Sunday, September 30, 2007

Andre Agassi tells Bill Clinton what’s better than Tennis

In his new book entitled Giving, President Bill Clinton writes of his visit to the Andre Agassi College Preparatory, an academy that helps Las Vegas kids at risk, with their education.

When Clinton asked Agassi how creating the school compared with winning a tennis tournament, the former world champ said:

“Tennis was a stepping-stone for me. It gave me the chance to do this. Changing a child’s life is what I always wanted to do. Winning a tennis tournament doesn’t compare to the anticipation of what these kids will do with their lives.”

Source: Bill Clinton, Giving: How Each of us can Change the World (Great Britain: Hutchinson, 2007), 75.

A full review of this book, entitled ‘Jon Stewart & Clinton Talk about Bill’s New Book’, can be found at my site:

Reviewing Books and Movies

Image: One of the first buildings established as part of the Andre Agassi College Preparatory.

Friday, September 28, 2007

100 Years of Support

A man was in a department store, moving from one level to the next on an escalator.

As he ascended, he saw an advertising sign gradually revealing its message:




The man thought it was a commercial for the church.

As the top of the billboard became visible he realized that this was an ad for a bra and that he was entering the lingerie section of the store.

This uplifting story was recalled by seeing a CNN story today that was celebrating the 100th birthday of the bra.

Link: ‘Bra Still Holding Up After 100 years’, 28 September 2007, CNN International.

Image: One of the early models.

Groucho Marx on the Subject of Age

In a recent excerpt on DelanceysPlace--Groucho Marx writes the opening words to his 1959 autobiography "Groucho and Me," and, as is his wont, instantly digresses into a pique:

"The trouble with writing a book about yourself is that you can't fool around. If you write about someone else, you can stretch the truth from here to Finland. If you write about yourself, the slightest deviation makes you realize instantly that there may be honor among thieves, but you are just a dirty liar."

"Although it is generally known, I think it's about time to announce that I was born at a very early age. Before I had time to regret it, I was four and a half years old. Now that we are on the subject of age, let's skip it. It isn't important how old I am. What is important, however, is whether enough people will buy this book to justify my spending the remnants of my rapidly waning vitality in writing it. "

"Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough. It always amuses me when the newspapers run a picture of a man who has finally lived to be a hundred. He's usually a pretty beat-up individual who invariably looks closer to two hundred than the century mark. It isn't enough that the paper runs a photo of this rickety, hollow shell. The ancient oracle then has to sound off on the secret of his longevity. 'I've lived longer than all my friends,' he croaks, 'because I've never used a mattress, always slept on the floor, had raw turkey liver every morning for breakfast, and drank thirty-two glasses of water a day.'"

"Big deal! Thirty-two glasses of water a day. This is the kind of man who is responsible for the water shortages in America. Fortunes have been spent in the arid West, trying to convert sea water into something that can be swallowed with safety, and this old geezer, instead of drinking eight glasses of water a day like the rest of us, has to guzzle thirty-two a day, or enough water to keep four normal people going indefinitely. ..."

Source: Groucho Marx, Groucho and Me, Da Capo, Copyright 1959 by Groucho Marx, renewed 1987 in the name of Arthur Marx as son, pp. 3-4.

Check out and subscribe (it’s free!) to Delanceyplace—a great source for interesting stories.

Image: Groucho

Foundation of Greatness

“Greatness is always built on this foundation: the ability to speak and act, as the common person.”

Source: Shams-ud-din Muhammed Hafiz. Cited in Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), 34.

Image: Fourteenth Century Poet from Shiraz, Persia (Iran)

Thursday, September 27, 2007

“When your heart speaks, take good notes.”

This saying is attributed to Judith Campbell.

Cited in Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), 333.

Image: “…take good notes.”

Vincent Van Gogh: Living as a Substitute for a Dead Brother?

Ever had to struggle against another sibling, whether they be dead or alive?

There is a poignant story on DelanceyPlace about the artist, Vincent Van Gogh, the death of his brother and Vincent’s sense of needing to be for his parents a replacement.

Link: DelanceyPlace-27/09/2007-Van Gogh
(You can subscribe to these daily stories at this site.)

Image: Gogh’s ‘Wheat Fields with Crows’

‘My thanks to those who have sent me emails........’

