Optical Illusion

The So-Called Zollner Illusion


All the long diagonal lines are actually parallel to one another. Measure them if you don’t believe me. The short horizontal and vertical lines just make it look otherwise.

Redwood Camp Lodge

The Log Home My Brother Is Building in Idyllwild, CA

I may have mentioned once or twice that my brother is a home builder. He started building log homes in Minnesota, then moved on to the North Shore of Lake Tahoe, subsequently diversifying his efforts in Paso Robles. Now he lives in Palm Desert (near Palm Springs) and is working on a log home in the San Jacinto Mountains at Idyllwild. What distinguishes his log homes is that they do not employ any kind of mortar, or “chinking” as it is also called, between the logs. Instead, the logs are scribed by chainsaw to fit exactly one on top of another, as shown in the following photograph:

Logs Put Together Without Mortar

To see the realtor’s link to the project, click here. To learn more about Idyllwild, click the city’s tourist website. Dan originally planned to build the house for himself, but found it was more convenient to headquarter himself in Palm Desert.

Below is a picture of my brother Dan which I took in Ecuador. Here, he is examining religious sculptures from the former Cathedral of Cuenca:

My Brother Is the One Leaning to the Left

You could do far worse than live in one of Dan’s superbly built log homes.

The Frogs Who Wanted a King

From Ancient Greece Comes the Story About What We Have Become

In case you are not familiar with this ancient tale by Aesop, here is a retelling from a website called Fables of Aesop:

The Frogs were tired of governing themselves. They had so much freedom that it had spoiled them, and they did nothing but sit around croaking in a bored manner and wishing for a government that could entertain them with the pomp and display of royalty, and rule them in a way to make them know they were being ruled. No milk and water government for them, they declared. So they sent a petition to Jupiter asking for a king.

Jupiter saw what simple and foolish creatures they were, but to keep them quiet and make them think they had a king he threw down a huge log, which fell into the water with a great splash. The Frogs hid themselves among the reeds and grasses, thinking the new king to be some fearful giant. But they soon discovered how tame and peaceable King Log was. In a short time the younger Frogs were using him for a diving platform, while the older Frogs made him a meeting place, where they complained loudly to Jupiter about the government.

To teach the Frogs a lesson the ruler of the gods now sent a Crane to be king of Frogland. The Crane proved to be a very different sort of king from old King Log. He gobbled up the poor Frogs right and left and they soon saw what fools they had been. In mournful croaks they begged Jupiter to take away the cruel tyrant before they should all be destroyed.

“How now!” cried Jupiter “Are you not yet content? You have what you asked for and so you have only yourselves to blame for your misfortunes.”

In the archaic L’Estrange version, the moral is: “The mobile are uneasie without a ruler: they are as restless with one; and the oft’ner they shift, the worse they are; so that government or no government; a king of God’s making, or of the peoples, or none at all; the multitude are never to be satisfied.”

As I sat down reading in the Santa Monica Main Library this morning, I noticed that the people seated around me look as if they had lost their battle with life. One black man alternately wept and swore; and a bearded youth in a hoodie kept calling his family to beg money for his anxiety medications. The coffee shops are full of people with notebook computers, undoubtedly using social media to communicate with people they don’t know or really care about. The natives appear to be restless.

Well, We Got Our King

This restlessness is probably what elected our current President, who is very much like Aesop’s King Stork. He seems to be comfortable only with billionaires and despots. And what can we expect from him? The answer, in one word is covfefe, and lots of it—brown, gooey, and pungent.

Another Day, Another Nationality

Costumed Children Waiting to Dance

Yesterday was Scottish, today was Greek. Every Memorial Day weekend, Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in North Hills puts on a three-day Greek festival with food, dancing, and vendors. It is one of three Southern California Greek festivals that Martine and I attend. For Martine, the main attraction is spanakopita, Greek spinach and cheese pie, the baked goods redolent of honey and nuts, and he beautifully decorated church.

My preference is to see the children dancing. As they go through their steps, members of their family step forward and shower the dancers with one-dollar bills, which are picked up after the performance. And, although I was raised as a Roman Catholic, I have always had a warm spot in my heart for the Greek Church.

I sometimes wonder what will happen in the years to come as the younger generation grows more detached from the values of their parents. Many of the older parishioners still speak to one another in demotic Greek, while the children are just American kids trying to make their own way in the world. When the girls in the above picture grow up, will the old ways matter to their own children? What about the Greek language? the cuisine? even the religion?

Are we seeing the last florescence of children trying to adhere to their parents’ folkways? Perhaps not. Trumpf to the contrary, America is still seeing waves of immigrants, mostly from Asia and Latin America. As a Hungarian, I am closer to the European ethnic ways; though the Central Americans and Koreans and Persians also have a lot to offer.

Acting Your Nationality

Macho Scotch/Irish Dude

This weekend Martine and I attended the Scottish Fest 2017 held by the United Scottish Society of Southern California, Inc. It was much like the Irish Festival we will miss by going to New Mexico, but much bigger, occupying a large part of the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.

