Reading and language

A Letter From Richard Steele*

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I realize, dear reader, that it has been more than 300 years since I last penned an edition of The Tattler; and that the United States, didn’t exist back then. But over the years I have always followed events assiduously. The cybernet is limitless, and allows me to reach you now in America ( I should say in the USA, because America refers to an entire hemisphere, right? My bad as you Yanks say.) What seems to be happening there stirs up my quiet conscience and dormant public spirit.

Over the centuries, I have resisted reacting to crude and violent uncivil rage, like the kind that is everywhere around you in the Colonies. (Sorry, as ‘you guys‘ say in  that gender warped way) , it is tempting for me to ignore that Revolution. But I take comfort that language is still something we share; more or less. Bet you don’t know what lucubrations are!

It is specifically the chronic reports of the death of a prominent political pretender to high US office that forces me to comment. I do so with reticence and some embarrasment, because I am rather a coward; I will not name that candidate, in order to avoid being economically destroyed by those, not excluding government, who by comparison to me, commnand unlimited funds, and unlimited time to prosecute!

Although I am still in England, America has a long reach; who knows what  a bity of my old DNA permit, or 23 & me turn up; I must think as a US citizen should. The average person there, facing your system of justice, can neither expect the speedy trial promised by your constitution, nor pay a multimillion cost of defense in the case of an abusive opponent having unlimited funds. The choice is bankruptcy, or a plea of guilty, deviously termed ‘a ‘bargain’, in exchange for an unjust result; it’s a legal kind of blackmail or coersion. Moreover, today,  in an atmosphere of national outrage, certain defendants  can face ugly threats from enraged or uncaged partisans.

That is why, dear readers, to face US justice, ‘ain’t me, babe,‘ in your parlance; so I rely on you to supply the name, which should be easy, since the news of the  most recent death is echoing across the cyberworld ceaselessly, like joyless monotonous waves on an ocean beach. 

The candidate first died in Nov 2008; and again in Nov 2016, but  still appears everywhere, claiming to be alive; to have been alive for many decades; saying a far flung conspiracy exists to lie and decieve.  With due respect, because the eminent candidate  clearly merits that,  I urge acceptance of the dead state bravely and wisely; though the legs and arms may still appear to perform animal functions, the art is not there; the candidate is gone. I hope these lucubrations  help to make that more apparent.  

*

Adapted from The Tattler No.1 April 12, 1709.

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The Story Of Philosophy By Will Durant

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Will Durant became widely known for his early books, especially The Story of Philosophy.Though first published in 1926, by 1933 it was already in its 15th edition; it provided the income stream that allowed the Durant’s to write for the rest of their lives, and is still widely read. What made the subject, philosophy, so popular, for so long? It is clearly written, and contains opinion, commentary, and humor. It was written to be read, understood, and enjoyed. As I open up my old copy again, it seems relevant to us in the 21st century; “Science teaches us how to heal and how to kill; it reduces the death rate retail, then kills us wholesale in war”; The Durant’s argue that only wisdom, as revealed through philosophy– “desire coordinated in the light of experience– can tell us when to heal and when to kill.”

I first read it in 1963, thanks to a newspaper article about the by Jim Bishop that included a brief account the Duran’t  1913 marriage: she was 15 years old; he, her tutor, was 25; yet they obtained approval to marry. She rollerskated to the courthouse; a ring she wore ever after was donated by an attendant; the marriage lasted 68 years until their deaths two weeks apart. She was a collaborator in all of the Durant’s subsequent books, and co-authored the later ones; their commitment and devotion is palpable in the dedication to the 1933 edition of Story of Philosophy which reads:

To My Wife

Grow strong, my comrade… that you may stand

Unshaken when I fall; that I may know

the shattered fragments of my song will come

at last to finer melody in you;

that I may tell my heart that you begin

where passing I leave off, and fathom more.

The Durant’s introductory assertion was that we, society, lack wisdom, which they see as the realm of philosophy. They decry epistemology, as an analytic approach or scientification of philosophy. An opening paragraph titled To the Reader suggests that:

‘epistemology has kidnapped modern philosophy’.

‘the knowledge-process … (is) the business of science,

‘philosophy (is) interpretation of … experience rather than (its) analytic description’ ‘Analysis belongs to science, and gives us knowledge, while

‘philosophy must provide a synthesis… wisdom.’

A subsequent and more extensive introduction expands on these assertions. “… to seize the value and perspective of passing things, and …pull ourselves up out of the maelstrom of daily circumstance we need to know that “Science is analytical description, (while) philosophy is synthetic interpretation. The philosopher ‘tries to put together that great universe-watch that science has taken apart”.

