Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Are Today's College Students Too Coddled?

NOTES: From Harrison College Physics course I taught, 1987-91.

I was entertaining that question, after I found an article in one of my file boxes the other day: 'College Daze', by Charles Murray (FORBES, Sept. 1, 2008). In the article, Murray essentially argues that college-university as any kind of "apprenticeship" for adulthood is vastly overrated. Most colleges, indeed, are now more in loco parentis nanny operations, to ensure little Jill or Junior doesn't get too stressed out from overwork, and - more importantly - they have adequate social connections, support systems to keep their brains from meltdown.

A special pet peeve of Murray's is that the "demanding professor is close to being extinct". He points out the example that many tests, exams have to be given as make-ups because the little ones came down with fevers, had 104F temperatures, and were unable to leave home. (Well, in the case of an actual H1N1 epidemic I can perhaps see that, but not when it is invoked as a matter of course).

I saw this myself in my one and only brief foray into U.S. higher ed in 1992 (this was soon after returning to the U.S. from 20 years in Barbados).

While in Barbados I taught at Harrison College, a college prep and advanced level institution that also offered the equivalent of the first two years at university. Thus, it would be comparable to U.S. community colleges.

At Harrison College, I taught mainly A-level Physics. This would be comparable to university level 'General Physics' with Calculus. To give interested readers an idea, I append a sheet from my course lecture notes - this one on the discharge of a capacitor.

Homework problems were always challenging, and included a mix of questions from the textbooks used (College Physics by Zemansky and Young, A-Level Physics by T. Duncan) and my own questions. The passing mark was generally 60%, which in the Barbados system was equivalent to a D-low C. Virtually no one ever racked up an 80%, far less 90%. It simply was not on. And we didn't have little Juniors or Jills going into meltdown mode because of it.

To attain a 90%, for example, one would typically have to get 9 problems out of 10 done correctly with working shown fully. Correct answers minus the working garnered 1 out of 10 points. If that. Usually, therefore, A's were scarce, though I did allow IF a student scored at least an 80% overall in my course, he had well earned an A.

The exams and tests themselves contained no formulas, as appears to be the case in the U.S. freshman college physics' environment. The only additional information given consisted of a short table with values of assorted physical constants which might be needed.

There were also none of these idiotic student evaluation forms. This meant that grade inflation could not occur, because teachers-lecturers could not be blackmailed into going soft at the threat of receiving bad evaluations which become part of their permanent record.

When I started teaching at the local community college (at the time, in Maryland) it was a different story. At the outset I suspected something amiss, when the instructor whose physics class I was taking over (he was going on sabbatical) told me he never ever gives below a B.

First thought in my mind? WTF! How can you say in advance you will never give below a B, unless you know in advance all your students will earn B-level work? It didn't make sense. But, once I began teaching, it did.

Five days into the course (and we were still on the easiest part to do with basic thermal physics, temperatures etc.) a kid came to me after the first homework and informed me he tends to "see red" when he gets a paper back marked up in red ink. I basically told him, look kid, if your mental state is that weak - getting frazzled just at the sight of red ink (which I do need to make corrections) you had best leave this course. He left four days later.

To be fair here, the class of about 12 students consisted mostly of people 22 and older who were also part -time working folks. I had no problem with that, since I was once a working person too (teaching at a community college in Barbados) while completing my thesis for the Masters in Physics. My problems arose when assorted class members tried to use the excuse of their real world obligations to fob off their class assignments, including labs and homeworks.

As they discovered, these sort of excuses wouldn't work - I didn't care if they had to put in five ten hour overtimes in a week. If the combination of doing college physics in tandem with a full time job was too much, it was time to amscray from college and stick to work. There would be no special passes given, or any benedictions for missing assignments.

Of course, the class average began to crater, and one student even had the nerve to threaten me: "Remember there are teacher evaluations to come". I told the kid to do what he had to, but if I coughed up an A or B merely because of a threat I'd no longer be able to look myself in the mirror. And I was the person that I had to live with.

On the good side, there were a core of four students who diligently did the work, and they were rewarded for their pluck: one A and three Bs. The rest earned Cs and Ds. That was what they earned, that was what they got.

The final exam, their last shot at glory, saw the low fliers begging me to put all the equations needed on the exam question sheet. I informed them I'd do no such thing. As it was I agreed to allow for five equations, merely because their prior teacher did it. I told them all other equations - if needed- could be deduced or inferred from what were given.

