Lady With A Weather Station

MY BEAUTIFUL COCOON

I suppose I should claim to have left the child in me behind. In truth, I cannot do so. While some my age feel like dancing, I often feel like napping.

A cold winter cuts deep with age. I dread walking out of doors on particularly cold days. My wife and I study weather signs and predictions assiduously – my wife much more than I.

But there is a flip side to the dread of cold air. I confess adoration of my cocoon – or my many cocoons. First and foremost is my lovely bed. In winter I wear a white cotton skull cap or, my current favorite, I loosely wrap my head in an empty pillowcase, lightly binding my ears and covering my forehead as if wearing an Egyptian headdress. My heavy gray wool blanket lies folded but tightly pressed against the left length of my body. My top sheet and blankets rest upon me, tucked tightly at the edges around my chest. A large fluffy pillow is wedged to the right of my head to keep it from moving, to give me the sensation of sleeping on my right side when in fact I am flat on my back, lying diagonally across a double bed that I built of yellow pine forty years ago. My head rests softly embedded in between two small down travel pillows put inside a cotton pillowcase. My jury-rigged pillow puts me very close to lying flat with no pillow at all; this aids nighttime breathing, protects my back, and prevents reflux from unsettling my nighttime wanders.

This is but one place where I spend a blissful eternity in imaginary adventure. There is my Walmart leather recliner, which is neither from Walmart nor made of true leather. There are numerous oddly shaped homemade pillows upholstered in faux leather fabric found at Walmart; a homemade foam-filled headrest extension, loosely fixed in the same material; and a full-length fake-leather-weave kitchen floor mat that supports my pliable body and keeps it from sliding around. All this is topped with a forest-green fleece throw blanket. Here, invariably, my eyes flutter in periodic submission during familiar or dull moments of nighttime movies.

My car seats, the firm gray cloth ones in my Honda Civic rather than the slick tan leather ones in my Accord, offer similar delight and comfort. The heat of my car is a blessing after a brisk walk to and from work.

All these places are my work stations – or rather my think stations. I would have few creative thoughts otherwise, except for the muted quiet afforded on my four-mile walks each morning, bundled up in so many layers that I look like a nomadic tribesman on the tundra.

All relates to the weather, the all-important condition that envelops each day and makes it different and uncertain. Knowledge of the weather connects science with practical and sensitive awareness of surroundings and change.

I offer a story related to the fundamentals of weather and its importance in our everyday lives. It is very brief but long enough. It is akin to a children’s tale about the culture of science and teaching, and the presence and palpable consequences of nature.

Please follow this trail to my reading room and sit warmly by the hearth.

Still Life

Our widowed friend paints life still:

each object vibrates color;

vessels brim with promise past,

with memories vaguely shaken.


Repeating acts for themselves,

sublime grasp of the moment,

each stroke observes one forward step,

one backward glance forsaken.


Still life is breath, no less,

when human hands and eyes behold

what minds and hearts embrace,

what sharing lives awaken.

Liberal to a Fault

What is little recognized about liberalism in America, among the illiberal, is its toughness in resisting homogeneity. It is little known and understood because conservatives and identity-conflicted centrists choose to ignore context and history when composing their self-congratulatory political narratives – narratives that describe their own views as wholly realistic and doggedly principled while ignoring the evolving ideals and labored mechanics essential to pragmatism. Recently, Nathan Heller wrote an article entitled “Northern Lights” for The New Yorker. [1] In it he examines the effectiveness and sensibleness of the welfare state in Scandinavian countries. He also contrasts that with criticism of the Scandinavian system offered in a current book on the topic. The juxtaposition of Scandinavian and American solutions to individual and social issues leads him to a interesting conclusion: that where Scandinavians have achieved saneness with an underpinning of sameness, America, particularly because of the strength of liberal ideals, pursues better solutions while preferring cultural diversity. As Heller sees it, this is not exactly unqualified praise of the American approach in general or American liberals in particular.

Here is how Heller states it:

“What Nordic life tells us…is how steep and ambitious the path of American liberalism is. Conservative social ideals are notorious for their mercenary spirit and wishful self-justifications…. Yet a certain hardness of heart rests in the practice of modern American liberalism, too. We have registered our willingness to make the Faustian deal that the Swedes have not. The possibility of having a truly Iranian-American life, or enjoying deep-Appalachian bluegrass, is important to our national variety. And, to let these cultures thrive on their own, we’ve agreed to let some of our people, by our withheld intervention, be thrown under the bus.