Why did Durant write a philosophy book directed to the unschooled citizen? Why call it a Story? He began, early in the last century, to contribute to the Little Blue Book series 2, pamphlets for the common worker; in time he collected many of his writings on philosophy as the basis for his book. Like the Blue Books The Story of Philosophy is not dumbed down. It reflects the conviction that the common working person is both capable and interested in knowledge of all sorts. The material was chosen and written, not to amuse, but to inform and uplift; not to disdain but to honor the desire and ability of the common worker to grasp any idea or subject. More accurately, to satisfy the hunger of the ordinary worker for knowledge. Durant, like most of the writers, and many of that time, was a socialist in what was, perhaps, the Golden Age of American Socialism, which flourished until the depression was ended by WWII; then Soviet Style Communism whose world conquering goal, prevailed, betrayed American Socialism. One could  hope that the past is, indeed, only history.

little blue book series

little blue books, worlds-famous-books

 

The Durant’s argue that if we break philosophy down like scientists, into– logic: ideal method in thought; esthetics: ideal form; ethics: ideal conduct; Politics: ideal organization; and Metaphysics: ultimate reality… “ it becomes dismembered, loses it’s beauty and joy. That is found by studying philosophers. We have had the same experiences they had but we did not suck those experiences dry of their secret and subtle meanings. So let us listen, ready to forgive errors, and eager to learn.”The subject material for the little blue books suggests that the common citizen is interested and capable of reading and understanding the world of thought and literature:

Ready or not, Social Media is here now, vital and alive, making Old Media of books, magazines, and TV of interest in retrospect. Talk Radio was probably a herald of our time, but less interactive than social media. Social Media, in most countries, is egalitarian, and available to a limitless number of individuals whose collective voice can become very loud even though each one by itself is– pipsqueak– unless it goes ‘viral”. Thanks to the cyber age, information — or misinformation– once again is available almost everywhere.  Once again, it cannot be controlled wherever a degree of liberty prevails. The information offered is not always rational, reasonable, or accurate; it is often fake or false. It is disruptive except where it can it be controlled by severe privation, poverty, and ruthless suppression. Talk with anyone who has spent some  unregulated time speaking with ordinary Cubans and that becomes apparent. People are allowed one kg of rice, one kg of beans, and one serving of chicken monthly. While the island is surrounded by the Caribbean full of fish, only shoreline fishing is permitted because boats are a means of escape. Private businesses, like taxis, are allowed, but strictly GPS tracked, and half the income must be given to the government. The net result, in the words of a taxi driver: ‘We are on an island prison.’ On the other hand, the divisiveness and chaos we see in much of our relatively free world is also apparent.  Yet if history is any guide, this new chaotic period will be– gradually– followed by significant progress in the affairs of humankind.

This is not the first time humanity has gone through this kind of radical change. When paper and printing became widely available, no longer was information controlled mainly by church, monarchy or wealth; one result was pamphleteering. Much that was written by pamphleteers was deceptive, abusive, or simply false. There was no way to put the genie back in the bottle. All this was beyond the control of any government where liberty persisted; the British, for example, tried to suppress pamphleteers it by requiring prior approval before publication… John Milton wrote his essay Aereopagtica to argue for freedom of the press. In time the explosion of information – and misinformation–led to a relative impotence, and downfall, of Monarchy and Church, and arguably, to the American Revolution, which was born in the maelstrom of pamphleteering.

Is it reasonable to question whether humanity will survive our own technology? Arguably, the history of the world-wide chaos at the birth of the 21st century is already being written in an imaginary book where the first section is titled The Story of Creation: Book One is The Age of Agriculture. It begins with the creation of farming and husbandry, at the expense of hunter-gathering, promoting stable communities, and ultimately cities, property, geometry, mathematics, commerce, architecture, rule of law, science, art, and technology. Book Two is The age of Information. Humankind creates technology which creates change, which makes access to information instant and ubiquitous, which then changes human life! The sudden access to information leads to chaos, which in turn, and over time, creates change in human behavior. The imagined book’s introduction includes a reference to Genesis to state the general theme: knowledge– information– is power; and power is something humans do not manage well. God forbids it, but of course, humanity chooses the devil of knowledge or technology and liberty over a heavenly dictatorship. When the forbidden fruit of the Tree of knowledge is eaten, God becomes enraged and expels Adam and Eve from Eden. Now, millenia later, billions of tiny fleshy knowing gods suffer from an overload of knowledge: A sort of Infomania/dynia.

So the i.genie is out of the bottle; it consists of the internet, browsers, email, skype, twitter, Facebook, robotics, artificial intelligence, etc.Any image, any idea, any lie,  can spread in minutes around the globe. Meanwhile Old Media flails, fumes, and fails: newspapers shrink to the size of circulars, living on snippets of local news, stale national news, and remunerative specious ads.  ‘Breaking News’ becomes stale, dull, repetitive, and uniform while talking heads become simply entertainers on the order of professional wrestlers or football players– but far less fun to watch. There is no place, no way, to hide information any more. The gadfly of social media suggests that some of our revered leaders, and TV and media moguls, are serial sexual predators, liars, violent scofflaws and drug users, who professionally foist biased political views on us.  Social media make live raw unfiltered information instantly available to almost anyone, anywhere. The current tsunami of information and misinformation predictably brings chaos, both internal and societal. We are unable to evaluate, filter and sort it all. And until we adapt, or create new ways of dealing with it we are likely to remain factionalized, frustrated, fragile, and furious.

Perhaps it is worthwhile to take a long view; perhaps, to read some dead philosophers The Durant book is a good start. It’s in paperback at Amazon for $9.66.. It offers a chance to catch up with the U S unschooled working people of 100 years ago. Each of Durant’s nine chapters is devoted to a ‘Western’ philosopher, and the last to three North Americans. Of course there have been more since the ’30s, but any philosophy that has survived a few centuries may have something worth hearing. Each chapter opens with a brief historical context and a summary life story of the philosopher. For the curious there are many references. Durant does not shy away from difficult material; he expands and makes personal comments often. He wants the reader to meet the philosopher, hoping for an exchange that is both memorable and enjoyable.

