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Channeling Sherlock

Sherlock Holmes novels are just plain fun. I’ve read all of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories. The famous detective is so well-liked that other authors have also written novels about his crime-solving adventures. I’d be willing to bet that most people know his famous statement to Dr. Watson: “Elementary my dear Watson!” Wanting to do a little research I typed that statement into Google and here’s what I found.

According to more than one website “Sherlock Holmes never said this line—at least, not the Sherlock Holmes written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Though Holmes did say “elementary” and “my dear Watson” in books by Doyle, the world’s favorite detective never put the two together. He was actually more into saying “Exactly, my dear fellow.”

Use of the word elementary suggests that the problems Sherlock solved were simple. At least to me and possibly many others, the solutions were not at all simple. And that is because Sherlock was a walking collection of encyclopedic knowledge. An example from one story: even traveling blindfolded through London he knew where he was from the sounds, smells, and even bumps in the road.

I’m no Sherlock. I’m particularly bad at guessing who-done-it in any number of mystery stories. And I am no walking encyclopedia either. But what I do have these days is the equivalent of many encyclopedias – vast libraries – from my computer and Internet access. In the old days, research meant a trip to the local library. Now I can do that from the comfort of home.

Stories:

My Dad had a colleague who was convinced that folding a piece of paper made that piece of paper weigh more. Why he thought that is unknown. Sherlock would have pulled a portable scale out of his pocket, as well as several reams of different kinds of paper and proved to that person, on the spot, that paper does not gain weight by being folded.

Another colleague of Dad’s had been so badly frightened, as a child, by an unknown animal that this person hated all animals and could see no reason for there to be any animals on the planet. Channeling Sherlock, I would have like to ask this person if they ate meat. And if he/she were vegetarian, I would have liked to ask if this person was aware of the importance of bees pollinating a variety of the crops we eat.

I live in a high desert climate. Growing grass here is difficult. A neighbor once complained about his watering bills and how much work he had to put in to keep his lawn healthy. I suggested he consider xeriscaping. In his knowledge base, xeriscaping meant removing all plants and replacing them with rocks. Some research would have proved him incorrect because the term means landscaping with drought-resistant plants that require minimal water. My home landscape is xeriscaped and it is stuffed with plants.

But this neighbor wasn’t interested in factual knowledge. He said that without grass – specifically grass – we would not be able to breathe. At that point I knew that mentioning people who live in desert climates in various places around  the world would be a waste of my time. Clearly he was going to cling to this misinformation like a drowning man swimming frantically to a life preserver.

Locally, our city has just instituted permanent watering restrictions for garden watering. Of course there’s been a chorus of annoyed people who don’t want to  adhere to that and who don’t believe, despite overwhelming factual evidence, that we have got to conserve water in this climate. One writer to the local paper had the times when she could water exactly the opposite of what the new rule states. Another writer, possibly a relative of my former neighbor, thinks the city will look awful because we will not have anything green growing here.

I too wrote a letter to the local paper correcting these misconceptions – with facts – all of which could have been self-corrected by the people who did not know what they were taking about. The solution: a little bit of easily-conducted research.

I’d like to start a club called The Sherlock Club: our purpose is to see if what we think we know is correct or to learn something new that we don’t know. The only requirement for being a member is to do a little research. Gentle readers, will you join?

Distinctive Voices

Art Garfunkel still has a marvelous voice. He is seventy-eight years old and still performing. He warned us that the altitude here might make him fumble a few notes. He sounded awesome. Lots of musicians have trouble with Colorado’s altitude. Consummate professionals, they avail themselves of provided supplemental oxygen and the show goes on.

About Mr. Garfunkel, I can only say WOW. He lost his voice for slightly more than five years – a paralyzed vocal chord. But he worked at it and his voice slowly returned – to the benefit of his audiences. He puts on an outstanding show in which he not only sings, but tells stories and reads from his book: what is it all but luminous, notes from an underground man. The book is well worth a look; it is almost entirely his own poetry and stream-of-consciousness thoughts. Cool stuff. And besides his solo career, he and Paul Simon have performed many times together since their breakup decades ago. Wish I’d been somewhere that I could have heard them again.

