Archive for May, 2005

A rose is a rose or maybe not

Saturday, May 28th, 2005

Naming things is a complusive trait with humans I think. And it should be, otherwise how would we refer to specific facts, items, or people? Many times names appropriately pay tribute to those we wish to emulate. Like naming a new elementary school after Maya Angelou – educator, poet, activist, woman, director, African American.

Public schools have a good record of naming. What an excellent way to bring history into the curriculum of those who learn in the shadow of great people. Even better learning experience if the person so honored is not the favorite of all those who study there. That is, of course, providing the educators look at both sides of the character to expose over-zealous idolatry or bigotry.

Naming of schools is also a window into the minds of school boards or whoever makes the final decisions. Look in your telephone book at the list of elementary schools. One of my nearby cities has a population of Hispanic and black and low income citizens and their elementary schools are named after authors, and local educators. Another city with a record of keeping minorities out of housing named their schools after locations, east, west, or sunset. My own school district named new schools after historic figures and places.

Maybe it doesn’t make any difference. Especially if the curriculum never considers the significance of the name. Students will continue to make names for themselves according to their own experiences. And history proves that innovation and creativity can rise from unexpected sources. Good for our democracy!

All the way home

Wednesday, May 25th, 2005

My visit at the Price’s ended all too soon but I got a perfect poster text and design from the brainstorming. That was the purpose because of the poster I will present at the 9th International Interdisciplinary Congress on Women in Seoul, Korea, in June.

Wildlife viewing included squirrels, jays, grosbeaks and deer. They made good subjects for photo practise. I borrowed a digital camera to take to Korea and wanted to test the possibilites and limitations I have to work with.

It is a 300 mile drive I usually make in one sitting providing the gas tank is filled before I begin. The drive home was warm and sky was clear so I viewed Mt Baker and Mt Rainier from Everett, rear view and front, respectively. Then Rainier again from I-82 past Ellensburg to Yakima as well at Mt Adams. Love it! Success all around.

Rebuilding the brain on a poster

Monday, May 23rd, 2005

Feminine Spirituality is the title of a poster I will present at the Ninth International Interdisciplinary Congress on Women in Seoul, Korea, June 2005.

To construct a cohesive educational set of illustrations and text, the need for examples that describe brain development led me on a quest for answers to: “What is spirit?” I picked the minds of casual acquaintances, close friends, and relatives for concepts of their spirits. Then I searched studies by neuroscientists to find what is most recently learned about the brain by trained scientists using modern technological tools.

What became clear is that the spirit is the essence of who an individual is and that individuality resides in thought. The brain is contained and protected inside the human skull. The brain is the essential element that controls actions and responses of the individual through reflections of, and reactions to, those experiences.

Experiences of comfort, love, companionship, and acceptance are positive. Experiences of fear, hunger, pain, and isolation are negative. These experiences are caused or influenced by family, by government, by law, by religion, and by social customs.

The effects of those experiences are documented by neuroscientists, using modern technology. Also documented is the fact that when individuals have new experiences, their spirit – who they are – also changes. When individuals bond with other like-minded people they can change social structure or political action for better or worse.

History recorded times when positive changes were made. History also recorded changes that slowed the progress of civilization or even reversed positive advances. The thinking of individuals is critical to the equality, peace, and survival of our species but can only have an effective outcome if action is taken by a goal-oriented group.

A rose by any other name

Wednesday, May 18th, 2005

These days one has to be careful not to read erroneous meanings into headlines. For instance in the New York Times I was intrigued to discover that rice was being grown in Iraq. Whoops, the rice grain had not been introduced as an agricultural crop after all. Instead the United States Secretary of State, Condelessa Rice dropped into Bahgdad on an official visit. Well wash my socks! Too bad because it will be helpful if some attention is paid to feeding those war ridden folks instead of holding our soldiers there to become dead heroes.

Be ever vigilant. Do not take headlines too literally, which could lead to rumors that just ain’t so. It’s OK to keep reading – just think about what you read.

True balance for democracy

Wednesday, May 18th, 2005

Public broadcasting is going religious – not balanced truth about any and all religions – but a one-sided spin about fundamentalist christian religion being the guardian of democracy. PBS was estableished to bring the facts about all sides of issues in the news and other issues that choose to be hidden from all ears and eyes. Such facts are critical in decisions about our laws and elections.