The smart kids got it and did well, the losers.....errrr....low fliers, didn't. 'Nuff said.

As predicted, my student evaluations came back and were as bad as they threatened. As it turned out, it didn't matter anyway, since I'd been hired at a much better job writing technical drafts and regulatory documents for a radiotherapy software corporation. But, I realized then - as Murray did in his piece - that college teaching is for the birds. You can't teach properly if you are always under siege by students or being blackmailed into giving grades higher than merited.

Murray's other beef was with the way college students are now treated virtually like little invalids in their campus housing situations. As he notes:

"It used to be that the girls had house mothers to do bed checks and the guys might have a proctor living on the dorm corridor, and otherwise students were on their own. No longer. Colleges now have large bureaucracies of 'res life staff' charged with responding to any scrape our little darlings might suffer".

Which is true, since this is the scene as I recall it from college in the 1960s. (Loyola University in New Orleans, Biever Hall - for men, later Buddig Hall -for women). We had one dorm monitor per floor. There were no "meetings" with any dorm mates or other floor mates, because the university was wise enough to know you can't force social interaction. If other students on the same floor actually chose to become your friend, that was a different matter. The whole notion that a student required some extra (beyond room mate) assistance to get his or her bearings and stay moored, was ludicrous. If any such dorm students would have expressed yearnings like that at the time, we'd have thought them retarded.

"Wait. Are you a college student, or a kindergartner?"

One more thing. We learned much outside the classroom by the give and take of direct argument and interaction via the classic 'bull sessions'. I recall many a night staying up until well past three a.m. to debate with fellow students the ethics (or lack thereof- Does the end justify the means?) of fighting the VietNam War, and elaborate discussions to do with Platonic ethics as it relates to Church Canon law.

Today the bull session is a thing of the past, replaced by electronic mommies known as computers, which enables students to avoid direct, energizing and intellectually demanding face-offs, in favor of detached interactions in.,........Twitter, or Facebook.

At that time (60s), the whole notion of using an electronic platform as surrogate parent, or to make electronic "friends", would have aroused the utmost laughter, and contempt.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Is the M-Equation valid?

FIG. 1: M-Equation

FIG. 2: Solution for M_ir

FIG. 3: Solution for Q

FIG. 4: Solution for J

On at least one pro-UFO website, an equation has been presented, purportedly conveyed to a human recipient by the "Grays". The equation is called the "M-equation" and is shown in Fig. 1. In this equation, M_ir represents an irredicible mass, M is the mass-energy. According to the relevant link:

"I feel it (M-equation) has been intentionally omitted and suppressed because of its true freedom giving answers: 〈a〉 Near instantaneous same day travel across the universe and back in 〈b〉 fully operational traversable wormholes with clear magnetic mass membranes cleaning space allowing almost infinite acceleration of light and 〈c〉 in sending a test charge into the hole, infinite free and clean energy is extracted ∞.

The above M Equation is a close approximation based on the image transmitted to me by a very mild mannered dark blue Grey type Star Scientist in 2005 under priority Council directive and similar work on the Kerr Black Hole: “The Quantum Mass Spectrum of the Kerr Black Hole” J.D. Bekenstein, Center for Relativity Theory University of Texas. "

He goes on, commenting on the parameters in the equation:

"Common operators are:
M = mass energy, Q = charge & J = angular momentum.The fully developed M Equation and Quantum Theory of Gravitation will be released by the Council through me pending End of All War and Technological Conversion stipulations for preventing a Sixth Global Extinction and for procuring Workable Intergalactic Relations and Open Public Integration given earlier by me (since 1988)."

But is it a valid equation representing what the claimant says? This is the $64 question.

A first inkling arises by checking Fig. 2 which denotes the solution of the equation for the reduced mass, as obtained via the MathCad 14 symbolic processor. As Prof. Michio Kaku noted in his Quantum Theory of Fields one valid solution for the angular momentum quantum number J, is 0. BUT, if J=0 then all the irreducible mass results lead to singularities, or infinities. In fact, one cannot have an "infinite" irreducible mass.

The reason is quickly seen with reference to Fig. 3, and the symbolic solution for charge, Q. If the ireducible mass is infinite, and just confining attention to the top two solutions, it is easily seen that (with J= 0) the charge Q becomes infinite positive and infinite negative. However, there are only a finite number of charges in the universe (many of which are neutralized or quasi-neutralized, as in plasmas). So again, we see this end result yields an unphysical solution.

