FENCES, A MENDING WALL, AND OTHER BARRIERS

I hate to sound didactic, but I’m going to anyway. Robert Frost did not believe that “good fences make good neighbors.” That isn’t what the poem is about. His neighbor kept saying it, while Frost tried to tell him it isn’t true. His neighbor, however, had heard it from his father and would not listen.

Everyone quotes this poem. I often wonder how many people have actually read it all the way through.

Robert Frost says, in the first verse, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” among which Robert Frost could be counted. He agrees that sometimes, you need a wall to keep out wild creatures … or hunters … but finally, he gets to the end and points out ”

There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

His neighbor ignores him and Frost ends the poem by saying:

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Robert Frost doesn’t think good fences make good neighbors. He thinks good neighbors make good neighbors.


MENDING WALL

Robert Frost

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun;
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:
I have come after them and made repair
Where they have left not one stone on a stone,
But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,
To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,

No one has seen them made or heard them made,
But at spring mending-time we find them there.
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;
And on a day we meet to walk the line
And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.
To each the boulders that have fallen to each.
And some are loaves and some so nearly balls
We have to use a spell to make them balance:
“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.
Oh, just another kind of out-door game,
One on a side. It comes to little more:
There where it is we do not need the wall:
He is all pine and I am apple orchard.
My apple trees will never get across
And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
“Why do they make good neighbors? Isn’t it
Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.” I could say “Elves” to him,
But it’s not elves exactly, and I’d rather
He said it for himself. I see him there
Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me,
Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”


FENCE | THE DAILY POST

BELLWETHER – BY CONNIE WILLIS

Connie Willis_1996_Bellwether

I read Bellwether again. I finished it last night. Each time I read it — this is the 5th or 6th time — I learn something new. It is one of those books that doesn’t get old. Always funny, always wise. And always worth the effort and time.

Bellwether grabbed me from page one … from sentence one. Not merely was I highly entertained by the story, but I learned a lot about chaos theory, fads, sheep, and the meaning of “bellwether,” a term I’d heard and used — and misused — for years, but never entirely understood.

It was the bellwether and sheep connection I never got. What do I know about sheep? And why would I care? It turns out, sheep and people have an unnerving amount in common.

A bellwether is a leader of sheep, an über ewe, the sheep who the flock follows. There’s no discernible reason why a bellwether leads and nor any obvious reason why the flock follows. There is just something about that ewe.

What the bellwether does, other sheep do. The flock will follow her — mindlessly, blindly — over a cliff if that’s where she leads. The flock doesn’t know they are following the bellwether. They just do it.

Humans have bellwethers too. We no more recognize our bellwethers than does a flock of sheep. Still we follow them. An atavistic instinct, embedded in our DNA? Some are born to lead, others to follow. A very few will walk a unique path.

The book is laugh-out-loud funny. Erudite, witty, and replete with trivia guaranteed to upgrade your anecdotal skills.

Bellwether suggests answers to previously unanswerable questions. Why do people vote against their own self-interest? Why do we do so many stupid things? The answer? We’re following a bellwether. They are loose amongst us, invisible shakers and movers. Unaware of their effect on the people around them.

You should read this book. It also explains a lot of events throughout history which have never made any kind of sense. Even after you know all the facts of what happened, most of history still doesn’t make sense. When you add in a few critical bellwethers, it comes clear.

Human life, history and relationships are illogical. They just happen. We can explain them only in retrospect. That’s what historians are for, after all. To make sense of the past because it won’t make sense by itself. Human society is chaotic. The only predictable thing is unpredictability.

I found Bellwether original, insightful, amusing and thought-provoking. Highly entertaining and funny. I can’t imagine what more anyone could want from a book. I recommend it both in print (Kindle or paper) and audio. It is a book you will read and remember.

Then read it again. There’s more to it than you will get in a single reading.

NOTES FROM THE HOLODECK

For a long time, I followed writing prompts. I liked the challenge of finding something to say about a random topic. And I was interested to see the commonalities and differences between my thoughts and everyone else’s.

REUTERS/Noah Berger

REUTERS/Noah Berger

Lately, though, I want to write about other stuff. The crazy political stuff. The insanity of our failure to make any changes to our gun laws. The wild weather.

