Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Cool Thoughts

In lieu of an air conditioner I'm thinking about this:





Its not really working. Where do you take the kids on day 5 with no cooling and 100 temps? I'm open to suggestions.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The year 1000

This was an interesting little book. It goes through the year explaining in much more detail than you usually get what was happening in England in 1000 AD. It was amazingly informative and fun. There are so many assumptions we have about this period of history and this rips a lot of them to shreds. The first one I had was that we didn't have a lot of information about this time period. And while we don't have the mountain of information that comes later we have enough for a good idea of how things were.

So many of the things we learn about how the people lived highlight how different our society is now from what the majority of human existence has been like. And how the privileged parts of the world have this distinct difference, there are still places where the change isn't as much as you would hope.
But in the year 1000 very few people were free in the sense that we understand the word today. Almost everyone was beholden to someone more powerful than themselves, and the men and women who had surrendered themselves into bondage lived in conditions that were little different to those of any other member of the labouring classes.
  In the year 1000 people could not imagine themselves without a protector. You had a lord in heaven and you needed a lord on earth.. . .It is a late-twentieth-century innovation to scorn the concept of "service." In the year 1000 every English village had its local lord who provided an umbrella of protection for his neighborhood, and that relationship involved a significant amount of mutual respect.
This jumped out at me because I have often wondered if the hostility towards authority or anyone in power above you inspires the anti-religious feeling in the West. As well as a lot of illogical protestations of independence. We are still tied to each other. Some have more power than others. In our "egalitarian" world those with power must disguise it. This leads to a lot of illegal and abusive practices. Would a toleration for more obvious power encourage transparency (that Shangri-La of all political watchdogs) or just more abuse?

Then we also have the notion of responsibility. As promises made to workers are broken and unions on the decline, will the businesses ever benefit the worker in the way that capitalism theory says they will? The idea is that it is good for a business to have healthy, productive workers, so they won't starve them into un-usability. We all know how that is working out. (Just to be clear here, I don't think a lot of those pension promises should have been made and I think that all-powerful unions are also bad, just look at Britain in the 70s.)

In a passage on the high point of the year in 1000, Easter, the author makes this point:
The Easter feast was appreciated the more by people who had encountered the reality of famine. Today we watch famine on television, but it is scarcely a source of personal anxiety to those of us who live in the developed West. It is another of the crucial distinctions between us and the year 1000, where the possibility of famine was ever-present and haunted the imagination.
It also occurred to me that the symbolism of Christ as the living bread and water, that would never run out had added potency to people in this time. Every year had a hungry time, between the end of one harvest and the beginning of the next. Famine wasn't just a occasional thing, but could happen every single year if conditions weren't plentiful. How little we care for all we have when we have always had it. Food comes easily. We might keep food storage and feel secure, but if the grocery store wasn't there, how would we really feel about living on beans and rice everyday?

After all that I loved the closing paragraph.
What C.S. Lewis called the "snobbery of chronology" encourages us to presume that just because we happen to have lived after our ancestors and can read books which give us some account of what happened to them, we must also know better than them. We certainly have more facts at our disposal.  We have more wealth, both personal and national, better technology, and infinitely more skillful ways of preserving and extending our lives. But whether we today display more wisdom or common humanity is an open question, and as we look back to discover how people coped with the daily difficulties of existence a thousand years ago, we might also consider whether, in all our sophistication, we could meet the challenges of their world with the same fortitude, good humour, and philosophy.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fun Friday SA #2 (sort of)

I haven't been in a hurry to post last week's FF because it wasn't all that impressive and I didn't take any pictures.  I wanted to take the kids to a pet store and let them look at the animals and especially the fish. I tried to find a good one on the internet because pet stores can be slightly scary if you get the wrong one. So I picked one that had really good ratings and was relatively close to our house. I should have checked kid friendly and square footage.

The one We went to was pretty small and had one of those mildly amusing but slightly insulting notices about what would happen to unattended children. They had two huge parrots out where the kids could look closely, but not touch, and a grey parrot that would talk only when you looked away from him. Every thing else was pretty small and the pet shop employees seemed annoyed to answer questions. At least, that was my opinion.

