Week 8: What makes great sports writing?

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Firstly, thank you.  Part of my inspiration for this project was a discussion with a friend about how much people care (or don’t) about the content they put in their mind.  I understand it takes effort to Muse.  My hope is that the payoff is worth the work and you will continue to participate.  To that end, next week will be a survey of the project and in a few weeks time you will be given the opportunity to resubscribe.

I am passionate about giving everyone a path to think about subjects with which they are unfamiliar and light up the shadier parts of our minds.  Muse172 is designed to help you find connections between fields of knowledge and to inspire curiosity and new ideas.  I am eager to hear your thoughts and welcome any feedback you might provide as we move forward.

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A great American author writing perhaps the best essay written on our National Pastime.  In the true spirit of Muse172, here I find myself fascinated with something that I would think I have little fascination with – sports.  But the author’s craft is exquisite and I find myself rereading John Updike writing about Ted Williams.

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Stands the Test of Time.

I had a discussion with a friend of mine a few years ago about our ability to preserve  a record of society’s works today versus thousands of years ago.  First, watch this brief description of the Law Code Stele of Hammurabi.  Now compare that diorite tower written with cuneiform and to the floppy disk I found in a cupboard yesterday.  As things now stand, will our time be referred to in the future as a “Digital Dark Age”?  Want a real life example of the power of preservation?  Read here.

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You’re an Animal.

The more I Muse on the connection between human and veterinary medicine the implications keep coming.  But what I like best is the full circle that could be coming to a close, as there was a time that MDs and DVMs were often one and the same.  Start here with an article recommended to me about young horses and autism.    Continuing along that train of thought, I found Zoobiquity: you can download and  read the first chapter here.

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This Means War.

Required reading for military strategists the world over, On War by Carl von Clausewitz.  Here is a man who can “really suck you into an inescapable conceptual gravity well”.  Well, we are just Musing for twenty minutes so let us start with this interview with Cristopher Bassford, a noted Clausewitz scholar.  Be sure to watch the Crimson Tide video embedded in the interview.  Want more?  It’s not very reader friendly but gave me lots to Muse on: download this presentation by Christopher Bassford and Col. B.A. Andrews titled The Relationship between Political Objectives and Military Objectives in War.

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A few things to Muse on here and much to hear.  I choose first the power of referencing other’s original content.  You must know I’m a big fan.  And Tchaikovsky knows what inspires.  In the 1812 Overture he uses the language of music to tell a story of the Battle of Borodino and the Russian triumph over the French.  How?  By referencing a Russian Orthodox hymn, a Russian Imperialist anthem, the French National Anthem and a Russian folk dance.  Give a listen to the Overture.  If you like, you can then listen to the works referenced.  Then listen again.  Second Muse: How does one judge his own work?  Does self-opinion matter?  Read the story behind the piece as well as Tchaikovsky’s own opinion of this work.

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Week 7: Who Decides the Quality of Your Thoughts?

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I find it interesting that the study of philosophy, once a subject essential to learning has become extraneous.  Do we now learn as though the information is important but how to think about it is innate and as such does not need to be taught?  Alright, Musings of my own and I’m just here to give you a path for your own thoughts.

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What are the Chances?

Socrates, Plato and Aristotle all lived around Athens from 427 to 322 BC.  What we know of Socrates largely comes from Plato’s records and here you may read Plato’s account of The Death of Socrates.  Despite the sad account, it humanizes these men for me.  Aristotle was a student of Plato for more than 20 years at his Academy.  Here is a lovely quick video on these three philosophers.  How is it that these three great thinkers were present at this single point in time?  I am Musing on the authority to think big ideas.  Is that something we give ourselves or do we earn the right from those around us?

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Mount Everest.