Talk about crazy. Insect plagues (not just here … all over the country) … and temperatures so high they turn forests to tinder. Flooding down the middle. Drought out west. Tornadoes threatening Chicago. Chicago? Mother Nature, like Howard Beale in “Network” screaming “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

network-howard-beale-horizontal-large

Network is a 1976 American satirical film written by the great Paddy Chayefsky. Directed by Sidney Lumet, it’s the story of a fictional television network willing to do anything and everything — including assassinating one of its own anchors on live television — to get better ratings. When the movie came out, it was almost science fiction. Now, except for not yet assassinating a reporter or anchor live during prime time, the rest seems tame compared to what’s truly going on.

Sometimes, I wonder if maybe Donald Trump was invented by TV network executives to get higher ratings for the news. It worked around this house. We hadn’t watched news on television — except for sports and weather — since Garry stopped being part of it.

Now, we watch the news every day just to see what new madness is in progress. “The Daily Show” seems more attuned to the surreal nature of current events than any of the standard stations.

daily show trevor noah

Not all that long ago, I had no trouble figuring out what was real and what was not. Now? There’s such a massive crossover between reality and “art,” I feel as if I’m living in the holodeck. In case you don’t remember (or never knew), the holodeck was a virtual reality facility on the Enterprise (especially on “Next Generation”). It was used to recreate environments — real and fictional — via “hard light” (solid and touchable) holograms.

holodeck

In our world, no such technology exists. Yet. So they tell us. Except that I’m beginning to wonder. Maybe this entire year is a creative exercise by some mad computer genius designing a world that could never be. Except … it does. Exist. And we are all living in it.

Or … maybe … we’ve slipped into an alternate dimension. Because this world cannot be real.

ANOTHER MIND-BLOWING DOCUMENTARY FROM MICHAEL MOORE – PART 2 by ELLIN CURLEY

This is part two about Michael Moore’s newest documentary, “Where To Invade Next.” In the movie, Moore travels around the world and reports about something wonderful from each country he visits. Last week, I wrote about the great working conditions for middle class Italians and Germans. Here I’m going to talk about some elements of the educational systems in Finland and France.

Michael M poster2

Apparently Finland had a mediocre education system in the 1970’s. It ranked 29th in the world along with the United States. The Finns decided to make some extreme changes in their K-12 system and over the years they have worked their way up to Number 1 in the world in quality of education. We are still Number 29.

What did Finland do that worked so well? For one, they cut school hours and days back and now they have the shortest school week and school year. Yet they are Number 1 in performance. They also cut some other things – homework and standardized tests. This would be anathema in the U.S. But in Finland, the education system is now based on the premise that the best way to educate kids is to let them be kids. It is believed that kids need plenty of down time to exercise their imaginations as well as their bodies.

They also need to spend time playing with others to learn social skills and coöperation. Experimenting with music and art, baking, sports, carpentry, etc. are considered important parts of the curriculum. Why? Because they help kids discover what they like to do and what makes them happy. And that is the primary goal of Finnish teachers – to produce well-rounded and well-adjusted kids who have the ability to make themselves and others happy in life. It seems to be working. Remember, these kids tested highest of any country in the world.

Michael M FInland

Another amazing fact about the Finnish school system is that every school in the country is the same. There is no shopping around for good school districts. Private schools are prohibited so the wealthy have to make sure that every single public school is up to the standards they want for THEIR children. I understand that this is possible to achieve in a small, relatively homogenous population like Finland but is probably impossible to achieve in America. Nevertheless, the achievement is life changing for the Finns and truly enviable.

The French also have something awesome in their curriculum that made my jaw drop. Lunch. For all French children, even in the poorest school districts, lunch is a gourmet affair and a big part of the school day. Teachers and kids eat together around large tables set with actual china and glassware. Lunch is a full hour and consists of four courses – an appetizer, an entrée, a cheese course fit for a fancy restaurant and a dessert. Water is served with the meal (French kids rarely drink Coke.) The food is served at the tables to the children by the cafeteria staff. The dishes are all well-balanced and look and sound like they are from Michelin Star restaurants. Yet the food budgets in French schools are similar to school lunch budgets here. They do not spend more money than we do.

