Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Two Blind Men

Two Blind Men Crossing a Log Bridge

Hakuin Ekaku 1685-1768

I had a date this afternoon to go to the Assyrian exhibit at the Boston Museum of Fine Art. I arrived half an hour early and so wandered into "Zen Mind,Zen Brush" while waiting. This exhibit is for me particularly moving. How might one explain the resonance of soul that these paintings evoke. To the untrained eye they perhaps seem haphazard, but the freedom within the craft of brush painting they display is extraordinary. 

The simple things in life are the hardest to achieve. In art, as in life, elaboration is often a mask for unsteadiness, a cover for indistinct vision, an inability to mark the absolutely essential, and dispense with the rest. When the tool, the mind, the perception and the soul are in perfect unison a single stroke can tell more than all the elaborate detail of a Renaissance fresco.

This painting by Hakuin Ekaku took my breath away. It is an image that is at once amusing, with gentle and kind humor, and a most profound image of man's search through life. Are we all not blind persons crossing the log bridge of life? Who knows into what we fall should our searching hands or prodding stick betray us? What is below that log bridge- the void or two inches of water, flowing gently over soft mud?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Mad Genius

Today is the birthday of  Aramis Guisasola Valverde, "The Mad Genius." 


For Aramis Valverde 

March, 2002

Tears well up, from within, when the shaking of 

emotion creates waves of turmoil

on the placid sea of our souls.

They come from pain, from hurt, from the storms of love.

They come from loneliness, from loss and 

from grief

They come from fear,  from apprehension and from confusion.

But they can also come from thanks for a simple 

gesture of humanity,

And they come when a ray of hope breaks through the clouds of desperate times,

And they can also come from relief, as the 

last winds dissipate

and the storm gives way to the clarity of a 

star filled sky.

Mike Scanlon

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Addendum to Receiving Gifts #3

Please note that woodblock prints and ceramics exceed even Zengna as justification for the very highest level of humble exaltation!

I'll start practicing right now!

Kipling; Curtains; and clichés

In my news feed from NPR I find this article about Rod Blagojevich's use of the Poem "If" under the byline of Linton Weeks. This poem has been quoted, we are told, many times, and it has become trite, and even acquired a sense of irony. It has become a strand in the fabric of the curtain referenced in the entry "What is the curtain" in the blog of The Other Reader

"It's so familiar, says Thomas Pinney, professor emeritus at Pomona College and a Kipling scholar, "it's hard to escape a kind of irony about it."

"Pinney likens it to hearing Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. One. More. Time."

I am reminded of Alexander Woolcott's comment in a review of an "innovative, brand new Broadway musical" that the audience went into the theater humming all the tunes. Or better, the story of the man who took a pretentious but poorly educated friend to a performance of Shakespeare. After the play the host asked his friend what he thought of the play, and the guest responded that he was disappointed, he didn't understand why Shakespeare was so famous when his work was filled with so many clichés.

I like to draw parallels, you may be gathering that I like off beat parallels, and the parallel I'd like to draw is between having sex with someone you love and respect on the one hand, and listening to Beetoven's Fifth- "One. More. Time" on the other. (actually, to those who have the courage to really listen to Beetoven this isn't off beat at all!) It is my wish for you all that both should become frequent in your lives. I see it as a symptom of the addiction to the new, whatever it's quality, and the shortness of the collective attention span, that anyone could become bored with either. Obviously we do, to the impoverishment of our enjoyment of both our relationships and our musical understanding.

 Innovation is possibly the smallest of those things that give value to either a relationship or a work of art. To fully, deeply understand either takes years, takes focus and patience. Listening to the Fifth over and over again may possibly bring a sophisticated listener to the door of the place of understanding, just as having deeply sensual sex with another human being takes years of trust building and understanding. It is a grail that is only won with hard work and discipline, but once won is precious beyond expectation. It is only when all the aspects of a work, or a person, that are obvious and easily accessible are completely assumed that one can get into the meat of the matter. I am not proposing that "If" has a great deal of "Meat" for an adult, but Beetovan's Fifth most certainly has more than anyone can handle reasonably.

"For an adult" to quote myself, which I admit to enjoy doing. It amuses me not a little that the last words of "If" do not factor in the discussion- "my son." This poem was written to address the development of a youngster, showing him where virtue and strength lie. The guidance it gives to a young person is extremely sound. All stuff that adults such as Margaret Thatcher, Rod Blagojevich and, we hope, one's self should have incorporated and moved on from years ago. Discussing the cliché content of the poem is a symptom of the way "Art" and "Poetry" have been so removed from life that the purpose and audience a piece was composed for is completely lost sight of. ( some construction such as Kipling is famous, therefore this is "Art," therefore it is the province of educated adults, therefore I can use it! seems to be in place.)  I really think it a little funny that "IF" is being referenced by adults to their peers; but on the other hand, perhaps the assumption that Maggie, Rod, and their audience are still digesting "If" isn't that far off the mark.

