“It holds the water admirably.”

“Do you see this glass? I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.”  ~Ajahn Chah

“A Great Doer”

Photographer Jacob A. Riis published his autobiography, The Making of an American, in 1901.  He died 13 years later in 1914, and a eulogy written by Theodore Roosevelt was included as an introduction when the book was republished in 1924.

I think this says a lot about both men:

It is difficult for me to write of Jacob Riis only from the public standpoint. He was one of my truest and closest friends. I have ever prized the fact that once, in speaking of me, he said, “Since I met him he has been my brother.” I have not only admired and respected him beyond measure, but I have loved him dearly, and I mourn him as if he were one of my own family.

But this has little to do with what I wish to say. Jacob Riis was one of those men who by his writings contributed most to raising the standard of unselfishness, of disinterestedness¹, of sane and kindly good citizenship, in this country. But in addition to this he was one of the few great writers for clean and decent living and for upright conduct who was also a great doer. He never wrote sentences which he did not in good faith try to act whenever he could find the opportunity for action. He was emphatically a “doer of the word,” and not either a mere hearer or a mere preacher. Moreover, he was one of those good men whose goodness was free from least taint of priggishness or self-righteousness. He had a white soul; but he had the keenest sympathy for his brethren who stumbled and fell. He had the most flaming intensity of passion for righteousness, but he also had kindliness and a most humorously human way of looking at life and a sense of companionship with his fellows. He did not come to this country until he was almost a young man; but if I were asked to name a fellow man who came nearest to being the ideal American citizen, I should name Jacob Riis.

~From  The Outlook, June 6, 1914

Jacob Riis’ books are in the public domain and may be downloaded freely from Project Gutenberg, HERE.

¹Today we we would use the word “impartiality.”

A Kind of Perceived Truth

Excerpted from The Great Influenza by John M. Barry,  © 2004:

Indeed, methodology matters more than anything else. Methodology subsumes, for example, Thomas Khun’s well-known theory of how science advances. Kuhn gave the word “paradigm” wide usage by arguing that at any given point in time, a particular paradigm, a kind of perceived truth, dominates the thinking in any science. Others have applied his concept to nonscientific fields as well.

According to Kuhn, the prevailing paradigm tends to freeze progress, indirectly by creating a mental obstacle to creative ideas and directly by, for example, blocking research funds from going to truly new ideas, especially if they conflict with the paradigm. He argues that nonetheless researchers eventually find what he calls “anomalies” that do not fit the paradigm. Each one erodes the foundation of the paradigm, and when enough accrue to undermine it, the paradigm collapses. Scientists then cast about for a new paradigm that explains both old and new facts.

But the process– and progress– of science is more fluid than Kuhn’s concept suggests. It moves more like an amoeba, with soft and ill-defined edges. More importantly, method matters. Kuhn’s own theory recognizes that the propelling force behind the movement from one explanation to another comes from the methodology, from what we call the scientific method. But he takes as an axiom that those who ask questions constantly test existing hypotheses. In fact, with a methodology that probes and tests hypotheses– regardless of any paradigm– progress is inevitable. Without such a methodology, progress becomes merely coincidental.

I bought the book on a whim, then kicked myself for spending money a what I thought would be a very dry exposition about stuffy people with headaches.

My first impulse was the correct one.  The context is broad, the problems fascinating, the writing brilliant.  I would recommend this book for almost anyone.


Always There

I feel in every girl there is a spirit,
a wild pixie,
that if let go,
would run and dance in grassy fields
until the end of the world.

And then that girl grows up,
that pixie hides,
but it’s always there,
peeking out behind old eyes
and reading glasses,
laughing, waiting,
to one day dance again.


(There are a lot of poets named “Atticus.”  I think it’s this one:  LINK)

You Don’t Really Need It

“A hippie is supposed to be someone who becomes aware– you’re hip if you know what’s going on. But if you’re really hip, you don’t get involved with LSD and things like that. You see the potential that it has and the good that can come from it, but you also see that you don’t really need it.” ~George Harrison

I’ve never bought into the idea that you have to chemically alter yourself to see reality clearly.

I suppose everyone does what they have to do to clear the windows of perception, but using drugs to achieve it seems kind of like going after a fly with a sledgehammer:  you’ll solve the problem, but there’s going to be some collateral damage.