What about the solution for the angular momentum, as shown in Fig. 4? If one takes the limits of each solution (as Q -> oo, as M_ir -> oo) and allows that M cannot exceed M_ir in magnitude, it can be seen that the result is J = 1. However, this is already contradictory since the limits taken are predicated upon J = 0. Since J cannot be both 1 and 0 for a test of the same boundary condition, then the result is inchoate.

IF the Grays did perchance give this to a receptive human, they need to explain these incongruities away, and inform us exactly how this "M equation" leads to "near instantaneous same day travel across the universe and back", or how "infinite free and clean energy is extracted" by sending a test charge through a wormhole.

Any help these Grays can give would be vastly appreciated!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Ilian Libertarians punk out again

For an IQ group in the top 1%, one would think that - under pressure of incisive arguments - they'd be able to respond with aplomb and parry all thrusts. Not just punk out. Okay, it isn't the entire group, but an enclave of dedicated Libertarians whose views seem to get a constant airing in their local (regional Intertel) newsletter, Port-of-Call - run by the current Intertel President Kort Patterson.

In a recent reply sent in timely fashion to my published article ('The Real Cause of the Financial Crisis’ ), Patterson again made follow-up editorial remarks on the piece that don't hold up under scrutiny. Those who wish to read the article, plus Patterson's response, can access it at the link:


Since Patterson did not publish my subsequent takedown of his editorializing nonsense, I do so herewith:


Response to Editor’s Note (‘Port-of-Call’ June-July, 2009)

This is in response to Kort Patterson’s recent editor’s note appended to my Port-of Call article ‘The Real Cause of the Financial Crisis’. Unfortunately, all Kort’s comment has achieved is adding more layers of irrelevant dross to what should be relatively simple (for the top 1% of intellects) to grasp. Especially, as I have laid out the basis for credit default swaps in meticulous detail in previous submissions and shown how there is a difference between a mild financial crisis incepted by a plethora of sub-prime mortgages circulating, and a systemic collapse arising from a device (credit derivative) that patches those sub-prime mortgages together with other benign financial instruments.

In his add-on, Kort insists I am “dismissing the simplistic real cause” which he also claims is “well-documented”(it isn’t, except by assorted fringe interests). I call him on this and assert he has no remote clue of what the REAL cause of the SYSTEMIC meltdown is, only an informal grasp (probably based on multiple googlings) of a peripheral or marginal cause: the enabling of too many high risk buyers of sub-prime mortgages.

But as I pointed out in earlier submissions, articles, even forty million such buyers would not pose a core systemic risk to the whole financial infrastructure. That had to arise from a proximate, immediate source which effectively “spider-webbed” the high risk sub-primes to millions of innocuous financial instruments, including municipal bonds, pension investments via “structured investment vehicles” or SIVs.

I regret this stuff may be a tad complex especially to novices, but merely because it is (again I am referring to the immediate cause of the systemic credit meltdown and bank credit seizures) doesn’t mean anyone is employing a “camouflage of complexity” as Kort paints it!

I submit we’re not going to get far in this exchange unless we put away the codswallop and agree that there are two aspects to what happened: 1) the enabling of too many high risk buyers with the ancillary availability of too many sub-prime mortgages and little assurance of paying off and 2) the invention of extreme risk credit derivatives (credit default swaps) which patched together widely disparate financial instruments, bonds etc. from around the world in a “daisy chain” of debt totaling more than $55 trillion (as pointed out by the FORTUNE article of Oct. 2008, already referenced but which I seriously doubt Kort has read)

Let me then agree that if (1) had not occurred, (2) would likely have been irrelevant. (It matters not HOW it occurred, but the “Community Reinvestment Act” was not a major component, only accounting for perhaps 25% of subprimes). In effect, (1) comprises what we refer to as a necessary condition for the meltdown. A necessary condition is one which – if it isn’t present- an event cannot transpire.

However, it is NOT the sufficient condition for the meltdown. Given the meltdown is defined by professionals in finance (see e.g. any of the extensive articles appearing in The Financial Times during December, 2008) as the SYSTEMIC collapse predicated on credit seizures and bank failures arising from over-leveraged debt from CDS, (1) is not factored in (we already accounted for the necessary condition). A sufficient condition, again, is:

One which – once it is present - the event must transpire. In this case the global financial meltdown based on tranching trillions of disparate assets to high risk liabilities – the sub-primes sold in the U.S.