1The Story of Philosophy, 412 pp, focuses on the West, and excludes Asia. But the first volume of their 12 volume History of Civilization is devoted to Eastern Philosophy and History. Caution: 1150 pp. Both are free PDFs on-line. But to read these huge books on-line would leave no time for Critter, Glitter, Fritter, and to some extent, email, Siri and Browser!

2 These staple-bound books, were a project of Emanuel Haldeman-Julius (1889-1951), a socialist reformer and newspaper publisher. The Amherst College Archives , and Cal State Northridge hold large collections. However I don’t know of any place to buy them now. The over- riding principle was that the common worker was capable and interested in every aspect of knowledge. The books were pocket sized; the topics were very diverse: # 1 was the Rubiyat of Omar Khayyam, with a critical essay by Clarence Darrow. Other Titles included Oscar Wilde, Poems; Voltaire, Essays; Thomas Paine, Age of Reason; Guy de Maupassant, Short Stories ; Edgar Allen Poe Tales of Mystery; Margaret Sanger, What Every Girl Should Know; Honore de Balzac, Short Stories; Henrik Ibsen, Ghosts; Henry Thoreau, On Walking, Mark (sic) and Engels, Communist Manifesto; Ralph Emerson, Essays; Leo Tolstoy, Essays; Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays; Marcus Aurelius, Meditations; Walt Whitman, Poems; The Care of the Baby: A mother’s book by a mother ( # 81), Smith, Common Faults in Writing English (#82) ; Georg Brandes, On Reading (#86); Jesus Christ, Sermon on the Mount; Wood, Julius Caesar; John Mill, Subjection of Women (#177); Henry James, Daisy Miller; Anatole France, The Majesty of Justice #198; By 1944 more than 1800 little blue books were published. Scattered throughout are the philosophers, many written by Durant, like # 19, The Story of Frederik Nietzsche’s Philosophy; #39 The Story of Aristotle’s Philosophy; The Trial and Death of Socrates (# 94) , and The Republic of Plato # 157; .

3 You may also want to consider the Durant’s 12 volume History. They are written in the same easy style but on a grand scale richly researched and documented. I read them when I was drafted into the US Navy, placed on a Seaplane tender –(AVP 49 for antisubmarine warfare, now obsolete). We plowed the Pacific back and forth at 13 knots when weather allowed, leaving plenty of time to digest these big tomes. But that was so long ago I don’t remember much. The 12 volumes still accuse me silently and sullenly from my bookshelf.

 

 

The Age of Information

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Will Durant became widely known for his early books, especially The Story of Philosophy.*  My copy is from 1933, the 15th printing. A yelloeing newspaper clipping is inside; it is an interview with the Durants in 1963 by Jim Bishop, and  includes a brief account of their 1913 marriage: Ariel  was 15 years old; Will, her tutor, was 25; yet they obtained approval to marry. She rollerskated to the courthouse; a ring she wore ever after was donated by an attendant; the marriage lasted 68 years until their deaths two weeks apart. Ariel was a collaborator in all of the Durant’s subsequent books, and co-authored the later ones; their commitment and devotion is palpable in the dedication of  Story of Philosoply which reads:

To My Wife

Grow strong, my comrade… that you may stand

Unshaken when I fall; that I may know

the shattered fragments of my song will come

at last to finer melody in you;

that I may tell my heart that you begin

where passing I leave off, and fathom more.

The same features of Durant’s book that made it popular were offensive to many formal historians: it is clearly written, and contains opinion, commentary, and humor. In other words, it was written to be read. understood, and enjoyed. As I open up my old copy again, the preface pages seem relevant to us in the 21st century; “Science teaches us how to heal and how to kill; it reduces the death rate retail, then kills us wholesale in war.” .They argue that only wisdom, as revealed through  “desire coordinated in the light of experience, ( philosophy)   can tell us when to heal and when to kill.” I will suggest that the world-wide chaos all around us in this new century is only another chapter in  an imagined Story of Creation: There is no author other than humanity:

Book One, The Age of Agriculture is unfinished. It begins with the creation of farming and husbandry, which promote stable communities at the expense of hunter-gathering. Stable communities lead to social order, and in time, to science, art, land ownership, geometry, mathematics, commerce, architecture, rule of law. The chapter now being written in an increasingly urban 21st century is titled,   Malthus, Speak.

Book Two, The age of Information,  is also unfinished. Its dominant theme is that to create easy access to information can lead to chaos, which in turn, creates change in human behavior. How ironic and circular it is that humankind creates that which creates change in humanity!  The chapter on the Biblical Genesis suggests that too much knowledge– information– is too much power; and power is something humans do not manage well.  When the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge is eaten, God becomes enraged and expels Adam and Eve from Eden. Now  we billions of tiny fleshy gods suffer from knowledge: Infomania, or infodynia.

The chapter on the creation of the Printing Press was about  the time when printed information became available to the entire world, information  formerly accessible only to Church, Wealth and Monarchy (one and the same). The result is a still evolving revolution in various degrees, and weakening of the three-in-one powers. Only Wealth seems still healthy; yet for how long? Perhaps we shall see. Many grotesquely wealthy people are divesting through charity already, aware that their life is finite, and wealth is anathematic when hundreds of millions of people, whose voices, unheard light years distant, are now loud and clear on Social Media.