I must send my special appreciation to whoever sent me the one about rat droppings in the glue on envelopes: I now use a damp cloth with every envelope that needs sealing.

Also, thanks to your great advice, I don't answer the phone any more because I know someone will ask me to dial a number for which I will get a phone bill with calls to Jamaica, Uganda, Singapore and Uzbekistan.

And by the way, you'll be interested to know I no longer have any savings because I gave every cent in my account to a sick girl (Penny Brown) who is about to die in the hospital for the 1,387,258th time.

However, I'm not worried about being penniless...that will all change once I receive the $15,000 that Bill Gates/Microsoft and AOL are sending me for participating in their special e-mail program.

And if Bill Gates messes me around, I'm still waiting to hear from the senior bank clerk in Nigeria who wants to split $7 million with me for pretending to be a long lost relative of a customer who died intestate. Easy money, eh?!

At least I no longer have to worry about my soul because since I made my credit card donation, I have 363,214 angels looking out for me, and St.Theresa's novena will grant my every wish.

And thanks for whoever it was from America who sent me the great security warning: I no longer buy petrol without taking a guard along to watch the car so a serial killer won't crawl in my back seat when I'm filling up.

By the way, according to a report just in, a South American scientist after a lengthy study has discovered that people with low IQ, and who are sexually frustrated and generally maladjusted, always read their e-mails with their hand on the mouse.
(Don't bother taking it off now, it's too late.)

Source: Anon.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Katie Couric: Learning Languages by Word Association

A recent article, in which the writer claimed to have learned the Spanish language in a weekend (!), was advocating the word association or ‘Linkword Method,’ a technique supposedly invented by one Dr. Michael M. Gruneberg.

This method is based on the principle that the human mind much more easily remembers data attached to spatial, personal, or otherwise meaningful information than that occurring in meaningless sequences or basic repetition.

For example, the Russian word for "juice" is "sok." Picture yourself, it instructs, drinking juice out of a sock. Hold the mini scenario in your mind's eye for 10 seconds. Et voilà – the word is allegedly locked into your mind.

It seems that this is the way some professional newsreaders remember foreign names. Katie Couric, the anchor for America’s CBS News, dryly has told people that she remembers how to pronounce the name of the Iranian President (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) with the mnemonic, “I’m a dinner jacket.”

For more information on the LinkWord Language Method see:
Amelia Thomas, ‘Hooked on Mnemonics: A New Way to Conquer Foreign Languages’, CSM, 18 September, 2007.

Image: Katie Couric.

Lost Camera Found: The Internet Joins Us Together

‘I believe this belongs to you.’

Let's say you were among more than 100,000 people attending a college football game and didn't realize until afterward that you'd left your digital camera behind. What do you suppose would be the prospects of getting it back?

If you were Ohio State fan Kevin John, the answer is ... excellent. In fact, meals have taken more time to prepare than he needed to learn that a total stranger would be happy to return it. How? No, not through the lost-and-found office at Ohio Stadium. Human resources consultant (and fellow fan) Michelle Montgomery found the camera and decided to click through the exposures on its memory card. Ultimately, she came to one of a man and young boy -John and his son, Noah - posing with the Ohio State mascot, before the Sept. 1 game.

That gave her an idea for a small social experiment: upload the image to the Internet and e-mail it to 14 friends. All, in turn, were asked to forward it to everyone else they knew to be a follower of the Buckeyes. Within 48 hours, the message landed in John's in-box, and he learned that Montgomery was waiting to hear from him. "It's amazing how many Buckeye fans are out there," he told reporters. As for Montgomery, she said: "Think of the ways we could use [the Internet] if we wanted to do something meaningful and powerful in the world. It shows we really are all tied together."

Source: CSM Newsfeed, September 26, 2007

Image: ‘I believe this belongs to you.’

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Molière’s 'The Misanthrope': Humanity Isolated by Technology

A modern interpretation of Molière’s The Misanthrope, is described by NY Times Reviewer, Ben Brantley as a ‘wildly tossed salad’.

Producer, Ivo van Hove speaks of his interpretation as an indictment of the lonely ‘liquid society’ of contemporary life, in which individuals are isolated from one another by technology.

This production… “is chock-full of devices like cellphones, Blackberrys, computer notebooks and digital cameras that simulcast the stage action into windowlike screens.”

