is the equating of the scientific method with theology, specifically when it comes to a literal interpretation of the Bible.  The urgent ones cosmology is much the same as that of the Iron Age Middle-Eastern men who wrote the Bible, which was similar to the cosmology of many cultures of the time. These Bible writers wrote some of the greatest words ever put down on paper (or papyrus).  Their insights into the human condition and into man’s relationship with God are as valid today as they were then.  But a science textbook?  Get real!  Yet the urgent ones single-minded absorption with the inerrancy of the Bible colors all aspects of their theology.  And if someone were to break through this mindset and demonstrate to them one instance of inaccuracy in the Bible, then their whole house of cards would come tumbling down and they would be left without a rudder on a meaningless sea.  Their Iron Age faith is built on a foundation of sand.  Most urgent ones, IM believes, unconsciously sense this prospect and fear it; hence their zeal to create a world of fellow believers, as if a majority vote could prevail against scientific truth.

It needn’t be this way, as the Bible itself states.  Faith also has many definitions, but none beats that of St. Paul.  (If Christianity were a corporation, Jesus would be founder and chairman of the board, and St. Paul would be its CEO!)  Paul states in Hebrews 11:1 that:

          “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Thus, in IM’s mind, what can be seen, read, felt, while wondrous in themselves (think sunsets, literature, relationships), are not germane to this definition of faith.  (It is a given that the implications for good that flow forth from this definition of faith affect all aspects of how we live, or should live, life; however, they are not subject matter for discourse here.)

At this point IM was going to continue expounding, but he then wondered to what end?  The lily cannot be gilded.  The Pauline verse, in its simplicity, says all that is necessary.  The only conflict between evolution and the Bible is man-created.          04/25/06

Commentary No. 5

Russia

IM has long been fascinated with Russia—this behemoth of a nation, stretching across ten time zones, home to both the horror of the gulag and the beauty of Tschaikowsky, the 900-pound gorilla throwing its weight around as it chooses.  Nikolai Gogol, in the mid-19th century, captured this image with his short poem:

“Rus, Rus, are you not racing on
like a spirited troika that none can pass?

Everything on earth is flying by;
other nations look askance,
but step aside to let you pass.”

Yes, the West may look down its nose at Russia, but it gets out of its way!  Maybe it’s because IM spent so much of his professional career “fighting” the Cold War where he came to know his adversaries, the Soviets/Russians, almost better than his allies.  Once, in the early 70s, IM had an opportunity to take a cheap 9-day tour to Leningrad, Moscow, and Kiev.  As he went to put down a deposit for himself and his wife, he was told the tour was already sold out!  (It was bittersweet revenge to learn a few weeks later that the tour had been canceled—TOO cheap, most likely.)

IM watches with fascination as Rusia's 10-year flirtation with a market-based capitalistic economy slowly evaporates.  Too much, too soon!  Too many people who didn’t, or couldn’t, catch on and thus fell through the cracks.  The cry from the masses soon became, “Security!”  They wanted not entrepreneurship but the guarantee of daily bread.  The only source of security throughout Russia’s history that these masses are familiar with is autocracy.  Putin knows this.  He is simply the latest Tsar in a nice suit.  Most Russians love him.  And each time he hassles the West, they love him more—he is restoring pride!  Bread  and pride.  Nourishment for body and spirit.  IM will continue to watch.

For anyone interested in a crash course on Russian history, PBS ran a remarkable series several years ago.  Here is the website:  http://www.pbs.org/weta/faceofrussia/      04/14/06

 Commentary No. 4

Beer Cans

On the wall beside IM’s desk is a photo of a bunch of beer cans nicely laid out in rows.    There are about 120 cans in the picture and every one is different.  This is  IM’s closest thing to a collection.  IM drank the contents of each— that is the collection’s only claim to uniqueness.  They were collected over an approximately ten year span that from 1972 to 1982.  IM has long held that all beer tastes the same— to him anyway.  This is true for 119 cans in the picture.  In the bottom row is a white can labeled with the single word “BEER”.  This is the one exception.  IM found this in the generic food section of a supermarket (Ralph’s?) near Huntington Beach, California.  It was bad!  IM drained the can but it was bad!  In 1983, during a housecleaning frenzy, the collection was thrown into a plastic trash bag, but at the last minute IM could not bring himself to set it on the curb.  The plastic trash went to the back of a closet.  A few years later, his son packed the cans into a box and shipped it to his out-of-state home.  There, he lined up the cans on the floor, positioned a camera high overhead, and took the picture now on my wall.  The collection itself went back into its plastic trash bag and is now stored in his attic.  In addition to the infamous “BEER” can, a few others stand out.  A Billy Beer can, named for Jimmy Carter’s good-ol’-boy brother Billy whose antics where a continual source of embarrassment to the White House.  A JR Beer can, for J.R. Ewing, an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of the TV series “Dallas”.  Cans from Germany brought back in IM’s luggage.  Many from small breweries long since driven out of business by Miller, Bud, and Coors.  The collection is now a feast for the eyes as it was once a feast for the palate. 03/30/06