Michael M France

The faculty talked about the importance of teaching children what a balanced diet is and to be particular about what they put in their mouths. What a concept! No wonder the French have lower obesity levels, heart disease and diabetes than we do. No wonder they grow up into discerning foodies who see food as a sensual and enjoyable, as well as a necessary part of life. I don’t blame the average American as much now for being a food troglodyte – where are they supposed to learn anything about nutrition, vegetables or balanced meals? Certainly not in American schools. Good food is a major part of French culture. Fast Food is a major part of ours. Why should our schools be different than the rest of the society?

Michael Moore’s documentary gave me great hope for the world. Problems that we see as insurmountable, someone else has solved. Things that we think can’t be changed, have been changed for the better somewhere else. Moore shows that humans are capable of great things when the climate is right.

Opening minds is the salvation for the world – one issue at a time, one country at a time.

TO OLD FATHERS ON AMERICA’S FATHER’S DAY

Lewis Carroll is my favorite poet. In this, one of his lesser known poems, he offers commentary on both parenthood and aging. These days, I find myself relating in some weird way and since today is Father’s Day in the US …

I’ve included John Tenniel‘s original illustrations because I love them.

From Wikipedia:

The poem appears in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and is recited by Alice (Chapter 5, “Advice from a Caterpillar” which was Chapter 3 in the original manuscript, Alice’s Adventures Under Ground). Alice informs the caterpillar she has tried to repeat “How Doth the Little Busy Bee” and it came out all wrong as “How Doth the Little Crocodile”. The caterpillar asks her to repeat “You are old, Father William.” 


YOU ARE OLD, FATHER WILLIAM – LEWIS CARROLL


“You are old, Father William,” the young man said,
“And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?”

FatherWilliam-1

“In my youth,” Father William replied to his son,
“I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I’m perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “As I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door—
Pray, what is the reason of that?”

FatherWilliam-2

“In my youth,” said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
“I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment—one shilling the box—
Allow me to sell you a couple?”

“You are old,” said the youth, “And your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak—
Pray, how did you manage to do it?”

FatherWilliam-3

“In my youth,” said his father, “I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life.”

“You are old,” said the youth, “one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
What made you so awfully clever?”

FatherWilliam-4

“I have answered three questions, and that is enough,”
Said his father; “don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs!”

ANOTHER MIND-BLOWING DOCUMENTARY FROM MICHAEL MOORE – PART 1 by ELLIN CURLEY

There is so much I’d like to talk about in the amazing, eye-opening documentary called “Where To Invade Next”. It’s really an old-fashioned travelogue. Michael Moore goes to different countries around the world. But instead of reporting about natural wonders or tourist sites, he reports about one specific thing in each culture. It’s the prison system in one, the equality of women in another, the educational system in others.

There are two major areas where the European approach blew my mind. One is the workplace, which I’ll talk about here. The other is the educational system, which I’ll discuss next Monday.

MichaelM poster

The workplace in Italy and Germany is a place where workers and bosses come together to create a good quality product for the marketplace, make a good profit for the company and provide a good quality of life for the employees. The companies visited were successful, well-known companies; in Italy they visited a high-end clothes factory that produces for such brand names as Dolce and Gabana and the Ducati motorcycle factory. In Germany they went to a world-famous pencil factory and the BMW assembly line.

In Italy unions are very powerful and in Germany, the law mandates that half of all corporate boards must be made up of workers from that company. The result is that corporations there consider and care about the needs and well-being of their workers. And visa versa. It is a commonly held belief in both countries that to maximize productivity you must have a well rested, unstressed, “happy” workforce. A good balance between a worker’s job and home life is considered essential for the business to succeed. Everyone there believes that longer hours and less time off increases sickness, decreases production and destroys morale.

Michael M Italy

All Italians get at least 8 weeks of PAID vacation a year plus around 12 national holidays. They get five months of paid maternity leave that can be shared by both parents. They also get a 13th month of full salary to make sure they have enough money to pay for traveling and other fun activities on their vacations. This is all in addition to a two-hour lunch every day. In Germany, they have a 36 hour workweek but get paid for 40 hours. There is also a law that prohibits employers from emailing of contacting workers after hours, on weekends or when they are on vacation. Embedded in both German and Italian culture is the belief that cultivating friends, time with family, leisure activities and time to enjoy life are as important, if not more important than work.

