Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween

What greeted the Trick or Treaters at our house tonight.

Greetings All:

Halloween is just about over.  The trick or treaters have come and gone and the required candy sort from the kids has been done.  I only pilfered one Heath bite-size bar.  Then again, there is still plenty of candy left.  We had rain here so that put a damper (pun intended) on the foot traffic.  I was impressed to see the older kids out collecting cans for the Student Hunger Drive.  They each got an extra Kit Kat bar.

I think there should be a code of honor with Halloween candy and it should go like this:  If you have the means, then don't buy different candy to give out than what you will eat at home.  Here's an example:  Don't buy a bag of Tootsie Rolls to give out and save the Hershey's for yourself. 

As I write this, I have to think about what do people do who are on fixed incomes?  Do they have to keep their lights off?  Do they use money that should go towards the power bill?  When I think about such things I add to the list of things to be grateful for, that I can buy candy, the good stuff.

It is fun to watch kids in their costumes.  It seems that the store-bought route is not as popular, especially with the older kids.  I gave one kid an extra piece of candy for an especially elaborate costume that I think was a zombie.  Whatever it was, it was the best one I saw all night.

I don't remember the last year I "dressed up" for Halloween.  It was probably in 6th or 7th grade.  That is when you are crossing the street from Kid Street to Adolescent Avenue.  Anything that is remotely uncool, they were to be avoided. 

Somewhere in a photo album is a picture of me when I was either 3 or 4 years old.  I was a knight with a cardboard shield wrapped in aluminum foil and cardboard sword.  My mom had made made a "suit of armor" from fabric and it was great.  That was pretty good.  Then, when I was a baby, I was a lion or something.  When my oldest daughter was born, she wore it.  We have a photo of that in an album and one of these days, I will get around to scanning those photos.  In the meantime, memories will do.

Halloween has become an American ritual (and a pretty fun one at that) but no blog post of mine would be complete without some historical reference, so here goes.  Halloween has roots back to ancient times with different cultural references throughout time.  Being half-Irish, I was glad to learn that there is an Irish-Celtic connection.

Here's a bit of history from our friends at Wikipedia:

"In modern Ireland, Scotland, Mann and Wales, the festival included mumming and guising,[43] the latter of which goes back at least as far as the 16th century.[44] This involved people going house-to-house in costume (or in disguise), usually reciting verses or songs in exchange for food.[43] It may have come from the Christian custom of souling (see below) or it may have a Gaelic folk origin, with the costumes being a means of imitating, or disguising oneself from, the Aos Sí. In Scotland, youths went house-to-house on 31 October with masked, painted or blackened faces, often threatening to do mischief if they were not welcomed.[43] F. Marian McNeill suggests the ancient festival included people in costume representing the spirits, and that faces were marked (or blackened) with ashes taken from the sacred bonfire.[44] In parts of Wales, men went about dressed as fearsome beings called gwrachod.[43] In the late 19th and early 20th century, young people in Glamorgan and Orkney dressed as the opposite gender.[43] In parts of southern Ireland, the guisers included a hobby horse. A man dressed as a Láir Bhán (white mare) led youths house-to-house reciting verses—some of which had pagan overtones—in exchange for food. If the household donated food it could expect good fortune from the 'Muck Olla'; not doing so would bring misfortune.[45][46] Elsewhere in Europe, mumming and hobby horses were part of other yearly festivals. However, in the Celtic-speaking regions they were "particularly appropriate to a night upon which supernatural beings were said to be abroad and could be imitated or warded off by human wanderers".[43] As early as the 18th century, "imitating malignant spirits" led to playing pranks in Ireland and the Scottish Highlands.[43] Wearing costumes at Halloween spread to England in the 20th century, as did the custom of playing pranks.[43] The "traditional illumination for guisers or pranksters abroad on the night in some places was provided by turnips or mangel wurzels, hollowed out to act as lanterns and often carved with grotesque faces to represent spirits or goblins".[43] These were common in parts of Ireland and the Scottish Highlands in 19th century,[43] as well as in Somerset (see Punkie Night). In the 20th century they spread to other parts of England and became generally known as jack-o'-lanterns.[43] "

Here's a description of the painting below and a poem that went with it:

"Snap-Apple Night, painted by Irish artist Daniel Maclise in 1833.

It was inspired by a Halloween party he attended in Blarney, Ireland, in 1832. The caption in the first exhibit catalogue:

There Peggy was dancing with Dan While Maureen the lead was melting, To prove how their fortunes ran With the Cards could Nancy dealt in; There was Kate, and her sweet-heart Will, In nuts their true-love burning, And poor Norah, though smiling still She'd missed the snap-apple turning.
On the Festival of Hallow Eve."

See above citation, public domain

That picture above looks like it was a great party.  I've been to a couple of good Halloween parties myself, but that was many moons ago and for another blog post.  Perhaps next Halloween.  As far this one is concerned, it is almost in the books.  There are the memories, and of course, this...

Part of our leftover stash

I shudder to think how long this will last. 

Be well my friends, and be sure to floss tonight!


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Replace Columbus Day With This Man

A painting of Cincinnatus being summoned back to Rome byJuan Antonio Riberta, Public Domain
Greetings All:

A few posts back I wrote about Columbus Day and the...complications that go with that day off.  I mentioned that I would be offering a candidate to replace Columbus.  The time has arrived (meaning I've stopped stalling and finished the post) and here it is.  Ladies and gentlemen, I nominate Cincinnatus.

