Thursday, October 30, 2008

Today's Election Thought

"The advance planning and sense stimuli employed to capture a $10 million cigarette or soap market are nothing compared to the brainwashing and propaganda blitzes used to ensure control of the largest cash market in the world: the Executive Branch of the United States Government."

--Phyllis Schlafly, 1964

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Month of New Subjects - Latitudinalism

Ever heard of Baron de Montesquieu? It is to him that the United States ultimately owes our balance-of-powers form of government, so it would make sense to include him in a book on the creation of American society. It wasn't this excerpt that was included, however. Tonight I read his philosophy of the differences in people in different climates.

Taking "political correctness" to its extreme, we are not actually supposed to acknowledge or talk about actual racial differences, but they do exist. For instance, I am of northern European descent (think glow-in-the-dark-pale). Andy is of Irish/German/etc. etc. etc. descent (we're rather more like mutts in America), so he looks different than I do. Certain diseases are more predominant in different ethnicities, and these ethnicities are based on where our ancestors came from and are probably formed by adaptations to our natural climate. I think we're all fine up to this point.

Taking this as a really BIG springboard, he asserts that the behaviors of the people are affected by their native climates and the effect of the climate on the bodily humours, stating "If we travel towards the North, we meet with people who have few vices, many virtues, and a great share of frankness and sincerity. If we draw near the South, we fancy ourselves entirely removed from the verge of morality." Maybe he foresaw nude beaches?

He goes on to state that it's good for the blood for people in cold climates to drink but not in hot climates, and that people of the north are less capable of pain--which I will remember next time I step on a knitting needle--yet cold and phlegmatic. Then he really gets nasty, calling the Indians "pusillanimous" (which I had to look up--it means "cowardly"), the Japanese "stubborn and perverse," and the English "apt to commit suicide most unaccountably."

Besides not being able to fathom how someone writing in 1748 could come up with this idea--and ignore all the other possibilities that would contribute to patterns of behavior, like religions and history, I do not understand what it has to do with American sociology. America doesn't figure in to his essay at all, and even when he was writing Americans would have some shared behavioral characteristics even without much shared ancestry. And did this essay influence anyone anywhere?

Up until now, much of my reading has been influenced by the assimilation of so many of the ideas into my philosophical concepts. Social Contract Theory not only makes sense to me--it is the only thing I have ever known, so I can't fully imagine anything else. Plato's theories are so well known that I think most people would know what "Philosopher Kings" and the "allegory of the cave" mean. Most college students encounter Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Machiavelli, Confucius, Rousseau and Hobbes in an Introduction to Ethics class, so these are sort of old ideas. Baron Montesquieu and his whole "latitude determines attitude" idea is completely new to me.

It is also hard to truly understand the concept of a hereditary monarchy and/or divine right of kings--partly because it's rather drummed in to every American child's head at an early age that King George III of England is the bad guy in the story of our revolution, partly because Americans are so distrustful of leaders that presidential term limits were added to our constitution, partly because we are a classless society, and partly because so many sons of famous industrialists were inept businessmen that it's a pretty big cliche in our history.

It has also been difficult to read the philosophers who believe that governments/people/businesses will naturally behave in an "honorable" manner. Thomas Paine writes, "In the early ages of the world, according to the scripture chronology there were no kings; the consequence of which was, there were no wars;" Ha! I believe in striving for honor/integrity/honesty and trying to instill them as values, but I think Hobbes was more correct--we agree to laws to protect us from others. The last politician on a national level whom I believed was even capable of acting in an honorable manner was Jimmy Carter. I think he made a pretty lousy president in all honesty, but I greatly admire him as a person. Do I believe government ever acts in the best interest of its people or with any actual sense or "right" and "wrong?" Nope. Do I think companies will behave in an honorable manner? Small ones, yes. Large ones, not likely. The mortgage industry wasn't regulated. Did those companies act honorably? No. Our past is riddled with company towns, corporate trusts that drove out the competition & controlled prices, slave labor, child labor, unsafe working conditions, sexual harassment, unsafe products, share cropping, scams and cons, embezzlement --you name it, we've done it. And yet I believe capitalism is truly a great system--as is our government in many ways--but it's no use asking any of it to be perfect. At the base of everything are people, and people are inherently not perfect so we are by nature not capable of perfection.

Next up: Adam Smith on the division of labor from The Wealth of Nations. AND another try at The Shining. We started watching it last night, but it got too late & we shut it off before it got to the keep-you-awake-all-night parts. Andy has never seen it before. I've seen it a couple times and it still scares me, so if I'm back on here at 2:00 AM, you'll know why!