The full review can be found at:
Ben Brantley, ‘No Wonder He’s Cranky: He’s Covered in Condiments’, NY Times, 25 September 2007.

Image: “individuals are isolated from one another by technology.”

Greg Mortensen: What motivates me to do this?

Mountaineer and builder of schools, Greg Mortensen has had plenty of challenges and opposition in getting schools established in the remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. So what is it that keeps him going when he has been tempted many times to throw in the towel?

“What motivates me to do this?” he asks.

“The answer is very simple. When I look into the eyes of the children in Pakistan and Afghanistan, I see the eyes of my own children full of wonder—and hope that we each do our part to leave them a legacy of peace instead of the perpetual cycle of violence, war, terrorism, racism, exploitation, and bigotry that we have yet to conquer.”

Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), 335.

Another story from this book can be found at this link.

A review of this book is posted at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Image: “When I look into the eyes of the children…”

Monday, September 24, 2007

'Trust in Allah, but Tie Up Your Camel'

Hand-lettered sign at the entrance to the Fifth Squadron Airbase, Skardu.

Observed and recorded by Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), 83.

Image: ‘but tie up your camel’

Marcel Marceau: ‘Never get a mime talking’

Marcel Marceau, who died Saturday in Paris, was internationally renowned for a career in mime that spanned more than 50 years. A Holocaust survivor, he said his inspiration was silent-movie legend Charlie Chaplin. In turn, he inspired countless other performers, among them pop icon Michael Jackson, whose famous "moonwalk" is borrowed from a Marceau routine.

While he worked in silence onstage, he was notoriously chatty off it. He once told an interviewer: "Never get a mime talking; he won't stop."

Source: CSM, 24 September 2007.

Image: Marcel Marceau.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

LA Times says 'Music the Balm for Iraqis'

There is a hopeful story in the LA Times today.

Since the US-led invasion of Iraq, musical instruments and sheet music have been stolen or destroyed and over 25 musicians have fled to other countries.

The Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra has just recommenced rehearsals after the summer break. The harmony of strings, brass and woodwind drown out the sounds of war.

For many of the players, ‘music is their balm.’

Check out this story at this link:

Sam Enriquez, ‘Iraqi Orchestra Finds Harmony Amid War’, LA Times, 23 September 2007.

Image: Two orchestral players concentrating during rehearsal.

Laughter in the Face of Pain

There are many stories being posted on The Official F W Boreham Blogsite that are found in the writings of F W Boreham, the storytelling communicator.

In the most recent story F W Boreham writes an Australian-flavoured essay entitled, ‘The Jackass and the Kangaroo’ in which he cites the juxtaposition of a dead kangaroo that has been killed on the road and a kookaburra (laughing jackass), ‘laughing’ in the face of such tragedy.

Click on this link to connect you with this story and communicator's treasure chest.

Image: F W Boreham.

Robert Dessaix: 'Time Yawned'

In his novel about a trip to the Greek island, Corfu, Robert Dessaix writes:

“Time yawned. I knew it would, ever since that moment at the station, but I’d hope to stop its mouth.”

Robert Dessaix, Corfu (A Novel) (London: Scribner, 2001), 73.

Image: (This isn’t Robert Dessaix!)

P D James: Adjusting to Retirement-Admiral Crowe

In her autobiographical fragment, Time to be in Earnest, P D James recalls a story told by the retiring American Ambassador to Great Britain at one of his goodbye bashes in Regent’s Park.

“Admiral Crowe said this was his second retirement. The morning after he left the Navy he dashed out of his house and settled himself comfortably with his newspaper in the back of the car. A few minutes later his wife came out to point out gently that, if he wanted the car to go anywhere, he would have to sit in the front and drive!”

P D James, Time to be in Earnest: A Fragment of Autobiography (London: Faber & Faber, 1999), 63.

Image: Retired Admiral, William Crowe.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Sir Edmund Hillary on His Most Worthwhile Things in Life

Greg Mortensen recalls hearing Sir Edmund Hillary, speaking at an American Himalayan Association event in San Francisco in September 1995:

“I don’t know if I particularly want to be remembered for anything,” he heard Hillary say. “I have enjoyed great satisfaction from my climb of Everest. But my most worthwhile things have been the building of schools and medical clinics. That has given me more satisfaction than a footprint on a mountain.”

