Sunday, January 30, 2005

Reliving Childhood Memories - Looking Back from 94

The conversations my father and I share are lengthy and wide ranging. We spent a good deal of time speaking about politics - he is more Republican leaning, but both of are views are nuanced so we can have good discussions and arguments.

We recalled two childhood experiences that are much common now, at least in urban areas. "BB Guns" and firecrackers. He was given a BB gun by his father when he was about six years old. The BB gun remained in the family and I had it has well. This was one of a collection of nearly 20 toy guns, as I recall - more than any other boy in the neighborhood. Later I also received a BB pistol as a Christmas present. I would build exact replicas of eighteenth century warships out of plasticene and then simulate battles, shooting them up with my BB pistol. This was a great way to pass the time when I was sick. And childhood illnesses were - whooping cough, measles, chicken pox, flu were much longer then. Antibiotics didn't become widely available until I was a teen ager. On the other hand we had the same kind an empathetic family doctor throughout my growing up - and he made house calls!

Both my father and I shared experiences of mischief in which we engaged as boys (I will keep this in confidence). However there were no mass shootings in schools, like Columbine.

Firecrackers were legal when he was growing up - he was born in 1908 - and at least quasi leagal when I was groiwng up, circa 1942-50. He bought me my first cap pistol when I was about six or seven. He recalled when his father took him into the basement and they each shot his fathers derringer into the coal pile so he could see how it worked. I remember the derringer as well, and the service revolver his father carried as a Seventh Regiment Officer. My cousin and I happily played with these guns - fortunately there were no bullets and I can't remember us pointing them at each other.

We did discuss a lot of things other than guns, but these are the things that stick out in my recollection.

You should seek out your grandfather, or great grandfather if you have one (or grandmother or great grandmother) and see if they will share recollections of their childhood with you. This can be great fun, as it was for both of us, this birthday weekend.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

94 Years Old - Happy Birthday

I can't write much this Saturday morning because I am driving north to my visit my father. We will be celebrating his 94th birthday, today. What is it like to live 94 years? I can't imagine. Since my family is quite long lived, however, I may find out. My father drives, plays golf, enjoys good food, has an incredibly acute mind, is a wonderful conversationalist. One thing about being 94 - you have, essentially, no contemporaries. Everyone that you knew, that you shared your life with is dead. You are always the oldest person in the room.

If I do live to celebrate my 94th birthday, I hope my father's wisdom and sense of inner peace can be a role model. I hope I will still have my wits about me and enjoy a good meal. And I hope that one of my children will be packing his or her bags to come and celebrate with me.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Curiosita (Curiosity)

Here is a great quote that I used in the intro to this week's CTE Management Group Meeting Agenda.
The authority pleasing, questioning suppressing, rule-following approach to education may have served to provide society with assembly line-workers and bureaucrats, but it does not do much to prepare us for a new Renaissance.

Leonardo da Vinci’s life was an exercise of creative problem solving of the very highest order. The principle of Curiosita provides the primary key to his method. It beings with an intense curiosity and an open mind, and proceeds with a stream of questions asked from different perspectives.
Michael Gelb, How to think like Leonardo da Vinci, pp. 66-67.
Did you know that the Latin root of "education" is educare, which means "to draw forth?"

Monday, January 24, 2005

This and That

The following is an excerpt from an email I wrote to my wife last night. It was part of an elegant blot that I crafted and then - reflexively - erased. It was getting late.

I did get to AU OK, but parts of the drive were about as unpleasant and dangerous a snow drive as I have experienced. As I left home, there was an interview with the Virginia Director of snow removal (or something like that). The woman cheerily explained how they had 600 salt trucks and 1200 plow trucks at the ready so that the interstates at least would be clear. Ha! After Manassas, the roads were far from clear, traffic was often bumper to bumper, visibility poor and the road deep in icy mush. Most drivers were conducting themselves sanely, except truck drivers, of course, and on SUV driver, near DC who obviously knew nothing about skids and fishtailed across 4 lanes of 495 other cars staying out of the way and praying. My big worry was that I would burn out my clutch, but my little car survived and delivered a safe passage three and a half hours after departure! I have never been so glad to pull into the AU parking garage. When I awoke from a brief nap about 5:00 the skies were clear and I wondered what the point of going through all of that had been, but the weather reports did say more snow at night.