Way back when Simon and Garfunkel were new, a dear friend and I went to see them in concert. One of our dads drove us to the nearby town where they performed and the other dad picked us up. Thank you dads. S and G sounds are a part of my life story just as Beatles music is.

One of the tidbits in Mr. Garfunkel’s book: he says that George Harrison once said to him “Your Paul is to you exactly as my Paul is to me.” Ah the various meanings that could have. Fascinating.

It is interesting how some voices become so ingrained in your brain that they are recognizable anywhere. I’d recognize many rock singers (The Beatles, of course, Dylan, Barry Manilow, Joe Cocker, Jimmy Buffett, Mick Jagger) without any trouble. I was shopping once in a store playing rock and roll music on their sound system and suddenly, there was George Harrison singing a song that I’d never heard. Drove my crazy for a long time wondering how I could find out more about it. Turns out it’s a tune from George’s brief time with the group The Traveling Wiburys. Besides George, there’s a few distinctive voices in that group too.

I used to be puzzled by some people when they called on the telephone. They would say “Hi!” and start right in talking and I’d have to confess that sometimes I didn’t have a clue who they were and I’d have to play along until some hint of who called me was conveyed by what they were saying. Once I did this and finally had to ask the person, “Excuse me but who are you?” Turns out it was a wrong number. Oops.

I still remember the first time I heard my own recorded voice. We don’t sound like we sound in our heads. I was stunned at hearing my voice. That’s me?

Sounds: voices and music are marvelous things, embedded in each of our lives, from annoying ear worms to amazing symphonies. Gentle readers, think on some distinctive voices that you know and love and let them play in your memory and delight you.

 

Re-imagining Robot Vacs

People who use robot vacuum cleaners must not have floor clutter like I do. Or not having to push a vacuum cleaner around motivates them to pick up floor clutter. I have floor clutter and yes, I do periodically pick it up. But it reappears without fail. The re-occurrence of clutter must be a law of physics but I haven’t figured out which one it is yet. It occurs to me that the statement I just wrote implies that I know many laws of physics.

I don’t.

If a robot vacuum got loose in my house it would constantly have to navigate shoes and socks and yarn and knitting needles and art supplies and books and magazines. What happens if a robot vac encounters a cat or dog or snake or turtle?  I once saw a commercial with a cat riding on top of a robot vac. But what if the vac somehow got hold of some critter’s tail and would not let go? Oh the chaos! Oh the inhumanity!

Many years ago, as a child, I had a fish tank and one of my fish jumped out of the tank and lay gasping on the floor. My mother – ACCIDENTALLY – sucked it up with the vacuum cleaner. She frantically took the vacuum apart and rescued the fish but it did not survive. I shudder to think of my innocent mother scrambling to sort out a tiny fish from a bewildering landscape of sticky dust clumps.

Robot vacs look like little flying saucers. And so I let my imagination wander and came up with a robot vac idea.

What if this was a Star Trek Next Generation robot vac? It could have a replica of the bridge of the Enterprise D on top. It could include robotic action figures. Imagine a miniature Captain Picard lifting his hand and waving a tiny feather duster while saying “Engage” when it was time to start vacuuming. Or Lieutenant Worf could say “Today is a good day to vacuum,”  while brandishing a miniature bat’leth sword. Captain Picard could send Commander Riker out on away missions to pick up items too big to be vacuumed (i.e. clutter). Or Transporter Chief O’Brien could use a tractor beam to move large objects out into the garage. Counselor Troi would be available to shoo away sleepy pets or give psychological counseling to accidental animal victims of faulty cleanup.  Doctor Crusher might have saved the life of my wayward fish. Commander Data and Commander La Forge would be available to work with the vac’s computer core and accompanying nanites if they malfunctioned or if something Commander Riker missed got sucked inside and jammed up the warp core or the deflector dish. And of course there would be miniature phasers and photon torpedoes to take care of any enemy objects like hostile alien Tribbles and vast asteroid waste lands.

Now I’d buy a vac like that. How about you?

Farewell Friend

If I needed to believe that there are lovely people on the planet, my art classes are excellent proof. I’ve met lots of nice people while encouraging folks to mess around with pencils and paint. Today I find I need to say goodbye to one.

I’ve always kept folks anonymous in these blogs to protect their privacy so my friend, who moved on to the great beyond today, will only be known to you, gentle readers, as R.

