Friday, June 18, 2021

Katla's ending (spoiler)

 I just finished the Netflix-Icelandic TV series, Katla.   Those who died on Katla as well as some who are still alive are being brought back to life or cloned by a meteor buried underneath the ice.  Whether the rejuvenating substance came from an alien species who modified its world only to have it exploded for some reason and sent as meteors out into space -- or a natural substance isn't explained.

The photography is superb, the acting excellent, and the writing very good.  One is drawn into the predicaments of the various characters and the various confrontations they have with the previously dead or living clones.  Some of the resolutions are ugly but they aren't dwelt upon. 

I assumed there would be just the one season since it had a clever ending.  One set of identical young women decide to engage in Russian Roulette so that the confusion involved in two of them being married to the same husband will be eliminated.  Finally on the last shot, one of them is killed and it seemed to be the cheerful happy clone that is shot, but later in a family gathering you see the happy cheerful one charming her family and playing the piano; so it was the morose original who was shot -- unless the morose one is faking it????

Then, in the tradition of Jason, the last episode ends with not one but six recently risen clones heading toward town through the fog.  I read some reviews and fans of this series hoping the ending means there will be a season two. 

Do I want a season two?   I'm of mixed minds.  I did watch all eight episodes, and I "felt" as though the ending was adequate, but in thinking it over I can imagine writers doing something off-the-wall that would make a subsequent series interesting.  Perhaps aliens could show up looking for their missing meteor.  :-)

Artificial Intelligence in Google and elsewhere

 In the 21 January 2021 edition of the London Review of Books is the review (entitled "Insanely Complicated, Hopelessly Inadequate") by Paul Taylor* of three books:

The Promise of Artificial Intelligence: Reckoning and Judgment by Brian Cantwell Smith

Rebooting AI: Building Artificial Intelligence We can Trust by Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis

The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect by Judea pearl and Dana Mackenzie

*Paul Taylor is "a professor of health informatics at University College London."

Taylor quotes Brian Cantwell Smith to say "huge efforts are made to constrain the vocabulary used in clinicians' computer systems, but the problem goes deeper hat that.  It isn't that we can't agree on the words: it's that there aren't always well-defined concepts to which the words can be attached." 

"Smith tried to explain this by comparing a map of the islands in Georgian Bay in Ontario with an aerial photograph showing the islands along with the underwater topography.  On the map, the islands are clearly delineated; in the photography it's much harder to say where each island ends and he sea begins, or even exactly how many islands there are.  There is a difference between the world as we perceive it, divided into separate objects, and the messier reality.  We can use logic to reason about the world as described on the map, but the challenge for AI is how to build the map from the information in the photograph."

"Cantwell Smith argues that if we seem to inhabit a world that is constructed of 'discrete, well-defined mesoscale objects exemplifying properties and standing in unambiguous relations', that is an achievement of our intelligence, not a truth that can be used when engineering an artificial intelligence.  This will resonate with anyone who has tried to express seemingly straightforward concepts in sets of rules, only to be defeated by the complexity of real life."


I was once passed over for a promotion because, according to the manager, I was the only one who knew how to do the work.  So the promotion went to someone with a business degree who regularly attempted to get me to create procedures to describe how the work ought to be done.  Since I wouldn't comply, he brought in outside experts to create the procedures he wanted; so I marked them up to show how they wouldn't work.  So yes, Smith's arguments resonate with me. 

Perhaps the above is part of the reason I have never taken the Vienna Circle, especially Carnap, seriously.  Carnap for example defines everything that doesn't have its roots in empiricism as "nothing."  Godel would never say such a thing.

Godel, Manifest and Katla

 If Godel received his breakthrough insights through a sort-of poetic inspiration and felt about them in the same terms in which poets have described their best poetry, namely that the poems weren't created by the poets but by their poetic muses, then he wasn't going to be impressed with the Logical Positivists.  The Logical Positivists subscribed whole-heartedly to Wittgenstein's Tractatus and discount his ladder as combat fatigue or something like that.  But Wittgenstein himself never subscribed whole-heartedly to the beliefs of the Logical Positivists. 

As proper atheists, the Logical Positivists believed that man would eventually know everything -- that there were no limits to man's capabilities.  The poets and Godel benefited from inspirations they could neither explain, duplicate nor cause to work at their behests.  And while not necessarily crediting God, though some did, they knew better than to sign up to the Logical Positivist narrative.

I am only 35% through the biography of Godel and so don't know to what extent he credits God, nor any of the reasons he believed himself to be a failure, nor the reasons he felt incapacitating guilt.

Setting Godel aside off and on this past week I watched the first two seasons of Manifest.  An airplane takes off and then disappears for 5 1/2 years -- and then it lands.  The 159 passengers and crew aren't aware of a time lapse.  The world muddles about and draws all the wrong conclusions.  The passengers hear voices, but only a few realize these voices are "callings" -- sort of like the Biblical Holy Spirit urging a person to do the right thing.  "Right" in the Manifest sense isn't exactly Biblical.  It has a Karmic twist to it.  If you do it wrong you will suffer consequences.   The Biblical Holy Spirit if resisted has consequences by definition, i.e., if you resist doing the right thing then you will be doing the wrong one and doing things wrong usually have negative consequences.    

What Scientific theory is Manifest building upon?  Parallel Universes, some of which are mentioned in this wikipedia article: but they don't fit Manifest very well.  What seems to be happening is the abandoning of an atheistic parallel universe for a supernatural karmic parallel universe.

In the Netflix Icelandic series Katla, one perhaps instead, thinks (instead of a scientific theory) of Jung's conclusion in his book on Flying Saucers, i.e., that they were mandalas created by man's oversoul (man confined in each sighting to the people who claimed to see the Flying Saucers).  That is, the clones being created covered in volcanic dust would be (in this theory) created by an Icelandic oversoul.  This theory while probably not fitting whatever the Netflix-Katla writers have written (I've only watched 2 seasons and 4 seasons exist), fits best (in my opinion) as far as I've watched.  A really poor story line would involve the ingredients in the Katla volcanic ash doing the cloning.

Godel as a sick soul

alsoI ordered Journey to the Edge of Reason, the Life of Kurt Godel both in Kindle and in the hard copy. 

Godel was mentally unstable late in life.  Several poets that I have liked have been mentally unstable, but their brand of instability, for most of them, was manic-depression, bipolar disorder; which fits well with the writing of poetry.  One cannot write in an inspired mode continuously; so when that mode is gone, one is bound to feel a bit depressed.  Anyone, perhaps, would feel a bit of mild depression, but the ones I have in mind entered into extremes.  

