Thursday, September 30, 2010

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz by Pablo Neruda.

Post 565 - Pablo Neruda was born in Parral, Chile. He studied in Santiago in 1920s. From 1927 to 1945 he was the Chilean consul in Rangoon, in Java, and then in Barcelona. He joined the Communist Party after the Second World War. Between 1970 and 1973 he served in Allende’s Chilean Government as ambassador to Paris. He died shortly after the coup that ended the Allende Government. Love, like life, can't ever be fully defined, but Neruda captured it quite nicely in this poem.

Neruda once observed that: "Latin America is very fond of the word 'hope.” We like to be called the 'continent of hope.' Candidates for deputy, senator, president, call themselves 'candidates of hope.' This hope is really something like a promise of heaven, an IOU whose payment is always being put off. It is put off until the next legislative campaign, until next year, until the next century."

Reminds me of the US politicians of today.

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz by Pablo Neruda

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that never blooms
but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers;
thanks to your love a certain solid fragrance,
risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.
I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;
so I love you because I know no other way

than this: where I does not exist, nor you,
so close that your hand on my chest is my hand,
so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Steinhardt's six rules for successful investing.

Post 564 - Michael Steinhardt was one of the first, and most successful, hedge fund managers. From the late '60s through the mid-'90s, Steinhardt's hedge fund compounded money at 24 percent annually after fees. Here are Steinhardt's six rules of success:

1. Make all your mistakes early in life: The more tough lessons you learn early on, the fewer (bigger) errors you make later. A common mistake of all young investors is to be too trusting with brokers, analysts, and newsletters who are trying to sell them something.

2. Always make your living doing something you enjoy: Then you can devote your full intensity for success over the long-term.

3. Be intellectually competitive: Do constant research on subjects that make you money. Plow through the data so as to be able to sense a major change coming in the macro situation.

4. Learn to make good decisions even with incomplete information: Investors never have all the data they need before they put their money at risk. Investing is all about decision-making with imperfect information. You will never have all the info you need. What matters is what you do with the information you have. Do your homework and focus on the facts that matter most in any investing situation.

5. Always trust your intuition: Intuition is more than just a hunch -- it resembles a hidden supercomputer in the mind that you're not even aware is there. It can help you do the right thing at the right time if you give it a chance. Over time, your own trading experience will help develop your intuition, so that major pitfalls can be avoided.

6. Don't make small investments: You only have so much time and energy when you put your money in play. So, if you're going to put money at risk, make sure the reward is high enough to justify it.

Peter Lynch says: "I've always believed that searching for companies is like looking for grubs under rocks: if you turn over 10 rocks you'll likely find one grub; if you turn over 20 rocks you'll find two. During [some market stretches], I’ve had to turn over thousands of rocks ..."

Monday, September 27, 2010

A summer in the country - part five.

Post 563 - Some Sundays, I was allowed to sleep in and go to second mass, which started at 11am. This meant I had to walk all the way to Horeswood, a distance of about three miles, a trip that took about an hour if I didn’t get a lift from a neighbor. The custom in the church was that the women filled the pews on the right-hand side, the men filled those on the left-hand side, and young children like myself knelt in the space in front of the pews close to the altar. This meant kneeling up straight for over an hour with no support on the cold, hard flagstone floor of the church. After the long walk and since I was usually still fasting in preparation for receiving Holy Communion, I usually fainted away about the first gospel. Some nearby adult would then carry me out and set me down to revive myself in the church grounds, sitting among the monkey-puzzle trees. I think I set a record at the time for fainting at late Sunday mass.

Sometimes, when the weather was fine, I stayed out in the sun rather than going back into the church and sang out loud to amuse myself until mass was over. On several occasions, my singing disturbed the worshipers inside the church so much so that the priest sent someone out to ask me to tone it down. When I did return to mass, I stayed with the men who congregated around the door at the back of the church.