2 more days left in the month, then I'm going to read something light and mindless and with a plot!!!!! Any suggestions?

Election Thought For The Day

"The ballot is stronger than the bullet."

--Abraham Lincoln


True, but rather ironic all the same.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Month of New Subjects - Social Contract Theory

Starting with John Locke, who was writing during arguably one of the most turbulent eras in England's history--the deposing of King James II in favor of his daughter and her husband, just after the country had sort of settled down after the whole beheading of Charles I/Cromwell's reign/the Restoration saga--basically argues much of what would later show up in America's Declaration of Independence: basically that governments cannot exist without the consent of the governed. I think he was probably taking pot shots at the ever-popular King James II who was trying to impose an absolute monarchy on the people who had beheaded his father for many of the same reasons, which is very interesting to read while we have a president with the same sort of intellect. Thank heavens we have term limits--I'm not sure we're up to beheadings just yet. Not to say we're absolutely above such things--if we were faced with the prospect of 4 more years--or heaven forbid, the rest of his life--of Georgie Junior as president......let's just say that tips from the Borgia book of entertaining might become EXTREMELY popular in Washington D.C......

Thomas Hobbes also seems to believe in social contract theory (not positive about his views on bumping off rulers), but his writing is more about why people would want government in the first place--to protect them from each other, which is largely true I think. Much of his essay is really hard to get through, but I did enjoy this:

For such is the nature of men, that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or more eloquent, or more learned; Yet they will hardly believe there be mnany so wise as themselves: For they see their own wit at hand, and other mens at a distance. But this proveth rather that men are in that point equall, than unequall. For there is not ordinarily a greater signe of the equall distribution of any thing, than that every mand is contented with his share. [sic]

Now I'm partway through Rousseau's Social Contract. The most interesting points so far:

"I feel that, however feeble the influence my voice can have on public affairs, the right of voting on them makes it my duty to study them." (Take THAT uninformed voters!!!)

"The strongest is never strong enough to be always the master, unless he transforms strength into right, and obedience into duty."

I've been thinking about this second point and can't decide if I believe his assertion or not. Look at how thoroughly people were controlled in Nazi Germany and in communist Russia--it was through "strength," certainly, but also through alienation and. Can we really say that any leader in modern society could convince people to do something out of duty? In America, we can't even get most of our population to vote.

Next up: Thomas Paine and Barnon de Montesquieu

Today's Election Thought

"I feel that, however feeble the influence my voice can have on public affairs, the right of voting on them makes it my duty to study them."
--Jean Jacques Rousseau, 1762

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Thought For Election Season

"The [purpose] of government is the good of mankind; and which is best for mankind, that the people should be always exposed to the boundless will of tyranny, or that the rulers should be sometimes liable to be opposed when they grow exorbitant in their use of their power, and employ it for the destruction, and not the preservation, of the properties of their people."

--John Lock, On Civil Government

Creature Features - The Blob

With tango & everything else, we've sort of gotten away from our horror-flick "marathon" but last night we made white chocolate martinis and sat down to watch The Blob. Since this was our 4th or 5th movie, before starting the movie we placed a bet on how many times the heroine would scream. I said 6, Andy said 4.

So far, I'd say this one takes top honors as the strangest "horror" films I've ever seen. For one, it starts with a rather catchy theme song, and I'm not even positive the movie was trying to be scary. Kitschy, perhaps, but we suspect it was just something to go see in a drive-in theater so teenagers in the 1950's could make out. I thought that after my experiences learning to make jelly this year, I might find oozing carnivorous grape jelly somewhat frightening, but nothing. Perhaps if it had been pumpkin butter.......

And it turns out, neither of us even came close. The annoyingly-helpless female of the movie screamed exactly once.

Next up: Standly Kubrick's "The Shining." Lots of screaming from the annoying female in that movie--and generally from me every time I watch it.....Or maybe we'll just watch the Simpson's spoof..........

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Things We Have Learned This Month

* It is possible to make "zucchini" bread using green tomatoes, but without adding more liquid, one is likely to end up with a large "bar" cookie.

* This might be our most educational "month of" project, but it's really hard to read philosophical essays every single night.

* Green tomatoes last a really, really, REALLY long time--especially if one is trying to ignore them.

* Sometimes a "canning intervention" can be necessary.

* It is never too early to start listening to Christmas music, provided no one else has to hear it.