Some however descended into extreme depression which seems from the little I've thus far read to have been Godel's situation.  He didn't seem to have a manic mode.  The fact that he was being deserted: Einstein's death, Roth's suicide among others who died, but especially his wife's hospitalization affected him strongly.  He believed someone was trying to poison him and so would only eat food that she prepared.  After she was hospitalized he wouldn't eat anything and so starved himself to death.

Leo Depuydt's opinions are interesting.  He thinks that if someone has deep feelings of failure, you should take him at his word.  I thought, when I read Depuydt, of William James' Varieties of Religious experience.  James classed people into two categories: Healthy and Sick souls.  Godel would be a sick soul.  Depuydt sounds as though he is a Healthy soul.  Perhaps people with healthy souls aren't very good judges of people with Sick souls.  

Vienna as an ideal "place"

 Stephen Budiansky early in Journey to the Edge of Reason reports that Godel was affected by the suicide of Joseph Roth, "one of the countless victims of what the historian George Berkley called 'the most unrequited love affair in urban history" -- the tragic devotion of Vienna's 300,000 Jews to the country that had given them and 2 million of their kinsmen an unparalleled haven and hope only to see it ground to ashes." 

Budiansky adds, "'Austria is neither a state, a home, nor a nation,' says the mad brother of one of Roth's characters, a Polish count from the Austrian territory of Galicia.  'It is a religion.'  'It is thus not a multinational state, but a supra-national one,' he explains: 'the only supra-nation which has existed in the world.' (As a private person my brother is as mad as a hatter,' says the count, 'but where politics is concerned he is second to none' -- one of Roth's many wry allusions to the schizophrenic realities of Austrian life.)"

Further down, Budiansky writes, 'Those years, recalled the writer Stefan Zweig, another contemporary of Godel's, and like Roth another Austrian Jew who managed to escape Hitler only to die by his own hand in heartbroken exile, were the 'Golden Age of Security.'"

Comment:  I've been walking about with the idea of "place."  But none of California's places are as well established as those in Europe where 300,000 people can have a love affair with Vienna.    I didn't care about that sort of thing.  I'm used to getting everything else from magazines, books, and the internet.  And yet, I've been wondering lately what it means to miss out on the sort of thing 300,000 Viennese Jews felt for their place.

When our ancestors began farming about 15,000 years ago they had "places" that their hunter-gatherer ancestors didn't. Did early farmers love those places?  Or did the love have to wait until more beautiful places were built?

To what extent Godel was affected by the loss of Vienna, I have thus far only Budiansky's hint, but Budiansky quotes Godel's psychiatrist to say that Godel mourned the loss of the intellectual vigor he had in his twenties when his mathematical achievements were established and praised.    

More on Godel

 I just read the Wikipedia article which is more respectful of Godel than Depuydt is.  I was interested in this description of Godel's belief in religion: 

Gödel was a theist in the Christian tradition.[38] He believed that God was personal, and called his philosophy "rationalistic, idealistic, optimistic, and theological".[39]

Gödel believed firmly in an afterlife, saying, "Of course this supposes that there are many relationships which today's science and received wisdom haven't any inkling of. But I am convinced of this [the afterlife], independently of any theology." It is "possible today to perceive, by pure reasoning" that it "is entirely consistent with known facts." "If the world is rationally constructed and has meaning, then there must be such a thing [as an afterlife]."[40]

In an unmailed answer to a questionnaire, Gödel described his religion as "baptized Lutheran (but not member of any religious congregation). My belief is theistic, not pantheistic, following Leibniz rather than Spinoza."[41] Of religion(s) in general, he said: "Religions are, for the most part, bad—but religion is not".[42] According to his wife Adele, "Gödel, although he did not go to church, was religious and read the Bible in bed every Sunday morning",[43] while of Islam, he said, "I like Islam: it is a consistent [or consequential] idea of religion and open-minded."[44]

Kurt Godel and Leo Depuydt

 There is a biography just out:  Journey to the Edge of Reason: The Life of Kurt Godel by Stephen Budiansky.  I was tempted, a little bit.  Then I read Leo Depuydt's review (on Amazon) which I consider very much worth reading:   [Depuydt abbreviates the names of the people he discusses.  Thus Albert Einstein is AE and Kurt Godel is KG.]  Here is the last bit of his Amazon review:

At that time, the Einstein fuse had burned out and he was just a shadow of his former self, turning himself into some kind of a freak show that still dominates the airwaves.

I am not even trying to be critical of KG the Man. He was talented in many ways. So, he was weird. But then, he was harmless. And you can’t say that about all weird people, though he did freak out people a little on occasion and also got into all kinds of disputes a good deal more than most people. The author and myself are evidently diametrically opposed in regard to KG The Myth. But then, the author does transmit the prevailing narrative, a narrative with which I could not disagree more. And the book did nothing to change my mind regarding this disagreement. Quite to the contrary, it helped me strengthen my personal opinion about something that I had long suspected; that is why I personally welcome the book. Reporting the prevailing narrative may just be the task of the biographer. And the author does report the narrative objectively. The author reports the Myth. I see his book as a tool to finally help end the Myth. There are many indications throughout the book of cracks in the Myth. For example, KG later in life felt that he had not done much over several decades at the Institute of Advanced Studies. And that was true. Should such a statement not just raise some suspicion? KG even once, still in his prime, as I learned from the book, submitted an article for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was rejected because the reviewer could not make any sense of it. Should that not raise some suspicion?

I add in the margin that books about KG and accomplices are often packaged by the media and the book industry as books about a supreme genius. So for a $20 bill or so you can “read the mind of God” or the like. That is a really good deal. Beats going to Disneyland. This reminds me of AE’s famous statements quoting the thoughts of God. Either this was totally ironical or just plain stupid. But people actually buy it most of the time. Go figure. (By the way, I talked to God the other day and he told me He would not tell AE anything because He was afraid as to what he was going to do with it).
In sum. This book needed writing. Finally. It took real work. Impressively. And it is well written. Thankfully. We need many, many more books like this.* To cut more of the crap. There is too much of it. Quousque tandem?

*In fact, a book about another Holy Cow just came out, about St. Stephen (that is, Hawking) by Charles Seife. Also recommended reading.

Leo Depuydt currently works in the Department of Egyptology and Assyriology, Brown University. "Leo does research in Rational Human Intelligence, Artificial Intelligence, and the History of Science. His current projects include 1) "Complete definition of the operating system (OS) of the human brain" (yes: all of it! see the book[*]), trying to show at the same time how all current efforts at AI are completely misguided and money down the drain (such a terrible waste) and 2) "Mapping the Geography of Infinity" (or "The Role of Infinity in the Physical Universe"). In regard to the latter, it can be shown mathematically that the universe is infinite and timeless and that time is only a limitation imposed on the human condition; it is a straightjacket in which all of humanity is held captive. LD"

[*] I went to Amazon to "see the book" Depuydt refers to, but it isn't there.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Marjorie Perloff on Menand's The Free World

 I just read the review in the TLS by Marjorie Perloff of Louis Manand's The Free World, Art and Thought in the Cold War. 

