Miss Pelican's Perch

Looking at my World from a Different Place


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Poor Pitiful Pluto

There are some beliefs upon which you think you can absolutely rely.  For example, the sun always rises, the moon predictably phases across the night sky, and the North Star is always, well, north.  So one can say that the astronomical realm may seem constant and unchanging, at least from our perspective here on old terra firma.

So what’s the deal with Pluto?   Growing up I was taught that Pluto was the ninth planet.  Though barely discernible on the frigid edge of our solar system, we knew it was there and that it was a planet.  Then, in 2006, poor, pitiful Pluto was demoted to dwarf planet status.   So troublesome is this demotion to some that the issue comes up in popular culture.  For example, Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory is just beside himself over this.  Why?   My theory is that in this increasingly unstable world we find ourselves, we need something greater than ourselves to believe in.  For some it is the seemingly constant and rhythmic dance of the cosmos.

Fortunately, my faith is not in astronomy, though I think I might be a little upset if someone suddenly told me that T-Rex is not actually a dinosaur. 🙂


Post-script:  Just days after I wrote this, I came across this announcement:  Pluto is a Planet again.  

https://futurism.com/pluto-reclassified-as-a-major-planet/

But I think my point is still proven.  You can’t rely on anything…….

 

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Omelettes, Et Cetera

It is my opinion that if you master just these five recipes, you can properly entertain others and  feed yourself without becoming bored with your own cooking.

Omelettes.  Learn how to make a proper plain omelette, and you can make a number of main dishes just by varying the “innards”– cheese, vegetables, meats, anything.  Also, by understanding the omelette, you can dumb it down to simple scrambled eggs or fancy it up to a frittata.

Roast chicken.  If you can properly roast a chicken, you can apply the same knowledge to turkey or duck.  Thanksgiving dinner won’t be the scary thing it has become to some if you can master a chicken.

Boeuf Bourguignon.  Learning to braise a meat in a liquid will set you up to make all kinds of stews and chilies.

Marinara Sauce.  Master this and you have mastered all manner of pizza and pasta dishes.

Apple Pie.  A tender, flaky pastry can be parlayed into many sweet and savory goodies:  summer fruit tarts, pumpkin or sweet potato pie, chicken pot pies, and meat-filled pasties and turnovers.

You don’t need to learn a huge repertoire of dishes.  Just take the time to master a few.

 

ljg


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Needle and Yarn Arts: Losing A Bit of My Heritage

I have a small sewing cabinet that belonged to my grandmother.  The little bit of research I have done on the cabinet indicates that it was probably made in the 1930s or 40s.  Still in the cabinet are cards of needles and the spools of silk thread that my grandmother used.    I don’t know if she did embroidery, but I suspect she did since my mother, her daughter, did quite a lot of embroidery.   Women of that era often taught their daughters these types of needle arts.  Along with embroidery, my mother’s other favored needle art was crochet.    Most evenings after the dinner dishes were dried and put away, my mother would sit and crochet while watching television.  She made lovely throws that were in high demand at craft fairs.

In keeping with the tradition of mothers teaching their daughters these traditional crafts, my mother tried to teach me how to crochet.  That did not work out too well.  For one thing, I am a lefty; she was a righty.  We could not bridge that gap.

However,  I think it was more that I lacked the patience and focus for this type of work.  One had to pay attention and count, making the same movements over and over.   It was as much of a meditation as a traditional craft.

In my foolish inability to learn these crafts, I have broken a tradition of hundreds, if not thousands of years.    And that bothers me.

 

 

ljg (c) 2017

 


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How Math Scarred Me for Life


Up until middle school I did not have a math phobia. It was not one of my favorite studies, but I did moderately well in the subject.

Then I fell head-first into the the wave of “New Math” that swept through our school district in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  The particular curriculum imposed upon us eliminated the classic categories of mathematics such as algebra, trigonometry, geometry, and instead grouped concepts into what the curriculum designers thought were “unified” ideas:  sets, relations, operations, groups, rings, fields, and vector spaces.  Particularly onerous to me were the exercises of proving theorems with axioms.   And as a result, I floundered.  I was pulling C’s and D’s on tests and barely squeaked a passing grade.

