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This editorial is very good for you

U.S. government bombs Guam with frozen mice

It may even be a good idea!? It seems that Guam is infested with brown tree snakes, an invasive species that is wiping out bird species. More importantly, they cause power outages which annoy the locals. The mice are laced with acetaminophen which causes irreparable damage to the snake’s liver. Acetaminophen is the active ingredient in Tylenol. Think about that, but not so hard that you get a headache.

By the by, the mice have little parachutes so they get caught up in forest canopy where the snakes are. I’m sure there isn’t going to be any problems with this scheme.

Slide rules

It’s one level of technology that allows one to make fire by rubbing two sticks together, yet another to do calculations by rubbing two sticks together.
——- Walter Bushell

Dr. Oz and the no cancer diet

Every once in a while I watch the Dr. Oz show in the morning. I learn all sorts of things, such as being obese is unhealthy. One day Dr. Oz had a cancer researcher on the program who is doing research on what foods in your diet will help you resist developing cancer. For what it is worth here are his top five suggestions:

  • Bok Choy
  • Cooked tomatoes (in olive oil)
  • Flounder (halibut, salmon, and trout alternatives)
  • Strawberries (eat 1 cup of colorful fruit a day)
  • Artichokes

For those who want to know the theory, the idea is that we get itty bitty cancers (itty bitty is a technical term) all the time but they don’t go anywhere. For a cancer to be nasty it has to trick the body into supplying it with blood vessels. This is known as angiogenesis. Anti-oxidants and omega 3 fats stop angiogenesis; they are anti-angiogenesis factors. The foods listed above are particularly rich in anti-angiogenesis factors.

I’m okay with some of them. Strawberries, yum. Fish, excellent. Bok Choy, er, ah, I suppose. I’m not a big fan of cooked tomatoes. Maybe they would be nice if they are breaded and sauted in olive oil. Artichokes!? Not so much. I understand that there are people that think that artichokes are food. My theory on that is that somebody wrote it in a book by mistake and people have been copying that book ever since without bothering to actually try them.

All our yesterdays

That which was no longer is
And never again shall be.

Forgetting what I can’t remember

As one gains seniority on the junior members of humanity one encounters slight imperfections in one’s perfect recall. These are known as senior moments. Some of my younger readers may not be personally familiar with the phenomenon. They have never walked into a room and wondered why they are there, nor found it maddeningly difficult to recall the name of an acquaintance.

We are told that these little senior moments are normal. To be honest I don’t think much of that. The proposition we are being sold is that with age it is normal to develop aches and pains, have failing body functions, slow reflexes, and a mind and memory that isn’t what it used to be. What a load of BS! This crap may be inevitable (though some are better at postponing it than others) but calling it normal is a euphemism. Unfortunately my moral indignation is of little use in this matter.

I have noticed that these senior moments seem to come in two forms. One is that I will be chattering along, explicating profundities to the delight of my audience, when the next word in verbal essay simply doesn’t come. It is quite disconcerting when there is a sudden stoppage in the flow of verbiage. Now there is a tactic that one use for this sort of thing. One simply uses another word or phrase that means much the same thing as the word that never came. Naturally, no one is fooled by this.

Recently I got a birthday card that alludes to this simple truth. On the front side is there is a picture of a senior couple standing by the sea side looking out at a peninsula. The male member of the couple pontificates, “And that land mass over there is called a ‘stick out’ because of the way it sticks out into the water.” Inside the message is “Another year older, another year closer to making up crap.” How sad, how true.

The other form, which is not quite the same thing, is when you can’t recall some familiar name. Here is an example. The other day (I don’t remember exactly when) I was going to recite the roll of things we have learned from our presidents. (It appears below.) This bit of business does not start with Washington; instead it starts with … well that was the problem. I couldn’t for the life of me think of who was president after Wilson and before Coolidge. It was maddening. Naturally I could recall what state he was from (Ohio), words he made famous (normalcy), details of the teapot dome scandal, and rumors about his ethnicity (was Obama the first). It was his name that would not come to me and it was his name that I needed. I let it go at the time. I had to – after all one can scarcely begin a recitation if one can’t recall the beginning.

I didn’t let it go at that. The first chance I got I looked up the list of presidents and there he was – Warren Gamaliel Harding. Of course, how could I have ever forgotten. And there you have it, the great magic of our age. I could look it up! Before the internet one had to go to books. I am a man of books. When I forgot something I could scrounge around in encyclopedias and my library and find it. Nowadays I can just go online and call on search engines. The forgotten comes to life. Faded memories are restored.

Or are they? To find that which has been lost, one has to know that there is some thing that has been lost. Thus, my errant president. I remembered that I had forgotten his name. By virtue of my remembering, his restoration was easy. One has to want to remember a certain fact and has to take the initiative to rediscover the fact in the outer world. Failure to make the effort of rediscovery may let it fade beyond restoration – we not only forget the fact, we forget wanting it. The threads leading to it are severed, never to be restored.