Perloff begins her review with a quote from the beginning of Manand's book:  "This book is about a time when the United States was actively engaged with the rest of the world.  In the twenty years after the end of the Second World War, the United States invested in the economy of Japan and Western Europe and extended loans to other countries around the world.  With the United Kingdom, it created the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to support global political stability and International trade.  It hosted the new United Nations.  Through its government, its philanthropic foundations, its universities, and its cultural institutions, it established exchange programs for writers and scholars, distributed literature around the globe, and sent art from American collections and music by American composers and performers abroad. . . . Works of literature and philosophy from all over the world were published in affordable translations.  Foreign movies were imported and distributed across the country. . . ."

I thought of Clive Bell's Civilization.  Surely the United States doing the things Manand describes is deserving of some slight bit of the classification "Civilized."  But that thought begins to crumble as one gets past this first section, as I have, having bought the book.  The U.S. becomes embroiled in the world's shadier activities and doesn't manage nearly as well as it did during the first period.  But this is not, apparently, a point Menand wants to emphasize.  He wants to show how the U.S. has been changed, how its art has grown and improved, how in fact the U.S. has become more cultured and perhaps (I am hopeful) civilized.  The news is full of our shortcomings, but something dramatic and even revolutionary has happened in art, in culture, in understanding if not in politics during the period Menand discusses . . . at least it would seem so from Perloff's review and in the few pages I've thus far read. 

The retired haenyeo Oh Yeong-Geum


I received my copy of Moon Tides, Jeju Island Grannies of the Sea, published in 2011.  I turned first to the section on Aging.  There is a photo of Oh Yeong-Geum, born in 1915.  She would have been 38 years old when I was there and might conceivable have been one of the women I saw bobbing up from dives to rest briefly on her float.  Here is what she's quoted as saying in an interview with the book's author Brenda Paik Sunoo in 2007:

"I learned to be a haenyeo all by myself when I began going to the sea when I was 15 years old.  My mother and grandmother were not haenyeo. I have never been to the mainland or the deep sea to do haenyeo work.  I've only dived around here, and only in shallow waters.

"I have four daughters and two sons.  Two daughters live in jeju-si, and two live here in Gimnyeong.  Two of them are haenyeo.  But the second one who lives here doesn't do haenyeo work because she is afraid of the deep water.  I live with my first son's family here in Gimnyeong.  He is 59 years old, a barber.  My second son lives in Seoul.

"I stopped doing haenyeo work when I was 75 years old, in the late 80s.  In past times, we never had rubber suits like the women divers wear today.  During the winter, we were really freezing when we came out of the sea.  We shivered terribly and even gritted our teeth a lot because it was so cold.  These days, the haenyeo wear rubber suits, so they can stay in the water for five hours straight without feeling too cold.

"When I was a haenyeo, we made a fire with dry grass or wood brought from home around a bulteok (fire pit).  These days, the haenyeo can take a hot shower after diving.  They're so lucky.  When we washed out our cotton suits and laid them on the rocks to dry, they quickly became frozen.  It was such a miserable and tough time back then.  One of my daughters went to the mainland to do haenyeo work.  No one has had a harder life than her.

"Before I got married, I took a boat for two days to Japan.  Many people got seasick and vomited and couldn't eat anything.  But I was okay.  I worked at a zipper factory.  While there, I met my husband through a matchmaker at age 20.  He was originally from Gimnyeong.  I am from Sehwa.  After we were married, and I got pregnant, we came back to Gimnyeong when the Pacific War broke out.

"Through the years, I did farming and haenyeo work.  I never went to school.  Because my husband was an only son, he didn't do much of anything.  While farming, I grew barley and foxtail millet."

Comment:  I gather Sunoo has never been a haenyeo or dived along with them to see what it was like.  I distrust some of her comments a little.

My recollection, which may be faulty is that the haenyeo I saw wore bathing suits, but I only saw them when they came up and then from perhaps 50 yards away so perhaps I'm "remembering" what was actually an assumption.  I started diving again perhaps shortly after 1963 and well before I could afford a wet suit.  The Pacific Ocean I dived in was probably warmer than the Ocean off Jeju Island.  It seemed pretty cold at the time, but then so did the Pacific after I'd been in it for a few hours.   At first I got a partial suit which was easy to swim with and didn't require many lead weights to allow me to submerge.  But eventually I got a full suit like the women are depicted using in the book.  They were cumbersome, but they did allow me to stay out longer.

I have a lot of pleasant memories of diving.  For me it wasn't the hard work that these women describe -- not really work at all.  If I could spear 3 or 4 fish that weighed over a pound each, that would provide more fillets than we were willing to eat in a week -- and I often speared more fish than that.  These woman had to keep working until their nets were filled and then swim them to shore so their good-for-almost-nothing-husbands could take them.  The husbands would then give them fresh nets so they could keep on working. 

Yeong-Geum is quoted as saying she gave up working as a haenyeo when she was 75 years old.   I gave up diving because Susan didn't really like to be along when I was spearing fish and I didn't usually want to just sail, but especially when Susan became too ill to do either.   It is interesting to read these active and former Haenyeo discussing matters like these . . . I too once took a sea voyage to Japan.  Mine was on the General Gordon and took 13 days.  Like Yeong-Geum on her voyage I didn't get sick, but most of the others did and everything below deck smelled like vomit.

Preferring a liberal to a technical education


On page 62 of Civilization, Clive Bell writes, "A sense of values, as I understand the term, is possessed only by those who are capable of sacrificing obvious and immediate goods to the more subtle and remote.  People who deliberately sacrificed comfort to beauty -- with no practical or superstitious end in view -- would appear to me to possess a sense of values.  To prefer a liberal to a technical education, an education that teaches how to live rather than one that teaches how to gain, is another manifestation of this highly civilized sense."

This is on Bell's list as an attribute of a civilized person, and beyond that as a value that will be "enthroned" in any Civilized Society.  He doesn't insist that every member of such a society think in this way, but it must be enthroned. 

In my own case I enrolled in college on the G.I. Bill but didn't at first know what to major in.  I was predisposed because of my grandmother's teachings to study "the classics," which weren't taught as such, but eventually declared "English" as my major.  It was as close as I could get to my grandmother's ideal.  However, I don't recall any professor ever suggesting that if one majored in English he would learn "how to live", nor did I graduate with the understanding that I then knew how to live. 