The chapter on information  is still being written but, Ready or not, Social Media is here now, vital and alive, making books, magazines, and TV Old Media;  still of interest but mainly in retrospect.  We might have noticed the change when Talk Radio heralded new media, but was  less interactive. Social Media, in countries where not suppressed, is egalitarian,  and remains in the hands of the limitless number of individuals whose collective voice is very loud even though each one by itself is– pipsqueak–  unless it goes ‘viral’. That Info-genie, is out of the bottle; it’s body is made up of various aspects of the internet, browsers, email, skype etc.;   social media is its mind and voice,  where live information is instantly available to almost anyone, anywhere. Any image, any idea,  can spread in minutes around the globe.  Any single voice can be heard. Meanwhile traditional top down sources of information shrivel , snivel, and fail: newspapers shrink to the size of circulars, sirviving  on snippets of local news, and remunerative misleading medical or  cure-all ads. Information offered on TV remains stale, dull, repetitive, and uniform; talking heads  are entertainers on the order of professional wrestlers or football players, but less entertaining; some are serial sexual predators, violent scofflaws and drug users, yet they  foppishly foist political views on viewers who turn to free media, social media.  However we  face a  tsunami of information which creates chaos, both internal and societal. We are unable to evaluate, filter and sort it all. And until we are able to live wisely, and adapt, or create new ways of dealing with all this information, we are likely to remain factionalized, frustrated, fragile, and furious.

The Durant position is that people gnerally  lack wisdom, which they see as the realm of philosophy. They decry epistemology, as an analytic approach or scientification of philosophy. The introductory paragraph  in The Story of Philosophy, titled To the Reader suggests that:

‘epistemology has kidnapped modern philosophy’.

‘the knowledge-process … (is) the business of science,

‘philosophy (is) interpretation of … experience rather than (its) analytic description’

‘Analysis belongs to science, and gives us knowledge, while

‘philosophy must provide a synthesis… wisdom.’

The four and a half page extended  introduction expands on these assertions.  “… to seize the value and perspective of passing things, and …pull ourselves up out of the maelstrom of daily circumstance we need to know that …Science is analytical description, ( while) philosophy is synthetic interpretation. The philosopher ‘tries to put together that great universe-watch that science has taken apart”.  The Durants claim that if we break philosophy down like scientists, into– logic: ideal method in thought; esthetics: ideal form; ethics: ideal conduct; Politics: ideal organization; and Metaphysics: ultimate reality, “ it becomes dismembered, loses its beauty and joy. That is found by studying philosophers. We have had the same experiences they had but we did not suck those experiences dry of their secret and subtle meanings. So let us listen, ready to forgive errors, and eager to learn.” So maybe this is a good time to hear the philosophers speak to us through a book that is clear, short, enjoyable, and perhaps can make us a bit more wise.

*The Story of Philosophy, 412 pp, focuses on the West, and excludes Asia. But the first volume of their 12 volume History of Civilization is devoted to Eastern Philosophy and History. Caution: 1150 pp. Both are free PDF on-line. But not without cost: that of mostly shutting down Critter, Glitter, Fritter, and to some extent, email, Siri and Browser. Enjoy!

ACROSPEAK

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I have long treasured an original issue of The Mother Tongue by Lancelot Hogben. Lancelot, a Brit? Curiously, the author’s name is metaphoric for miscegenation, as is Bernardo O’Higgens, the revolutionary founder of Chile. In rather didactic fashion, Hogben makes the case for English as the most universally useful world language today.

 

.

You know what that Acrospeak is; you too have suffered from it. Acrospeak is used by experts to inform those desiring to become informed;in Powerpoint slides and lectures to symposia attendees. Incredibly, Acrospeak, which is usually familiar to those already schooled in a subject,  confounds the uninformed who are hoping to learn. Is that stupid? Or What! While seekers of new knowledge puzzle over strings of CAPS which could represent– anything– the meaning is nowhere defined in hand-outs or powerpoint slides. As would be learners consider possibilities of obscure letters, the lecturer’s string of meaning becomes tangled.

Acrospeak could very easily be called acrodynia, acrolalia, acrothymia, acrodystrophy ; or any number of such invented but fairly understandable terms; terms we immediately recognize because they contain clues that come to us on the Indo-European language stream that flows through Sanscrit, Greek, Arabic, and Latinized European or Cyrilic languages. They are clues we don’t need to study, because they are embedded in our common languages, and especially in scientific language.

English, in particular, is a beautifully polyglot language. It is not only the most used language of science and business today, but one with roots in many other languages. Those of the Celts, Romans, Saxons, and Norman French conquerors were grafted onto English as it evolved over centuries. The result is modern English. On the one hand English spelling seems bizzare because it reflects the languages of all those who ruled the islands for centuries at a time; and the language of the conquerors themselves,  whose language also had been inseminated by other conquerors. Therefore anyone who learns to read and spell English well has completed an introductory course to an array of Indo-Europan languages; most prominntly are those of Europe, but also those of the Mideast, and West Asia. What, for example does Hamas suggest? Never, as in Spanish jamas, planted there over centuries by Arabic Moors. Cognates for the word mother are recognizable from Sanskrit on, and similar language strings are common.

I once was ship physician on a research vessel to the Antarctic Peninsula. It was an abandoned former USSR icebreaker refitted  in Finland. There were 17 scientists, not one from the same country, many from different continents. We all had to communicate in English

So here is my question to knowledgable and earnest people standing in front of colleagues who come to listen and learn: Why abandon centuries of language, and revert to CCP? Well, then, Clueless Cap Puzzles. And my plea: Do not abandon millenia of shared meaning that we all are at least  vaguely  familiar with. Do not tear out the common threads of language in favor of CCP. It may save space on slides, or breath for the lecturer. But that’s a poor tradeoff if the intent is to inform. And if you do abandon those clues of language, and revert to CCP, at least provide something on every slide to clarify, the acronyms,  or a ledger that can do so.

