Monthly Archives: September 2017

Dummies history

I slagged European History for Dummies a little bit in my last post. In their defense, I offer this quote from the end of a section on the Holocaust.

Don’t forget that thousands of ordinary people were involved. The cattle wagons the prisoners were loaded into had to be booked with the railway companies, firms were contracted to supply the barbed wire or the gas chambers or the ovens. People filled in order forms for gas crystals, or simply delivered the guards’ beer, food, and cigarettes. All these people played their part in helping one of the greatest crimes in history to happen.

European history

Wilfried’s able leadership of our tour of Germany last month whetted my appetite for more of the story of how things got to be the way they are. In short, the history of Germany.

I found a book at the library called The Concise History of Germany which was ok but filled with a lot of big words. I’ve got nothing against big words except when they are used to obfuscate. When I started swimming in sentences 20 or more words long, I gave up on it.

Again at the library: European History for Dummies. OK, better. Not so many big words plus short sentences. I’ve made it through almost to the end. Honestly, it’s pretty depressing. I get that the history of human affairs is largely about control of one group by another and that that is usually accomplished by violence. The Dummies brand of books is designed to go over a subject in a breezy, often humorous, tone. It’s exactly what I was looking for, actually.

But having such a litany of violent things set in front of you in such a lighthearted way is weird. I’ve had the book at my breakfast table and thus read it in 15 or 20 minute chunks. Sometimes, I stay at the table for a few extra minutes but more often I have to just walk away from it. Will we never learn?

I’m sure there are many books out there about this subject – repeating the cycle of violence, not history per se – so I’m not sitting here thinking I’m going to find some solution. Humans are pissers, whether it’s driving on the highway or running a company. When I start to think about larger organizations of humans, I find myself in dangerous shoals of definitions: what is a country? What is influence? What is power? When a ‘country’ ‘takes over’ a city, what does that really mean? The Dummies book throws those words around a lot but I believe it’s worth asking what their core meaning is.

To me, it comes down to power. How does one person have ‘power’ over another? There is always an exchange, although it is not always balanced. I agree to go to work of a person or organization in exchange for money. I can use that money to get other people to do things for me: supply me with food, clothing and shelter. If my ‘boss’ at work asks me to do something for him/her, I will accede to that request because it is within the realm of what i have agreed to do in exchange for that money.

But what if it isn’t? What if my ‘boss’ asks (or tells) me to do something that will injure another person? Or myself? Presumably, this is something that is not part of what was originally agreed to in the definition of this job. Suddenly, money is not the exchange medium. It becomes more elemental. How does my value of self preservation compare to my ethical value of not wanting to hurt another person? Perhaps I can make myself safer at the expense of another person coming into danger.

I believe it is this transaction writ large which has driven human history. Some humans are able to rationalize this transaction and others can’t. And some humans have a need to dominate while others don’t.

The whole family went to England in 2000 for two weeks. We really had a very nice time. We walked across Abbey Road and among the stones at Stonehenge. We walked along the Thames and on the cliffs of Dover. We went to museums and castles. Perhaps too many castles. Because by the end, I felt about history as I do now: why is it all about killing? Someone wants ‘power’ and is willing to step on other humans to get it.

Cassini

Today was the last day of the Cassini Saturn probe. I knew about it but hadn’t paid much attention to the photos. The whole story is quite spectacular, aside from the photos. The New York Times did a little movie (link) that tells the story of the ending. I recommend it to everyone.

Of course, there’s tons of stuff on the NASA site. Here‘s the NASA picture hall of fame page. The Times did a page with 100 images on it that is really staggering. Here‘s a link to it.

It’s nice to have some positive news once in a while. It seems rare these days.

Zach’s journals

I had this idea the other day that I could go through Zach’s journals and make list of all the dates he wrote in them. Then on a particular date, I could put his writing for that day on the blog. I was feeling that perhaps enough time has passed that I could read them somewhat dispassionately.

I forgot how much he wrote.

I just spent almost two hours going through two years of journals – his so-called Statistical Appendices from 2012 and 2013. He had another set of journals under a folder called Corleone. I believe the Corleone files are more work related while the SAs are more personal. basically, all I did tonight was go through each month’s file and make notes of the dates he wrote. I wasn’t trying to read but a few things caught my attention and I did read them.

