Monthly Archives: February 2015

Time for a reset?

easter islandHave we as Americans crossed an undetectable cultural finish line without noticing it? Many earlier civilizations did and petered out. It’s not a question we can really answer, but there do seem to be a lot of Americans who aren’t engaged in the system we live in.

If we are declining as a culture, will we change it, manage it, or at least cushion the decline? In times of catastrophes people generally behave better toward each other than they do  living isolated and insulated lives in our commercialized, wealthier part of the world. Hopefully, a catastrophe, like a massive earthquake, isn’t necessary to reset our culture and bring people together and it can be done in a more orderly way.

Maybe there’ll be a technological breakthrough in energy production. For decades, energy was so plentiful and easy that we crossed the street without looking. Now we’re being born down on by climate change and pollution.

Maybe we can come together to forge a more equitable and navigable future. It seems to me that the quality of a society is more important than your place in it. It’s better being a small fish in a clean pond than a big fish in a polluted one. America is better as an “us” place rather than just a “me” place.

Here’s an excerpt about Detroit from Swedish author Karl Ove Knausgaard who was hired by the NYT Magazine to write about driving across America.

“I’d seen poverty before, of course… But I’d never seen anything like this. If what I had seen tonight – house after house after house abandoned, deserted, decaying as if there had been disaster – if this was poverty, then it must be a new kind poverty, maybe in the same way that the wealth that had amassed here in the 20th century had been a new kind of wealth. I had never really understood how a nation that so celebrated the individual could obliterate all differences the way this country did. In a system of mass production, the individual workers are replaceable and the products are identical. The identical cars are followed by identical gas stations, identical restaurants, identical motels and, as an extension of these, by identical TV screens, which hang everywhere in this country, broadcasting identical entertainment and identical dreams. Not even the Soviet Union at the height of its power had succeeded in creating such a unified, collective identity as the one Americans lived their lives within.”

Have we crossed some finish line without knowing we were heading towards it? Are more lives being lived without meaning than before? Is the rust on the blade accumulating faster than it can gotten rid of? Short-cuts we’ve taken typically means pushing costs into the future and that future feels close. It depends on who you speak to, but there seem to be more pessimists than just twenty years ago.

 

Life without glasses

cyclops specThis post will mainly be interesting to me (as a reminder) and for anyone interested in correcting their vision surgically.

It’s been a month since my PRK corrective eye surgery (which is very similar to the Lasik procedure). At my one month check up today, the doctor said everything looked good and my vision is 20/20.

My right eye was corrected for distance and my left eye for close up vision, my brain sorts it all out automatically. The result is referred to as “mono vision.” Even though reading screens isn’t great, any other close up work is clear, so much so that I think I could probably thread a sewing needle.

I can see 90% better than I did a month ago! Everything within a 12 foot radius is crystal clear, except for reading on a screen which is a little fuzzy. It can take six months before my eyes will stop subtly changing, so maybe reading on computers will improve over the next several months.

One aspect that wasn’t mentioned before is having to use lubricating eye drops everyday. When I asked the doctor about the the fuzziness during reading, she said using the drops is important, plus I won’t know for sure what my ultimate vision will be until six months have passed. Friends who’ve had corrective eye surgery also mentioned that I’ll need six months before my vision “sets.”

So far, so good and I’d recommend PRK at this point in the recovery. I’ll let you know how my vision is in six months.

Old vows

burkaDo wedding vows from a much older time have a place in today’s world? Most modern women wouldn’t think so.

Recently, at my niece’s wedding, which was beautiful and attended by friends and family, the preacher really went Old Testament – talking about the woman needing to submit to and obey her husband. It wasn’t a nod to the past, he really was into it and went on and on, stopping short of insisting that she wear a burka.

What happened to the trend (for centuries) that God keeps getting nicer?

