Psoriasis, Exercise, and Heart Health

Being active and fit is good for everyone. But people with the skin disease psoriasis have an extra incentive—working out and eating well can help ease itchy skin and may drop their risk of other serious health problems, too.

Psoriasis, an autoimmune disorder that triggers inflammation and overgrowth of skin cells, affects about 7.5 million Americans. Its symptoms include red, raised patches of skin that may itch, burn, and crack.

Having the chronic condition also increases the risk of developing heart disease, according to experts who explain that both are inflammatory conditions.

Fitness expert Jackie Warner remembers her grandmother’s struggle with psoriasis.

“My grandmother lived with psoriasis for many years,” Warner tells the Post, “and she was very embarrassed by it—especially during flare-ups. This led to a sedentary lifestyle, and resulted in significant weight gain. Her struggle motivated me to become a part of a comprehensive wellness program designed with psoriasis sufferers in mind.”

Jackie Warner leading a fitness program
Warner developed a new fitenss program to help psoriasis sufferers.

The new online program and DVD, Fit in Your Skin http://www.fitinyourskin.com/, offers tips on fitness, nutrition, and reducing stress.

People without the skin disease can also benefit from the wellness plan.

“Fit in Your Skin offers fitness and nutrition guidance to help people get healthy and enjoy a more active lifestyle—whether or not they have the disease,” explains Warner.

America’s Best Botanical Gardens, Part 2: The South and Northeast

In the second part of our series highlighting some of the best botanical gardens from across North America, we look at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, the Dallas Arboretum, Mytoi Gardens, and the Brooklyn Botanical Garden.

You can see more images by viewing our gallery. You can also check out our first installment, America’s Best Botanical Gardens, Part 1: The West

The South

Wikimedia Commons
Atlanta Botanical Garden (Georgia)

Most gardens ask visitors not to step in flowerbeds. In the Atlanta Botanical Garden, they warn you. This is because it has one of the largest carnivorous plant collections around, making it a place where guests with poor manners learn the hard way.

In reality, these plants are no threat to anything larger than a bug (or the occasional mouse or frog), but they are very cool. They capture prey in a variety of ways- from snapping shut to pitfall traps- and fascinate visitors of all ages.

There are of course other attractions, like the Rose, Rock, and Southern Seasons gardens. The Fuqua Orchid Center houses lots of the flowers, and the Center for Conservation and Education does just that. For a special treat, visit after dark.

www.atlantabotanicalgarden.org

Courtesy Fairchild Botanical Gardens
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden (Florida)

Florida is home to the greatest tropical plant center in mainland U.S.- the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden (FTBG). Named for David Fairchild, who traveled every habitable continent studying plants, it is a global conservation leader.

FTBG’s 83 acres harbor over 4,000 plant species. Thematic areas include the National Palm Collection (the world’s greatest living collection of palms and cycads), Simons Rainforest, and Whitman Tropical Fruit Pavilion. Events like the Chocolate, Orchid and International Mango festivals add to the appeal.

FTBG’s conservation efforts extend beyond its grounds. It oversees research, development and renovation projects in over 20 countries. More than 150 classes are taught here, including graduate courses for tomorrow’s conservationists.

www.fairchildgarden.org

Courtesy of the Dallas Arboretum
Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden (Texas)

Plants have unique challenges in North Texas – searing summer heat; severe winter temperature drops; drought possibility all year. The Dallas Arboretum (DA) meets this climatic challenge, maintaining a model in regional gardening excellence.

The garden’s relative youth (founded 1982) has been key in its success. Planners used modern information to select flora that endure and thrive in the harsh conditions. Today, DA is a leader in climate-specific plant knowledge and operates trial gardens to provide private plant companies info.

In spring, DA puts on two signature events. In “Dallas Blooms,” 500,000 bulbs create the South’s largest floral display. In Artscape, artists show photos, jewelry, woodwork, and more.

www.dallasarboretum.org

The Northeast

Photo by T. Kates / Courtesy of The Trustees of Reservations
Mytoi Gardens (Massachusetts)

Located in Martha’s Vineyard, one of the most scenic locales in the U.S., the Mytoi Gardens are a sight to behold. Here, the pristine beauty of the Massachusetts coastal island seems to be captured and amplified with a Japanese twist.

Guests enjoy tranquility and self-reflection during their visit to Mytoi, which includes a camellia dell, stone garden, and pine grove. All of these center around the signature feature: a reflection pond and island accessible by elevated bridge.

Mytoi is free to the public, making it an easily accessible and affordable item on any Martha’s Vineyard travel itinerary. A hurricane destroyed much of it in 1991, and the Trustees of Reservations charitable organization has restored and maintained it for everyone since.

www.thetrustees.org/places-to-visit/cape-cod-islands/mytoi.html

(Wikimedia Commons)
Brooklyn Botanical Garden (New York)

This 52-acre “living museum,” located smack dab in the middle of Brooklyn, makes visitors rethink what an “urban jungle” is.