So, who was Cincinnatus?  His full name was Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus.  In brief, he was a Roman soldier who was installed with dictatorial powers to save Rome from an invasion.  He did.  Now, unlike other military leaders who performed well on the battlefield and then hung around in the palace indefinitely, Cincinnatus was not one of them.  He did what he was asked to do and then, sixteen days later resigned.   Sixteen days, in a time when most rulers were still deciding between designs for busts of their statues.  And what did he do when he hung up his sword?  he picked up his plow.

Yup, he was a farmer.  He was behind his plow (as the story goes) when the boys from Rome showed up at his farm and offered him absolute power.  In 458 B.C., Rome was in a heap of trouble.  Seems as if the Aeqvian tribe was hell-bent on destroying the city.  The Romans turned to Cincinnatus for help.  He obliged.  He was given "Imperium," or pretty much supreme powers for six months.  He used them to his full ability and saved Rome.  And he did it in a one day battle.  As James Morford writes, " In a day’s battle named Mons Algidus, Rome’s victory was absolute, the entire Aequian army either killed or surrendered"  (

I offer him as a candidate for a couple of reasons.  True, the fact he gave up power is laudable.  However, let's not forget that he also got the job done.  He was brought in to handle a situation and he handled it.  He won the battle.  This was not a case of "every kid gets a trophy."  Either he defeated the enemy, or they would have annihilated Rome.  Results matter and he delivered.

Cincinnatus treated his foes better than he and his men likely would have been treated.  After he defeated the Aequians, he made those who survived march through Rome as part of a Roman triumph.  This was the Roman equivalent of a ticker-tape parade, and no doubt humiliating.  he spared their lives.  This is no small thing considering that the Romans perfected crucifixion as a preferred method of execution.   While he gave his men the right of plunder of the enemy's possession, Cincinnatus took nothing for himself.  He was a stoic in the tradition of Seneca and Marcus Aurelius.  

After the parade, Cincinnatus wrapped up the duties assigned to him and went back home.  He voluntarily relinquished the powers that had been handed to him to return to his plot of ground.  Could you see a Julius Caesar or Napoleon doing this?  Neither can I.  I should also point out that even though he had been given power for a six-month period, does anyone really think he could have been forced out of power?  He was wildly popular and had the army at his back.  He could have, with a flick of his wrist, turned this temporary emergency into the status quo with him large and in charge.

Statute of Cincinnatus, Sawyer Point, Cininnati, use authorized as this is a non-commercial blog per the owner's terms,

This was a modest man.  A proficient soldier, a leader and yet still a man.  Surely, he must have been tempted by the offer of absolute power.  Yet he demurred.  This story, at least to me, is even more impressive when you consider that he had been striped of his previous position for no other reason that he dared to speak truth to power.  Again, James Morford, above citation:
"It must be reported Cincinnatus had not always been a farmer. Three years previous he had been one of two Consuls of the young Roman Republic. He was much admired for his leadership mainly because he prevented Rome from falling under a code of Laws giving aristocrats more rights than commoners. In retaliation, the aristocrats drove him from office."  
 If ever there was a chance for a payback, here it was.  Cincinnatus could have summoned those who had done him wrong and "settled up."  He declined.  His sword was only unsheathed to battle an enemy on the field, not a political foe in the palace.

George Washington was compared to Cincinnatus when he declined to be made king by his officers after the revolutionary war.  After two terms as president, he voluntarily declined what would have been a lock on years 9, 10, 11, and 12.  (Who was going to run against him?)  Perhaps it was the fact that there was no opponent who could best him at the ballot box that caused him to step aside.  Like Cincinnatus, he too returned to his farm.

Recently, I read a piece from George Freidman, the publisher of Stratfor.  He wrote on October 15, 2013, speaking of the Founders opinions on political leaders of the new Republic:

“The founders needed to bridge the gaps between the need to govern, the fear of tyranny and the uncertainty of the future. Their solution was not in law but in personal virtue. The founders were fascinated by Rome and its notion of governance. Their Senate was both a Roman name and venue for the Roman vision of the statesman, particularly Cincinnatus, who left his farm to serve (not rule) and then returned to it when his service was over. The Romans, at least in the eyes of the founders if not always in reality, did not see government as a profession but rather as a burden and obligation. The founders wanted reluctant rulers.”

Here's another quote from the article I really like:

“They (the Founders) did not want philosopher-kings; they wanted citizens of simple, clear virtues, who served reluctantly and left gladly,…”

Cincinnatus was the model for the Founders.  He was someone Washington admired and emulated in his actions.  As I look around at the action (or lack thereof) in our nation's capitol, I think Cincinnatus' story is worth telling now.  Now more than ever.  

 So why bump Columbus?  Simply put, Cincinnatus is a better hero.  He also accomplished great things and did so without all the other acts that Columbus did.  I recognize that for some Italian Americans, Columbus is a source of pride.  Columbus day is a a celebration of Italian pride.  I am half Hungarian and Irish.  Cultural pride matters to me and I hope it does to everyone else.  However, with that pride comes the responsibility to own the not so great aspects of one's culture.  What Cincinntus offers is someone whose accomplishments are significant, whose moral compass pointed straight north and who has a connection to the early days of our Republic.  He also was an Italian before there was Italy.  One could claim him as the first Italian hero if they wished.  He certainly was heroic.  Not taking away from Columbus' accomplishments, I cannot hang the "hero" label on him.  There is simply too much blood on him, the sign would slide right off.