Source: Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time (New York: Penguin Books, 2006), 129-130.

Image: Sir Edmund Hillary

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Lesson of Three Cups of Tea: Greg Mortensen

Mountaineer, Greg Mortensen, entered a poor, remote Pakistani village in 1993 after a failed attempt to climb K2. In his weakened state he was overwhelmed by the hospitality of the people and as a parting shot he promised to return and build them a school.

Three Cups of Tea is written by David Oliver Relin and it is the account of Mortensen’s work, not only in fulfilling this promise but in growing an organization that is committed to building schools as a way of promoting peace.

He appears to read the culture well and observe the customs but at one point a wise man from Baltistan invites Mortensen to his place for a deep conversation:

“‘Sit down. And shut your mouth,’ Haji Ali said, ‘You’re making everyone crazy…’

“When the porcelain bowls of scalding butter tea steamed in their hands, Haji Ali spoke. ‘If you want to thrive in Baltistan, you must respect our ways,’ Haji Ali said, blowing in his bowl.

‘The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family, and for our family, we are prepared to do anything, even die,’ he said, laying his hand warmly on Mortensen’s arm. ‘Doctor Greg, you must take time to share three cups of tea. We may be uneducated. But we are not stupid. We have lived and survived here for a long time.’

‘That day, Haji Ali taught me the most important lesson I’ve ever learned in my life,’ Mortensen says …. ‘Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them.’” (p150)

Source: Greg Mortensen and David Oliver Relin, Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time (New York: Penguin Books, 2006).

A review of this book can be found at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Geoff Pound

Image: Greg Mortensen with Pakistani students.

Name Games

Australian observer of life, Barrie Hibbert, has recently penned this article:

What’s in a name ? Often quite a lot.

Recently, I was intrigued to read that when Mississippi riverboat man-turned-author Samuel Clemens was looking for a pen name, his old profession provided it. It was the call made by the skipper when he needed to let the crew know that the depth of the river was two fathoms. He would shout: “Mark Twain!”

Most people stick with the names they inherited from their parents, but some don’t.

Show business people often take a new name. Norma Jean Baker became Marilyn Monroe, and Reginald Dwight became Elton John. Sometimes a chosen name is cheeky and clever. A few years ago, there was a stripper in a New York nightclub who was billed as Norma Vincent Peel, and apparently in London at the moment there is a burlesque performer who plies her trade under the name Scarlett O’Harlot.

This use of “association” of names is always good for a laugh.

It’s impossible to miss the irony in the fact that as the current political circus plays out its silly season here in Australia, two of the star clowns are Abbott and Costello. One of the cleverest names invented for Britain’s Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher was Attila the Hen.

I thought of that recently, when I saw one of Gary Larson’s very clever Far Side cartoons. A little man with a swag over his shoulder, stands in front of a fortress wall. High above him, soldiers crowd the battlements, and spears rain down on the lone figure standing below. The little man anxiously calls up to the spear-throwers :
“Hold on there ! I think you misunderstood - I’m Al Tilley… the bum.”

Let’s hope the message got through. Otherwise that might have gone down as Al’s famous last word.

Source: Barrie Hibbert, ‘Occasional Ruminations’ 21 September 2007.

Image: “Show business people often take a new name.”

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Margaret Forster on Plunging into New Environments

In Margaret Forster’s novel, The Memory Box, London-based Catherine is doing some photographic work in Scotland and she states the benefits of entering into a new environment:

“I felt remarkably content, sitting there, a stranger in a city I did not know. It had come over me before, traveling around on jobs, eating or drinking in a city that was completely new to me, that odd sort of thrill which derives from being anonymous and unconnected. It panics some people, but I love it. It makes me look at the world in an entirely different way and some of my best work has come from plunging myself into new environments like this, especially towns and cities.”

Margaret Forster, The Memory Box (London: Penguin Books, 2000), 206.

Image: “eating or drinking in a city that was completely new to me.”

Doctorow: “The Need to Walk among Strangers”

E L Doctorow, in his novel ‘City of God’ muses upon the place of humanity in the city of New York:

“But I can stop on any corner at the intersection of two busy streets, and before me are thousands of lives headed in all four directions, uptown downtown east and west, on foot, on bikes, on in-line skates, in buses, strollers, cars, trucks, with the subway rumble underneath my feet … and how can I not know I am momentarily part of the most spectacular phenomenon in the unnatural world?”