Priests had tried for years to entice these individuals to join the rest of the congregation in the pews but had never succeeded. No matter what the weather, these men stayed, grouped around the door but outside rather than inside the building. Some of them had attended mass every Sunday for 30 years without ever setting foot in the church itself and had the reputation of being as close to sinners as you could come in those days. It always felt a little dangerous and subversive to join them, like being a member of some band of outlaws. Although they were attentive to the mass in a general sense, they were not above talking and smoking on occasion, especially during the sermon. The sermon usually detailed the wages of sin and seemed to urge people to feel guilty and do penance for all the bad things that had happened in the world since the beginning of time. As a result, sermons were a bit of a downer and had the overall effect of lowering most people’s spirits even if they felt good when they came to mass in the first place.

But these sermons did little to diminish the good humor of the fellows at the back of the church who clearly refused to be intimidated into feeling guilty about anything. The men at the back were always in a good mood, telling jokes and laughing quietly among themselves. They usually arrived a little late and they seldom stayed past the beginning of the last gospel. But they always seemed happier than most of the other, more pious people and I could never understand why this was or why God didn’t strike them dead or exact some other retribution for their irreverence.

Once mass was ended, I could usually get a lift most of the way home with a neighbor or with someone I knew. This was especially welcome when it rained, which was a relatively frequent occurrence. No wonder visitors commented - and still do - on the many different shades of green in the Irish countryside.

To be continued.....

Sunday, September 26, 2010

And so we start yet another week....

Post 562 - Here are some data to start another week:

In 1957, United Airlines advertised its “executive” service between New York and Chicago, promising comfortable slippers, a steak dinner and “no women on board except for two stewardesses.”

The cost of the typical American wedding has risen to about $28,000 from $11,000 between 1980 and 2007 after adjusting for inflation.

Only 26 percent of US adults eat vegetables three or more times a day - and no, that doesn’t include French fries. These results fall far short of health objectives set by the federal government a decade ago. The amount of vegetables Americans eat is less than half of what public health officials had hoped. Worse still, it’s barely budged since 2000. According to a new report, Eating Patterns in America, only 23 percent of meals include a vegetable. (Again, fries don’t count, but lettuce on a hamburger does). The number of dinners prepared at home that includes a salad is 17 percent; in 1994, it was 22 percent. At restaurants, salads ordered as a main course at either lunch or dinner has dropped by half since 1989, to a mere 5 percent today.

According to a recent report from the Center on Education Policy, substantially more boys than girls score below the proficiency level on the annual National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test. This disparity goes back to 1992, and in some states the percentage of boys proficient in reading is now more than ten points below that of girls. The male-female reading gap is found in every socio-economic and ethnic category, including the children of white, college-educated parents. However, there is no literacy gap between home-schooled boys and girls! Maybe because these parents pay considerably more attention to how their children spend their time.

Drink featured heavily in the life of George Brown, a British Labor foreign secretary in the 1960's, who is once said to have stumblingly invited a guest in flowing purple robes at a reception in Peru to dance. But it was not to be. "First, you are drunk," the guest is said to have replied. "Second, this is not a waltz; it is the Peruvian national anthem. And third, I am not a woman; I am the Cardinal Archbishop of Lima."

The unexamined life is typically one where we're living the life of others. Truly examining our lives and paying attention to the truth within is one of the most valuable pursuits. However, it takes real courage. Winston Churchill once said, "Most men, when encountering the truth, shake it off and walk on as if it never happened."

6 February, 1946
To the Editor of The Times.
I have just written you a long letter.
On reading it over, I have thrown it into the waste paper basket.
Hoping this will meet with your approval,
I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
A. D. Wintle

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Brook, a poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Post 561 - Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 – 1892) was Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom during much of Queen Victoria's reign and remains one of the most popular poets in the English language. He authored a number of phrases that have become commonplaces of the English language, including: "Nature, red in tooth and claw," "'Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all," "Theirs not to reason why, / Theirs but to do and die," "My strength is as the strength of ten, / Because my heart is pure," "Knowledge comes, but Wisdom lingers," and "The old order changeth, yielding place to new." He’s the second most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations after Shakespeare.
I especially love the flow of language in this poem.