But even if I were to understand my education in the Clive Bell sense, this understanding was not "enthroned" in my college or society.  I met Bell's requirement of not choosing a major that would teach me "how to gain," but I didn't feel good about it.  My stepfather had urged me to major in Engineering because "that's where the good-paying jobs are."  But I had unwisely gotten married, was supplementing my G.I. Bill by loading and unloading trucks, and doing my studying in the Teamster's hiring hall.  If on top of that I had to major in a subject I didn't like, I was fairly sure, I would never have graduated.  I majored in English because its course of study was what I liked best and not because the value of a Liberal Education was "enthroned" in my society or in my family.  Engineering was.

When I was sent by the Bliss and Sons Employment Agency to Douglas Aircraft Company to work in Engineering, I wasn't sure I was going to be able to succeed there; so I kept my Teamster's membership active.  Also, I enrolled in graduate school and worked on my Master's degree, first at California State University at Long Beach State, but later at California State University at Dominquez Hills.  I got half way through the Master's program before figuring out that I was probably going to stay in Engineering, and the vague idea that teaching at perhaps a Junior College might be preferable to loading trucks on the docks went a glimmering. 

I learned that Douglas preferred loyalty in its workers.  If someone employed at Douglas was clearly working on a degree that would enable him to work at something more to his liking, then such a person became vulnerable when a layoff was required.  I enjoyed studying English literature, but I was far enough along to know I could study it (or merely enjoy it) on my own.  Also, I couldn't risk being seen to be studying in order to leave Douglas for something else.   The idea of a Liberal Education as something to be valued for itself and not as a means "for gain" was not enthroned at Douglas Aircraft Company.

As to the popularity of Clive Bell's ideas, I just checked Bell's Civilization on Amazon's "Best Sellers Rank."  It is 9,505,896 in Books.  But Bell, if he were able to come back to life and observe this fact, would say it is what he would expect.  "Civilization" is rare and difficult to achieve.

Menachem Kaiser and Lafcadio Hearn


I just finished the Menachem Kaiser's Plunder.  

I was especially interested in the matter of how current generations deal with past injustices.  I just read an article on Lafcadio Hearn, "Far From the Realm of the Real" (from the June 10, 2021 issue of the New York Review of Books) in which Christopher Carroll examines three "recent" books by Lafcadio Hearn.  Hearn died in 1904 but there has been an ongoing interest (mostly by the Japanese) in and reverence for the writings of Hearn who repudiated the industrialized ways of America and moved to Japan before it became industrialized. 

Carroll writes, "Perhaps the best and best known of the tales from Kwaidan [which Hearn wrote] -- and according to Setsu [Hearn's wife] one of Hearn's favorites -- is 'The Story of Mimi-Nashi-Hoichi' . . . about a blind biwa player famous for his musical recitation of the epic history of the Heike and the Genji, two rival clans fighting for control of twelfth-century Japan.  'Mimi-Nashi-Hoichi' opens with a brief account of the final battle between the clans -- the Battle of Dan-no-ura, one of the most significant in Japanese history -- in which 'the Heike perished utterly, with their women and children, and their infant emperor likewise.' . . .

Even if there were descendants of the Heike.  (There could be. Historians back then weren't very civilized either.)  I doubt they would be resenting the Gengi for what they did in the twelfth century.  It isn't that Hitler did anything without precedent.  Lots of generals in Europe as well as in Japan a thousand years ago, did that sort of thing.  It is that the predominate view of Western Europeans was that they were now too civilized to do that sort of thing.  The proper way we (who are more civilized than Hitler) fight a war is to fight until the other side gives up.  Then everyone gets to go home.  We no longer attempt to slaughter all of our enemies. 

Kaiser, as did most of the people he encounters, seemed to believe that we in the West (and probably the world) are past wanting to destroy our enemies utterly.  We are now more secure in our civilization, whether German, Pole or Jew.  Kaiser likes the tenants living in Unit 12 (during the time he thought it was his grandfather's building).   The Poles living there now aren't prejudiced against Jews.  Kaiser likes them which makes it easy for him to later on let things go when the implacable Polish bureaucracy can't abandon its procedures in order to do what is right. 

The bit about the ten golden eggs is amusing and a good way for Kaiser to end his book.  While he and Steve are surreptitiously digging into an attic wall, with the permission of the apartment owner, their guilt is mounting.  As they are getting close to discovering whether the eggs are really there, the apartment owner sends up word that they can buy the whole apartment for $10,000.  Heck, Steve says, I don't want her apartment, but if the eggs are there I'll give her $10,000 (the golden eggs are worth $120,000). 

Earlier Kaiser tells Steve he won't put anything in his book about the egg search that Steve disapproves of.  Steve tells him that if they find the eggs, Kaiser isn't to say so in his book.  So instead, Kaiser tells us, as he digs the bricks out of the way, Steve looks in and exclaims "Oh my god!" 

Places, some of them nostalgic

 Torrance did have a beach, Hermosa, Redondo or some place like that, but it was sandy and no place for free diving.  I drove to places in Palos Verdes, especially White's Point with lots of rocks like the Jeju ladies climbed over.  It took me 20 or 30 minutes to drive to those places.   In those days, when my first wife was learning to spend more than I made, I supplemented my initially meager income by keeping our freezer full of fish.  We ate more fish than most people.

As to surfers, I did have some conflicts with them on occasion.  Some of them seemed as though they would have liked to have gotten pushy with their boards, but by then I used a spear-gun with a 4-foot-long stainless steel spear which I'm sure impinged upon any aggressive thoughts they might have entertained.   

More nostalgia:

At age 12 while living in Wilmington I got a paper route delivering the Long Beach Press Telegram.  That's where I learned to wrestle, which is what we did until our papers arrived -- after which we'd fold them, put them in our bags, sling our bags over the racks on our bicycles and rush off to make our deliveries.  Collecting was the worst part of that job.  We collected every month and not everyone was happy about paying for their papers. 

After the paper route job, my truck-driving step-father got me a job as a water-melon stacker working for Al Harrison, "the water melon king."   After that I worked for Harry Foster who bought a burned-down warehouse on the docks.  It was full of clocks.  He hired a crew of high-school boys to remove G.E & Telechron roters.  We also salvaged pot metal.  He made me the foreman; which involved some conflicts.  Some of the kids who didn't want to work as hard as I did would dig themselves inside of the stacks of empty cardboard boxes and hide out.  When I discovered that I fired the worst culprits, one of whom was my cousin David.  This occasioned my aunt Dorothy saying she would never forgive me, but she did.  This also occasioned a fairly savage fight between me and the boy who first learned about the salvage job, Andy Dugas.  He thought he should have been the foreman.  He thought I didn't have the authority to fire him.  Mr. Foster showed up while we were fighting, asked what was going on.  I told him.  He backed me up and Andy stalked off.  As far as I know, he never forgave me. 

