Sunday, May 30, 2010

recognizing beauty


Example:(Submitted, January 2008)
A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.

A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk.

A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist.

Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the top musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written,with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station

was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty?

Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Farm House

Farm  houses are like sentinels on the plains, waiting and watching, silently standing against the weather and time.

Across Kansas and the other plains states farm houses dot the landscape, a testament to the courage of the settlers who first tamed the prairie. Go down any country road, inevitably one finds a farm house situated near a pond or a creek. Its location defies logic. Trial and error has destined that a family should try its luck at homesteading, but not all trials are successful. The empty farmhouses remain. They still stand like the giant stone heads of Easter Islands, a monument to a past race whose stories are now forgotten.

It is inevitable that in time, the wood takes on the appearance of great age. And against the color of the deep green grass and the pale blue sky, the wood is a lifeless gray. The windows panes are black and opaque, or  left empty; you can imagine the ghosts of a family still lingering.

Once there was a lot of sound. In the summer one imagines mother cooking supper in the kitchen, she is wearing a sleeveless cotton dress that she sewed herself, father comes from the fields, he mops the sweat and dirt of the day's labor from his brow, and the several children - usually there were several to make up for the absence of neighbors and the loneliness of life on the prairie - the children come in the back door barefoot and wearing loose fitting clothes, still excited after a day at the swimming hole. They all get ready to join in the one certain daily ritual, the evening meal. Their faces are indistinct. I can't make out whether their hair is blond or brown, their eyes blue, green or black. They might have been German or Swedish, English or French immigrants. Time has erased all memory of them. Most of the furniture was taken when the family left the house.A few scrapes of paper remain, but the words are darkened and worm eaten, so that even a forensic scientist could not put a name to the place or the faces.

The strangest thing of all is the silence. One can imagine the endless activity that took place over the years that the house was occupied. Visitors coming and going, a birthday party, a long succession of nights around the dinner  table, and an evening on the porch watching the stars. Now the silence is funereal, and I think that this fate awaits each house. One day I will be old and gray, the kids will be gone, and my house will stand empty, and its story forgotten.

More images of farm houses.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Running on empty

For at least a month, or more, I have been running on empty. Sure I get up each morning and follow the routine - work, workout, more work, dinner, sleep. Boy is that boring. I need a break. My spiritual and mental gas tank is empty. I am, at this point, going through the motions, finding that everywhere I turn is a dead end. I am - as an old friend once described it - driving on fumes.

I packed my bags, put my bike in the car, loaded up CD's of John Cheever's short stories and Sue Grafton's A is for Alibi, grabbed Sammy my over agressive German Shephard, and headed out. My destination was the Roaring River State Park in southwest Missouri. There was now real reason for my decision. Someone had mentioned it to me in passing.The tour guide at the Missouri  Visitor's Bureau had said that she and her husband were headed there in two weeks. And, it is close to the Lake of the Ozarks.

What I didn't know was that Roaring River is one of five Missouri trout hatcheries. I am not a trout fisherman, I don't even fish. I don't have the patience. But, there are a lot of avid fishermen and women in Missouri and one fifth of them or more were here at Roaring River to take advantage of the thousands of state spawned trout.

 I am not one to waste a trip. So, Sammy and I waded in the Roaring River amongst the fishermen and women who stood along the shore casting their lines like so many synchronized swimmers. The water is cold and it felt invigorating for my legs after a short run through the Mark Twain National Forrest. Like I say, why waste a trip.

The other reason for getting away, other than the physical beauty of a new location, is the opportunity that it give us to think outside the box. Life has become a routine. And, only by gettign away can we see a little more clearly who and what we are. I am staying this eveninbg at the Oakcrest Cabin and RV Park. Just a mile outside Roaring River park on Highway 112. The couple who own the park like my dog, I have had all sorts of compliments on Sammy and so, I conclude, people from Missouri are polite and friendly. The owners of the park have a small girl who can be no older than six. After asking me about the dog, they ask me about my two children, and then relate that they too have two older children, and the daughter who now keeps them company was a surprise, a pleasant one. I stopped at their park because I saw that their sign said free internet. It also said dish TV and pool, but I didn't have kids with me, just the dog.