Those who read this blog will know that I am a 60 year old man who has had some very hard knocks over the last decade. I have been challenged in the ways this poem anticipates. At fifty I perhaps would have joined in the collective highbrow chuckle, but now I see and appreciate the value of this advice. It resonates with my recent experiences in a way that I hope my readers never share; but don't be too smug- fate is a fearful foe, and has a very perverse sense of humor! 

Sorry if I sound cranky but mom has made my porridge yet...... 

Friday, December 19, 2008

My Eye on the BI #3

It's odd to say this but in a way I am grateful for "Eye on the BI" for impelling me to say some things which for long I have been recognizing the need to myself, and have been feeling guilty that I haven't acted on that feeling.

This post encompasses a variety of subjects, Health Care Design, Institutional Compassion, a continuing statement of my personal gratitude to the Board who runs the BI, and finally a huge tip of the hat to all the support people, case workers, nurses, practice assistants, technicians, orderlies, the women in the labs- everyone at Health Care Associates- and also the people in the lobby, the parking people, greeters, the woman who plays the harp sometimes (this is the most gracefully healing thing I have ever seen in a health care environment) and finally I would like to include the staff at Super Salad.

I know from my own business experience that when you are dealing with the public you only hear about problems, almost never hear what is going right, I also know that, speaking as a consumer, this is wrong. On the personal hand this is wrong because expressing gratitude brings on us the blessing of re-enjoyment of the things we are grateful for, and on the more public hand, it offers direction and information to those who are trying to do the right thing. This is why I have felt guilty about my own reticence.

It was not through neglect that I left my doctors out of the list above. They are remarkable people, and will get their own praise in another entry, but they are supported by the non medical staff, and that staff is so often passed over that I want to make this expression of gratitude specific to everyone from my caseworker to the architect and designer who make my trips to the doctor so comforting.

After my comments on the building you will find that the narrative of this post also, even mainly concerns a group whose service I never need, but who I watch at their work constantly- the translators and the interpreters for the hearing impaired.

This past year has been very intense for 

me. I have been receiving Interferon treatments every week at the liver center. I can not deal with needles and would not have done this if the nurse there had not agreed to give me the shots in the office! I have had an average of  2 appointments per week plus tests, labs drawn, more tests, specialists etc, and here is a question: with these things which require an extremely high level of compliance, what might the compliance level of a patient be if in addition to the burdens of the treatment itself the patient had to deal with an unpleasant and unfriendly environment? (Did I include the staff in Radiology? wonderful people!)

I often say that I owe my life to my doctors, but my compliance level is very much a factor of the efforts of all these people.

The Shapiro Clinical Center is the single most successfully designed outpatient clinic I have ever experienced. I am speaking now as a designer. I have never worked directly in health care, but it was an import part of the curriculum in the deign classes I taught at Wentworth Institute, Of the qualification exam of NCIDQ and a great concern for the Board of the New England Chapter of ASID on which I sat. I recite this so you may know that these are not idyl comments. Beth Israel took the old Mass College of art building, preserving the facade and built a new, lofty and light filled structure within it. It is warm, inviting, feels more like a hotel than a hospital and is beautifully finished. The space flows smoothly, the waiting rooms are filled with light and air, and everything is close, convenient and efficient. I have had everything from surgery to xrays right in this very pleasant building, and it connects to the main hospital by bridge- oddly that bridge is where a very important turning point in my life occurred- another story for another time! As a professional designer and educator I had to be able to tell young professionals and students what the point of design actually is. The point of good design is to improve the well being and ability to function of those who use the space. It is a great ideal but seldom met. I would like to applaud Beth Israel for so successfully meeting that standard.

Here is my photograph of the en

trance of the building: 

I was there the other day, waiting to have labs drawn. I have a wonderful relationship with the woman in the central suite of Health Care Associates. For many years now I have been giving them more blood than I thought was possible, and this woman has been doing it the whole time- at times twice a month. I will wait for 40 minutes for her rather than go to the other lab because we have really wonderful conversations about our families and our spiritual concerns. She somehow manages to get the needle in and draw as many as 17 tubes while this is going on without my even noticing! She is a great blessing to this world, and the fact that she can do it while distracting this frantic needlephobe is an amazing gift to me!

I was waiting for her the other day, in the waiting room at Health Care Associates and watched this scene unfold. It was on the other side of the room and I could not hear the content of what was said, but had a very clear view of their faces and expressions, and I could tell that the tall blond woman was speaking Russian only. This is being played out in the bath of diffused light from the huge windows which shines through layers of frosted glass. Perhaps through sympathy, even empathy, I have become very sensitized to the emotional state of other patients, and the look of worry and strain on the Russian woman's face spoke of some very unpleasant situation unfolding. Whether it was her own case, or a loved one I can not know, but what was clear that there was some problem, I don't know what and for my purpose here it isn't important. What is important is the way she was being treated by the case worker, translator and practice assistant, who were dealing with the problem. From a distance I assumed that the two people with her were family or friends. The practice assistant I recognized, but the other two? The PA made many trips to the back area, there was much back and forth and finally the resolution was reached. The expression of shear relief and gratitude that spread over that woman's face will be with me forever, I was near tears just watching as she received the news, whatever it was. Then the other two shook her hand and started to walk to the office and I realized that they were a translator and caseworker. My initial mistake should illustrate the way the woman was being cared for. I left after seeing my friend in the central lab, and was thinking of all the work that my own caseworker has put into my comfort and health, of the reception staff and practice assistants who greet me so cordially and know who I am and what I need even before I tell them, who remember my nephew from 4 years ago when he was bringing me back and forth and ask for him still, and who report to me about their kids, "School- It was only yesterday you were pregnant!"