The Brook by Alfred Lord Tennyson.

I come from haunts of coot and hern,
I make a sudden sally
And sparkle out among the fern,
To bicker down a valley.

By thirty hills I hurry down,
Or slip between the ridges,
By twenty thorpes, a little town,
And half a hundred bridges.

Till last by Philip's farm I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I chatter over stony ways,
In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
I babble on the pebbles.

With many a curve my banks I fret
By many a field and fallow,
And many a fairy foreland set
With willow-weed and mallow.

I chatter, chatter, as I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I wind about, and in and out,
With here a blossom sailing,
And here and there a lusty trout,
And here and there a grayling,

And here and there a foamy flake
Upon me, as I travel
With many a silvery waterbreak
Above the golden gravel,

And draw them all along, and flow
To join the brimming river
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I steal by lawns and grassy plots,
I slide by hazel covers;
I move the sweet forget-me-nots
That grow for happy lovers.

I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,
Among my skimming swallows;
I make the netted sunbeam dance
Against my sandy shallows.

I murmur under moon and stars
In brambly wildernesses;
I linger by my shingly bars;
I loiter round my cresses;

And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A summer in the country - part four.

Post 560 - Every Saturday night after dinner, my grandfather started his preparations to attend mass the following morning. This was the highlight of the evening and involved a series of rituals where everyone was involved. First, came the shaving ceremony. My grandfather only shaved on special occasions, and Saturday night was usually his only shave of the week. So, a space had to be cleared the pantry and a washbowl and towel provided. Water had to be heated on the fire to just the right temperature and the shaving mirror was hung in just the right spot by the lamp. Then came the sharpening or “stropping” of the razor, using a wide leather belt that was kept in the kitchen specially for that purpose. The open razor was drawn back and forth across the leather until it could cut paper. The final test was a flick of my grandfather’s thumb to sense the quality of the edge. I always wanted to do this part but wasn’t allowed to because it was judged to be too dangerous.

Next, the shaving brush was loaded up with shaving soap and the bristly beard was properly lubricated and lathered. Then came the shaving itself, and I listened with fascination as the razor cut through the bristles - you could hear them being cut, one by one. Any nicks were covered with little pieces of newspaper until the blood dried, but accidents were few and far between.

After the shaving was done, Stasia ironed a blue-and-white striped dress shirt for my grandfather to wear on Sunday. The shirt had a detachable white starched collar, but the collar was seldom worn except on very special occasions such as weddings or funerals. I never remember seeing my grandfather wearing a tie - in fact, I don’t believe he ever owned one. For Sunday mass, a front collar stud sufficed.

Finally, my grandfather’s suit had to be produced from the cardboard box which was stored under his bed during the week. The box was placed on the kitchen table, the suit was unwrapped, carefully inspected, and hung up to air overnight. This dark grey woolen suit had been tailor-made years ago and was always treated as a special possession. During the week, it was kept in the box, wrapped in brown paper - no other kind of paper would do. The box also contained some camphor balls to ward of the moths, so the suit smelled quite strongly when it emerged into the light of day - hence the airing to dissipate the smell somewhat. Better a camphory smell then a suit full of holes.

Finally, my grandfather’s good boots appeared and he carefully polished them until they shone like a drill sergeant’s. This whole process took most of the evening to complete and was treated with great seriousness. I don’t remember anyone else preparing or getting ready for Sunday’s outing. Saturday evening, the whole house revolved around helping my grandfather look his best as he drove the mare to mass on Sunday morning. And, off he went to first mass, which started at 8am every Sunday morning, sick or well, come rain or shine, every Sunday of his life. I don’t remember him as an outwardly religious man. In fact, he was quite bawdy and irreverent at times. But he was devout and disciplined in his own way.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A summer in the country - part three.