* After enough live "gifts," one can welcome a dead bird on the bedroom floor at 6:00 AM with pure joy.

* People who don't watch the news are probably a lot happier than those who do.

* If two people are going to study one subject for an entire month, it is unfair if one person has access to audio books and documentaries and the other one doesn't.

* It really is okay to not use every single thing your garden produces.

* My economics professor was right--there is a price point where people will choose not to buy something. For $5 a loaf, I can learn to make my own darn bread.

* A watched pot never boils, but leave the room for 30 seconds and it will boil over onto the whole darn stove.

* Pumpkin flour would need to cure cancer to be worth the amount of time & effort it takes to produce it.

* Once the garden freezes, one might have forgotten what one did on weekends before canning.

* There might be a global climate change, but to call it global "warming" is a bit misleading.

* There's humor in almost any situation--even if it takes a while before one is really willing to laugh.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Pumpkin Flour - Issues

At first, grinding up the dried pumpkin in the blender was going well. Then we heard and odd noise, and on dumping out the would-be pumpkin flour, we found
It's the little rubber washer that would normally be under the blade. Notice anything special?

That's right--we haven't found all of it. So I've been digging around in this

in order to find it. To be fair, I strongly suspect that there might have been a piece missing before I started this process, but we're trying to cut back on our rubber parts consumption.

In the meantime, nothing else really seems to be grinding the pumpkin. The food processor just flings it around & we're not really willing to try the coffee grinder. Coffee grinders aren't very tough & we've learned that using them for things they weren't really intended for is a good way to boost the coffee grinder industry.

So....unless we have any brilliant flashes of insight, which admittedly seems unlikely from someone who thinks of making pumpkin flour in the first place, the pumpkin flour will likely have to wait until we can find a new part for the blender...

A Better Voice of Reason

Warren Buffet--probably the most rational investor America has ever produced--wrote a wonderful op-ed column for the New York Times this week. If you haven't already read it, you can see it here.

My only addition would be: You haven't made or lost money on the stock market until you SELL. You can sell now and lock in a loss, or you can take a few deep breaths, leave your investments alone, and they will probably be back to where they were in a couple years. America is simply on sale right now.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wall Street: Home of the Lemmings

Speaking of sociology and "mob mentality," today "The Market" lost 500 points because Wall Street is afraid we might be heading into a recession.

Wall Street--where you can't swing a stick without hitting a "financial professional" of some sort and where economic numbers are released daily--is now afraid we might be in a recession. Well, at least they've caught up to the rest of us.

I am not a "financial professional," but I did work for 2 years as a stockbroker and have studied both history & economics, and what I seem to know that Wall Street doesn't:

1. Economic cycles are exactly that--they expand and contract. If one looks back to earlier recessions, one might notice that the economy shrinks every 8-10 years, then expands.

2. Stocks are risky, and the smart investor takes a LONG-TERM approach, and uses dollar cost averaging (which can be done for as little as $25 a month with some mutual fund companies) to take advantage of market swings.

3. Bubbles burst.

4. Don't loan money to people if you don't know if they can pay you back.

5. Never, ever, EVER check your account balances daily.

6. Never, ever, EVER invest short-term money in the stock market.

7. Recession does not equal the Great Depression. When banks failed in the Great Depression, there was no FDIC, there was no Federal Reserve System to insist banks have a certain amount of cash at all times, there were no limits on borrowing money to invest in the stock market. We did actually learn a lot from the Great Depression.

8. If your investments are so risky that you are panicking, you have the wrong investments.

9. Check your emotion at the door. Warren Buffet, the richest man in America, is buying strong companies that are selling for a discount. He is not running around like Chicken Little yelling "The sky is falling! The sky is falling!"

10. If you had HELD your investments through Black Monday (October 19, 1987--one of the largest drops in financial history) and not sold like the thousands of Wall Street lemmings, you would have made all your losses back & then some within a few short years.

11. The "Dow" or Dow Jones Industrial Average is composed of 30 stocks. To say that "The Market" did this or that because 30 stocks did this or that is completely ridiculous. That's like basing a traffic report on the traffic in your own driveway.

12. If a country routinely spends more money than it has, one can't expect its citizens to behave any differently.

13. ONE CAN ALWAYS FIND SOMETHING TO WORRY ABOUT IF ONE LOOKS HARD ENOUGH!

Under Attack

Today I was awakened at 4:00 AM by my body's need to sneeze. Why the air I had been breathing without problem for the previous 6 hours was suddenly deemed toxic by my body is anyone's guess, but it's pretty hard to go back to sleep while sneezing and a spouse isn't likely to appreciate you trying.

