Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Invented Usage and The Tomato

Invented Usage has some interesting thoughts about how we use language. The author's are, or were, students at Brown University, who from what I gather - majored in Linguistics, the study of language.

According to Wikipedia, the journalist and author, Russ Rymer said -

"Linguistics is arguably the most hotly contested property in the academic realm. It is soaked with the blood of poets, theologians, philosophers, philologists, psychologists, biologists, anthropologists, and neurologists, along with whatever blood can be got out of grammarians."

It's fascinating to think about how imprecise language can be and yet how well it sometimes works for (or against) us. A simple example, can be seen in the question -

Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?

The short answer is - Who cares?

To a botanist, "technically speaking" a tomato is a fruit (or maybe it's a berry - I don't care). To anybody else a tomato is a tomato, although we might refer to it generically as a vegetable when making a salad, soup or juice. The word vegetable has no scientific meaning so "technically speaking" a tomato is both a fruit and a vegetable. This is nonsense...but bear with me for a second.

So from a scientific point of view, we are not technically correct to call a tomato a vegetable - but if we want to communicate, and not just annoy people by reminding them that botanically-speaking a tomato is a fruit, we fit the tomato into the general category of vegetable.

If you are stocking the produce department in a grocery store you would want to know that tomatoes are considered a vegetable. If you were working on an ad campaign for tomato soup you would not want to use phrases like hot and fruity, great fruit taste, or chock full of fruitiness.

The proper word and it's meaning are contextual.

If I say tomato to a botanist maybe she will immediately think aha he's talking about the seed bearing ovary of a plant, the fruit, the berry. If I said "that's one nice looking tomato", in the right context (1930's) someone might think I was speaking about an attractive woman. If I went to a play and someone asked me how I liked it and I said "I wish I had brought some tomatoes", they might know I didn't like it. If I said "Tomato!" at the Celebratory Tomato Fighting Festival in Buñol Spain, someone might think "Duck!"


But what is a tomato really?

Nothing we can say, or write (although some poets may come close), can define the whatness of a tomato. A tomato might be a tasteless lump of pulp grown hydroponically, or in a greenhouse somewhere, and trucked thousands of miles to a huge supermarket. A tomato might be picked fresh off a vine in a gardener's patch, sliced and lightly salted - for enjoying right on the spot on a sunny summer day.


I find the study of language interesting, but there is something to be said, in a Zen sort of way - for forgetting about language entirely.

Language is so limiting, that in some instances we are better off using dance, sculpture, painting or music to communicate - or we can sometimes fall back on the direct experience of what a thing is.

Back to the tomato (or as some may say - tomahto). Life is so short, we might find our time better spent growing, cooking or eating tomatoes, than trying to decide if a tomato is really a fruit, a veggie or a berry.


Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson

Monday, July 23, 2007

Nothing to Say

I'm having a hard time finding time to write and things to write about. I'm not sure if it's because it's Summertime and the livin is easy or because I've been so wrapped up in my job...or ?

I just don't feel a creative spark - when I try to write it feels forced, almost like I'm bored with myself. Nothing exciting, maybe it's best to just rest - just wait - stop, look and listen.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Online Resource for Articles on the History of Religion, Theology and Ethics

Religion Online has more than 6,000 articles and chapters on topics including the Old and New Testament, Theology, Ethics, History and Sociology of Religion, Communication and Cultural Studies, Pastoral Care, Counseling, Homiletics, Worship, Missions and Religious Education.

Touches on writing of - Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, John Wesley, Charles Darwin, Soren Kierkegaard, Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, Alfred North Whitehead and others.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Joy and Awe In God's Presence

"Emotions, therefore, play an important part in the process of understanding Christianity. Sometimes, Holmer reminds us, the exercise of an emotion is the best display of understanding possible. A child who doesn't fear the flame has failed to understand fire. The person who knows joy and awe in God's presence is beginning to grasp the concept of 'God,' whereas the person who talks glibly about God without awe, fear or joy has failed to grasp something basic."

Source: Disciplined by Theology: A Profile of Paul Holmer

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Heart of Summer

I've been reminiscing about when and what would constitute the heart of summer. I have an idea that one specific time of summer could be considered the heart that every thing before leads to and every thing after leads away from. Sometime after school is out and before harvest and school starts up again.

I've played with the notion that it's the 4th of July. The anticipation of fireworks, picnics and the long summer nights. I can't put my finger on it. There are lots of events and activities that make summer special. Baseball (major league down to pee wee) could be part of it, it might be when time starts to slow down when you are 10 or 11 years old and you look forward to long days swimming, biking, reading and playing.