Post 559 - As I mentioned before, my grandfather was a blacksmith as well as a farmer, the same as his brother, and sometimes worked in a forge beside the house. Here, he put shoes on horses or made iron gates or put iron rings on cartwheels for the local farmers. It was always very dark in the forge, except for the light of the fire. Pieces of iron were thrust into the fire until they were glowing red hot and ready to be worked on. Then they were beaten into shape with a hammer on an anvil. Men came by during the day with their horses and carts and spent many hours sitting around talking together as my grandfather took care of their needs. Much of the talk was about the crops and the weather, as I recall, and about the prospects and exploits of the local hurling and football teams.

There was another similar blacksmith about five miles away, and as a matter of professional courtesy, he and my grandfather put shoes on each other’s horses every year. That summer, I was responsible for taking the black mare to the other blacksmith to be shod. This turned out to be a scary trip because, riding bareback, half way there I slipped off her back. I wasn’t hurt, but the mare was so big that I couldn’t climb back on again. When I tried to position her near a gate where I could climb up and remount her, she stepped on one of my feet and wouldn’t move. She stayed standing on my foot for the longest time and no amount of hitting and screaming would persuade her to move. Eventually, in her own good time, she changed her position and freed me to continue my journey. This was especially painful as I wasn’t wearing shoes at the time it happened. Like most young people in the country, I usually went without shoes all during the summer months. Initially, the soles of my feet were soft and I had to walk very carefully to avoid sharp stones and thorns. But after a couple of months, my feet became as hard as leather and by the end of the summer, I could walk across the stubble of a freshly mowed cornfield without any discomfort. I was treated like royalty at the Flaherty’s forge while they put new shoes the mare. Each blacksmith did their very best work in these circumstances, as they knew another professional would carefully evaluate their efforts.

My aunt Stasia was still in her thirties and single at that time. She'd spent most of her life at home looking after my grandmother, except for the time she went to England to train as a midwife. She practiced as such for many years, serving the people in the surrounding area. In those days in the country, women usually had their babies at home and a doctor would only be called in if something didn’t appear normal or went wrong during the birth. Women seemed to go into labor only in the middle of the night, seldom in the daytime, at least that’s how I remember it. Many’s the night when a bicycle would arrive in the front yard at two or three in the morning and a knock on the door would announce the arrival of a weary husband asking Stasia to come back with him. Stasia never took kindly to being woken up in the middle of the night, especially if it was windy and raining, as it often was, even in summer. So she usually gave the poor man “a piece of her tongue” for getting her out of bed as she got her bicycle ready to journey back with him - sometimes a journey of up to 10 miles in the driving rain. Usually she was back the next day, but on occasion, she could be gone for a few days in the case of a difficult delivery. Even though she was widely known for her outbreaks of temper and especially for her sharp tongue, she was greatly respected for her skill and was widely liked in the local community. Years later, when she finally got a car, she never really learned to drive properly. People said they were afraid to meet her in the middle of the night, barreling along, usually in the center of the road and unlikely to give way to any man or beast that crossed her path. Miraculously, she never hit anything that was alive although the car did collect a very interesting collection of dings and scrapes over the years.

More about our summer rituals next week......

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A chronicle of continuing uncertainty.

Post 558 - Instead of letting these observations plant visions in your sleepless future, remember that correlations deduced from observational studies do not - in fact, cannot - prove causation. All you can really do with data from an observational study is to form a hypothesis, which must then be tested in randomized, controlled trials, to ferret out the truth about whether or not x actually causes y.

These weekly collections aren't always cheerful. However, as Berthold Brecht wrote,
And in the dark times
Will there be singing?
There will be singing.
About the dark times.

U.S. Hotels have been hit hard by the recession. Hotel occupancy fell 8.2 percentage points between 2007 and 2009, and revenue per room fell 18.3 percent, according to Smith Travel Research.

Despite small gains from the previous month, Chief Executive Magazine's CEO confidence in the economy continued to be weak. The monthly CEO Confidence Index rose slightly in August, gaining 9.4 points to 89.2. Apparently, the government stimulus package failed to stimulate CEO confidence.

