Thursday, January 31, 2013

Combat Art

I spoke with a friend today who had just watched his young son complete a belt test in Taekwondo.  The youngster had been one of thirty students, all presenting the skills they had learned in order to move from their introductory white belts to the first color belt, yellow.  My friend was struck by the students' discipline as well as their accomplishments.  He commented that his son was not so attentive at home.  He also noticed that the children were filled with pride and joy.

I was not surprised by my friend's account.  I, too, am a student of Taekwondo.  Like the other stylized methods from the rich martial culturesof the world, Taekwondo combines mental and physical discipline that shape the mind and body. A student develops the power and techniques for self-protection, and the mental acuity needed to focus all energy on one purpose.  The Black Belt is the student's initiation into a worldwide community.  At the school I attend students are expected to demonstrate integrity, perseverance, self control and an indomitable spirit.  Young and old alike gain the skills, and move together in a synthesized presentation. It is training for self defense.  It requires strength and grace.  It is combat art.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

No, I Do Not Know

Pity the poor thought pause.  This bit of silence used to occupy the space between words as the speaker collected her thoughts before moving on.  The thought pause was complimentary to good grammar, often emphasizing the period at the end of a complete sentence.  In today's colloquial speech the thought pause has been replaced by the meaningless phrase, "you know".  Some speakers will insert multiple "you know's" before half a thought is completed.  This way of speaking has spread throughout the broadcast world.  When turning away from the telepromped script for an ad libbed thought even the best news anchors resort to "you know".  Consider the thought pause.  Accept its calming influence on conversation.  Embrace a little silence between thoughts. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Never Too Old

Today I heard from my cousin that he had celebrated his 87th birthday.  On the same day, he received a contract from his publisher for a new book on John Phillip Sousa.  And....he was hired to write a centennial history of a private club.  I invite you to visit his web page to see why this remarkable man is so popular with his readers.  He writes about many things. I am most familiar with his works on Verdi, but proudly count his fable, "The Battle of the Frogs and the Mice" in my own library.  George and I share a passion for opera, so he will not be surprised to know that he has company in his ninth decade of achievement.  Italian tenor Angelo Loforese was 90 when he sang Verdi's aria for tenor, Di Quella Pira from "Il Trovatore".  The aria is sung by the hero Manrico in rage and determination to save his mother, the acknowledged witch Azucena, from being burned at the stake.  Here is a very poor video of his performance.  The piano should be closed, and the camera angle improved, but the high "C" is clear and strong. 

To hear this powerful piece sung by the champion, listen to Pavarotti below.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Silenced by Technology

My hard drive ceased to operate.  I have heard of such disasters but never thought it would happen to me.  The Dell help line has been helpful.  My husband has spent many, many hours with technicians.  We have retrieved many important files.  I believe that all will eventually be well, but not yet.  Phrases such as "wiped clean", " hard reset" and "clean install" have new and sobering meaning.  We elected "repair" instead.  We now have enough duplicate copies and multiple installations of programs that I have virtually no CPU left.  My husband is a long suffering man.  He will prevail. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Rest in Peace

I read the obituaries in our local paper every day.  I read them in any paper that I read, at home or when I am travelling.  I am not looking for someone I know.  I am getting to know someone new.  These essays are a gold mine of good stories and wonderful writing.  "They were together for 63 years, and sang grace each evening with their meal."  That sentence alone is a short novel.  It has characters, action and an ending.  I am heartened by the goodness of so many.  I am saddened by the loss of a child.  I meet women like me, except that their luck ran out in their fight against cancer.  I look at the pictures.  Some families choose to present their loved one in the bloom of youth, perhaps in wedding gown or military uniform.  Some choose a more recent image.   I rarely skip my read.  I like knowing that so many lives are filled with family, friends and community.  I am enriched. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

What is Safe?

We want our children to be safe at school.  We want a foot bridge to be safe when we cross.  We want food to be safe to eat.  And so much more.  What are we thinking?  Does safe mean without risk?  Major highways are designed to achieve a risk level of one in a million passes around the bend or over a hill. Is that safe enough?  It is well documented that people do not have an accurate understanding of risks associated with activities.  Chain saws are much more dangerous (likely to cause harm) than nuclear reactors, but feared less.  We don't communicate clearly about risk.  If you are playing musical chairs, and there are 99 chairs for 100 people, it is certain that one person will be left standing.  On the other hand, in a large field pocked with gopher holes,  100 buffalo run across. Perhaps, one, two, ten or none will trip and fall.  Which activity is riskier?  We protect pedestrian crossings to varying degrees of security.  Sometimes a cross walk, sometimes a crossing guard, sometimes a pedestrian overpass.  Is each method appropriate to the risk of being hit by a car?  Of course, all risk assessment is relative to the circumstances but all fear is not.  Our fear as individuals and our collective fear expressed in public policy and law is often not proportional to the actual exposure to harm.  I will have plenty of time to think about this soon when I take a flight to Philadelphia.  I'll have to wait in a long line just to take off my shoes.