Thus, while David X. Li’s (Gaussian copula) formula wasn’t the reason for concealing bad securities among good ones(and I remind readers I never claimed it was!) it DID provide the effective operational basis for the concatenation and intertwining of relatively innocuous securities (with high bond ratings) to toxic waste in the form of the sub-prime mortgage securities- via credit derivatives. (Again, for those who don’t know, derivatives were invented by physicists who had migrated to finance and based their creation on the concept of the mathematical derivative, e.g. dy/dx, such that a fractional incremental variation in one variable (dy) generates a corresponding change in another (dx).)

Thus, while Li’s formula wasn’t the reason for concealing bad securities in good ones, it did provide the facile enabling mechanism and basis to accomplish it with little oversight – because the obscure mathematics was generally not well understood by the investment banks (like Lehman’s) that offered the spuriously blended instruments. In other words, Li’s formula provided the effective underpinning to satisfy the sufficient condition (2).

Again, I reiterate, the most pernicious part of the financial crisis was the impending SYSTEMIC meltdown arising from seizure and freezing of all credit markets due to the liabilities in the form of $55 trillion in CDS generated on assorted banks’ books – engendered via the Gaussian copula formula of Li – admittedly misapplied by the investment bankers!

Kort’s aspersions cast on the Fed, based on the ruminations of a known crank – Thomas DiLorenzo (see e.g. the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report article:


doesn’t put his comment on any intellectual footing, but rather in line with the endless conspiracy babble of legions of anti-Fed conspiracy theorists.

As I recall, one of the most famous of those tinfoil hat “crimes” involved the supposed Fed role in JFK’s assassination because the Fed opposed his (June, 1963) creation of separate “U.S. Notes” ($4.2 billion of them) by the U.S. Treasury (outside the Fed’s control). Kort’s harangues play right into this Fed mythos. That most of them are quoted or cited from work by DiLorenzo (who had a sketchy rep even when I lived in Maryland) doesn’t add anything of value. According to the SPLC IR, we know this about DiLorenzo:

“DiLorenzo is a senior faculty member of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a hard-right libertarian foundation in Alabama, and teaches at the League of the South Institute for the Study of Southern Culture and History, a South Carolina school established by the League of the South to teach its unusual views of history”

Though Kort imputes ignorance (or lies) to me, he continues to expose his own gross ignorance by repeating canards to do with the claim that inadequate regulation was not the problem and laissez faire wasn’t responsible for the financial meltdown”. His “list’ of Fed controls on page 6 is also laughable and merits a thorough catechresis which I’d deliver, if I had the time. For now I will refer him to three books[1] which put the kibosh on most of his claims, as well as howlers – such as failure to distinguish the Bank Holding Act of 1956 from the Bank Holding Act of 1984 passed during Reagan’s tenure, which paved the way for creation of the toxic waste known as “collateralized mortgage obligations” – the forerunner of CDS.

Then there was the repeal of the Glass-Steagall (1935) law which had previously kept investment banks’ practices apart and separate from commercial banks’ practices. Once that repeal was passed, in 1999, the way to deregulatory hell was paved – and only awaited an infernal mechanism like Li’s Gaussian Copula formula for its effective creation.

Let’s get it straight here the FED had nothing to do with it! The Fed did not approve or mandate the repeal of Glass-Steagall, it was done as a political mandate to deliberately loosen up securities markets for investment banks.

In his excellent article (which I suggest Kort read, outside of just googling terms) Sam Natapoff in The Financial Times (7/17/08) notes that the Fed’s creation was predicated on a political independence. Despite this, to this day well-meaning but uninformed people continue to think or believe the Fed is part of the Federal government when it is nothing of the sort.

The Fed, as Natapoff observes, is really there to provide a buffer between the forces of private capital and democracy. As he writes:

“In 1913 the Fed was created as a compromise between the needs of private finance and the demands of democratic government”.

Ironically, as Nataproff points out, it has been Republicans – “private finances’ traditional champions” who have sought to disturb the balance and give democracy short shrift.

No surprise then that the chief Fed culprit in the mix was none other than Allan Greenspan, appointed by Reagan. Greenspan is a high culprit in terms of having plumped for the ARM or adjustable rate mortgages for people he had to know couldn’t afford them. In one speech he gave in 2004 he aggressively promoted them.

