Showing posts from December, 2008

Parisian haiku

Led by Maddy, my wonderfully multilingual daughter, the family has now been to the Louvre, the Pompidou Centre, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, le Marais, and other points about town. We bought week-long passes to public transportation, which whisks us underground to pop us up at our desired destinations with marvelous efficiency.

Along the way, I've written lots of haiku. They're all new enough that it's hard to know if they're any good. But they arise fully formed as we walk the streets. So here are a few of them.

chalices of stars display
along the Champs Elysée:
Christmas in Paris

These "chalices" are some six lines of white lights per tree, rising from the bottom of the branches, and terminating in parallel lines at the top. (These are "plane" trees -- all uniform in size and height on both sides of the street.) Every now and then, one light seems to drip down the line -- falling stars, sliding stars. But the effect of the display is of chalices, …

Branching universes

I'm in Paris, about which I'll have much more to write later. But along the way I've read two science fiction books, both older, both brought along from our used book sale.

The first I believe I read years ago: "Time-Scape," by Gregory Benford (1980). But it holds up, a complex book that predates Orson Scott Card's "Pastwatch" by many years: in the future (1998) the world is on the edge of ecological collapse. A desperate experiment ensues to communicate via tachyon beams with the past, the 1970s. The book is fascinating on many levels. It talks about the intersection between politics and science -- meaning the pursuit of funding. It illuminates the politics within academic institutions despite what is nominally supposed to be the pursuit of truth. And finally, the book is about the open-endedness of the universe. If the message is successfully communicated, the present ceases to be. And by the end of the book, at least three endings are presented: a…

Book Organizations of Colorado blog

This from Bonnie McCune at the State Library.

"The Book Organizations of Colorado now uses a blog to post book events in Colorado. The process to post events is the same, just email them to and BOOC willl post them and categorize them (month, event type etc). Using the blog gets your events posted more quickly than the web updates, and provides complete information. In addition, old events are not deleted, so folks can learn about past programs as well as future.

"The "events" page on the web site ( now has a link to the blog, which is

"Please help spread the word about the blog and keep posting your events to the BOOC list so people can blog them."

Powerful stroke of insight

My wife sent me this amazing link: "Jill Bolte Taylor's Powerful Stroke of Insight", about a brain scientist who has a stroke in her left hemisphere, and describes, with radiant expressiveness, exactly what that was like. This is one of the most astonishing speeches I've ever witnessed.

The source for this is, which reveals just how potent the web can be: an educational tool on demand, free lectures on a host of fascinating topics.

I also saw in the paper this morning an article about how some college students, stuck on a math problem, turn to Youtube math tutorials, and thereby save their academic careers.

The Internet is like a library. We have books that capture profound insights; we have a lot of commercial pap and frivolous diversions. There's a place for both -- just as Jill Bolte Taylor describes not just two different hemispheres of the brain, but two different modes of being that are united in a single body.

More challenges ... music and suicide

Not long ago, I had a visit from the father of a 15 year old young man. The son is the friend of a recent suicide, also 15. Shortly after that death, the father found about a dozen CDs in his son's possession, all checked out from the library, and many marked with "parental discretion advised."

And the father lost it. He broke many of the CDs, demanded from library staff a list of everything his son had ever checked out, and had many confrontations with his son. He also tried to call me, and I returned the calls, but we never connected.

By the time he came to see me, though (the day of the suicide's funeral), the father was in a very different mood. He presented all the CDs to me, admitted that he was the one who destroyed them, and very respectfully said that he understood that the library, and that I personally, do a lot to help the youth of our county to be healthy. But he could not square that with the availability of these CDs, many of which, he said, had themes o…

Society without God

I just finished reading a book called "Society without God: what the least religious nations can tell us about contentment," by Phil Zuckerman. Zuckerman, associate professor of sociology at Pitzer College. The book recounts his ethnographic research into an interesting puzzle. The societies of Scandinavia (particularly Sweden and Denmark) are by all measures secure and successful: low infant mortality rate, long life, among the lowest disparities between rich and poor, well educated, cared for in old age, and by their own account, quite happy. Their countries are prosperous, peaceful, and stable. They have among the lowest rates of crime, illiteracy, political corruption, and poverty in the world. They also pay high taxes. Yet the average Scandinavian is irreligious -- despite the pronouncements of Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell, and others that the absence of God can only lead to tyranny and evil.

Zuckerman divides the irreligion of Danes (based on many interviews) i…