Almost no one (<1%) trusts company advertisements or statements made on packaging when trying to understand if a product or company is or does what it says. Consumers are much more likely (57%-100%) to trust third parties or themselves 'a lot/the most' than company ads. And 73% consider both product and company claims when making a purchase.

Time spent on Facebook was greater than time spent on Google sites in the U.S. in August 2010 for the first time in history, according to fresh data from comScore. Meanwhile, Yahoo continues its slide from the top of the heap to the bottom.

Make sure your home is properly covered for a disaster For many people, their home is their greatest asset. Yet studies show that 59 percent of today's homes are underinsured by an average of 22 percent.

The number one source of calories in the U.S. comes from high fructose corn syrup primarily in the form of soda. Americans drink an average of one gallon of soda each week, and this excessive fructose consumption is a driving force behind obesity and chronic degenerative disease in this country. surveyed 5,000 women worldwide on the sexiest accents around the world. Here are the results....
1. Irish
2. Italian
3. Scottish
4. French
5. Australian
6. British
7. Swedish
8. Spanish
9. Welsh
10. American

38 percent of America’s carbon dioxide emissions come from commercial buildings and homes. The market for green construction should reach $140 billion by 2013, up from 49 billion in 2008.

A popular estimate of the number of human beings who have ever lived on the planet earth is around 106 billion.

Apple is selling just as many computers to college students as Dell, according to a survey from Daniel Ernst at Hudson Square Research, via Fortune. Ernst says 38 percent of students that bought a computer in the last three months bought a Mac, up from 14 percent in 2007. Ernst surveyed 212 students at seven different universities. It would be easy to dismiss these numbers based on small sample size, but Ernst's research matches a report from Student Monitor which surveyed 1,200 students at 100 schools.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

somewhere i have never travelled, a poem by e.e. cummings

Post 557 - e.e. cummings (1894 - 1962) was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to liberal, indulgent parents who from early on encouraged him to develop his creative gifts. While at Harvard, where his father had taught before becoming a Unitarian minister, he delivered a daring commencement address on modernist artistic innovations, thus announcing the direction his own work would take. In 1917, after working briefly for a mail-order publishing company, the only regular employment in his career, Cummings volunteered to serve in the Norton-Harjes Ambulance group in France. At the end of the First World War Cummings went to Paris to study art. On his return to New York in 1924 he found himself a celebrity, both for The Enormous Room, a witty and absorbing account of the experience in France, and for Tulips and for Chimneys (1923), his first collection of poetry. A roving assignment from Vanity Fair in 1926 allowed Cummings to travel again and to establish his lifelong routine: painting in the afternoons and writing at night. In 1931 he published a collection of drawings and paintings, CIOPW (its title an acronym for the materials used: charcoal, ink, oil, pencil, watercolor), and over the next three decades had many individual shows in New York. He enjoyed a long and happy third marriage to the photographer Marion Morehouse, with whom he collaborated on Adventures in Value (1962), and in later life divided his time between their apartment in New York and his family's farm in New Hampshire.

somewhere i have never travelled by e.e. cummings

somewhere i have never traveled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skillfully, mysteriously) her first rose

or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the color of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands

Instructions for life.

Post 556 - “Your life isn't about how to achieve your dreams, it’s about how to lead your life. If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself. The dreams will come to you ... Brick walls are there for a reason. They let us prove how badly we want things." – Dr. Randy Pausch.

Here are 19 time-tested instructions for how to live a good life:

1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.

2. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.

3. Follow the three R’s:
- Respect for self,
- Respect for others and
- Responsibility for all your actions.

4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.

5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.

6. Don’t let a little dispute injure a great relationship.

7. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.

8. Spend some time alone every day.

9. Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.

10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.

11. Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.

12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.

13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don’t bring up the past.

14. Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.

15. Be gentle with the earth.

16. Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.

17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.

18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.

19. Approach love and cooking with reckless abandon.

Can anyone contribute number 20?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A summer in the country - part two.

Post 555 - The continuing saga of my trip from Kilkenny to my grandparent's home near Campile, County Wexford, in the southeast corner of Ireland almost 70-years ago.