So that is my nomination.  I'm curious if you agree and especially if you disagree.  Please log in a comment and tell me why.  If you've got another suggestion, please share it.  Thanks.

Be well my friends,


(Citation for the painting at the beginning of this blog post: 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Henry's Famous Speech (Public Domain)
Greetings All:

I know I have been promising a post on my nominee to replace Columbus as the honoree for the October holiday.  I have a draft and it's coming.  To those of you who may say, "Jeno, you're stalling," I can only offer this defense:  I'm stalling.  In all seriousness, as today is the 498th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, a/k/a St. Crispin's Day AND I have a blog post from a previous blog on this subject, I thought I would share this bit of history.

I first heard about this battle from my Scoutmaster one summer camp. Later I learned of the play, Henry V, by Shakespeare. I think at some point in college I even bought a copy of it. Promptly after the purchase, I placed it on a shelf, where it proceeded to gather dust. I doubt I touched it again until it was time to pack up and move. I suppose I have it still. I'm guessing it is packed in some box with old copies of Rolling Stone magazines and undeveloped canisters of film.

Briefly, here is the story. In 1415, King Henry V laid claim to the throne of France. The French refused and hostilities ensued. Although being out-numbered severely, Henry’s forces carried the day at a decisive battle near Agincourt, France. Terrain figured heavily in the English’ favor. In addition, they were able to make effective (deadly one might say, pun intended) of the long bow. The French, for all their shiny armor were no match for simple wood and humble iron arrow points. In the end, the day was carried, 25 October 1415 to be exact, by King Henry. An epic victory to be sure.

Back to the play, Kenneth Branagh put his mark on it with the 1989 movie adaptation. One of the more memorable scenes is when Henry rouses his men with a speech on the eve of battle. They are outnumbered and it would be farce to deny the fact. In a rather shroud bit of oratory, he highlights this fact. It’s an honor (if not an advantage) to be 5 to 1 underdogs. In the famous speech, he makes reference to “…we few, we happy few…” Here is the speech:

This day is called the Feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day and comes safe home
Will stand a-tiptoe when this day is named
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall see this day and live t' old age
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours
And say, "Tomorrow is Saint Crispian."
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars
And say, "These wounds I had on Crispin's day."
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember, with advantages
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words —
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester —
Be in their flowing cups freshly remembered.
This story shall the good man teach his son,
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered,
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition.
And gentlemen in England now abed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's Day.

There is another part of the play, whereby Henry makes a reference to those who wish not to fight. Instead of threatening punishment, he dismisses them. Their punishment would not come quick from a noose, but from having to endure a lifetime of knowing they had the chance to fight, and instead chose to flee.

"Whoever does not have the stomach for this fight, let him depart. Give him money to speed his departure since we wish not to die in that mans company. Whoever lives past today and comes home safely will raise himself every year this day, show his neighbor his scars and tell embellished stories of their great feats of battle. These stories he will teach his son and from this day until the end of the world we shall be remembered. We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for whoever has shed his blood with me shall be my brother. And those men afraid to go will think themselves lesser men as they hear of how we fought and died together."-William Shakespeare, Henry V

I am not sure which version of the speech is correct. Remember, I cannot find my copy of the play.   (and a year later, I still have not found it, sigh.)  I have to say that I like the second one better. I like the sense of win or lose, it is our choice to stand and fight. In doing so, a cause is championed noble to us. As the citation above indicates, this was referenced in the (IMO excellent) book by Mark Bowden, Black Hawk Down, a Story of Modern War. It is spoken by Major General William Garrison after the fight. Few Americans were aware of it at the time. There are a bunch of applications that can be drawn between this event and Henry V, but that is for another blog entry.   I do find it a somber coincidence that the 20 year anniversary of that day in Mogadishu, "The Day of the Rangers," was earlier this month. 

For the purposes of this blog entry, there has been a tradition of referring to this play, this speech, and this line, “band of brothers.," throughout history, especially military history. I would argue there is good reason to do so. Often military leaders will speak of bringing home their troops as their primary goal, second only to mission accomplishment. Reluctant heroes downplay their actions, claiming they were doing what others would have surely done. Staff Sergeant Salvatore Giunta was awarded our nation’s highest military award, the Medal of Honor, and did so with notable humility. He explains his actions with a succinctness that makes the flowery prose of Shakespeare real with this phrase: "That's your brother in arms," he told ABC. "That's who you're there with, that's who is fighting for you and with you."

And there is the happy ending for Henry.  He ends up marrying the French princess, Catherine.  I love a happy ending.