As you surmised I did go out shopping later in the evening - the barriers to the Anderson courtyard were down and so I was able to bring my bags straight in, instead of having to port them 75 yards or so, which is the normal - and unwelcome - routine. And this morning, I was able to catch up on housekeeping chores that I often put off - laundry, ironing, sewing on buttons, vacuuming and, of course, cooking at a somewhat more relaxed pace than is sometimes possible when I begin at 3 or 4 on Sunday afternoons. I am always sorry to miss Church, however. What I am going to try and do on dinner weekends is to do much of the basic cooking Friday evening - so that it will be just heat and eat Sunday night.

Nothing profound, but that was my weekend. We had a great dinner last night we seven participants. This was the first of my new assistant, Anna, who is already fitting in and doing a great job. Check out her new bulletin board on the Tsunami.

Time to go back to my apartment. Its 9:30 and the end of a very long day. No Tennis with the Dean tomorrow. We have figured out a strategy for playing in the rain, but not when the court is covered with snow and Ice (except, occasionally, playing indoors.)

Friday, January 21, 2005

Another Tennis Update - Introducing Senior Pete

· I have two regular tennis partners. You have already been introduced to The Dean. The second I will call Senior Pete. In addition to being a tennis player, he is one of the world’s leading Latin American scholars and one of the most inventive, intelligent, humorous men I know. Washington is a fun place to live because such interesting people live here. I am not speaking of politicians, though some of them are interesting, as well.
· Senor Pete invents drills, one of which, the Net Game, is part of our routine. Only tennis players – and not all of them – would be interested in the Net Game rules. However I will report this morning’s Score

Net Game First Set

Senior Pete 3 6

Dormgrandpop 14 0

Senior Pete is a real student of the game who plays every day, something I used to do as well, when I lived within 3 minutes walk of the Arlington Y tennis and squash club. Now I am down to 2 days a week, which biking and climbing stairs filling in the gap, Not using elevators and running up stairs is a great way to interject exercise into an otherwise sedentary day at the office.

I left early for the country today, in order to meet the water pump man. In the country we pump our own water, of course. It was a crystal clear day, however snow, followed by snow and sleet, is forecast for tomorrow. If the forecast is accurate, I will need to return to DC early so I don’t get stuck.

This week's tennis update II - introducing Senior Pete

· I have two regular tennis partners. You have already been introduced to The Dean. The second I will call Senior Pete. In addition to being a tennis player, he is one of the world’s leading Latin American scholars and one of the most inventive, intelligent, humorous men I know. Washington is a fun place to live because such interesting people live here. I am not speaking of politicians, though some of them are interesting, as well.
· Senor Pete invents drills, one of which, the Net Game, is part of our routine. Only tennis players – and not all of them – would be interested in the Net Game rules. However I will report this morning’s scores.

Net Game Set

Senior Pete 3 6

Dormgrandpop 14 0

Senior Pete is a fierce competitor who plays virtually every day and studies the game intensely. More often than not, he wins, though I am rarely wasted as badly in the set that we play. Before moving to the country and Anderson Hall, I too, played virtually every day, but two days a week may be more sensible. I do get some exercise every day. Among other things, I almost never use elivators; running up stairs is a great way to work aerobics into a busy schedule and Hurst Hall, where my office is located is a great venue. Restrooms are in the basement (in Hurst we don't call the basement the 'terrace' ) and my office is on the second floor. This is great, unless one is handicapped or on crutches.