After lunch at the Savoy, back I went along the quays of Waterford, stopping to look at the ships that were anchored there loading or unloading cargo. Then, back across the bridge to the train station where I reported once more to the station master’s office. Since I had a couple of hours to spare, the station master gave me a tour of the station, visiting the signal shack and explaining what all the levers were for and how the signal system worked. He also showed me the train to Campile, which seemed asleep at its platform, all empty and deserted, quiet and dark. Then we went back to the office where I was had books and comics to read until train time. When it was time to leave, I boarded the train and took off on my journey again. It was getting dark by now, so there wasn’t much to look out at anymore. The most exciting part of the trip was going through a long tunnel under the river Barrow. Here, it was totally dark for about five minutes and all you could do was listen to the noise of the train and wait for the whistle that signaled we were approaching daylight again.

The trip to Campile was a relatively short one and it was dark at night when we arrived at the station. I got off onto the platform, wondering if anyone would be there to meet me. But I didn’t need to worry for there waiting for me on the platform was Dada, my grandfather. Together, we got my luggage and put it in the pony and cart for the drive home. The night air was chilly, so I was wrapped up in a woolen blanket and snuggled cozily into the straw that lined the bed of the cart. My grandfather regaled me with stories about the animals at the farm and we made plans about what we would do together for the rest of the summer as we slowly wended our way home. Looking back, it seems like slowly was certainly the appropriate word as Dolly, the pony, walked more than she trotted and it took the best part of an hour to make the relatively short trip. But I didn’t care. The stars were shining, I felt quite grown up as I’d made my train trip successfully, and I was warm, cozy and loved in the cart.

When we arrived at my grandparent’s house in Carrownree, I was tired and sleepy but my grandmother and my aunt Stasia were all excited at my arrival. So I had to bring them news of my parents in Kilkenny and recount the adventures of the day several times as they prepared supper. Then, off I went to sleep in my grandfather’s bed above the kitchen. It was always lovely and warm in that room. Once Stasia tucked me in among the heavy bedclothes, it was impossible to move again even if you wanted to. So, I drifted off to dreamland lulled by the soft indecipherable hum of conversation coming from the kitchen downstairs.

Most of the land my grandfather farmed was adjacent the house but he also owned other farmland about five miles away. Some days, when he worked over there, he was gone all day from early morning until night. However, most of the time, he worked in the fields close to the house and several times a day, I brought him a thermos of tea and some sandwiches. He mostly worked alone, with a black mare harnessed to pull whatever plough or harrow or other farm implement he was using at the time. The mare had no formal name other than “the mare.” Animals were mostly just animals on the farm, with a few rare exceptions such as Dolly, the pony. Strange to recall, I never remember my grandparents having a dog, which was quite unusual as most of their friends and neighbors had many dogs, usually including at least one big sheepdog. The mare worked in the fields during the week and was harnessed to a big black cart with a high seat on Sundays to take us all to first or second Mass in Horeswood church, about three miles away. All, that is, except my grandmother, who was paralyzed and couldn't do much of anything for herself except eat. She slept downstairs and was carried into the kitchen every morning where she sat on the left side of a couch that had been cleverly fashioned from the rear seat of a car. There she spent the day until it was time to go to bed, when she was again carried back to her room. In the evening, I loved to snuggle in between her and my grandfather in the couch by the big open fire, listening as my aunt Stasia read us articles from the local paper, The New Ross Standard, or ghost stories about a woman called Kitty the Hare from a monthly magazine called Ireland’s Own.

And yes, there's still more to follow......

Monday, September 6, 2010

World view September 2010.

Post 554 - Here are some more interesting facts, figures, observations and predictions:

In February of 2010, British scientists reported that a protein found only in a chicken’s ovaries is necessary for the formation of the egg. According to the scientists, the egg can only exist if it has been created inside a chicken. This protein is fundamental in the development of the shell. Of course, you may now be wondering, if the chicken came first, then where it come from? Let’s leave that mind-bender for another day….

