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Coincidence rejected

June 11, 2016

Coincidence, I rejected you. How can show your skinny, pointy face here, in Attleboro, of all places? I had convinced myself, “No more superstition for me. A twenty-first century citizen, I live in the natural world and science is my guide. Coincidence is just coincidence, bare and meaningless, unless wrapped up in a coat of reproducible data, woven from threads of strong correlation into knots of irrefutable evidence. Go away. Leave me in peace, you annoying ghost.”

attleboro1984scannedOn May 11, 2016, I was pumping gas into my rental car, when the video screen above the credit card reader turned itself on to blare an annoying commercial. After the commercial, a “news” show began to play, with 10 second sound bites of the remaining three presidential candidates. I thought to myself, “This is just like George Orwell’s story, 1984. I’m living in a world surrounded by screens, all attempting to influence and persuade me. Screw you, you propaganda pimps! I’ll think for myself!”

Thankfully, I was rescued from my depressing observations by the loud click of the automated gas pump, which had stopped at that random moment when the tank filled. Thank goodness. Finally, it’s time to pay and get away from this annoying video screen. I need a receipt, so I pressed the Yes button and watched the paper slowly roll out of the networked and computerized Pump #6. Here is the total amount paid: $19.84, paid in full.


1 year later…

October 15, 2014

So it has now been a year since my friend Tuck passed away. Here we are in October 2014.

I’d like to reveal to you that Tuck was the first person to whom I revealed my doubts about the traditional ‘God’ beliefs. We were both Catholic kids from St. Mary’s parish in Hanover, MA. For a brief time there, I served as president of our CYO there; maybe it was ’63. I graduated in ’64 from high school. We shared a lot. We shared the neighborhood of West Hanover, the railroad tracks, the swimming hole, the cast of characters, sleepovers, an interest in science, friends, first cars, Beatles albums and a love of reading. Our fathers were both WWII vets, who were limping under the burdens of their wartime experience. Our mothers shared that difficult experience, as so many women do, even today. We had common ground. He chuckled at my ability to make friends easily, even with strangers. I was in awe of his towering intellect, his deep perceptions, his quick wit. Friends.

By the early 70’s, I was pretty sure that faith in the God concept was a shared cultural delusion, sometimes useful, sometimes not. I let him know.

He asked me questions, as friends do, but he never took sides in the God No-God debate. He was respectful. The last time we talked, we discussed it, the “after life.” Could there actually be life after death? He winked at me and said, “I’ll let you know.”

The good thing is that I still have the memories. The other thing is that there has been no contact from the beyond. Unless, of course, one considers the paths of the past, the echoes of experience resounding in my head.

The evidence to this point is that there is no after life. You damn well better make this world a better place for our community and our children, and do it now. This life is your chance. Do the important things; don’t wait.

If something changes, and I learn something different about the after life, I’ll let you know.

Strunk & White meet at the corner of Pinker and Topology

November 29, 2009

While reading my old copy of the “The Elements of Style” (Strunk & White), 3rd edition,  I recognized a connection to an idea from the work of Stephen Pinker.


Here.  “Some nouns that appear to be plural are usually construed as singular, and given a singular verb”, followed by two examples of the singular verb and one of the plural verb. Following these examples,  Strunk wrote what he believed to be true, “In these cases the writer must simply learn the idioms. The contents of a book is singular. The contents of a jar may either singular or plural, depending on what’s in the jar – jam or marbles.”

While it is true that immersion in language with other speakers in shared language will lead you to “learn the idioms, ” Pinker has pointed out that there are discoverable, logical explanations for whether to describe the contents of containers as singular or plural.  I’m looking for my copy of his “Stuff of Thought” and detail these ideas more thoroughly.  But for now, let’s get started.

If a substance is continuous at the level of human sense perception it is singular. This would be Strunk’s jam.  This applies to continuous processes by way of metaphor also.  In contrast, if a substance is an aggregate of perceptibly separate components, they are plural.   Now I realize that perceptibility varies a lot, but let’s avoid the microscopes and telescopes, and stick to the senses of touch, sight and hearing for now.