The Marriage of Henry and Catherine,, Pubic Domain

There is nobility in Henry’s speech and it is well to draw inspiration from it. I would encourage you to check out Branagh’s speech as it is particularly riveting. Better yet, go see the play and experience it live. There is something both wonderful and sometimes a bit unsettling seeing living people act out with cheers and cries the best and worst of life. Now, speaking of the less-pleasant aspects of life, there is a less-known fact about the great Battle of St. Crispin’s Day. At some point in the battle, the English captured a sizable number of French prisoners of war, (POW). For a variety of reasons, the English (under Henry’s orders no doubt) execute the POWs. By today’s standards, it flies straight and smack into the law of war. It would be considered a war crime.  Actually, it would be a war crime.  The good king would find himself not in the arms of the French princess (whom he marries-pause for the tearful and touching moment) but to a tribunal and harsh, perhaps fatal punishment. I found a great piece on this issue from Dr. David L. Perry, Professor at the U.S. Army War College. He explains this and a number of other related issues quite well and far better than I could, I assure you. If you have even a passing interest in these issues, please check out the article:

For those of you who are truly interested in these issues (and have an extra 1:49 of available time) there is a presentation of an oral argument about a fictionalized appeal of a lower court’s finding that Henry was justified in his killing of the French prisoners of war. Of note, Supreme Court Justices Alito and Ginsberg sat on the panel. Full disclosure, I have not watched all of it but of what I have seen, it is an interesting and entertaining presentation.

At the end of the day, be it St. Crispin’s or any other, history offers all of us lessons. Some of these are large and profound, others small and routine. With literature, especially when told by a master bard as Shakespeare, they can be more easily remembered. It is good to be inspired, to be moved. I would suspect that everyone reading this blog has been inspired to cause beyond themselves. And yet, in recalling the deeds of the past, it is also well and good to recall all of them, even if they may distract from soaring words.

Happy St Crispin's Day everyone.  And please, keep the faith, the Columbus Day replacement nominee is coming.  Thanks for reading.

Be well my friends,

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

An Echo of Ernest and his Pals

Ernest Hemingway as an American Red Cross volunteer during World War I, Milan, Italy. [Public Domain] Ernest Hemingway Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Greetings All:

First off, a bit of housekeeping:  I mentioned at the end of my last post that I would be submitting for your comments and consideration a candidate to replace Columbus.  Fret not, that post is coming.  However, I got inspired by something I read in the paper and led me to this post.  The above photo is none other than the heavy weight champ of 20th Century American literature, Ernest Hemingway.  Hemingway led an extraordinary life and I believe that he was his favorite character.  He experienced a great many personal and professional triumphs.  He also had plenty of dark episodes.  One of those episodes centered around his service as an ambulance driver in Italy during "The Great War," or as we now refer to it, WWI. 

That war, "The War to End All Wars" (it didn't) tore Europe apart, killing or wounding 37 million people.  (  Those who survived it did so with significant scars.  Hemingway was one of those survivors.  After the war, Hemingway made his way to Paris and hung out with other expats, including Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  One of the places that they hung out was Harry's New York Bar.  I'll reference as Harry's for the remainder of this post. 

Harry's Bar in Paris, public domain, photo attributed to

Twenty years ago, I spent a semester studying (well, studying is a bit of stretch, although I was enrolled) law in London.  During our break, my friend and I made our way to France and into Paris.  Come to think of it, it might very well have been in October that I was there.  Like any self-respecting tourists, we sought out Harry's.  Truth be told, it was a disappointment.  Not so much a disappointment to prevent us from drinking through a good chunk of our limited funds.  As I recall, I was certain that the table we sat at with a couple of other Americans was the exact table where Hemingway, et al hung out.

It was while Hemingway was in Paris that the expression, "lost generation" was uttered.  I thought it had been said at Harry's.  I checked into it and learned its origin.  Kate O'Connor, writing for the University of Oxford's Great Writers Inspire:

"The term was coined from something Gertrude Stein witnessed the owner of a garage saying to his young employee, which Hemingway later used as an epigraph to his novel The Sun Also Rises (1926): "You are all a lost generation." This accusation referred to the lack of purpose or drive resulting from the horrific disillusionment felt by those who grew up and lived through the war, and were then in their twenties and thirties. Having seen pointless death on such a huge scale, many lost faith in traditional values like courage, patriotism, and masculinity. Some in turn became aimless, reckless, and focused on material wealth, unable to believe in abstract ideals."

Lost Generation at by Kate O'Connor, licensed as Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (2.0 UK).

So you might be wondering how this history/lit lesson ties into what I read in the paper today.  Go with me on this, I'm getting there and we'll circle back in a second.  In my local paper, I read a story from the Associated Press by Phillip Elllott entitled, 15% of U.S. young people are idle  Idle is defined as someone neither employed nor in school.  This is the story that got my attention.  There are a number of matters in this report that give one pause.  I do not know what sounds worse- 15 percent of those 16 to 24 or 6 million, either way it's a really big number.

The report showed a particularly troubling stat- over 100,000 young people are idle in the largest cities in America.

Here is the link to the article.  You will likely not enjoy reading it but I think it is important enough to deal with whatever discomfort it brings:
Now, here's the tie-in with Hemingway:  Mark Edwards, the executive director of a group working to address this matter issued this quote:  "The tendency is to see them (idle youth) as lost souls and see then as (sic) unsavable  They are not."  Lost souls, lost generation.  It reminds me of the old saying, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
It raises a question about what does it mean to be lost.  Does it mean not knowing the way?  Is it having the knowledge to find one's way and not choosing it?  Is it choosing to purposefully stay where one is, appearing lost to others when that is not the case? 

There is another option- to find one's way on their own terms.  Let's return to our literary friends hanging out at Harry's a few years' back.  They certainly made their own way.   It involved a lot of partying and some really good writing.  If you judge how their lives ended up (and ended) one could conclude they were lost in that most tragic sense, finding a path to happiness.  It's easy to believe they did not really try to look for it.  Then again, maybe they looked harder for it than we will ever know.