My current thinking is that if I do something like this, I will only publish excerpts. There are two reasons. One is the sheer volume of material. It’s not uncommon for him to write 3 or 4 pages on a particular day. I’ve done my best to keep the original files unchanged in case someone, someday wants to get a look at Zach unfiltered but for the purposes of this blog I’ll probably do a lot of cutting.

The other reason is that he’s pretty unsparing of feelings. He’s not writing for publication, he’s writing to, well, I don’t know if he even knows. I did see some comments about why he writes as I was blasting through tonight but my goal was to collect dates, not to read critically.

I have two more years of SAs that I will try to get to this week. Then I will compile all the dates into one list. Then, one day when I am thinking about writing, I may look up his entry for that day and work on that instead. I will still write about other things that are on my mind that may or may not be about Zach.

As luck would have it, neither the 2012 nor the 2013 journals have any entries for the 10th or 11th of September. I’ll wait until I’m done then review.

drivers

I was thinking today that this is one of those things that I think about a lot while I’m driving, but tend to not focus on when I’m not. People take really insane risks when they are driving. They endanger not only themselves but others.

I know this isn’t really news and I know that I have a special reason to be upset about it. I also know that nothing is likely to change as long as humans are in charge of driving vehicles. (Motorcycle riders are, if anything, worse. Lane splitting at 50 mph . . .)

Just take a chill pill, folks. You’ll get there at the speed limit.

band pictures

Looking back, I see I’ve posted a bit about the Skyline College Jazz Band. Zack Bruno, the director, sent out some pictures yesterday from our May concert. This is the one I was pretty steamed at the other guitar player for playing on every number when he was supposed to take turns with me.

Since I’m playing here, he should be just watching . . . but he isn’t. I’ll get over it someday. Actually I was over it until I saw these pictures.

Here’s a picture of the whole band from the same concert.

This semester I’m playing bass at Zack’s request. There’s really no option for multiple bass players. So far the three of us have all taken turns nicely.

dates

Yesterday the weather was cooler, but I stayed indoors most of the day. I wrote a couple of posts, one of which had to do with the bereavement group, The Compassionate Friends, that meets the first Tuesday of every month in Santa Clara.

I said it didn’t ‘hold appeal’ for me. One of the reasons is that they have a kind of a ceremony they do at the start of every meeting. They light candles and recite first the birth dates and then the death dates of those now gone for that month. When I stopped going to my original bereavement support group early this year, I felt that there was too much emphasis on sorrow and not enough on looking forward. I told my Rosalie story to them . . .

( I just went and looked. I was sure I had posted my Rosalie story but I can’t find it. Essentially, it’s the fact that she knows about Zach and what happened but she doesn’t let it interfere with the business of living life to the fullest.)

. . . and it didn’t seem to have any effect. Well, why should it? Perhaps I should have given it more time, Perhaps grieving is different for everyone and that’s not their style.

At The Compassionate Friends, I found a group that fit my mindset a little better. Their stories were all stark, like mine, of lives ended before their potential could be reached.

But the dates thing has bugged me. So far, neither of Zach’s dates have come up but I’ve found myself wondering what I would do when they did. Would I skip those months? I know early on, anniversaries were important to me. Now, the loss of Zach has all settled into a kind of dull ache that flares up every so often. Plenty of things remind me of Zach without adding reminders of his death date.

On the other hand, there was a moment last spring at the Compassionate Friends when I thought I could see myself as a kind of elder who could support those whose grief was fresher. Looking ahead to my schedule for the rest of the year, all the first Tuesday evenings are impacted one way or another. I don’t think I’m invested enough to make a heroic effort to get down there. Pace Virginia and Don.

All the bereavement support groups meetings will stay on my schedule so it’s possible I will go to another one this fall.

more on goals

My follow up session with Linda was scheduled for Wednesday afternoon so I’ve been trying to focus on the idea of ‘goals’ again. All in all I feel pretty good about how the summer went: Jeremy’s move and the Germany trip. The last two weeks I’ve worked a standard 8-5 M-F schedule which is draining in a way but I felt I handled it pretty well.

