Category Archives: Philosophy


(This is an e-mail I sent:)

Hello and Happy Day!

I splurged a bit back in 2002 or 2003 when I bought a neato WhirlyPop Popcorn Popcorn Popper at the World Market in Omaha, NE. Being newly married my wife and I didn’t really have any spare money back then, but just looking at the picture on the box of the popper brought back sooo many memories of my Grandmother that I just had to have it!

My grandmother was a very gentle, upright person. A few times a year if it seemed to be a special occasion of some sort she’d send one of us grandkids up to the attic to find the box with the Whirlypop Popcorn Popper, knowing full well the popper was actually in the basement. But she also knew full well that sending a horde of children up into the attic would entertain us for at least an hour as we found little treasures hidden in the dusty corners, maybe a postcard from someone with old-timey handwriting with a picture of the Statue of Liberty on it, or one of my uncle’s old books on Ancient History with pictures of camels and pyramids… We’d dust off the treasures and put them back in their spot and search for something new. In due time, by the time we’d tromp back downstairs, smiley and happy and full of stories of the wonders we’d found in the attic to find Grandmother at the stove patiently stirring the popcorn. “I’m sorry, it was in the basement the whole time,” she’d say.

(It just now occurred to me – sending us into the attic to search for the popper was her way of dusting and reorganizing the area. Smart lady!)

Smart as she was, though, my grandmother wan’t much of a cook… She’d dump half a pound of lard and what must have been a full cup of table salt into the popper along with forty or forty-five meager kernels of popcorn. The treat was never quite a treat for us – Gramma’s popcorn pretty much sucked. (She could quote any Bible verse you requested, she could do multiplication in her head like a whiz, she could recite poetry, but for pete’s sake don’t eat her chicken!)

All this came back to me in a flood that day in 2002 or 2003 as I stood in the World Market staring at the box. I had to have it, and indeed, I did make the purchase. “Cheap food,” I explained to my wife. “It’ll save us money in the long run.”

Little did I know that I would make at least one batch of popcorn every single night from then on. Sometimes two batches. Every single night without fail.

I would estimate the popper has made over five-thousand five-hundred batches of popcorn over the years.

Sadly, it is now showing signs of age… The nylon (or plastic) gears are slipping, popcorn is burning (much to the delight of our two dogs who get to snack on the singed kernels), the top is starting to fall off at inconvenient times…My old friend is getting older now, and that makes me sad.

After analyzing my continuing popcorn habits, my wife and I are planning to replace Old Beloved with a new stainless steel model with metal gears. Sadly, money is even tighter for us now than it was 15 years ago when I bought Old Beloved. My blushing bride from fifteen years ago has developed serious health issues and is now disabled, homebound. While the numbers on the medical bills are very startlingly high, my wife is still insisting that we purchase a new popper, and that we get it from your company. “They make a good product,” she said from her bed. “You’ve had that popper for forever… And every night when you make popcorn you smile so nicely.” (I’m thinking of my grandmother and how exciting it was to play in her attic.) “And the pups sit and watch so they can get their treats. You need a new popper. Don’t worry about money. Go buy one. A nice one.”

And that led me to your website. I’ve bookmarked it so I can purchase the nifty new Stainless Steel Whirley Pop Stovetop Popcorn Popper with Metal Gears in a week or two when Old Beloved finally gives up the ghost. I saw your e-mail address and thought I’d share my happy little story with you. Yay!


We often fear ghosts from our past that loom up in the night, not knowing that when they’re examined up close they’re really just harmless, faded memories we tossed sheets over years ago because they don’t match our mind’s décor any longer.

If it’s an ugly memory, throw it away. No need to keep it in the basement any longer.

Nothing is quite as valuable as the last tablespoon of paint in the bottom of the can two-thirds the way through a project when you know the store is closed.

I’m normally a very quiet person. I have a soft voice and tend towards quiet mannerisms. But when I sneeze everyone within a half mile knows about it. And I often have to pick myself up off the floor.

The closet is sorted. The upstairs is clean. The basement is cleaner than it was. Long holiday weekends are nice! It’s 4:17 p.m. on the last day of a three-day weekend – time for me to relax a bit…

If I were an electrician my basement would be a lot brighter.


Thoughts for the Day

It’s a much more powerful show of strength to care for the weak than it is to pity them, ignore them, or worst, use them as tools.

History gets lost one name at a time. Label your photos – it will make all the difference in thirty years.

What’s the best way to store books, you ask? Strewn about the house where one’s always close at hand, each one open to whatever page was last read… Buy books to read, not to store neatly on a bookshelf. Crinkle the pages, write in the margins, roll over them in bed, use them.

(Note – most of my books have been stored in boxes in the closet for the past ten years. I’m in the process of unpacking them and putting them neatly in bookshelves. I rarely follow my own advice… But all of my books have been read, hard, and show it.)

There are few things in life more joyous than a Golden Retriever with a toy.

