Archive for April, 2011

200 volunteers & 600 bags of litter later, Amsterdam is ready to start the season of beauty. Thank you to all of you that helped better a perfect Spring Saturday. UPDATE: 2.54 TONS of debris collected! Bravo!


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Mid April already, and the wild plums
bloom at the roadside, a lacy white
against the exuberant, jubilant green
of new grass an the dusty, fading black
of burned-out ditches. No leaves, not yet,
only the delicate, star-petaled
blossoms, sweet with their timeless perfume.

You have been gone a month today
and have missed three rains and one nightlong
watch for tornadoes. I sat in the cellar
from six to eight while fat spring clouds
went somersaulting, rumbling east. Then it poured,
a storm that walked on legs of lightning,
dragging its shaggy belly over the fields.

The meadowlarks are back, and the finches
are turning from green to gold. Those same
two geese have come to the pond again this year,
honking in over the trees and splashing down.
They never nest, but stay a week or two
then leave. The peonies are up, the red sprouts
burning in circles like birthday candles,

for this is the month of my birth, as you know,
the best month to be born in, thanks to you,
everything ready to burst with living.
There will be no more new flannel nightshirts
sewn on your old black Singer, no birthday card
addressed in a shaky but businesslike hand.
You asked me if I would be sad when it happened

and I am sad. But the iris I moved from your house
now hold in the dusty dry fists of their roots
green knives and forks as if waiting for dinner,
as if spring were a feast. I thank you for that.
Were it not for the way you taught me to look
at the world, to see the life at play in everything,
I would have to be lonely forever.

– Ted Kooser, from Delights & Shadows. © Copper Canyon Press, 2004.

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The Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, Op. 73 by Ludwig van Beethoven, popularly known as the “Emperor Concerto”, was his last piano concerto. It was written between 1809 and 1811 in Vienna.

At that time, Beethoven had lost most of his hearing and, yet, went on to create some of the most hauntingly beautiful and memorable music this world will ever know.

“Live only for your art, for you are so limited by your senses.” – L. Beethoven

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not lonely

“We are all alone, born alone, die alone, and — in spite of True Romance magazines — we shall all someday look back on our lives and see that, in spite of our company, we were alone the whole way. I do not say lonely — at least, not all the time — but essentially, and finally, alone. This is what makes your self-respect so important, and I don’t see how you can respect yourself if you must look in the hearts and minds of others for your happiness.”
— Hunter S. Thompson

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“I had a few days ago, an insight which consoled me very much.
It was during my thanksgiving, when I make
a few reflections upon the goodness of God, and
how should one not think of this at such a time, of that
infinite goodness, uncreated goodness, the source of all goodness. …

I saw written as in letters of gold this word “Goodness”
which I repeated for a long time with indescribable sweetness.
I beheld it, I say, written upon all creatures, animate and inanimate,
rational or not, all bore this name goodness. …

I understood then that all these creatures have of goodness and
all the services and assistance that we receive from each of them
is a benefit which we owe to the goodness of God
who has communicated to them something of his infinite goodness
so that we may meet it in everything and everywhere.”

– st. thérèse couderc, 1865

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half full

Are We Optimistic?
Apr 4th, 2011
Posted by Ethics Newsline, a weekly digest of worldwide ethics issues.
by Rushworth M. Kidder

Years ago, I asked Norman Cousins, the celebrated editor of the Saturday Review magazine, whether he was an optimist or a pessimist. “I really don’t know enough to be a pessimist,” he quipped before adding more seriously, “I’m optimistic about the intangibles that could be converted into assets.”

To a foreigner’s eye, Cousins was your standard-issue, stereotypical American. Ask Europeans to describe the American mind, and optimism regularly appears as a salient trait — sometimes derisively, when it stands for quick fixes and enthusiastic superficiality, but often appreciatively, when it characterizes an upbeat, confident, can-do attitude. Either way, optimism stands for a conviction that progress is expected and that tomorrow will improve on today.