But then it was also Greenspan, the erstwhile disciple of Libertarian guru Ayn Rand, who insisted that “good speculation will cut the top off the market peak” (Financial Times, August 11, 2008). Later, Greenspan came clean and apologized for his own role in the financial meltdown fiasco – since he created the original bubble by lowering interest rates to ridiculous, deflationary levels making money cheap as dirt.

Ironically, in all his ranting against the Fed, Kort has very little to say about Greenspan and his role, or the fact he’s always been one of the most outspoken Libertarians. Truth is sometimes inconvenient.

It is truly unfortunate that the Editor’s insistence on post-article-submission editorializing, interjections and sophistry continues to engender the real “camouflage” in inhibiting readers from grasping the actual dynamics in the financial meltdown. It seems he cannot simply stand back and allow a debate to naturally unfold – with other readers commenting or responding – rather than him reactively putting in his two cents.

Given that, it simply isn’t worth further elaboration on my part since Editor Kort will simply continue to apply his own camouflage and spin where and when he sees fit. Mostly using spurious or dubious sources, like Di Lorenzo. And, after all, this sticky wicket is his to control, since he as the Editor will always have the last word with his “Editor’s Note” – so there is no way I can prevail, even if I offered DVD seminars on credit default swaps to each Intertel member in this region, to accompany each rejoinder I might write.

So I will leave it at that. We will have to agree to differ. But I do hope that enough readers of Port-of-Call will at least be spurred to learn more about the Gaussian copula formula and the egregious ways it was put to use, to create a financially calamitous systemic risk to us all.

[1] The Origins of the Federal Reserve- by James Livingstone; Arrogant Capital, by Kevin Phillips; The End of Economic Man, by George P. Brockway.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How Stupid Can You get?

Fig. 1

Fig. 2.

In today's paper there appeared a news story that bordered on the incredible. Under the headline: 'NASA's Pocket Lint Unable to Cushion Blow of Asteroids' it was reported that - while Congress charged NASA with spotting Earth-threatening asteroids four years ago, it never provided the money to build the necessary telescopes to do so! How stupid can you get?

How big a threat are the Earth-crossing asteroids?

First it is instructive to see how they can emerge as a threat, when their orbits are perturbed as shown in Fig. 2 above, for Icarus (Fig 1. shows a large asteroid, Gaspra, that - if it struck Earth - would annihilate all life on it).

What makes any large asteroid dangerous, is its mass in combination with its relativity velocity or speed of approach. Thus, large Apollo objects and other asteroids would typically have relative velocities from 11,000 to 30,000 meters per second, or about 6.8 to 19 miles per second.

For an asteroid with a 1 kilometer (0.62 mile) diameter, at a density three times that of water, this would generate an equivalent energy on impact of one million Hiroshima sized atomic bombs. Since the Hiroshima explosion was equivalent to 13,000 tons of TNT, this means a larger asteroid would generate an explosive force of 13 thousand megatons. This already is roughly equal to the total equivalent of all U.S. nuclear warheads.

For a ten kilometer asteroid (roughly 6 miles across) the explosive equivalent would translate into 13 million megatons. This would dwarf all man-made nuclear stocks and warheads, and is rightfully called ‘planet –killer’. An asteroid about this size is believed responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs nearly 65 million years ago. For present day inhabitants of Earth, the consequences would hardly be less startling or grave. A Gaspra (12.5 x 7 x 7.5 miles) impact would obliterate all life on Earth - never to arise again.

The crater and blast effects alone would eliminate most of the population on the continent it struck. An ocean strike, creating tidal waves upwards of 2 miles in height, would be even worse. The debris, for its part, would block out most solar radiation and probably usher in massive extinction of oxygen producing plants including sea plankton – that account for ninety percent of our oxygen.

How probable is such a Torino 9 or so impact?

The calculation of the probability is based on an estimated 15 Apollo Objects acquiring an Earth-crossing orbit every million years.

From this it has been reckoned that the odds of a given Apollo Object eventually hitting Earth are 5 in one billion. This works out to one impact, on the average, every 200 million years. But wait. There are about one thousand such objects in all so that the probability that any one will strike Earth is now: (1000) x (5/1000000000) = 5/1000000. This figure: 5 in one million means that time wise, 5 asteroids would be expected to strike Earth every million years, or one every two hundred thousand years.