I don't generally have "hay fever"-type allergies, but this year for some reason my body has decided that we are under attack by pollen, and our response has been to sneeze out anything I might have breathed since the Reagan administration. Really, it baffles the imagination. I've lived around plants and trees my entire life, and have in general found them to be pretty harmless. Now, in my later 30s, my body has decided that breathing pollen might cause me to sprout flowers or leaves, or have some other horrible side effect. The germs that cause common colds? Hey that's no problem--they just let those right in. A little plant kingdom reproduction action? Grab the tissue! We're pulling out all the stops!

My body is obviously taking its defense advice from the U.S. border patrol....

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Month of New Subjects - Mob Mentality

I grew up on a cattle ranch, and young cattle--especially those of about a year of age--are extremely prone to taking fright if they see another animal looking frightened, and the whole lot of them will bolt. That's known as a stampede. Contrary to popular belief, it's hard to stampede older cows. They've been around, they're wise in the ways of cows, and it's really hard to induce them to panic.

People, on the other hand, never seem to grow out of the ability to achieve wide-spread panic. Why is that? A human being is thoughtful, smart, and generally pretty capable. Put us all together en masse and we are 2 brain cells from stampeding off cliffs.

I tried looking for books on mob mentality , but the only one I found was written in 1896 by Gustave Le Bon, so he missed some of the modern day lulus, but otherwise it's still very interesting. It's an interesting book to be reading while our election process is going on.....

Sunday, October 19, 2008

I Can See Why Pumpkin Flour Hasn't Caught On

5 trays of pumpkin like thisdehydrate into 5 trays of this
In fact, this is the sum total of 4 pumpkins.
You know, the crazy thing is that I was worried about storing "all" that pumpkin flour & wondering what it's shelf life would be.

Anyone wanna place bets on whether or not we get more than a single cup of pumpkin flour out of this?

Whew--where will we put all of it..........

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Pumpkin Update

Remember these?We were keeping them warm so they would ripen, which does actually work, though I will now share a little new knowledge with you:

If you are keeping pumpkins warm by keeping them in the oven (as you are too cheap to have yet turned on the heat), it's a good idea to post a note or some sort of sign reminding yourself to remove them before preheating the oven.

Just a little tip there. As it turns out, you can indeed cook a whole pumpkin--seeds and all.

A much safer idea is to finally break down and turn on the heat and set the pumpkins on the heating vent:As these forced-to-be-ripe pumpkins won't keep, today we are making pumpkin flour. (I know, it sounds strange, but could anything really be weirder than green tomato cake?)

These pumpkins are much softer, so I have been able to cut them open without having to resort to throwing them at the patio
and they are all seeded, peeled, and sliced and in the dehydrator. When they're done and brittle, we'll put them in the blender & powder them into flour. Theoretically, you can substitute up to 1/4 of the flour in something with pumpkin flour--assuming you're okay with a slightly orange color in your breads.

I sometimes wonder how many experiments with food I can get away with before people start turning down dinner invitations.....

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Month of New Subjects - A Whole Bunch of Days

OK, I confess. I haven't finished the John Locke essay. I thought I needed a little lighter reading, so I picked up this from the library:
Its biggest attraction being the shortness of the book--only 100 pages. That was perhaps its only attraction. In a blog or a narrative, I expect the writer to use "I" a lot--it's a personal story and the writer is, in essence, the main character and generally the focal point. When someone writes about a subject and uses "I" to start every paragraph, if not most sentences, that seems a bit....slanted? Ego-maniacal? Smarty-pantsish? It went back to the library in favor of this:
Sociology is a REALLY broad field, and if one is trying to get out of reading a John Locke essay, one can make a pretty good case for reading about cases of mass-hysteria. "Mass" might be a bit of an overstatement, as the book is about Boise (Idaho) in the mid 1950's when it boasted a population of 50,000, which probably doesn't count as a "mass." Still, that mini-mass did a really nice job on the "hysteria" part.

In December of 1955, Time magazine, in what can only be described as irresponsibly-sensational journalism, printed the following:

Boise, Idaho (pop. 50,000), the state capital, is usually thought of as a boisterous, rollicking he-man's town, and home of the rugged Westerner. In the downtown saloons of the city a faint echo of Boise's ripsnorting frontier days can still be heard, but its quiet residential areas and 70 churches give the city an appearance of immaculate respectability. Recently, Boiseans were shocked to learn that their city had sheltered a widespread homosexual underworld that involved some of Boise's most prominent men and had preyed on hundreds of teen-age boys for the past decade.