The cabin is clean. As promised there is internet and dish TV. There are two double beds, one for Sammy and one for me. There is a kitchen with stove and frig, if I were to stay longer.But, the best thing about the cabin is the fresh air and quiet. Thank God, this is not a Super 8, where they always leave the lights on. No, this simple cabin is a throw back to simpler times, good people, and good living. And, in the process of rediscovering the past, I have refilled my gas tank.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Questions and Answers

My wife and kids are always telling me that I just like to ask questions and that I don't care about the answers.

Not true, I do care about the answers, it's just that the questions are so much more interesting. For instance, look at the questions to the right and see if you don't find them amusing.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

sports supplements

Will Davis
Mr. Fleming
First Aid Block 4
April 8, 2010
Sports supplements
If you are a competitive athlete or health freak then you’ve probably heard of sports supplements. Sports supplements are said to be quick and effective ways to gain results from exercise, Do the promises company’s make stand up? Are supplements really that great?
Sports supplements (also called cryogenic aids) are products used to enhance athletic performance that may include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, or botanicals (plants) — or any concentration, extract, or combination of these. Sports supplements are considered a dietary supplement which means they don’t have to be approved by the FDA and you don’t have to get a prescription. This has been a problem because some products have had unsafe amounts of certain ingredients.
There are many different types of sports supplements. One the most serious and drastic types to gain muscle and strength are androstenedione and DHEA. These are also known as natural steroids. Studies have shown that they do not increase muscle size or strength. They can also cause severe side effects. Such as testicular cancer, breast cancer in men, and if taken by teens it can stunt growth. Also the usual side effects associated with anabolic steroids. These supplements are usually ineffective and extremely dangerous.
Anabolic steroids are a dangerous and illegal route to take. These are hormones that help the body build muscle tissue and increase muscle mass. Steroids, also known as roids or juice, are similar to the male hormone testosterone, which is produced naturally in larger amounts in males and smaller amounts in females. When you take steroids, your muscle tissue is stimulated to grow, producing larger and stronger muscles. These are not recommended.
Another popular supplement to gain muscle and strength is creatine. Creatine is naturally produced by the body in the liver, pancreas and kidneys. Creatine helps increase energy, repair muscle and shorten recovery time. The side effects are usually mild like diarrhea and cramps. It’s best for high intensity workouts like sprints and power lifting. Researchers have found that not everyone who uses creatine absorbs it properly so it can be wasted on some people. Creatine is in high demand from teens; however it is unknown how creatine affects teenagers so it’s recommended for people 18 or older.
But steroids do have unwelcome side effects - such as high blood pressure and heart disease, liver damage and cancer, urinary and bowel problems, strokes and blood clots, and sleep problems. Men or teenage boys can suffer from infertility, breast and nipple enlargement, and penile dysfunction. Girls may find themselves with deeper voices, smaller breasts, menstrual problems, and an increase in facial and body hair. Steroids can also have emotional effects on the user, such as severe mood swings, aggressive behavior, irritability, and depressive or suicidal thoughts.
Androstenedione, more commonly known as andro, is another popular nutritional supplement. When a person takes andro, the body may convert it to testosterone, which is necessary for muscle development. When it's taken in large doses, andro is said to increase muscle mass, although studies haven't shown that andro is particularly effective. Andro can cause hormone imbalances and can have similar side effects to anabolic steroids.
Fat burners (also known as thermogenics) are another very popular supplement. They used to use ephedrine to boost your metabolism and help burn fat. But the FDA found that ephedrine can have very serious side effects. Some people experienced seizures, strokes, and heart problems. These types of supplements are very dangerous and are not recommended for use at any age. Much study is still needed before these products are completely safe and truly ready for the market.
Many sports organizations have developed policies on sports supplements. The National Football League (NFL), the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have banned the use of steroids, creatine, ephedra, and androstenedione by their athletes, and competitors who use them face fines, ineligibility, and suspension from their sports.

