Sunday, July 8, 2018

A 300 Year Flashback

In Great Lives, by William Jay Jacobs, one of the biographies is of John Peter Zenger (1697 – 1746) – “Printer whose trial for libel helped establish the principle of free press in America”.  The below is quoted and paraphrased from this biography.

Zenger was being tried for publishing unfavorable articles about William Cosby – a greedy, arrogant, ill-tempered, autocratic governor of the colony of New York.   You can read about just how bad he was in this short biography. 

The striking thing is not just the courage of Zenger who continued publishing despite being jailed, “not allowed pen, ink or paper” by communicating instructions to his wife and servants through the hole in the prison door, but the trial and the defense by Andrew Hamilton who was nearly 80 years old at time.

Zenger was charged with:

false News and seditions Libels” intended “wickedly and maliciously” to “scandalize and vilify His Excellency, the Governor…,” thus stirring the people to revolt from the government.

Hamilton argued that it is the government’s responsibility to prove what was published was false to reach a conviction for libel.  Here in part is Hamilton’s speech to the jury quoted from the book.

…the suppression of Evidence ought always to be taken for the strongest Evidence…If a person in government…can simply charge a person with lying and not have to prove it was a lie, any coward can cut down and destroy the innocent.  Must people be silent in the face of wicked ruler?

It sounds eerily contemporary to me.

Hamilton went on to argue that “the right of a person to complain against government is a Natural Right” – words that showed up in the Declaration of Independence about 40 years later.

The jury, despite all the obstacles of the trial, found for Zenger and thus established the freedom of the press and the liberties we enjoy today.  
After almost 300 years of enjoyment, let’s not let them go lightly.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Paintings Sold

Marcia says this is blog-worthy.  I'm not sure it is, but since I haven't done a blog entry in ten months, I thought I'd follow through with one.

Living in an apartment has one aspect that's both an advantage and a disadvantage.  It's space-limited.  The good thing is that you can't accumulate too much stuff.  The bad thing is that, if you like to paint, you run out of wall and storage space.  I don't paint a lot, but I had five paintings leaning against the wall and leaning against each other on the top of my six-foot tall bookshelf.

Since amateur paintings are not exactly a scarcity, the dilemma was how to give them new homes and make space for the future.  I hit on the idea of donating one of them to our church auction:

For Auction: Choice of (1) Original Oil Painting 

As luck would have it, my lot was the first up for bid.  I doubted that anyone would bid, and thought, absent me paying someone to take one home, I'd be bringing all five paintings back to their resting place. 

To my amazement, three of the five paintings went to new homes!

Wild Lake Spring: 16" x 20"

Three State Overlook No. 1: 24" x 20"

Three State Overlook No. 2: 20" x 16"

The bidding was for the choice of one of five paintings.  It topped out at $55 -- almost paying for the canvas.  It turns out that each bidder was bidding for different painting, so I was able to give the above three paintings new homes.

The remaining two paintings came back to their resting place on the top of my bookshelf.

Wild Lake Sunset: 12" x 12"

Glass in Sunlight: 16" x 16"

I've now sold two more paintings than Van Gogh sold in his lifetime!  But that's not the point.  The point is that someone actually liked one of my paintings enough to hang it on one of their walls.  That's encouraging.

And now for a little diversion.  I'm trying to learn to speak Spanish.  My latest venture is to write a little Spanish daily.  So here's another version of the above...escrito en malo, probablemente, español.

El sábado pasado, tenemos nuestra subasta anual de la iglesia.  Mi contribución fue una elección de una de las cinco pinturas.   Tenía miedo y preocupado que a nadie interesará y a nadie ofrecerá nada por esta ofrenda.  Además, la ofrenda de mío fue ¡el primero lote de la subasta!  Tenía muy nerviosa.  ¡Penaba que podría tener que ofrecer para pagar a la gente para a tomar una pintura!  
¡Sorprendentemente, la gente puja por el lote!  ¡Estaba asombrado que cualquiera estaba interesado y dispuesto a paga!  ¡Aún más sorprendente, fue tres pinturas fueron vendidas!
Aunque cada pintura fue comprada para $55, estoy feliz de que cualquiera querría tener una de mis pinturas colgando en su casa.
Antes esta subasta, estoy preocupado sobre la acumulación de las pinturas sobre mi estante.  Pero ahora está contendido a tener tres o cuatro pinturas ahí.  Necesito encontrar una manera de mantener mi inventario a ese nivel y vender pinturas económicamente a buenos hogares.
OK.  That's out of my system.
So, finally, I've done two more landscapes over the last few months.  They're from photos taken on our trip to Scotland last Fall.  Here they are: 
Urquhart at Lock Ness:  20" x 16"

