Origins and Ideas

On this day 160 years ago, Charles Darwin published the Origin of the Species, a work that sparks controversy to this day. His theory was that species evolve through a process of natural selection in which the fittest survive to pass on successful traits to subsequent generations.

The “Theory of Evolution” evolved, if you will, from observations Darwin made in the Galapagos Islands and elsewhere decades earlier, during travels chronicled in The Voyage of the Beagle. He delayed publishing his views until 1859 in large part because he feared the controversy they would cause and ultimately did so when he learned that others had begun developing similar theories.

The recognition that things do not remain static has a long history of sparking controversy. Galileo’s publication that the earth is not the center of the universe, but revolves around the sun certainly upset authorities, despite it being accepted by scientists long before. Hegel posited that ideas evolve to new and higher forms through syntheses addressed by antitheses. One could even argue that Socrates’ dialogues followed a similar pattern. His penchant for using them to spark controversy certainly hastened his demise.

Darwin’s theory, that the “Creation” is not fixed, fit well within the scientific thought developing at the time, and in fact, his publication was prompted by the work of others that had begun to reach similar conclusions. What made it both groundbreaking and controversial was that life was not static and that we were merely evolved apes, rather than creatures made by God’s hands on the sixth day. It was deemed a theory since the genetic process by which traits are passed on was not itself discovered until the 20th Century and deserves a better title today.

In its way, Darwin’s theory was as dramatic as Edwin Hubble’s discovery that the universe itself is not static, but is actually expanding. We are only yet beginning to consider the implications of his finding. I suppose if you put together the notion that life evolves and that the universe itself is infinite and evolving, one might theorize that somewhere out there a higher form of life may well exist. I sometimes hope so, since we could use some help preserving and improving ourselves.

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Daylight Slaving Time

The twice annual ritual of time travel occur tonight in which we step back an hour, regaining the sacrifice we offered to Kronos in March. Here is a short poem on the subject to read if you are up at two A.M. with nothing to read. It is from a book of poem I wrote titled, The Funny Thing About a Poem.

Marking Time

Today was longer

than the day before

with the hour we borrowed 

in March when they seemed 

so ripe and fresh

only now filled with leaves

piled beneath bare trees

waiting for someone

to sweep them away

like the hands of a clock

marking time in passing

People ask where time goes

salt from a shaker 

seasoning the savor of life

If well-preserved it melds 

into collections of memories

hours here and there

piled high at the feet

only waiting 

for one Fall day 

with an extra hour

to press them into

the scrapbook of sorts

that is where time goes

when it steps back

one hour suspended

waiting for time

to pass once more

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If It Seems too Good to be True…

It was ninety years ago today that the US stock market began several days of steep declines that marked the beginning of the Great Depression, an era that defined the lives of a generation, both here and abroad. The market had actually begun to decline in September, but the floor fell on Black Tuesday and reached its worst rate of decline on Thursday. Although more gradual, the market continued to decline until March or 1932.

One certainty though was the suffering that ensued as businesses closed, jobs were lost and millions were left to subsist on whatever they could find to do. My father’s father had been an insurance salesman, only to survive by sharecropping, which left his family so poor that they had to move from shack to shack each year when they couldn’t pay the bank or owner from the sales of crops. Their story is echoed in those of countless family stories still told to this day.

There was no one cause for the crash. Certainly, stock prices were over valued, which was enabled by wide availability of loans with which to buy stocks on margin. Lax banking regulation also played a role and led to waves of widespread bank closings as frightened depositors sought to withdraw their savings. There are creditable experts, however, who say that these causes were merely symptoms of natural cycles in capitalism with periodic booms and busts.

The economic decline that the crash precipitated seemed to be fairly permanent, despite the efforts of the FDR administration’s public jobs programs. Ultimately, it was the government’s massive WW II war efforts that ironically lifted the nation from its depression.