When I started college, at what was then Long Beach State, I had the G.I. Bill which wasn't very much.  My father got me into the Operating Engineers and I drove a lumber carrier for a while.  After that my step-father got me into the Teamster's Union and I loaded and unloaded trucks.  I worked out of the Teamster's Hiring Hall in Wilmington.  I would put my name on the list and when a truck driver would call to say that he needed a couple of swampers, unless he specified particular ones by name, the next names on the list would be called.  That worked out well for me.  I arranged my classes either Monday, Wednesday and Friday or Tuesdays and Thursdays and worked out of the hiring hall on the other days.   I would take books inside and study until my name was called. 

While I was in the Teamster's Union we had an election.  We were all encouraged to vote for Jimmy Hoffa.  We could have voted for whomever we wanted, but we were advised, "sure, Jimmy Hoffa is a crook, but he's our crook" so of course I voted for Jimmy.

When I started work at Douglas Aircraft Company in August 1959, I wasn't sure that job was going to work out; so I kept my Teamster's membership active for a few years. 

I bought the Torrance House in 1962.  That was the year McNamara cancelled the Skybolt program which is the program I was working on and doing well enough to encourage me to risk buying a house.  Thankfully I was able to transfer over to the Commercial side where I worked on DC-8s and DC-9s.  One fellow I worked with, one day challenged me about all the different jobs mentioned doing (and I didn't mention all of them above).   His name was Ken Hackney.  We became good friends, but he was eventually laid off.  He "borrowed" $50 from me so he could take a job as editor of a small newspaper in some state like Kansas.  Before he left he gave me a copy of the poems of Yeats in which he inscribed

"For the Helms, Christmas 1969

"And many a poor man that has roved,

Loved and thought himself beloved,

From a glad kindness cannot take his eyes."

Thank you both,

Love, Ken & M.L."

[I had forgotten about M.L.  Ken's first wife left him.  He crashed his car but survived; after which he found himself a librarian, M.L.]

Further on "love of place"

 I think I have always wanted to make the best of wherever I lived, but not overtly, not consciously, not (as Susan would observe) acknowledging that sort of feeling, and not usually with much success.

Yes, I miss the ocean as well, but my discovery of the videos on the diving women of Jeju Island caused me to think more clearly about diving.  I bought the book I referenced, Moon Tides: Jeju Island Grannies of the Sea by Brenda Paik Sunoo.  Sunoo's title may be a bit off-putting to many.  It doesn't seem to have sold well on Amazon.  I bought it not because I saw them diving, but because many of them are still diving at about my age.  The lady for example who is 80 and plans to dive until she is 85 was interesting inasmuch as I'm now 86.  Of course I no longer dive, but I think about it.  Diving was for me a "place" that I loved.  But I couldn't avoid the impracticality of it.  I admired the lady who had her left arm bitten off by a shark who has figured out a way to keep diving and seems to enjoy every minute of it.  I sympathized with the 91-year-old lady who stumbled on the rocks, fell down, and yelled "I'm going to die."  I wonder if that was the correct translation of what she said.  I suspect she was intending to go on her first dive after the two month hiatus that was mentioned elsewhere.  She had deteriorated in those two months, but she probably thought that if she could make it over the rocks and into the sea she would be okay.  When she couldn't she may have concluded while she lay there on the rocks that if she could no longer do what she had loved to do for so many years, that she may as well die.

The rocks they had to traverse were worse than what I normally had to contend with. 

As to this house in San Jacinto being a place that is "the best place for [this] time of [my] life," I can't really say that.  It was always a compromise.  Susan and I negotiated where we would live until her parents died.  But I admit that it is comfortable, and the view out my study windows is better than that from any house I've ever lived in.  It also is close to the river in which I still enjoy hiking.  Also, with 2,000 square feet, a three car garage as well as a storage shed, and just the dogs and I living here, it has as much room as I can ever imagine needing. 

Several years ago a family moved into the house across the street, a man, wife, a passel of kids and some relatives.  The mother of the kids once looked at me, then looked at my house, which was larger than hers, shook her head, and observed,  "All that room and just the two of your living there."  Alas, there is now just one. 

Further on diving, Jeju Island and elsewhere


I deviated from Nazi treasure after discovering the Youtube videos of the diving women of Jeju Island.  I didn't know much about them when I was there and hadn't thought much about them since; so not only did I enjoy the education, but much of what they did was something I also did.  A big difference was that I used a spear gun and went only after fish whereas they dove for delicacies, most of which I've never heard of. Some of them did spear small fish, but they were forbidden spear guns. 

I did know about abalone.  That is the one thing we could get before we learned how to spear fish.  We didn't have much money when we were 15; so a cheap lunch for us was to dive for a bunch of abalone, pound them up and fry them.  Years later when I began diving again, taking abalone was illegal. Perhaps the Koreans who came to California after that war took too many.  I was down there once when a Korean was arrested with 30 abalone in his bag. 

One of the Youtube videos showed a woman diving with only one arm.  the other had been taken by a thresher shark.  Her husband was interviewed saying he tried to talk her out of diving but she said she wouldn't feel right about herself if she stopped.  She said she had to work twice as fast as the others because of having just the one arm.  One sequence showed her getting ready to dive and asking the camera person to help her with her mask.  She seemed happy.

One sequence showed a woman who was said to be 91, spindly legged and feeble, but nevertheless loaded up with all her diving gear.  She stumbled on the rocks and fell.  She lay on her back in frustration yelling that she was going to die.  She didn't look strong enough to make it all the way into the sea.

In the videos they all had the same sort of floats.  In my case I tied an old gunny sack to an inner tube.  I had to swim after my float after I came up; so on windy days I had to swim a little farther.  I thought about an anchor, but there was much on the bottom for one to tangle in. 

The diving women all made whistling noises when they came up.  They said that helped them in some way, maybe with the bleeding.  I never learned to do that. 

A typical diving day for them was five hours.  Perhaps my dives would have added up to about five hours, but I came in when I got too cold to hold my spear-gun steady.  I would then sit on a rock until I warmed up.  If my hands continued to shake then I just went home.  The longest I would stay out on a single dive was three hours.  After warming up I was usually good for another hour or two.  One of the videos asserted that women were less affected by the cold water because they had more body-fat than men. 

The women dived in groups.  That never worked for me.  I didn't want to dive near anyone else using a spear-gun.

Some of the women in the videos were funny.  One woman said that she had to work long hours diving so her husband could afford to buy enough liquor to get drunk.