For the 6 million young people identified in the report, they will have to answer their own question about where they wish to go.  For some, if not many, their options may be limited.  I want to be careful in not casting too harsh a glare of light on them.  I had a ton of opportunities that many others did not have.  I can also say with the aid of several decades that I did not apply myself even close to my abilities when I was their age. 

And then there is the question of just what is defined as "idle?"  I did not delve that deep into the report, so I cannot speak to what is meant by not working.  Perhaps some of these young people are caring for an ailing grandparent.  Or others are toiling at a minimum wage and/or (ahem) cash-under-the-table job while writing a book or inventing the next gadget.  (I am typing this on a computer that is the legacy of one who was idle back in the 70s.)  I have to think that some are veterans of the past dozen years of war who are still coming to grips with what they saw, heard, felt and did.  I am sure there are others who are idle not just because of a preference for video games on mom's basement couch.

From a larger standpoint, policy issues arise.  Should there be a 21st Century WPA and put these young people to work?  Do we need to offer public service alternatives besides the military with GI Bill-type education options?  (I'll vote "yes" to both, just give me another post to figure out how to pay for them.)  At what point do mom & dad have the right/duty/moral obligation to tell their twenty-something to find themselves after they've found a job and start paying rent?

These are all questions that I cannot answer in this (or any) blog post.  I raise them for your consideration and please let me know what your thoughts are on this subject.  The 6 million young people in this report are idle.  That may or may not make them lost.  I do see them as an echo of  Ernest and his pals.  That echo may be hearty laugh, a cry of despair or a little of both. 

If you would like to learn more about Opportunity Nation, here is the link to their website:

Be well my friends,

Monday, October 21, 2013

Time to Come Clean

Greetings All:

I write on a variety of subjects, some deeper than others.  I am going to take on one that may cause a feeling of dread in some of you- laundry.  Unless you are a Cadet at the USMA or live at home and mom still does your laundry, it is something you need to deal with.  Or, perhaps not deal with until the last possible moment.

This post is on laundry.  A weekly, if not daily part of most of our lives.  I do a fair amount of laundry in our house.  Over the years, it is something that I like to think I've gotten pretty good at.  However, that was not always the case.  For years, even after I graduated school (all of them) I would have my Mom do my laundry.  When we still dating, my wife would roll her eyes at me "dropping off"  a basket (or two) for Mom to work her magic.  At one point, my wife said with more than a bit of exacerbation, "Cut the cord!"  I would reply that why in the world would I want to do that?  I figured if my Mom really did not want to do my laundry, she'd say so.  Besides, in addition to her laundry process, she was a pro at ironing.  Now who was I do deny an artist the canvass?

OK, I agree, that's a bit much.  And in retrospect, grown men and women should not abuse the privilege of having their Mom do their laundry.  Well, what's done is done.  I believe that I have done adequate penance for any abuses in my past with my new and sustained commitment to attacking the laundry and yes, proper sorting.  In other words my friends, I have come clean,...and the laundry too.

Now there may be some readers who are surprised to hear that a guy embraces laundry.  For those of you who want to convene a tribunal to pull my man card, let me offer this in my defense:  I take no joy in doing laundry.  It is not like I look forward to it and tell myself on the way home, "Yippie, it's a socks and t-shirts load tonight!"  (Socks, by the way, are the bane of laundry, but more about that later.)  For me, its a simple analysis of what I dislike more.  And what I dislike more is laundry piled up.  Piled up laundry quickly moves from annoying to unbearable, at least for me.  Then, a critical mass can occur, please see below...

Is this basket clean or dirty?!?

Yup, is the basket clean or dirty?  Hopefully, a decision does not rest with the dreaded "smell test."  That is why I try to keep laundry to a minimum.  Please note the operative word in that last sentence, try...

Part of the challenge for us/me is that our laundry room is not exactly large.  It is more like a broom closet with two large appliances jammed into it.  Good luck getting the door shut with a basket in there.  Shortly after we moved into our house and I discovered just how "cozy" the space was,  by dumping a basket as I banged into the door, I inadvertantly taught my daughter an expression of two words,. each ending in "ER."  I did not realize she was in the other room or that my voice carried.  It did.  Sorry.  Perhaps someday we will get around to moving the machines downstairs.  In the meantime, I do the best I can to maneuver in the space available,...and watch my mouth.

I have concluded that in our house, laundry is never "done."  Despite my best attempts, it will never always be folded and put away.  There will always be the sadistic ritual of mis-matched socks, or the inevitable washing of only one sock to a pair (and the surpressed cursing).  Who hasn't gone running to the washing machine to throw in a few other things that fell out of the basket on the way down the stairs?  Or how about this oldie but a goodie- loading either machine and forgetting to hit (yup, you guess it) start.  Such is life.

I am not going to say that there is some metaphor or deeper meaning to doing laundry.  To me, it is about having a task and getting it done.  I do take a bit of satisfaction in seeing several empty laundry baskets stacked neatly that were full a hour or so ago.  I also discovered a long time ago that folding clothes can be worked into watching a football game, sometimes two. 

I did find a good read from an expat mom living in Australia "An American Mom Abroad," and her comparison to doing a "college load" (everything in one load, sorting be damned) to life. This line sums it it:

"Like today when a laundry metaphor smacked me in the face. I just wanted to throw it all in and push a button and have it done. "It" you know? I want "it" done. The messy pile of stuff."

