Another Brief Note

Because of health issues, family problems and sudden changes in lifestyle, I have decided to suspend my posts until I’m able to establish some equilibrium in my life.  I am grateful to the 101 followers that have taken the time to read my posts.  I am also grateful for the many comments I have received.  I wish all my followers lives of joy and fulfillment.

“Where’s The Moon? I Don’t See The Moon!” Or, Mathematics To The Rescue

I was dragging myself up the stairs of Founders Hall.  The cement steps and barren walls reflected the darkness of the time ahead.  For, my next class was Speech Communication with Professor B.  I was not doing well in the course.  As my current lady would say:  “You’re going down, down, down!”  And so I was.  But perhaps, I should tell you something about Miss B and how I got into trouble.

Miss B was a tall, wiry lady with sharp, unforgiving eyes and a total lack of manners.  We didn’t get along from the start.  I remember her saying with a sarcastic tone:  “Look at that!  A little boy wearing his tennies!”  She was frank, if nothing else.  And when I tried to act out a favorite childhood verse, she would yell out:  “Where’s the moon?  I don’t see the moon!”  At the time, that comment stunned and hurt me, because I was quite fond of the verse I was interpreting.  Later, Professor B told me that the only thing that could save me was the final, which was a monologue of at least ten minutes.  I thought and thought about possible selections.  I knew if I picked something well-known I could be compared with the greatest and I’d come up way short.  Fortunately, at that time, I was reading some wonderful mathematical stories from Clifton Fadiman’s Fantasia Mathematica.  Bruce Elliot’s story, “The Last Magician” really appealed to me.  The main character was an old man who was fond of a magician’s helper and commits murder because of the cruel way the magician treats her when a futurist society has condemned her to death for misceganation(She was Martian and became pregnant by the magician from Earth).  So, the story had intrigue, action build-up and the main character was an old man.  And, growing up next door to my Dad’s parents, I knew my Grandpa Johnny quite well, so I thought I could act out the part with some accuracy.  Also, the story dealt with the magician trying to escape from a supposedly real Klein bottle

Attempt to picture a Klein bottle, a three dimensional surface that has only one side, which is impossible.

An attempt at constructing a Klein bottle, a three dimensional surface that has only one side, which is impossible.

and was mathematical in nature, so probably few, if any, people had seen it performed.  When I thought about all the advantages, I thought it would be an excellent choice for a monologue.  I would need to trim some parts, though.

Finally, the long-awaited day arrived.  Everyone was busy rehearsing their lines and trying to get into character.  Wouldn’t you know it?  I was the first person Miss B called on.  I knew if I wanted to do well, I was going to have to become an old man in every way.  I tried hard to imagine my Grandpa Johnny and become him.  I tried to walk with difficulty, struggle to get some of my words out and look confused.  And as I reached the podium, the words did come out.  “The harder he worked the worse he treated Aydah…  It seemed as if every time I turned around I’d find her hiding in some corner, crying… I knew she would have to die.  That was why I had pressed the button that switched the bottles the first time, before she ever did…  I guess I must be getting old;  lately I’ve taken to wondering about King Solomon.  He knew so much, I wonder if he knew about Klein bottles…”  Then, a loud applause.

“Well, Bob just disappeared!  A feeble old man replaced him!”  Professor B’s eyes sparkled with admiration and respect.   Mathematics had come to the rescue.

 

 

Something To Think About: A Filipina Secret: “Tossing The Dog”

The Philippines are a series of small islands dotting the Pacific Ocean.  Its people are predominantly Roman Catholic, except for the Muslim population of the southern-most island, Mindanao.  Therefore, divorce is not recognized and annulment is prohibitively expensive.  A Filipina’s main weapon in an unhappy and troubled relationship is “tampo”(“the silent treatment”), which can last for hours and even days.  During “tampo”, the Filipina’s soft facial features turn to stone and her eyes stare out with a cold ferocity.  But there are times when even “tampo” does not work, and if a Filipina does not have sufficient funds for an annulment, and since divorce is not accepted, it would appear that she is stuck in a miserable relationship for life.  But Filipinas are known for their tenaciousness in solving problems, so they came up with “tossing the dog” as a permanent solution to this disturbing problem.