View from Schehallion Munro: 18" x 14"

They are resting comfortably on top of the bookshelf with the two old friends brought home from the auction.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Glass of Wine and Sun

Here's the latest painting.  It's bread and wine, but  there's no religious significance.

What started it is the observation of the cool pattern that sunlight makes shining through a glass of wine.  I observed that first at a restaurant with a sky lights (and later in someone else's painting hanging in another restaurant) and wanted to give a try to capturing that.

The bread and basket were added because that's what I could scour up around the house.  I had to keep the bread in the freezer for the last month or so and the wine was from a bottle that was only suited to be painted -- not drunk!

Anyway here's the finished (well, abandoned) product.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Big History

I’m a fan of history, but not just the recent history of the last 5,000 years since humans learned how to write, but also of what happened in the 95,000 to 195,000 years of Homo sapiens existence before that.  And what about the 1,000,000 to 1,600,000 year history of our Homo erectus ancestors’ migration from Africa?

I didn’t know it but there’s a name for this type of history – big history.  But big history doesn’t just trifle with the last 2,000,000 years.  "Big History,From the Big Bang to the Present,” author: Cynthia Stokes Brown (no relation), copyright 2007, takes us back to what’s known about the beginnings of the universe.  She covers the first 13 billion years in 71 pages before we even get to early agriculture beginning around 8,000 BC as a precursor to the start of early cities around 3,500 BC.

Of course, as time goes on we know more about what has happened, but it’s a real mistake to think that humans (or even any kind of life is anything but Johnny come lately.

I’ve seen these kinds of projections before but here are some excerpts from a table cited in chapter 3 compressing the creation of the universe into 13 years (Source: David Christian, “World History in Context,” Journal of Would History, December 2002, 440.). 

“If the universe had begun 13 years ago,” we would see the following milestones in history: 

·         Existence of Earth – last 5 years
·         Many celled organism – last 7 months
·         Asteroids that killed off dinosaurs – 3 days ago
·         Emergence of Homo sapiens – 53 minutes ago
·         The entire history of civilization began – 3 minutes ago
·         Modern industrial societies began – last 6 seconds
Later in the last six seconds, the book ends with a discussion of human “experiment with Earth.”  It put forth some not so happy scenarios regarding population growth and resource utilization.

Reading the book reinforces to me the miracle and fragility of human existence.  It reminds me that we largely live our lives out of context with what has come before.  We assume that all the progress of the last 6 six seconds is normal, has been here all along and is guaranteed to continue indefinitely – none of which is true.  We abuse our only planet when we have no viable alternative home and bicker with each other about politics, money, power, religion and other trivial matters instead of working together to address existential matters for our species and its survival.

Here’s hoping that we can somehow come together and get our act together before it’s too late.

An interesting factoid among many mentioned in the book is that consumption of sugar in Europe went up from 4 pounds per capita in 1700 to 18 pounds per capita in the early 1800s.  That’s quite a change in an instant of time.  But consider that in the US, we now consume more than 125 pounds of sugar per capita.  Hmm…think there’s a connection to our obesity crisis?

Monday, June 26, 2017

The Miracle We Exist

I just finished Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s new book “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.”  With my limited knowledge of science, I can’t say I followed it all, but a couple of things jumped out at me. 