I left the office early and drove out to the country to meet the water pump technician. In the country, of course we have our own wells and have to be prepared to generate our own electricity as well, when windstorms and ice storms cut off power. No electricity, no water, no heat. It is supposed to snow early tomorrow morning, but the weather still seems beautiful and clear.

Tolerance and Human Rights

· Tom Farer is a long standing friend, occasional tennis partner, leading human rights activist, and Dean of the Graduate School of International Affairs and the University of Denver. He is also a gifted scholar, with rare ability to combine passionate advocacy and rigorous discourse. Rather than writing the customary Christmas screed, Tom chose to write a moving and powerful essay on the theme of tolerance and human rights. The essay, about the length of an op-ed piece, exhibited all the qualities that have set Tom apart from most of his contemporaries. I want to fully master arguments he presents to effectively and make them my own. I will attempt to obtain an electronic copy, for those interested, but in the interim, I want to share a few briefer quotes. They are long for a blog, but worth spending the time, especially on a day after a new Presidential term was commemorated.
· “Tolerance is the key word; it is the central value of a political order embodying human rights. People are free to invent and reinvent their identities and their ends as long as they respect that same freedom in others. Of course, that is also the credo of liberalism, as John Stuart Mill defined it more than a century ago. Tolerance is equally the key to a healthy civic order in countries, today virtually all of them, with a multiplicity of cultures, that is a multiplicity of ideas about the nature of virtue and the ends of life. It is a value we Americans like other Western peoples honor rhetorically but more often have honored in the breach….”
· Tolerance extends to ideas as well as social behavior. During the Presidential campaign, senior officials seemed to be saying at time that criticism, either of the decision to go to war in Iraq or of the way in which it has been conducted, undermines the morale of our troops. It is, in a word, unpatriotic and, by implication, it should be despised and punished politically. Such a charge is plainly intended to chill public discussion with no end in sight. For I believe the Administration is right in claiming that the wider war against terrorism, of which Iraq allegedly is a part, will be part of our lives indefinitely.
· Democracy is authentic only when it coincides with the protection of individual rights, in other words when it is tolerant. As we struggle to promote it abroad, we must simultaneously struggle to defend it at home against our own fanatics. To that end I rededicate myself this holiday season.

For those interested, here is the complete text, which Tom was kind enough to send me it is definitely worth a read:

The holiday-letter convention dictates ebullience, but somehow, when I sit down to write, something rather bleak emerges. Generally it stems from the felt contrast, heightened by the gaiety and abundance of the holiday season, between my personal circumstances (member of a loving family, blessed by warm friendships, materially comfortable, interesting work) and those that make life nasty, brutal and brief for so many others. The gross injustice of life shadows my happy circumstances perhaps because it shadowed my father’s, the most unselfconsciously generous man I have ever known.
What particularly preoccupies me this year, however, is not the misery in far-off places of which, by dint of chance and choice, I know rather a lot, but the state of my own country where, despite gross disparities in life chances, most people are fairly well fed, clothed and housed. For many reasons the 2004 Presidential election was not a life-enhancing experience. I refer not primarily to the result, albeit I would have preferred a different outcome, than to the discourse that accompanied and succeeded it.
Much of my career has been dedicated to teaching and writing about human rights and trying in the small ways available to me to defend them. The system of norms that constitute the human rights regime represents a particular view of human dignity. Although the equivalent of certain human rights norms can be found in all of the major religions, what above all distinguishes the human rights regime particularly from the three great monotheistic faiths is its failure to define the ends of human existence or the ultimate nature of the good life. Instead it protects the right of individuals to decide these matters for themselves whether in isolation or in association with other seekers of ultimate meanings. That is precisely why Saudi Arabia did not vote in favor of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It objected particularly to its religious freedom provisions. For the Saudis did not recognize a right of a Muslim to leave the faith or of non-Moslems to seek converts. Neither apostasy nor inducement to apostasy could be tolerated.
Tolerance is the key word. It is the central value of a political order embodying human rights. People are free to invent and reinvent their identities and their ends as long as they respect that same freedom in others. Of course that is also the credo of Liberalism, as John Stuart Mill defined it more than a century ago. Tolerance is equally the key to a healthy civic order in countries, today virtually all of them, with a multiplicity of cultures, that is a multiplicity of ideas about the nature of virtue and the ends of life. It is a value we Americans like other Western peoples honor rhetorically but more often have honored in the breach.
For the better part of two centuries, every new wave of immigrants to the United States met a wall of intolerance that took decades to climb. When I graduated from law school thirteen years after the Universal Declaration of human rights, many law firms had a Jewish quota, which in some cases remained none, and did not even envision an African-American or woman partner, only in part because there were so few entering law schools in the first place.
In the succeeding four decades ethnic and racial tolerance made remarkable gains, narrowing beyond recognition though not entirely closing the gap between the noble words of the Declaration of Independence and the reality of American life. What changed was not just the quotidian expressions of bigotry in the workplace and country club, but, more profoundly, the offhand expression of it in the conversation of associates and friends. It felt good to be alive in the historical moment when entrenched hostility to “differentness” of so many kinds was yielding to the logic of liberalism which in parts of the conservative movement took the name of Libertarianism.
In the last several years and most acutely in this electoral year, I have felt a turning of the tide. For me it had been augured by the ferocity of the anti-abortion movement. The spirit of tolerance does not preclude opposition to abortion; it requires only that the opposition be expressed in ways that respect the choices and judgments of others. Opponents could offer to adopt unwanted children brought to term or to support financially women driven by poverty to consider terminating a pregnancy. They could attempt to persuade by reason and logic or by invoking doctrine or authoritative figures that life should be deemed to begin with conception. They could encourage use of contraceptives by people who do not want children. Arguably they could ask that their tax dollars not be used to support abortions, although that is a more complicated issue. What, however, they cannot do consistent with the spirit of tolerance is to label as murderers those they fail to persuade, thereby encouraging violent attacks on doctors and nurses and women choosing abortion or otherwise seek to frighten or coerce.
Less complicated, it seems to me, is the issue of tolerance with respect to gay Americans. Opponents of abortion could claim that they are not merely respecting, they are actually defending liberal values in that they are protecting the rights of a person, the foetus, unable to defend itself. Opponents of gay relationships, by contrast, operate entirely outside the realm of liberal values. They want to interfere in a consensual relationship between adults because it conflicts with their particular vision of human dignity. They want to use the power of the state to criminalize sexual intimacy and to deny to same-sex adult couples the many practical advantages, as well as the symbolic reassurances that accrue to married couples by virtue of law.
In calling for a Constitutional Amendment to prevent any state from permitting gay marriages, the President seems to be impugning the very liberal values he wishes to propagate in other countries, particularly in the Arab World. We no longer think of democracy as simple majority rule; if we did, we would not be struggling to guarantee the rights of the Kurds in post-Saddam Iraq any more than the British would have conceded the need to protect Northern Ireland’s Catholic minority. Democracy is authentic only when it coincides with the protection of individual rights, only, in other words when it is tolerant. As we struggle to promote it abroad, we must guard it from our own fundamentalists. To that end I continue to dedicate myself this holiday season and as many more as may await me.

With warm regards and best wishes for the new year,

Tom Farer
Professor and Dean, Graduate School of International Studies
University of Denver

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Tuesday Tennis Update

It was cold this morning, but we dressed warmly and braved the 10 degree temperatures without difficulty. Armed with his restrung "A" tennis raquet, dormgrandpop managed to claw his way back into the win column.

The score
First Set Second Set
Dormgrandpop 1 6
The Dean 6 4

Not up to Australian Open standards, perhaps, but fiercely contested.