Filipinos are known for their close, extended family relationships.  Thus, there are always a lot of relatives to assist a Filipina in a time of despair.  Making use of this fact, the Filipina always has other Filipinas to rely on when she needs to “toss the dog”.  “Tossing the dog”  is certainly a last resort, but is used more often than one might expect.  Briefly, it consists of this:  Late at night when the unsuspecting offender is in a deep sleep, a group of the Filipina’s female relatives creep up to the offender’s room.  By applying a cloth with a knock-out chemical to his nose, the Filipinas ensure that he continues to live in the land of dreams.  They then bind him with strong coiled rope and put him in a vehicle, parked conveniently near his home.  Then, they drive the unfortunate man to Pangitka Bay.  There, like looming shadows of the night, using their combined strength, they carry the offender up a rocky cliff.  When they reach the top, they give out tribal screeches and curses and “toss the dog” into the shark-infested waters of Pangitka Bay.  The offender is never seen again and his disappearance is called an unfortunate accident.  Thus, the ingenuity of the Filipina overcomes a persistent obstacle and she is at last free to breathe the air of joy and freedom.

 

Some Miscellaneous Thoughts On Turning 200

It’s hard for me to believe that this is my 200th post.  Frankly, I never thought I could come up with enough ideas to furnish so many posts.  There was also a question of existence;  I never thought I’d live to be 62.  But, here I am and I still have ideas for further posts.  I’m so grateful for my 100 followers, who continue to read my posts and offer helpful comments.  That I have forged strong links with people from Australia, Canada, the Philippines, Russia and the Ukraine, makes me very proud.

Our world is a tempestuous one, and now that the U.S. has broken open the magic bottle of the Middle East, not so nice genii have spread their wickedness throughout the region.  While the Cold War had well-defined enemies, the current wars often have shadowy figures that lurch between good and evil, making them hard to pin down.  The concept of “freedom fighter” has often appealed to gullible Americans, who often give aid to “fighters” of dubious character.  Throw “religious motivation” into the mix and you have a real mess.  The malignancy of misguided hate has spread throughout the world, and only time will show if we have experienced and intelligent enough “doctors” to cure it.

On a more technical note:  We humans tend to be rather bad at long-term reasoning.  Our history confirms this fact over and over.  One reason that this is so is because we cannot predict all possible outcomes of a given event.  Hence, it follows that we cannot predict the collection of events that form what we call future.  Is this an inevitably fatal flaw in our mental structure?  Again, time will tell.

“Man’s a kind of missing link.  Fondly thinking he can think.”–Piet Hein

One of the most disturbing books I’ve read in the last twenty years is Dale Peterson’s stupendous and highly insightful biography of Jane Goodall.  Disturbing, because it reveals often surprising connections between the lives of chimpanzees and the lives of humans.  At times, it’s hard to differentiate the two worlds.

I know that French naturalist, Francois Buffon, tried to show that there is an unbridgeable gap between animals and humans. He thought that man was the reasoning being, while all animals were irrational beings.  Alas, scientific research has shown that this gap is not as large as Buffon suspected.  We now know that the rational aspect of the human brain developed late in our development.  Those primal desires that we inherited from our cave ancestors dominate our lives.  We have only to look around us to see the proof.  Most of our TV programs thrive on greed, vanity, cruelty and other basic human instincts.  How many programs deal with the nature of mathematics, forms of problem solving, or what we can learn from peoples other than ourselves?

“Who is to say that we’re born and we die, and what’s in between doesn’t matter?”–Charles Kalme, Assistant Professor of Mathematics, University of Southern California, 1970.

What is my philosophy of life?  I think it’s a mixture of Samuel Beckett, Thornton Wilder and Walter Kaufmann.  From Beckett I take the tenuous quality of life;  from Wilder the belief that some moments are special and Kaufmann’s belief that reason is our best defense against chaos and madness in the political realm.  As to free will and determinism, I see life as a boat ride in Disneyland;  you think you’re doing the steering, but you don’t realize that your boat is being guided by unseen underwater tracks.  Let us hope that we are guided by tracks that will take us to greater understanding and the light of unbounded human potential.  In the end, nobody knows what is really at stake on this tiny planet.  That is the great mystery.

 

Something To Think About: Two Mathematical Thought Problems From Russia

The Russians have a long tradition of mathematical thought problems which occupies a distinguished part of their elementary mathematics classes.  Here are two samples by J. I. Pearlman:

  1.  Who Counted More?  Two people counted the number of people that passed them on the sidewalk for a period of one hour.  One stood at the gates of a house, the other walked up and down the sidewalk.  Who counted more?
  2.   The Grandfather and his Grandson.  What I am going to tell you took place in 1932.  My age then was the same as the last two digits of the year I was born.  When I told my grandfather about this correlation, he surprised me by declaring that the same correlation was true for his age as well.  How old was each of us?

