Sunday, August 20, 2017

NUTSHELL

Back in the  1970’s, a member of the Cooley Law School Board of Directors, Jack DesJardins, was invested in a small Lansing company that was manufacturing a device they called a “personal computer.”

Jack was very enthusiastic about the product. He predicted that the day would come when literally everyone would own one. He would talk at length about the miracles that a personal computer would perform.

In those days, Cooley had a device called a ‘computer’ which was as big as a desk. It had a keyboard with which we could input student information; grades, etc.

The only output was a huge sheet of green paper on which all the information about each student was printed on one line.

Jack insisted that his PC’s could do that and much, much more. So I bought a bunch of them. I had one placed on my secretary’s desk, expecting her to giggle with delight. She didn’t. After a day or two, she insisted that I bring back her electric typewriter.

So there we were, proud owners of several PC’s. Unfortunately, nobody knew what to do with them.

Undaunted, I stopped by a store called “Software City.” Not wanting to admit my problem, I told the clerk I was the secretary of a bowling league and wanted a program that would allow me to keep track of bowlers’ names, addresses, scores and averages.

He eagerly brought out a package called “Nutshell.” I told him if he showed me how it worked I would buy it. He did, and I did.

From that day forward, I became what my niece called “a data base junkie.”

I spent countless hours on weekends and evenings typing in the names, addresses and academic records of students. During the day, I spent my time trying to convince the Registrar, Admissions Officer and Comptroller that they could do their jobs on Jack DesJardins’s PC’s using my $200 Nutshell software.

The dawn of the computer age at Cooley Law School wasn’t pretty, but the fact is that Nutshell ultimately morphed into a product called Filemaker which is highly sophisticated and still used, I believe, by Cooley and in many other places.

I am still a junkie.

I use Filemaker for lots of things; the Christmas card list; my personal filing system, and a diary which also serves as a calendar and, as the passing of time dims the memory, as a place to tell myself everything I promise to remember.

Most recently, I have been developing a scoreboard for the game of Golfball. If you want to know what Golfball is, take a look at my blog of July 22nd

Much as the electronic age has made life easier and allowed us to do things that simply were not possible in the age of pencil and paper, there are some drawbacks.

Sometimes, the computer just won’t compute. A week or so ago, my Macbook Pro went down. Not completely, thank God, but I lost contact with the Internet, which is sort of like having your house quarantined in the 1930’s because somebody had chicken pox.

No Internet, No Google. No Wikipedia. No email. Chuck Donnelly, Petoskey’s computer guru, was on vacation. It was like being in jail.

Strangely, I discovered that there is such a thing as life beyond the computer. I played a little golf, spent more time chatting with my wife, and horror of horrors, found myself actually watching television.

Donnelly finally arrived, did his magic, and now I’m back at the keyboard, all psyched up to write a blog. My first instinct is to write about this damned computer and how it has taken over my life.

On the other hand, who really gives a fig? Everybody has a computer, and nobody else is complaining.


Is it possible that this is the real world and everything else is fantasy?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

KOREAN CON CON

Korea has hosted human life since before 8,000 BC. Apparently, some scientists who know about such things have discovered pottery from about that time.

Wikipedia gives us an idea of how things have been going there since the fourteenth century. The Korean peninsula was a single nation under the so called Joseon dynasty which lasted from 1392 until 1910.

In 1905 Japan defeated Russia in a war that ended with the Treaty of Portsmith, negotiated in Maine under the auspices of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. Under that treaty, Korea was left as an independent nation known as the Korean Empire.

Well, not exactly independent. The Koreans had to sign a protection agreement with Japan. “Protection” lead to annexation by Japan in 1910.

The Koreans weren’t exactly happy with that arrangement, and a number of resistance movements cropped up, mostly in neighboring Manchuria, China and Siberia. These efforts were coordinated under the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in exile. Korea remained under Japanese control until the end of the World War II.

Soviet Russia was invaded by Nazi Germany in June of 1941. When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor that year, Germany declared war against the U.S.A., but Russia did not enter the war against Japan. The Russians had their hands full with Germany.

But Stalin promised Roosevelt that Russia would enter the Pacific War as soon as its war with Germany was over. Germany surrendered in May of 1945. On August 9th Russia invaded Manchuria, which was then occupied by Japan.

That was just one day after the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Three weeks later, Japan surrendered, Russia chased the Japanese out of  North Korea and the United States occupied South Korea.

It was agreed that Korea was a single nation and efforts were made to reunite North and South. The U.S. and the Soviets were unable to agree on the terms of unification and so the North and South remained divided.

Still, Korea is, by nature and its history, a single nation, having a common language and ethnic culture. In June of 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, triggering a war that lasted until 1953. The Korean War ended in a stalemate, with the establishment of a demilitarized zone along the 38th parallel.

Today, North Korea is a communist dictatorship ruled by a man named Kim Jong Il, who succeeded his father, Kim Il Song. Kim Il Song ruled the country as premier from 1948 to 1972 and from 1972 until 1994 as President.