In my darkest hours I have always been eager to go to the Shapiro center, always feel at home there- and that is an essential part of health care. I was thinking all this as I left. The harp woman was playing in the lobby and as I passed to the doors I noticed a small group with one the hospitals signers interpreting for a hearing impaired person. 

Put your eye on the BI and all this is what you'll see!

Attention: arrival of pi

And I don't mean on Mexico's western shore. This pi is Russian not Indian so check out Another Internal Incident-update #1 in it's newly complete form.

Oddly enough reading help actually helped!

And if you're curious about the Indian pi, read "Life of Pi" for one of the most amazing stories I've ever read and profoundly beautiful. It ends with a most amusing scene which looks at the fact the the truth is often rejected as false!

But this isn't a book report.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

And while on the Theme of Xmass....

The elves at SlashDot have come across this perfectly astounding example of humans projecting their own personalities onto other entities- even ones who have very little use for us other that as food.

After you've had a good chuckle- you are chuckling, are you not? Dear me, I'm not hearing chuckles......

After you've calmed down consider this: what we have here is an excellent model of how man relates to God. By playing Him Christmas Carols in effect, because we know that, of course, the heavenly Sun has it's solstice at the exact same time as our Sun, and surly He is nostalgic over the kisses under the mistletoe he stole from (I'm not telling.) And then the clouds look so much like snow on a ski slope from above- we know that from our trips to Steamboat- and of course he was "With Us" on the slopes, remember that time we fell off the ski lift and caught a tip but didn't break anything? God needs a break from the city too, right?

Just as the sharks do. What do you suppose they have for Christmas Diner; Hebridean sailor? Or possibly they will go south to the Bay of Biscay and have a nice Basque and visit the museum. You can tell from their shape that they would really love Frank Gehry, and his architecture too!

Or maybe sharks celebrate Kwanzaa in the caribbean!

 I don't think these researchers have put enough thought into the planning of this experiment.

Happy Merry!

Receiving Gifts #2

On the other hand, if they went to Zengna for that tie, we follow a different strategy. Effusion is in order. We follow William Blake's dictum:"Nothing succeeds like excess." Take every opportunity to wear it in their presence, and comment how much you enjoy it, how close to them you feel when doing so.

You will make them very happy about their sagacity in gifting, and may just get yourself something from Zengna next year.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Receiving Gifts

It is better, they say, to give than to receive. Ever wonder why?

Mrs McIntyre had the answer, When we went to Mrs. Macintyre's to play with her grandchildren we had to dress- for lunch. Being the incipient little queer that I was I loved It. Mrs MacIntyre allowed me to stay overnight (I was the only friend allowed to do so.) She told my mother I was a "gentleman by instinct" Talk about coded messages. That was 50's speak for the boy is likely queer and he has to do well by instinct because as far as training goes..... I'm not sure that's entirely fair but it went right over mom's head in any case. She was impressed that the august woman liked me and I got to go through a Complete set of National Geographics. It was a fine romance.

Seriously though, Mrs McIntire did have the answer, and it was a good one, so I thought I would share it. I've been guided by it my whole adult life, and it has made many aspects of social interchange much easier.

I had been paid a compliment and was standing there in her music room (2 concert grands and a baby if you don't mind) blushed to the eyes with had a mouth full of marbles. here it is:

"Michael, the most difficult thing for a gentleman to do is to receive a gift or a compliment gracefully."

That's it. Think about it for a while and you'll find she was exactly right. It's a little hurdle, let me help you over it.

In the realm of manners what are your obligations when someone gives you a gift or pays you a compliment? (note that these rules do not apply if you made a request that is now being granted- the level of obligation is a little higher then, but we will assume you had figured the obligation out before you asked.)

In the first case your obligation is limit to a sincere"Thank You" (it must be sincere but need not be too present specific,) and that my, friends, is all. A useful extension of the form is "Thank you, it was very kind of you to think of me, I will always treasure that you gave me this."

A clever person can always find an honest path through bad presents. I will point out that you avoided all mention of the whale covered tie. you did not thank them for thinking you would like a tie from that new place at Prudential mall that sounds like a winery but sells clothing for the capen isands (do you know it took me two years to figure out where they are, and I come from Rhode Island, as Blossom Dearie told you all. And Rhode Island is famous for, in addition to me, being only 40 miles away. I am digressing.