The subprime mortgage bubble that led to the 2008 economic crisis was frighteningly reminiscent of the 1929 crash, with its massively overrated subprime mortgage investments. By most accounts, only the $700 Billion Dollar TARP bailout fund and prompt actions by the Federal Reserve Bank prevented another disaster.

I am tempted to point toward other bubbles currently in our economy that might endanger our financial system, but I’m no economist and even they are as bad at predicting recessions as geologists are at foreseeing earthquakes. I suppose the best one can say is still the maxim, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

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Eye on the Ball

In my corner of the world, Summer and its heat still lingers, but the baseball season is turning its calendar to October and the playoffs. Already we know a few things about 2019.

Despite tweaking a few things, the average game is longer than ever – three hours and nine minutes, of which just under 18 minutes of action occurs. That’s more advertising than on a NASCAR racer.

Parity is still an issue among teams. In the end, only one division was truly competitive with four teams winning 100 games or more for only the second time, although some will argue, and as noted, there is plenty of time for that.

And most notably of all, home runs are at an all time high, eclipsing even 2017 and all the years of the steroid players. To all those who love baseball like me, tradition is elemental to the game, so the debate over this change is as important as it is a mystery. Here is a comprehensive and incredulous analysis.

Some experts point to hitting coaches, who espouse an upwards angle of swing to match the downward path of the ball from the mound. Others suggest harder woods in bats, such as maple which has grown in popularity. The betting money, which you can’t do in the game, is on the ball itself.

The “juiced ball”, according to 538, dates from after the 2015 All-Star break. They suggest that a less dense cork core and perhaps a more uniform placement in its center may have something to do with it. Scientists at the University of Washington believe something has reduced the ball’s “coefficient of drag.” Of course, there are also conspiracy theorists, which baseball seems to attract, who claim that, whatever the cause, the league owners sponsored it to try to draw more fans, which by the way have actually gone down.

Since this site is my own soapbox, I offer global warming as the culprit. Warmer air, which we have a lot of these days, is less dense and thus has less resistance to a high fly ball to left, or any other, field. For the same reason cork itself and even the wool within the ball is apt to be different than it was a hundred years ago.

There are plenty of reasons to challenge my theory, but it is more fun to posit one than to do the kind of research that the scientists at UW are doing. One thing is for sure, it’s not baseball without something for loving fans to argue about. With all that love, I offer you this:

Field of Dreams


   Baseball is more than a game.  It is life played out on a field.

            Juliana Hatfield

The magic that occurs to a little leather ball

in the sixty-six feet between the pitcher’s mound 

and home plate is proof if any is needed

that God exists and that he invented baseball

And if you marvel at the complexities 

of nature and the mysteries of the universe

you can trace the mischief in his fingerprints 

through the mystic depths of the infield fly rule

that quantum state in which a dropped fly

is deemed caught even if it could not have been

as mysterious as the retrograde of planets

retracing their arcs in the night sky

Where else can cold-blooded statisticians

and grass-stained boys share the uncommon joy

over twelve extra hits in a season

or stand in awe of a sinking fastball?

Inhale the scent of new mown grass

hear the crack of hand-sewn leather on ash

believe the dream of a walk off homer in the ninth

it may be in a sand lot – but it is also Wrigley Field

Life my feel as cruel and unfair at times 

as a called strike that was high inside

but in baseball every day is opening day

and hope lives forever in the two words “Play ball!”

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Fastnet Forty Years On

Everyone will be commenting on Woodstock today, which started on this day fifty years ago, and most will tell you they were there, but we all could not have been in that half-million crowd. They say no one could remember being there with all the drugs that were passed around. I personally think that anyone old enough to have been at Woodstock probably has Alzheimer’s disease by now and wouldn’t remember anything from that long ago.