I made a careless comment long ago to my brother-in-law, a proper Massachusetts elitist, by declaring it is a waste of time to study dead languages like Latin; or, ( more offensive,) French. It was an attempt to wake him up for a moment; it did but he was as Outraged as if I spit on his mother. Now, considering the power of language that comes to us down to us through the millenia I realize he had a valid point. He is long gone from this life; but perhaps he can hear this somewhere above or below. “In the face of CCP, I apologize for that crude remark.”

Some acronyms are so common they are almost universally understood: like ASAP or USA;  or those a first grader learns on the street or from media– like this one which can also serve as a comment on Acrospeak: WTF! What’s That For? Well, No.

Isocrates, Milton, Osler, and the Internet

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Democracy destroys itself because it abuses its right to freedom and equality. Because it teaches its citizens to consider audacity as a right, lawlessness as a freedom, abrasive speech as equality, and anarchy as progress. Isocrates, 436-338 BCE   

Some 2360 years ago, Chios, Cos, Rhodes, and Byzantium bolted from the Athenian Confederacy over abuses of central power by Athens. Isocrates wrote a long essay urging peaceful resolution of the conflict. It was surely not delivered orally for the reasons he mentions in the opening paragraphs:

“…you do not hear with equal favour the speakers who address you… while you give your attention to some, in the case of others you do not even suffer their voice to be heard. And it is not surprising that you do this ; for in the past you have formed the habit of driving all the orators from the platform except those who support your desire …you ( cause them to say) not what will be advantageous to the state, but what (pleases) you. …how can (we) wisely pass judgement on the past or take counsel for the future unless (we) examine and compare ( opposing ) arguments? …although this is a free government, there exists no ‘ freedom of speech ‘ except that which is enjoyed…by the most reckless… .

It sounds very 21st century USA, doesn’t it?

Fights broke out Saturday during pro- and anti-Trump protests in Berkeley, California.

February 1, 2017 - Berkeley, California, U.S - Anti-fascist protesters dressed in black arrive at a protest on the University of California-Berkeley campus against Milo Yiannopoulos, a Breitbart writer who has grown notorious for his comments targeting women and minorities. Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak Feb. 1 at the invitation of College Republicans but he left the campus an hour-and-a-half before his scheduled talk as protesters grew unruly, throwing objects and setting off a bonfire

Anti-fascist protesters using “black bloc” tactics – covering faces, dressing in black – arrive at the protest last week.Jeremy Breningstall/ZUMA

 

In the mid 15th century, thanks to the printing press, common people began to acquire printed material containing ideas or knowledge formerly limited to wealth, state and church’  which were joined at the hip. Later, In 1522, Luther published the bible in vulgar German, instead of Latin, making it widely accessible for the first time. Over the next hundred years wildcat or unschooled publishing exploded, causing rulers to fear a access to information- arguably knowledge- putting power in the  hands of a gullible and ignorant public. In 1641 Britain–to protect the public (of course) !– made all printing illegal without prior official approval. Two years later a defiant John Milton published Aeropagitica, a title he adapted from Aeropagitcus, where Isocrates urged the revival of the Aereopagus, a court to control education of the young and public immorality.

Since the1990’s the internet has become exponentially available to an entire world. Authority is challenged or attacked by unschooled, unapproved wildcat non line e.publishing that is consumed by an awakened, restive national and transnational public. Free Speech is again so intolerable that Isocrates’ stale words echo down the hallways of time, and it seems clear that –again– civil dialogue and speech are true lies that recur throughout what we call history. While in the past, technology driven change required centuries to come to a boil, this pot took only a few decades to boil over.

I try to believe our little e.fire  will cool down, that we will control the pot of the e.verse. Yet it seems even more techno-crises are almost upon us: artificial intelligence; bioengineering; bioprinting; robotic automation and their spawn; Mars; and driverless cars (though two story high trucks of open pit copper mines in Chile have not had drivers for many years.) I was once an arrogant little pilot, like so many physicians who fly and sometimes die. But long ago on a several week trip to Punta Arenas, on the straits of Magellan,  I found that even a simple array of instruments was a better pilot than I. Therefore, thinking of the unknowable,  which is now seems almost everything ahead, I know that–looking back– my greatest good fortune was to become a physician, not so much through merit as luck, and the influence of a friend. To study my physician predecessors and colleagues is to move outside my own limits. It reminds me of this from Empedocles:

The nature of god is a circle of which the center is everywhete and the circumferance is nowhere—!

and this from Mathew Arnold’s Dover Beach:

I say: Fear not! Life still
Leaves human effort scope.
But, since life teems with ill,
Nurse no extravagant hope:
Because thou must not dream,  
thou need’st not then despair

So today, wanting a dose of something other than alcohol, I pulled down Osler, but quickly put him back, in favor of pulling him up : such is the joy of a browser! Aequinimitas was his valedictory address, University of Pennsylvania, May 1889. He spoke of the physician’s need for equanimity:

 “ clearness of judgment in moments of grave peril, immobility, impassiveness, or, to use an old and expressive word, phlegm.”