I met R at the local Senior Center. He turned up one day in one of my art classes. He always sat in the back of the room and it quickly became obvious to me that he had no need to take an art class to increase his skills. R was an amazing artist. He drew pictures with pencils and inks and colored pencils or painted amazing works of art in oils or acrylics or watercolors. He could draw truly funny cartoons or paint astonishing landscapes as well as animals and people.

For a few years, R became my art partner joining me in teaching my classes. I used to joke that we were partners in art crime, encouraging people to explore art and find personal satisfaction in doing so. He was always cheerful and patient and the students genuinely loved him. He even brought his portfolio to one of my college art classes and from the moment he opened that portfolio and started to speak, he had those young people hooked. They asked questions, and he told wonderful stories. I’m certain they went home inspired. I sure did.

Later, I met R’s lovely wife, B and I know that their years together were happy ones because he always spoke lovingly about her and their daughters.

R left us today. I will miss him and I know a whole lot of former art students will too. He was a superb professional and a truly lovely, gentle man. Farewell my friend.

Birds, Fish, and Trees

A pair of robins built a nest on my front porch light this spring. Their single chick did not survive. They were the only robins that I saw all summer when normally robins are everywhere  and I always enjoyed their distinctive calls. In fact, for the past several summers, I’ve noticed fewer birds and wondered if there was something going on in my neighborhood.

Turns out what I noticed is real and far worse than I’d thought. According to new research published, bird populations have plummeted in the past five decades, dropping by nearly three billion across North America—an overall decline of 29 percent from 1970.

Hubby and I like seafood and we eat a lot of it. But I’ve noticed for years that different types of fish that I used to buy have disappeared from the grocery stores. Fish populations are declining as oceans warm, putting a key source of food and income at risk for millions of people around the world, according to new research. In the northeast Atlantic Ocean and the Sea of Japan, fish populations declined by as much as 35 percent over a period of study.

The September 23, 2019 issue of Time magazine is a special climate issue. The article about the Amazon rain forest was especially devastating. There are people who only see that area of the planet as a place to reap short term profits and they do not seem to know, or care if they do, that they are destroying something critical to the planet’s health and the health of all living things, including people. The Amazon rain forest plays an important part in regulating the world’s oxygen and carbon cycles. It produces roughly six percent of the world’s oxygen and has long been thought to act as a carbon sink, meaning it readily absorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That vast area of trees is critical.

One of my earliest memories is of feeding ducks in a local park. I’ve fed birds in the winter and put out bird baths in the summer. As a child, I had a tropical fish tank and I learned a great deal about fish while caring for that little ecosystem. I have always loved  outdoor gardening and I keep a variety of houseplants. My elementary school gave free trees to children who wanted them and two grew as tall as the house in the backyard of my childhood home. Where I now live, Hubby and I planted numerous trees over the years that now provide shade and bird habitats.

It has been my goal to live as part of the ecosystems where I find myself. I would’t plant a cactus on top of Pikes Peak and I wouldn’t try to grow a willow tree in the Sonoran desert.

There is nothing political about the science of ecosystems. An ecosystem is a community of living organisms (plants, animals and microbes) in a particular area. The living and physical components are linked together through nutrient cycles and energy flows. Ecosystems are of any size, but usually they are in particular places controlled by climate and the interactions of the living things in that particular place.

The good news is that we are learning and trying and coping. I hope that we will do enough to turn around a situation that is in need of our attention. What will you do? For what will you advocate? Will you live as part of the ecosystem where you are and will you lobby and work for its protection?

 

The “ISM” Cop Out

We are going to hear a great deal in the coming political campaign about this “ISM” or that “ISM”. Politicians will cheer their favored “ISM” and criticize the “ISM” that they dislike. This is a cop out. Hang on – I’ll get back to this in a minute.

I have written on more than one occasion that if politicians say nothing other than trashing their opponents then they are people with NOTHING to offer. I DO NOT CARE what any politicians think of their opponents. Telling me something that I already know is a waste of my time. I want politicians to tell me their specific problem-solving ideas. I do not want them mentioning each other.