Leaving aside for a moment that Boise's "ripsnorting" days were long past and that showdowns at high noon had long been given up as a messy and ineffective way of handling disputes, and having willfully learned nothing from the McCarthy witch-hunts and the "Red Scare" hysteria, Time seriously misstated the facts--which were themselves misstated.

Written in 1965 at a time when homosexuality was both illegal and thought to be a mental disorder, Boys of Boise is pretty shocking. Convictions were obtained on poor evidence--even a sworn statement that had the name of the accused changed after the fact--and the widespread belief that people could be "turned" gay if they spend time with a known homosexual led to very harsh sentences--in spite of the fact that several of the men convicted had been promised therapy if they pled guilty.

I'm currently about a third of the way through the book, and what I have learned so far is:

1. Larry Craig probably has a justifiable reason to stay in the closet, though he might have wanted to avoid that rest room
2. Boise is still really, really conservative, but less so than it used to be.
3. The Salem Witch Trial mentality isn't a thing of the past--only the witches are.
4. Geraldo Rivera isn't responsible for the sensationalism of today's journalism.
5. Nothing is so dangerous as a prejudice backed up by selective "data"
6. John Locke might be boring, but his essays don't keep me awake at night

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tomatoes Be Damned!!!!!

We are not denying the possible existence of yet more green tomatoes at Chateau Sutton-Goar. We just no longer give a d_mn.

Apparently even my most thrifty/health conscious/organically-minded self has some limits. If I have to touch one more green tomato, something is going to snap, and the odds are fairly high that it would be my mind. That is, if one doesn't count green tomato cake as already leaping that hurdle. To be fair, the cake was quite fabulous and wasn't even slightly green, which helped. My friends are a sporting lot, but green baked goods are usually a pretty hard sell.

The canner has officially been put away, the kitchen is back to normal, and my sociology book beckons. It may be hard to believe, but after all those green tomatoes, John Locke is sounding pretty attractive right now....

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Update

So now we've gone from hereto here
and have this
and some seriously sore muscles in my legs and back.

It feels like we've used a lot more of them. I think they multiply at night.

The good news is that I have found recipes for a green tomato soup and a green tomato cake that we'll be serving for tomorrow's soup night. The bad news is, my brain seems to have snapped under the pressure. Did I mention the green tomato jam?????

Friday, October 10, 2008

It's Actually Snowing


Apparently, those National Weather Service people don't mess around--if they say it's going to snow, it's going to snow even if it is only October 10. Which leads me to the next question: If we are experiencing Global Warming, who got the "warm" part?

We turned on the heat today. There's cheap and then there's frostbite. Andy now works from home, and when he was shivering so much he couldn't type, we decided it was time.

And on the harvest front, I moved these outside our front door yesterday for a little sun (being the south side & better sun than the back yard) so the skins could "cure" for longer storageand only these came back:

I don't know whether to be bothered by the fact that people steal squash or disappointed that I didn't put the extra cucumbers out as well.

And remember how many tomatoes we had?
We now have 13 pints of salsa verde
and now we're down to
I know--I can't see any difference either. Maybe I'll put some out on the front doorstep tomorrow.....

Do you realize it's possible that we'll have picked fresh tomatoes and shoveled snow in the same week? Nature is obviously taking it's lead from Wall Street lately. How far inland must we be to truly be out of hurricane danger???????

Thursday, October 9, 2008

We Interrupt Our Normally Scheduled Philosophical Blog...

...because I didn't actually read anything yesterday. Part can be blamed on the dryness of the subject matter, but most of the blame belongs to the National Weather Service.

There was a frost warning for the valley, and as our garden is a bit too sprawled to be effectively covered, we spent last night harvesting.

After an entire summer, I finally had enough dehydrated bell peppers to fill my jar:Granted, it's a large jar, but I now have a new appreciation for why dried peppers are so expensive in the store--you're buying 10,000 bell peppers. Okay, maybe only 1000. Still, they really are mostly water.

I made and canned a double batch of seasoned tomato sauce:

and still have all of these left to go.
I have recipes for a salsa verde, a spiced chutney, and a relish all made with green tomatoes, and out of sheer curiosity, we'll be making fried green tomatoes tonight. If you don't hear from me for a while--blame it on the tomatoes.