What motivated Bradford and Barbara Washburn to live a life of mountaineering, mapping, museums and exploration?  “A fascination for discovery,” they said. “A love of high and distant places. The wish to turn on young people to pursue the thrill of the unknown. The joy of sharing with others natural beauty and scientific information in the most vivid possible way.”  Mr. Washburn is credited with the most accurate map of Mount Everest to date.  Visit Everest: Part I and Everest: Part II which provide a brief history of mapping the tallest mountain of our planet.  Next, marvel at the transformation of maps.  While this website was created to honor sixteen sherpas that died in a tragic avalanche, it also provides a spectacular example of the development of maps in our century.  Click on the center box entitled Mount Everest in 3D; The Unforgiving Terrain.

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Anything Worth Doing…

If ever you have the opportunity to visit the Cloisters in Upper Manhattan, you can see this series of seven tapestries created at the tail end of the Medieval Period.  The Met has also provided us with a history of this labor intensive art form.  Would you think these modern times would provide us with a more efficient (faster, cheaper, better) way to make a tapestry?  Nope.  Watch the work: three weavers work five days a week for three years.  That is 18,000 hours and lickety-split, they’re done.

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You might not know the word but it’s the part you remember: “of the people, by the people, for the people…”  In honor of President’s Day and President Lincoln’s 206th birthday, let us read the Gettysburg Address.  Dr. Jeanne Fahnestock’s essay on Lincoln’s rhetoric helps us understand the rhetorical elements that make the speech so powerful.   Some rhetoric I always wondered about was the letter Phoebe Ensminger Burn wrote to her son, Tennessee State Representative Harry Burn, that swayed him to be the deciding vote to ratify the 19th Amendment.  Turns out she told him to “be a good boy.”  Don’t sell her short.  Like Lincoln, Mrs. Burns “responds to pressing events, addresses particular audiences and (used) “pointing” language linking text to context.”

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I think I now understand punctuation as the tools we use to describe how our written words might be spoken.  My title provides a hint to my favorite punctuation.
And here are some funny cases in favor of punctuation.

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Week 6: What is this Building Trying to Say?

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Some of my favorite ideas (and someone tell me if there is a better term) are ones that come from a cross pollination of disciplines.  My younger daughter asked me the other night, in her four-year-old language: Before there were houses and lots of people who determined where people lived?  My mind went to Native American creation mythology but my answer was more Architecture.  Now the two subjects are brought together in this week’s Muse.

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Before There Were Books.

“…architecture is a form of communication, that a building conveys meaning.”  So writes James F. O’Gorman in the preface to his book ABC of Architecture.  You made read his Precis here.  In my research, I came across this idea several times but I like architect Enrique Norten’s  discussion best.  While Victor Hugo may have thought of the printed word as the death of architecture, Mr. Norten discusses how books “liberated” architecture.  And while most of us will never hire an architect ourselves, we are all “the Client” when we use and thus help determine our built environment?

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Mandate of Heaven.

Here’s a big Muse:  Understanding tian ming or the Mandate of Heaven provides a lens through which you can look at much of China’s history and todays current political events.  There are two things I know very little about.  At least now I have a bit of context which I can use to learn about these subjects.  Dr. Sam Crane gives me a head start with his discussion.

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The word is derived from a nickname of the Bethlem Royal Hospital.  Considering, it doesn’t sound like it was a fun place to stay.  But clearly people liked to visit.  For several hundred years the hospital was famous and then infamous for charging admission to view the incarcerated.  Back in 1689 Thomas Tryon denounced the public viewing of the mentally ill.  You can read his words on the subject here by scrolling down to page 288-292.  Next, Muse on a television show that is on today.  Be prepared, it can be a bit creepy.  Muse on the current opportunities for the public to view the mentally ill.  Does it improve their chances for recovery?  Need a bit more to Muse upon? Dr. Bazar and Mr. Burman write here about the evolution of Asylum Tourism.

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Oral Tradition.