Phlegm! How choice a word for equanimity that is! He continues in that grandiloquent elite euro-greco-roman slang :

“in the Egyptian story…Typhon with his conspirators dealt with good Osiris; …they took the virgin Truth, hewed her lovely form into a thousand pieces, and scattered them to the four winds; and, as Milton says, “from that time ever since, the sad friends of truth, such as durst appear, imitating the careful search that Isis made for the mangled body of Osiris, went up and down gathering up limb by limb still as they could find them; We have not yet found them all,”

And there it is again! The quote is from Milton’s ...Areopagitica! 

 

The Areopagus as viewed from the Acropolis.

Lighting for Literacy, Colonet, Baja California 2017

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“The greatest Christian virtue is doing, the least is talking”             John Wesley

I HAVE SELDOM BEEN so rewarded for being a Methodist as on my fourth trip to Colonet, Baja California to help build the 39th and 40th small houses there; and to interpret for a Lighting For Literacy (LFL) project, where middle school science teachers and students lighted up the lives and nights of eight families in Ejido Punta Colonet. The students had been enrolled in STEM programs (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), inspired by their science teachers, to put together solar panel powered lighting systems and to actually go to install them.

About 1.5 billion people (20 percent of the world’s population) must resort to some sort of carbon based fuel for night lighting; it is unhealthy, contributes to the CO2 burden, and is a significant fire hazard around flimsy remote structures. Otherwise they have no light after the sun sets. The cats at Los Gatos Methodist Church and Rotary International (RI) know LFL well, having witnessed it’s lightening fast 60 day gestation and assisted its birth.  The very first LFL solar lighting system installation was actually in Colonet, Baja California in 2013. It was developed one afternoon at a fast food restaurant by two members of the Methodist Church; one was Doug McNeal, also a Rotarian, who promoted support by the local Rotary. Already, affiliated programs reach more than eight continents, introducing STEM and LFL to more than 1,200 middle school teachers and their students who are at an age where inner places and lives can be lighted up in the process of lighting up remote places. Kevin Kinsella, who was also at Colonet this April, is an inspired and enlightening science teacher with LFL.

I felt enlightened, as well. The photographs below reveal the depth of our experience more clearly than words. They also speak of the nature and the power of Family; in this case, families who keep animals in, and desert varmints like coyotes out by fashioning close-spaced fences from brittle, dead stalks of cactus plants, wire and woven plastic waste; who carve out a place in the desert to  imagine a house – a home – into existence, though often largely made of trash. That’s something only families like those pictured below, can do.

As to my own family, I would have never gone to Colonet without following my daughter, Amy, who coordinated the complex project involving two countries, more than 40 people, and the finances involved; or John my son in law; and my son, Fred, a builder who hauled his tools and powerplant 3,600 miles round trip; and Tom, another builder from the South Bay who brought tools and material to the sites; or Ivan a local builder; or Antonio, a local pastor; or the many other volunteers and donors, the glue that held it all together.

After each solar lighting installation, instructions are given. The switch is turned on by one of the children. The student who put together the unit signs it and makes the final point by giving each child a set of age appropriate Spanish books. We take a  group photograph. Adios is then the only perfect single word speech.

These live links  tell about LFL better than I:

LGRI Rotary

LFL

 LFL Ivory Coast

 

The photographs  below and speak more clearly than words, and may encourage the reader to consider the possibility of LFL:

Doug McNeil

 Kevin Kinsella

First job of every morning  putting together two  units  for two houses. I couldn’t see how it was done, but these people did. A cell phone charger  pug is included.

The plastic bag holds mounting brackets and connectors. Note  all the wires, and the name of the student on the lid.

The rechargeable battery goes in the box too. Simple, no? Yeah, Right!

Jessica

Tom in a moment of silent, serious concentration. He is a monk in the skin of a grizzly.

Below is a wash-house. Behind is a fenced garden and unseen in the distance is a small mountain range where 10000 ft high peaks pull water from moist sea air in winter, providing water for this productive sun drenched agricultural region.

A fence perfectly representing the environment. The stakes are dried up spikes of cactus plants. They are strung along barb wire wrapped in salvaged black plastic bags.

Below are dried roots of the same cactus- Maguey- dug up from the sullen and reticent gravelly soil at considerable effort, to serve for cooking.

Alejandro cleaning the spines from Prickly Pear cactus leaves for very common vegetable dish, nopales,   He gave us a one week old dried rattlesnake which he advised us to let dry more, then grind up, and use with any food…like re fried beans and ground rattlesnake.  Cascabel con frijoles refritos.

I fell under the spell of this woman. She was a migrant farm worker from Chiapas, not speaking any Spanish; met  and married. Their 15 year old son  son works for a builder and did much of the construction;  15 years is adult at times. (During WWII my dad worked at a copper mine in Chihuahua. When I was 10 my he took me to El Paso and put me on a troop train with $5. I got to  Northern CA  with some help from the soldiers. Like children in Colonet, we were old when young then.  From this distance that doesn’t seem a bad thing)

I can’t  pronounce or recall  her name but will never forget her.  In this photo Antonio, the pastor of the Christian church in Colonet is helping her dig a footing for a table in her wash house.

Another home when the light was turned on in this dark  windowless room. It is only the equivalent of a 60 watt incandescent bulb, but What a difference! I like this photo also for the high heeled shoes over the door. There were 3 pairs but i didn’t want to be too intrusive; however they appear in the last photo.