You can read the rest of her blog post here. 

I know I have felt that way before, just wanting to clean up whatever mess there was and have it done and over with.  However, life does not work out that way.  It is not static, it does not stay folded and put away nicely in some drawer.

I suppose one of the reasons why laundry is a task and not a vocation is the mundane nature of it.  There is no glamour in it.  It is a reminder of the ordinary aspects of life.  As I thought about this, it dawned on me that in the mundane nature of laundry is an oppotunity for gratitude.  This gratitude can be expressed in a number of ways for me.  I can be grateful that I have clothes to wear.  That the reason it piles up is because I am not living alone but with my family.  That by doing the bulk of the laundry it is a small but tangible way to help out around the house.  Oh, and my griping about how small my laundry room is, well take a look at this photo...

Dispatch from Jordan: Syrian Refugees Weary of War, Conferences, Fair Use Claimed  

Here is a photo of kids in a refugee camp/  There are those who do not have a washer or dryer. Or even a house to put one in. The world is full of refugees, of people who are without a home. I recall the line from the movie Full Metal Jacket when the public affairs lieutenant tells his enlisted reporters, speaking of Vietnamese civilians, "If they come to us, they are refugees. If we move them, they are evacuates, " or words to that effect. Either way, they didn't have a spin cycle.  It puts it all into perspective. 

Laundry will always be with me.  Despite my best efforts, it will always be there.  Yes, it is a task.  Yet it is also a reminder of the things and more imprtantly the people I have in my life.  I should be so lucky to have socks to sort for the rest of my life.

Be well my friends,

P.S.- My next blog post will be on my suggestion to replace Columbus and still keep the October holiday, stay tuned.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Harvest

Greetings All:

The above picture, "The Harvesters" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, (1565, Public Domain,  is an image that is a seasonal ritual across almost every corner of the inhabited world.  Although this picture is over 500 years old, its relevance remains today.  True, the methods have changed.  Instead of back-breaking labor, machines rumble almost effortlessly, collecting the mature plants for processing.  If you find yourself on the interstate anywhere in Middle America, you'll see machines like this one working the land.

(Public Domain, via the U.S. Department of Agriculture,

Food is something we all need, of course.  Without it, we'd, well, starve.  Of course, we also use food to power our cars and support our larger economy.  In 2003, we exported about $56 billion worth of food.  (Economic Research Service. U.S. Department of Agriculture. World Cereal Production (2004).   That's a lot of...everything.

This is a good thing, obviously.  The economic impacts go past the kitchen table, or even the supermarket, it carries over to the trading markets.  I got my basic understanding of how the markets worked from watching the movie, Trading Places.  Food, in small amounts, is eaten.  Food, in larger amounts, is sold.  

Then there is the darker side to food.  Unfortunately, food, or more precisely, the denial thereof, can be used as a weapon.  The late Sam Kinison, a comic known for offending just about everyone, had a rant about people in Africa needing to "...GO TO WHERE THE FOOD IS!"  or words to that effect.  Sadly, that is not possible for many.  They have no where to go and the men with the guns are not inclined to let them go.  This week marks the 20th anniversary of the U.S. Army's involvement in Somalia and the Battle o Mogadishu, a/k/a "The Day of the Rangers."  Mark Bowden's book, Black Hawk Down was made into a movie about 10 years ago.  In an early scene, a captured Somali warlord tells Brigadier General Garrison, "In Somalia, starvation is negotiation."  He says it not in a taunting tone, but a matter-fact one.  It is as if he's explaining the going rate for some product.  The cost of doing business in a place without law or mercy.

At this time of the year, it is a good thing to take a moment to recall that for those of us living in the U.S. that we do have an abundance of food.  Sure, we can debate the various policies that impact our food supply and we should.  It is part of our civic duty.  Yet with this duty is also our good fortune to celebrate this bounty.  It is something that makes life not just sustaining but joyous.  I am hard-pressed to think of a more enjoyable activity than sharing a meal with one's family and good friends.  It is our harvest  and it our responsibility to respect it for the good that it is.

Be well my friends,

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Columbus Day, A Final Thought

(Theodor de Bry, public domain, Wikipedia Commons)

Greetings All:

Columbus Day has come and gone.  I doubt anyone has any holiday letdown.  I debated whether or not to put out a post on it and am electing to do a short one as I find something interesting about the day.  First, a pop quiz.

Question:  Columbus was:

A.  An explorer credited with finding a route to islands in the Western Hemisphere;
B.  A heck of a salesman to get the Spanish royal family to fund the trip;
C.  A merciless genocidal colonialist;
D.  All of the above:

If you picked D, you are correct, at least by my answer key.  Columbus, as we were taught growing up, "discovered" the new world.  I remember reading the "Meet so and so" series as a kid and sure enough, there was one on Chris.  Here's the link to Amazon for the book:

These books did leave out the matter of what Columbus did to the native inhabitants of the lands he discovered.  Rape, slavery, murder, torture, theft and the list goes on.  One of Columbus' men, Bartolome De Las Casas, quit in disgust, became a Catholic Priest and reported on these acts.  Columbus was even sent back to Spain in chains for his crimes, yet was pardoned by the King and Queen.  Chris, after all, had been a good earner.

