Tuesday, October 25, 2011

ZAMM (part 4) - Ghosts

Part 4 of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (ZAMM):


It's almost Halloween, and this holiday is a good lead in to write about ghosts.

In the physical and metaphysical journey described in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the author Robert Pirsig, his son Chris, and riding companions rest after a few days on the road as they head into the Dakotas.

Coming out of the Red River Valley, the riders have a scare as they go through a thunder and lightening storm while exposed to the elements on bikes. Instead of camping, the group opts for a motel. Signing in, one of the riders comments to the author-

You look like you have seen a ghost.

Then thirteen year old Chris asks his father about ghosts, saying one of his Native American Indian friends at YMCA camp believed in ghosts.

The author, Robert Pirsig, a rational college professor with a very high I. Q. (170), scoffs at this absurd notion. But Chris continues badgering his dad, commenting with what his friend believes -

... when people have not been buried right, their ghosts come back to haunt you.

And Chris does not let this subject go as they all settle in for the night. Finally, the author admits knowing someone, who was chasing ghosts all his life. He found the ghost. And he gave him a good thrashing.

The ghost had a name - Phaedrus.

Phaedrus is the title character in Plato's dialog between Socrates and Phaedrus, which includes a discussion about madness. And from here on, the author refers to his old self in the third person as Phaedrus.

Part of the treatment for mental illness used to include Shock Therapy. The author may have gone through an experience, such as this one shown in the video below, when he had been hospitalized for insanity in the early 1960s.

The treatment should have buried Pirsig's old self, but the ghost of Phaedrus -  the old personality that should have been erased in the shock therapy - comes back to haunt him.

On that haunting thought, the staple of Halloween lore is that ghosts do come back to haunt us. But most of us have encounters with ghosts of another kind - the ghosts of an unpleasant past. Toxic parent or guardian? Unkind relatives? Bad relationships? Abusive bosses? Bullies of all kinds? Traumatic events?

Even when the offending persons are gone from our life or the situation seems resolved, that critical voice in our heads resurrects them ... like a ...ghost?

St. Paul wrestled his old self - even after he had literary his "come to Jesus" moment on the Road to Damascus. After he had became a new creation, he writes of the death and burial of his old self:

6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.
Romans 6
(New International Version)

With his own strength, Paul had tried to give his old self a good thrashing and it did not work.  He found out that the dead indeed do come back to haunt him - as they are not buried right. Later in the same letter, Paul writes: 

18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?
Romans 7
(New International Version)
So Paul, figuratively, had to get out the crucifix to put the stake in the heart of his old self and free himself from the law of sin and death:

1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
Romans 8
(New International Version)

Chris's Native American friend had it right - but may I reword it, again?

When our old nature is not buried right, it comes back to haunt us.

And what beats life back in our old nature is the heart.

9 The heart is deceitful
above all things and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
Jeremiah 17
(New International Version)

Only Christ can set us free from the old nature and the bondage of sin and death. And He can put a stake in the heart of the old self, ....

by giving us a new heart.

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 51
(New International Version)

May we all bury our dead right - so their ghosts do not come back to haunt us - and may we move beyond Halloween to celebrate - All Saints Day!


For previous articles in this series:

ZAMM (part 1) - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

ZAMM (part 2) - Journey through Life

ZAMM (part 3) - Chautauqua, then and now

Photo from everystockphoto.com: Grave Ghosts, MJ In Da House?, Vampire Killing Kit, Love for Paint

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What a Ham I am (Part 4): Have you hugged your Elmer today?


Back in the days when I worked outside the home for pay, my job took me to offices with no windows behind closed doors.  These secure modules lay beyond the ken of public scrutiny and of the regular policing of an on-site manager. In such environs, the workplace morphed into a cross between a Snake Pit and Never Neverland.  And if you were not in clique, you might as well just hang it up.

One of my friends was a target of the office bullies in such an environ.  His "cooler" co-workers called him, Elmer mainly for his resemblance to Elmer Fudd.  And it was an insult wrapped in the cloak of a jest.  All of us who have watched Bugs Bunny cartoons know that Elmer Fudd was not all that bright.  He could not even outsmart a rabbit.

Oh, what wonderful co-workers we were to each other back then!

I told his coworkers, they really paid my friend a high compliment calling him Elmer.  An Elmer was a wise person, a mentor, who helps novices and the experienced - like them perhaps?  I still wonder if that comment went over their heads.

That's what an Elmer really means in the world of ham radio - the Luke Skywalker's Obi-Wan Kenobi.  And Elmers helped me get to the next level.

To get a license or upgrade, an Elmer is good thing to have

In an earlier blog, I wrote how after 25 years as a tech plus, I finally made the plunge and took the test and graduated to general.  Check out: What a Ham I am (Part 1) - moving on up!