Little silent things like those shoes have much to tell if we listen.


After the lights are installed, instructions for their use given and   the switch thrown turned by one of the children LFL makes the final point by giving each child a set of  age appropriate books; we take a last  group photograph; and  Adios is the perfect one word speech.

A Modest Proposal* on Diabetes Detection and Control

Posted on Updated on

 

Self Management of Early and Silent Diabetes or Pre-Diabetes

Colonet is an inland town of about 2500 in Baja California. I have gone there four times with my daughter Amy and the Los Gatos Methodist Church to build small houses. They have now built more than 40, generally during Easter vacations so school children can participate. There are two doctors offices and two pharmacies in the tiny  town but it serves a wide local area; ‘universal care’ is available at a government clinic staffed – in a common South American way –by a recent medical school graduate who must pay back year for year of medical school by staffing several remote rural clinics; he is there only a few hours each week, so people line up at 4 AM for one of the few openings. Otherwise they must see a private doctor at about US$35 a visit. For those who have a job, the average daily income is about US $10 per day, but work is not available year round. The nearest hospital is 60 Km distant.

It may seem surprising, but the area is highly agriculturally productive. The largest tomato grower in the world is nearby. The Driscol strawberries we buy here are grown in the region. Why? It sits between the ocean and the Sierra de San Pedro mountain range that reaches up 10000 feet to suck in winter  rain, allowing for irrigation like a tiny San Fernando Valley; water and sun and hard work make it productive. Migrant workers, often speaking no Spanish, invade for harvests. This year it rained a great deal and the area is lush with small blossoming plants and green with bushy growth.

The local Christian Church has been very helpful in building the small homes. They often help people to acquire a tiny  plot of land, which is a required, as well as someone in the family with a job. The pastor’s wife has diabetes as does her mother and their four year old  daughter;  they assisted in preparing for a series of evening diabetes screening clinics during my week there. The disease is so  common that among the first 20 people screened ( excluding the pastor’s family)  9 had diabetes or pre-diabetes.  Below is the translation from Spanish of the written introduction  and information that was given to people who attended the screenings. Of course, the problem is obvious: When you find a person with diabetes, under these circumstances what do you do? I believe self management is the only realistic, timely, and practical option. To make that sort of thing work, it is best for small groups of people with diabetes to work together over time to solve problems like Where to find medications and supplies most reasonably; How to measure and keep track of glucose levels; How to safely adjust medication in view of the results. The pastor  has an internet connection. It is a long and twisted road, but one that otherwise most Colonet people with diabetes travel alone. What follows below is information  provided at the screening clinics, addressing the screening process, the general nature of the disease, glucose self monitoring, and possibilities for  self treatment. It is translated and redacted  from a Spanish blog.

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RAPID SCREENING FOR DIABETES AND PRE-DIABETES

Blood glucose is measured about two hours after a sugar or starch rich meal.

Diabetes Positive Screening test:

  1. Any blood glucose level above 200 mg/dL at any time, including the
  2. Challenge test: Blood glucose above 200 mg/dL 2 hours after a sweet or starchy meal
  3. After 10 hour fast: any blood sugar over 125 mg/dL

PreDiabetes Positive Screening test:

    1. after a  10 hour fast: blood sugar 100-125 mg/dL
    2. 2 hours after sweet or starchy meal blood sugar 140-199 mg/dL

 Conversions between mmol/dL  and mg/ dL  here

Screening tests are highly suggestive but not diagnostic. When positive, reconfirm whenever possible, with a qualified laboratory and physician.

 These screening tests are valid at all ages.

Diabetes has serious complications, all caused by elevated levels of blood Glucose (sugar). In early years the disease is silent. One feels fine while high glucose levels destroy the most delicate but critical circulation in the kidneys, retina of the eyes, feet, and elsewhere.Fortunately we live in a time when prevention of that damage can be  effective, and simple. But only those who have or who discover their  disease can successfully treat it; especially those with the most common kind:  silent diabetes. To do that the disease must be revealed… diabetes diagnosed if present,. , and then controlled by:

      1. Using a personal glucose monitor to keep track of blood glucose levels
      2. Measuring and recording glucose levels
      3. Learning to manage the illness… i contend that is best done as a member of a small group who regularly share their experiences and information.

Some may wonder why it is essential or practical to self control and self manage this particular illness. Although it can best be done with the help of a physician, only the person who has this disease can do so. Physicians cannot hang around 24/7. The time a physician can actually help most is after the disease had done so much damage that a foot has to be cut off, or a kidney replaced: too late for prevention. A competent physician welcomes self management of early or silent disease. All this may seem complicated, but it becomes quite natural quickly when the diabetic can:

  1. measure, blood glucose, record the result, and then
  2. use the results to manage and control the disease
  3. share results and experience with others who have diabetes for: a) interpretation of results; b) finding sources for test strips, medications or professional advice;c) understand medications and ways to manage it. For example, glucose monitoring is crucial, but very expensive. However, an hour drive away is a large international chain store where  costs for glucose monitoring supplies are: ( US$):  Monitor $  9.00; 100 test strips $17.88; one time cost of lancing device $5.84; 100 lancet needles, $1.84 Total $34.24 , adequate for about 6 months monitoring– $0.19/day! By comparison,  costs where test strips alone are $ .50-.75 each, are many times that depending on how many strips are required.