“In Texas, we don’t carry guns because we have to,” a friend of mine told me recently. “We carry them because we're allowed to.” There’s no telling how many Texans actually walk around armed, but by Department of Public Safety figures, 247,345 men and women, more than one percent of the population, may legally carry a handgun provided it's truly concealed and not out in mischievous view. A majority of states - 36, including Texas - require the authorities to issue a concealed-handgun license to anyone who meets certification and is not ineligible, like felons. Two others, Vermont and Alaska, don’t require a license to carry a concealed weapon. Ten states, including New York, are “may issue” states, where applicants must demonstrate a special need. Two - Wisconsin and Illinois - prohibit concealed weapons altogether. Local laws also vary. Nationwide, for better or worse, Americans own some 220 million guns, and half the households in the country are believed to be armed.

Los Angeles pensions are likely to consume a third of that city's general fund by 2015.

As a percentage of the population, Spain, Ireland, Australia, Canada and the U.K. all have a greater level of home ownership than the U.S.

If we could shrink the earth's population to a village of 100 people, with the relative size of human groups remaining the same, there would be 57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 people from the Americas (North and South), and eight Africans. Seventy would be non-white, 30 white. Seventy would be non-Christian, 30 Christian. Fifty percent of the world's wealth would be in the hands of six people. All six would be citizens of the United States. Seventy people would be unable to read. Fifty would suffer from malnutrition. Eighty would live in sub-standard housing. Only one would have a college education.

Here are some tantalizing predictions from Laurence C. Smith in The World in 2050: Four Forces Shaping Civilization's Northern Future (Dutton Books), scheduled for publication Sept. 23.

* New shipping lanes will open during the summer in the Arctic, allowing Europe to realize its 500-year-old dream of direct trade between the Atlantic and the Far East, and resulting in new access to and economic development in the north.

* Oil resources in Canada will be second only to those in Saudi Arabia, and the country's population will swell by more than 30 percent, a growth rate rivaling India's and six times faster than China's.

* Northern rim countries - or NORCs as Smith calls them, such as Canada, Scandinavia, Russia and the northern United States - will be among the few place on Earth where crop production will likely increase due to climate change.

* NORCs collectively will constitute the fourth largest economy in the world, behind the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China), the European Union and the United States.

* NORCs will become the envy of the world for their reserves of fresh water, which may be sold and transported to other regions.

For more information, see

Friday, September 3, 2010

Opening the mail, a poem by Minnie Bruce Pratt.

Post 553 - Minnie Bruce Pratt was born September, 1946, in Selma, Alabama. She graduated from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and took her Ph.D. in English Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She’s published six books of poetry, and has received a Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, and a Fellowship in Poetry from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. Pratt emerged out of the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s and 1980s and has written extensively about race, class, gender and sexual theory. She’s currently Professor of Women’s Studies and Writing at Syracuse University.

Opening the mail by Minnie Bruce Pratt.

She used to work down in the copy center, and,
don't get her wrong, she liked it, she did. The big
Xerox engines purred, paper rolled out like money
and shot into slots like a casino payoff. But this job,
there's something new every day, the letters come in,
hundreds, thousands, from all over the place, and she
gets to open every one. The message in a bottle, the note
slid into the cashier's cage, the letter left on the bed
when she walked out the door, the handkerchief dropped
behind him during the game at recess. She slices each
open with her knife, logs it and routes it to the other girls.

But her dream is to get a camper and follow the NASCAR
races. Six days travel and on Sunday stand inside the final
circuit of sound, inside that belly. It's not the same as on TV
where it seems like they are just going round and round. Not
the same at all, she says. Every moment counts, and the air
smells like burning oil. Any minute it could burst into flames.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A summer in the country - part one.

Post 552 - Some of you wanted to hear more about my experiences growing up in the 1940s so here you go. This will probably teach you to be more careful about what you ask for.....