These are our pumpkins and butternut squash that were "curing" out in the sun for a few days before going into storage in the garage. They'll go back out in the sun later today if it warms up (it did indeed freeze last night and NOW that pesky weather service says there's a chance of snow through the weekend! SusieH, you might just win the furnace wars. I'm cheap, but snow??????)

And these are the pumpkins that need to be kept warm for 10 days to turn orange. Even once they turn orange, they won't keep as long as the others, so it looks like there will be more odd pumpkin experiments coming up. As the house isn't actually warm until later, I'm keeping a few in the oven and will be putting the small ones in the dehydrator for warmth. Strange times at Chateau Sutton-Goar. Luckily, it's fall, so having pumpkins stashed everywhere looks like "decorating" instead of "winter squash hoarding."

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Month of New Subjects - Day 7

So when we last left off, I was going to sit down with Machiavelli and "The Art of War," from The Prince. Published in 1521, Machiavelli has come to be synonymous with ruthlessness and getting your way no matter who you have to trample. I don't think he's an author one could approach with eagerness or an open heart, and I found him most disturbing. Not because of his ideas exactly, but because of how much he might understand human nature. For example:

...men are so simple, and so subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived.

How long has the Nigerian money scam (providing them your bank account so a deposed prince/ruler/whomever can transfer large sums of money into it--splitting it with you of course) been going on, and yet there are still people dumb enough to fall for it. Did you ever stop to think that the reason you get so much stupid spam & junk email is that there are obviously people who fall for these scams.

The other part that I thought was especially astute:

For this reason a prince ought to take care that he never lets anything slip from his lips that is not replete with [fidelity, friendship, humanity, and religion], that he may appear to him who sees and hers him altogether merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious. There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality.....

Have you ever noticed how sanctimoniously religious America gets every 4 years during the presidential election? According to all the polls and sound-bytes, this is usually the number one issue whether it's cloaked as "family values" or the flag-waving "one nation under God"-ists who take their lead from the McCarthy era challenging anyone who objects to "under God" as "unAmerican," (ignoring that the whole "one nation under God" thing was only added to our currency during in the McCarthy era for that EXACT reason). ALL our candidates become regular church-goers--even if they need a map to find the church. And we never question any of it.

Next up: selections from Two Treatises on Civil Government by John Locke and selections from Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan. Why did no one warn me that my subject was going to be this depressing?????

Sunday, October 5, 2008

A Brief Public Service Announcement

Mandy asked about Kiwanis clubs, and service clubs do so much good for their communities that I thought I'd do a quick "plug" for them rather than just emailing her directly.

Like Rotary and Lions, Kiwanis is a service club--usually business people who meet weekly, listen to speakers on various topics of interest, then do projects to improve their community. My particular club is about 55 years old and in that span has built playground equipment, painted houses for senior citizens, raked up leaves for senior citizens, started Boise's Greenbelt, donated signs for an Oregon Trail park, built parks, planted hundreds of trees, as well as helping various charities and sponsoring school-based programs to teach children about community service. Worldwide, Kiwanis International has been battling the problem of Iodine Deficiency Disorder.

Lions clubs tend to focus on vision & vision related problems. If you have old glasses, you can donate them to a Lions club and they will find someone else to use them. Our local clubs have a big van that can test for indications of health-related problems.

I'm much less familiar with Rotary, but I do know many towns owe their public parks to Rotary clubs.

Great, GREAT organizations and all of them are worldwide. For more information, visit:

www.kiwanis.org

www.lionsclubs.org
www.rotary.org


They are always looking for new members.

St. Augustine would be proud.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

How Is This Possible?????

Thinking that it might be good to explore other books on sociology, I got this from the library:
I know it's hard to tell from the picture, but the bed is actually sagging under the weight of this book. 1000+ pages, and do you know what it does? Explains the concepts found in this:

Why does it take longer to explain what writers meant in their essays than it did to actually write them?????

I'm going to stick with the first book. After all, if I had fallen asleep while reading the library's behemoth, I would probably have gotten a concussion or serious internal injuries.

Onward!!!

Month of New Subjects - Days 2 and 3

So there I was last night--reading my sociology essays and planning a brilliant, and let me emphasize brilliant post, when I fell asleep. Obviously, I hadn't gotten to Machiavelli as no one could relax enough to fall asleep to Machiavelli. Blame it on St. Augustine.