What if one never searches for those (what is the word I want?) facts. Can they actually fade, never to return? Of course. For example, I wrote a biographical piece, Now My Proud Beauty I have you in my power, about my acting experiences. Now it happens that in my junior year in high school I was in a play. I can recall nothing of it, neither the name, the part I played, nor any other detail. I never wanted the fact and it died. Oddly enough, I know the name of the play – I came across an old high school year book that had the name and the plot of the play. I quite understand why I forgot it.

Forgetting is a normal part of life. It is, I suppose, if one recalls that “normal” is a horrible word. In the wild, animals that can learn need to be able to forget things they have learned. For animals learning is not about learning what is true, learning is about learning what is useful knowledge, and that changes with circumstances. This forgetting has to happen automatically; animals are not well equipped to reason what they should remember and what they should forget. Neither are we humans, though we think we are.

So there are memories that we are willing to let go, or at least we are prepared to let go, even though the thought of letting them go is vexing. But we have to protect the memories we do want. If we don’t they will vanish too. For this we have the magic of the internet and the magic of libraries. All that is required is that when we discover that there is something we can’t quite remember, we look it up and restore our memory.

The irony is that there are occasions when something has escaped my memory. It happens in a flash and I go on. Later on, I know that there was something I couldn’t remember, but I found that I had forgotten what I couldn’t remember. At least with my unrecalled play I know what it is that I had forgotten. The disturbing thing is that there might be so much out there that I do not know and will never know that I have forgotten.

Some of you may be muttering, what the hell does it matter. Well, it matters to me. After all, our identity, our very self is bound in our memories. I am of the view that our identity, our sense of self, is rooted in a non-verbal, non-sensory fibre of our being. It is not accessible as a memory, or in the form of words. (Some people lack the sense of self or the ability to perceive it in others). Take away my memories, my knowledge, and I will still have a self but my identity will be gone. And we need our identities. They tell us where and who we are in the world.

I have a small confession. I know what it is like to have the sense that one is missing one’s identity or that it has holes in it. When I was much younger, my dreams were haunted by memories of events in my life that never happened. The memories are somewhat faded now, but they are there. I remember … a second enlistment in the Marine Corps, including barracks, duty stations, and fellow marines, an enlistment that never happened in this world. I remember … a college I attended, dorms, classes, and grounds, a college that never existed in this world. I remember … an apartment I lived in, the building it was in, and forgetting for a while that I still had it, an apartment and a building that never existed. I remember … streets, businesses on those streets, in a city that does not exist. I remember … landscapes and places that do not exist. I remember … what it feels like to fly, to float effortlessly over a town below.

I don’t know where these memories came from or why I have them. I dare say they come from some quirk in my childhood experiences or some glitch in my memory or personality. The SF explanation would be that I was experiencing memories of an alternate self in alternate universe. It’s a fun explanation and nothing more.

It comes to this: We need our identity. It tells who we are, who we were, and what our place is in the world. It lets be comfortable with ourselves and our environment. It is no monolithic thing, that identity. It it is a bundle of experiences and memories that change over time. Pieces of that identity can vanish silently without our even knowing it. We need to protect our identity, not just from identity thieves, but from ourselves.

What we’ve learned from the presidents

Harding taught us that a president has to be careful about choosing his friends.
Coolidge taught us that a president doesn’t have to say anything.
Hoover taught us that engineers don’t make good presidents.
Roosevelt taught us that being president can be a life time job.
Truman taught us that anybody can be president.
Eisenhower taught us that we don’t really need a president.
Kennedy taught us that it can be dangerous to be president.
Johnson taught us that it can be dangerous to have a president.
Nixon taught us that we can get rid of a president.
Ford taught us that you don’t have to be elected to be president.
Carter taught us that presidents need protection from rabbits.
Reagan taught us that you can have alzheimer’s and still be president.
Bush Sr. taught us that it takes more than a resume to be a good president.
Clinton taught us that you don’t have to keep it in your pants to be president.
Bush Jr. taught us you don’t have to win an election to be president.
Obama taught us that a black man can be president.

Dreams from his father

An article in Forbes by Dinesh Souza has a fascinating take on President Obama. One thing that Americans often have difficulty with is understanding the ideologies and strains of political and economic thought of aliens. (In America, everybody who born and bred one of us is an alien.) In these here parts there are political, economic, historical, and social narratives that frame our thinking. Americans are not special in this regard – other places and peoples have their own narratives. We are, however, in the position of being able to be exceptionally parochial.

Souza’s thesis is that Obama spent his formative years abroad in parts of the world where anti-colonial theory and sentiment was pervasive. His father was a anti-colonialist economist. The upshot is that Obama’s political thinking and sentiments incorporate anti-colonialist thought. Souza cites chapter and verse to make his case.

I freely confess that I am not equipped to judge that case. It is interesting and I suspect that there is something to it. Souza is from India and is quite familiar with anti-colonial political rhetoric and theory.

Be all of that as it may, I liked his little note about the title of Obama’s book – it is not “Dreams of my father”, it is “Dreams from my father”. To understand the man one must understand the father, for it is from the father that the dreams came.

This page was last updated September 30, 2010.

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Collected editorials