10 January 2015

What about you, Charlie?

In the last few days I have watched the drama play out in the aftermath of the cartoonist assassinations at the offices of the political satire magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. It is interesting to note that Charlie Hebdo was originally called Hara-Kiri Hebdo. The term “Hara-Kiri” refers to “hara-kiri” (腹切り, cutting the belly) which is  a form of Japanese ritual suicide, and “hebdo”, which  is short for “hebdomadaire “ (weekly). Hara-Kiri Hebdo was shut down by the French government in 1970 after making some satirical innuendos regarding the demise of French president Charles de Gaulle. The charge was “Lèse-majesté” which is the crime of “violating majesty”, an offence against the dignity of a reigning sovereign or against a state. Charlie Hebdo rose like the mythical Phoenix from the ashes of Hara-Kiri Hebdo.  The publication describes itself as strongly left-wing and it publishes severely critical articles about the extreme Right, Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Politics, Culture, etc. Some might question the wisdom of the French government in setting the precedent of claiming “Lèse-majesté” at the slighting of a former French president and ignoring the blatant and vulgar insults of the founder of one of the world’s largest religions not to mention the humiliation of six to eight million of its own citizens who happen to be Muslim. In a manner of speaking aren’t the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in question on par with crying “Fire!” in a crowded theatre?

As it is, French xenophobia is creating a monster backlash against Muslims and Jews. The “Je suis Charlie” solidarity movement  reminds me of the mistrust among the ethnic groups in Austria-Hungary after the assassination of the Austrian Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo by the Bosnian Serb, Gavrilo Princip, in 1914. It made every ethnic non-Austrian a suspect of nefarious collaboration with foreign entities. The Czech people of Bohemia were particularly humiliated when they were relegated to third place status by the Hungarians and the Austrians after the Austro-Prussian War in 1866. As a result of the death of the Archduke, the Czechs were forced to participate in a conflict that they did not understand on behalf of an empire to which they had no loyalty. One million Austro-Hungarian soldiers died in World War I of whom around 140,000 were Czechs. One of the survivors of this conflict, a man named Jaroslav Hašek, wrote about it in the form of a funny satirical novel called “The Good Soldier Švejk”.

Jaroslav Hašek’s novel  is all about the fateful adventures of the good soldier Švejk during the first world war. It is the most translated novel of Czech literature. Švejk (or “Schweik” in English) has become the Czech national personification. A Czech citizen will proudly declare “Já jsem Švejk”, “I am Schweik”.

Mexican President Benito Juárez once said,  "Entre los individuos, como entre las Naciones, el respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz" ("Among individuals, as among nations, respect the rights of others is peace"). To that I would add not only “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) but in terms of respect I am also Je suis Catholique (I am Catholic), Je suis Juif (I am Jewish), Je suis Musulman (I am Muslim), Je suis Hindou (I am Hindu),  Je suis Bouddhiste (I am Bhuddist),  Je suis Confucéenne (I am Confucian), and so on, and so on, and so forth.

We live in a tense world of “dogma eat dogma”. We don’t have to. We can withhold judgment, respect the rights and feelings of others, and live in peace. Join me and good soldier Švejk.

Statue of Josef Švejk in Przemyśl, Poland

28 December 2014

Theme for 2015


Every year at this time when people traditionally make their New Year's resolutions I inaugurate my theme for the coming year. For the year 2015 the theme will be Ancient Greek aphorism "Know Thyself". In Greek it is written "γνώθι σαυτόν" which transliterates from the Greek letters to Latin as "Gnothi Sauton" or "Gnōthi Seauton". In Roman Latin "Know Yourself" is "Teipsum Cognoscere" (or "Te Ipsum Cognoscere", or "Temet Nosce") and in Spanish it is "Conócete a ti mismo".

Thanks to the second century CE Greek traveler and writer Pausanias, there is a first hand account of the inscription on the entrance to the temple of Apollo at Delphi, also referred to as "The Oracle at Delphi". The inscription could be read by anyone who came on their long religious pilgrimage searching for answers and a look into the future.