For my money, the deadly Fastnet sailing race from forty years ago is well worth recalling. It was chronicled in the excellent book, Fastnet Force Ten by John Rousmaniere. The 600-mile race is held every two years and happened that year to coincide with a significant storm of vastly underestimated strength. Winds were once measured by a scale established by Sir Francis Beaufort, from force 1 (0-1 MPH) to force 12 (72-82 MPH). The officially measured winds in the Fastnet storm were force 10 (55-63 MPH), but some boats reported still higher measurements. Added to the winds was the fact that the wind direction changed as the storm moved through, resulting in confused wave conditions that made controlling the boats even more challenging.

Three hundred boats entered the race and of those, 75 capsized, 24 we’re abandoned and five sank outright. Fifteen sailors and four spectators were lost. The rescue attempts were the largest British peacetime effort ever.

Only 86 boats finished the race, many of which were damaged. Ted Turner, of CNN fame, won the race in the Sparkman and Stephens designed Tenacious. He had famously won the America’s Cup two years earlier.

The 1979 Fastnet Race led to a series of investigations and to more seaworthy designs for future sailboats, particularly those intended for racing. Its lessons are still used today in setting safety at sea standards.

There have been other racing disasters since then, including the 1998 Sydney to Hobart race in which six sailors died and five boats were lost.

All this reminds me of a quote by Buzzy Trent, “Waves are not measured in feet or inches, but in increments of fear.” And also that by E.B. White, “I cannot not sail.”

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History Lesson

Five hundred years ago today, Ferdinand Magellan sailed from Seville Spain planning to reach the Spice Islands (in modern day Phillipines) by sailing west past the southern tip of what we now call South America with five ships and roughly 270 men.

He had sailed previously with others to the region via the Cape of Good Hope and sold his western course to Spain (after being rejected by Portugal) as being closer than the older route. By treaty, Portugal “owned” the eastern route. Given the treaty, he probably had no intention of sailing around the world.

After his death fighting for a friendly force of Spice Islanders, his crew continued on west with one boat crewed by 18 to 19 survivors returned to Spain. Just as Columbus failed to reach East Asia by sailing west and did not, by any legitimate definition, “discover” America, Magellan did not circumnavigate the world, though having been to the Spice Islands from the east and reaching them from the West, he did circle the Earth within his lifetime.

As a whole, the survivors painted a poor picture of Magellan, some of whom had mutinied against along the way. Perhaps for that reason, none of them received credit for their achievement. One, however, remained loyal to Magellan and delivered his notes from the journey to Spain’s King Phillip. He wrote:

“The best proof of his genius is that he circumnavigated the world, none having preceded him.”

and perhaps because of those not so accurate words history now recognizes Magellan as something more than he deserved. If he were recognized in Cooperstown, his record would probably be marked with an asterisk.

Perhaps Martin Luther King, Jr. described history best:

“We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”

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The True Day to Recognize​ Apollo 11

Although the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing of Apollo 11 on July 20, the mission was not truly over until July 24 when it returned to Earth. Like ascending Everest, you had to get back down to truly make history. So today deserves at least a footnote in the history books.

Getting back safely was no small task, as we learned from Apollo 13, remember “Houston, we have a problem”? Indeed, Apollo 11’s splashdown was initially upside down. William Safire had drafted a statement for Richard Nixon to read if the return were unsuccessful, and I know we all are grateful never to have had to hear it. Instead and during the worst of the Vietnam War, he claimed the world had never drawn closer. Best to leave that without comment.

Over time, we have stopped using the phrase, “If they can send a man to the moon…”. I suspect that is not because the thought was worn but because we aren’t so sure we could again. There have, however, been recent references to the idea of a “moon shot” for things like climate change, which is something truly worth considering although it seems to be growing rather late for that.

In noting today’s significance, I certainly don’t mean to diminish the magic of July 20th, 1969. It was one of those days I can say exactly where I was at the time, and I marvel at the moment still. In thinking about that day and time, I wrote this short poem that reflects some of my own thoughts.