The bizarre part of this for Americans is the fact that the corporate employers believe they are not only doing the right thing for their workers, but the most expedient and efficient thing for themselves. The bosses believe that a pleasant workplace filled with happy and cooperative people is actually better for their businesses.

They may be right. Statistics show that very few Italians or Germans take sick days off work but that this is a big problem in America. It seriously diminishes overall productivity here. Statistics also show that Italy and America have the same level of workplace productivity. This means that Italians are far more productive per man hour than we are.

Despite the shorter workday and work year in Italy and Germany, all the factory workers Michael Moore talked to made enough money to live a comfortable middle class life. While their taxes may be higher than ours, they don’t have to pay for high cost items like health care, day care, school tuition, etc. The result is enough money to pay for the necessities and many of the luxuries of a middle class life style. The European workers were shocked to hear that middle class Americans have to work two and often three jobs just to make ends meet.

The take away for me was that there are places in the world that value quality of life and mental health for their populations. And this is not seen as undermining the bottom line of the economy in any way. Employers and employees don’t have opposing interests. Everyone is expected to be relaxed and happy and to have a rich, full life, with a wide circle of family and friends. People in parts of Europe seem to take care of each other and care about each other in a way that seems very quaint and outdated in America.

Michael M poster2

Ironically, the labor movement and labor unions were born in America. We just abandoned them somewhere along the way and other parts of the world have continued to embrace them. But this documentary gave me hope that there is a way to make it work for everyone in a society. You just have to have common goals and work together. Unfortunately, I don’t think can happen in America for a long time to come.

SURVIVAL VS. VALOR – A FEW THOUGHTS

We were watching a rerun of NCIS, an episode from a few years ago. The victim had given her life to protect others and her country’s secrets.

“She didn’t have to do it,” McGee pointed out.

“No,” said Gibbs. “She had a choice. That’s what makes her a hero.”


My cousin is my oldest friend, though we don’t see each other much. We communicate a fair bit on the Internet but hardly ever in person.

“You’ve always been braver than me,” she said.

The context was a picture of me and Garry riding the Cyclone at Coney Island. There’s a camera at the first drop. Hard to resist buying a picture of oneself and others screaming as you go down the nearly vertical first drop on an 84-year old wooden coaster.

But brave? It wasn’t as if I’d volunteered to rescue someone from danger. I paid my money and got the best adrenaline rush money can buy. Not brave. Not heroic. Fun and I don’t regret it, but there’s nothing heroic about riding the Cyclone — at least not these days since they repaired it.

Maybe it was braver — more like stupider — when I was a kid. Back then, pieces of it would fly off while you rode the rickety rails at 70 mph. But I digress.

Some people have called me brave because I’ve survived cancer and heart problems and a myriad other life-threatening ailments (so far, so good). As it happens, I would have been just as happy to skip all of that and have a pleasant, uneventful life. For excitement, there’s always a trip to the Cyclone and doesn’t require years of recovery and rehab.

I’ve managed to slouch into senior citizenship still alive but hardly deserving a medal. No one gives medals for surviving. Nor should they. Saving your own life (and occasionally, dragging others with you to safety) is your survival instinct at work. It’s not valor. N0t bravery.

Staying alive is hard-wired into the DNA of all living things. Otherwise, life on earth would have long since vanished. It may yet.

My definition of bravery or valor is the same as Gibbs’. You make a willing and conscious choice to put yourself in peril for the sake of others. There must be a choice involved. Taking risks for fun, to make money, or because your imminent demise is the only other option isn’t courageous. It’s what we do to keep alive. Some of us are better at it than others, but that doesn’t change the essence of the experience.

Medal of honor from Obama

If you do it for fun, it’s entertainment. If you’re doing it for profit? It’s shrewd business sense.  If it’s choosing to live rather than die? That’s your survival instinct at work.

I have never done anything I would define as courageous. I’ve done exciting stuff, entertaining and fascinating stuff. I’ve gotten myself into tight corners — accidentally — and lived to tell the tale. I’ve occasionally put others ahead of me to help when I could. Never did I put myself in harm’s way to save another.

The best I could be accused of is doing the right thing when it wasn’t the easiest choice. You don’t get medals for that, either.

SURVIVAL – THE DAILY POST