To know oneself is first step on the path to enlightenment. Although the term "Know Thyself" is commonly attributed to the Greeks, the call to knowing the Self is universal historically and cannot easily be attributed to a single individual or even a singe culture. "Know Thyself" began appearing in cultures and traditions and at different times throughout Asia, Africa, and Eastern and Western Europe, from Chinese dynasties to the Hindu teachings, to Islam and the Sufis, and of course, to ancient Rome. All philosophical endeavors placed "Know Thyself" on a pedestal, acknowledging it as jumping off place in the search for true knowledge and wisdom.

I have already begun my journey down to the depths of my nature and it has been quite illuminating. I began by reading the "Essays" of Michele Montaigne who made this journey over a twenty year period in the second half of the sixteenth century centered around 1581. He made a detailed record of his observations of both his own thoughts and actions as well as those of his contemporaries, and compared them with those of philosophers who had gone before. He included everyone from Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle to Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Erasmus, Diogenes Laertus, Ovid, Virgil, Cicero, Plutarch, and Seneca just to name a few. He is so frank, honest, and contemporary that is seems like he reaches out and grabs you and pulls you back into his home in Bordeax, France just to chat with you, his special friend and confidant from the future. The name of the book is "The Complete Essays by Michele Montaigne, translated by M.A. Screech". By the way, the book has 1338 pages. It is almost like a course in knowing how to live. However, it is in no way boring and it has set me on a quest that should happily take me the rest of my life.

Happy New Year!

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19 July 2014

Sunrise, Sunset...Dawn to Dusk

Not long ago I became interested in the schedule of the rising and setting sun at various times of the year and in different places. What I didn't realize is that there are two other periods associated with the rising and setting sun that are equally or even more important than the actual sunrise and sunset. These are the periods before sunrise and after sunset which we usually refer to as "dawn" and "dusk" but are technically grouped under a category called morning and evening twilight.

The twilight hours are further characterized by the amount of degrees that the center of the sun is below the horizon. The first of these, Civil Twilight, is the one that most people are familiar with. One important feature of Civil Twilight is that it defines our laws that govern illumination such as street lights and automotive headlights.

Civil Twilight is the time at which the the geometric center of the sun is between zero and six degrees below the horizon. At this point, there is enough light for objects to be clearly distinguishable and that outdoor activities can commence or end without artificial illumination. Civil twilight is the definition of twilight used by the general public.

Nautical Twilight is the time when the center of the sun is twelve degrees below the horizon, and only general or vague outlines of objects are visible. During the evening this is when it becomes too difficult to perceive the horizon, and in the morning this is the point when the horizon becomes distinguishable. This term goes back to the days when sailing ships still navigated by using the stars.

During Astronomical Twilight the center of the sun is between twelve and eighteen degrees below the horizon. Before the beginning of astronomical twilight in the morning and after the end of astronomical twilight in the evening the sun does not contribute to sky illumination. In fact, for a considerable interval after the beginning of morning twilight and before the end of evening twilight, sky illumination is so faint that it is practically imperceptible. However, this period is very important to more than two billion people around the world for it announces the arrival time for a fasting to begin. It is even mentioned in the Qur'an:

"Eat and drink until the white thread becomes distinct to you from the black thread of dawn"
The Holy Qur'an, Surah al-Baqara, verse 187.

In Spanish there are several vocabulary words used for dawn and dusk:

dawn - amanecer
very early in the morning - de madrugada
daybreak - al alba
twilight - crepúsculo,  las horas del crepúsculo
atardecer - dusk
tardecer - to grow dark
anochecer - nightfall
oscurecerse - to become dark
penumbra - semi-darkness

My favorite Spanish word for daybreak is "al alba". The word "alba" comes from the Latin word "albus" meaning white. Words in Spanish that end in "a" are generally feminine gender but "alba" is actually masculine gender and thus "a el alba" becomes "al alba". It describes the longing of lovers who, having passed a night together, must separate for fear of being discovered by their respective spouses. It is related to the Old English "aubade" which is a morning love song or poem about lovers separating at dawn. An aubade is the early morning equivalent to the evening serenade.