July 20, 1969

            After John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

I was schooled to cower 

under the shelter of 

my wooden school desk

to hide from fallout

raining from the sky

in blasts brighter 

than the noonday sun

raising umbrella clouds

to announce the end of days

But for one July evening 

I lay under a clear night sky 

in a field damp with cleansing dew

while man walked far above

on a waxing crescent promise

that we might someday

rise high enough to look down

upon our own self-destruction

and perhaps once more

to touch the heart of God

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On the Fourth of July

Today has been a busy day in history, and not just for the reason you assume. Nathaniel Hawthorne was born on this day in 1804. Walt Whitman first published Leaves of Grass today in 1855, challenging and changing the face of poetry forever – the “poet of democracy.”

Lou Gehrig retired 80 years ago today, one of the early heroes of America’s pastime. His 278 words of goodbye survive in our collective memory as defining the spirit of American work ethic, although we are more likely to imagine the image of Gary Cooper than Gehrig in our minds.

In 1845 Henry David Thoreau moved into his shack on Walden Pond, where his personal introspection found a distinctly American voice that still instills reflection today.

In that spirit of reflection, and not in any way to detract from our rightfull celebrations of today, here is a poem to consider.

Fourth of July

Dripping flags 

sag limply 

in the downpour

Fireworks sputter 

and drown

in the sea

of indifference

that dampens

this day when

 we celebrate

the invention of

Coca-Cola hot dogs

and auto racing

the day the sky 

chose to rain 

on our parade

Perhaps only 

this poem remembers 

the meaning

and the precious

sacrifice spent 

for the freedom

for too many

to forget

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On This Day

On this day in 1980, the video game Pac-Man was introduced to the world. Of course, it came out first in Japan under the name “Puck-Man”, but still the first and possibly greatest time suck in history was born, rivaled only by drive-thru lines and Game of Thrones.

The game began as an arcade game, but most of us from that era played the game first on an Atari console, which had quickly adopted the craze. Ms. Pac-Man, a version with better graphics, followed in 1982. There was apparently even a TV series and a hit song about the game. Ironically, a retro board game was introduced along the way as well.

In our present world with climatic apocalypse at the door and government by Twitter, it seems comforting to look back to simpler times when there were defined paths to follow within a blinking rectangle and enemies you could see and at times escape, all to the perky, machined music that was the inspiration for every pop song since the turn of the century.

I’m sorry to be so brief, but I need to go see if I can beat my highest score.

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Never Say Never

With the end of April, a time dedicated to poetry, but in this year too full of tragedy, perhaps one last poem with a touch of humor is a helpful way to close out the month.

Never Say Never 

            And other lines worthy of Yogi Berra

A chain is only as strong as – its missing link

All that glitters – is a fool and his money

A watched pot is – where the heart is

An ounce of prevention – saves nine

Cleanliness is – the best medicine

A friend in need is – a penny saved

Two wrongs don’t make – a good turn

Birds of a feather – are two in the bush

A miss is as good as – kissing your sister

Leave well enough – where angels fear to tread

Ignorance is the root of all evil – and money is bliss

Good things come to those – who help themselves

Life is short – and the good die young

Rules were made – to flock together

The best things in life – must come down

There’s no fool like – the eye of the beholder

When the cat’s away – the early bird gets the worm 

There’s no time like – having your cake and eating it too 

When the going gets tough – no news is good news

The grass is always greener – on the road to hell

Where there’s a will – it might be Shakespeare

Eat, drink and be merry – is well enough

Better safe – than never

Better late – than sorry

Leave well enough – in one basket 

A little knowledge – also killed the cat

Money doesn’t grow – in love and war

Actions speak louder than – good intentions

Half a loaf is better than – catching the worm

The end justifies – the mother of invention

If it ain’t broke – it’s a bird in the hand

Out of sight is – a dangerous thing

Easy come – soon parted

And great minds – think

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The Last Word

After all is said and done, more is said than done.

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