When Independent voters insist they belong to a third party, I remind
them that our system of government is a two party system. Each party represents
a constituent of the American public: one represents the group that has
economics for manufacture of goods and services for the nation, the other
represents the working people who actual produce the goods and buy the
services of the national companies. Here each side bears the responsibility
to explain itself.

Emotional issues are now being used to define parties. Wrong. The believers of issues can be placed in either group depending on how the people feel. They do not define the party. I am a conservative when it comes to allocating money, Republican?, perish the thought. Funds should be allocated where they will do the most good for all citizens. That does not translate into enlarging corporations. I am a liberal, long live the Democratic party!, when it comes to equalizing the playing field so everyone has the opportunity to reach their view of the Amerian dream. That does not translate into allowing funds to be spirited away to the Caymen Islands or Switzerland to evade paying income taxes for either group.

But then the American dream was stolen by salespeople to make sure that every household had the optimum number of bedrooms, baths, family rooms, and cars in their suburban homes. Acquistion was not all that satisfactory after we got into debt so we were turned to emotional issues. And labled Conservatives and Liberals, the thinking being that we could be neatly put in a cage and controlled.

I know conservatives who do approve of abortion and prayer in school.
However I also know liberals who believe the same. So how did those attitudes
become the dividing issues? Are we listening to the facts? Are those issues
supposed to reside in politics? How can they when they do not apply to
legal and constitutional rights? Wouldn’t those individual issues be better
decided if left to individuals? A third party would be just as divided
so the answer is to define the two parties that fit our system’s true
representative parties that can do what they should. Or do we continue
to put all power in the hands of those who would control our every last
action, even in the doctor’s office or our bedroom? Public television
and public libraries must continue to look at all the facts.

Bill Moyers describes it well: “I’ve always thought the American eagle needed a left wing and a right wing. The right wing would see to it that economic interests had their legitimate concerns addressed. The left wing would see to it that ordinary people were included in the bargain. Both would keep the great bird on course. But with two right wings or two left wings, it’s no longer an eagle and it’s going to crash.”

Happy Mother’s DAy

Wednesday, May 18th, 2005

Can you imagine what it’s like, after months without a cook, the cook
comes back for a day and does the unimaginable? Well I know. I was treated
to a dinner of polish sausage, sauer kraut, and potatoes – in the flowered
setting of my back yard. And thumbing my nose at the vestiges of an ulcer,
I even indulged in a beer! Irises are opening their many colored blossoms,
white, yellow, blue, and purples. The unusual buffy colored one has a
full bud so it will be open by the end of today. A few red tulips hang
on. Columbines – yellow and purple – nod their starry faces in the wind.
But they are too delicate to compete against the brilliant red rhododendron
which is out in front and far removed to prevent comparison. Long yellow
clusters hang from both chain trees and the spirea and snowballs are stark
white. They boldly stand up against the red horse chestnut blossoms in
my neighbor’s back yard. Some day I will send photos with my wise words
but for today you will have to go to http://www.sherer.org/mothersflowers.html

Aging is chemistry and physics

Sunday, May 15th, 2005

What is cheerier than the first bright dandelion blossoms? And they are not limited to your flower beds, nor the neighbor’s. They greet you from vacant lots, cracks in the sidewalk, and roadside ditches. As kids we picked them and held them under our chins to see if the color was reflected on our skins. See you must like butter so the results indicated. Totally irrelevant of course but an excuse to play.

In a few days the seed heads were as much fun as the flowers. What perfect white globes the seeds formed. How wonderfully each seed flew on its own umbrella when caught by the wind, usually my own puffy breath. At the time the aging process was of little consequence. Now I relate to the aging process more personally.

It happens to all life so my senescence didn’t happen overnight. I look into a mirror to see the effects although they were not so discernible from day to day. My skin is shriveling where muscles go unused. Unseen, some of my body cells simply are not reproducing no matter what mitigation I apply – diet, exercise, drugs, snake oils.

That doesn’t mean I am giving up to the inevitable death just yet. My plan is to do my best to live till I die. So there!

What time is it?

Monday, May 9th, 2005

My wall clock does not show the same time as my computer screen which is set accurately (I trust) when the microchip was manufactured. I have to manually set my wall clock to the correct time. And so I muse where does time come from? My arrogant race, Homo sapiens, believe we invented time. A researcher I once worked with was told to publish or perish. He came up with documentation that chemical action was a function of time and he made a scholarly point.

