Have you ever had something of yours described as “little” is these ways:

“Are you going to work on your little project today?”
“Did you ride on your little motorcycle yesterday?”
“We can use your little system, if you insist.”

Here “little” is obviously being used as a subtle slam. And it is obvious that women use the word far more when talking to men than the other way around. For instance, why wouldn’t a woman phrase the motorcycle question like this:

“Did you ride your suffice and pleasing motorcycle yesterday?”

No, instead they intentionally choose “little”, and they know it.  I hear this sort of thing often, so using the examples in the beginning of this post, I confront implicit insult to my manhood and will replies like:

“There is nothing about my project that is little.”
“My motorcycle is not the least bit little.”
“My system is big, not little.”

Don’t let “little” go unchallenged.  Protest!

I hope you have enjoyed my BIG post today.

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Poetry: Tom Hennen

Looking for the Differences
by Tom Hennen

I am struck by the otherness of things rather than their same-
ness. The way a tiny pile of snow perches in the crook of a
branch in the tall pine, away by itself, high enough not to be
noticed by people, out of reach of stray dogs. It leans against
the scaly pine bark, busy at some existence that does not
need me.

It is the differences of objects that I love, that lift me toward
the rest of the universe, that amaze me. That each thing on
earth has its own soul, its own life, that each tree, each clod is
filled with the mud of its own star. I watch where I step and see
that the fallen leaf, old broken grass, an icy stone are placed in
exactly the right spot on the earth, carefully, royalty in their
own country.


Source: The Writer’s Almanac April 17, 2015

Tom Hennen links:

My thoughts (today):

  • Poetry?  These are paragraphs, not poetry. It is a flash essay.  Well, whatever it is, I like it. It is short and focused on a succinct image, using words like magic.  Call it poetry, call it an essay, I really enjoy this.  See my post on “Defining Poetry
  • “the otherness of things” — love it!  See my post on: “Homogenizing Reality with God
  • “busy at some existence that does not need me.”  Perfect.  See my post here on “The Glory of Insignificance
  • Soul: “That each thing on earth has its own soul …”  Of course he means something very different that the word “soul” used by theologians, but the rest of us folks feels what he means.  Reclaiming religious language is wonderful — rip it out of the gods and spooks realm and put it right back here with us and with the dirt and snow.

See more excellent poems in Sabio’s Poetry Anthology

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Language’s Components

LanguageAbove I have sketched out some of the components of language. Using this diagram, let me discuss two topics.

Learning Another Language

We all start learning new languages by learning new vocabulary. Next we may add some grammar. But a large vocabulary and rich grammar are not enough. As you can see, to really have fun in another language, there is lots more to learn which is not often in text books.

Poor accents, for instance can be the result of the learning not paying attention to rhythm, stress, and intonations which are all rule bound in languages — and vary between dialects and ideolects of that same language. Next, add gestures and posture and a native speaker may begin to understand you even better. Add rhyme, alliterations and more, and you are cruising for fluent. Finally, understand the history of a language, the etymology of words and various uses over history and your have entered the native speaker’s linguistic playground.


The action and phonology aspects of language are fantastic at communicating feeling and emotion. Written poetry, not using these two parts of language, is handicapped and poets must rely on style, rhythm and phonetics to try a make up for that loss but are inevitably susceptible to a larger degree of subjectivity — something poetry readers can deeply enjoy. Depending on its use, however, subjectivity is both a weakness and a strength in poetry.


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Sita in the Ramayana

Hindu Scripture PopularityA friend of mine was reading a children’s version of the Ramayana and before reaching the end of the story, she asked me to tell her what happens to Sita, because she did not want to read a sad ending that evening.  I told her, “it depends on which version you are reading.”

As illustrated by the graph of my ngram search done in 2012 (see the post here), of the Hindu holy scriptures, the Ramayana fills the most web pages.

I wrote a synopsis of the Ramayana here, but put even shorter:

Sita, the wife of the stories noble, royal hero, is abducted by the demon king, Ravana. Rama with his followers defeat Ravana and Sita returns.

