A welcome to readers

As a resident of this planet for more than four fifths of a century, I have enjoyed both successes and disappointments in a wide variety of vocations, avocations, and life experiences. This blog satisfies my desire to share some thoughts and observations--trenchant and prosaic--with those who are searching for diversions which are interesting, poignant and occasionally funny. I also plan to share recommendations about good/great movies I've watched and books and articles which I've found particularly mind-opening, entertaining, instructive. In addition, I can't pass up the opportunity to reflect publicly on how I am experiencing the so-called Golden Years. Write anytime:

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


A great question: "What does it say about a culture when schedules take precedent over the life in front of your eyes, when the ticking of a clock discourages compassionate behavior?"

The following article engages this question and reminds me  that in my desire not to be disorganized or "waste time," I often over-schedule myself and focus too much on the self-centered and material goals of my life. Many of the goals are worth, even noble. However,  by over-focusing on these goals, I tend to miss opportunities to be compassionate, helpful, thoughtful, loving, kind, supportive, etc. I may reach my scheduled goals and miss the life that is happening all around me.

Here is an article by Professor Levine at the University of California, Fresno, that deals with this issue. Given the Holiday Season that is upon us,and how this Season affects me, I think the article raises some interesting points and merits attention.


Time is money in the West. Workers are paid by the hour, lawyers charge by the minute, and advertising is sold by the second ($117,000 per second at this year’s Super Bowl). Think about this: The civilized mind has reduced time, the most obscure and amorphous of all intangibles, to the most objective of all quantities—money. With time and things on the same value scale, I can tell you how many of my working hours equal the price of the computer I am typing on.
Can I really? As a social scientist, I’ve spent much of the last 25 years studying the “personalities” of places. Much of this work has focused on the attitudes toward time held by those who inhabit those places. My colleagues and I have found vast cultural differences in definitions of what constitutes early and late, waiting and rushing, the past, the present, and the future.
Perhaps the biggest clash is between cultures that operate on clock time and those that work on event time. Under clock time, the hour on the timepiece governs the beginning and ending of activities. Lunch begins at 12 and ends at 1. Punctuality is the governing principle. When event time predominates, schedules are spontaneous. Events begin and end when, by mutual consensus, participants “feel” the time is right. Many countries exhort event time as a philosophy of life. In Mexico, for example, there is a popular adage, “Give time to time” (“Darle tiempo al tiempo”). In Liberia it is said, “Even the time takes its time.” In Trinidad it is something of a cultural bedrock that “any time is Trinidad time.”
Our own research has compared the pace of life in different cities. In an early study we conducted field experiments in the largest or other major city in each of 31 countries. One experiment, for example, timed the average walking speed of randomly selected pedestrians over a distance of 60 feet. Another experiment sampled speed in the workplace—specifically, how long it took postal clerks to fulfill a standard request for stamps. All measurements were taken during main business hours in main downtown areas under similar conditions. More recently, my colleague Stephen Reysen and I replicated these experiments in 24 cities across the United States.
We’ve found large differences in these studies. The fastest big cities in the international study, for example, tended to come from Western Europe and prosperous Asian countries, while those from traditional event-time countries (such as Mexico, Brazil, and Indonesia) tended to be slowest. The differences were often substantial. For example, on the walking-speed measure we found that pedestrians in Rio de Janeiro walked only two-thirds as fast as did pedestrians in Zurich, Switzerland. (For further details, see, for example, Levine, A Geography of Time [Basic Books]). We’ve found these differences are to at least some degree predictable by demographic, economic, and environmental characteristics of the places, and, more importantly, they have consequences for the well-being of individuals and their communities.
The consequences are mixed. On the positive side, people in faster places tend to say they are happier with their lives. We believe this reflects the economic rewards that result from making every minute “productive”: Faster cities in our studies tended to have healthier economies, and we know from other studies that people who have difficulty meeting their minimal needs tend to be less happy. (A sidebar: Money does not, however, appear to affect happiness beyond poverty. There is little difference in happiness between moderately wealthy and very wealthy individuals.)