Our arrogant race did indeed invent clocks – ways of letting us know where we are in the space of time. Clocks help us mark time. But we did not invent time. Time is the measure of a natural law, part of physics, I suppose. We divided the earth into sections because mathematically there is logic to it. Then we devised objects that measured the time within our lives – sun dials and elaborate clocks. Wonderful machines based on how metals reacted and how artistically the inventor was inclined – because the human mind does work within nature.

And that takes me back to the researcher. His document was published. That did not guarantee his his worth in his space. Time was not really the issue. We must get more from time spent. Clocks are used to measure how much we get. Clocks regulate our lives and we are forced to follow stressful schedules which drive us relentlessly to produce – money or fun. When we decide just where we want to go – if we ever do decide exactly where we want to go – we will understand time and fit into the true nature of things.

Crochet your idle hours away

Wednesday, May 4th, 2005

How many times do we take credit for inventing an art or a method of
manufacturing? Take crocheting for instance. Crochet – kroh – SHAY –
needlework consisting of interlocking looped stitches with a single
thread. Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary gives it a Scandinavian origin.
My 1948 Britannica Encyclopedia doesn’t include the word. However "net"
is defined in several pages because the looping of a single strand of
thread, rope, or wire is prominent in modern industry. My 1967 World
Book states: According to Norse mythology, Loki, god of evil, invented
the fishing net, a tale no doubt told by a fish.

It certainly makes sense that the word for the art originated in a
country dependent on fish, although the word, crochet, linguistically
looks more like French than Norwegian.

Every once in a while I pick up string and a special hook that makes
crocheting easier than experienced by very early hominoids. I find it
relaxing and rewarding to create a useful article. But as to the origin
of the idea, going back through time is where it’s at, probably hundreds
of thousands of years.

I have trouble putting myself in an earth setting as a primitive individual.
First I would have had to feed myself. I hungered for more than leaves
and fruit so I went to the water. After catching a fish with my bare
hands, or stabbing it with a stick, or killing the heron that held a
fish in its beak, I could belch with satisfaction and sit back and doodle.
If I picked up a vine I could come up with a noose and eventually a
net with which to catch many fish.

Going back in time takes a lot of fanticising. What is so difficult
is remembering that primitive peoples had an entire 24 hours to feed
themselves each day. Contrary to how civilized folks view the dark,
I believe primitive people walked about at night where they knew they
were safe. Sleeping 10 hours a day doesn’t seem likely considering the
call of an empty stomach, or a full bladder, or escaping little critters
in a lumpy bed.

Scientists have some proof that brains of Homo sapiens remain the same
size as in the beginning of the species. Experience and communication
have made us appear more intelligent. Well, we arrogantly believe so.
I think early peoples far removed from each other discovered similar
things, like crocheting fish nets or antimacassars. Or like some old
Norse woman who gave up her kitchen to her daughter-in-law and sat by
the fire rocking a cradle and idly toyed with a string to make a pretty
cap for her grandchild.

Don’t think for a minute human creativity is stagnant, especially when
we are well fed and have many idle hours. Just browse in the library
for crafts and see what can be done with a single strand. Spend some
time in a craft store. I found a pattern for knitting a tree house.
That artist/author was not only well fed, well housed but well treed.
How lucky can one get?

Whose got the biggest brain

Wednesday, May 4th, 2005

Cover article on the May 2005 issue of SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN is certain to renew a debate about our gender roles. The headline simply states “Differences in Male and Female Brains.” Larry Cahill covers research fairly but much of the data is on rats, gerbils, Degu pups, and monkeys. Brain measurements appear to be on adult humans. How can the discussion not go on and on?

Cahill cites studies from England and Germany as well the United States which looked at various aspects of brain activity. Some telling information has been gathered on differences in the genders of the brains of rats and monkeys not necessarily suggesting deficiencies in either sex. Citations range from studies measuring size of the brain areas to measuring the density of neurons in those areas. Other studies were observations on toy choices by vervet monkeys and humans implying that such choices result at least in part from innate biological differences. Will scientists ever be able to measure how much? And why? And will we believe it when they do?

A 1966 study was suggested to have brought a generation of neuroscientists to maturity believing that sex differences in the brain referred to mating behaviors, sex hormones, and the hypothalamus. Sex hormones since have dropped out of favor. Surely not in the eyes – I mean organs – of the proliferating species.

Research of this nature indicates the influence of gender on the brain, behavior, and responses to mediation. Quite fascinating. I will watch for further results but happy to leave the grunt work to patient scientists with the expectation that results will be duly noted. My thanks to all.