Kim Jong Il is the first leader of a communist country to have inherited the job. What we know about him is that he loves basketball and had developed a friendship with Dennis Rodman. And that he has led his country to become a nuclear power.

Most recently, it has become known that North Korea has developed atom bombs that can be delivered in inter continental ballistic missiles. That prompted President Trump to do some sword rattling of his own.

What does Kim Jong Il want? I suspect he wants the same thing his father wanted in 1950: to unite the Korean Peninsula as one nation, with himself as the leader.

It’s hardly big news when a politician wants to be the leader. Unfortunately, the folks in Korea still live in the dark ages of politics, when achieving pubic office was a matter of killing all the opponents.

Perhaps, instead of escalating a war of words with North Korea, President Trump would be better advised to send Secretary Tillerson and Dennis Rodman to Pyongyang and Seoul to suggest that a convention be called for the purpose of drafting a constitution for a unified Korea.

North Korea has more land, South Korea has more people. We have the same problem among the United States. That’s why we have a bicameral national legislature. 

Is it too sanguine to suggest that such a convention might produce a document that begins with the words, “We, the People of Korea…”?

Friday, July 28, 2017

I HEAR YOU


Tuesday, July 25, was a big day. It was the day I purchased hearing aids.

There’s no other way to say it. “Hearing aids.” When I first obtained eye glasses; reading glasses, actually, that’s what we called them. Just reading glasses. With a chuckle perhaps, we called them ‘spectacles’.

But never “seeing aids.” Yes, they helped us to see better. To read with less strain. But even the kids whose lenses were as thick as the bottom of a bottle of coca cola weren’t blind. They could see without help.

What is it then, with hearing aids? Why aren’t they called ‘ear plugs’? That’s what they are. Little plugs that you put in your ears. Why “hearing aids”?

I suspect it is part of what George Carlin mocked as the sissy-fying of the American language. He did a marvelously funny routine in which he traced the phrases used to describe a disability common to war veterans. In 1918 it was “shell shock.” In 1945, they said “battle fatigue.” Now the veterans of Middle Eastern conflict are said to endure “post traumatic distress syndrome.”

I am sure the geniuses on Madison Avenue figured out that a $5,000 price tag would be more palatable for ‘hearing aids’ than for ‘ear plugs.’

But even with the sissified description, the devices have an ominous connotation. The fact is that most hearing loss is related to old age. Even little kids wear eyeglasses. Ear plugs are the badges of senility.

The doctor insisted that Polly come with me when I went to be examined. I’m sure her experience is that wives are the first and foremost victims of a man’s hearing loss.

My excuse was always chauvinistic. I would always insist that I could hear her, but that I just wasn’t listening. That line never played very well.

Anyway, now I have hearing aids. Polly insists that I wear them all day, every day. The first thing that struck me coming out of the doctor’s office is that there is no such thing as silence. Not real, dead, complete, absolute silence. The rustle of human, animal and vegetable life always plays in the background.

Even your own respiration makes an audible sound.

The audiologist explained the connection between the ear and the brain. In effect, the brain is always listening and always trying to make sense out of the noise we hear.

I’m not sure my brain can handle a whole lot more input. I may have to augment the hearing aids with old fashioned ear plugs to ward off the noisy world out there.

In any case, I am not sure whether the hearing aids will solve all the challenges of domestic communication. In addition to hearing, there are the  related problems of listening, noticing, and remembering, all of which are related to the broad syndrome called ‘caring.’

For example, I wouldn’t know a daffodil from a geranium. Or whether either one may or may not be growing outside my window.

Truth is, I don’t care. Admittedly, I have always admired and envied people who have inexhaustible data-base type brains that receive, assemble and retrieve information. I have known lawyers who remember every word on every page of a 97 page deposition.

And my beloved dentist who I used to call a “storehouse of useless information.”

In my view, there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom; between being smart and being wise.

In the last analysis, the idea is to care enough about those we love to pay attention to what they say.

So far as I know, the only place where you can acquire a “caring aid” is at church on Sunday.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

GOLFBALL

Friends have asked me why I haven’t been blogging lately. In addition to the interruption of my daily life by a nephrectomy of my left kidney (that was over a month ago, and is no longer a valid excuse for not blogging) I have been busy writing an essay about golf.

In its final form, the essay runs to 31 pages and something over ten thousand words.

I’ll summarize it in a sentence: it is an argument in favor of playing golf as a team sport -- all the way from little leagues for the kiddies, to professional major leagues representing the metropolitan markets that support professional basketball, baseball, and football.

It’s a big idea, admittedly. But then I have been known to dream big dreams, sometimes even with a modicum of success.

Anyway, the gist of my essay, entitled “Golfball Now” is that team golf should be played in a standard format; nine player teams playing nine matches over nine holes.

I call the game “Golfball.” That name fits with all the other major team sports: Baseball, Football, Basketball.

Tykes as young as 4 years old – that’s when little league baseball starts – can play golfball on a putting green. By nine or ten, they would be competing on pitch and putt courses and from ages 12 or 13 on, they could play on standard nine hole layouts.

