Monday, March 19, 2012

Separation - in Several of its Forms

For the next nine days Carol and I are almost a quarter of a world apart while she and our daughter, Laura tour Israel.  This is the first time in our thirty plus years together that we haven't been able to just pick up a convenient phone to say "good night" or "good morning."  Not that we're completely out of communication, it's just that the six hour time difference and our very busy itineraries make finding a time slot a little iffy.

But the situation got me to musing about the word separation, which started me musing about the reasons for it, which made me look at the circles I travel in, albiet peripherally in some cases, and how they often separate themselves from the general population.

Triathletes tend to hang with other triathletes, musicians with other musicians, cops with other cops.  Okay, I'm about to embark on generalizations - always a danger - but these are my musings, so please cut me a little slack.

Tri-folks mostly have fulltime jobs so they pursue their obsession in their off hours.  That means that they spend non-work time with others who train incessantly to maintain their level of fitness.  They train together and party together.

Musicians - the ones who make their living at it, are either touring, taping, or teaching.  The ones to whom it's an avocation are in a position similar to the tri-folks, non-work hours are spent practicing or playing with other musicians.

Cops are, I believe, a little different in that they tend to hang with other cops, not to train or improve their playing by picking up new licks, but more because they are comfortable with other cops, or perhaps less than comfortable with "civilians."  I understand that.  They often encounter ordinary folks in very unfriendly circumstances, and as often, an officer's action is criticized by people who have no personal experience with the situation the officer faces.  These are mostly very good, dedicated people who routinely put themselves between us and danger.  It just makes me sad that their work can corrode their trust in those not "on the job."

Some separations are both necessary and good.  Our constitutional separation of church and state is a biggie.  It is so necessary, and has been so eroded over the years that it scares me.  It is a simple rule: the government must stay out of religion and religion must stay out of the government.  It is being violated repeatedly.  How many people in congress base their arguments on biblical verses?  How many preachers preach politics from the pulpit?  If we let this continue we will end up in a theocracy, a form of government familiar in the Middle East.

Jamie Raskin, a Maryland state senator, once said to a colleague, “Madame, when you took the oath of office you put your hand on a Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution; you did not put your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.”

Words we all need to remember.  Enough musing for now.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Small Things, or Are They?

While making breakfast this morning, Carol remarked at what a time-saver it was to have the wrapping on a stick of butter marked with measurements.  Expanding on that observation, the wrapping itself also cuts easily with a sharp knife, allowing the proper portion of the stick to be quickly removed by slicing through the appropriate hash-mark.

The idea of inventions like that started me thinking (always a danger) about others that might be visible from my chair.  Here's a brief list:

  • Empty plastic Folgers two-pound coffee can - we use it for compost.  It has depressions in the cylinder that make it easy to grip with one hand. 
  • Can of ginger ale - the tab top makes it easy to open, and this tab top is a modification of the original idea where the tab was actually removed (I envision some beer drinker popping the tab, dropping it in the can, then deciding to chug the contents.)
  • Cloth loops on the back of a pair of slip-on shoes - Hooking a finger in the loop eases putting them on, eliminating the need for a shoehorn.

There may be several others that I'm missing, but I haven't finished my first cup of coffee yet so give me a break.  It might be (or not) an interesting exercise for you to find small things around you that are really cool innovations.

Hmm... It occurs to me that the recognition of said objects is very much age-dependent.  For example:  I just noticed the phone jack that plugs one of our several phones into the circuit, and clearly recall the clunky wiring that used to be the way phones were connected.  Bet some of you never saw a phone without the accompanying jack setup.

That just prompted me to add an element to the contrivances in Hollywood movies.  How many times have you seen a villain disable a phone by yanking it out of the wall?  Simpler, though far less "dramatic", to just unplug the damn thing.  Add that to my all time favorite:  actor (actress) in pain or rage sweeping the top of a desk, dresser, table or whatever surface and knocking everything on the floor.  Not much nuance there.

So friends and neighbors, locate small things like the above and make your own list.  It beats watching reality TV.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Different Infinities and Something Else

Infinity always fascinated me in my math studies. The concept itself is hard enough to wrap one's mind around, but that there was more than one kind (even excluding the car) and some were "bigger" than others can hurt your brain.
The easiest one to understand is the set of counting numbers (known also as whole numbers, integers, cardinal numbers) which are infinite.  Think of a straight-edge marked in inches.  Extending its length forever we still could count each inch: 0,1,2,3,4,...   That set is countably infinite.  A mind-blower here: extending our forever straight edge in the other direction, into negative number territory we can count 0,1,-1,2,-2,3,-3,4,... so we have another countably infinite set, which is the same level of infinity as the first one!

Now let's put marks between the inches dividing each into tenths, then divide each of the tenths into ten smaller parts, then each of those by ten... The set of all those marks on our endless straight edge is infinite but uncountable, because each division can be further divided, adding ever more hash marks.  In fact - and here's the second mind-blower - the set of possible divisions between 1 and 2 is infinite and uncountable, as are the possible divisions between 1 and 1.1, and they are the same level of infinity!

There are more infinities than those two, but if I haven't already lost you, going any further would guarantee it, so let's talk about something else.

How about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

This is a fascinating document, produced by the newly formed United Nations in 1948 in an attempt to establish some ethic and moral base for governance.  It was approved forty-eight to zero with eight abstentions.  Two covenants further clarifying human rights were signed in December 1966:

Economic, Cultural, and Social Rights
Civil and Political Rights.

It's interesting to see the signatories who have yet to ratify the covenants they signed: China and Cuba on Political Rights;  South Africa and the USA on Social Rights.

Taken all together the three documents seem to me to net out to the famous Four Freedoms spoken of by FDR and beautifully illustrated by Norman Rockwell.  You can find them on the net easily if you're interested.

I guess the "something else" had a bit of a political edge to it.  Sorry, but I get bothered when I see so many human rights violations being accepted even promoted by people who, I would hope, know better: my countrymen.