“There is a specie recognition we will never acknowledge. A primatial over-soul. For all the weariness or indifference with which we negotiate our public spaces, we rely on the masses around us to delineate ourselves.”

“The city may begin from a marketplace, a trading post, the confluence of waters, but it secretly depends on the human need to walk among strangers.”

E L Doctorow, City of God (London: Abacus, 2001), 12.

Image: New Yorkers at a crossing.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Good Grief?

In her new book, A Certain Age, author Lynne Truss includes a monologue on John, a widower who ‘thinks he is dynamic but he is not’.

As he thumbs through his vinyl records with all their memories, he ponders the way young people have all their music on memory sticks (‘like chewing gum’) or on iPods the size of cigarette packets. John expresses his disgust with these new-fangled devices in which so much music is squashed together “like musical spermatozoa.” (p63)

This widower also expresses his views on the inappropriateness of people’s support when he says, “Everyone’s an expert on me and David, see; everyone’s our unofficial counselor; that’s what happens when you’re bereaved.” (p70)

Source: Lynne Truss, A Certain Age (London: Profile Books, 2007). A review of this book is available on Reviewing Books and Movies.

Image: Women in grief.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Living in the Present? Impossible!

In Margaret Forster’s novel, The Memory Box, Catherine writes these lines:

I put the red hat on, and the dark blindfold provided by the airline, and tried to lull myself to sleep. I must live in the present.

It was the only way but controlling my urge to leap ahead in the future, or speculate about the past and never live in the present, was almost impossible.

Tony had complained about this all the time. He’d found it so wearing, the way I endlessly anticipated what was going to happen or fantasized over what already might have happened—he said it was imagination gone mad.

But the present had never seemed a real place to me. It was useless, dull. Everything exciting lay in the unknown, the future, where anything was possible.

Margaret Forster, The Memory Box (London: Penguin Books, 2000), 107.

Deciding Not to Become Hostage to Hostility

An Amish community that lost five girls in a Pennsylvania schoolhouse shooting massacre last year has donated money to the widow of the gunman.

The Nickel Mines Accountability Committee, which was set up to handle more than $US4.3 million in donations from around the world after the shootings, said it had given an unspecified "contribution" to Marie Roberts, a mother of three.

Her husband, Charles Carl Roberts, a local milk truck driver who was not Amish, tied up and shot 10 Amish schoolgirls aged six to 14 in their classroom on October 3, killing five of them, before turning the gun on himself.

After the shootings, members of the deeply religious Amish community in Lancaster County, about 100 kilometres west of Philadelphia, said they wanted to forgive the gunman.

In a statement, the committee said: "Many from Nickel Mines have pointed out that forgiveness is a journey, that you need help from your community of faith and from God—to make and hold on to a decision not to become a hostage to hostility."

Source: ‘Amish Donate to Widow of Schoolhouse Gunman’, 14 September 2007,

Image: An exterior view of the Georgetown school which was the scene of the execution-style shootings of Amish schoolgirls in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Cat and the Imperial Saucer

An antique dealer heard about a person up in the country who possessed a saucer decorated with an Imperial Crown.

The dealer traveled by plane and jeep and finally for several miles on foot until he came to the village. The villagers directed him to the person’s hut where he was made welcome. His eyes immediately lit on a sleek black cat lapping up milk from a saucer. As the cat licked the last drops of milk the antique dealer could see the Imperial Crown marked upon the saucer and knew it to be valuable.

He sat talking to the dealer and after a while remarked upon what a fine cat the man owned. They chatted further and then the dealer said he thought the cat was so fine that he would like to purchase it. The owner demurred at first but after several minutes of haggling agreed to sell the cat. The dealer was delighted but concealed his pleasure and as he was about to depart said casually:

'I shall need something to give the cat its milk, so if you don't mind I'll take that old saucer as well'.

'You can have the cat' replied the dealer, 'but not the saucer. We need that saucer to sell cats'.

Source: John Steward, Biblical Holism (Burwood, Victoria: World Vision Australia, 1994), 122.

Image: “We need that saucer to sell cats.”

Are you Qualified for What You’re Doing?