As you can see by my diagram below, the Ramayana myth is very old — recorded around the same times the Jewish iron age hero stories in the Torah (see post here). And though the Torah (part of the Christian Old Testament) was edited and modified over the centuries, the Hindus are much more casual with their scriptures and today we have hundreds of versions of the Ramayana. A.K. Ramanujan wrote his controversial “Three Hundred Ramayanas” in 1987 which Delhi University later banned from their curriculum. For though the many versions were known, hard-line fundamentalist Hindus spoke out against versions which put the holiness Rama and Sita into the least bit of question.


Sita's_ordeal_by_fireWhen Sita is brought back from her long captivity with the demon Ravana her husband suspects that Sita had sex with Ravana during captivity. To prove her fidelity, Sita is the horrifically tried by fire, but in some versions even this is not enough for Rama who then banishes Sita. And the variations go on.

South Asians name their children after Sita. Sita’s is worshipped by many, and an important literary vehicle to all. The variations of stories about Mary in the Christian Bible also reflect a similar tension.

In fact, read my post here about how Ravana is viewed as noble in some versions.

It has been observations like this that has helped me to see religion myth making as a shared process across all traditions — even secular ones. Stories are always told in ways that match the desires of the story teller.



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Poetry: Lawrence Ferlinghetti


Lawrence_Ferlinghetti #64

See more excellent poems in Sabio’s Poetry Anthology

My thoughts:

It was 2010, I was visiting Niagara Falls with my family and staying in a hostel. On woke early in the mornings, leaving our bunk-bed room, I went down to the living room and read the book a friend left me: A Coney Island of the Mind (1958) — one of Ferlinghetti’s poetry books. It was the first poetry book I read in decades, and he inspired me to try my hand at poetry — here is one from that Morning. Ferlinghetti’s poetry then later motivated me to start my experimental poetry blog (Fields of Yuan).

This poem can be found at: The Writer’s Almanac

I am not a fan of poetry with off-set scattered lines like this one by Ferlinghetti. Indeed, I think many novice poets do it just to make their ramblings look poetic — ooops, that was a bit critical, wasn’t it. But Ferlinghetti (b. 1919) does it well, and I found his poetry magical. I hope you enjoy this poem as I did. Read his history on wiki, it is fascinating.

Notes for those who need the info like I did:

1. Piazza della Rotunda (wiki): The Piazza della Rotonda is a piazza (city square) in Rome, Italy, on the south side of which is located the Pantheon. The square gets its name from the Pantheon’s informal title as the church of Santa Maria Rotonda.

2. “deigning” — do something that one considers to be beneath one’s dignity.


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Blurring You and Others

Self-Other Nebulus

You have a philosophy of “self” whether you know it or not. That philosophy or “stance” influences many of your other views of reality and thus your ways of interacting with others and treating yourself.

Many of my Triangulation posts are only understandable if you understand my view of self which I have called “No-Self, Many Selves“. In my view, any “self” we have at any certain time is merely a constellation of traits and relationships from amidst the many traits within us (see here). But another aspect of my view, as can be seen in my diagram above, is that others influence us in such a way that the notion of a self-contained self is silly: we are partially others. Our selves blur over the others we interact with — we blur in complex ways.

Others not only trigger possibly latent traits or bring new linkages between our traits, they may act as models to mimic (new traits) or emotions to weigh quiet traits more heavily. Abstract enough? Point is, others can make us into different people while we are with them and even influence us in lasting ways. Are selves are not stable, but they certainly do exist. But if we feel they are self-contained, stable or consistent, we may find ourselves often surprised or inflexible.

David Chapman’s stance on this issue seems very similar to mine (albeit much better developed), and I constantly learn from his writings. If you have time, read his recent post on “Selfness” for a flavor of his fascinating stance on reality.

There, David writes:

…questions of self are inseparable from questions of meaning: purpose, ethics, authority, and personal value.

I totally agree with David’s point and it is why my blog here is peppered with posts on our “Many Selves”. My model is overly simple, but it is useful for me. I wonder where David feels it differs from his view.  Tell us your view too.