Back to “ISMS”. I will not mention the words that end in “ISM”. You know what they are and if you don’t you should look up those words and their definitions when you hear one of them mentioned. If one politician dismisses another’s problem-solving ideas as an “ISM” and then changes the subject, this another case of someone having NOTHING to offer.

What should be discussed – in specific detailis what do we want and how should we pay for it.  Government pays for a lot of things with our tax dollars. We could argue until the sun dims to a red dwarf about whether what our taxes pay for is worth it. But that is a worthy discussion and the outcome of that discussion will be the result of a vote. That too is a good thing.

There are programs that my taxes pay for and I’m not going to get into them. If you are knowledgeable you know what they are and if you are not, it is my humble opinion that you should find out. I like what some of what my taxes pay for and some I don’t. There are things each of us should pay for ourselves and I will offer one example of why this can be a tricky discussion. In my humble opinion, if you want cable TV you should pay for it yourself. On the other hand, I am delighted that some of my tax dollars are spent on the Public Broadcasting Corporation (PBS) and its excellent TV programs.

But what I want to hear from politicians is what programs cost and whether public funding is how we should fund them and WHY. I want specific numbers that come from specific sources. If I don’t hear that, I turn my attention elsewhere.

I can hear some folks telling me that what I want is impossible. But if enough voters demanded this kind of information, we’d get it. It is time we started telling our politicians what we want and why. Write any politician that you favor in the coming campaign and tell them to stop the cop outs. Write and tell them that you want problem-solving specifics and that nothing less than that is acceptable.

Visual Value

As a tot with a coloring book I learned to value art. I loved those coloring books and the sketchbooks and canvases that replaced them. These days, a visit to an art museum is a visit to a sacred place.

I just read Edward Dolnick’s book The Rescue Artist about finding and returning stolen art to its rightful owners. It’s a fascinating tale and if l learned anything, stealing art is easy if you are brazen. The thefts the book describes happened with apparent ease. Recovering these works, or keeping them from being stolen in the first place, is extremely difficult.

The detective who is the hero of The Rescue Artist describes recovering Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream. For a few minutes, the painting lies on his bed in a hotel room and for that short time, the painting belongs solely to the detective. He savors that brief ownership: to have a world-class masterpiece in his possession to enjoy – free of crooks and police and museum guards and tourists.

I know exactly how he feels. It is a privilege to see great works of art in museums but savoring them – alone – is another matter. A visit to a great museum is like a slow-motion football game, and you are a receiver trying to get to the end zone – an empty place in front of a painting  – so that you can just stare at it for awhile. It takes some waiting and that private time is brief. But the neat thing is that if you get close to a painting, you can see details that are not so apparent in a picture in a book, especially if the painting is large. For example, here’s a picture detail. It doesn’t matter who painted this work or its title. Once can enjoy these little details solely for their visual value.

DSCN0868In contrast, this is what had to be waded through to get close to a Van Gogh.

DSCN3307

One can clearly see the painting and one can decide to be amused at all the folks intent on taking a quick snapshot and then rushing on to the next biggie on their gotta-see list. Certainly not all of us feel the need to contemplate brushstrokes. But I do. It is about communicating with another artist.

Also just watched the movie about Van Gogh’s last years starring Willem Dafoe titled At Eternity’s Gate. A priest asks Van Gogh why he paints. In essence he says, because it is everything. Walking into a room full of Van Gogh’s landscapes is too amazing and astonishing to be described in words. It is beyond my understanding that the people of his time could not see the sheer joy in his interpretations of his world and the incomparable genius and originality of his work.

Van Gogh’s works could easily have been lost. His sister-in-law deserves a great deal of credit for making sure that did not happen. And reading about the ease with which master works have been stolen leaves me shaking my head in bewilderment.

In Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel 2312, great works have art have been moved to an underground cavern on the Planet Mercury for safe display and storage. I found this idea both entertaining and worrying. Not too many crooks are going to make off with works of art on another planet but storing them on a planet that close to the sun also seems nuts! But that’s just fun fantasy.

Why should marks on paper and canvas have special value? The answer to that notion is up to each of us. But when I watch my art students create art, I feel that I am watching human minds in action. Marks on paper and canvas have value because they are ideas in visual form and ideas are uniquely human. What ideas are we overlooking and who are we ignoring today?