WAMU had an interesting and moving interview with Martin Luther King's eldest daughter last evening. In addition to discussing his carreer and a public person, she spoke of him as a father and family man, of father-daughter times they spent together and how he loved practical jokes. She also was candid about her feelings of inadequacy, for years, as she tried to live up to what she saw as public expectations about who she ought to be and how she ought to live her life. The complete interview should be available on the WAMU website.

One of my Anderson Hall neighbors, who is also an RA stopped me yesterday morning to ask "what do you actually do at AU". I realized that I need to do more to communicate that, perhaps. So here is a copy of my resume for anyone who might be interested. I am keeping to my practice of not using my name this this blog, but of course it is no secret to AU students and readily available to anyone else who seeks to find out.

Dormgrandpop’s One Page Resume

Dormgrandpop writes, lectures and consul­ts in the fields of applied systems analysis, and conflict/terrorism-international development linkages, with a particular emphasis on ethnic conflict. He is presently Director of American University’s Center for Teaching Excellence and Professor of International Development in the School of International Service. The Teaching Center provides both pedagogical and advanced technology support services to AU faculty and students. He recently completed a nine-year term as the School of International Service’s Director of Doctoral Studies. At American University, he also founded and directed the Social Science Computer Laboratory and served as Director of the Center for Technology and Administration, which offered degree programs in operations research, applied computer science and environmental management. In 1988 he was Visiting Professor of International Relations, Depart­ment of History and Political Science, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. Previous­ly, he held teaching and/or research appoint­ments in the Departments of Systems Engineering, Systems Research Center and Department of Political Science, Case Western Reserve University and the System Dynam­ics Group, Sloan School of Management, M.I.T. As an active duty Naval Officer, he taught naval weapons and space technology at the University of Minnesota.

Dormgrandpop was an early contributor to field of global modeling, under the auspices of the Club of Rome, and played a major role in the global modeling "clearing house" activities organized by the Interna­tional Institute for Applied Systems Analysis. His publications on global modeling are widely regarded as definitive. In 1982, he was named by an internation­al committee of the Society for Computer Simula­tion as "one of the twenty most effective decision makers in the world."

Dormgrandpop is the author, co-author or editor of five books. Earlier works include Partners in Develop­ment (1969), Groping in the Dark: The First De­cade of Global Modeling (1982), Making it Happen: A Positive Guide to the Fu­ture (1982) and Ending Hunger: An Idea Whose Time has Come (1985). He was a contributor to the volume, Breakthrough: New Global Thinking (1988), published jointly in the United States and the U.S.S.R. His most recent book is Democratization in South Asia: The First Fifty Years (1998; co-edited with S.W.R.deA. Samarasinghe). He was an editorial board member for the Commemorative Volume, History and Politics – Millenial Perspectives: Essays in Honor of Kingsley de Silva (1999), to which he also contributed. He has also published numerous profession­al papers and research reports. He has served as referee for Futures, Futures Research Quarterly, World Development, International Studies Quarterly, International Negotiation and the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography. He is an editorial board member of Futures Research Quarterly, Ethnic Studies Report, The Journal of Peace Building and Development and also served on the Editorial Advisory Board of Futures for many years.

His current work focuses on the causes of political conflict in Global South nations and non-violent strate­gies for development. Recent publications on this subject have appeared in Futures, Ethnic Studies Report and as chapters in several edited volumes. In 1990, he was selected to deliver the quadrennial G.C. Mendis Memorial Lecture, commemo­rating the father of modern Sri Lankan historical studies. A forthcom­ing book, Paradise Poisoned: Learning about Conflict Terrorism and Development from Sri Lanka’s Civil Wars will be published by the International Centre for Ethnic Studies in early 2005.