Sports supplements are a good way to get an edge on the completion, but they do come with risks. Some of the more serious supplements like steroids and HGH are not recommended. But if you consult your physician and be as safe as possible you can get positive results from mixing sports supplements with proper diet and exercise.


My mother told me when I was young, "Never talk about religion, politics, or sex with other people. It only makes them mad to hear you if they don't agree with what you say." Sorry mom.

Anglicans in Los Angeles, California consecrated Mary Glaspool on 15 May as an assistant bishop. Some church members state that she is openly lesbian and so not fit to be a church leader, or that the time is not right since the Anglican faith as a whole is not ready.A friend of mine states that her open views on sexuality are not in keeping with the Bible. Another friend notes that the Bible, in fact, condemns such practices.

Jesus says, "I give you a new commandment: Love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34). Love and tolerance are inseparable. But, why is it that we can neither love nor tolerate those who are different from ourselves? Observe that we do not have to agree or accept that other views are for us or are right, we simply need to love and tolerate others. It is a simple idea expressed 2000 years ago, and still more often acted out in the negative, than the positive.

For those who feel that lesbianism is inconsistent with the Bible's teaching, I note that the teachings of Christ are inconsistent with the Old Testament. On this very point, Christ said that he was bringing forth a new law, one of compassion and understanding for our fellow men and women. To the kids I say, "Duh, its not called 'New' Testament for nothin'". For the older set who feel that the Anglican congregation in California is breaking with tradition, well, so did Christ. A congregation is just that, a group of like minded men and women gathering together to worship God.And so if one doesn't like the minister at one church, then do as so many others do, find a congregation and church in which you are comfortable.

Christianity is after all a universal religion. So, to Mary Glaspol, I say welcome to the community of Christ.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


I apologize to all my loyal readers for neglecting my responsibilities on Cranky Old Man. The past two weeks have been super busy. I just finished up my finals and then promptly hopped on to a plane to be with Lana for her graduation from Tulane. Lana is a childhood friend. I promise to post some very funny and alcohol fueled tales from this most recent vacation. At the moment though my head is pounding and a bed is calling my name.

Love, First Born

Friday, May 7, 2010

Goals dammit

Do you tell the world what you are going to do, and include your family and friends in your dream? Or do you just put your nose to the grindstone and work without fanfare? Answer honestly before reading on.

Wray Herbert, in his column on Mind Matters states emphatically that talk is cheap, it is doing that matters. To bolster his opinion that talk is cheap Herbert refers to an experiment by New York University psychologist Peter Gollwitzer and his colleagues who ran a number of experiments to test this notion. Here is the experiment as described by Herbert:

The psychologists recruited a group of law students and had them rate a series of statements from "definitely yes" to "definitely no"—statements like: "I intend to make the best possible use of educational opportunities in law." But some of the law students merely dropped the anonymous questionnaire into a box while others went over their answers with the experimenter. The idea was to create a laboratory version of the public pronouncement: that is, some made their intention to intensify their studies known while others kept their intentions private.
Then they took an unusual test. They were shown five photographs of a Supreme Court justice, varying in size from quite small to large, and they were asked: "How much do you feel like a jurist right now?" They had to respond by selecting one of the five photos. This well-tested procedure taps into automatic, unconscious self-evaluations: the larger the picture you pick, the more complete you feel. The idea was to see how much publicly declaring their intentions (or not) made them feel like an icon of modern jurisprudence.
In keeping with Gollwitzer's theory, those law students who had publicly announced their plan to read law journals and so forth tended to pick the larger pictures of their legal role models.
The results were clear. Although all of the law students were motivated, only those who kept their hopes private actually did the work needed to succeed. There is no substitute for hard work. Or, to use the old joke about how you get to Carnegie Hall, ...practice, practice, practice.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

More Walt...Simpson's Style

The following is a link one of Cranky Old Man's loyal followers sent me. I hope you enjoy. Thanks Lauren! Walt Whitman.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Hedgehog and the Fox

Are you a hedgehog or a fox?