I looked forward to going to the library when I was that age...not so sure that would commonly be considered a great summertime activity for 10 year olds - but in a small Montana town without TV (very fuzzy in the summer), FM radio, or a movie theater - and before I could drive or work - the library was pretty appealing to me.

I got to know our old library and the old librarians quite well in the summer. The library was in the county courthouse. You entered a big lobby with a cool clickity marble floor when you came in the front door. More likely than not - no one would be in the lobby and it would be very quiet (same for the library which would generally be empty except for the librarian). I looked forward to finding anything that looked interesting and having lots of time to read it. I had as much time as I wanted to browse the stacks and maybe get a few hints from the librarians.

So maybe that's it - the heart of summer is when time starts to slow down. When you find yourself with a a big expanse of nothing, and consequently everything you want, to do.

May you find enough time to have nothing to do this summer.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Can We Save the Internet?

Can We Save the Internet? is a interesting exchange between Kevin Kelly - who is among other things - the author of a variety of books and the founder of Wired Magazine, and Andrew Keen the author of the book The Cult of the Amateur and a self-proclaimed polemicist when it comes to Web 2.0.

Andrew Keen's basic message is that we need paid professionals to provide us with culture - which he defines as TV, music, books, newspapers and magazines. The internet messes that up with a bunch of amateurs providing us with lots of choices besides the ideal culture we would get from paid professionals.

He has gotten some internet/digital/technological types quite upset.

I don't think the printed word, music, or knowledge in general, is endangered by the development of the internet - with one important proviso - everyone needs to have an education.

Not an internet-based education or a college-based technical, scientific or engineering education, but a good old fashioned liberal arts type of education that teaches us - how to learn, to be thoughtful and informed citizens, how to differentiate fact from opinion, to question and understand the source of information, some of the biases that may be in play, different philosophies, religions, arts and basic civility/manners.

As long as we have that educational background we don't have to worry that technology (Wikipedia for example) will destroy our ability to continue to evolve as human beings. A good education teaches us to be smart consumers of culture/media and Wikipedia will find it's proper place in the hierarchy of resources available. I'm being a bit elitist here and worry that Andrew Keen may have some points that make sense if we consider people other than those who enjoy the benefits of a good education (who by my definition understand the importance of books, alternate points of view, teachers, professionals). I can temper that elitist statement by saying I don't believe a good education necessarily is, or has to be, provided by a college or university - considering one of my favorite thinkers - the self-educated longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer.

The internet is similar to TV, magazines or newspapers. You have material for people who like to think (Nova/Time/New York Times) and those who don't (Fox News/People/National Enquirer). I don't see this as a problem - and hope everyone has the opportunity to get a good education so they can choose to think when they want to and goof off when they don't.

I find myself agreeing with some of what Andrew Keen has to say in the archives of his blog The Great Seduction, and in the discussion with Kevin Kelly - particularly the misguided notion that we have some absolute right to anonymity when we interact with others in the public sphere. I'm all for people using real names when they communicate with others whether it be by telephone, internet, written word or in person. That seems like basic good manners but it goes beyond that when people become amateur - book reviewers, encyclopedia writers, doctors or lawyers on the internet.

There are other issues with anonymity that range from the annoying - spam, insults/flaming on comments, to the dangerous if we consider the hazards that may lie online for unsupervised or uninformed young people.

We all have a right to privacy but that is not at all the same as saying we have a right to be anonymous. We trade our anonymity in order to be able to participate in certain activities (flying on commercial airplanes or driving a car for example). The question then becomes how much anonymity is the right amount for a netizen in this digital age.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Debunking the Debunkers

Snopes.com is a popular website for people who are unable to detect silly stuff that is passed around on the internet, email or sometimes finds it's way into newspapers, magazines or television.

I generally have a pretty good nose for that sort of thing so I'm not much of a fan of that site. I also have a problem with depending on any one source as the authority for complex issues. Snopes is good for "debunking" silly things like getting money for forwarding email via the Microsoft/AOL Giveaway

What they are not so good at is providing information about more complex topics outside the realm of internet-based urban legends. A case in point is the assertion by the editors of Snopes.com that the recommendation that we drink Eight Glasses of water a day is an urban legend.

It is certainly true that there is no hard and fast rule about how much water a person has to drink to be healthy. A roofer working in the hot sun, or someone riding in the Tour de France obviously needs more water than a desk jockey shuffling papers.