But a fast pace of life has its costs. In another series of experiments, conducted in many of the same cities, we compared the likelihood that a passerby would assist a stranger in need. In one experiment, for example, we observed the proportion of people who went out of their way to return an inadvertently dropped pen. In another, we observed the proportion who assisted a man with an injured leg trying to pick up a dropped magazine. Not surprisingly, there were strong differences between cities (see “The Kindness of Strangers”). Perhaps the most notable finding was a negative relationship between the pace of life and helping: People in faster places were less likely to take the time to assist a stranger in need.
The problem may not be speed per se so much as feeling rushed. In a now-classic experiment, John Darley and Daniel Batson gathered a group of Princeton University Seminary students for what they understood to be a study about religious education. The students were told they’d be giving a brief talk, either about the types of jobs seminary graduates are suited for or about the parable of the “good Samaritan.” They were then directed to walk to a recording studio across campus. Along the way, they passed a man slumped in a doorway who was coughing and groaning loudly. The students were divided into two groups. Half of them were told there was no need to rush in getting to the recording studio. Almost two-thirds of this group stopped to help the suffering man. The other half of the students were told they were late and needed to hurry to the studio. Among this group, only 10 percent helped. Ninety percent were apparently too busy to stop. “Indeed, on several occasions, a seminary student going to give his talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan literally stepped over the victim as he hurried on his way,” Darley and Batson recalled.
People may ignore strangers for a variety of reasons. They may be too busy to notice, or too busy to care. They may fear how the stranger will react. Or they might simply be uncaring jerks. To the stranger in need, however, reasons are beside the point. The only thing that matters is whether they get help.
When did it become acceptable in America to treat helping strangers as “wasted time”? Everyone in the world agrees—they should, anyway—that time is our most precious commodity. But peoples’ definitions of “wasted” are another great cultural divider. To a time-is-money clock-timer it refers to anything that distracts from the task at hand. To an event-timer, however, there is nothing more wasteful than carving one’s life into inflexible, inorganic units.
I’ll never forget a conversation I once had with an exchange student from Burkina Faso in Eastern Africa. I was complaining that I’d just wasted my morning yakking in a cafĂ© instead of doing my work. He looked confused. “How can you waste time? If you’re not doing one thing, you’re doing something else. Even if you’re just talking to a friend or sitting around, that’s what you’re doing.” He said he was taught that what’s wasteful—sinful, to some—is to not make sufficient time available for the people in your life.
What does it say about a culture when schedules take precedent over the life in front of your eyes, when the ticking of a clock discourages compassionate behavior? There are plenty of experts in the United States you can pay to help plan your days more efficiently. Here’s another suggestion. Try beginning your day with a question people often ask in Brunei: “What is not going to happen today?” While you’re at it, don’t forget to give time to time.
Reprinted with permission. Dr. Robert Levine is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Fresno. He is the author of the award-winning book “A Geography of Time”, and “The Power of Persuasion: How We’re Bought and Sold[H1] ”.


Monday, November 12, 2012



In all the woods that day I was
the only living thing
fretful, exhausted, or unsure.
Giant fir and spruce and cedar trees
that had stood their ground
three hundred years
stretched in sunlight calmly
unimpressed by whatever
it was that held me
hunched and tense above the stream,
biting my nails, calculating all
my impossibilities.
Nor did the water pause
to reflect or enter into
my considerations.
It found its way
over and around a crowd
of rocks in easy flourishes,
in laughing evasions and
shifts in direction.
Nothing could slow it down for long.
It even made a little song
out of all the things
that got in its way,
a music against the hard edges
of whatever might interrupt its going.

"Passage" by John Brehm, from Help is on the Way. © The University of Wisconsin Press, 2012.

One of the unadvertised benefits of living in Colorado is the omnipresence of the grandeur of Nature, writ large and small. Each day as I look through my floor to ceiling windows, I see two images. The first is a view of Greater Denver, featuring Downtown Denver, complete with high-rise buildings, resting like a spired oasis surrounded by miles of adobe tinted suburban comfort.  I see the staggered outline of tall buildings, uneven in muted colors and height, some architecturally traditional, symmetrical, and rectangular, and others post-modern with slanted roofs and oddly spaced windows of varying sizes, textures and hues.