Here is the best explanation I found for the value of oral tradition surpassing the written word.  I was trying to think of examples of oral tradition in our own modern-day culture.  Let me know if you have one to share but I thought of standup comedians.  Whom else do we value to speak to us with stories?  Now I am Musing on humor.  Are things funnier when they are spoken or written?  When the story is about “eating stinking socks” I have to think it’s funnier in told than read.  Lastly, kudos to the Wisconsin Ojibwa.  It’s not too often (or never) a little girl and her dogs are the heroes that save the whole village.  But that Windigo was no match for her!  Want a bit more explanation of Native American mythology?  This is a good starting point.  Want to read some stories?  Click here and then find someone to tell them to.

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Go Ahead and Laugh.

What makes things funny?  And an answer to the age old question: Why can’t we tickle ourselves?  Ready for more laughs?  Bravo is playing Ghostbusters at 6pm on Friday, February 13.  Sure it’s fun to be benignly violated but it’s more fun to be benignly violated by the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

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Week 5: What do you know about soap?

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Hi Again.

We are halfway through our trial.  Do you feel smarter?  At any rate, I have spent more time thinking about topics outside my general sphere of knowledge and have thought about a wider variety of things.  This week’s Agribusiness subject is on corn.  Somehow, corn has gone from being worshiped by peoples native to the Americas to being vilified by some today.  I think of it as a grain.


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Super Crop.

Okay, I’m telling a friends anecdote here: he is driving through the seemingly endless corn fields of Nebraska and his passenger remarks, “There’s no way we can eat this much corn.”  So many years later and that comment still makes me laugh.  But really how much more corn is there than the corn we eat?  We eat nine percent of the corn we produce according to Iowa State University. Where does it all go?  Go here and click on “overview of the corn refining process”.  It really makes corn seem not so delicious but Oreos are delicious so maybe I’ll focus on that.  There is a lot of information about corn products on this site and I’m becoming a bit obsessed.  I’m inundating unsuspecting friends with corn facts.


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Thank you Marietta Ellis for such a thorough discussion of soap.  Perhaps like me you will be intimidated when see this page.  As my mother recently reminded me I did not do well in chemistry (I blame an adorable college boyfriend).  But Muse; you’ll get it!  4+2=1+5, right?  A chemical equation is similar to a mathematical one: the elements on one side are there on the other side in equal quantity; they are just grouped differently.


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What is most important in order to understand culture and art?  Fortunately, I do not have to know the answer in order to Muse upon it.  Let us start with reading WH Auden’s poem “Musee de Beaux Arts”.  Next, watch this video explaining both the poem and the subject of the poem: a few Flemish paintings but most notably “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus”.  Now go back and read the poem again.  Better?  I think I have a better understanding of the importance of context to understand intent.  Otherwise, what do we truly understand about Auden’s poem or the paintings he referenced?  For that matter, what could we understand about anything at all except as it is couched in our own context or perspective?


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Beauty of a Dead Language.

Sure it will help you through medical school, but why is Latin used by the Catholic Church still today?  Short and to the point: why the Catholic Church values Latin. Did you Muse on last week’s subject on Monarchy?  I see a relationship between the two subjects, the value of continuity to bind a people together.  And you are welcome to find a Catholic Mass to hear some Latin live and in person or you can give a listen here.


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I would guess this author’s native language is Polish and not English but I was still fascinated by the connections made between politics, geography, religion and taste preferences that have influenced Polish cuisine.  My family will be immersing themselves in this topic with dinner at a local Polish restaurant.  Polish cuisine not readily available in your area?  You can order something here.  While you’re digging in, Muse on how the flavors of the different dishes reflect the evolution of Polish cuisine.

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Week 4: Wanna Dance?

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Diet and Exercise.  I think of it as two legs of a tripod.  We choose to exercise, maybe join a gym and dedicate hours each week to improving our strength, stamina and flexibility.  And we see and feel the results of our hard work.  We give attention to our diet, the sources and quality of our food, we balance nutrition.  Shouldn’t we at least give equal effort to the content we provide our minds?  How about adding some joyful content?  Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers bring joy to dance and to us.