The personal glucometer (glucose measuring device or meter) is inexpensive, accurate and lasts for years. One must learn to use it, use it regularly and record results and circumstances affecting each  test. . At first it is advisable to measure glucose levels often in order to better understand the illness. Yet because test strip use can often gradually be reduced to as little as 5 or six times weekly, plus anytime a concern arises. For example, one might suspect, for whatever reason, a blood glucose is low, and eat “just in case.” That should not be done: measure, don’t guess!  

 

The blood glucose monitoring record: ( for one month…the first of 30 spaces appear) below)

Date mo/day Time 24 hr Level before meal 2 hours later Useful details like: what was eaten, an unusual event like illness, or any other comment

 

How food affects blood glucose:

Carbohydrates fats and proteins can all be converted to glucose…which  is vital to the human body even if too much is harmful. Some carbohydrates convert to glucose very quickly and therefore are a problem for people with diabetes:

Fast: processed or refined bleached grains like white wheat flour, and white rice; processed fruit sugars (fructose) like corn sugar and beet or cane sugar; starchy vegetables like potatoes and some sweet fruits like peaches, apples, bananas, oranges.

Slow: beans, seeds like most  nuts, peas, lentils, meat, fish, chicken, cream is less fast than milk because less lactose, milk sugar.

Take control of your diabetes when  it is silent and serious irreversible complications are most easily prevented.

You are the only person who can control your disease!

Note 1) Insufficient insulin was discovered to be present in diabetes nearly 100 years ago. Insulin is made in the pancreas; in the most common sort, Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still can make some insulin, but not enough to meet the body needs; so glucose accumulates. The disease  usually gets worse with time– especially if not controlled well. In type 1 diabetes almost no insulin is produced, and that is a different but related illness.

Note 2) Fasting blood sugar— after not eating for about 10 hours– can be deceptive in Type 2 diabetes because the pancreas has been resting (usually overnight) making enough insulin to keep blood glucose levels normal or nearly so.

Note 3) Hemoglobin A1C test: Red blood cells are not alive. They were grown in the bone marrow, and when growth is complete, they are delivered to the blood where they act as tiny carriers of Oxygen. That Oxygen is delivered to the tissues, and the empty red blood cells are sent back for more. They live about 90 days and are then discarded. But when they were being formed they took in the amount of glucose that was in the blood at that time. Therefore, the average glucose level in those red blood cells is a measure of the average blood glucose during the previous 90 days. Problem: both high blood sugars and low blood sugars can be seen in early type 2 diabetes because the pancreas can over react to high blood sugars and therefore over-produce while trying to catch up at night. So an average of high and low glucose can be deceptively normal. Conclusion: a challenge test, similar to the old glucose tolerance test, is superior to looking at averages or fasting blood glucose level. This screening test is significant because it offers a fast, and economical screening that can be done by anyone with a glucose meter.

Note 4) The personal glucose meter was pioneered by Richard K Bernstein, an engineer with severe diabetes working on a glucose monitor for physician offices. His diabetes became so advanced he  began to control his own blood glucose very tightly and began to improve; then he did his own study among students, which suggested a personal glucose monitor was the key to diabetes control.   What happened is classic:The study results were rejected by the academic  medical profession. So he went to medical school and began to practice immediately as a diabetes specialist. His book –The Diabetes Solution- is largely viewable on line

Dr. Bernstein completely recovered on a very low carbohydrate high protein diet and tight glucose control; he suggests an average blood glucose of 81 mg/dL;  he is alive, and lively, over 80 years old. He participates regularly in Teleseminar Webcasts. The March 29 2017 event can be seen  here.

* A Modest Proposal is a 1729 satire by Jonathon Swift: For preventing the Children of Poor People From being a Burthen to Their Parents or Country, and For making them Beneficial to the Publick’. He outrageously suggests newborns be harvested for food to reduce the numbers of poor and also feed the rest. Perhaps the only bearing of Swift’s satire to this little essay is the focus on the millions of poor we seem willing to sacrifice to diabetes, even though it’s cruel, and irrational. and avoidable.

 By working together outside a system that tends to sacrifice the good to the perfect, and by self managing their own disease, people can at least greatly improve their lives and well being. Yet for our world’s millions of unsuspecting pre-diabetic and diabetic people, only those who discover their disease early and begin to self control it can easily limit its ravages. I believe that worldwide– and even in the USA– there are tens of  millions who could benefit from a similar process  until something more academically perfect comes along.

 Even privileged, idealistic and committed people can  become  insensitive, intolerant, and dismissive, based on disagreement about dogma, about the meaning of ideas and words. Words are, after all, only symbols; like metaphors they represent things or ideas usually unseen. When we hear or  read a word, we rewrite it in our own minds. We interpret and give it our own personal twist. When one half of our nation cannot stand to hear or see the other half, because of ideas or words, it would seem wise to ask ourselves Why do  Words Hurt? Why are we so willing to wound  one another? Or to  put another way, Why so terribly thin skinned? Who ever said ‘sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me’ was from another era; like Swift.

It seems to me more appropriate to think about deeds rather than only  words. So in Colonet this year, I wore a baseball cap with a silent modest proposal written on the face to imply  that :

We are in this together. In this place, this nation, this world. We should try to ‘read’, or value one another for what we DO, not what  we appear to BE: Not color of skin or political affiliation; or religion; or citizenship, or age, sexuality or gender— but rather, our behavior; our acts; and judge ourselves and others as reasonably as our acts allow.

“THNIK”