A Propos Absolutely Nothing

My wife and I were walking this morning (being in Plano, it was a city walk and not a proper walk), and she commented that the sun felt good, but it wasn't warm enough to suit her. Being a lizard (some have said snake) myself, I agreed with her. Then my grasshopper mind leapt into action. "Behold," I said, "the power of 2."

"Huh?" she sneered. You might wonder about sneering that word, but if you've ever heard my wife disagree with one of my pronouncements, you'd understand.

So I explained. It's that time of year. As the sun approaches, the intensity of its light grows stronger directly with the lessening distance. But that same energy, due to the tilt of our axis, now is spread out over a larger area, according to the square of the area's radius, thereby lessening in intensity by that power.


"My strength is as the strength of two,

Because my heart it tilted."

We spent the rest of our walk in reflective silence.

Eric Hines

A Relic

A Relic of A Bygone Era:

By the way, who's playing that game this year?


Project VALOUR-IT Annual Fundraiser:

It's time again. This year Carrie is the Marine Corps team leader. You can read her thoughts on the value of this project here.

I'm terrible at fundraising, and every year I warn people that I don't know how much help I could possibly be. Nevertheless, I always agree to help because the program does so much that is good, for those we as a nation owe the very most.

All of you know what Project VALOUR-IT is, and how much difference it has made to injured servicemembers. It helps them in those most difficult hours when they are separated from family, and coming to grips with the reality of their injury.

learn more

I trust you'll do what you can.

More on Language

More on Language and the Mind:

An interesting piece expanding on what we are learning about how language informs thought.

What it means for a language to have grammatical gender is that words belonging to different genders get treated differently grammatically and words belonging to the same grammatical gender get treated the same grammatically. Languages can require speakers to change pronouns, adjective and verb endings, possessives, numerals, and so on, depending on the noun's gender. For example, to say something like "my chair was old" in Russian (moy stul bil' stariy), you'd need to make every word in the sentence agree in gender with "chair" (stul), which is masculine in Russian. So you'd use the masculine form of "my," "was," and "old." These are the same forms you'd use in speaking of a biological male, as in "my grandfather was old." If, instead of speaking of a chair, you were speaking of a bed (krovat'), which is feminine in Russian, or about your grandmother, you would use the feminine form of "my," "was," and "old."

Does treating chairs as masculine and beds as feminine in the grammar make Russian speakers think of chairs as being more like men and beds as more like women in some way? It turns out that it does. In one study, we asked German and Spanish speakers to describe objects having opposite gender assignment in those two languages. The descriptions they gave differed in a way predicted by grammatical gender. For example, when asked to describe a "key" — a word that is masculine in German and feminine in Spanish — the German speakers were more likely to use words like "hard," "heavy," "jagged," "metal," "serrated," and "useful," whereas Spanish speakers were more likely to say "golden," "intricate," "little," "lovely," "shiny," and "tiny." To describe a "bridge," which is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish, the German speakers said "beautiful," "elegant," "fragile," "peaceful," "pretty," and "slender," and the Spanish speakers said "big," "dangerous," "long," "strong," "sturdy," and "towering." This was true even though all testing was done in English, a language without grammatical gender.
There are doubtless consequences for poetry, but it seems that this kind of thing would tend to color your impressions of the whole world. How interesting, for a native speaker of English, to imagine all the colors that we don't see.


Conduct Not Befitting a Gentleman:

Or, even, any man worthy of the name.

Lizard sleeps

The Lizard Sleeps Tonight:

Winter is coming, though it has warmed in the last few days: wet air from the Caribbean. Still, the animals know, and have begun to work harder than ever to feed up for the long slumber.

Especially the lizards. We have lots of them. The big skinks are spending their days chasing the smaller anoles, trying to eat them up.

It's a hard day's work. At the end, the survivors are downright bushed. They don't even try to get away from a man with a camera.

After all, I don't eat lizards. Not as a habit, you know.