First in discussing the composition of the universe, he notes visible matter (all the planets, stars and galaxies) account for no more than 5% of the mass.  The other 95% is composed of dark energy (68%) and dark matter (27%).  In discussing dark matter – which we know nothing about – he says one possible explanation is it:

“…could be just one of an infinite assortment of universes that comprise the multiverse.  Sounds exotic and unbelievable.  But is it any more crazy than the first suggestion that that the Earth orbits the Sun?  That the Sun is one of a hundred-billion stars in the Milky Way?  Or that the Milky Way is but one of a hundred galaxies in the universe?” (Page 89).

It’s mind-bending and awe-inspiring to contemplate the known size of our universe, much less what came before it 14 billion years ago when it was “contained in a volume less than one-trillionth the size of the period that ends this sentence.”   And what could lie beyond our universe?

What would happen if humans stopped to think about our miracle of existence?  How would it shape our interactions with each other and with our planet?  I think we would be profoundly different. 

But how do we get the word out?  That’s the challenge.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Moving to a Continuing Care Community at 65

Recently the CEO of Vantage House decided it would be good for the Board to hear directly from residents about how they made the decision to move here and their experiences since doing so.  For some unknown reason, I was picked to be the first “volunteer.” 

Here’s, in part, of what I said:

…My wife, Marcia, and I moved to Vantage House late last June.  To our adult daughters, it seemed like a rash decision.   And in some ways, it was. 

We decided to investigate Vantage House one spring-like day the prior February, while on a walk around Lake Kittamaqundi.    Less than five months later, we had sold the house we had built ten years earlier, downsized and moved in to a one-bedroom unit here awaiting the availability of a two-bedroom unit.  It gave our daughters whiplash.  And for us, it was some time until our respective stomachs caught-up with our brains’ decision.

But it really wasn’t a quick decision.  We had watched the positive experiences of Marcia’s parents living in a Continuing Care Community (Meno Haven, in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania) for about 20 years.  About five years ago, we investigated (at Marcia’s suggestion) continuing care communities in New Hampshire where my older daughter and her family lives.  We spent a December week exploring five or six communities and learning about the concept of Continuing Care Communities.  Do you know how cold it gets in New Hampshire in December?

When we built our house, it was to be a retirement home.  But as Marcia retired in 2010 and I got closer to retirement in 2016, we realized that:

  1. The remote location of the house was not conducive to having a post-employment community
  2. In my declining years, it didn’t seem prudent for me to be climbing ladders, shoveling a quarter-mile drive and being the care-taker for building and grounds. 

Hence the “snap decision” a year ago in February.

The transition to Vantage House and our living here have both exceeded anything we expected.  We were pleasantly surprised by some things we had not counted on.

·    We had never asked and didn’t know about the weekly housing-keeping provided each week.  How cool.

·    We couldn’t anticipate the service orientated – culture of the staff.  They really care about the residents and (being a former HR manager) I can see that employee selection and orientation and the workplace culture perpetuate that sense of care and service.
·     We didn’t anticipate the benefit the in-house fitness staff. 

Marcia began attending fitness classes as soon as we moved in, but I didn’t begin attending until I retired in December, choosing instead to take advantage of the fitness facility in the mornings before work.  Once I retired, I decided to join Marcia in an 8:00 AM boot camp workout conducted by fitness staff.  I thought I’d go to boot camp, work out with some of my more mature friends and then go to the fitness center for a real workout.  Instead, after boot camp, I went for a shower and a nap.  It seems the exercises are adapted to what you can do and one can do a little more at 66 than his 90-something-year-old classmates, for example.

Finally, and most importantly, Vantage House gives us the community we need in our post-employment years.   The size of the community is just right and the people familiar.  Before building our house in Baltimore County, we had lived in Columbia for 30 years and raised our family here.  There’s something about Columbia and the values of the people here that resonates with us unlike any other place we know.  Vantage House is microcosm of Columbia – the people, the values and the community. 

So, we feel we made the right decision to come here and to come here now.  We know we’ve move here on the early end of the age curve, but we feel that, if we’re lucky, we’ll catch up to everyone.  Meanwhile, we hope to enjoy many more years living here in this vibrant and caring community.


While I’m still getting used to the retirement thing, having to articulate this helps me down the path.  Who knew that would be a benefit of this assignment.