Dormgrandpop is a member of professional associations concerned with futures research, political science, international development and ethnic conflict. He has held board or advisory council member­ships with several such organizations including The Hunger Project, Carrying Capacity and The US Association for the Club of Rome. He is a director of the Sri Lanka-based International Center for Ethnic Studies and an International Advisory Board member of the Colombo-based Center for Private Sector Development and the Pemberly International Study Center, also based in Sri Lanka. He has lectured, consulted and appeared on radio and televi­sion throughout the United States and in Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.

Monday, January 17, 2005


• Why is it so hard for me to get out of my office before 9 PM?

I recently had my eyes examined and bought new glasses at Voorthuis optical, which is located on New Mexico Avenue, near AU. Until two years ago, I used Kaiser, since I am on their health care plan, but the optometrist was sullen and indifferent. Clearly I was just another pair of eyes to be gotten out of the way so that he could finish his day. If he once had a mission of caring and service – don’t most of us begin our careers that way, it had long been replaced by cynicism and boredom. Sadly much of health care seems to be that way – and I actually think Kaiser provides better service than most HMOs (though I seem to have a different ‘personal physician’ each time I go for a physical.)
• Voorthuis was like a breath of fresh air. The optometrist is the daughter of the owner, a highly professional and yet personable, caring human being who actually remembers something about me from last year’s examination. She takes time and seems interested. The staff of opticians are equally pleasant and professional. And, given the pricey location, the cost was very reasonable. Why can’t more health care be this way?

If you encounter AU teachers who resemble my Kaiser optometrist let dormgrandpop know. I have little influence over the quality of health care, but supporting the quality of teaching at AU is one of my responsibilities.

• Actually, my Dentist, who runs a small one-person office is equally good. It is great to have found two health care professionals to seem to have resisted the pressures of commodification. It makes a difference.

• It is going to be frigid on the tennis court tomorrow at 7AM but the Dean and I are tough!

Time for dinner....

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Something good about being sick

Something good about being sick
· I seem to have had more sick days, already, this winter, than in years. It is a reminder that even good hearted people who lead reasonably non-dissipated lives, eating healthy food and taking regular vitamins can get sick too. Microbes, viruses and metastasizing cancer cells do not discriminate, though healthy bodies and positive mental attitudes may make one more resilient in the face of attack. Though I was sick for a month, and a sporadic cough remains, I worked for at least a few hours every day (which is not necessarily something to be proud of).
· But the reduced energy levels that invariably accompany being sick did compel me to reflect more on efficient time management. I didn’t have the physical and psychic resources to solve every problem by getting up earlier and leaving my office later. I had to put some things aside, say ‘no’ more often, think more carefully about seeking new opportunities to make a difference or being helpful. I did become more efficient, and more realistic about my daily ‘to do’ list. I did stick, fairly conscientiously, to the discipline of preparing such a list, every day. Among other things, this might be good preparation for growing old, which at some point does reduce one’s energy level – this doesn’t seem to have happened in my case yet. My father, who will celebrate his 94th birthday next weekend reminds me periodically, “you probably don’t really believe that you will get old, but you will!”
Blogging as a genre and discipline
· Having not yet achieved the discipline of writing a daily blog, I can only admire those earlier diary writers who wrote faithfully every day. Are there any who still keep to this custom? I would be interested to know.
· Of course the function of a diary was different. For the most part, diaries were not written with the expectation that they would be widely read; perhaps not read by anyone. Thus it was possible to share – privately – the most intimate details of one’s life. If diaries were later
discovered, they could provide a wealth of information for biographers and historians.
· A blog is not private. Anyone with internet access, reading knowledge of English (or another language in which it is written) can read it. But relatively few are likely to do so – though perhaps more than we think. This blog receives few written comments, but many of my Anderson Hall neighbors, and other university students too, say they do read it.
· Eleanor, Roosevelt, the wife of US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wrote a daily column, entitled my day. Apparently, she kept this up for years. I must see if there columns are posted on the internet, or perhaps available in book form – in the library.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Tuesday tennis update and a sad sign of our times

As readers of this blog know, dormgrandpop and "the dean" have been playing tennis each week, early in the morning, rain or shine for many years. When it is raining, two bounces are allowed.