Downtown Denver is barely able to contain the frenetic activity of businesses, new and old, starting, established, successful, struggling. Its streets teem with office workers, shoppers, students, rich and poor, too many homeless people as well as McMansion and luxury apartment dwellers, young and old, concert patrons along with the "rad"nightclubbers who define "concert" very differently. Sitting safely here on the 11th floor of my building,  away from all that, I can remember former walks through downtown,  taking in the smells of ethnic foods in preparation, automobile exhaust, whiffs of passing perfumes, a cautionary hint of coming snow, a snuffed out match or a trail of Marlboro light, the acidic scent  of wet leaves on asphalt gutters sopping up a variety of urban detritus. Life is being lived in its many dimensions in Denver's downtown.

Looking away from the urban center at Greater Denver, and closer to my building, I mostly see the tops of trees, now stripped clean by recent winds, occasional splotches of evergreens, a few oaks retaining their  bronze and rusty colors, a still golden birch or two, and the red brick walls of a nearby apartment complex. Lights are coming on in some of their windows, and I can see, almost smell and feel,  evidence of post school and end-of-workday activity, the blue flicker of TVs, and I can imagine a thousand dinners being assembled for grateful eaters, solos as well as family.  Some are munchers, others are pickers, some are grateful and others are numb and distracted from food and companionship by their fixation on tiny screens and repetitive electronic beeps. Life is being lived here too.

Sweeping across my view, from lower right to upper mid-left, is Colorado Boulevard, designed and built wide enough, it is said, that a wagon pulled by a twelve horse team could make a 180 degree turn at full speed. The six or eight lanes are packed at days end, so I what I see is a moving block of white lights approaching me and a wide column of red brake lights receding into the distance. Their progress is regulated and spaced by red and green "stop" lights, following their own patterns, seemingly indifferent to the traffic itself--the whole scene appearing much like a moving  tennis bracelet studded with diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. Life is here too.

Way off to the left, to the West, I can see a semi-circular arc of bright, greenish-white lights illuminating SportsAuthority Field at Mile High, the home of our  Manning-blessed Broncos. A little farther South, but still west,  are the equally intense lights of Bandimere Speedway, home of serious competitive drag racing as well as go-kart events for the smaller set. Between my apartment and this view are the hoary halls of Denver University, home of the first Presidental debate, a campus identifiable from my lofty perch by two church-like steeples, one of which is clad with gold and lighted at night. DU is a prominent nationally known, private university, famous for its ranked  lacrosse and hockey teams. Locally DU is known for its concert and lecture series, for injecting real intellectuality into the community, and for the wealthy kids who attend its classes and spend their parents' money in local establishments and on the ski slopes.

In this first image of Denver--- Greater Denver and its surroundings--- the overriding themes and driving energy seem to be modernity, money, competition, excitement, anxiety, motion, achievement, updated cowboy 'west,'  avarice, "feel good spirituality," striving, mobility--all part of the admixture that contains its share of people living on the edge, drunks and thieves, sick and well, comfortable and dispossessed, secure and hurtin', Hispanics and pretend cowboys, wearers of suits and wearers of jeans.

The second images is dominated by my western vista where the foothills of the Rockies emerge like a wall from the flatness of the high plains, and behind them, rising even higher, I can see the snowcapped peaks of the Front Range of the Rockies themselves contrasted against the Colorado blue sky.

Similar to my experiences in Denver Center, I have also ventured into those mountains and have brought back indelible and lasting impressions: of total silence, of cycles of change, death and renewal; of the hardness and permanence of the rocks that make up the mountains themselves but which are also subject to the effects--over time--of the erosive forces of wind and water and freezing; the scent of evergreen pitch, the feel of pine bark under foot, a breeze smelling of snow (last year's as well as this year's); thoughts of what I project must be the lonely existence of Colorado's single wolverine living by himself with no hope of companionship or of infusing his DNA into a future generation; and that reminds me of  the large and small animals and birds and fish who continue to make their home here, year 'round, as they have for eons, without my knowledge and with no help from me or any other human being.