The problem with the Snopes.com article is that it is filled with misinformation - if you compare what they have to say with the National Institute of Health, Mayo Clinic or the Cleveland Clinic - to name a few sources that we would associate with giving us accurate medical health related information.

I think there is a lot to learn (in general) and it would be foolish to put your faith in any one person, website, book as having the answers. It would be even more foolish to use a non-medical non-peer reviewed source like Snopes to decide how much water we should drink.

Some people are able to figure out how much water to drink by incorporating adequate exercise and water into their life, until they reach a plateau in their feeling of well-being, other people who have done demanding physical activity (long distance bike rides, difficult hikes or climbing, hard labor) learn how important adequate hydration is and know how silly the assertions in the Snopes.com article are (that we could get adequate water from the food we eat for example)....without having to read anything from more reliable sources on this topic.

I think the problem is that whoever wrote that article for Snopes is not a nurse, doctor, nutritionist, athlete, or even particularly interested in health issues - assuming if they were they would have done adequate research. They "debunked" the rule that we all have to drink 8 glasses of water a day (calling it a medical myth), but in the process provided a page of misinformation or at least incomplete information that is apparently intended to discourage people from drinking water? I guess they proved that it isn't really true that we have to drink 8 glasses of water a day - Who cares? Who thought that was a fact to begin with?

Snopes is intended to inform people that they shouldn't believe everything they read, so I guess they fulfilled that mission.

There are a lot of good reasons to drink enough water and it would be silly to not do something that easy if it means we can feel better and do more.

I'm going to go get a cold class of water now.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Making Happiness

Dan Gilbert, psychology professor at Harvard, and author of "Stumbling on Happiness", demonstrates just how poor we humans are at predicting (or understanding) what will make us happy.

We have the ability to envision (simulate) future happiness. We tend to think that external events or things will cause us to be happy or unhappy because that is what our culture teaches us. In our capitalistic consumer-driven world we are bombarded with messages telling us more is better and that things can make us happy. We would be happy if only we had that car, or that computer, that house, that vacation, those clothes - ad infinitum.

We are tricked/indoctrinated/brainwashed into this way of thinking because that is what drives our economy. Very little could be marketed to the Zen Buddhists or followers of the teachings of Jesus, - because they don't want "things", consequently we see Zen ideas relegated to fringe groups, and mainstream pseudo-Christian teachings that fit in both with capitalism and the associated idea that external things bring happiness - peace, love, and joy.

The fact of the matter is that we make our own happiness and it has very little to do with external events. We all have some idea about how this works when we see people who supposedly "have it all" but turn out to be miserable and others who have very "have very little" - and yet are quite happy.

One of the counterintuitive examples Dan Gilbert uses is our ability to predict what impact two extremely different events would have on our lives. Losing the use of our legs and winning the lottery. You'd think one would clearly make us unhappy and the other happy - turns out that 's not the case. Research showed that six months after those events occurred people were just as happy (or unhappy) as they were prior.

Happiness comes from the inside-out not from the outside-in. It doesn't matter where you are, who you are, what you do - you have the ability to choose your attitude - including an attitude of happiness. Not to say that's easy, but if we could give up on the idea that happiness is something that lies in the future after we get that car, job, house, wife, husband, etc..etc..etc.. we would at least have a fighting chance of finding peace, love and joy (happiness) right here right now.

This video of Dan Gilbert's presenting some of his ideas, is one of many interesting pieces available from Technology Entertainment Design (TED)

Monday, July 09, 2007


Edge has some interesting things to read on technology, science and culture.

One feature that seems odd to me that there are a fair number of articles attempting to disparage the varieties of religious belief on the general principal that they are "unscientific".

Of course they are.

There are also articles debating/attacking authors who have written books that try to prove some fundamental religious belief using science, or disprove science using some religious belief system (either of which are a waste of time). I can see why it would be tempting to take potshots at this shoddy thinking - but why bother?

Religious belief systems were not arrived at by scientific means and any attempt to prove those systems using scientific methods is bound to failure.

Religion is based on faith. A faith in the unknown, unknowable, and ultimately unexpressible mysteries that surround us.

I'm not sure why smart scientific/technical types would spend the time and energy to disprove some misguided religious person's attempt to show that some fundamentalist religious beliefs can be scientifically proven. For example - attempts to prove scientifically that the Biblical stories of Genesis, Adam and Eve and the Fall, are literally "true" is bad science and bad theology.