This man has them wrong.

The Washington state man who's on a 60-day all-potato diet wishes he had set a goal of one month instead of two.

Chris Voigt told the Tri-City Herald that — as good and healthy as potatoes are — there's only so many ways they can be prepared. And, about halfway through his tuber diet, which began Oct. 1, he's had them boiled, baked, steamed, grilled, fried, marinated and mashed...

"Tuesday was a rough day for me," he told the Herald "I really, really wanted a pickle."
We all know the proper answer to that, I assume?

The underlying tune to that, by the way, is the same as the theme to Sesame Street. It's even clearer in this version.

How Plebe Are You?

How Plebe Are You?

Mixed results, in my case. The Daily Caller linked to this article, which itself was a reaction to a Ricochet article, about elitism. My results on the “How Plebe are You?” quiz:

1. Can you talk about “Mad Men?” No.

2. Can you talk about the “The Sopranos?” Sure.

3. Do you know who replaced Bob Barker on “The Price Is Right?” Not even.

4. Have you watched an Oprah show from beginning to end? No.

5. Can you hold forth animatedly about yoga? Not animatedly or in any other way.

5. How about pilates? No.

5. How about skiing? No.

6. Mountain biking? No.

7. Do you know who Jimmie Johnson is? No.

8. Does the acronym MMA mean nothing to you? Nothing at all.

9. Can you talk about books endlessly? Sure.

10. Have you ever read a “Left Behind” novel? No.

11. How about a Harlequin romance? No, but do I get partial credit for Diana Gabaldon and "Out of Africa"?

12. Do you take interesting vacations? I don't take any vacations. I like it here.

13. Do you know a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada? Nope.

14. What about an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor? Where?

15. Would you be caught dead in an RV? We lived in ours for the better part of a year while building this place, with three big dogs, yet.

16. Would you be caught dead on a cruise ship? No (crowds).

17. Have you ever heard of of Branson, Mo.? Yes, but I wouldn't go there (crowds).

18. Have you ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club? No.

19. How about the Rotary Club? No.

20. Have you lived for at least a year in a small town? Does living outside one count?

21. Have you lived for a year in an urban neighborhood in which most of your neighbors did not have college degrees? If this includes "suburban neighborhood," I'd guess some did and some didn't; the subject rarely came up.

22. Have you spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line? Not as far as I know, since school.

23. Do you have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian? Yes.

24. Have you ever visited a factory floor? Yes, but only as bankruptcy counsel.

25. Have you worked on one? No.

Yeesh. I'm afraid I may be at least partly an elitist. In my defense, I love Sarah Palin, nearly all my clothing comes from WalMart, I enjoy pork rinds, I own guns, and I'm an avid NCIS watcher. Oh, and I'm a knuckle-dragging Tea Partier. Speaking of which, who's looking forward to next Tuesday?

I suspect there should be a third category: neither elitist nor plebeian but just sort of "out of it."

Magic Carpets

Magic Carpets

Another plug for the Bing search engine. Yesterday's home picture was an arresting shot, similar to the one here, of something right out of Lothlorien. I can't figure out how to download a high-quality version, but I can do these two links. First, a website belonging to the photographer, Louie Psihoyos (which will give you a finer-grained version of the picture on the right), and second, go to Bing, move your cursor to the little icons in the bottom right of the screen, and choose "previous image" (which will give you something similar by the same photographer).

These are not some kind of fairy habitat but a camping system known as "portaledges," developed for climbers on multi-day rock-wall ascents. I don't think the guys who market portaledges are fully tuned into the visual possibilities of their product. Their website provides admirable detail about cost and construction but misses the chance to show portaledges in all their beautiful heart-stopping context.

I've always wanted one of those romantic mosquito-netted beds that evoke colonial Africa, but I'm afraid they wouldn't last two minutes in my doggified household.

This looks like a useful hammock with a mosquito net and fly.