The problem with statistics like this is that they can lull a person into a false sense of security. It is true that the impact rate is low, relative to the scale of recorded history, but it is comparatively high in the context of geological time (thousands of millions of years). To fix ideas, consider that the most recent crater formed by a true Apollo object (as opposed to a large meteoroid) is at Lake Bosumtwi basin in Ghana, Africa. This is about 1.3 million years old. On this basis, the Earth is certainly long overdue for another hit of staggering proportions. Indeed, from the mean frequency of collisions we have worked out, the Earth should have been struck at least six times since the last impact by an Apollo object.

I should point out that in all of these statistics no account has been taken of the colliding comet factor. However, estimates by the Ames Research Center suggest that- with comets included - there are at least 2,000 objects that can cross the Earth's path. (Recall the recently photographed impacts on Jupiter were from a large comet). Since my calculations were based on 1,000 objects - e.g. asteroids only, the probabilities would increase by a factor two. The time interval between major collisions would be halved.

Of course, statistical behavior does not follow rigid rules. There is no statistical law that pre-ordains an asteroid impact on Earth with the precise regularity of a 200 thousand year interval. By analogy, there is absolutely no reason why I shouldn't get a run of heads if I flip a coin ten times. Maybe I will get six heads in a row in one such run. The point, and it is an important one, is that the string cannot continue indefinitely. Assuming the coin is "true" the probability of heads must average 1 out of every 2 tosses. Looking at 100 tosses, for example, the total heads and tails will probably be very close to 50 each. The run of heads at some stage would have been compensated for by a similar run of tails to balance out the "law of averages".

Somewhat similar conditions apply to asteroid strikes on Earth. The run we are currently experiencing: no major hits over 6 successive periods of two hundred thousand years each, can’t go on indefinitely. As certainly as heads become tails for coin tosses, "no impacts" must become registered impacts for Apollo objects approaching Earth. The next big hit could come at any moment from an undetected asteroid. Or, it may come in the year 2015 when 1989FC is brought into Earth's vicinity, after its 1989 close pass.

In addition, there is always the possibility that the odds could be altered by some external factor. For example, the projected encounter in 2015 may start out a near miss, but the sudden intrusion of a new comet could change it to a direct collision. The comet's gravitational effects would have re-oriented the direction of the asteroid. Of course, this could also work in reverse: the direct hit may be transformed into a 'graze' by the same comet. Or, the asteroid could perturb the orbit of the comet so that the comet nucleus hits the Earth instead.

Let us hope, while congress sits on its hands - no large, threatening asteroids approach or threaten us. We would then quickly behold what real worries can exist, above and beyond our political ones!

In Memoriam

Mom, with folded flag - following burial.
Me, observing taps played before interment.

Having returned from Florida and my dad's funeral a month ago, I am only now able to put a memorial to him on my blog. I only learned of the funeral arrangements a day before, then spent the better part of the same day (Tuesday, July 14) making travel arrangements, hotel-motel bookings etc. All this consumed the better part of the day.

I flew out on Wednesday morning just after noon from Colorado and arrived in Fort Myers, Florida around 9 p.m.

The viewing of the body followed the next day in Port Charlotte, some 40 miles to the north, and the funeral Mass and burial followed on Friday. The latter at Charlotte Memorial Gardens in Punto Gorda, nine miles to the south.

As I attended all the events, and especially the funeral Mass (even though I am an avowed Atheist, there are exceptions in terms of form and formality which does not mean one is a "hypocrite") I felt a wave of conflicting emotions. At one point they were so overpowering I had to excuse myself.

Like most sons, my relationship with my father was not simple, but complex. It would be great to say we shared all the same interests, but alas, we did not. While I was passionate about baseball, for example, he was not. This probably was traced to an incident in his youth( as I often heard him recite it) where he happened to be reading a book under a tree not from the school baseball field, and a careless batter let his bat flying -crashing into his cranium. Thus did baseball earn a not particularly endearing spot in his heart.

But for me, growing up, it was everything. The Milwaukee Braves (since we lived in Milwaukee for ten years) were a particular passion: Aaron, Matthews, Spahn. Though baseball wasn't dad's game, give him his due. He went out of his way to get autographs from both Eddie Matthews and Henry Aaron, on the box top from a boxc of Corn Flakes no less, since that was the only write-worthy surface he had. He also got us tickets to a Cubs-Braves game at Milwaukee County Stadium, never mind the game was canceled after three innings because of rain - and we never used our rain check. Soon after, we were moving to Miami, FL.