What those women do is hard work, and they enjoy doing it, but some of them were quoted as saying they were continuing on as long as possible (one 80 year old women planned to keep diving until she was 85) so she could pay for her daughter's education.  Someone commented that they all wanted their daughters to get educations so they wouldn't have to do the difficult work they did. 

In my case I slowly gave up free-diving after Susan became too ill to enjoy being out on our boat.  She never tried diving.  I tried to make the outings enjoyable for her.  One day she, along with some guests, were in our boat (a Catalina 22) when I excused myself and slipped over the side.  I found a rock with a lot of seals on or around it.  A couple of them looked as though they were going to object to my presence, which was interesting, but I went ahead and speared several fish and then dashed back to the boat.  I dumped the fish into the cockpit because that is what I always did (I'd normally clean the fish at sear and store them in a cooler before heading home), but in this case Susan shrieked and yelled, "get those fish out of here." 

"Where shall I put them" I wondered outloud?

"Can't you tow them behind the boat?"

"No, that won't work."  I thought for a moment and then decided to put them back into my gunny sack and store them in my anchor locker.  I was going to have to clean them later at home which Susan wasn't going to like either.

Our friends were amused; so Susan turned to them and explained, "they were flopping on my feet."

Complex Sobon and the Jeju Island Grannies of the Sea


I've just begun reading about Menachem Kaiser's first "treasure hunt" in Riese, Silesia.  He has a team of guides and is entering entrance #2:  "The entrance was low enough and narrow enough that to enter you had to lie flat on your back, feet poking in, and drag yourself forward and downward -- immediately there's an incline -- until your feet touch flat ground.  Andrzej went first; he wormed his way in briskly and with dust-raising gusto.  Jason, not a small man rested his Leica on his chest and maneuvered his way in.  Then me, then Janek.

"And we were inside Complex Sobon.  How can I describe it?  In the most immediate, material sense it was as you might imagine.  What I mean to say is that it was extremely tunnel-like: dank, cold, dark, just wide enough to walk in pairs and low enough that I could reach up and touch the ceiling, which was, along with the walls, unsmooth rock; the tunnel was reinforced, unfinished.  A deep mountain cavity.  We walked up a small slope and then down a small slope and then through a puddle that went up to my navel.  Here I had my first shiver of experience of what Andrzej and Janek and Joanna and all the other explorers and treasure hunters were hooked on: there is no way not to feel a real ringing thrill as you're wading through naval-high water inside a hidden tunnel, the weight of the water hugging your waist inside your overalls, the hole of daylight behind you shrinking away."

Back in the days when my friends and I had our first access to a car, Probably when we were fifteen (which would have been about 1948), and it probably belonged to Clifford Pedersen.  His family had more money than did Clifford Duhn's or mine, we drove down to Point Fermin in Palos Verdes, took what little gear we had and went "skin diving."  We didn't do anything that qualified as "free-diving" because we didn't know how.  We made some spear guns but then never managed to spear a fish.  Nevertheless we had fun.  One day we notice what looked like a cave half way up Point Fermin.   We climbed up and crawled inside.  It was just as snug as the entrance Kaiser described.  Once inside we discovered evidence that it had once been a gun emplacement.  During the California "Japanese scare" shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, California readied itself for an invasion.  We had discovered one of California's gun emplacements.  All serious hardware had been removed, but we liked it and decided it would be our "secret fort."  Thus, every time we went skin-diving we visited our fort. 

In 1953 while I was in Korea I received a photo from the two Clifford's.  They had finally learned how to spear fish.  The photo had several fish on a beach towel which they were smilingly behind.  Each Clifford proudly held a spear-gun which was more expensive than any we could afford when I dived with them.   In the letter that accompanied the photo, they wrote that our old "fort" had been buried.  There had been a rock slide from above and the entrance was now completely covered.  We all three reflected on the many times we had been inside, and of course, because it was a "secret," we had never told anyone where it was or when we would be in it.

During my thirteen months in Korea I spent three of them on Jeju Island where there was a small Marine Corps early warning station.  Jeju Island is where the famous Korean women divers would dive for sea-weed delicacies abalone and small fish.  I had hoped to do some serious diving for fish while I was there.  I did do some modest diving, but inasmuch as I had no gear it was nothing like what those women did.

The women I saw when I was there free-dove in just swimming suits.  Being in a nostalgic mood, I just checked Youtube and see that there are still women diving off Jeju Island, but they now have proper swimming gear, just as the two Cliffords did in the photo they sent me.  There is a Jeju-island lady touting the book she published (in 2013):  The Youtube video is called The Women Divers of Jeju Island.  Brenda Paik Sunoo spends an hour talking about it.  Her book is entitled Moon Tides: Jeju Island Grannies of the Sea.  Some of these women are in their 80s. 

I have wondered how I would be doing if I stayed closer to the sea and hadn't been knocked down any stairs.  Would I still be diving?  My lungs are still good.  I think I might still be able to do it.  But much of the water I dived in had become a bit toxic.  Maybe if I'd continued to dive in that water I would have joined the two Clifford's both of whom died of cancer.

On the love of place

 Menachem Kaiser, “Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure” was recommended to me. 

I am currently on page 44 and ran across, "We stayed another couple of hours.  We talked about the city, its history, its architecture.  Hanna's love for Sosnowiec was abundant and heartwarming, in the way that a learned, earned love of a place always is."

I stopped and thought about this strange comment for a long while.  As far as I can recall I had never "learned, earned love of a place."  And knowing what little I do about my ancestors I have never heard that they did either.  But, I think to myself that it is no wonder.  We are so new here.  My ancestors arrived in the "new world" in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Many of them arrived early in the 17th.  Many settled in Rhode Island and New York.  I have a great-great (great??) grandfather who was a private from New York and captured by the British during the war of 1812.  His grandchildren had soon moved through Indiana to Illinois where my great-grandfather Robert Dale Owens Matthews bequeathed his farm to his eldest son.  My grandfather, Troy, not being the eldest son moved to California where he was a "very clever" handyman.   During the time I knew him, he earned a living developing photographs.

On my paternal side my great-grandfather, Schuyler Helm, was living in Illinois, at least that is where he enlisted.  He had been a blacksmith and his Military specialty was therefore listed as “Engineer.”  He was a Sergeant by the time the war concluded in 1865.  He was approved for an increase in rank to lieutenant, but he instead took his mustering out pay and bought a piece of land in "Indian Territory."  Schuyler didn’t make it out of his 40s before he died, and so I have wondered if he mustered out with some injuries as well as money.  He was with Sherman before the latter's march to the sea.  Sherman divided his force and Schuyler was with the northern segment (under General Thomas) that kept Confederate forces from chasing after Sherman.  I don't have any details about what Sgt Helm did as an engineer, but I sort of relate to him having been a Sergeant in the Marine Corps and later an engineer mostly with McDonnell Douglas.  Also, Schuyler was born in 1834 and I was born in 1934.  But no relatives I'm familiar with stayed in "Indian Territory."  Schuyler's son, my grandfather (Harry Homer Helm) was born in 1865 and died in 1925; so I never met him.  He worked for the railroad and retired with a gold watch which I left with my first wife to give to my son (she being afraid I would lose it if I took it with me) which was subsequently lost.