In English Literature the sunrise and sunset are described in countless ways. For sunrise one of my favorite poems is "The Road to Mandalay" by Rudyard Kipling. Here is the first stanza where the sun rises abruptly:

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' eastward to the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-setting, and I know she thinks of me;
For the wind is in the palm trees, and the temple bells they say:
'Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!'
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can't you hear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flying fishes play,
And the dawn comes up like thunder
Over China cross the Bay!"

My favorite poem about sunset, that I memorized in High School and can still recite from memory over four decades later, is "Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard" by Thomas Gray. Here are the first two stanzas where the light just fades away:

"The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds;"

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22 June 2014

Between Today and Yesterday


Between today and yesterday we experienced the Summer Solstice. It was at 7:51 am Central Daylight Saving Time on Saturday, June 21st. I say it was "between today and yesterday" because the daylight hours for both days are the same length. The thing that I never really realized, however, is that here in Irapuato, Guanajuato we only experienced fourteen hours and thirteen minutes of total daylight while the lucky gee whiz folks in Chicago, Illinois received a whopping sixteen hours and twenty-two minutes. Hey guys...that ain't fair!

Wait a minute...this just in! At Christmas time we get eleven hours and 41 minutes of total daylight and you only get ten hours and eleven minutes but that is only if your sun is shining and not frowning. In Chicago during the Winter Solstice just before Christmas it will probably be cloudy or snowing and only ten degrees above zero while I will still be picking tomatoes in my shorts and flip-flops...so there!


15 June 2014

Three Little Pigs

The other day I read a blog post on "Ripples, Very Small Waves in R"
http://aschinchon.wordpress.com/2014/06/08/the-three-little-pigs/
It is about a game of dice called "The Three Little Pigs" where only
one die is used. The rules are:

"Each turn, a player repeatedly rolls a die until either a 1 is rolled or the player decides to hold. If the player rolls a 1, they score nothing and it becomes the next player’s turn. If the player rolls any other number, it is added to their turn total and the player’s turn continues. If a player chooses to hold, their turn total is added to their score, and it becomes the next player’s turn. The first player who reach at least 100 points is the winner."

I showed this game to my eight year old grandson and he was delighted. He calls the game "Cochinito" (little piggy) because in this game you are penalized by chance if you get too greedy. He is playing it with anyone and everyone he can talk into it. He kept talking about good luck and bad luck so much that I decided to teach him a little bit about probability. I showed him that with one die each number has an equal chance to land face up and since there are six numbers on the die the probability of throwing any particular number is 1/6 or in other words about 16.7 percent. I made some simulations and graphs in "R" programming with the help of "R Workshop for Beginners" (Barry Rowlingson,Lancaster University, UK http://www.maths.lancs.ac.uk/~rowlings/Teaching/Stafford2013-Sept/dice.html

The simulations let you make multiple rolls of the dice and let you see the distrbution of the multiple roll results. Here are the results for four sets of 100 roll trials with a single die:

 1  2  3  4  5  6
18 18 15 15 22 12

 1  2  3  4  5  6
15 17 15 19 13 21

 1  2  3  4  5  6
19 18 14 18 20 11

 1  2  3  4  5  6
19 16 19 18 14 14

Here is the result of a 10,000 roll trial:
   1    2    3    4    5    6
1664 1639 1695 1651 1680 1671

You can see that as the number of multiple rolls increases the average gets closer to 16.7.

Here is the result order for the roll of one set of 100 rolls with a single die:
6 5 4 5 6 3 5 5 4 4 1 1 3 4 5 6 4 4 4 4 6 5 1 4 1 3 1 3 3 2 6 4 3 2 1 5 3 3 1 3 2 5 1 2 6 6 6 3 2 3 1 3 2 6 5 1 2 5 6 4 1 6 2 5 4 4 4 4 2 1 5 4 5 6 6 5 5 6 5 1 4 3 1 6 1 5 3 6 1 3 5 6 2 6 4 2 2 1 2 3

Each 100 rolls of a single die will result in a new random number. You can see that you never know when the number "1" will jump up and grab you or leave you alone for awhile.