In Florida, baseball continued to be my pastime, as I joined teams in the Khoury League, then in High school, as a pitcher. Though dad didn't like the game, he took me to them, and allowed me to participate in the baseball training after school. He even attended my pitching start, despite being shelled from the mound after one!

What were most memorable in the early days were all the family outings. These alas, became fewer and fewer as the inevitable financial problems arose from rearing a family of five kids in an economic backwater with few opportunities for the expression of his talent - mainly in art.
Approaching adolescence, our differences grew into a gulf, and basic communication became sparse. Conflicts often reared their ugly heads, especially when he'd lay down the law and order me to go out and do yard work in the hot Florida Sun, and when I'd frequently mutter "concentration camp!"
One major hiatus in the "cold war" came when he and mom jetted to Barbados for my wedding in 1975. It was a pleasant and harmonious interlude, in what was often a realm of interfamily strife.
Another such interlude followed in 1988 when they also visited and we treated them to a Barbados Christmas and holiday celebration.
Into the 1990s, and especially after a visit to Port Charlotte in 1990, more strife ensued - often about trifling little things. Not until I visited in 2001 did the conflict begin to ebb, and I still recall mowing dad's lawn for him, to try out his new mower since I was considering buying the same. The look of gratitude on his face said it all.
In the years after, he mellowed even more and I believe I did too. It became possible to share another sports passion with him, professional football, especially after his Tampa Bay team won the 2003 Super Bowl! Perhaps the beginning of his downturn started with a terrible fall later that year, and having to undergo hip replacement surgery.

Physically, he was never the same after that, and began to progressively lose weight. By the time he was struck with pneumonia in April of this year, he simply didn't have the physical vitality or constitution to ward it off. His demise was slow and terrible, the only interludes of pleasure arriving via the occasional Bob Evans biscuit and gravy breakfasts brought to him by my Mom.

As I saw him lying in peaceful repose, all I could think about were the words left unsaid, the activities left undone, the apologies for rash misbehavior and inconsideration not made. The regrets, pouring in, especially that we did not communicate more.

I am not sure added communication, especially in the turbulent teen years - would have made a difference, but they might have. We didn't see eye to eye on a lot of things, especially religion (much more on politics, interestingly), but then very seldom do sons do.

While at his graveside I made my peace with him, and I suppose, that is the best one can hope for. The grieving had passed the day before, now there was only the time left for taps - played by military guards, and the folding of the flag draped over his casket, and handing it to my mom. Followed by the guard shaking my hand, his oldest son's, and saying in a low voice: "We thank you for the service your father gave to his country".

At that moment, if not totally before, I understood how important it was to have been there. For a brief time, at least - and possibly a bit late- respect and a measure of filial love could replace a relationship too often marked by the opposites. I made my peace with dad, and that was the best I could have done.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

"Our Most Delightful Holiday Ever!"

That was how Mom described her visit with Dad to Barbados in 1988. My wife Janice and I had always wanted to treat them and entertain them at a time there'd be no pressures, as for our wedding in 1975. So we invited them down this time, to spend a totally relaxing Barbadian holiday season with us.

They enjoyed the whole gamut of island experience, from going to the Harrison's Cave (which had not long re-opened earlier), to spending a whole week at an exclusive beach house on the island's east coast, to enjoying an old-fashioned Christmas dinner prepared Bajan style, to donning hats and celebrating "Old year's Night" on what Americans call New Year's Eve.

The photos here capture moments in that series of good times which we know both will always remember, and Dad told me he often thought about when I last spoke to him on the phone. For him, it made his recuperation at least tolerable to think of the pleasant times, days he spent with Mom amidst the sun and sea in Barbados.

Enjoy the photos!

From Top - down:
Janice and myself with dad and mom; me (seated) with dad & mom (right) and John & Trudi (who subsequently bought our home when we moved to the U.S. in 1992).
Dad & Mom hold up their beach shirt Xmas gifts, on Xmas morning, 1988; Posing with Janice at our beach house near Cattlewash on the east coast.
Dad, enjoying Xmas dinner with two of our guests, Christmas Day, 1988; Mom & Dad with Janice inside the Harrison's Cave.
Mom tries out Janice's baby grand piano.
Mom helps Janice prepare "chick peas" for use in the Bajan Xmas delicacy, "jug".