In this round, I started with St. Augustine and excerpts from The City of God. This is the last essay from the period in which Western Civilization had one unified religion. Being an American where we have 30 different denominations in every 10-block square, that's always a difficult concept for me to imagine. America's past is largely formed by disagreement in religion. Would we have nearly the same hangups about sex and who is or is not having it if a large part of our cultural heritage didn't stem from a bunch of Puritanical Calvinists who found Cromwell's England just a little too free-wheeling and liberal (if you can imagine the folks who banned Christmas because it was a bit too "merry" as being liberal) and who hanged (hung?) free-thinkers as "witches?" But I digress.

I didn't find much in St. Augustine that I would say I readily identified in American society. I wish some of it was, like the last line, "....because being a citizen, he must not be all for himself, but sociable in his life and actions." Having grown up in a small town (which involves both good and bad), the sense of community was very strong (again, both good and bad), and I still find the general lack of community spirit in the "outside world" a bit disconcerting, though maybe I'm just thinking of it more because we have the new problem of the parents speeding down our street each morning in total disregard of the safety of the children/elderly/pets/etc. who live here, just because they are running a few minutes late dropping off their child at the new school. I remember a line from a college civil liberties class, "My right to swing my fist stops short of your nose." I always liked that one, and have thought of making a very large sign and posting it on our front lawn, or maybe variations:

* Your right to own a dog stops short of it pooping on my lawn.
* Your right to live in this neighborhood stops short of violating the neighborhood covenants which you agreed to when you bought your house.
* Your right to ride a motorcycle without a helmet stops short of taxpayers having to pay your medical bills when you crash and end up a vegetable for the next 20 years
* Your right to drive a car with an incredibly loud engine stops when your neighbors are sleeping
* Your right to have a large family stops short of needing public assistance to pay for all of them
* Your right to drive a vehicle is dependent upon obeying the speed limits and all traffic rules. If you insist on endangering other people's lives, you have no right to drive.

I have been a member of a Kiwanis club for about 15 years now, and the purpose of such groups is to improve the community. It's a fantastic thing to be a part of, but over the years when I've asked people to join, I've been shocked at the number of times I've been asked what do I get out of the club. I've stopped even trying to explain the feeling of being part of the community or helping others or building things. That's what I get out of the club--these people would get nothing.

My next essay was selections from Scienza Nuova, published in 1725 (BIG time leap now), and the author sets out at least 114 principals. Though I'm not sure how far I agree with them, the ones I found most interesting:

* Philosophy considers man such as he must be. Thus it can be of benefit only to a very few people, those who desire to live in the republic of Plato, not among the scum of Romulus.

* Legislation considers man such as he is, in order to make good use of him in human society. Legislation transforms three vices, greed, ambition, ferocity, into courtly life, art of war, commerce. Thus wisdom, fortitude, wealth, spring into being; and out of greed, ambition, ferocity, which if left to themselves, would destroy the human race, legislation compounds the happiness of society.

* Men ignorant of the truth of things stick to certainty.

* When nations have become savage through warfare, so that human laws no longer command respect among them, the only powerful means of controlling them is religion.

* Men, ignorant of the natural cuases of things, whenever they cannot explain them by similarities, attribute to things their own nature, as the common people, for example, say that the magnet is in love with the iron.

* Every heathen nation had its Hercules, who was the son of Jupiter.

* The human mind tends to take pleasure in uniformity.

* The nature of nations is at first crude, then severe, then benign, then refined, and finally dissolute.

* The weak clamour for laws, the powerful refuse them, the ambitious, in order to gain a following, promote them, the kings, in order to equalize the powerful with the weak, protect the laws.

* Dull-witted people think that whatever is expressed in legal formulas of a fixed character is just law.

Not sure how many of these I agree or disagree with, but they are the ones that made me stop and think.

Today it's on to Machiavelli. I will be getting a large cup of coffee first.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Month of New Subjects - The First Day

The thing about a biography is that it tells a story. Stories are hopefully engaging, rather easy to follow, and if it is a true story, hopefully provides you with facts--leaving you with more information than you started with. Thus, at the end of day one (yesterday), Andy knew a little more about George Washington than he did at the beginning of the day.

My day one involved reading the following essays/excerpts:
"The American Pattern"
"The Ten Commandments"
"The Sermon on the Mount"
"The Code of Hammurabi"
Selections from The Koran
"On Government" by Confucius
"On Co-operation" by Lao Tse
"Philosophers as Kings and Kings as Philosophers" by Plato
"On Property" by Aristotle

Which will, I'm sure, explain why there was no post last night--my poor overloaded brain needed a break involving a glass of wine and some knitting--probably in that order.