The relevant concepts of “mass nouns” and “count nouns” can be found in Pinker’s chapter “Cleaving the Air”, page 166 of my paperback copy of the book.   I’ll come back to refine this and support my idea that Strunk’s suggestion to learn the idioms is an inadequate description of what we really do with words and concepts of plurality, as expressed in the relationships of sentence subjects and their verbs.

The way we perceive nouns, and the verbs that act on them, depend on concepts of bounded objects vs. mass objects.  Each marble is an object with boundaries.  When the question arises, “what’s in the jar?”, we say “Marbles are in the jar.”   But when jam is in the jar, or paint is in the can, or water is in the glass,  we use the singular form of the verb, is.  So when we perceive the contents of the jar as a mass object, a continuous substance, we go singular.  When we’re talking about something we perceive as a collection of boundaried objects, they are plural.  Now it won’t take you long to realize that we humans can change our frame of reference. When we do that,  suddenly we can can change the plurality of the matching verb to match our new frame of reference.  Telescopes and microscopes do that; similarly,  so does analysis and overview.  Consider these two examples. Voters are considering.  The electorate is pondering.   Look in your own writing, in your own mental cabinets, for more examples.

The best discussion of these notions that I’ve ever seen is in Pinker’s book.  I recommend it highly.  Get it out of the library, or online, but get it.  It has new ideas, presented with supporting evidence.

I honestly believe Mr Strunk would have thoroughly enjoyed the explorations of modern liguists, and heartily approved of their research.   There’s more to it, than “go learn the idioms,” and the more of it is very interesting indeed.

Jay Fulton 11/29/2009


March 8, 2009
Proud Member of Adrienne's Army

Proud Member of Adrienne's Army

“Adrienne’s Army,” you ask?

There is an interesting quality of human understanding, that we can often underestimate the impact of small things we do.  That is not to say that every little choice you make turns out to be significant. Life is not so simple! It’s that you are unlikely to know -in advance- which one of your action-choices will have a big impact on the other people with whom you interact.

This is why courtesy is so important. YOU or I are unable to estimate in advance the impact of our actions.   So, small positive choices are the way to go! Help others without expectation of gain.

And the details are…

About a year ago, we had been in touch with our neighbor, Adrienne Smith, because she was sick, doing some babysitting for her.  Little did we know then that the sickness would send Adrienne into life-threatening coma resulting from the total collapse of her immune system under attack from a variation of strep, a result of what started as a strep throat. Within hours an army of volunteers and well-wishers were stepping up to serve in various ways.  Friends, relatives and acquaintances took thousands of small actions, food, visits, child-care, love & attention, prayers – each according to their understanding and ability. Jim’s mom prepared a list of contacts with phone numbers; people cooperated and collaborated.  Grandmothers and grandfathers dropped everything to be there, stay with the kids, and provide support.  They communicated not just by phone & face-to-face, but texting & email, churches formed “prayer groups” and members of yoga centers meditated,  creating a world wide web of well-wishers.  Meanwhile, at the South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, Massachusetts, Doctors Jon Pehrson and Alice Coombs were coordinating powerful practices of medical science to keep Adrienne alive against what can truly be described as staggering odds.  Amazingly, Adrienne’s employer Oxfam America supported her, specifically Ray Offenheiser and senior staff, during the entire illness; praise them & consider them for your future social action partnerships! Together this spontaneously assembled group of people in action became Adrienne’s Army.

The outcome of all the efforts is that Adrienne returned to life & home.  After reflecting on the situation, she made us all aware that an impromptu army had sprung up to defend her home, hearth and the hospital space in which her incredible life and death drama unfolded.

Adrienne has started talking “write a book” about that drama and about the shared experience of hundreds of helpers. No one knows what’s inside the book “Adrienne’s Army” yet, but we already know the outline of the wonderful story.  Two of our culture’s master story tellers, Tolkien and C.S.Lewis, pointed out that great drama has the elements of life, death and resurrection.  Adrienne’s story has all of those elements, potentially a best-seller and a  movie to follow.  Great stories take the listener to the despair’s depths and soaring heights before the dénouement.  And Adrienne’s story has that and also happens to have a happy ending!