Author, Philip Yancey, recalls an Amish custom:

During a trip to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I once had dinner in an Amish home, where I heard about their unusual procedure for choosing a pastor.

In that part of the country, few Amish acquire education beyond the 8th grade, and almost none have theological training. The entire congregation votes for any men (in this denomination only males need apply) who show pastoral potential, and those who receive at least three votes move forward to sit at a table. Each has a hymnbook in front of him, and inside his randomly chosen hymn book one of the men finds a card designating him as the new pastor for the next year.

“What if the person selected doesn't feel qualified?” I asked my Amish friend.

He looked puzzled, then replied, “If he did feel qualified, we wouldn't want him.”

Philip Yancey, ‘Replenishing the Inner Pastor’, Christianity Today, May 21, 2001, Vol. 45, No. 7, 104.

Image: Amish men.

Tongan Rugby Team Eats the USA at World Cup

In the Rugby World Cup in France, there was a surprise upset when Tonga beat the United States of America.

There is an article about the visit of the Tongan team to a British restaurant last week that might explain the reason for their success:

Mmmm, it all looks so good. That must have been quite a luncheon for Tonga's national rugby team at a pub in Lymington, England, one day last week. "We were warned," Fusion Inn manager Shannon Van Dreven told reporters later, "that they had big appetites. But when I saw the amount of food we had prepared, I thought, 'There's no way they'll finish that.'"

Wrong. In town to train for the World Cup championships in their sport, the 30 husky athletes and their coaches and trainers cheerfully posed for pictures with the regular patrons and autographed everything thrust in front of them. "I've never met such nice guys," Van Dreven marveled. But the point of their visit was to be fed, and as reports have it, the guests gobbled 30 roast chickens, 60 pounds of steak, 60 pounds of lamb, 30 pounds of potato salad, and 30 pounds of pasta ... and washed it all down with 10-1/2 gallons of orange juice.

Back in the kitchen, two extra chefs and three more waiters were called in to keep the grub coming. And as the supply dwindled, the Fusion Inn boss had to send out for $50 worth of French fries because the Tongans were still hungry. (No word on what, if anything, was for dessert.) "I couldn't believe it," Van Dreven said. "They completely cleared their plates, leaving absolutely nothing. We've never seen anything like this before." Had the team been expected to pick up the check, it would have come to almost $2,100. But Fushion Inn co-owner Isi Tuivai is Tongan and a former captain of the national team, so the meal was on the house. Oh, by the way: Due to their size, the Tongans are known as the "wrecking balls" in rugby circles.


Image: Tongan Rugby Team

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

‘If a Job Isn’t Fun, It’s Not Worth Doing’

How much time does the average American waste every day?
If you read the latest poll you might be:

* Disturbed.
* Inspired to go on a 12 Step Recovery Program to deliver yourself from the addiction of Internet surfing.
* Provoked to run a campaign to get Facebook blocked at your work place.

An article about the gift of work and the important value of downtime is worth reading. The link:

Eric Weiner, ‘Use time wisely—by slacking off', LA Times, September 11, 2007

Image: Newly invented timesaver.

You Did Say ‘Make Yourself at Home’!

There is an interesting story posted about a British couple who went to stay in a motel twenty years ago and liked it so much they have been living there ever since.

Check it out at:

Yahoo News, ‘British Couple’s 22-Year Motel Stop’, 11 September, 2007.

Image: Dave and Jean outside their home.

Making Change according to ‘The Flamingo Effect’

An ecologist studying migrating flamingos on Kenya’s Lake Nairasha noticed an interesting phenomenon.

Every year, when the time came for migration, a few flamingos started the process by taking off from the lake. Since none of the others took any notice, they soon turned around and came back.

The next day they tried again. This time a few others struggled along with them but again, the vast majority carried on as usual, so the pioneers returned to the lake.

This trend continued for a few days. Each time a few more birds joined in but, since the thousands of others still took no notice, the migration plan was aborted.

Finally, one day, the same few birds took off again. This time, however, the tiny increment to their number was enough to tip the balance. The whole flock took flight and the migration began.

Rory Spowers, who tells this story (p85) in his book A Year in Green Tea and Tuk-Tuks, makes these comments:

“Various terms have been developed to describe this process—‘critical mass’, ‘tipping point’, ‘the hundredth monkey’. Chaos theory talks about the ‘butterfly effect’, suggesting that a butterfly flapping its wings in Sumatra can start a tornado in Idaho. The insight is that tiny incremental changes within the dynamics of a complex system can lead to very dramatic effects further down then line.