I heard part of a story on NPR today about how to slow down and enjoy life, but I was too busy to hear the end of it…

One of my biggest wishes the past few years is to have one single day where I don’t get interrupted, I can do what I want when I want, no one innocently adds things to my list (“Oh, if you’re going up to get the mail can you take the garbage out, feed the birds, comb the dogs, make sure the cats have water, and run this out to the burn pile?”)…

And when that day comes, I’ll be a lonely man.

Had he only studied philately instead…

Yesterday I mentioned TIbbles the Cat who is the only creature known to have single-handedly caused the extinction of an entire species. Today I’ll talk about another rather extraordinary individual.

If I asked you what human being has caused the most environmental damage in history, you may think of the famous industrialists of the 1800s and early 1900s such as Henry Ford or Andrew Carnegie, or possibly the Koch brothers of our time (if you don’t know about the Koch brothers, take a minute to look ’em up). But you probably would’t think of Thomas Midgley.

Back in the early part of the 1900s it was discovered that adding iodine to fuel reduced engine knock just a bit. Thomas Midgley Jr., an engineer and chemist working for General Motors, decided to look into the situation further and after experimenting around a bit found that adding lead (tetraethyllead, or “ethyl,” commonly referred to as TEL) to gasoline worked much better.

Of course within just a few years people realized that leaded gasoline was a potent neurotoxin and a deadly pollutant (Midgley himself suffered lead poisoning in 1923 and had to move to Florida for fresh air), but lacking governmental oversight the petroleum industry, notably ExxonMobile, pushed to use the additive. GM and DuPont built a plant to produce TEL in 1923, but halted production after ten people at the plant died of lead poisoning. In 1924 ExxonMobile built a their own chemical plant to produce TEL, but by mid-year the workers were suffering from hallucinations, insanity, and five more folks died of lead poisoning. At a press conference later that year Midgley poured TEL over his hands and breathed the fumes to prove how safe it was. He had to take a leave of absence a few weeks later to recover – again – from lead poisoning.

A few years later in 1926 a special government committee declared that there were no good grounds to ban TEL, but should its use become more widespread further study would be necessary. In a sweeping and generous wave of compassion, GM, DuPont, and MobileExxon funded all studies of TEL for the next forty years…

(It’s since been shown that as well as being a deadly toxin, even very low exposure to airborne lead significantly lowers a person’s IQ and has other adverse effects on people – especially children. TEL has also been linked to violent crime, but that’s another story.)

That was the first of Mr. Midgley’s inventions… There’s more.

After he recovered from lead poisoning, GM moved Mr. Midgley to their Frigidaire division, where he worked on air conditioning and refrigeration systems. At the time the refrigerants used were all highly toxic and in some cases flammable. Mr Midgley, possibly in an effort to atone for the damage caused by his previous work, decided to find an inert gas to replace the dangerous refrigerants. His research quickly led to dichlorodifluoromethane – the very first chlorofluorocarbon or CFC. He named the safe gas “Freon.” Freon and other related CFCs were soon widely used as refrigerants and in spray cans…

And, as we now now, CFCs very quickly destroyed the ozone layer, causing all sorts of environmental havoc and health issues.

So, Mr. Midgley was single-handedly responsible for two of the largest ecological and health blunders in history.

The Monstrous Tibbles

Odd Fact o’ the Day: Between the two islands that make up New Zealand lies a very small piece of land, Stephens Island. In the late 1800s it was decided to build a lighthouse on the uninhabited isle due to the rocky and treacherous waters (I assume). Land was cleared, a lighthouse was erected, and a lighthouse keeper was found – and tragedy was soon to ensue.

The lighthouse keeper, being a kindly chap, brought his beloved cat, Tibbles, along on his new job to keep him company on the lonely mission. The two fared perfectly peachy on their lonely isle, and it wasn’t long before Tibbles presented his master with a present of a dead bird, as cats will do. Then another Then another.

With alarming speed a pile of dead birds grew, and grew. And grew.

As it turns out, Stephens Island was the last remaining habitat of a rare flightless wren. But by the time the lighthouse keeper had figured out that the birds his beloved TIbbles was bringing to his doorstep were endangered it was too late – Tibbles had eaten the last one.

And thus, Tibbles the Cat is the only creature known to have single-handedly (pawedly?) caused the extinction of an entire species.

(It should be noted that while TIbbles wears the crown and the story is widely regarded as true – and very nearly is – several more of the flightless wrens were found on the island about fifteen years later. Dead, of course. Brought to the doorstep by Tibble’s great-great-great-great grandkits.)

Bertrand Russell’s Ten Commandments

1. Do not feel absolutely certain of anything.

2. Do not think it worth while to proceed by concealing evidence, for the evidence is sure to come to light.

3. Never try to discourage thinking for you are sure to succeed.

4. When you meet with opposition, even if it should be from your husband, your wife, or your children, endeavor to overcome it by argument and not by authority, for a victory dependent upon authority is unreal and illusory.

5. Have no respect for the authority of others, for there are always contrary authorities to be found.

6. Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.

7. Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.

8. Find more pleasure in intelligent dissent that in passive agreement, for, if you value intelligence as you should, the former implies a deeper agreement than the latter.