Jim Smith, Adrienne’s husband, threw a surprise party to celebrate her one-year-at-home; invitations were handled by the evite web site under Event: Adrienne’s Army Celebration.  Lori Murphy,  of the Bryantville Deli, another neighbor, provided the food for the celebration.  Please post your party photos at evite!    My comment is that we are seeing the new digital tools being utilized, along with the older social tools, to empower a new, powerful, dynamic method of people helping each other.  Imagine a world in which armies emerge spontaneously, and appropriately, to lend a hand when someone has a true need,   flashing into existence when needed.  Could that be why people love digital space? Because it enables them to do respond quickly to needs?

Psychiatrist knits anatomically correct woolly brain

January 17, 2009

check this out :

Psychiatrist knits anatomically correct woolly brain

This relates to the ancient art of tapestry as information system, doesn’t it? What other information in fabric ideas are possible? Could a knitted object be both functional as clothing and carry elaborate information? Sure why not; think reindeer sweater. But….. Let’s say you’re going for a walk in a special place… maybe Harvard Square, maybe the Library of Congress, maybe the Mall of America… Can you put on your knitted sweater/shirt which has a map of the place woven on the sleeve. Would someone buy a sweater that the wearer can use to have relevant local information placed so that the wearer herself can see the info at a glance. This is different than projecting a Tommy Hillfiger logo out to the world from your chest, from which point is invisible to you without a mirror – and useless to boot.

Why not carry important information embedded durably into the fabric of your clothing where it’s convenient for YOU to see it? Such information would be facing you, and illegible to others, unless they looked hard and long. Embed the information in a decorative shape, upside-down, on your right and left sleeves. Then, from the point of view of the 3rd party, a casual glance would reveal only the shape to the mind of the casual observer. However, you – the wearer – looking down at your sleeves could easily perceive and use the information stored there. What would be useful on the sleeves of a fall sweater or knitted shirt? maybe…

* Small images of birds and their names for bird-watchers.

* A map of  your college  campus buildings and important phone numbers & websites, for incoming freshmen.

* A selection of jokes that you like to tell, so that you tell them correctly, this time.

* A map of World’s End for hikers, to be sold at the entrance to the park,  or any park

* A list of songs pre-arranged in sets for band members

* A map of the golf course on which you will play

* The rules of Scrabble for gamers for those winter evening competitions

* The names and birthdays of your family & friends

* A shopping list of what we usually buy at the food store

* The phone numbers and take-out menus of your favorite restaurants.

* A map of the aisles in a supermarket, such as Whole Foods, Walmart (dang! where are the light bulbs in this damn store)

* Images and pictures created by your favorite artists

* A map of Disneyworld for vacationers who go there, any tourist destination

* The train schedule for the commuter rail line that you ride.

* A map of the MBTA/Regional transit lines and their stations.

* Calendars for this year 2009, and the next six years after that.

* Calendar of the phases of the moon for this year and the next 6 years after that

* Tide charts for fishermen to wear on fishing trips

* A map of the I-95 and other major east coast highways (long and skinny) for long distance driving.

* A map of a congressional district for political organizers

* The names of the players on the Red Sox for accuracy in Sports conversations.

* The upcoming schedule of the New England Patriots football team !!

* All the prayers and responses needed for a church service for churchgoers.

* A vocabulary list of Spanish language numbers and basic words for a traveler.

* The cell phone numbers of everybody I want to call, or might need to call.

* A new year’s resolution to remind the weak-willed, memory-challenged self-improvement buffs.

* The main categories of the Dewey decimal system for librarians and book-shelvers.

* The names of your distant relatives, whom you see infrequently, for a family party.

* The names of participants in the wedding party for a long lasting gift.

* The names of all your neighbors and their children, in case of a conversations that occur when you go for a walk. 1 sweater for each neighborhood.

* Word lists to memorize for spelling bees

* The correct definitions for words that get frequently misused, maybe by you.