Harry Homer Helm left his first family and married my grandmother, Bertha Freeman, who was born in 1885, making her 20 years younger than Harry Homer.  My father, Harrison Schuyler Helm, was born in 1915, and was ten years old when Harry Homer died.  My father knew nothing about his ancestry.  He once told me that he read a novel which mentioned someone named Helm who has hanged as a cattle rustler.  He told the kids in his class that this rustler was his grand-father -- as a joke.  I only learned about Sgt Schuyler Helm after my father died.  I sent for Sgt Schuyler's military record.  I still have it.  It's in a box in the garage.  There isn't anything very exciting in it.

Bill Helm, from Harry Homer's first marriage worked on the docks in the Los Angeles harbor.  He got his younger half-brother Harrison a job there as well.  Harrison married Ferne Matthews (my mother) and rented a small house at 524 West Denni in Wilmington which was part of the Los Angeles Harbor.  Harrison worked as a lumber carrier driver which was considered an important activity as the U.S. began building up its war effort and so never was in the military. 

My mother was getting ready to take us to church.  My sister, brother and I were standing down below on the sidewalk.  My father with a stunned expression on his face, came out onto the porch and said, "the Japs just bombed Pearl Harbor."  My mother took us to church anyway.  My father stayed home.

My mother and father were divorced when I was ten.  We were still living in Wilmington when I enlisted in the Marine Corps.  Two years after I graduated from Long Beach State College with a degree in English I bought a home in Torrance; which was an easy drive to the engineering department in Santa Monica.  I worked on the Skybolt program which was moved to Culver City.  After it was cancelled by Robert McNamara I transferred to the Commercial Aircraft division which was located in Long Beach (near where I was born).  I was still working in Long Beach (on the C17 program) when I retired and moved to San Jacinto in 1999.

Upon retirement I wanted to move to Northern Arizona, but Susan didn't want to move too far from her ailing parents; so she made a bargain with me.  If we moved out of the Los Angeles congestion which I detested, but close to her father, Robert McWherter, who lived in Indio; after he died she would move wherever I wished.  After her father died, Susan said she was ready to fulfill her part of our bargain, but by then she had several nearby doctors looking after her.  She never said she wasn't willing to fulfill her part of our bargain, but I was never willing to put her through a move.

Susan used to tell me that I only managed to get in touch with my feelings when I wrote poetry.  Not having written much poetry since the Covid Pandemic, I will however guess that if I were in touch with my feelings and asked them if there was any "place" that I loved, they might guess that if there were such a place, it was the most-often-dry bed of the San Jacinto River.  The River was part of my compromise with Susan.  If I couldn't retire to Northern California, I would at least need two things, I told her: 1) a large, fairly quiet, study area and 2) a nearby place where I could let our dogs run off leash.  Susan got her sister to help and they began showing me places they thought suitable.   One of the selections was this one in San Jacinto.  It was up to me to drive about and find that the San Jacinto River was a wonderful place to let the dogs run; and so it has been for all the years since we moved here.   The circumstances of it have changed considerably in that there are now clusters of homeless people living down there.  Various family members and friends have warned me about the river over the years.  At first it was about the coyotes; so I carried a S&W 357, but none of our encounters with coyotes required me to use it.  Later on I opted for a Walther 22 caliber semi-automatic, but after the homeless people arrived I don't usually carry even that.  The homeless are mostly a pacific people who spend their time sleeping.    If they look out from underneath their tents it is because we have disturbed their sleep.

But (I argue with my imagined feelings) how can I say that I love the river when I had to take up photography in order to keep going down there?  I do, it is true, feel it a duty to take my dogs down there, but after a while I found it boring; so I took up photography and photograph the dogs and scenery.  I even photographed many of the homeless and their surroundings.

Lest it seem that I have been an unhappy person wandering from one unpleasant place to the next, if I could reword the comment of Menachem Kaiser’s that provoked all this, I should begin by asking how unhappy can I be living in one of the most desirable places in the world, Southern California?  That generality has its flaws, I know, but those who don’t like it here and move usually do so because of the congestion (both people and cars) and the high-cost of living.  But people come here and drive long distances to work because living here is otherwise very pleasant.

More specifically I have been immensely happy in the sea free-diving.  I did truly love to be in the sea. I took my kids with me and they played in tide pools while I swam out to free-dive.
Later I bought a West-Wight Potter as a dive platform and learned to love sailing as well. 

Also, even before joining the Marine Corps I loved to hike.  And so during the hot months I would free dive and then during the cold months I would hike.  In regard to hiking, it wasn’t a particular place I could stand in and say I loved to be there, it was the process of hiking, as it was with the process of free-diving. 

Beyond these I love to be in states of mind where I am writing poetry.  I also love states of mind where I am reading an entertaining or captivating novel or work of history or some other subjects. It was because I hadn’t been in the latter state of mind for a while that I hastened to buy Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure by Menachem Kaiser.  I do not love it yet, but I am still in hope.

Civilization as something artificial


On page 29-30 of Civilization, Clive Bell writes,

"I think we must take it as settled that neither a sense of the rights of property, nor candour, nor cleanliness, nor belief in God, the future life and eternal justice, nor chivalry, nor chastity, nor patriotism even are among the distinguishing characteristics of civilization, which is nevertheless a means to good and a potent one.  Obviously the essence of civilization is something to which savages have not attained; wherefore it can not consist in primitive virtues.  The antithesis between the noble savage and the civilized man which has been current these two hundred years implies a general recognition of the fact that civilization is not a natural product.  We should expect it rather to have to do with those last acquisitions of humanity -- self-consciousness and the critical spirit.  We should expect it to be the result of education.  Civilization is something artificial."

After this Bell opposes the "survival of the fittest" view:  "'Leave it to Nature' is their motto: the brute and the vegetable kingdoms are the exemplars of civility.  Men have made a mess of it, they say, by not allowing the fittest to survive: we shall not be truly civilized till we leave the weak to die and recognize formally that might is right.  The fit shall inherit the earth. . . . [however] "Cunning quite as much as guts, if we may trust the text-books, has done the work of evolution. . . If, as seems not improbable, war is to become the normal condition of humanity, the future will be with those crafty weaklings who adapt themselves to their circumstances by devising means of evading military service, just as in the glacial period those species survived which learnt to protect themselves from the sharpness of the climate.  'You have tampered with Nature's Law,' say the science students; 'It is our nature to,' we reply."