Can't we just leave it at that? Why waste our time reading, discussing or writing books filled with bad science or bad theology?

Some technological/scientific types get upset with spirituality, faith and religion and may even turn science into a God, or atheism into a fundamentalist religion - because they don't like the idea that some things are beyond our ability to know or express - that there will always be mystery....and as we continue on that slippery slope we might find that the study of science becomes a dead end.

The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkagaard had it right - we approach our faith in fear and trembling - because we've done all we can logically, scientifically, mathematically, biologically, and spiritually - get to the edge and look into the abyss...and still we don't know. We reach that point where we finally take a leap of faith, and that's that. We don't have to explain why and couldn't if we tried.

Ludwig Wittgenstein picks up on that theme with the idea that anything truly important cannot be expressed - language fails us at some point.

"When a person says something what he or she means depends not only on what is said but also on the context in which it is said. Importance, point, meaning are given by the surroundings. Words, gestures, expressions come alive, as it were, only within a language game, a culture, a form of life. If a picture, say, means something then it means so to somebody. Its meaning is not an objective property of the picture in the way that its size and shape are. The same goes of any mental picture. Hence Wittgenstein's remark that "If God had looked into our minds he would not have been able to see there whom we were speaking of.""

Source - Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Zen of course points us in the direction of not-knowing, using Koans to free us from our logical thought-processes.

I like the idea that there are mysteries we don't understand because that leads us to potentialities beyond what we can imagine. It leads us to joy, humor, humility, care for our fragile planet and the life on it.

Everett Farmers Market

Local strawberries, peaches, cherries and blueberries are all perfectly ripe and available at the Everett Farmers Market on Sundays from 11 am to 4 pm. You can also find a large variety of cut flowers and vegetables from local farmers, as well as live music, plants, crafts and a variety of food items.

I bought this bunch of cut flowers for 5 dollars yesterday, plus a half flat of blueberries from Everett, a few pounds of Rainier cherries from the Yakima Valley and some really nice looking strawberries from the Skagit Valley.

The farmers market is located on Marine View Drive on the Everett Waterfront.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

787 Rollout

It was a nice day in Everett, Washington for the premier of Boeing's newest airliner the 787 Dreamliner. People from all over the world participated, including team members located in Everett, Italy, Japan and Wichita, Kansas.

The 787 will be fuel efficient, quiet and comfortable. As of July 8th customers have ordered a record 677 airplanes.

These pictures are from inside the Everett factory prior to the unveiling, then as they started to open the doors and finally a shiny 787 sitting in the sun.

Friday, July 06, 2007

No Egg - Egg Salad Sandwich

Jo's Coffee in Austin serves a vegan egg salad sandwich that I wanted to try and recreate.

My recipe is simple -

Drain and cube a container of Firm Silken Tofu (you don't want to use anything too firm since you are trying to match the mouth feel of hard boiled eggs).

Add - Mustard(s) - (I used a couple of different types), Vegenaise, Sea salt, Pepper, Diced Onion, Diced Dill Pickle, and Magic Salt Free Seasoning (optional - I used it because someone gave it to me and I like the blend of seasonings). You can adjust the Vegenaise to mustard ratio to come up with the taste you like.

Basically make an egg salad the way you normally would but substitute tofu for eggs. Some people like celery, dill, black or green olives, chives, green onion, celery seed, celery salt, paprika..etc., in an egg salad.

Serve on toast with lettuce if you like.

In my cooking world, an egg salad is a potato salad without the potato - so if you feel like making a potato salad just peel and boil some potatoes - allow them to cool, then dice and throw them in your egg salad.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


As we get older, the passage of time can seem to be accelerating. Part of the reason for this is our concept of time is relative, 1 year to a 5 year old is what 10 years is to a 50 year old - that is to say it's 20% of the time they have been on this earth. Time also slips away because we lose clear ways to differentiate one day, week, month, or year from another, we live for the future rather than in the present and we lose ourselves (literally) in all sorts of distractions.

When I was a kid I knew exactly what time of year it was, because there were key dates that my world revolved around - start of school, Christmas, end of school, start of summer, swimming pool opening, 4th of July, swimming pool closing and end of summer.

I was interested in the first snow and start of skiing and sledding, football, basketball, track, and baseball seasons, when the rivers dropped and fishing could start, the onset of spring and the chance to get out of winter clothes and outside more - lots of events to distinguish one time of year from another.

I was acutely aware of how old I was, and how old I wished I was - until I hit 21.