Hello! Hello! Hello!: Remembering The Cottage Kitchen Ladies

Carolyn Kelsey(seated), Allyn Goss, and myself at 12 in a familiar setting.

Carolyn Kelsey(seated), Allyn Goss and myself at 12 in a familiar setting in 1965.

One day Grandma and I were looking for a good luncheon stop.  And we found one, just a short walk away from the Obstinate J Ranch where we spent our summers.  A large blue and white sign declared:  Cottage Kitchen.  We decided to give the place a try.  When we opened the door a voice rang out “Hello!  Hello!  Hello!  And how are you folks today?”  And a friendship began that lasted for many years.

Mrs. Carolyn Kelsey was a tall lady, somewhat bent over that liked to smile and talk.  Miss Allyn Goss was just the opposite;  she was short, taciturn and rarely smiled.  However, you could tell that these ladies respected each other, although they did get angry with one another on occasion.  “Dear, you forgot to turn on the stove!”  “I’ll try to be more careful, dear!  And they would scowl.  But usually they were the best of friends and each had her own tasks:  Mrs. Kelsey made the shakes and Miss Goss cooked the burgers.  Raisin pie was their calling card and every two weeks or so they would make delicious chocolate tarts.  They also kept their shelves full of home-made jams and jellies prepared from the finest fruit available.  During the Holidays, they enjoyed making bread for their neighbors and friends.

Cottage Kitchen became our favorite place for lunch and also for snacking after dinner.  We used to tell the ladies about our river trips and would often enter in quite informal attire.  They didn’t mind, though, and would listen to our latest inner tubing or rafting adventures, hanging on every word.  And Mrs. Kelsey would add her boisterous enthusiasm to Grandma’s.  However, one thing we didn’t like was Snoodle.  He was a mixture of a schnauzer and a poodle and inherited the worst traits from both breeds.  Whenever we wanted to use the rest room, which was behind a screened door, Snoodle would race up to the door, barking furiously and had to be restrained by Mrs. Kelsey.  He certainly was a great watchdog for the two ladies.

The years I spent at Cottage Kitchen were among the happiest of my life.  However, time started to creep up like a shadow and soon the ladies lost their agility.  It became harder and harder for Mrs. Kelsey to walk, so Mom insisted that we help her serve the meals and wait on customers.  Eventually, Mrs. Kelsey couldn’t work at all and Mom took her to her heart doctor.  On the way and back, she was complaining and fretting.  This was certainly not the Mrs. Kelsey I knew, and she died soon after.  Suddenly, a part of my life folded into unpenetrable darkness, and the doors of Cottage Kitchen closed forever.

The following description of the story of the ladies of Cottage Kitchen is excerpted from a 1965 article by A.L. Day in “Trail Tales”, a column of the Mail Tribune:

These two(Carolyn Kelsey and Miss Goss) met in 1925 in New York City where both were receiving instruction and training in the art of food preparation at Schraft’s and later at the Consumer’s Cooperative.  Both of these institutions are considered tops in the U.S. for their superior courses in food preparation, and its supervision.  Upon completion of their schooling, they decided to go into business for themselves, and have operated restaurants at some of the best spots on the Old Boston Post Road, from Darien to Lime Rock, Conn…

After the war they decided to combine a sightseeing trip of the West with a visit to Mrs. Kelsey’s daughter, who lived in California.  So, selling their restaurant in Beaver, Penn., they pointed their car 270 degrees and headed for Crater Lake, which neither had seen.

Leaving the lake they headed south on 62, toward their original destination, but nightfall caught them at Riffles on the Rogue where they rented a cabin for the night.

So impressed were they with the view of the river and the scenic beauty of the surrounding country, that Mrs. Kelsey says she suddenly spoke out, “This is it,” and they both liked the location so much they decided in less than an hour that this would be the site of their future home and business…

No tastier palate pleaser compares with the Cottage Kitchen old-fashioned tomato preserves from an Old New England family recipe, and don’t overlook those jars of pie cherries, cherry marmalade, pear butter, and apple butter.  It is a delightful gustatory experience just to read the labels.