Among the surviving fragments of lines of the Greek poet Archilochus (680 B.C. - 645 B.C.) is the following saying: "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." These cryptic words have encouraged writers to debate the meaning behind the words, which may mean no more than that the cunning fox is defeated by the hedgehog’s one defense.

One famous interpretation of Archilochus' saying is Isaiah Berlin's The Hedgehog and the Fox (1953) in which Berlin attempts to divide writers and thinkers into two categories: hedgehogs, who view the world through a single lens of one defining idea and foxes who draw on a variety of experiences and for whom the world is not so simple. Examples of the former include Plato, Nietzsche, Rousseau, Joyce, Sartre. Examples of the foxes might include Aristotle, Erasmus, Shakespeare,Voltaire, and Franklin, and Whitman.  Berlin's essay focuses on Leo Tolstoy arguing that he has taken on the mantle of the omniscient, observing life as both hedgehog and fox. One example will suffice to support Berlin's claim.

In a famous passage dealing with the state of Moscow in 1812 Tolstoy observes that from the heroic achievements of Russia after the burning of Moscow one might infer that its inhabitants were absorbed entirely in acts of self-sacrifice – in saving their country or in lamenting its destruction, in heroism, martyrdom, despair – but that in fact this was not so. People were preoccupied by personal interests. Those who went about their ordinary business without feeling heroic emotions or thinking that they were actors upon the well-lighted stage of history were the most useful to their country and community, while those who tried to grasp the general course of events and wanted to take part in history, those who performed acts of incredible self-sacrifice or heroism, and participated in great events, were the most useless.
As Tolstoy observed, Archilochus's broad classifications of foxes and hedgehog can apply to the ordinary day to day activities of individuals as well as politicians, businessmen, and thinkers. Do we focus on the task at hand or on the broader implications of our actions? There is both an immediate effect of our actions and a long term effect to what we do. Again, a simple example suffices, a cigarette may gratify a craving for nicotine, but one day lead to lung cancer.A more positive example is that today's education leads to better paying jobs in the future.

Surely, Archilochus must have thought that we all have a role to play - fox or hedgehog. Each animal is successful in its own environment. Each animal has stood the test of time. Thus, in the long term it is not better to be one or the other. The occasion determines which personality is called for. In this sense Tolstoy was right. When war presented itself, the citizens of Moscow went about their lives doing what needed to be done in defense of their capital and country. When Napoleon was defeated, then Tolstoy could observe with dispassionate reflection the many roles of the participants that lead to victory.

A paradox exists in playing the dual roles of fox and hedgehog. Sometimes the basic need to survive conflicts with the altruistic need to spread kindness and goodness throughout the world. Tolstoy himself confronted this dilemma when he chose giving away his worldly possessions over the desires of his family. Hedgehog or fox, we can not always reconcile the role we must play and must resign ourselves to the inevitable conflict.

Also read Steve Wang's article about how the internet is turning the world into a pack of foxes.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Leaves of Grass

The Russians have a proverb that the tallest blade of grass is the first to be cut. Still, it is in our nature to grow. The sun and its warm light draws on. We strive to stand apart from the other blades of grass, all the while knowing that by doing so we risk our very existence.

One American writer who symbolized self growth was Walt Whitman. His Leaves of Grass, first published in 1855, represents a new realism in American literature and a celebration of the self. For example in Songs of  Myself, Whitman expresses the thought, “In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barleycorn less/and the good or bad I say of myself  I say of them.”

We are one, and yet, we are but one. This paradox expresses the thought that we are a part of the whole, the multitude and the cosmos, and yet, we are still individuals striving for self-expression.“It is you talking just as much as myself…I act as the tongue of you.”

This same idea runs through all our relationships - parents, friends and even acquaintances. It is thus better to recognize that these relationships should be positive and constructive rather than the reverse.