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The few bits of information I thought I knew might be off the mark.  I guess that’s what happens when the first people to memorialize you are your enemies.  Here’s a video by National Geographic to give you an introduction.  Next, a few political digs in here I could do without, but Stacy Schiff wrote a well received  biography and here she touches on all that Cleopatra VII accomplished in her not quite 40 years.

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Swing Time.

What stands the test of time?  Certainly the dancing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.  At some point you have referred to them but have you ever seen them in action?  Set your DVR: TCM is playing Swing Time on February 4 at 8pm.  Need some motivation to watch a 1936 movie in black and white?  Read Roger Eberts review and Muse on the technical perfection of Astaire’s dancing as he mimics his own projected images.  Next, Muse on the the difference between the appropriation of culture and an homage to someone of another culture.  Astaire had lots of partners but Ginger Rogers was his most distinguished.  Watch and Muse on why.

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Slave Rebellion.

I had picked the topic of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion but Musing on the subject brought me down a more thoughtful path than I could have anticipated.  The question I ask myself is ‘why as a student in the 1990s was I taught something more akin to the ideas of Harvard historian James Schouler (c. 1880s) than with the ideas of historian Herbert Aptheker (c.1940s)?.  Of course, I’m sure many people would have a good answer to that question.

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From forever ago until the 19th century chances were this was your form of government.  And there are plenty of arguments out there for why it declined.  Greece’s former King Constantine just moved back home after 46 years in exile.  Evidently, no one is too worried about him wanting his old job back.  But what benefits does a royal family provide to a people even today?  Shallot Burns of the New Statesman surprises himself by arguing it is more than pretty clothes and a royal wedding.  Of course it was a hot topic discussed between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Download this article by clicking here and then clicking on the blue box “Download PDF(117 kb)”

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Soren Kierkegaard.

Oh boy.  I need to do some serious studying of philosophy to see how Kierkegaard fits (or doesn’t) among other philosophers.  But I think I understand his argument that self reflection is required to live a Christian life.  In that vein, Michael D. Stark explains how Kierkegaard helped him embrace anxiety and channel it through faith.  If you are really committed, here is a thorough description of Kierkegaard’s life and work.  “In his journals, as part of his practice at becoming a writer, Kierkegaard had been fascinated with three great literary figures from the Middle Ages, who he thought embodied the full range of modern aesthetic types. These figures were Don Juan, Faust, and the Wandering Jew.”  Now there’s a guy familiar with despair.

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Week 3: Have you been to Thailand?

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Welcome Back.

Think of your brain as a world.  Where do you choose to live?  How about a lovely neighborhood of your own creation?  The streets are clean, the neighbors are friendly and the restaurants familiar.  But there are other lands in that head of yours, the darkly lit with some shady characters lurking, the ghost town with the lone tumbleweed rolling across a dusty road, a grubby city corner where you feel a bit lost and the food doesn’t taste like home.  What propels us to seek out the unfamiliar and what good does it do us?  I am musing on the difficulty of choosing the topic that seems the least interesting.  Is it uncomfortable?  Why?  And what benefits might we provide ourselves by seeking out the more challenging and unfamiliar?

My favorite content this week has to be on the subject of Optometry.  I would never have thought so when I started off but how miraculous for Sue Barry to see the world in such a literally different way after so many years of thinking it not possible.  And I cannot help but apply her message to my own project and hope I have a moment akin to hers as this goes on.  On the subject of engineering, I understand it today but how do I retain this information?  I need a bit of coercivity for my brain.  And I must say putting the two topics together I start to muse on the language our brain uses to store information.  Not in binary code surely but there must be some to-be-discovered language equivalent, right?

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Rabindranath Tagore.