                                                      

Commentary No. 3

Denmark

To the best of IM’s recollection, little Denmark has made splashes on the international scene only twice in the past century—both estimable ones. During World War II, while under Nazi occupation, and at great personal risk, Danish citizens hid and then smuggled to Sweden 7100 of the 7600 Jews living in Denmark.  The Nazis were only able to get their hands on 500 for their concentration camps.  Also during the war, the story arose how after the Nazis ordered all Jews to wear yellow badges, King Christian himself put on a yellow badge and tens of thousands of Danish citizens followed his example.  It turns out the story is an urban legend, but it has had great moral value over the years.  Fast forward to last fall for the second splash.  A small Danish newspaper (think Idaho Falls Post Register) asked numerous cartoonists to send in a drawing of Mohammed so people would finally know what he looked like.  Twelve responded.  Most are amateurish and not even funny.  (See them at http://www.zombietime.com/mohammed_image_archive/jyllands-posten_cartoons/ )  No matter.  Several Danish Muslim clerics went to the prime minister, demanding that the cartoonists and editors be punished for blasphemously trying to depict Mohammed which Islam prohibits.  The PM in essence said, “I can’t do that.  No laws have been broken.”  The clerics then demanded he apologize to the world for what Denmark had done.  The PM in essence said, “I have nothing to apologize for.  We have a free press.”  The clerics then changed tactics, shopped their cause across the Islamic world, and months later found takers which resulted in deaths, riots, destruction, and boycotts.  This adherence to principle cost Denmark big bucks economically and left many of its citizens the object of fatwahs.  IM implores, “May there be more little Denmarks in the world.” 03/15/06

Commentary No. 2

Anonymity

There was a time when IM delegated to the trash pile anything with an anonymous author.  After all, if a writer felt strongly enough to put his views into print, then he should be man enough to sign his name and then deal with whatever heat came his way.  That was then.  That was before the “crazies”.  IM now considers “anonymity” in a different light.  The “crazies”, if they encounter a viewpoint they don’t like, are not content to debate substance, but feel compelled to attack the author (think Danish cartoons).  IM refuses to place himself in a position where name, address, and phone number can be tracked.  Further, and even more importantly, he does not want those closest to him identified.  IM does not kid himself completely—he knows he is, to a degree, still vulnerable to a determined hacker.  For example, he has no doubt that under Bushlaw the National Security Agency has already set up a file.  That’s OK.  While disagreeing with Bushlaw, IM trusts the NSA.  The NSA is not some monolithic Borg-like entity, it is composed of thousands of federal workers who carpool, coach Little League, mow their lawns.  In other words, NSA is composed of people like IM used to be and some of whom IM knew—people who have common sense.  Which segues neatly into “Common Sense”, the pre-Revolutionary War tracts written by Thomas Paine.  They were published anonymously.  So IM is in good company.  03/07/06

Commentary No. 1

Evolution

IM will be tolerant.  IM will be tolerant.  All adherents of creationism or intelligent design are not benighted bumpkins.  Many are good well-intentioned people who perceive their core world-view being under attack.  They are ignorant: to be pitied, then educated, but not dismissed.  So IM will be tolerant.  But it will be hard.

Because on the other hand:
                        "There is nothing more frightful than ignorance in action."
                                        Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

When IM sees that the Cobb County, Ga., School Board is fooling around with biology textbvooks, IM roll his eyes.  Rural Georgia!  What would you expect?  But then IM finds that Dover, Pa., and the State of Kansas are also fooling around.  And then IM sees that "christian schools" (IM won't dignify them with capitalization) are suing the Univ. of California system for religious discrimination because biology credits from their high schools aren't accepted by California colleges.  These actions, to him, are a bit frightful.  Finally, IM reads where a Biology 101 teacher at a publicly-funded Northern Virginia college is using her class time to actively refute Darwinian evolutionary theory and to promote intelligent design.  Now that is really frightful. ( Fortunately, IM is sure most of her freshman students have never turned off their iPods or have glazed over and gone to a happy place after her opening "God morning".)

(More coming on this subject--probably much more.)  02/17/06