Rory has found this idea to be so empowering that he has developed Project Flamingo as part of the Web of Hope movement.

Source: Rory Spowers, A Year in Green Tea and Tuk-Tuks. This book is reviewed at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Image: Flamingos on a Kenyan Lake.

Change the World by Starting a New Model

Rory Spowers gave up his job as a BBC journalist to go with his wife and young kids to Sri Lanka to live a more ecologically sustainable lifestyle.

Part of the inspiration that fills him with hope, especially in the dark moments, is this statement from Buckminister Fuller who said,

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

A review of his book about this experiment can be found at:

A Year in Green Tea and Tuk-Tuks

Geoff Pound

Image: Rory Spowers.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Italian Way: Eloquent Hands

Phil Doran in his book, The Reluctant Tuscan, describes the renovation of his Italian home and his lessons from Italian tradesmen in cross-cultural communication:

“We got calls from… our carpenter and so on asking us to come to their office or workshop. Invariably, we’d discover that whatever they wanted to discuss could have been dealt with over the phone. But that’s not the Italian way. They need to see your face, look in your eyes, and use their vast array of hand gestures. So dependent are they on hand gestures that an Italian with a missing finger is thought to have a speech impediment.”

Source: Phil Doran, The Reluctant Tuscan (New York: Gotham Books, 2005), 89.

Image: Speaking with his hands.

Telling Your Version of the Story

The physicist, Leo Szilard, once announced to his friend Hans Bethe that he was thinking of keeping a diary:

“I don’t intend to publish. I am merely going to record the facts for the information of God.”

“Don’t you think God knows the facts?” Bethe asked.

“Yes,” said Szilard. “He knows the facts, but He does not know this version of the facts.”

Source: Hans Christian von Beyer, Taming the Atom (London: Viking, 1993). This is printed on the quote page in Bill Bryson, A Short History of Almost Everything (Great Britain: Doubleday, 2003).

Image: The Hungarian physicist, Leo Szilard.

Why Everyone Should Sometimes Leave the City

E L Doctorow, in his 2001 novel, City of God, makes this statement:

“An odd sighting on the dock, a great blue heron looking out one way, almost back with a snowy-white egret peering in the opposite direction. This is why everyone should sometimes leave the city.

Source: E L Doctorow, City of God (London: Abacus, 2001), 44.

Image: Blue heron and egret. Photo posted with kind permission of Mr. J R Compton of Amateur Birder's Journal at the following link:

If you are a bird lover, photographer or a lover of life, take time to check out the wonderful photos on this site.
Geoff Pound

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Pavarotti: Popularizer and Evangelist

In a New York Times article (8 September 2007), author and music critic, David Hajdu, has given a marvelous tribute to Luciano Pavarotti. Among other things he has credited Pavarotti with being a popularizer of his genre to the thousands around the world who would never go to the opera. In this way he fulfilled an evangelical role for his brand of music. Here is Hajdu’s opening story and initial reflections, as a taster:

ON Sept. 13, 1994, Luciano Pavarotti and Bryan Adams stood side by side before a symphony orchestra assembled on a vast outdoor stage in Modena, Italy, Mr. Pavarotti’s hometown, and they performed a duet of “O Sole Mio.” Mr. Pavarotti, beaming, sang the hoary old heart-stopper beautifully, almost as if he had not done it several jillion times before. Mr. Adams croaked and giggled and clutched the microphone in palpable terror. The performance, which was televised internationally and later released on video, survives on YouTube. Watching it now, in the wake of Mr. Pavarotti’s death from pancreatic cancer, one can only marvel at the incongruity of the scene and wonder what in the world was that rock star doing in the company of that guy Adams?

Luciano Pavarotti was, among many things — perhaps above all — a rock star, regardless of the fact that the music he sang happened to be opera or, on occasion, folk or popular music in the operatic mode. To recognize this is not to deny his profound gifts as an artist or to diminish his importance as the most beloved tenor of the postwar era. He was blessed with a stunningly gorgeous voice, pure yet unmistakable, which he employed with ardor in the service of beauty and joy. He brought countless listeners, including this one, to rapture.