Now that I’m back, it’s the turn of the other two principals at Davies to get holidays. Arno is leaving Tuesday for his usual driving trip to the Midwest. He’ll be gone five weeks. Jim, after shocking us all last year by cutting his schedule down to a ‘normal’ 40 hour week, announced he’ll be taking the month of October off completely. There are others who can and will step up to help with the shift coverage, but at the moment, it looks like the bulk of it will fall to me.

So I decided my ‘price’ will be a couple of weeks off in November. I will always want to visit Jeremy and Ashley and Rosalie but I also have an unfulfilled promise to visit Peter and Nanci in Spokane. And I like to stop in on my cousins Dan and Nettie also in Spokane.

Is this a goal worthy of discussion? Honestly, I don’t know how Linda would respond to this. I emailed her the other day that I was cancelling the session since I had been scheduled for work at that time. She hasn’t responded. The bereavement group that seemed so promising a few months ago doesn’t hold appeal.

Since I’ve been back I’ve had one day where I had a lot of time to do things and I didn’t and I felt bad about it. All the old thoughts about how I should use my time better and what those uses should be came and went. Then the next day I went to work.

I feel good that I’ve been posting pretty regularly since I got back. I feel good about being in the Skyline band again. (At the request of Zack I’m playing bass this semester.) I feel good that I have a handle on how much work I have in the weeks ahead. It’s more than I would like but if the payoff is two weeks off in November I’ll take it. Jeremy tried unsuccessfully to call me this week two times when I said I was available so I felt bad about that. Then we had a nice Skype session Friday night so I felt better. He’s having a tough time getting a decent job. Ashley is very happy with her new teaching setup but that cuts both ways with Jeremy. I don’t have a magic wand to make it all great. That would cut both ways too, I guess.

eclipse

I finally got to the library the other day. I got two books on German history, a book on the airline industry and Seeing In The Dark, by Timothy Ferris.

I thought I had read it before, but I took it home anyway. After I got into a bit, I started remembering the stories of how amateur astronomers have contributed to humankind’s knowledge of the cosmos. The subtitle is How Backyard Stargazers Are Probing Deep Space and Guarding Earth from Interplanetary Peril.

Ferris tells of his visits to a number of pretty much regular folks who like to look through telescopes on their own time. Each one has a special interest that he or she has parlayed into some notoriety amongst the sky-viewing cognoscenti. Interspersed with those stories are concise lessons on our current understanding of various astronomic objects. It’s interesting.

Since the total eclipse of the sun was news here recently, I offer this quote about witnessing a total eclipse:

Suddenly the sky collapsed into darkness and a dozen bright stars appeared. In their midst hung an awful, black ball, rimmed in ruby red and surrounded by the doomsday glow of the gray corona. No photograph can do justice to this appalling sight: The dynamic range from bright to dark is too great, and the colors are literally unearthly.

I had a copy of Ferris’ The Whole Shebang, but I went in to look for it just now and it isn’t there. I guess I’ve loaned it to someone and I’ll probably never get it back. It had a great chapter about the existence of God. I do have another one by Ferris called The Mind’s Sky that I found used. It’s OK, but it didn’t grab me like The Whole Shebang did.

Speaking of the Sun, I was headed to work today about 7:15 am. The Sun rises late over Pacifica so I wasn’t surprised at the gray morning light. I put my headlights on. What did surprise me was the Sun well over the horizon when I came up over the hill in Daly City. It was blood red and baleful through the smoke that has lain over the Bay Area for two days now. As I write this, the Sun has gone down, but it’s doing a nice job of lighting up the few wispy clouds in the western sky.

Not high art, perhaps, but hopefully a harbinger of cooling breezes by tomorrow. There were no clouds of any kind yesterday. It’s been over 100º F in San Francisco the last two days. Out here on the coast where it’s usually much cooler, it was over 90 in my apartment when I got home. With the front door open and the fan blowing at maximum for the last two hours, it’s down to 88. Outside it’s 85. No one in Pacifica has air conditioning.