This morning's score:
First Set Second Set
The Dean 6 6
Dormgrandpop 0 3

Among my worst tennis days in months - I almost never lose two sets. However the weather was beautiful and my cold seems to be getting better, rather than turning into pneumonia, as I was beginning to fear, so life is good.

A Sad Sign of the Times -
I dropped my bike at Bicycle Revolution in Georgetown - a great bicycle shop - and today had a long conversation with the service manager. I bought it about three years ago and used it to commute when I lived in Arlington. He explained that it was getting 'too old' to make major repairs on and that bicycle manufacturers, like auto manufacturers and software vendors make most of their money selling new bikes rather that making repairs. He was obviously a man who loved his craft, but was wondering whether there would be a next generation of repair persons. One of the mottoes of the dytopian society described by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World was "ending is better than mending." We seem to be coming to this. Personally, I like to keep old things and fix them, so I may try to keep my bike running for a few more years rather than junking it. Apparently, there is no 'trade in market' because the liability issues are too risky for the vendors - another sign of the time.

Anyhow, I will be riding again soon, and hopefully not trying to answer my mobile phone at the same time.

A group of students asked me this evening if AU was doing anything special to involve students in the inagueration. A good question and, apparently, the answer is "no".

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Constructive Discontent

Here is a great passage from Gems of Buddhist Wisdom that I read this morning. In fact I am going to make it the theme for my CTE Management Group meeting this Wednesday. I have made some minor edits to frame it in gender neutral language.

Every human being is part of the world and is responsible for what goes on in it. We must be concerned as to whether or not society is becoming more humanized. We must ask ourselves what we are doing to bring about a better order of things. This is the ethical view by which life takes on a serious aspect and is given an incentive. Such a life is the really happy life. Then we can become constructively discontented with the present order of things and proceed happily to do something about it.

My Anderson One North neighbors are back and it is good to see them. I can see amazing changes in some of the freshmen, even after just one semester. We are going to have movie nights on Thursdays, which should be fun.

I hope everyone had a great break. I was mostly here managing the blackboard upgrade, but did get to spend about eight days on the farm. Two afternoons I split about half a cord of wood, which was a great change from the head stuff that professors most often do.

I am teachiing this spring, Systems Analysis for Management, Development and the Environment, which will provide me with even more opportunities for effective time management. Check out the course website if you are interested at

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Learning to say "no"

Since this is my third cold this winter - happily I have not lost my voice, this time - I raised in my Thursday counseling session the issue of how one knows when to stop taking on new responsibilities. A hubris of some good hearted, capable people - I think of myself as both - is that they think that can intervene and resolve almost any problem. In my case the mission of my organization, has grown and new missions are being suggested - and the 'normal' end of my working day is 10 PM at the earliest, with weekends a time for still more work.

My counselor's message was that one either learns to say "no" or, eventually, your body sends you a message. I'm not sure that my three colds are a product of stress, viruses could be the explanation, but it is food for reflection.

It is hard to say no, partly because I have the most amazing staff who have become so effective in producing great results. This was demonstrated again at a conference we organized for AU faculty on friday, the Ann Ferren Teaching Conference. The level of initiative and service that CTE staff members provided was one believable. On participant said he had organized conferences for corporate executives for years and this was the best he had ever attended. There is no way that I can acknolwedge and thank them sufficiently and I worry that CTE, in its present incarnation will be only a transient phenomena, rather than a harbinger of what can be, institution-wide.

Many students are back and tomorrow night, virtually all the rooms in Anderson Hall will be lighted, once again. I welcomed the quiet of the holidays and I welcome student's return. They are the life-blood of a university. Without the infusion of vitality, diversity, idealism and unpredictability they provide, universities would become sad and sterile places.