Neither of my two images of Denver--Greater Denvers or The Front Range appears to be  "...impressed by whatever/ it was that held me/ hunched and tense above the stream, /biting my nails, calculating all/  my impossibilities." The world's life flows on endlessly around me, kaleidoscopic in its variety, vigorous in its determination to survive, endure, and prosper, in disregarding me and my ragged nails, my pathetic little worries and concerns, my angst, stubbornly "...indifferent to entering in to my considerations."

Thursday, November 8, 2012


In the Moment

Some days the pond
wears a glaze of yellow pollen.

Some days it is clean-swept.
The trout leap up, feasting on insects.

A modest size, it sits
like a soup tureen in a surround of white

pine where Rosie, 14 lbs., some sort
of rescued terrier, part bat

(the ears), part anteater (the nose),
shyly paddles in the shallows

for salamanders, frogs
and little painted turtles. She logged

ten years down south in a kennel, secured
in a crate at night. Her heart murmur

will carry her off, no one can say when.
Meanwhile she is rapt in

the moment, our hearts leap up observing.
Dogs live in the moment, pursuing

that brilliant dragonfly called pleasure.
Only we, sunstruck in this azure

day, must drag along the backpacks
of our past, must peer into the bottom muck

of what's to come, scanning the plot
for words that say another year, or not.
"In the Moment" by Maxine Kumin

* * * *

While I have virtually no desire to be a dog now  or in my afterlife, I do confess that I am envious of the ability of Kumin's dog to "live in the moment." She said the dog's "...heart murmur will carry her off, no one can say when. Meanwhile she is rapt in the moment, our hearts leap up observing."

Long ago, when I was approaching driving age, during a routine physical exam that would permit me to participate in high school athletics, the genial old family doc, spent an unusual amount of time with his stethoscope listening to my chest in something more than his usual cursory manner. Years later, when I was about thirty and seeing a more "modern" internist for quite another issue, the doc once again spent what seemed an inordinate amount of time poised over my chest, listening intently, eyes half closed and focused on some distant shore.

"Have you always had this heart murmur?" he queried in a deliberately understated way. "What's a heart murmur?" I blurted, and somehow remembered the moment when the family doc had listened too long to my heart years before. The internist's explanation, I fear, fell on unhearing ears because I was struck deaf and dumb by a fear so profound that I was rendered immobile. I had been struck dumb by the recognition that I was mortal after all.

I have always been a person who automatically catastrophized almost anything having to do with my health. I blame this unfortunate affliction on the example set by my mother who yearly won first place honors for her ability to turn a bubble of stomach gas into the early symptoms of stage four colon cancer. Perhaps my generation's preoccupation with polio during the pre-Salk era also bent me in the direction of being much too aware of my body and its various little pains, irregularities, temperature changes, and appetites.

The point is that I envy that dog who actually knows nothing of  its heart murmur and lives life without a care or "personal" need  beyond his daily ration of Purina, some fresh water from time to time,  cower in fear of thunder and strangers, engage in giddy runs in the park with a ball or frisbee, swoon with lots of fondling, and collapse into a soft place to catch some Z's without interruption. 

In my case, I have lived  more than half my life with an ongoing and acute awareness of my chest and gut and sensitivity to what's going on inside there, scanning regularly for warning pains, pressures, etc. I've never been able to "pursue that brilliant dragonfly called pleasure" without the attendant concern, not really 'worry,'  about how I am as a physical organism.

There's a lesson to be learned here about living in the moment , I suppose, but perhaps I'm now  too old--and full of too many new real and imagined afflictions of one sort or another--to chase that dragonfly of pleasure anew, at least in the same way. I know it's increasingly hard to allow myself to attempt such a chase when I am weighed down so much by the "backpack"of my past and my concerns about what's in the "bottom muck".

Maybe I need to exchange my perpetual thinking and pondering for injections of positive, uplifting emotion-- perhaps I need to read more poetry for the pure non-physical joy of it, listen to melodious and romantic opera that gives me chills, and linger with more sensitivity over the magnificent sunsets arranged for me by the gods who live just out of sight over the snow frosted peaks of the Front Range of the Rockies.