When I was four years old, I lived with my mother and father in the city of Kilkenny in Ireland. I had started attending school at the Presentation Convent when I was three so my mother could go back to teaching. As a result, I was very independent for my age and was getting quite used to managing for myself, walking to and from school, sometimes with my father but more often than not on my own. I also looked after myself when I came home until my mother returned from teaching in the evening. In 1941, it was agreed that I would spend the summer with my grandparents on my mother’s side who were farmers in county Wexford. Starting in the beginning of June, I would go down to Campile by train and return with my parents when they came to visit some months later in September. Since it was 1941, petrol was rationed. Although we were one of the few people who operated a car during the war, as my father was a member of the national police force (the Garda Síochána), the car was used sparingly because petrol coupons were hard to come by.

The train trip from Kilkenny involved a stop in the town of Waterford, with a five-hour wait before a change of trains to get to the village of Campile. My parents knew the city of Waterford very well and had many friends there, including the station master. On many previous visits there, we’d always eaten at the Savoy cinema which had a restaurant on the second floor and was much frequented by people from the country who were in town for the day. So the plan was that I would board the train in Kilkenny in the morning, travel to Waterford and leave my luggage with the stationmaster, walk across the bridge and along the quay to the Savoy, have lunch there and return to the railway station in time to board the Campile train. My mother said that this trip would encourage me to be independent and confident and “would help to make a man out of me.” Much of my parent’s actions as I was growing up were intended to encourage this independent streak and the results were very successful. However, my mother never quite adjusted later on to just how independent I actually became.

Arriving at the station in Kilkenny, I was very excited as I hadn’t traveled by train very often prior to this, although I had made this particular trip once before with my parents. I remember being very impressed by the size of the engine and all the hisses and groans and clouds of steam that emanated from it. My father took me along the platform so I could inspect it first hand. I remember we had a conversation with the driver who, although he was busy with last-minute adjustments prior to departure, still explained briefly how a steam engine worked. Meanwhile, my mother had picked out a compartment that had some travelers she thought could look after me on the trip to Waterford, even though she’d never met them before in her life. It was a trusting time when the prospect of dishonesty or violence never crossed anyone’s mind. My luggage was loaded on board in the luggage carriage, tearful goodbyes were said, and off I went happily ensconced in a window seat facing the front of the train. My traveling companions were very impressed by the fact that I could travel on my own - I think they thought I did it every week - and I answered many questions about what I planned to do for a whole summer on the Sutton farm when I finally arrived. I remember being excited about the trip but not particularly scared or uncomfortable about traveling alone since my mother seemed so comfortable with the idea. My father was a very quiet and even-tempered man who always seemed comfortable with just about about everything.

The trip to Waterford was generally uneventful. The countryside was green and pastoral and the train seemed to go very fast. We stopped at stations along the way and people got off and got on amid a general bustle of noise and excitement. When we finally arrived in Waterford sometime about noon, I was met by the stationmaster who was waiting for me on the platform. Having retrieved my luggage, I bid goodbye to my traveling companions. We then went to the stationmaster's office, and left my luggage there where I could pick it up later in the day. Then off I went across the city to lunch at the Savoy. This was the most adventurous part of the trip as far as I was concerned and I have to admit I was a little nervous as I set out to walk all the way across the city of Waterford. To cover my nervousness, I sang out loud as I went along my way, a habit which stayed with me for years afterward. Looking back, I must have been a funny sight, a well dressed little boy, on his own, singing as he marched along, apparently very happy and obviously with a clear sense of purpose about where he was going.

The streets of Waterford were busy as always but I had no trouble finding the restaurant. So I marched in and presented myself to one of the waitresses, told her who I was and that that “I was expected.” And so I was, as my mother had made arrangements the week before and all the waitresses were on the lookout for the little boy from Kilkenny who was coming for lunch. After being shown to a reserved table and seated just like a regular customer, I ordered my lunch. The waitresses all thought I was very cute so I got a lot of service and attention. A couple of hours (and two desserts) later, I was ready to bid farewell to my new-found friends at the Savoy and retrace my steps back to the train station to resume my journey.

More to follow....