The ladies made one emphatic point regarding their goodies, and that was that they used only the finest of locally grown wild fruits, berries, and sugar;  and the best obtainable vegetables, spices and vinegars–no additives, no preservatives…

These are two very happy people;  justifiably proud of their accomplishments, pleasantly reminiscing the past, certain of the present, and with a cheerful attitude toward the future…

Remembering Ralph Turner: Conservation Pioneer

Most of us take ecology as a given.  It has become the basis for one of the high school biology texts connected with the BSCS Curriculum Study.  This is a change from the past.  When I went to high school, BSCS offered two books, one dealing with molecules. amino acids, and the double helix, the other featuring a descriptive, classification biology.  However, a biology book devoted totally to ecology was still unknown in the 1960s.  During the period of growth that led to a growing awareness of conservation and ecology, it is easy to forget the pioneers that took the first bold steps in changing the education of natural science to include a realization of the interconnectedness of all living organisms.  I n two previous posts, I discussed the innovative ecological approach of Crater High’s Hans Smith.  In this post I’m going to go back further in time, to the 1960s.

A young tall man with wiry frame and a restless manner was applying for an administrative job in the Los Angeles Public Schools.  Ralph Turner was bursting with ideas when he entered the administrator’s office, carrying a briefcase stuffed with conceptions and ideas.  Mr. Turner adjusted his glasses while putting his thoughts together.  During the waiting period, his mind drifted.  He saw himself at the ranch that he had built with his brother-in-law:  the green water tower, the pipes that needed to fixed every weekend due to vandalism, the shiny yellow of lemons glistening in the sun, the nearby gully that was usually dry.  “Mr. Turner”, a voice boomed out.  Ralph took out the papers he had put together for a bold new venture, his eyes sparkling with excitement.  And Mr. Turner gesticulated and expanded on his notion of a science center that would enable students to view, learn and feel the importance of conservation.  “Very interesting,  Mr. Turner.  I’ll think about it.”  A short time later, Ralph had a look of triumph:  the Monlux Environmental Center was born and he would be the director!

Mr. Turner’s famous book, Conservation In Miniature, described the steps needed to maintain a conservation center.  Paul F. Brandwein, President of the Center of Study of Instruction, realized the importance of Ralph’s fledgling center.  “The major thrust in American education is to enrich the world of the child.  To this end:  to enable all children to fulfill themselves in the pursuit of their special excellence.  And it is to this end that the Monlux Environmental Center was developed…The next decades will see whether or not we can heal our environment, whether or not our culture can maintain an environment to sustain those who live-or will live…Thousands of Environmental Centers–to assist millions of individual and group efforts–need to be born.  The Monlux Environmental Center furnishes an enviable model of one such center.”  And so, in 1962, Mr. Turner’s dream project was realized.

There was much work to do:  culling volunteers, creating riparian environments, collecting animals, preparing mini- informative talks for the thousands of children that would visit the center.  Ralph was tireless in his unbounded enthusiasm, racing here and there to make conservation known throughout Southern California.  He went to visit schools with sets of slides, showing the effects of erosion, possible ecological disaster, but telling his stories with a sense of humor in an informal manner that invited questions from his eager young listeners.

And children did visit the Center.  Busloads and busloads came to hear about the importance of conservation.  But not only to hear, but to see, to touch, to smell.  Their minds flew from ancient geological formations to recent sedimentation.  They learned how to grow crystals, how to take care of animals, what a watershed meant, how to preserve the landscape and what the threats to ecological destruction were.  Children began to see their world in a different perspective and new concepts and ways of thinking filtered through their grasping minds.

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, Evelyn de Wolfe, had this to say about the Center:  “Children who are bused to Monlux are taught how to conserve water, soil, plants, and wildlife, how to guard against devastation through fire and flood and learn how Los Angeles gets its water, saves it and delivers it.”

Mr. Turner watched his center expand and the ideas of ecology and conservation sprinkled the speeches of legislators.  Ralph had set the wheels in motion and his experiment was spreading ever further and encompassing ever greater spaces.  But he continued to work, improve, rethink, redesign, according to the newer and newer discoveries of science.  And when he retired, his analytical mind continued to help dozens of students with suggestions, approaches to problem solving and keen perception, and, of course, thoughts about conservation.

Ralph was one of conservation education’s pioneers.  His twinkling eyes. light-hearted humor and zest for rivers and fishing will be missed.  But he would be gratified to know that conservation and ecology have become essentials for high school biology–that one of his major goals was achieved and that the search for the understanding of the links between all life forms goes on.

 

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