Thursday, April 6, 2017


I’m reading a short book translated and edited by Phillip Freeman:  How to Grow Old, Ancient Wisdom for the Second Half of Life.  How ancient?  It was written by Cicero in 45 BC.  He was in his early 60’s at the time, so I don’t know how accurate that “second half of life” thing was.  Anyway, this passage caught my eye: 

Yet I suspect that you are troubled by the same political events of our day that are causing me such anxiety. 

I think it was Mark Twain that said, “history doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes.”  This rhymes for me.
I found some more recent rhymes in Presidential Anecdotes, by Paul F. Boller, Jr.  The revised edition that I read was published in 1996, so it only goes through Bill Clinton, but there are some interesting nuggets to help give perspective on our current political situation.

I’m struck with the notion that we’ve had more bad presidents than good ones.  Here’s my read:

·         Washington – great.
·         Adams #1 – overshadowed by Washington.
·         Jefferson – good.
·         Madison – “…not a great President, but one of America’s great statesmen.” (p.45)
·         Monroe – respectable, but not a lot happened on his watch.
·         Adams #2 – probably a better as a post-president than a president.
·         Jackson – popular but rough.
·         Van Buren – a waffler.
·         Harrison #1 – dead after one month.
·         Tyler -- anti-federalist veto-er.
·         Polk – effective but not popular.
·         Taylor – good soldier, bad president.  Died two years into office from effects from heat when laying the cornerstone for the Washington Monument on 7/4/1850.
·         Fillmore – well…his wife installed the White Houses’ first bathtub.
·         Pierce – northern man who supported the institution of slavery.  Helped to bring about the civil war.
·         Buchanan – last on the watch before the civil war.
·         Lincoln – great but not exactly seen that way in his day.
·         Johnson – “Andrew Johnson’s presidency was a failure” (p. 147).  Enough said.
·         Grant – great man bad president.
·         Hayes – ineffective.
·         Garfield – assassinated early in term.
·         Arthur – good, but not popular.  Not re-elected.
·         Cleveland – an honest man! (page 179)
·         Harrison #2 – didn’t get along with Congress.
·         McKinley – Kind.  Killed in office.
·         Roosevelt, TR – Bigger than life.
·         Taft – Bigger than Roosevelt (around the middle, anyway).  Fair to middling as to accomplishments.
·         Wilson – Racist but good president.
·         Harding – Nice man, bad president.
·         Coolidge – in the helm at the run-up to the great depression.  Slept eleven hours a day – nine or ten hours at night and a two-hour to four-hour nap.
·         Hoover – good pre-president and post-president but not effective in his term (which was 1929 – 1933 for crying out loud!).
·         Roosevelt, FD – one the greatest.
·         Truman – decisive.  His stock is now high but it wasn’t in his time.
·         Eisenhower – a great general and probably a more effective president than he was given credit for.
·         Kennedy – too short a term.
·         Johnson – crude but effective.  Brought down by Viet Nam.
·         Nixon – sheesh!
·         Ford – nice man.  Kind of palette cleanser.
·         Carter – a great ex-president.
·         Regan – celebrated, but ran up the debt.  Time will tell.
·         Bush #1 – good public servant and better than Bush #2.
·         Clinton – you know.

Read the book yourself and see what you think, but I look at the list and see only a handful of leaders who made a difference and in most cases, they served in extraordinary times.  The rest of the time, it seems like the country muddled through with or in spite of whomever was at the helm.

In most cases the executive branch has not been that influential.  Here’s a quote (page 264) from historian Henry Adams to Franklin Roosevelt when Franklin was Assistant Secretary of the Navy:

“Young man, I have lived in this house many years and seen occupants of the White House across the square come and go, and nothing you minor officials or the occupant of that house can do will affect the history of the world for long!”  

Kind of re-assuring.

Things are different now than they ever have been with instant access to news and non-news, changes to executive powers and the like.  When I was first out of college, wise friend told me that politics follows a pendulum.  A swing to the far right or left, always comes back center.   

Here’s hoping that for the good of future generations, we can swing back to some kind of balance that takes civilization forward in the coming years and decades.  It may take the next generation to do that, though.  Stay tuned.