The wedding was in Baton Rouge, which isn’t a hotbed of progressive thought. So during the ceremony, I thought maybe I was the only one who was taken aback by all the ancient biblical recommendations for the bride and groom in their new life together. At the reception I was pleasantly surprised by how many people shared my surprise about the old-fashioned vows.

Even setting aside the blatant sexism for a minute, why would someone (the bride) want to submit to another person, especially someone who’s less educated and makes less money among other things. I assume the bride was probably physically weaker than the groom, but that’s not what determines status in a marriage these days, it’s supposed to be an equal partnership.

I didn’t mention anything to the couple on their big day of course. But some people who know them well said that they probably didn’t realize that the Baptist preacher was going to go in that direction, The preacher is apparently a friend of the groom’s family, not their spiritual leader, I hope.

My niece and her husband went to Disney World for their honeymoon, and I’m sure they didn’t give any thought to the old time talk from the preacher.

Life Elsewhere

Car - future carWhy haven’t we encountered or even heard from civilizations beyond our solar system? If there are any, there probably hasn’t been enough time yet for contact.

There’re some widely held and tested ideas about our existence, most of them can be expressed as numbers, really big ones, but easy to talk about.

The universe is around 14 billion years old and the earth is less than 5 billion years old.

It’s safe to say the universe contains at least at least 100 billion galaxies. Our galaxy, the Milky Way which is pretty ordinary, contains somewhere between 100 to 400 billion stars. How many of those are like our sun with a life-friendly rock circling it? There’re probably a few out there, when the numbers are that big.

Look at this another way, consider the life of the universe as if it occurred over the course of one year – starting with the Big Bang ringing in the new year.

Our sun doesn’t appear until September 1st, followed by the earth on September 11th. Single-cell life pops up on September 30th, but there’re no multi-cellular life until lunchtime on December 14th.

Dinosaurs are only around for three days(!) starting on December 27th.

People don’t show up until 11:39 pm on December 31st. Greek philosophers were flourishing just 5 seconds before the year’s end. You get the picture.

We humans just recently have gotten to the party, and the timeline for another (off earth) civilization developed enough to contact us is probably about like our timeline. Given the distances to cover it seems unlikely that we’ll contact anyone else soon.

Traveling to one edge of the universe, if you could travel as fast as light does, would take  billions of years (just getting to the nearest large cluster of galaxies would take about 60 million years).

What about if there are other older universes? Hard to say.

Influences (pt. 2)

lengua-pupA friend whose Mom lived to 99 told me about his Mom’s life and how she was healthy and vibrant up to the last week of her life.

Beyond having good genes, what influences made a difference in her life?

I started making a mental list of strong, positive influences on my life, the things that have served me well so far and which I’d do again. Of course saying yes to one thing usually means you’re saying no to something else, something that another person might think has more value, but this is my list. It’s also probably not complete and isn’t in any special order. Here’s the second half of the list:

– Two drinks a day, because alcohol is a wonderful servant but a terrible master.

– Owning the same car for twenty years was eccentric but I became fond of it and saved heaps of dough.

– Being born  white and male in America was a huge leg up. As weird as that may sound, consider what life would’ve been like if I’d been born female in the Middle East for example.

– As a very young child I was raised in a loving, stable environment. And then, I was allowed to be a free-range kid, taking risks that most kids now don’t.

– Following a simple formula for financial independence was important. It’s just: living simply, paying off my house, staying out of debt, and using a low-cost indexed stock fund.

– Jettisoning religion early was a good thing.

– Discovering some of the Stoic philosophers was refreshing.

– Avoiding sugar, wheat, and industrially processed food keeps me healthier than most.

– Not taking in too much news prevents worrying so much about things I can’t change.

– Having a few close friends.

– Visiting NYC, I’d live there too if I had more cash.

– Not having kids, some parents tell me that having kids is overrated.

– Getting my vision corrected surgically wasn’t life changing, but was a big improvement in my quality of life.

– Having a positive attitude, that and a down jacket will get you thought almost anything.