My parents were not able to help.  They knew arithmetic and some algebra and geometry.  My mom was a capable bookkeeper and my dad could calculate board-feet of lumber needed to construct a house.  But vectors and axioms?  Forget it.    I don’t recall any offers for after school tutoring from the school.   In fact, I blocked out most of that middle-school experience from my memory.

I must have scored high on some assessment test because in high school I got dropped into pre-calculus.  The teacher with an absolutely loathsome man whose disdain for young women was quite evident.  Fun and chatty with the boys, he was cool and condescending with the girls,  often belittling them for incorrect answers.   Furthermore, the boys were rewarded for quickly finishing their in-class assignments by being allowed to play chess with the teacher. (Several chessboards going at the same time with the teacher moving from one to another).  The rest of us, mostly girls and a few boys, were left on our own to work on our assignments. I don’t recall any help offered (he was busy check-mating).    In another course, the instructor was much kinder but could not control his class.   At the time, computers were being introduced, and we were given assignments to complete on it.   To get the girls off the computer so they could play with it, some boys would do the girls’ assignments to move them along more quickly.   If the instructor knew what was happening, he did nothing about it.

Worst of all was my having to explain to my parents why I would come home with a report card that had four A’s and a C+ in math.   They were not buying my explanations of the poor quality of the teachers.  They figured I was spending too much time reading books or watching television.  By that time I had developed a full-blown case of math-anxiety.

When I went to college, I was able to avoid taking math for several semesters until I just could not dodge it anymore.  Before I became a history major, I was a psychology major and had to take Statistical Math and Statistical Methods before I could take some of the more interesting psychology courses.  Two remarkable things happened:

First, I excelled in Statistical Math.   I think it had a lot to do with the course being taught by a woman who was patient and took the time to explain and help.  I was also an adult who had had time to build up some inner confidence.   Whatever psychological block I had seemed to evaporate.   I got my first A ever in math.

Secondly, I learned something about math.  You might think mathematics is cut and dried, black and white, always precise.  That is, with math there is only one correct answer.   Not true.   Half way through Statistical Methods I discovered that there are multiple ways to analyze data.  One statistical formula could give you a different result than another formula with the same data.   My eyes were opened to the fact that you could prove just about anything if you tinkered with the numbers.  A major disillusionment with math set in.  It was probably an over-reaction, but was real nevertheless.

With that I marched into my advisor’s office and said “I’m switching my major from Psychology to History.”   His reply:  “You would rather study dead people than live ones?”   Yep, because at least I would not have to do math.

I have often wondered:  if I had had a better experience with math, would I have gone on to excel in the sciences and perhaps have had a better-paying and more prestigious career?

I’ll never know.

ljg   2017

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LOTR: A Literary Masterpiece

It is my opinion that the greatest piece of writing in all of English literature, outside of the King James Bible, is J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Yes, I believe the three books of this series are even more finely crafted than any of the works by William Shakespeare.

That being said, I was going to give you a brief summary and my analysis, but if I had done so, it was have been a total snoozer and a complete waste of your time.  Instead, I offer my favorite documentary on the topic, one of the video appendices from the movie version’s DVD.    The first 23 minutes explores the creative genius of Tolkien and the crafting of his mythology.  It is a fascinating look at the making of a masterpiece.

 


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Kepler and the Age of Alternative Facts


“Johannes Kepler (1571–1630). “Kepler shows his keen logical sense in detailing the whole process by which he finally arrived at the true orbit. This is the greatest piece of retroductive reasoning ever performed.” – C. S. Peirce, c. 1896, on Kepler’s reasoning through explanatory hypotheses.”

Johannes Kepler was a mathematician and astronomer and is considered one of the major figures in the seventeenth century scientific revolution. He contributed much to the development of the scientific method, the logic-driven process of studying phenomena through observation, gathering data, experimentation and testing, and inferring theories and hypotheses. Kepler, his contemporaries, and subsequent scientific thinkers not only changed our approach to science but also brought us into a world where logical, well-considered thinking is the norm for all areas of inquiry and endeavor. When we gather information, question it, test it, and then apply it to our decision-making, we are applying the process of reasoning developed in the age of Kepler and his colleagues.