It was very kind of them to think of you. Very kind indeed, and there is no way around that. If you are going to have relationships with people you must honor their sentiments. There are no moral values associated with taste or design and to put those concerns ahead of the personal values of your friends, associates or relationships is frankly immoral.

 Managing your wardrobe in such a way as never to appear in their vicinity in an appropriately colored outfit however, might require planning- 

"Oh! That lime green tie with the blue whales would go so well with that suit!"

"I agree, but I left it in P'Town so it would be there for New Years... You are going to NYC again?" 

You also have not said that you will treasure the tie, only treasure that they thought to give it to you which is indeed the true gift.

NEVER demean the gift or contradict them, and contradictions include that old saw "Oh, you shouldn't have" We now come to the heavy work. The phrase implies that either you know better or that you feel entitled to judge their actions; or that you yourself feel unworthy. It is one of those phrases that can only lead to tit for tat which is the very essence of bad manners. Unless of course they decide to agree with you. I know you mean well but you are being obnoxious- whether they realize it or not.

Many people get their nickers in a knot over questions of reciprocation and obligation. This is a way of demeaning their gift. It is not a "Deal" or a bargain, it's just a gift. Perhaps you didn't get them anything. So be it, accept theirs with true appreciation and keep your mouth shut. you might spend some time chatting about the new swing set in the playground or go to the bar for them. That really is a far is it goes. If they expect something else it's their karmic problem.

Being concerned about the value, coolness, or stylishness of the gift is superficial and insincere- it says that style is more important than your friend. Perhaps you should ask yourself that question before continuing the relationship.You might consider going to Neiman Marcus to buy your own gifts. Some people find their relationship with themselves so fulfilling that one wonders why they bother others at all.

So taking all this together you see why giving is so much better than receiving- you do of course know the art of gifting so well that we can assume no awkward little moments- yes? "Where fools rush in.." But all joking aside this requires some habits very difficult to develop: security in oneself; absence of a need to "top" people, true sincerity in social exchange, generosity of spirit, and even humility. This is the heavy lifting of manners.

It's just easier and safer to give. Laurence Sterne once said that "we love people not so much for the good they have done us as for the good we have done them"

But let me tell you the way in which Mrs MacIntire is really right on: When you learn to look in someone's eye and say "Thank You" sincerely, without embellishment, without protest or apology, "The social whirl" will whirl at your feet. try it, you'll like it!

Enjoy the season, my friends 

Another International Incident-Update#1

I was tossing and turning with a fever last night and of course could think of nothing but potential blog posts:

"In fact, the world is full of hopeful analogies, and handsome dubious eggs call possibilities"

That is for the other reader, who is winging her way to distant shores, and whose love hate relationships exist in a world outside most humans' emotional range. BTW I am fiercely jealous that she got to see rock and roll! (you bloggers understand about these little coded messages, don't you? we are actually- no I won't say it; it might cause another international incident.)

My emotional range last night only brought me as far as the russian emoticons- I really can't explain why that is the case. I thought I would take on the "pi" project myself. Don't attempt this at home unless your working in a unicode compatible program:

Note: Copyright 2008 michael scanlon

while trying to figure out the upload image tool I came up with this

 :-))-; (means" I wish I hadn't agreed to meet this guy)


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Shabbat Shalom

On Friday evening I attended the Sabbath Eve service at Boston Jewish Spirit. Boston Jewish Spirit is the progressive reform congregation that shares Emmanuel Church in Boston. This sharing between the Episcopal and Jewish congregations is one of the reasons I joined Emmanuel; even so I surprised myself by actually attending their service.

I have been hearing my mother's voice: "you can not be a good Christian unless you are a good Jew first."

How she came to this I do not know. I always accepted her view on things and this resonated. Perhaps it was under the influence of her Jesuit cousin Father John, although I haven't heard anyone else in the family express the sentiment.

"Mom, why do the nuns at school say it's wrong to have Jewish friends?"

"The nuns are good women, and good teachers, but they are not free of the prejudices they grew up with in Ireland. Remember- Christ was a practicing and committed Jew."

I am reading James Carroll's "Constantine's Sword" In it he describes the ferment in catholicism that led to Pope John Paul II's pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In the early stages of that movement their was much discussion of the Jewishness of Christ, could that have been her source? My mother, though devote, was no theologian.

We were taken to Temple Beth El in Providence, were conversant with the differences between orthodox, conservative and reform Judaism, and went to friends' houses for Chanukah and Passover; even visited the Port family while they were sitting shiv'ah after Mr Port's death. My Brother was named Joel- imagine a little Irish Catholic cherub with that name. And he was always extremely proud of it's Jewish associations.

My childhood was filled with Jewish friends. Some of my best friends really were Jewish- really best friends. And by the way that is still the case, but except for the Bar Mitzvahs of my dear friends Michael and David, who were not found under a rock but are the children of my dearest friends, I have not been in a Jewish house of worship since my childhood.