This is the R code that I used:

table(as.integer(runif(10000, 1, 7)))  # method with one die

table(sample(1:6, 10000, replace = TRUE))  # Alternate  with one die

# Wrapped in a function and plotted - one die
die = function(n) {
  return(sample(1:6, n, replace = TRUE))
}
table(die(10000))
plot(table(die(10000)))

# Wrapped in a function and plotted - two dice
die = function(n) {
  return(sample(1:6, n, replace = TRUE))
}
table(die(10000))
plot(table(die(10000) + die(10000)))

# A dice function to throw one die 100 times and return the result.
die = function(n) {
  return(sample(1:6, n, replace = TRUE))
}
dice = function(T = 100, N = 1) {
  m = matrix(die(N * T), N, T)
  return(colSums(m))
}
dice()

# A function to throw two dice 100 times and return the sum.
die = function(n) {
  return(sample(1:6, n, replace = TRUE))
}
dice = function(T = 100, N = 2) {
  m = matrix(die(N * T), N, T)
  return(colSums(m))
}
dice()

This video by Eric Cai is very helpful in explaining the probability of rolling dice:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=VZl7gkMbipk

05 June 2014

I can see clearly now...

I can see clearly now the rain is gone.
I can see all obstacles in my way.
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind.
It's gonna be a bright (bright) bright (bright) sunshinin' day.
(Jimmy Cliff - I Can See Clearly Now)

A couple of years ago I felt like I needed my vision checked because things were getting a little fuzzy. The doctor changed my prescription and warned me that I had the onset of cataracts and that I should return in about six months to see if the situation was deteriorating. Well, one thing lead to the other like they always seem to do and I procrastinated until finally I knew that I had to do something. My vision, which was never very good anyway, had deteriorated to the point where I couldn't even drive at night because of the blurriness caused by the headlights of the oncoming cars and the street lights.

I returned to the eye doctor, an ophthalmologist named Dr. Alejandro Aldana Fariñas, who has been my eye doctor for quite a few years. After admonishing me for my foolhardy tardiness he announced that I could put it off a little longer if I so chose but that he recommended that I have the cataracts removed from both eyes...and so I did. It turned out to be a good choice.

Once again I am pleased to report that the medical care that I received from Dr. Aldana is better than I had ever experienced in the United States. We are very fortunate here in Irapuato to have the large, state-of-the-art eye care clinic that he runs which I think is at least the best in the whole State of Guanajuato if not the whole of the Central Mexico Region outside of perhaps Mexico City.

I had the left eye done first on Saturday, May 17th and the right eye done on Saturday, May 31st. On both occasions I arrived a little before the appointed time of 8:am and was ushered to a room to change into surgical clothing. Then I was taken to a place adjacent to the operating theater where my eye was prepped with various medications and procedures. From there I was moved to a reclining operating chair where the operation was performed quickly and professionally. It only took about fifteen minutes. After a short time recuperating afterwards I was allowed to return home with a plastic eye shield over the eye. It took about four or five hours for the effects of the anesthetic to wear off. Until then I had some double vision but that gradually faded away.

Right after the first eye was done I knew that I had done the right thing. For one thing I could see out of my left eye much better than I ever could before. The replacement lens that was inserted in place of the cataract had corrected much of my vision problem. I also noticed that everything that I saw with my left eye was very bright and colorful and my right eye which hadn't been done yet made things appear dingy and with a yellowish cast that I had never noticed before.

There was one other aspect of the cataract surgery that I had never even considered. With my new vision it gave me a new vista on life itself. Absolutely everything seems brighter and my spirits have risen to a new level. It is a really blessing from God and I have asked God to bless the doctor and all of his fine assistants and nurses. The service was great, the equipment very modern, the people were all nice, and on top of everything else, the cost was reasonable. That's about as good as it gets.