Kids know exactly how old they are, sometimes including the number of months, or fraction of a year when they tell you their age. There are important milestones associated with how old they are; starting pre-school, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, junior high, high school, getting a drivers license, the right to vote, reaching the legal age to - drink, join the military, get a job.

Once you join the world of work the years can start to fly by. For people who work indoors this may be even more of a slippery slope, since there is no clear difference between one season and another - unless they have outside activities that keep them connected. At least a construction worker, a truck driver or a farmer knows what season it is while he or she is at work.

All the wonderful entertainment, and interesting things, available via the internet, radio, TV, DVD's, magazines, books - make it harder for us to keep in touch with the natural world and can also lull us into a state where time can move at a very fast clip.

Regardless of our occupation, we can slow things down if we find ways to re-enter a childlike sense of wonder by learning and doing new things, and by balancing our life with activities that bring us into contact with the natural world (gardening, walking, biking...etc.)

We can literally slow down and enjoy living in the present moment, appreciating what is right in front of us.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

You Can't Fight This (Cupcake) Feeling Anymore

I ran across the The Post Punk Kitchen: Vegetarian Cooking & Vegan Baking With No Attitude website and was impressed. The hosts, Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, had a TV show (currently on hiatus) on public access in New York City, but there are four videos of the show on Google Video including Episode 4 which, from the Google Video description, is -
"Mexcellente! 2 words: ¡VEGAN TAMALES! Another word: Horchata! Isa and Terry are back again with a Mexican themed fourth PPK. Musical guests the Cuban Cowboys"

The videos are entertaining and informative and the website includes lots of information including lots of recipes for vegan cupcakes in the you can't fight this feeling anymore section.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Paradise Lost?

Daisetz T. Suzuki
"Paradise has never been lost and therefore is never regained...

We see it always ahead of us though we are in reality always in it. This is the delusion we are conditioned to have as beings in time or rather as "becomings" in time. The delusion ceases to be one the very moment we experience all this. It is the Great Mystery, intellectually speaking. In Christian terms, it is Divine Wisdom. The strange thing, however, is: when we experience it we cease to ask questions about it, we accept it, we just live it. Theologians, dialecticians and existentialists may go on discussing the matter, but the ordinary people inclusive of all of us who are outsiders live "the mystery."

A Zen Master was once asked:

Q. What is Tao (We may take Tao as meaning the ultimate truth or reality.)
A. It is one's everyday mind.
Q. What is one's everyday mind?
A. When tired, you sleep; when hungry, you eat."

From a dialogue with Daisetz T. Suzuki and Thomas Merton in the book - Zen and the Birds of Appetite -

Monday, July 02, 2007

On The Virtues of Solitude

Hermitary.com is filled with interesting information on solitude from a wide range of thinkers, poets, religious figures and authors - including Thoreau, Emily Dickenson, Thomas Merton, Rainer Maria Rilke, Nietzsche, Jack Kerouac and various other.

Lots of interesting things to read and browse through.

I found the review of the book "Your Money or Your Life" by Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin presented a different point of view on the virtues of what some call "simplicity", compared to what you might see on say this PBS review. The reviewer goes so far as to say, "These are rote formulas for tightwads and eccentrics, not advice for someone who has left all this behind and is seeking deeper roots to simplicity."

This comment is written from the point of view of someone who sees virtue in a life based on a Christian or Buddhist tradition of non-attachment.

Devoting a major portion of our time and energy to managing, thinking, and maybe obsessing over money and other material possessions - hoping that we will have the right amount at some point, is a never ending quest and anything but simple. It can distract us from the simple things that truly give our lives meaning - love for ourselves and one another.

We cultivate our feelings of compassion, faith in the abundance of all things, and a quietness of spirit by letting go, not by grasping on to the latest way to get more, do more or be more. At some point we realize what we have, what we do and who we are, is enough and in fact is perfect.

Just for today - stop and smell the roses - it's all right in front of us, we just have to look.

Wishing you a great Monday and a happy 4th of July.


"I love people. I love my family, my children . . . but inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that's where you renew your springs that never dry up."

Pearl S. Buck


"It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am the more affection I have for them…. Solitude and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say."

Thomas Merton

Sunday, July 01, 2007

A Low Impact Woodland Home

A hobbit-like house built by a young man from Portugal, who lives in it with is wife and two young children. It looks cozy, although I'd be interested to hear some first person reports on how it's been working out long-term. Interesting nonetheless.

The context of the house talks about permaculture, homelessness and government planning rules that prevent alternative forms of housing.