In addition, as waves of encomiums in recent days have reminded us, his enormous appeal gave Mr. Pavarotti an evangelical dimension. More than anyone since Enrico Caruso, we are repeatedly told, Mr. Pavarotti brought opera to the masses. This is true, but not the whole truth: more than anything, what Mr. Pavarotti did was bring mass culture — particularly the sensibility of the rock ’n’ roll age — to the world of opera.

The full article can be read at:

David Hajdu, Tenor of the Times New York Times, 8 September 2008.

Image: Luciano Pavarotti.

Eluding Death the Business of Life

Philip Roth’s short book, Everyman, is about the darker side of old age.

The central character endures a retirement in which he is becoming weaker through ill health, despondency and loneliness (even though he had been the life of the party). Now, there isn’t a year that goes when he isn’t hospitalized.

The author writes that “eluding death seemed to have become the central business of his life and bodily decay his entire story.” (p71)

A review of this book can be found at this link:

Philip Roth, Everyman (London: Jonathan Cape, 2006).

Image: “and bodily decay his entire story.”

“He Will Never Amount to Anything.”

In 1895 Albert Einstein’s teacher said to his father: “It doesn’t matter what he does, he will never amount to anything.”

One can only imagine Hermann Einstein walking home to tell his wife, Pauline, the bad news. He needn’t have worried. Within ten years of this woefully inaccurate prediction, Albert’s colossal intellect was already beginning to unlock the secrets of the universe. In time he became the foremost mind of the twentieth century. Not bad for a ‘poor student’.

Image: Albert Einstein.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The Power of Houses

Margaret Forster in her novel, The Memory Box, has her lead character express this thought:

“The power of houses has always bewildered me—that mere bricks and mortar should possess such atmosphere is uncanny.”

Margaret Forster, The Memory Box (London: Penguin Books, 2000; first published, Chatto & Windus, 1999), 10.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Paulo Coelho: The Value of Travel

In his international bestseller, The Pilgrimage, Paulo Coelho’s wise Italian guide on the road from France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain says some remarkable words about travel.

Hinting at the importance of being a pilgrim rather than a tourist, Petrus describes why travel can be so transformational:

“When you travel, you experience, in a very practical way, the act of rebirth. You confront completely new situations, the day passes more slowly, and on most journeys you don’t even understand the language the people speak. So you are like a child just out of the womb. You begin to be more accessible to others because they may be able to help you in difficult situations. And you accept any small favor from the gods with great delight, as if it were an episode you would remember for the rest of your life. At the same time, since all things are new, you see only the beauty in them, and you feel happy to be alive. That’s why a religious pilgrimage has always been one of the most objective ways of achieving insight.” (p38)

A review of The Pilgrimage can be found at Reviewing Books and Movies.

Geoff Pound

Image: “So you are like a child just out of the womb.”

Charles Handy on The Road to Davy’s Bar

Corporate chiefs frequently speak of the need for a vision of the future. One of the unintended consequences of such visions, thinks Handy, is that it may not point the way to where you ought to be. At the beginning of Chapter 3 of "The Age of Paradox", author Charles Handy shares this incident that suggests why this may be so.

"The Wicklow Mountains lie outside Dublin, Ireland. It is an area of wild beauty, a place to which as an Irishman born near there, I return as often as I can. It is still a bare and lonely spot, with unmarked roads, and I still get lost. Once I stopped and asked the way. 'Sure, it's easy,' a local replied, 'just keep going the way you are, straight ahead, and after a while you'll cross a small bridge with Davy's Bar on the far side. You can't miss it!' 'Yes, I've got that, 'I said. 'Straight on to Davy's Bar.' 'That's right. Well, half a mile before you get there, turn to your right up the hill.'”

"His directions seemed so logical that I thanked him and drove off. By the time I realized that the logic made no sense he had disappeared. As I made my way down to Davy's Bar, wondering which of the roads to the right to take, I reflected that he had given me a vivid example of paradox, perhaps even the paradox of our times; by the time you know where you ought to go, it's too late to go there, or more dramatically, if you keep on going the way you are, you will miss the road to the future."

Source: Charles Handy, The Age of Paradox (USA: Harvard Business School, 1994). This can also be found online at ‘The Road to Davy’s Bar’.

Image: Charles Handy among the sunflowers.