Related posts:


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Golden Ratio Enthusiasts: Phi Fantasies

Golden RectangleIntroduction

We crave deep meaning and connection. What is so bad about that? Special vibrant meaning can stir warm feelings and awe in us. Similarly, love gives us a great hormonal pleasure kick, and so we sometimes imagine it where it does not exist.

Our imaginations are wonderful — they allow us to enjoy the fictions of novels and movies. Our imaginations allow us to get bonding-joy over fictitious religious myths and mercenary football teams.

The cravings of our self-deceptive magical minds also display themselves in the drier, cerebral world of physics and mathematics. The “irrational” number φ phi (1.61803…) contains such stories.

Phi, “the golden ratio”, can be found many places in nature. But many math enthusiasts want to see it as a source of beauty and truth, hallucinating it in places it does not exist. The religious and the non-religious alike can over-read the reach of numbers. That over-reading is a habit of our meaning-hungry human minds.

The Parthenon & Phi

parthanonThe Parthenon is a beautiful ancient Greek Athenian temple built and decorated between 447 and 432 BCE. One of the Parthenon’s adornments is the famous statue of Athena done by the great Greek sculpture named Phidias. In fact, Phi (φ) is the first letter in Phidias (Φειδίας).  Thus in 1909 Mathematician Mark Barr used that letter to name the golden ratio in honor of Phidias because of his supposed use of the Golden Ratio all over the Parthenon and thus supposedly giving it a magical beauty. But it seems that this is false and thus Phi is misnamed. Mathematicians actually also sometimes call Phi “Tau” (τ) from the greek word tomi meaning “section” or “cut” — the Golden Section.
[btw, that is the tau in CAT scan: Computer Axial Tomography]

So to see how this myth of PHI in the Parthenon happened, let me quote Mario Livio’s book, “The Golden Ratio” (pgs 73-74):

Most books on the golden Ratio state that the dimensions of the Parthenon, …. fit precisely into a Golden Rectangle. This statement is usually accompanied by a figure similar to that in figure 23. The Golden Ratio is assumed to feature in other dimensions of the Parthenon as well. For example, in one of the most extensive works on the Golden Ratio, Adolph Zeising’s Der Golden Schnitt (The Golden Section; published in 1884), Zeising claims that the height of the facade from the top of its tympanum to the bottom of the pedestal below the columns is also divided in a Golden Ratio by the top of the columns. This statement was repeated in many books, such as Matila Ghyka’s influential Le Nobre d’or (The Golden Number, peared in 1931).

The appearance of the Golden Ratio in the Parthenon was seriously questioned by University of Maine mathematician George Markowsky in his 1992 College Mathematics Journal article “Misconceptions about the Golden Ratio.” Markowsky first points out that invariably, parts of the Parthenon( e.g., the edges of the pedestal; Figure 23) actually fall outside the sketched Golden Rectangle, a fact totally ignored by all the Golden Ratio enthusiasts. More important, the dimensions of the Parthenon vary from source to source, probably because different reference points are used in the measurements. This is another example of number-juggling opportunity afforded by claims based on measured dimensions alone. Using the numbers quoted by Marvin Trachtenberg and Isabelle Hyman in their book Architecture: From Prehistory to Post-Modernism (1985), I am not convinced that the Parthenon has anything to do with the Golden Ratio. These authors give the height of 45 feet 1 inch and the width of 101 feel 3.75 inches. These dimensions give a ratio of width/height of approximately 2.25, far from the Golden ratio of 1.618… Markowsky points out that even if we were to take the height of the apex above the pedestal upon which the series of columns stands ( given as 59 feet by Stuart Rossiter in his 1977 book Greece), we still would obtain a width/height ratio of about 1.72, which is closer to but still significantly different from the value of PHI.


So, it appears that Phi is not part of some intentional magical beauty design of the Parthenon — in fact it is not even there. But authors over the last centuries have passed this mistaken idea, over and over. In fact, the error is in the name of the number itself.

Repeating a fiction long enough, and people will not doubt it. This happens even with our intuitions about Mathematics. Gods or no gods, we love inspiring myths.

Note: This post is part of a Phi series I started years ago — it is fun to write again.


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