There are those who would rather not discuss Columbus' history, or at least the ugly side of it.  One of the NYC Mayoral candidate, Joe Lhota said it was “I think that is an inappropriate question to ask on a day when we’re honoring his birthday,”

I certainly am not saying that everyone who celebrates Columbus is vouching for all his actions.  My Grandpa Mike was a gentle, decent man.  He also was a very proud member of The Knights of Columbus.  I have his ceremonial sword.  

So where does that leave us with Columbus?  Should we cancel the holiday?  There would be those who would say, "No."  There is a pretty good editorial from the Denver Post by David A. Sprecace that brings up the good things that Columbus did (with a particular nod to the sailing routes he found) and points out that it was not just Columbus alone who did the bad acts mentioned above.  This a quote that sums up what Columbus did: 

"It is Columbus' method of discovery and record-keeping that distinguishes him from other explorers who may previously have "discovered" the New World. He opened the door to further discovery by explorers like Magellan, Cooke, Drake and Hudson. His discovery led to the creation of the greatest nation on Earth, the United States of America."

Columbus is a study in extremes, the good and the bad.  He was a magnificent sailor.  It is a shame that he did not stay on deck for then his history would have been one of amazing accomplishment.  Instead, it is marked and stained with his actions done on land.  Perhaps that is the best way to deal with Columbus Day, to remember what the man did, and remember all of it.

If we were to replace the holiday, I have a suggestion for someone to replace Columbus with.  That, however, is for another post.

Be well my friends,


Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Half Century Later

Greetings All:

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences just awarded the Noble Prize for Physics.  The winners are Peter Higgs, and Francois Englert, British and Belgium scientists.  To the winners, congrats.  I admit that I am not a big science guy.  I suspect that comes from my days in school when I found subjects like math and science (and their pesky precise answers) annoying.  I much preferred essay exams where I could...elaborate on my opinions.  (Kinda like doing a blog, I suppose.)  However, in recent years, I have come to appreciate exact answers.  I suppose it is because the older I get, the harder they are to find.  I also respect science for what it is-facts, and what it is not, an unending sequence of fixing blame on others (and why yes, dear elected leaders in D.C., that's y'all...) 

Back to our winners, they are being credited with putting forth the Higgs boson theory.  Here is why this is such a big deal and why Higgs and Englert were chosen for this award.  I am going to cite from this BBC article for the next couple of paragraphs:

  "In the 1960s, they were among several physicists who proposed a mechanism to explain why the most basic building blocks of the Universe have mass.  The mechanism predicts a particle - the Higgs boson - which was finally discovered in 2012 at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at Cern, in Switzerland." 

Now, here's the interesting part, at least to me:  The idea was about a half-century ago.  It took about that long for the actual LHC (whatever that is but I am sure it's a big deal) to be built to discover the particle.  To pharapase a line from the movie, Field of Dreams, "If you build it, it will be found."

There were, I am sure, numerous candidates for this year's award.  (I didn't enter.)  One may wonder what made this stand out from the other worthy projects.  The following quote caught my attention:
"This year's prize is about something small that makes all the difference," said Staffan Normark, permanent secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences."  I am not sure how there is anything "small" about a Noble Prize.  Still, often times it is small things that when properly applied make a huge difference.

And there is nothing small about how the winner's theory was proved true.  As CNN reported via its Breaking News email on October 8, 2013, it took, "...the most powerful particle accelerator in the world, the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland,..." to make this happen.  It was through this collider that the "God particle" was discovered.  It is called the "God particle" as with it matter can have its mass. 

Here's a photo of just how big this collider is:

(Above photo from Wiki Commons, shortened URL,
public domain and/or fair use claimed)

If you are shaking your head, wondering just what the heck this whole thing is, check out this video presentation, courtesy of the New York Times. It explains it in such a way that even I got the idea.

This process took a half century.  It is being hailed as one of the most important scientific discoveries in that same time.  It is simply amazing to me that for half a century an idea was thought important enough to spend the time, money and energy to seek out its confirmation.  I also think it is a fitting tribute to those who developed this idea.  Fifty years later, they receive their due 

Even for someone like myself who is woefully ignorant in science, its achievement stands out as something to applaud.  Going past the technical aspects, it is wonderful to watch mankind's pursuit of the illusive answer.  To quote the basketball coach and tireless advocate for curing cancer, Jimmy V, "Never give up!"  Of seeking to know, "why?"  Why indeed. 

I am forcing myself to write shorter blog posts so I am not going to comment on the back stories of the scientists who discovered this theory.  It's worth a Google search to learn about the personalities. Not surprising, there is a bit of controversy.  However, that is going to have to be a story for another day.

As I wrap up this post, here's a link to Wired Magazine's article about it.  I found the "trash talk" about science in the comment section interesting and a bit amusing.  Check it out if you would like.

A half century later, Higgs and Englert have their award.  Congrats gents, well done.

Be well my friends,

(The first photo in this post-An image of the Higgs Boson in action, public domain and/or fair use claimed.)

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Kaihogyo

 (, public domain, United States)

Greetings All:

Last week, I picked up Time magazine and read about Yusai Kakai who had passed away at the age of 87.  Here's the obituary that described Kakai as, " of only three Buddhist monks since 1571 to twice complete the rigorous Kaihogyo, a seven-year ordeal of fasting and running.  Those unable to complete it are expected to take their own life."