9. Be scrupulously truthful, even if the truth is inconvenient, for it is more inconvenient when you try to conceal it.

10. Do not feel envious of the happiness of those who live in a fool’s paradise, for only a fool will think that it is happiness.

Bertrand Russell, “A Liberal Decalogue” (1951). This Liberal Decalogue first appeared at the end of the article “The best answer to fanaticism: Liberalism” in the New York Times Magazine (16 December 1951). It was then included in The Autobiography of Bertrand Russell, Vol. 3,  1944-1967.

It seems to be a pretty nifty list indeed. The only thing I find myself in disagreement with is #5. I do respect authority, as those in positions of power have usually earned that rank through study and skill. BUT – I absolutely will question authority, nearly constantly.

After the clouds go to bed…

I realized today that I’ve spent most of my life yearning. Sometimes in earnest, sometimes the yearning is set on simmer, but it’s always there. I spent a little time analyzing just what’s causing me such angst…

While everyone certainly wants more moolah and bigger, better, fancier, flashier toys, I’m pretty satisfied with what I have. Dagmar and I will never be rich; to the contrary, I’m reasonably sure we’ll always struggle with debt – but we have food, clothes, a place to call home and a VERY happy marriage… But still I have this strange yearning. Why? It took me a long time to figure it out…

I want time.

That’s all. I want time. I want a summer off. I want a summer like they used to be. I want the kind of a summer that can only happen to kids between the ages of five and nine – when you’re old enough to go outside and play on your own, but you’re young enough that you don’t know there are things you’re not supposed to do. That’s what I want.

I remember waking up in the morning, lazing in bed and watching the shadows in my room move, the dust motes slowly swirling in a sunbeam. A single, well-aimed breath would make them dance, even from all the way across the room – but once you’ve made the dust dance in the sunlight, you have to be patient for a long time before you can do it again. One look out the window and you knew if it was a wet, dewy sort of day or a dry, dusty sort of day. Both are good, but it’s best to wear shoes if it’s a wet, dewy sort of day. Out the room, down the stairs and out the door – sometimes fully clothed, sometimes wearing nothing but britches – it all depended on who caught you before you got out the door. Never mind taking a bath – time enough to do that later, after the clouds go to bed.

Growing up on a farm spoiled me. Once out the door, so many things to do. But there was never a decision to make. Within thirty seconds of leaving the house, something would capture my energy – sometimes a pretty bug climbing up a tallish stem of grass to get a good look at his kingdom, other times a sparkly rock would keep me entertained for a while, dreaming of the places it had been. Sometimes I’d want to see the sky, so I’d wander off to the fields where the trees stand solitaire along the edges of the rows, keeping watch.

The sky can look powerful big when the trees are far away – a good place to watch the clouds. How far can the clouds see? Can they see all the way to town? Where have they been? Did they like it there? Sometimes, though, it’s nice to watch the clouds with just one tree to keep you company. That’s easy enough… If you do it right, you can find a spot under a tree where the green leaves make the sky look electric blue – that’s the best.

Ooh – there’s a milkweed. Any butterflies around? They like milkweeds. There are usually some butterflies in the fields, but sometimes they like to go in the grove and hang out with the trees there for a while. Off to chase the flutterbyes.

The grove is always a fun place to be. Davy Crockett and Dan’l Boone help me sneak through the woods, so quiet and slow the rabbits don’t notice me. Sometimes it’s nice to go slow, to feel the leaves brush against you, to look at the bark on the trees, to smell the grass, to wonder at the complexity and harmony. Sometimes it’s nice to be a rabbit. I could never get my nose to wriggle right, though. Other times it’s fun to help Stanley and Livingston find their way out of the wilderness, making lots of noise so the elephants don’t attack. Sometimes it’s nice to climb a tree. If you’re real still in a tree sometimes a bird will land close.

Sometimes there are birds in the barns. But sometimes there are bees and wasps and hornets, too. Best not to go there. Better to play in the dust for a while. Ever figure out why there’s so much dust over here, but not so much over there? Why does it pile in one place when it’s outside? Or is it just a thing that happens on farms in the summer? Throwing a handful of dust if fun, if you’re not throwing for distance.

You could tell when it’s getting late – the cicadas start whirring, the crickets tune their orchestras, the frogs tell the crickets to shut up, sometimes the first lightning bug of the night flashes. Time to go in. Gotta pause for a while first, though – this is the best time to listen. How many crickets are there? Where are the frogs, anyway? Why can’t I find the frogs in the daytime?

Methinks the joy of childhood summers lies partly in the patience to take the world at it’s own pace, and partly the knowledge that you have no responsibilities. Of course someone has to cook the meals and clean things and do all the things that need to be done by responsible people, but can’t we wait until the clouds go to sleep to do that? There’s plenty of time…

So, that’s what I’m yearning for. I want one more childhood summer on the farm. But this time I want company – I want my wife there. It’s more fun to look at bugs if you have someone you like with you. I promise, if I get my summer, I’ll waste it well.