26 May 2014

Revelations About the Wealthy

This is one of the most amazing documentaries that I have seen in a long time and it provides much food for thought. I think that you will feel the same if you take the time to watch it. It is a documentary on the American rich segment, conventionally called the one percent. Interestingly, the document is the work of one of the heirs of the Johnson & Johnson fortune. Undoubtedly name helped him get to the people who are usually reluctant to speak in public, especially when the questions are about their fortunes. It seems like the rich have some real problems with anxiety about being rich. There are some startling surprises.


11 January 2014

Irapuato Three King's Day Parade




07 January 2014

Chicago People

My daughter Angela posted the item below to her to her Facebook page. She received it from her good friend Ashley. It was captioned "I think Grandma and Grandpa Mrotek would have liked this post. Happy New Year to some of my favorite Chicagoans."

The Grandma and Grandpa that she is writing about are, of course, my parents, George and Armella, who are now in Heaven and to whom I owe so much. They are part of the generation that came of age during the Great Depression, served their their country during the dark days of World War II and the Korean Conflict, built the Interstate Highway System, and put a man on the moon. That generation deserves a great debt of gratitude which will never be paid in full.

One of the hallmarks of the people in those days was their ability to take things in stride. I believe it was called backbone and common sense. The cold and snowy weather may have been a nuisance at times but was never allowed to be an excuse. When I was a lad in the 1950's they just bundled us up well against the cold and sent us to school and the schools never closed for bad weather. The only time that I can remember my school being closed was for the death of President JFK.

God bless you Mom and Dad, and I hope this gives you a chuckle.


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03 January 2014

My Word of the Year for 2014

Today I was reading the blog of my friend Pamela Toler called "History in the Margins". She chose the word "boundaries" as a theme to concentrate on in 2014. In December of 2010 I came up with a one word resolution for the year 2011 in a post called "My Word for MMXI". After careful consideration the English word that I chose was "ideate" (pronounced AHY-dee-aet) which is a verb that means "to form an idea of", "to think of", "to imagine" or "to conceive of". It is synonymous with "to dream", "to envision", "to fancy", to "fantasize", "to picture", "to visualize", "to conjure up", or "to see in your mind's eye". When used in the intransitive form (without an object) and in the imperative mood (command) it means: THINK!

The word that I chose for 2012 was "update" in a post appropriately named "2012 Update". The word "update" is, of course, a verb that means to make something that was suitable for times gone by more suitable to the present and the future by adapting it to recent ideas. It is synonymous with "improve", "correct", "renew", "revise", "upgrade", "amend", "overhaul", "streamline", "modernize", "re-brand" and "contemporize".

The word that I chose for 2013 was "motivate" but I didn't write much about it in a post called "What Motivates YOU?".

My word for 2014 is "ataraxia".It is a Greek word meaning a proper attitude characterized by “freedom from worry”. By suspending judgment, by confining oneself to phenomena or objects as they appear, and by asserting nothing definite as to how they really are or should be, one can escape the perplexities of life and attain an imperturbable peace of mind. For example, the current struggles between the different ideologies of the Democrat and Republican parties with the extreme ideologists of both sides firmly entrenched in dogma is causing much angst in the general populace. If we suspend dogma, however, even just for a little while, and just explore possibilities perhaps we can find a path to enlightenment about those things where we can share a consensus. Take the case of Galileo, Copernicus, and Pope Urban VIII. Galileo and Urban VIII were locked in dogmatic controversy over the heliocentric model of the universe. Even though Urban knew that Galileo was probably right, he just couldn't give up church dogma at the drop of a hat. Galileo stubbornly asserted his scientific “dogma” and ended up suffering dearly for it by the loss of his freedom. Copernicus, however took the path of “ataraxia”. He wrote about the heliocentric theory as if it were nothing more than an exercise in thought without claiming it to be dogma and thus furthered the aim of science without strife.

So, how about you? What is your word for the year? Something positive I hope!

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About Me

My Photo
I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.