I need to get a decent night's sleep in the hope of giving this cold a knockout blow.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Tsunami Empathy and Staying Power

Contrary to some news reports, the recent Tsunami is not the worst natural disaster, in human terms, experienced in modern times. According to the Economist Magazine, a 1970 cyclone in Bangladesh killed more than 500,000. A 1976 earthquake in Tangshan China may have killed more.

One reason this event has received such attention in the industrialized world is its geographic reach, but there is another that has received little mention. Most disasters in South and Southeast Asia only impact poor people with dark skins. This disaster killed a number of light skinned rich people - foreign tourists who might have been sitting on the Lanai of a posh seaside resort sipping coffee when a twenty-to-fifty foot wall of water engulfed them. Many of us could see ourselves there - imaging ourselves as flood plain slum dwellers in Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka or Indonesia would be more difficult.

The widely respected Colin Powell, has emerged as America's principal spokesperson on the subject of humanitarian aid. Secretary Powell was virtually an invisible man during the Presidential campaign, widely belived to be at odds with foreign policy and miltiary advisors who had President Bush's ear. He pledges America's 'long-term' commitment, even though his own term in office is numbered in days. We have heard nothing from his putative successor, National Security Advisor Condelezza Rice.

Rehabilitation in Tsnuami devastated regions is going to be a long-term process. America has now pledged $500 millions ($500,000,000) But we are reportedly spending $5 billions ($5,000,000,000) per month on military operations in Iraq, with no end in sight. What will be our staying power as deficits continue to balloon, while Iraq elections and the run-up to the Super Bowl supplant the faces of Tsunami victims in American news outlets?

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Secret of Happiness

I need to figure how to get out of my office before 10:30 at night. This must not be healthy and I seem to be coming down with my third cold of the season. A colleague told me this afternoon, that he carries alcholol wipes with him and rinses off his hands frequently. He didn't say how many colds he had contracted, so far.

We had a very successful conferrence this evening for AU's adjunct faculty. This is a new CTE innovation, which has been very well received. The software upgrade seems to be going smoothly too.

On her show, this morning, Diane Ream (WAMU) interviewed a Psychiatrist to who had written a book compiling thirty years of his psychiatric experience. The book is entitled Too Fast Old; Too Late Smart. Here his definition of happiness.

"Something to do"
"Someone to love"
"Hope for the future"

Not bad...

He also shared another useful insight: "The person who controls a relationship is the on who cares least about it.

Good night.....

Sunday, January 02, 2005

What is the afterlife really like?

· I have written a few times of Streams in the Desert, a book of daily devotional readings by the early 20th Century missionary, L.G. Cowman, that I read most mornings. This morning’s message was fairly typical, “…Not many of us are living at our best… We do not know what is lost by our self indulgence, what glory awaits us if we only have the courage to climb, or what blessings we will find if we only ascend the mountains of God.
· It is the nature of the afterlife that I have been puzzling about. Christian doctrine speaks of unremitting joy, of ‘living in glory’ and like phrases. This phrasing seems draw on peak human experiences of human being as a point of reference. But a peak experience – an act of creativity, a professional achievement, viewing a beautiful sunset or a full moon illuminating turbulent seas in the aftermath of a typhoon, an indelible moment of physical, psychic and spiritual union in loving relationship – is a source of joy because it is unique, because it is distinguishable from the flat lands that surround it.
· The Buddhist concept of Nirvana (Nibbana), linked to the concept of the reincarnation of the soul is different, and more difficult to grasp. (Perhaps Jesus simply did not live long enough as a human being to spell out this element of his revelations clearly.)One definition is “the ultimate truth” but this may simply be substituting one undefined phrase for another. Zen masters try to have their students grasp the idea of Nibbana by meditating on Koans such as “the gateless gate,” “the sound of one hand clapping” and others.
· Since life is uncertain, but death is certain, these matters are definitely worth pondering, so long as the pondering is not self indulgent, self destructive or desparing