Until last night. Theoretical reasons usually stimulate only theoretical action, and so I was dependent on a growing respect for Rabbi Berman to motivate me. His sermon to the Emmanuel congregation on the anniversary of Kristallnacht  was austere, factual, and incredibly affecting. His comments last weekend on the "Seafarer" were incredibly wise and perceptive. This was at a "Talk Back" event for Emmanuel Center. He and Rev. Werntz moderated this discussion after the performance.  I must say that while they have rather different styles, Rabbi Berman and Rev.Werntz are as impressive a pair preachers as I have ever come across; both combine a keen intelligence with humility and compassion- exactly as clergy ought to do.

So Friday evening I listened to my mother's voice and went to Sabbath Eve service. It was held in the parish hall, a small group, and was the most intimate worship service I have ever attended. Intimate, welcoming, simple and warm. I was struck by the similarity between their prayers and our own. We all pray to the same God, with very much the same words, from the same scriptures, and yet our communities have seemed so alien to one another. It is so strange to me. There was minimal Hebrew so I was able to appreciate this in a more immediate way than before.

The congregation was so warm, gracious and welcoming, and I look forward to new friendships growing from this. But what most impressed most me was this:

Beside me sat a father, mother, and their son. I would guess the son to be 10 or 12 years old. I won't disrespect him by trying to guess the nature of his affliction, but in his body and voice was clear evidence of an affliction of some sort. He talked through the service, yet his parents gave him only patient love. And the congregation as well- no impatient shushing, no critical looks. It was the single most impressive display I have ever seen of a group of adults accepting the responsibilities of love and tolerance that are the very essence of adulthood; of honoring the presence of this young man in the worship of our God.

After the service, at a table provided generously with wine and food, I watched him with his father and could only think that truly God was present with these people.

Shabbat Shalom.

My eye on the BI #2

I have discovered another Blog-"Running a Hospital!" Talk about a big subject!

 Is there any one left who does not blog? In this case it is particularly interesting, and useful, as in the entry of Monday July 10th in which I find an explanation of the background to the "Eye on the BI" advertisements and the SEIU. It makes me very sad that the labor movement has been so morally reduced that they have to employ these tactics. Talk about degrading! what ever happened to the responsible, the honorable, stance taken by labor in the past. I can understand that in the case of migrant farm workers or other really oppressed groups, absent any constructive response from their employers such tactics might be resorted to, but here we are talking about the teaching hospitals of Harvard University in a major metropolitan area. I find it very upsetting that the after the accomplishments of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that organized labor should be reduced to this.

I want to be clear that my complaint is the misleading nature of the advertising- misleading in this respect: that neither the intention nor the source is clear. They do have "SEIU" at the bottom. Who knows what that means? the "U" does stand for "Union" so the clairvoyant amongst us should be able to figure it out, but what are the rest of us to do? 

How many times has it happened that a valuable and important institution, even those that contribute heavily to the welfare of our community gets tied into bureaucratic and public relations knots that reduce it's effectiveness as a result of this kind of cowardly attack. It happens because we all stand by and assume that the issue is somehow distant from us; however we regret it, our laziness, fears and isolation make it seem irrelevant to us.

Do you drive? Ever been in an accident? Found yourself in an ambulance? Are you aware that being received at any emergency room, which I think we all assume as a matter of course, is no longer the case. The driver will drive to the BI or Boston Medical because he knows you will be received there. Think about that the next time you see one of those posters!

I will close by sharing with you this observation: That when one is reduced by illness to dependance and poverty you still can find help, compassion and respect in places like the BI. That hasn't happened by accident. It may sound strange to say, but through my own illness I have discovered a blanket of kindness in institutions and in my fellow man that has been a great and consoling gift. The world won't stay that way if we lack the courage, individually and as a society to speak up- to speak out!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Another International Incident

I see this morning an article on Slashdot about the claim of the Russian entrepreneur Oleg Teterin that the Russian Federal Patent Agency had given him a patent on the- I'm afraid to actually insert it now- that emoticon with the smile!!! 

Mon Dieu! what will all our chat programs do. Will our governments come to blows over this?

I have two questions:
1) What do emoticons look like when typed in Russian language- I am particularly curious about the one with it's tongue sticking out. Russian, like Greek uses "Pi" so does that mean all their cheeky little faces have forked tongues?

2) Should we developed specifically American Emoticons, such as "Howdy Partner" or "So's your mother?" That would be a graphic challenge for Mr. Brown.

The full BBC article is here but don't skip Slashdot, it is a great rss feed!

Have a beautiful day! (assume insertion of smiley face in russian)

As a post script let me tell you that my spell check is is very upset about the word emoticon, so I went to the Oxford English Dictionary and find:

A representation of a facial expression formed by a short sequence of keyboard characters (usually to be viewed sideways) and used in electronic mail, etc., to convey the sender's feelings or intended tone.
Examples are the sequences :-) and :-( representing a smile and a frown respectively.

