A columnist of heart and mind

A columnist of heart and mind
Interviewing the animals at Children's Fairyland in Oakland. L-R: Bobo the sheep, Gideon the miniature donkey, me, Tumbleweed Tommy the miniature donkey, Juan the alpaca, Coco the pony

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Topological Toyz

Another distinction for Oakland: It's home to the man who makes the nerdiest Christmas gift in America.
Says who? The uber-nerd himself, Nate Silver, the guy who crunches the numbers and makes those uncannily accurate sports and election predictions.
On Black Friday Silver released his FiveThirtyEight 2014 Holiday Gift Guide. And right at the top, with a perfect "Nerd Factor" of 10 out of 10, is a Klein Bottle made by Cliff Stoll, owner and sole proprietor of the Acme Klein Bottle Company, which he runs from the kitchen of his home in North Oakland.
So what's a Klein Bottle? Well, remember your geometry class in high school, when you took a strip of paper, gave it a half-twist, and taped the ends together?
The result was a loop with only one side, one edge, and other properties that math geeks love. It's called a Möbius Loop after August Möbius, the 19th-Century mathematician who invented it.
In 1882 another mathematician named Felix Klein imagined what would happen if you glued two Möbius Loops together: You'd have a bottle with only one side. Its inside would be its outside, and vice versa.
The only problem with a Klein Bottle is that to properly see it you need to live in four dimensions, and we only live in three.
"But you can represent it in three dimensions," says Stoll, "just as a photograph is a two-dimensional representation of something that exists in three dimensions."
Acme Klein Bottles come in all sizes and prices, from the 3 1/2-inch "Baby" bottle, which sells for $35, up to a 3 1/2-foot behemoth that’ll set you back six grand.
You can also buy Klein swag, including a Klein hat and matching Möbius scarf. To get a Klein Bottle for that special geek in your life, visit kleinbottle.com.
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Finally, do you know a senior – say, 55 or older – who is going to be home alone on Christmas?
Senior Center Without Walls is in between its regular sessions right now, but they're bridging the gap by offering special telephone group chats over the holiday season and beyond to keep everyone's spirits merry and bright. All you have to do is call up and join in. Among the offerings:
December 19: Laughing Through The Holidays.
December 21: Holiday Caroling.
December 25: Winter Holiday Celebration.
January 2: Building Friendships.
January 9: Talent Show
January 16: Eating Healthy on A Budget
January 19: A celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day with Dr. King's lifelong friend, Dr. Jewell Taylor Gibbs.
SCWW will also offer weekly conversations about Bible study, Improvisation, birdwatching and trivia, as well as online chats about art appreciation and the great American songbook.
Then, on January 26, the regular Winter/Spring session, offering dozens of conversations each week on subjects ranging from the silly to the sublime, will start up. I'll let you know more details when the time draws closer.
In the meantime, you can sign up for any of the holiday break telephone conversations by calling 510-444-5974 or toll-free at 1-877-797-7299.
This time of year can be lonely for isolated older people. If you know someone who might be in this situation, please let them know about this wonderful service. And please remind them that it's 100 percent free.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Winston Is Back

Winston Churchill, who would have celebrated his 140th birthday today, was a man who was wrong about almost everything in his life.
He was wrong about India, jeering at Gandhi as "a half-naked Indian fakir" and, when the Mahatma was on one of his hunger strikes, firing off an indignant telegram to the Viceroy demanding to know why Gandhi hadn't died yet.
He was wrong about Ireland, where is name is still a dirty word because of his role in organizing the infamous Black and Tan paramilitary death squads to terrorize the Irish population.
He was wrong about women's suffrage when, as Home Secretary, he subjected hundreds of suffragists to forced feeding (which was like waterboarding, only grosser) in prison.
He was wrong during the abdication crisis of 1936 when he backed Edward VIII's plans to marry his paramour, Wallis Simpson, who was simultaneously sleeping with Hitler's foreign minister, Joachim Von Ribbentrop.
He was wrong about the cockamamie Gallipoli invasion in World War I, when, as First Lord of the Admiralty, he sent thousands of ANZAC soldiers to their deaths in a hopeless military adventure.
He was wrong when, as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1924, he put Britain back on the gold standard, triggering a deep recession that mushroomed into a general strike two years later.
And he was wrong about what he called "the soft underbelly of Europe," forcing Eisenhower to postpone the D-Day invasion for a whole year and embark on a bloody campaign up the Italian peninsula instead.
Have you ever looked at a map of Italy? It's crisscrossed by hundreds of mountain ranges and rivers, all horizontal, which provided better natural defenses for the Germans than man could ever build. Some soft underbelly!
In fact, he was right about only one thing in his life: the absolute necessity of standing up to Hitler. But that one thing was so important, it dwarfs all his failures and permanently establishes him as the greatest statesman in British history, and one of the greatest in all of world history.
In the 1930s he was a lonely voice warning about Nazis intentions, but nobody listened. He cautioned Chamberlain not to give in to Hitler at Munich, and when Chamberlain did it anyway, he retorted, "You were given a choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and now you shall have war."
When war came and the bankruptcy of Chamberlain's appeasement was exposed, Churchill was named Prime Minister. But everyone in British ruling circles, including his own foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, wanted to sue for peace on whatever terms Hitler offered.
But despite the enormous pressure, Churchill refused to give in. Instead, he marshaled the English language and sent it into battle with some of the most stirring speeches since Shakespeare:
"We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills, we shall NEVER surrender!"
And this:
"Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, 'This was their finest hour.'"
It was not only Britain's finest hour; it was his, too. And the world was saved.