Another biography was published the same month as Philip Roth by James Bailey: Clive Bell and the Making of Modernism: a Biography by Mark Hussey, published April 1, 2021 by Bloomsbury Publishing, 693 pages.

Clive Bell and Philip Roth


Clive Bell in chapter two of Civilization chose to look at clearly uncivilized societies.  If he found there a characteristic some assert is or ought to be a characteristic of a civilized society, he will rule it out because if it is in uncivilized societies, it can't be peculiar to a civilized society.  The first such characteristic he looks at is cleanliness.  He finds several primitive societies that wash themselves more frequently than Europeans do and so rules that out.

The next characteristic is "sexual morality." He finds that in this regard the practice of many "backward peoples may well provoke our envy.  Like Boswell they 'look with horror on adultery.'  The forest tribes of Brazil, for instance, are inflexibly monogamous, and so are several of the tribes of California."

He goes on for quite a bit in this vein and then sums up: "Socrates and Shakespeare, Raphael and Titian, Caesar and Napoleon, the Duke of Wellington and George Eliot herself appear to have led lives that would have rendered them unfit for the best Igorrote society in Luzon.  In the great periods of Chinese history things, I fear, were no better.  So, as the natives of Kar Nicobar look upon unchastity as a very deadly sin, we are forced to conclude that chastity is not one of the distinguishing characteristics of civilization."

As I recall from previous readings, Bell isn't going to end up finding that we here in the U.S. or anywhere in modern Europe are civilized at the time he wrote his essay.  But if he were alive today and just now writing, I wonder if he would draw quite the same conclusions he does about sexual morality.  This is because I have been reading the after-death saga of Philip Roth.  I don't know what California tribes Bell is referring to, but I suspect the majority here would disapprove of Roth's behavior and might even choose not to read his novels. While I have not yet read one, I have a couple of them in the Franklin edition and am working my way up (or perhaps I should say "down") to them. 

Roth chose in his own biographer, a man after his own heart, Blake Bailey.  Bailey's biography was published this year in the midst of a hue and cry over Bailey's own sexual immorality.  "In a statement provided to the Associated Press on April 21 by W. W. Norton & Company, the publisher announced it had "decided to pause the shipping and promotion of Philip Roth: The Biography pending any further information that may emerge." On April 28, W. W. Norton announced that it is taking the book out of print. Three weeks later, in May 2021, Skyhorse Publishing announced that it would release a paperback, ebook, and audiobook versions of the biography."

So not only do I have copies of Roth's novels that I am putting off reading, but prior to W. W. Norton's "pause" and removal from print, I acquired a copy Bailey's biography from them and have decided to put off reading that as well.

I've reconsidered what Bell said about the "tribes of California," (and apply it to others living in California).  He doesn't specifically say that we are uncivilized (although he would say that for other reasons), merely that our prudish views on sexual morality are not necessary characteristics of a civilization.

The Midlife Mind


In the May 7, 2021 issue of The Times Literary Supplement is a review by Hal Jensen of The Midlife Mind, Literature and the art of Ageing by Ben Hutchinson.  Hutchinson recommends the reading of literature as an aid to help one endure ageing.  The specifics of what he recommends seem to be the reading (with the help of Hutchinson's advice) some of the authors included in any "Great Books" program. 

Jensen writes ". . . Hutchinson settles into his main workout routines.  These consist of chapters on Dante, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Goethe, the Victorians (George Eliot and Henry James), T. S. Eliot, Samuel Beckett and Simone de Beauvoir.  For each, Hutchinson begins with a biographical-critical-historical survey of the author, with a close look at how they wrote about -- or out of -- those nebulous and crisis-ridden middle years."

Further down Hutchinson writes, "Each chapter ends with a look at a literary legacy and asks what lessons these writers can provide for our journey through the middle, Dante teaches us how to start again while still in transit, Goethe shows the value of restless curiosity, Eliot demonstrates the potency -- and necessary difficulty -- of late changes in belief, and Beauvoir the benefits of gender awareness when ageing. . . Still, I can't help wishing he had left out the 'Lessons' altogether.  They sound glib and patronizing . . ."

Hutchinson's audience would seem to be those in his age group, i.e., people in their 40s, who have not encountered the classics, and are worried about growing older.  Jensen makes short work of Hutchinson and concludes, "I respect Hutchinson's desire to help, but I have probably learned more about time and mortality from working on my allotment than from any amount of reading.  When it comes to dealing with middle age -- and I say this well aware of my audience -- books are not enough."

I had a long career in engineering but along the way anticipated that when those with degrees in Engineering retired with no clearly-thought-out plans, I would be able to retire to the pleasures of reading. 

One might object that formal engineers might have adequate plans for retirement as well.  My own observation has been that many, maybe even most, don't, or at least didn't (I retired in 1998).  I recall an engineer, Jim C., who was pointed out to us as having the perfect engineering work-ethic.  He had no outside interests.  Engineering was his whole life.  About a week after his retirement, he unexpectedly died.

An engineer I knew much better, Ray L., spent weekends and vacations building his retirement home in Northern California.  I was shocked when he died unexpectedly before he had a chance to enjoy his new home. 

These, and others, were cautionary examples, but perhaps anyone who is educated in what was in the past considered to be a "trade," is at risk, mentally and perhaps physically, when attempting to prepare for retirement -- at least more so than in a Liberal Arts major.*

I did take to heart the examples of people I worked with.  Among other things, I had a list of authors I didn't get a chance to read while I was in school, and worked my way through that  during lunch periods, weekends, etc. for several years.  To respond to Jensen (although I don't know what his "allotment" is), I did have a lot of physical interests.  I was a free-diver (managing to keep my freezer full of fish during many years) and a hiker (even to the guiding of small groups up into the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountains).  But I anticipated that in my old age I would do less diving and hiking and more reading and so congratulated myself that unlike Jim C. and Ray L. I was educated well enough to (in retirement) engage in elaborate, self-devised reading programs with relative competence (joining Jensen in feeling no need of Hutchinson's "lessons.") 

*How does one with an English major become a competent enough engineer to have a modestly successful career and a better than average retirement benefit?  I can take no credit for that.  I feared I would never graduate from college if I majored in a subject I wasn't interested in.   And so I refused to worry about getting a job until after I graduated.  Then I went through an employment agency who reviewed my qualifications and sent me to Douglas Aircraft which at the time was being criticized by the Air Force for sending them poorly written engineering documentation.  The chief engineer ordered Douglas administrators to find recent college graduates capable of understanding engineering who could also write.