“Because this is America, we hope for better. But we aren’t hung up on our tendencies to fall short. …Like many Enlightenment-born nations, we declared our principles at the start – liberty, equality, the pursuit of happiness – and trusted that any friction among these ideas would be sorted out, eventually, in the churn of civic life. The trust continues. Progress is slow. While Nordic people have made the best of what they have, Americans persist in gambling on something better, and yet settling for something worse.”

Heller, having it both ways, as is the wont of journalists and critics alike, seems to be lightly criticizing American liberalism for not demanding the level of purity that would force submission to a tighter state in order to achieve a more amenable lifestyle – if not a more equitable and interesting society.

But his essay offers a valuable lesson to conservatives about liberalism. Liberalism is not more aggressive in opposing gun ownership, or the advancement of willful denial of fact in our society, because liberals see such aberrations as a part of our culture that somehow augment American life and prospects – as if to say, we will not force you to give up your diverse ways because we have no intention of giving up ours – and we find all the differences to be, at least a little, enriching.

Liberals in fact think there may yet be something useful and enlightening to emerge from conservative expressions – though there is often every reason to doubt that proposition. That, my friends, is truly entrenched optimism and determination. Liberals won’t go hard on guns in general because of fondness for grandpa’s beautiful gun rack and his colorful hunting stories. Radicals of every stripe should remember that liberals have firepower, too – sporting and defensive weapons, factories, technology, demographics, and diversity – shared culture and work. And liberals have an impressively successful track record of consistently crushing jackboots when they goose-step too high and too close to home. Diversity does indeed have its usefulness, lest conservatives think it is all about meditation, yoga, and sushi. Allies are a wonderful complement in war.

I am not so sure that American liberals are throwing anyone under the bus. But, by Heller’s lights, they are liberal to a fault for not going out of their way to crush differences of opinion and living styles. All this is not to criticize Scandinavia – even without bluegrass. Heller’s spear is meant for us alone, even though he would not wish us Scandinavian. We are too gloriously searching and messy for that.

Therefore, any assertions by conservatives regarding concealed or elite liberal designs to build a totalitarian state are pure projection and fancy on the part of the real schemers. Liberal America prefers flavorful variety over monotonous universal perfection.

FOOTNOTE:

1. Nathan Heller’s article “Northern Lights” in The New Yorker on February 16, 2015.

He So Loves the World

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Concepts describe and augment reality. They become part of reality.

Thinking so, I come to a key proposition: Believing makes it so. This proposition is the vague plasma that connects loose components of a life, a culture, a civilization.

One of the best passages in Catch 22, a dialogue that takes the concept of the Catch-22 to its next level, has Yossarian discussing the God not believed in. In the conversation, it is clear that not believing requires a concept, too. When not believing becomes a integral part of a personal system, it becomes a belief.

Belief (and theories more meticulously built on empirical evidence and rational proof) guides perceptions and behavior. In a constant and consistent expression, they feed virtuous or vicious cycles.

I believe in trust. I believe that trust creates trust, that low trust generates inefficient interactions that impede productivity and growth. But on the other hand, I believe in questioning: trusting relationships concede the requirement to clarify and reconcile ends and means among members.

Recently I heard on NPR (what could be named Radio Trust) that the Huggington Post – formerly and officially called The Huffington Post – plans to focus only on stories about things that work. (There may be many fewer stories about Congress and radical political parties and their partisans.) The theory here is that less news about evil and failure, and more about cooperation, construction and success, will breed more success and diminish evil action and failure.

We can belabor this argument with A is B and B is C and so on to Z. We know that lengthy and time-consuming contests such as that, repeated over and over again, don’t convince or change radical views. With trust, we are able to jump straight from A to Z more efficiently.

Jumping from A to Z, we venture to the story of which this rumination is a prologue – a prologue of which the attached story is a proof. Thus we tie together these fragments of thought in an actual life, a life tied to many lives, a life of cooperation, construction, and delight. This is the small beginning of a story about the contagion of love.

Click here to read this story.