In the years since my conversation with Cousins in the mid-1980s, U.S. optimism has been challenged seriously — particularly in the last decade. The 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001 shattered the “can’t happen here” mantra about national defense, just as the 2003 SARS epidemic reminded us that disease knows no boundaries. The economy made an extremely hard landing during the recession of 2008-2009 and has yet to bounce back. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 put on display vulnerabilities we never knew we had, compounding the misery visited upon Louisiana and Mississippi by hurricane Katrina five years earlier. When you factor in the strain of fighting two overseas wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (with a third perhaps emerging in Libya), you can explain why optimism should be in shambles.

Should be, but isn’t. That’s what’s so intriguing about a Gallup survey released last week. Ask Americans to rate their current lives as well as their lives as they foresee them in five years, and they consistently give more positive ratings to the future than to the present.

The survey was large enough (352,840 adults), recent enough (January to December, 2010), and broad enough (all 50 states and the District of Columbia) to allow state-by-state comparisons. Result: Both over time and in every state, say Gallup’s researchers, “people in various situations — good and bad — tend to express optimism that things will improve in the future.”

But is that optimism really present in places like West Virginia and Kentucky, where other Gallup surveys show a very low sense of general well-being? Yes indeed. What about in places like Louisiana and Mississippi, which have endured crushing disasters recently? Yes indeed. In places where underemployment is high (like Hawaii), employers aren’t hiring (like Arkansas), and economic confidence is below average (like Wyoming)? Yes indeed. Despite all that, Americans generally remain both optimistic and happy.

Those two qualities, it appears, are related. Optimism is central to what global researchers are describing as “gross national happiness.” Seeking to measure that elusive quality, Gallup has developed a three-part scale running from “suffering” up through “struggling” and on into “thriving,” where the latter term suggests the greatest happiness. In international surveys measuring the percentage of those who are “thriving,” the United States tops other nations in the Americas (outranked only by Costa Rica, Canada, Panama, and Brazil), in Europe (below only Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and Switzerland), in Asia and the Pacific (below only New Zealand, Australia, and Israel), and across Africa. On this scale, even West Virginia, the lowest ranking U.S. state, outperforms many developed nations, including Spain, France, and Greece.

To be sure, these are early days for this survey methodology. Researchers remain at a loss to find patterns to explain some of the data. But then, these are highly subjective measures, colored so deeply by national characteristics and historical expectations that anomalies are bound to appear — like, for instance, the patent oddity that Hungary, Lithuania, and Portugal all report much higher percentages of “suffering” than Chad, Ivory Coast, and Sudan.

Still, Gallup is onto something significant. This work points to some underlying facts — perhaps even a settled moral conviction — that can’t readily be dismissed. These findings no doubt will gall the cynics, who will be desperate to reinterpret them. Optimism and happiness, they will say, are proof of our culpable inanity and our inability to pay attention to circumstances. These characteristics, they’ll assert, confirm that, like Cousins, we simply don’t know enough to be pessimistic — or that we’re in a state of gross national denial.

Such cynicism may have meteoric brilliance among some politicians and talk-show hosts, but my suspicion is that it will burn out in the face of the nation’s deep-seated moral fundamentals. By asking two simple questions around the world — Where do “you personally feel you stand at this time” on a ladder stretching from the “worst possible life for you” to the “best possible life for you?” and Where do you feel you’ll stand “about five years from now?” — Gallup has probed levels of moral certitude that Cousins could hint at but never measure.

“States that are able to rise above difficult economic circumstances to instill a sense of positivity and optimism among their residents,” say Gallup researchers, “set a powerful example for other states to follow.” While that conclusion references the 50 U.S. states, it rings equally true for the world’s nation-states. In a bad-news world, that’s a potent example to set.

©2011 Institute for Global Ethics

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“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul
than the way in which it treats its children.”
– Nelson Mandela

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