1990 N.Y. Times 28 Jan. I. 39/4 Emoticon{em}typographical device used to indicate tone or emotion in a posting. 1994 Observer 13 Feb. (Life Suppl.) 8/3 Hence the development of ‘netiquette’, essentially on-line codes of behaviour, and ‘emoticons’ or ‘smileys’, little text ideograms which are used to signal sense (e.g. :-) to show good intentions, ;-) a wink to indicate irony). 1997 Vancouver Sun 29 Jan.D13/3 Mitchell and Murphy ask their clients to convey their emotions within square brackets rather than using the normal e-mail emoticons. 2001 Guardian (Electronic ed.) 24 Feb., Imagine the horrors of being poised over your mobile phone and suddenly forgetting the necessary emoticon.
I love the seriousness with the Oxford treats such a word.

Oh, and what about a "Cheers" emoticon?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Evolving Polygons,DNA, and the Renaissance

I would like to dedicate this to my friend Doctor Q at Q-optical in Boston.

This morning my rss feed from Slash Dot led me to this very interesting post by Roger Alsing in which he demonstrates the generation of a copy of the Mona Lisa comprised of 50 polygons. I can not pretend to understand the technical aspects of his process, but what I find interesting 
is the similarity to calculus. From the point of view of computer science this may be stating the obvious, but what I suspect is less obvious to those who have not studied the development of pictorial perspective is the way all this relates to the process of creating a perspective image on a two dimensional surface. I am speaking specifically of drafted, or measured perspective
This process can be very complicated geometrically and is without question a "scientific method."
This image was drawn by Paulo Uccello, a florentine artist of the late 14th- early 15th century. It is particularly good for illustrating the way that the volume of the object is reduced to many polygons. I will try to explain briefly what you are seeing here.  The various circles which in fact form the shape of the chalice - it's foot, the rings, the stem, the rim etc. have been drawn as circles on a separate drawing and then projected into ellipses by the method shown in the wikipedia article linked above. But this only gives the broad outlines. Say for instance a decorative pattern  circles the chalice, how do you locate the intervals of the pattern as they turn around the circumference? This is very likely the exact problem Uccello was addressing in this study. 

The way one locates the points turning around the circumference is to return to the plan view (the view from directly above), of the actual circles, and divide their circumference into the number units required. The circles of the plan are easily drawn with a compass and they are easily divided with a protractor. These constructions are often called "Projections" in this case we are creating a "perspective projection." Refer to the article, this is a "One point perspective projection" The term "Projection" is used because what we do at this point is to project, using the vanishing point, those divisions of the circumference of the circle in plan onto the circle drawn "In Perspective" (the ellipse.) The trickiest part of this is the fact that when viewed from above those divisions are even, but when projected they diminish as the approach the edge.
I have done a quick drawing to show this.  (forgive me, but the Uccello image jumped right into this post where I wanted it and my own drawing is stuck at the top of the post out of sequence- sorry) 

The circle in my drawing is divided into 12 equal segments. Slices of a pie- A pie chart, another connection- perhaps this is also used to convert pie charts into graphs in power point- all these things are done on the same principle. Above the "Pie chart" and centered exactly is the ellipse that represents the circle receding in space. What is very interesting is that the ellipse acquires the appearance of a receding circle only by it's context- it is of course a two dimensional ellipse but we understand it as a three dimension circle receding on a plane by comparing it to the circle. I have raised lines (this is the projection) from the points on the circumference to the analogous points (analogous-algorithm) on the ellipse. Notice the way that the space between the lines diminishes as they move away from the center. The Uccello drawing is doing this same thing in an incredibly elaborate way. Imagine this process turned 90 degrees and dealing with rectangles and you have the method of representing a checkerboard pattern receding in space; again, the way the squares diminish is determined by a geometric projection.

What now become obvious (at least to me) is the connection between the studies of Uccello, Brunelleschi, and Leonardo on the one hand, with the method of calculating surface area employed in the calculus on the other.

Of course that diminishing of the divisions can be calculated using algorithms, which is what calculus and computers do, and thereby we have a direct connection between the studies of Uccello and Roger Alsing - is it a reducio ad absurdum to propose that they have done the same thing, just used different tools?

As another student of this art, L.B. Alberti said "Art without science is nothing."


Monday, December 8, 2008

on a winter's night some things never change

The pile of books beside my bed is getting very large. These are all the books that I bought as "Holiday Gifts" that I have to read before - which comes first this year, Chanukah or Kwanzaa?
life gets so complicated- in any case the pressure is distracting me from the book I would like to read just for myself which is David Park's "The Grand Contraption" In which I find this little ditty from Egypt before 1200 bce:

When my hair was half done
I remembered I love you
I forgot my hair
I ran to find you
Now let me finish
I'll only be a minute

Sound familiar? Some things never change.........

One of the reasons that I am lagging in all this reading is that just when I'm settled and have found the place where I left off I remember that the water glass is empty, and then I settle again and remember the chapstick, now that that's taken care of the pillows have shifted- oh! and this would be a good time to floss.....

Have I mentioned that the other reader gave me a copy of Italo Cavalo's "If on a winter's night a traveller?"

So tell me, does art follow life or does life follow art, or does life follow life or .........