What I am left with after my first day of sociology is not answers, but questions and maybe a few observations:

* Americans comparatively little social identity, very few customs, very little mythology of our own, and very few holidays of our own. Sure, we have Thanksgiving which we have linked to overeating, watching football, and kicking off the Christmas shopping season. We also have the Fourth of July, which in Boise has come to mean "stay home and hose down your house because we live in a desert and at least one idiotic neighbor has acquired a small arsenal of illegal fireworks which he deems his patriotic duty to shoot off in all directions until the wee hours of the morning, or until he catches someone else's house on fire." Just brings a tear to one's eye.

* Not only are we light-years away from Plato's Philosopher King ideal, if our current president has even heard of Philosopher Kings, he probably believes them to be characters in a Harry Potter book.

* I thought Aristotle made one of the most realistic arguments for private property that I've ever heard: people quarrel less when they own separate property than when it is communal property. That's probably quite true.

* Americans place little to no value on learning for the sake of learning--it is a means to an end. Look at our current mania about teaching math & science--it's for the sake of higher paying jobs. Maybe if we emphasized history and economics we might not be having the financial troubles that we are having. George Santayana told us, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

I found this a rather interesting passage. Remember, this book was published in 1937, so presumably was written in 1935-1937, so very much during the Great Depression:

In economics and politics on the other hand, [Americans] have evolved nothing--at least nothing of any consequence. We are still, in those realms, a shapeless, haphazard nation....The party which promises "a chicken in every pot" is the party that wins...If the party before didn't produce the chicken, the other party might--in that way America, however crudely and stumblingly and wrong-headedly, gives life to logic. Politically and economically speaking it has no other logic.

If our economy is bad, we vote for the opposite party. If the economy is good, we keep the current party in power. Now, as much as I dislike Georgie Junior--and believe me, I have felt little but contempt and disgust for him since he was "elected"--did he in any way cause Americans to achieve a negative 0.5% savings rate by 2005? Did he ever say, "Darn, the American public is just too good at saving that 10-20% down payment for a house--let's make up some really stupid loan programs that I'm sure the American people will really want?" Did he ever say, "Live within your means? Bah! Sissy stuff! No matter what those economists say, nobody needs 6-12 months of living expenses set aside 'just in case!' Speculate in real estate with money you can't afford to lose! Max out those credit cards! That's what we need in this country!" I do believe people should be furious with "President" George for many, many issues, but I don't believe this one is technically his doing.

Tonight I move on to St. Augustine, Vico, and Machiavelli. Good lord, I'm going to be fun at our next dinner party!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Month of New Subjects

October 1 and thus begins The Month Of New Subjects.

As blog fodder, I realize that the odds of me desperately begging to be allowed to buy postage stamps has decreased dramatically, but we're actually very excited about this one. For one thing, my mother-in-law is playing too, choosing to study the geography of the Middle East. I admire her goal--trying to figure out where all these "stan" places actually are on the map, but as they change so frequently, it might be a bit more challenging and she might have to do it all over again in November.

Andy has chosen George Washington, and about 2 weeks ago this
showed up on our doorstep. 5 volumes of George Washington! Not only do I love old books--which I do--these were written by none other than John Marshall--arguably the most powerful Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Be still my little history-loving heart! Andy's mother sent them to us. Is coveting your husband's choice of subjects bad?

It turns out, "Sociology" is rather a wide field--meaning quite literally the study of associates. So, anything involving more than one human being is fair game. Fun, but not exactly what I was after. I have reserved a sociology text book at the library which should be nice and dull. I would really have been in a bit of a sulky mood had I not remembered this
which I picked up several years ago. The title is The Making of Society, and on the cover page I found the words "An Outline of Sociology." Published in 1937, it is a collection of articles and essays attempting to trace the history of societal development. The fact that it was published during the Great Depression makes it even more interesting. As students, we were taught that the stock market crashed in 1929, and the Great Depression ended around 1941 when we entered WWII. That's a 12-year gap that is pretty thoroughly glossed over and there was a great deal of social unrest and could be considered the closest the US came to falling apart. With all the economic turmoil going on today, this should be rather fascinating.

And in case I get through all of that before the month is over, I also found this
a nifty little volume called The Sex Problem in Modern Society. It is also a collection of essays, and was published in 1931. Whatever else was going on during the Great Depression, people were having sex and other people apparently didn't want them to do so.

Lesson one in my study of sociology: Some things never change.

The New Additions

Shortly after moving, we had to put our oldest cat down, so we have adopted 2 new kittens to keep Theo company: Mostly Theo is not thr...