There are a whole lot of men who spend too much time dressing up for these festivals. They usually wear generic kilts like the camouflage number above and are not to be found without a beer in hand.  This way, they could attend the Irish festival as well in the same outfit without missing a step.

I used to be much more serious about my Hungarian nationality, but imagine what I would look like if I dressed the part:

Hungarian Cowboy from the Puszta

Now if I dressed like this, complete with black boots and a nasty-looking bullwhip, what kind of impression would I make? Yet this is what the csikosok, the cowboys of the Hungarian Puszta, look like. The only part of the Hungarian costume I adopt is the moustache, though it is nowhere near as splendid in the above illustration. Yet it is even more authentic than all the Scottish tartans and other frou-frou. According to the Wikipedia entry for Tartans:

Until the middle of the nineteenth century, the highland tartans were only associated with either regions or districts, rather than any specific Scottish clan. This was because like other materials, tartan designs were produced by local weavers for local tastes and would usually only use the natural dyes available in that area, as chemical dye production was non-existent and transportation of other dye materials across long distances was prohibitively expensive.

The patterns were simply different regional checked-cloth patterns, chosen by the wearer’s preference—in the same way as people nowadays choose what colours and patterns they like in their clothing, without particular reference to propriety. It was not until the mid-nineteenth century that many patterns were created and artificially associated with Scottish clans, families, or institutions who were (or wished to be seen as) associated in some way with a Scottish heritage. The Victorians’ penchant for ordered taxonomy and the new chemical dyes then available meant that the idea of specific patterns of bright colours, or “dress” tartans, could be created and applied to a faux-nostalgic view of Scottish history.

I believe that if the word got out that these Tartan patterns are not authoritatively antient, I am sure that many of the Scottish Fair participants would break down in tears. Sorry about that, Guys!

Death of a Bookseller

Bob Klein and Friend

Time passes, and so do we. I had not been to my favorite used bookstore—Sam Johnson’s in Culver City—for many months. One of the two partners who owned the store, Larry Myers, was seated at the desk. When I casually asked him how his partner Bob Klein was, I was told that he died in June. I was appalled. For over three decades, I have looked forward to my conversations with Bob. Even though his politics were diametrically opposite to mine, we had always got along.

In addition to being a bookseller of some repute, Bob had taught English at Santa Monica College for decades. There was frequently a steady parade of students who regarded his bookstore as an extension of his office.

He was also an author who has written three books under the name R. E. Klein:

  • Mrs. Rahlo’s Closet and Other Mad Tales (New York: Time Warner, 1988)
  • The History of Our World Beyond the Wave: A Fantasy (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1998)
  • The Way to Mt. Lowe: A Southern California Tale (Los Angeles: Sam Johnson’s Publishing, 2005)

I have the read the last two of these and loved them. I always hoped to see Bob write more books. In fact, I always wanted to interview him as an educator, writer, and bookseller and write a series of blog posts about this singularly talented man who was also my friend. But the opportunity was lost.

Sam Johnson’s Bookshop on Venice Boulevard

The bookstore was not always at this location. I got to know it when it was located on Santa Monica Boulevard, near where I was working at Urban Decision Systems. My lunchtime visits to the store led to my discovery of G. K. Chesterton, who has become one of my favorite authors.

With the passing of Bob Klein, Los Angeles has lost a civilizing influence; and I have lost a friend.

 

A Ticket To Ride

It Was a Fortuitous Coincidence

In May 2016, two things occurred that greatly affected my life. For starters, I was requested to work part time—just two days a week rather than the full five. Right around the same time, the MTA Expo Line opened, connecting Santa Monica and West LA with Downtown. As I get closer to full retirement, I suddenly find myself with places to go and things to do.

Oh, I could have taken my car, but I would have had to pay a fortune to park it in some narrow lot where it would get badly dented. With a Senior TAP card, I can now go downtown for thirty-five cents (seventy-five cents during rush hour). The train takes me to the 7th Street Metro Center, from where I could take other trains to Long Beach, Pasadena, North Hollywood, and East Los Angeles.

Most important, it let me off just two blocks south of the Central Library with its eight floors of books and its cozy nooks for reading. Then, I found out that I could even take out books that were marked reference only, if I could convince a librarian that I was serious (and I can).

Final Destination of the Expo Line: The 7th Street Metro Center

If I had stayed at home instead, even with my face buried in a book, I would only have gotten on Martine’s nerves. Instead, I started the mindfulness meditation classes held on Thursdays at 12:30 pm. I was able to explore Chinatown and Little Tokyo as well as Universal City Walk and South Pasadena; and I have filed away several interesting destinations for possible future trips.

I know many people who not only know nothing about Los Angeles’s public transportation system, but are afraid to try. They are afraid of getting lost or being forced to sit next to a snooling bum.