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Dressed for Church

Oscar Wilde once remarked that "the knowledge  that one is perfectly well dressed conveys a sense of inner peace that religion is powerless to provide!"

Happy Sunday- I was in my black and powder blue Dolce and Gabanna, what about you?

Moments Musicaux: AH!

Is it only for myself that the currents of coincidence play to an appropriate score, usually provided by WGBH, Emmanuel Music, in some very dramatic cases the car radio- and in one perfectly absurd case the ring tone of a perfect stranger's cell phone!? I started this blog this week to honor the anniversary of the passing of the "Mad Genius" and today we had Buxtehude: for the prelude; for the cantata (Kommst du, kommst du, Licht der Heiden?) and for the Postlude; Praeludium in G minor. the connection with the Mad Genius is that he was a passionate advocate of the idea that everything of value in Bach was inspired by Buxtehude. I can't speak to that, only for his love of Buxtehude. The music was sublime. Thanks to Nancy Granert our organist and Emmanuel music.

I particularly enjoy the intimacy with the musicians in this setting, the closeness as they process by my seat and their clear sense of prayer through their music.

The Buxtehude Cantata starts with a quintet for strings. After the first bars I heard from behind me a joyous AHHHHH! the intonation was so sweet and the sound so true. 

My thanks to Emmanuel Music.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

My Eye on the B.I.

This was written November 14th

My first awareness of the "Eye on the B.I." advertising campaign, if that is what it should be called, resulted from those little billboard trucks driving around the hospital itself. I saw them as I was leaving an appointment at the Shapiro Center. I don't know about you but to me those trucks look so much like tonka toys that I didn't do much but laugh. a few weeks later , however I noticed one outside Backbay Station which cast aspersions on the Beth Israel Emergency Room "the most expensive emergency room for medicare patients ( curious syntax- for the patients?) This in particular set me off because I know full well why the BI's emergency room is expensive; it is expensive because they will not turn anyone away, and will treat and care for anyone whether or not they have the means to pay. I know this from my own experience with AIDS and will give a brief account of the debt of gratitude I owe the "B.I." But first I want to ask a few question about this campaign.

Based only on the billboards I could not for the life of me figure out what the agenda behind them is. It may be that at the root there is some issue that could be discussed productively, but what is clear is that whoever is running this campaign is keeping their agenda very obscure in the face of the public and my first question is to wonder, during this anniversary time of Kristallnact whether there isn't some veiled anti-semitism behind this campaign. perhaps you think my question is extreme, or paranoid? Let me tell you that I am an Episcopalian of Irish heritage, and I ask this based solely on what I observe in the signs. It is fair to ask why I should question this- these are my reasons;

The billboards I have seen cast aspersions on the hospital that I know to be false and inappropriate from my personal experience. After some exploration I discover that this is an attempt to unionize the hospital, but the advertising does not say anything obvious about that issue. Questions such as who it is that wants to unionize, what group they represent, what ills might result from the lack of unions, or what dialogue is taking place between the unions and the hospital administration are not raised by the advertising. Instead it tells us that the hospital makes mistakes in their medicare accounting, some of which I am sure happened while they were trying to keep me alive- and note that they only mention mistakes in the hospital's favor which gives the impression that the mistakes are deliberate; and tells us how wildly expensive the emergency room is (?? is unionizing going to make it less so??) Perhaps there are others I haven't seen.

I can see no constructive agenda which approaches the issue of unionization, and as an observer on the street I don't even know who is making these accusations or why. Add to these facts that it is only the "Jewish" hospital that is being targeted and the only conclusion i can draw is that even if this group is trying to accomplish something valid it is playing subtly on age old prejudices about Jews and money rather than presenting their position in a cogent and fair manner. This is very destructive and insults the good intentions of labor as a movement in general- a movement deeply indebted to Jews, by the way.

Why does all this matter to me? Because I, Irish Christian that I am, have been a patient at Beth Israel for years. First under the care of Dr. Hamaway at Deaconess, and then, after the merger, and by a very fortunate stroke of Fate, with Dr Rafael Campo and Dr. Elisa Choi, at Health Care Associates at the Shapiro Center. I came down with AIDS in 2001, and at the time had Tufts Premium health insurance. By 2003 my partner, Aramis Valverde (AKA Mad Genius)- a cuban catholic- had been unable to work for many months, had not been able to keep up his health insurance, and we found ourselves in a terrifying position. We went to the Beth Israel emergency room hat in hand, and were welcomed, immediately cared for, admitted to the hospital (for the first of three times) and the staff at Beth Israel not only cared for him in a stellar fashion, but they also treated me- who at the time had no legal standing- with a degree of compassion and respect that was truly moving. There was no talk of money and payment, except in this respect, that the hospital's social workers went into high gear to negotiate with Masshealth and Medicare to find what funds they could on Aramis's behalf, but the care they gave him was never contingent upon these efforts- and their message to me was not to worry, whatever the circumstances my partner would have the highest quality care, even if it was at the hospitals expense, and I assure you he did.