* The correct spellings of commonly misspelled words

* The basic rules of grammar for writers

* The personal identity info and emergency contact numbers to be worn by someone with alzheimers.

* Ditto for children

* A list of my previous failures, to remind myself to avoid repeating mistakes, again. (at least the major ones might fit)

Can you add any creative or useful ideas for information knitted into the sleeves of your clothing?


To which political messages will you listen? The “fairness” doctrine…

January 14, 2009

Recently, I’ve noticed two political talk show hosts talking about the Fairness Doctrine.  When both Michael Savage and Rush Limbaugh denounce something, it makes me wonder what’s going on with this topic. Or was it the Equal Time Rule?

Do you remember the old days when some media (television? radio?) apparently had some kind of legal obligation to air opposing political views? I actually don’t remember a lot about it. Do you? Then recently, at a party, one of my oldest friends brought up the idea again.  Now, I’m looking.  My friend was specifically saying that since Air America syndicated radio shows flopped in the radio market, that proved that the topics handled by them were proven failures.  Commercial advertisers didn’t support Air America by purchasing advertising, but they would support Rush Limbaugh.  Therefore – I’m not sure what exactly – perhaps political ideas not supported  by paid advertising naturally disappear from the air waves, and that disappearance is the way things should be. Was that how it happened?

Or…… was it because Air America never drew an audience large enough to be worth while for a commercial advertiser? Do you know?

Personally,  I am not comfortable with many of the political messages I hear coming out of the mouth of Michael Savage  and Rush Limbaugh; perhaps you remember the former endlessly saying that liberalism is a mental disease, or the latter having an overly hearty laugh from Barack the magic negro?   I listen to them to know how some people reason incorrectly,  and to challenge myself about what I think.

Let’s go back to the Fairness Doctrine: why are these two big-mouths worried about the Fairness Doctrine? Is there something to fear from hearing many sides of a political debate on your local radio station.   Is the only political dialog worth hearing, that dialog which is paid for, and approved by a business with pockets deep enough to buy time on clear channels and in big markets?  Or is the fear that adding more time for “other ideas” will drive up the overall costs of radio time, and thereby raise costs for those buyers? Are views supported by commercial advertising inherently better for us citizens of the USA, because such ideas are wiser, better balanced than the ideas of citizens who don’t own a business.  Are commercial advertisers just more likely to come to better conclusions than ordinary citizens? On the other hand, is there such a thing as silly worship of business?  Back  when Enron controlled the assets of its employees pension funds, what kind of “advertising buys” did Enron make in the radio and TV marketplace? Did the advertising buys of Countrywide Mortgage have more inherent worth than your neighbors’ blogs?

Savage and Limbaugh were selling Senator McCain before the election, and warning that  Senator Obama was a bad choice. Luckily, these two don’t control the internet.  Anyone who can connect to the internet, can place their political ideas in front of the public – even me.  Is the internet inherently more “fair” than commercial radio, because access to publishing costs little or nothing.

So many questions, so little time. It’s time to research the Fairness Doctrine and the Equal Time Rule.


Local newspaper coverage

April 8, 2008

Two newspapers carried a story today. Judge for yourself; I think the best writing came from the Patriot Ledger, courtesy of Jack Encarnacao. Hartman Deetz, one of the people arrested, posted a comment there in response to the Ledger Story. Also, see the Metrowest Daily News.

Learning the system – exploring the gray

March 18, 2007

Got something to say? I’m usually not certain. Sometimes, world events, or a national news event, will cause me to mutter something out loud in response. When I start analyzing what I feel, I usually bump into some gray area pretty quickly. This frustrates me; shouldn’t I be awarded simplicity? Shouldn’t I be more certain of things? Especially now that my count of years is rising in proportion to the count of things I already know. But things aren’t getting simpler at all. Oh, I can do the lazy digital thing (this offensive news must be either A or B), but let’s be honest. Sometimes your antagonists are correct; sometimes your friends are just wrong-headed. The endless complexity of the real world doesn’t fit well in the shoebox mentality.

Maybe it’ll be fun to explore the gray….