Rabindranath Tagore was the first non-European person to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.  He remains a cultural icon of India and especially his homeland of Bengal.  Besides his poetry, he wrote novels, stories, songs (including two national anthems) and essays and was a painter.  Here is W.B. Yeats’ introduction to Tagore’s most acclaimed book of poems, Gitanjali.  While Tagore composed in Bengali, you may read his own translation of The Journey.  If you are interested in further reading about this remarkable man, a quite extensive biography is available here.

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Hard Drive.

You are using it right this minute but do you know how it works?  Most perplexing to me, how does it remember when it is turned off?  Coercivity!  That is the term I did not know existed yet answers my question.  It is just touched on briefly on the video at the end of this article.  And because a diagram is worth a thousand words, this is the best I could find of showing the polarity of the magnetized bits on the platter surface.  Of course, now I have so many more questions.  I will put “interview a computer scientist” on my to do list.

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Marc Chagall.

I like this article about Marc Chagall for two reasons: one, I have often heard Jewish history and culture described “laughter through tears” and that Chagall’s art reflects this so well connects in my mind why he is a quintessential Jewish painter; and two, I appreciate Chagall’s own words about the nature of his art.  His paintings are not difficult to understand.  Instead of reading, just Muse on this, give it a click to enlarge the image.

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Make Your Own Brock String.

Thank you, Sue Barry for speaking so eloquently about Muse172.  Oh wait, she’s really talking about transforming her vision from 2D to 3D at the age of 48. Either way, she is wonderfully inspiring.  And I continue to Muse about the perpetual plasticity of the human brain.

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An Exotic Journey.

No wonder her adventure was made into a musical and movies.  Anna Harriet Leonowens’ account of her years tutoring the wives and children of King Mongkut is wonderful.  While it is all here (just click “read this book on-line: Generated HTML), I paid special attention to Chapter I. On the Theshold and Chapter VI. The King and the Governess.  What a woman of courage!

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Week 2: Did you ever see Picasso at work?

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The exercise is to muse: to become absorbed in thought.  While that seems simple enough, at times it can be daunting.  I am hopeful the more practice I give myself the better at it I will become!  That being said my goal is not to overwhelm you.  Just pick one topic for the week.  But which one?

I did find reading about Lego’s goal to restructure its supply chain and then implement those changes astonishing.  And something I always wondered – why does Portuguese bread and Hawaiian bread taste so similar?  Like the Japanese, the Portuguese were another group that immigrated to Hawaii to work in the sugar cane fields.  Now I know!  Finding the brochure recreated in the Naval Science topic was like finding a present on-line.  Just exactly what I was looking for but a total surprise.  I had seen the Picasso video but I am glad to get the opportunity to share it with you.

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Immigration to Hawaii.

This first chapter of The Japanese Conspiracy gives a brief history of Japanese immigration to Hawaii, the developing sugar cane industry, and the annexation of Hawaii to the US.  By December 7, 1941 more than a third of Hawaii’s population was of Japanese decent.  This gives me a fresh perspective on the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

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The Golden Mean.

What mathematical sequence describes seashells, galaxies and your face?  First take a quick spin (it’s a pun!) around the Fibonacci sequence and it’s mathematical daughter the Golden Mean.  Click here to find even more examples of the Fibonacci Sequence.   Like me you may find yourself chopping vegetables and counting the leaves.

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Operations Research can cover a vast range of disciplines including supply chain management.  Lego, the Danish company, restructured its manufacturing supply chain, from concept to delivery, a few years ago.  Muse on how many aspects there were to improving efficiencies and the human aspect of making dramatic changes to an organization known for creativity.  Next, take a look at this video of the Lego manufacturing process.  Lastly, go buy yourself some Legos.  They are so fun!

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Submarine Torpedo Tubes.

Flood the torpedo tubes!  Here is the why and how from an original pamphlet published after WWII on the operation of a torpedo tube.  Think submarines are fascinating?  I just watched  one of the great submarine movies – Das Boot (available on Netflix streaming).  Yikes

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Couple genius with prodigious and we get one of the worlds great artists.  You can read about him here but the true treat is to watch him at work.

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