In the year following Aramis's death I found myself in the same position. I was too sick to work, lost my insurance and had gone 3 months without my HIV meds. I was starting to have respiratory problems and was terrified. My doctor tracked me down to find out why I missed an appointment and I explained the financial/ health insurance problem. within 5 hours he had me on "The B.I." free care system and I had my prescriptions in hand. shortly after this I was admitted ( the respiratory problems were indeed pneumonia.) The care I received as a "Free Care" patient was identical to what I had received as a Tufts Premium member, and once again, not only the care, but the respect and compassion that the staff of the hospital extended, and continues to extend to me is truly amazing, not least the social workers who deal with the byzantine with the byzantine labyrinth of the health care system. As one who has had to interface with that system for 4 years now I can tell you it is impossible to figure out, and if the hospital has only made errors on 500,000 dollars worth of billing they must be really good because that system is such a quagmire of conflicting bureaucracies that even the government itself can't keep it straight.

I have personalized this because unlike the folks running the "Eye on the BI campaign" I want you to know exactly what my agenda is. I am a sixty year old Christian who has nursed a partner through through death from AIDS and been saved from the same fate the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center over the last few years. I am angered by the "Eye on the B.I." campaign not just because they attack an institution to which I owe my life, but because they are doing it in an underhanded, destructive, and malicious way.

Here I am again- on my own

Greetings, is it not customary to introduce and explain oneself when entering the "Blogosphere?" For me the former is much easier than the later! 

This is not my first appearance here, though it is my first effort at producing my own blog, and to introduce myself, and explain the allusion contained in this title, I refer to an earlier blog that had not a little popularity, called Lucubrations of a Mad Genius. The "Mad Genius" was my much lamented partner Aramis and I am Michael about whom he spoke so frequently. I am afraid that since his passing 5 years ago this week I have been a guest of Job in the land of Utz, but have decided to try and write my way out of that strange place.

Here are some things I would like you to know about me:

As did the Mad Genius, I live in Boston MA.

I am a man "of a certain age" and was not taught to type in school. That was the time before computers and even hand held calculators. Whoever would have thought...........

The consequence is that you may expect entries to appear at a rather sluggish pace.

I am, as you might guess from the other "Lucubrations" I am a very "Out" homosexualist (and a snide grammarian.) The case is more accurately described as society never succeeding in putting me "In" that particular closet; and I have a very interesting case of AIDS. I warn you in advance that I will speak on those topics; how could I not? To do otherwise would rob me of integrity and you of many funny stories. But fear not, these circumstances are not in any way oppressive to me. please trust that I view them with interest and joy, and hope you can do the same.

A closet I have been in for may years is the closet that contains the "Unchurched." Matters of the spirit and my relationship with the eternal have for me been always very pressing and serious, but as so often happens my meditations have tended more to drive me away from rather than toward churches. Alas I keep trying and keep feeling like a "Stranger from a strange land." But just recently I have found a church which is quite happy to welcome such strangers. Emmanuel Church in Boston is a subject I will share with you.

I am a man of many interests: the visual arts; architecture and design; literature and poetry, and science as it bears on the above and on the affairs of the spirit. The mad genius has mentioned my poetry- you will see some of it shortly.

I also collect aphorisms:

"Art without science is nothing"  L.B.Alberti
Interesting, no? It actually explain a lot about me!

I am endlessly fascinated by my fellow man. I do not watch television, and will tell you that folks often react negatively and even aggressively when I tell them that. I say sometimes that I abstain as a courtesy to my friends- it allows me to entertain the fantasy that everything they say is original; but the real reason is that there is nothing on T.V. that is half as amusing as life. You will hear about this in my "Comedy of manners"

I must tell you that I have my personal "Historia Calamitatem" (the spell check dislikes latin!) It occured in 2006, and is still a very difficult thing for me to speak of. As a result of confusion about whether I owned a building in town (I didn't) where the police claimed to find a "Meth Lab" (they were wrong) my house was was destroyed and I was jailed. It took a year to sort that out. I bring this up just after speaking of the "comedy of manners" because as terrifying as the experience was what I saw and experienced has changed me in such fundamental ways that it can not be ignored, and frankly is the source of some really hysterical stories, which I could not tell if you didn't know this!

Friends ask how I have survived the years since Aramis's passing. My answer concerns the two great gifts I have been given- a clean conscience and a very perverse sense of humor; they will take you far in dealing with adversity.

It is my hope and my intention to amuse you all, and while some of my subjects will be serious you will find my take on them to be interesting at least, usually ironic, if not sardonic. But then, it was not for nothing that the mad Genius and I shared so much!

Before proceeding I have a debt of honor to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to address. It is my response to the "eye on the BI" advertisements that are appearing around town. Not my most amusing post, but honor calls- and those who remember "The Mad Genuis" will learn a little of his end.

Blogspot still keeps some of "Lucubrations of a mad genius" up, and I have it all on my hard drive, so we may return to parts of it from time to time. He will be as present in my blog as I was in his.