War & Conservatives

War & Conservatives:

I have a piece at BLACKFIVE, on a not-very-impressive piece of philosophy that somehow got published by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

American Brass Quintet 50th Anniversary Performance

Speaking of music, I had the pleasure of attending this most wonderful event. The husband of a good friend is one of the performers. I've never heard an exclusively brass performance. I tend to love the strings or a full orchestra but this was amazing. I particularly was taken with the Gabrieli piece that culminated the event. Wow! It was an orchestra of brass instruments, broken into five groups of five, all with one of the professionals from the American Brass Quintet accompanying four Julliard School student performers. What a truly special evening.

Of course I thought of all of you, especially when the Three Fantasias in Church Modes started. It was lovely.

My friend met her husband later in life, after they were each already divorced and had children from previous marriage. Her son, a horn player himself, bought her a private lesson from one of the horn players in this quintet, because he's kind of a big deal (they both play French horn). And voila! Both of them: hook, line, and sinker.

She plays in the best amateur orchestra in New York City, the Park Avenue Orchestra, which has four performances in their season that cost $20 a piece, and they take place in an old church! That's a nice New York moment.

New York Premiere for Fixated Nights:

New York Premiere for Chants and Flourishes. I happened to be standing in line for drinks at intermission wtih this composer. Together we lamented the lack of adequate student help behind the bar!

The last piece, Gabrieli, was just tremendous!

A Knight's Tale

A Knight's Tale:

Venus in an instant:

A new meta-analysis study conducted by Syracuse University Professor Stephanie Ortigue reveals falling in love can elicit not only the same euphoric feeling as using cocaine, but also affects intellectual areas of the brain. Researchers also found falling in love only takes about a fifth of a second.

Results from Ortigue's team revealed when a person falls in love, 12 areas of the brain work in tandem to release euphoria-inducing chemicals such as dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline and vasopression. The love feeling also affects sophisticated cognitive functions, such as mental representation, metaphors and body image.
The findings raise the question: "Does the heart fall in love, or the brain?"
"That's a tricky question always," says Ortigue. "I would say the brain
, but the heart is also related because the complex concept of love is formed by both bottom-up and top-down processes from the brain to the heart and vice versa.
Interesting from a perspective of what they used to call 'phenomenology.' It doesn't answer the question of whether you can know enough about the other person to truly love them, of course. This study only treats the sensory experience.

Playing Catch

Playing Catch:

I'm sure you've all read the latest from Bill, but if you missed it, he's been juggling rockets again.

Keep your head down, Bill. We need you to generate clever puns in the comments.

The Birds

The Birds

We caught the tail end of a PBS show tonight about smart crows solving a puzzle that required them to pull up a string, extract a short stick tied to its end, use the short stick to get a longer stick from behind some bars, and use the long stick to remove a treat from the end of a tube. Unfortunately I can't find that clip on YouTube, but here's something similar in one of those great TED talks. The crows do several tricks, of which one of the best is early on. If the narrator is serious (and correct) that the crow doing that trick really figured out that trick with the wire for himself, I'm impressed.

Smart critters. They readily teach their tricks to other crows, which means they have something like a transmissible culture, as humans do.


A Slow Weekend:

I'm sorry I haven't posted much -- or responded to many thoughtful comments, below -- but I have been busy visiting with an old friend who stopped in.

The birds are hybrids between saker falcons and gyrfalcons. They belong to my friend, who has a business doing bird abatement in airports, vinyards and other areas that need to drive off lots of birds. These larger falcons are better choices for the work than American hawks like the Red Tail or Harris, because they hunt from the air rather than from trees. Thus, pigeons and such see them soaring, and head for other country -- so he was telling us, in any case.

Instead of productive work, that's meant a weekend of cooking steaks over an open fire, helping him sight in his rifle, and so forth. I'll try to get back to thinking seriously about things tomorrow.

Hope you've been well.