I actually felt so bad about it that I bought everyone ice cream on the way home, a big no-no in our summer of free stuff. But according to reports for my husband they all had a great time. I guess my expectations for a good time and theirs are a bit different. I think it also shows I need to not stress about this so much.
 I think I will find a fish store for another time, tropical fish are always a hit.

Isn't he cute?
In lieu of having Fun Friday pictures, here are a couple of others instead.


R., singing in the Harris MS show choir. That's him in back with the glasses. (I know, but it is the best picture I have)

J. graduating from 5th grade with on the A honor roll. He and R. were just admitted to the science magnet school so they will be able to associate with kids who are more truly their peers.
 And odd pictures of B. and D. looking scary for the camera.

Monday, June 6, 2011

War and Peace

Yes, I read the whole thing. There are amazingly lyrical passages, and if you are in the mood for heavy doses of historical philosophy then you are in for a treat. The plot, such as it was, takes a backseat to the whole commentary on war thing. I guess I would rather have either a novel, with a plot, or a commentary on war, without the plot. I suppose by introducing a few families you get the personal effect of war. Instead of talking about casualties, he shows us people we know being killed.
But if it is an anti-war story you want I think All Quiet on the Western Front is much more effective.
I also felt like I was missing a good chunk of the story because of not being Russian. The characters would laugh at odd times, or react in ways that seemed to highlight their foreignness even as I was growing to like them. If I had more of a familiarity with the culture of that area I think I would have enjoyed it more.
I was always being pulled out of the story, either by the Russianness, or by the long diversions about war and history.
There were some bits that I liked. A few quotes really jumped out at me.
Yet in reality those personal interests of the moment so much transcend the general interest from being felt or even noticed. Most of the people at that time paid no attention to the general progress of events but were guided only by their private interests, and they were the very people whose activities at that period were most useful.
Those who tried to understand the general course of events and to take part in it by self-sacrifice and heroism were the most useless members  of society, they saw everything upside down, and all they did for the common good turned out to be useless and foolish.
And
a superfluity of the comforts of life destroys all joy in satisfying one's needs
and
We imagine that when we are thrown out of our usual ruts all is lost, but it is only then that what is new and good begins. While there is life there is happiness. There is much, much before us.

and
by loving people without cause he discovered indubitable causes for loving them.
There is definitely some good stuff there. The last two are my favorites. I like how a quote seems simple and obvious at the beginning then as you think more, maybe it is not so true, then you think more maybe it is. That complexity echos the complexity of Russian thought that I was barely beginning to see in this novel.
It was not my style of book, I prefer a different kind of novel, but I am glad I read it.

War and Peace. Leo Tolstoy. ebook edition

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Fun Friday, the San Antonio Edition -- part 1

Yesterday was the first Fun Friday in San Antonio. And like all the Fun Fridays in Moab, the first one is mainly a practice run to get the whining and logistics sorted out. The visuals won't be as good, because most of the walking trails around here are nature trails through the parks. One bonus is that I can bring N. along in the stroller, but the kids don't get as excited about it.
So here is the Fun Friday crew -- 2011 edition.

And a cave, that they don't let you get very close to. San Antonio Parks and Rec is much more Big Brotherly than Grand Co.

Art is placed every quarter mile, perfect for photo opportunities.

 














You can see the temple from the trail, but not in the picture, weird.

More things to blog about, but not today.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

fairness -- a thought

I found this quote in the middle of a very good article, but I particularly liked this idea, especially as it relates to, well everyone.

For those who cannot abide the fact that life happens and sometimes you get a raw deal, remember that fairness is a childish concept.  There is no magical fairy flying around and waving her wand to make sure everyone has the same amount of tragedy and trial, the same number of sprinkles on their cupcake.

You can find the whole article here

I have been reading a lot lately, but really don't feel the urge to write much, so you get a lot of quotes.