There are many tools to prepare a hobbyist to learn the material and study for the test to qualify for the license.  One resource is this question pool, online courtesy of the ARRL, which lists the questions and the answers for the various tests.

Some taking the test said they printed out question pool and all the answers and read them over a few times immediately before the test so they had the right choices memorized.

But did they understand what they were reading?

No doubt some did.  And some were very good hams.  But I suspect some knew how to black out the right letter in the multiple choice form, but did not know ham radio from green eggs and ham.

That's why Elmers are so important as they help us less experienced get to the next levels - knowing more than just picking the right choices on the test.  They can get the right equipment configured to get on the air within the bounds set by the FCC.

There are different levels of knowledge.

And all these levels are in the hobby.

First - rote learning. 

It's one level of understanding - how we learn to read and write.  Memorization.  We can pick the right boxes, but may have no understanding what it means.

It's a quantum leap from picking the right answers on a pencil paper test to understanding the principles behind it.

Next - understanding of the theory. 

This is where I am at.  In school, I liked Electricity and Magnetism (EM) and ham radio depends on it.  Here is a sample of my EM - The Scotsman who beat Einstein

In my post above, I actually did something like the derivation in my article for homework, but I classify myself as a bad ham.  I am really not all that practical.

Final - getting it to work right

It is another quantum leap from understanding the principles of EM to having the practical wisdom of getting a station on the air and working properly within the realm of physics and the FCC requirements.

This is why Elmers are so needed.  My OM is one of them.  He has not only the theory down, but the practical wisdom to make it happen, such as described in these articles:  Tech Talk.

"Elmers" are important in many aspects of life beyond a hobby.  And they have the wisdom not found in a text book and can pass down lessons learned to the next generation. As for me, I would not be in this hobby without an Elmer.

So have you hugged your Elmer today? 

(OMs  may express your appreciation to your OM Elmer(s) in other ways.)
I need to hug mine - my OM - and it is good that I am his XYL.

Pssst!  For the secret code for  - OM/XYL - check out Ham Speak


Previous Posts of this series:

What a Ham I am (Part 1) - moving on up!

What a Ham I am (Part 2) - When lightening strikes

What a Ham I am (Part 3) - Hams make Contact


Photos from everystockphoto.comDr. Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

America in Decline?!

Recent polls , such as this one, America's Best Days - Rasmussen Reports™, indicate many believe that America is in decline. And our president has seemed to have embraced this narrative in this news article: Obama Calls America “Soft,” Offers To Whip Nation Into Shape.

There is merit to this conclusion as all great nations of the past have gone into decline and litter the dust bin of history.

To quote Will Durant:

A great civilization is not conquered from without
until it has destroyed itself within.

America sliding down into the abyss?

In our short 235 year history, our decline looked imminent as we faced many daunting trials - even those of our own making. Here are a few of them.

The Civil War, 150 years ago, ripped our country apart and divided us as a people. It ended with the greatest number of American casualities to this day (even World War II) if we factor in both the Union and the Confederates. Shortly after the end of the war, one of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln, was assassinated, then his successor Andrew Johnson was impeached.

The stock market crash of 1929 triggered the Great Depression marked by the misery of massive unemployment, banking crises, long bread lines, record foreclosures. The Dust Bowl of the 1930s seemed like a judgment of biblical proportion. World War Two pulled us out the economic depression, but at a terrible price, sucking us into a horrific war that tore our world apart. Holocausts. Genocides. Over 70 million deaths by some estimates.

The Cold War threatened Mutual Assured Destruction as Communism spread across the globe. Better Red than Dead? Half of Europe went behind the Iron Curtain, most of Asia, the Bamboo Curtain. The Vietnam War ripped the country apart, again, as the counterculture challenged the establishment.

After Vietnam came to an ignoble end, the malaise of the Carter years ushered an era of energy shortages, high inflation, the national humiliation of the Iran Hostage Crisis. When Reagan took office, the country was in a deep recession with high inflation and we seemed dispirited as a people.

Shining City upon a Hill?

Many times in our history, it looked like it we were tailspinning into a downward spiral of permanent decline. Many doubted we would or even could recover during our difficult days. Yet, these words in Reagan's Final Address to nation offer some steps we can take to pull out of a nose dive.

And the wisdom of Solomon offers this prescription to reverse a decline, if we are willing:

Righteousness exalts a nation,
but sin condemns any people.
New International Version (NIV)

Washington and Lincoln leave us with this encouragement: Our faithful heritage

Question: Any thoughts on reversing the decline?

Picture from everystockphoto.com: Torn Flag