Unfortunately, I think our ability to think reasonably is being compromised. Rational, reasonable, logical thinking is hard work. And some of us are lazy. Rather than questioning what is laid before us and determining our own logical conclusions, it is easier to let others tell us what to think. Some make decisions based on what their favored politicians and popular religious thinkers pontificate. And, Heaven help us, some make decisions based solely on what they read and see on social media.

Some don’t think there is global climate change because some group with particular business interests say it is nonsense. It is too hard to look at the scientific data that says otherwise — or even just look out the window.

Some vote for incompetent or corrupt politicians because some religious leaders have convinced them that any other choice is morally wrong. Some don’t like to question religious authority even if that authority is contradicting its own articulated values and doctrines.

Furthermore, our ability to make reasoned decisions is being undermined by the belief that the observable facts before us are somehow not true. We live in the age where one can expound a proven lie over and over and suddenly it becomes the truth. We now live in the Age of Alternative Facts. I fear that we are watching the demise of rational thought.

Kepler must be rolling over in his grave.

 

ljg (c) 2017

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Why I like Japanese-style Poetry

I am not an expert on Japanese poetry.  I don’t read or speak the language, and I have not studied the history of the genre.  I could not tell you the difference between a hokku, a haikai, a renga, or a waka.   I do know a bit about haiku and haibun because I  have tried my hand at writing these two forms in English.   I enjoy reading translations of the most famous haiku writers: Basho, Issa, and Buson.

Why do I like these forms of poetry?   It is simply that I like the clean brevity of these poems.   Only a master of the written word can convey an entire scene in just 17 syllables or a paragraph of prose poetry.    Haibun in general, and haiku in particular,  capture moments of clarity, mundane actions of ordinary people, and subtle movements of animals and plants in their natural settings.  They evoke, sometimes in just single words, the physical experience of entire seasons.  These forms are like a Polaroid snapshots of time and space.

Such poetry is often imbued with subtle, engaging humor or deep emotion.   For example, these two haiku by Basho:

Morning Glories-
Even from unskilled brushes
They look elegant

—-

The first day of the year:
thoughts come – and there is loneliness;
the autumn dusk is here.

Haiku and haibun are elegant, timeless, and completely human.

Here are some links if you care to learn a little more about these forms

A Crash Course in Japanese Poetry
The Japanese section of Shadow Poetry
About Haibun
About Haiku


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Helena

Seventeen thousand years ago my six hundred and eightieth great-grandmother lived in the Dordogne Valley in France  just along the edge of the ice sheet that covered Europe back then. Her name is Helena.

Not long ago, I took one of those DNA tests, and the results told me that my mitochondrial haplogroup was “H”. I won’t even try to explain the science – mostly because I don’t fully understand it – except to say that 95% of all individuals of European descent can trace their mitochondrial DNA (that is, the DNA that runs from mother to mother to mother) back to only seven women living in Europe around the time of the last Ice Age. There are about 30 or so such maternal genetic lines throughout the entire world.   All thirty-some groups descend from one mitochondrial mother who lived in Africa uncountable aeons ago:  Both science and the bible call her “Eve”.

The seven European clan groups are detailed in geneticist Bryan Sykes’ book, The Seven Daughters of Eve. The name the author labels the H haplogroup’s “mother” is Helena.

Helena teases my imagination.  Who was she?  What was her life like?  How many children did she have?  The Caves of Lascaux, home of the famous prehistoric cave paintings, are in the same area.  Was she there when some of the images were painted?  Did she paint any of them?   Did she practice a religion?  How did she die?

Also astounding to me is the fact that there are only 30 genetic lines going back to the first mother.  Most genetic lines have died out over the millennia.  If there are only about 30 lines left, this means we are all more closely related to each other than we think.  We should be nicer to each other, right?  That’s what families should do.

Helena, you’ve given me a lot to think about.

 

ljgloyd (c) 2017

 

Image By Prof saxx – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link


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On Grace

It has been said that grace is receiving favor where it is not deserved.

This world and the behavior of many living in it seems so ugly and foul that we may be tempted to believe that grace is an idea long gone.

Not so.   It is in the most wretched and undeserving places and people that the good and lovely are poured out.  Like a lotus rising from the mud, so goes compassion and love from a broken and bleeding soul.

 

ljgloyd