(Time, Milestones, p. 20, Vol 182, No 15, Oct 7, 2013)

I have never heard of the Kaihogyo prior to reading this article.  The fact that one would kill themselves for failing to complete such an endeavor got my attention.  I did a bit of research and found out that this is not just an endeavor.  Simply put, the Kaihogyo is perhaps the most arduous I have ever heard about.  The below link is to an National Public Radio story on the process.

Briefly, the Kaihogyo is a process by which monks run and pray over a punishing period of time.  It takes the equivalent of a standard American workday.  As the story above mentions, the profiled monk spends the rest of his day attending to the daily needs of his monastery and gets about four and a half hours of sleep.  It sounds like this is not just a test of endurance but good old-fashioned time management.

The more I read about this process, the more I wanted to learn.  James Clear wrote a dynamite piece on the Kaihogyo at his blog.  Here's the link and I recommend checking it out (as well as James' other work.)  The three quotes from James in this post are from this cite as well.

James writes about the daunting challenge that is the Kaihogyo.  He sums it up nicely:  "The Tendai monks believe that enlightenment can be achieved during your current life, but only through extreme self–denial."  The self-denial involves thousands of days of running and I doubt the monks are wearing the latest Asics running shoes.  The NPR article mentioned the monk interviewed was adorned in straw sandals, as I recall.

The goal of self-enlightenment is laudable, no doubt.  However, as someone firmly planted (and quite comfortable, I might add) in Western cultural, this does seem a bit much.  Oh, and then there is the part about what happens at day 101.  James writes, "During the first 100 days of running, the monk is allowed to withdraw from the Kaihogyo.  However, from Day 101 onwards, there is no withdrawal. The monk must either complete the Kaihogyo … or take his own life.  Because of this, the monks carry a length of rope and a short sword at all times on their journey.  In the last 400+ years, only 46 men have completed the challenge. Many others can be found by their unmarked graves on the hills of Mount Hiei." 

Not to sound like one of those product commercials from early 80s TV, "But wait, there's more."  Come year 5, the monk must perform a period of nine straight days of prayer.  And when I mean straight, I mean no food, water, bathroom, nothing.  The NPR article says that the only time the monk is allowed to not pray is when he goes to a fountain to bring an offering of water as part of the ritual.  Again, if a monk fails this test, then the presumption is they will end their life. 

As I finished reading on the Kaihogyo, I asked one question- why does one kill themselves for not completing it?  Is it shame?  I doubt it.  Of my pathetically small knowledge of Buddhism, I do believe I understand that personal accomplishment and recognition is not one of the tenants.  Is it some harsh aspect of overall Buddhism?  I'll say no to that one too.  So what could it be?

I conclude that as the goal is enlightenment, the monks who fail the Kaihogyo must recognize that their time on this earth has run its course.  It is time to "move on."  That, while extreme, would make sense.  After all, the monk might conclude that this task cannot be concluded in this world and moving on is a natural progression in their spiritual development.

I freely admit that I am engaging in wild speculation about this answer.  I could not find a definitive  answer and maybe that is the whole point.  It is for the monks to know why they took on the challenge and freely accepted the consequences.  Perhaps for them they are not consequences in our view (being punitive) but as part of the natural order of things.  Perhaps the austerity of the challenge, as I view it from my comfortable couch could not be further from the truth for a monk.  To him, the process of seeking enlightenment dwarfs even the most opulent material possession or pleasure-inducing comfort.

While I was working on this blog post, I thought of someone I had read about who recently took his own life.  It is a tragic tale of someone who purported to be more than he was and lived well above his means.  This is a tale that plays out with regularity, it seems.  The guy who, "has it all" and then when it all comes crumbling down, there is nothing left but the ugly consequences of horrifically bad decisions.  They see no way out but suicide.  It's the only way to escape (in their opinion) the lies.

Now contrast that with the monk who fails the Kaihogyo.  Unlike the grifter or the con man, there are no lies, only the truth.  The simple truth that they cannot compete this quest.  They are not on trial to be convicted by neatly-numbered exhibits.  They have forgone that stage and accepted their sentence, a death sentence.  Then again, perhaps it is not a sentence but a passage to the next life.  In any event, the monk carries no burden of falsity.  That has to make the journey easier.

I am glad I learned about the Kaihogyo and the monks who undertake it.  While it is not something I would want to pursue, I have profound respect for those who do.  I think we all can come up with challenges that allow us to determine what our own version of an "enlightenment challenge" and without the fatal penalties for failure.

What if an "enlightenment challenge" is not something you're interested in?  Fair enough.  I am not even sure if I could muster up a working definition of one.  So how about this- what are some goals you have?  After all, the Kaihogyo is a goal, a seven-year one, but a goal nonetheless.  Is it possible that you have a goal that is in the back of your mind that you haven't moved forward with yet?  What's holding you back?  What's the cost to you in not doing it, or even trying it?  As James mentions in his article, "You have the opportunity to choose a goal that is important to you and the privilege of failing with very little consequence. Don’t waste that privilege."  That's sage advice.

The Kaihogyo is not something I will ever undertake.  However, I do hope that in my own way I will seek my own journey to some minor version of enlightenment.  Even if that means just getting better at setting and pursuing some more challenging goals.  What is your version of the Kaihogyo?  Please drop me a line and let me know what you think.  I look forward to reading your thoughts, thanks.

Be well my friends,