The scoring of the game is simple. Your team gets a point for every stroke by which you win a hole. Thus, if player A makes a four and his opponent, player B, makes five, Team A gets one point.

But that is not all.

In Golfball, every ball must see the bottom of the hole. If A is on the green in three and B sinks a birdie putt for three, A must still putt, and keep on putting until he holes out. Every time he misses, a point is scored for B’s team.      

It is, I suppose, a diabolical scoring system, which punishes the yipes without mercy. But then, isn’t that the core genius of the sport of golf itself?

Certainly even four year old beginners will experience the pangs of frustration that torture their parents and grandparents.

Still, it is necessary, after all, that the each generation learns to cope with the exquisite pain of frustration. That’s the beauty of golf.

A lot is being said and written these days about the decline of golf in America. While it is still the most popular sport, in terms of player participation, it is true that the construction of new courses is at a practical stand still, that many courses and clubs are closing, and that the number of rounds of golf being played continues to decline as the average age of players creeps up.

I, for one, am sanguine. Golf has too much to offer in terms of exercise, fellowship, character development, tradition and old fashioned fresh air for it to disappear from our national culture.

Tournament golf: the Masters, the U.S. Open, the Players Championship, and a host of other established and popular tournaments are not about to dim the lights and close the doors. If team golf prospers as a professional sport, it will be in addition to those important events, and indeed will enhance and augment popular interest in golf at every level.  

The PGA Tour is dominated by young players. Eighteen holes a day for four or five days running dictates that players be in top athletic condition. Nine hole Team competition is best suited for popular players who no longer compete at the tournament level.

Indeed, I am convinced, and Jack Nicklaus agrees with me, that there will one day be successful and popular major league golf teams in all the metropolitan markets that now host the NFL, MLB, and the NBA.

And if I have anything to say about it, they will be playing Golfball.


Sunday, July 9, 2017

HOME IN HARBOR

Mid day yesterday, the last piece of new furniture for our new condo in East Lansing arrived. By half past one, we were in the car, heading North.

We haven’t had two homes since we sold the place in Florida a few years ago. That was easy to get your arms around. We lived in Michigan. Michigan was our home. We vacationed in Florida. We were snow birds.

We haven’t quite come to grips with having two houses in Michigan. Our children, God bless them, who insisted we acquire digs in East Lansing to be closer to family, are assuming that we have settled in, and are now officially, practically, realistically and emotionally residents of the Burcham Hills Retirement Community in East Lansing.

I am sure it was not arranged for our benefit, but the other morning the Michigan State University marching band staged a concert at Burcham’s main residential building, which was clearly audible at our condo.

Nice touch, but we still weren’t convinced.

The issue is simple, despite the confusion of names: are we residents of Burcham who own a cottage at Birchwood, or are we residents of Birchwood who own a condo at Burcham?

If there was any doubt, it was assuaged when our car merged from U.S. 127 onto Interstate 75 just north of Gaylord. The perfusion of green: trees, meadows, pastures and vistas too numerous to relate reaffirmed what everyone from Michigan will tell you: this is God’s country.

The magnificence of His artistry is overwhelming.

So here we are, home again.

It’s Sunday morning. Polly is still sleeping. I am at the computer, blogging, and soon will be writing a check payable to Holy Childhood of Jesus to be dropped in the basket at eleven o’clock Mass.

We live here in Harbor Springs. That’s what it says on my driver’s license. That’s what it feels in my heart.

We had dinner last night in the Casual Bar at the Club. Saw some friends who were glad to hear that my recovery from surgery is gong well. Perhaps on Monday, I will show up and see if Doctor Fred Hoffman can squeeze me into his Monday golf group.

There’s a lot of  misery in this old world. Just turn on the television and it oozes into the room and boggles your brain. Hardly a day goes by that doesn’t feature another senseless, diabolical shooting or bombing.

What passes for political debate is too often a harangue or high decibel quarrel in which anywhere from two to five people all talk at once, apparently in the belief that the louder and faster they talk, the more convincing they will be.

It used to be that the political party which lost the election would function as the loyal opposition, which could be counted on to serve as the Devil’s Advocate to keep the ruling majority from becoming dictatorial.

Since the election of Donald Trump, we have seen a different kind of opposition emerge. More resistance that mere opposition, it consists of a continuous stream of tasteless invective, snide ridicule, and outright hatred.

Leave it to Michael Moore, the filmmaking firebrand from Flint, who found fame dissing the leadership of General Motors, to grab the brass ring of opposition leadership by offering an anti Trump comedy on Broadway.

Scheduled to open on July 28, the show is called “The Terms of My Surrender” and is directed by Tony Award winning director Michael Mayer.

Advertised as a comedy show, it will in fact be a one-man diatribe by Moore himself, who has a talent for biting satire and a track record of taking on big targets.

Moore apparently believes that his poison tongue will be caustic and powerful enough to oust Donald Trump from the White House.

With such insanity floating around the airwaves and spicing the Internet, it is comforting to know that little old Harbor Springs, Michigan is still a safe haven for sanity, beauty, and friendship. It’s good to be home.