Over 700,000 come annually to see the Brooklyn Botanical Garden, which celebrates its centennial in 2010 and is home to 11,000 plant species and several specialty areas. The cherry orchard is a famed destination during Hanami, the Japanese holiday for cherry-blossom season. An enchanting landscape takes center stage during this event- hundreds of  cherry trees bloom overhead and millions of fallen petals carpet the path below- while Japanese culture is shared with all. Other thematic areas include a Rose Garden, Conservatory, and Fragrance Garden. Year round art shows, tours and plant sales, and programs like the Chili Pepper Fiesta and Street Tree Stewardship Initiative, make this botanical garden world-class.
www.bbg.org

Norman Rockwell’s April Fool’s Covers

Who loved April Fool’s Day more than Norman Rockwell? Maybe The Saturday Evening Post readers who were treated to his April Fool’s covers.

View the gallery.

Get reprints of covers at curtispublishing.com. Questions on covers? Contact Diana at [email protected].

“If I Couldn’t Tell These Stories, I Would Die”: Lincoln and Laughter

Imagine the unknown Lincoln. Picture the frontier lawyer who stepped onto the national stage — unkempt, gawky, blunt, speaking with a prairie twang in a high voice. And homely. Lord, he was homely.

Lincoln’s contemporaries, seeing him for the first time, might have noticed the same two things that struck Lew Wallace when he first saw Lincoln.

Later in life, Wallace was a best-selling author, a celebrated Union general, and a territorial governor. But in 1851, he was just another attorney who rode the judicial circuit with other lawyers. One evening, just after sundown, he rode into Danville, Illinois, and entered the local tavern. He found it crowded with people attending court business. As he edged his way into the crowd, he heard occasional bursts of laughter over the noise of the bar. Working his way toward the sound, he found that two teams of lawyers, from Indiana and Illinois were have a joke-telling contest.

One of the contestants representing Illinois, he said, “arrested my attention early, partly by his stories, partly by his appearance. Out of the mist of years he comes to me now exactly as he appeared then. His hair was thick, coarse, and defiant; it stood out in every direction. His features were massive, nose long, eyebrows protrusive, mouth large, cheeks hollow, eyes gray and always responsive to the humor. He smiled all the time, but never once did he laugh outright. His hands were large, his arms slender and disproportionately long. His legs were a wonder, particularly when he was in narration; he kept crossing and uncrossing them; sometime it actually seemed he was trying to tie them into a bow-knot. His dress was more than plain; no part of it fit him… Altogether I thought him the gauntest, quaintest, and most positively ugly man”

What was even more memorable to Wallace was Lincoln’s ability to hold a room’s attention — and his apparently bottomless fund of jokes.

“About midnight, his competitors were disposed to give in; either their stores were exhausted, or they were tacitly conceding him the crown. From answering them story for story, he gave two or three to their one. At last he took the floor and held it… Such was Abraham Lincoln. And to be perfectly candid, had one stood at my elbow that night in the old tavern and whispered: “Look at him closely. He will one day be president and the savior of his country,” I had laughed at the idea but a little less heartily than I laughed at the man. Afterwards I came to know him better, and then I did not laugh.”

Humor was an essential part of Lincoln, and a critical element in his success.  As a Congressional candidate, he used it to fire up crowds and put down hecklers. Running for the senate, his humor enabled him to score points off the well known and skilled politician, Stephen Douglas. When, for example, Douglas told a debate crowd that Lincoln was unqualified and unskilled, he added that Lincoln had once run a general store, selling cigars and whiskey. He added, “Mr. Lincoln was a very good bartender.”  Lincoln retorted, “Many a time have I stood on one side of the counter… and sold Mr. Douglas whiskey on the other side.”

When Douglas accused Lincoln of being “two faced,” Lincoln shot back, “If I really had two faces, do you think I’d hide behind this one?”

Humor also proved valuable to Lincoln as president. As Robert M. Yoder noted in a 1954 Post article,

“If a time-wasting friend lingered too long. Lincoln could disengage himself by telling a story which ended the conversation. He answered questions with stories; he avoided answering by telling stories. If the conversation headed in directions he didn’t like, he could change the subject with a story.”

And, as we know now, humor helped Lincoln maintain his sanity.

“‘If I couldn’t tell these stories,’ Lincoln once told a congressman — and gravely—’I would die.’ Humor was of tremendous importance to this sensitive and sorrowful man; almost a sort of oxygen for the soul. It offended a good many citizens that Lincoln could joke in times so tragic, but those close to Lincoln understood the emotional process involved. It was jesting-that-I-may-not-weep.”

Yoder offered several examples of Lincoln’s jokes. Some are familiar, but the number of unfamiliar stories suggests that Lincoln knew far more jokes than have been recorded.

When a courier appeared at the War Office to announce a major Union victory, the officers were surprised that Lincoln showed no excitement. Lincoln dismissed the courier and cheerfully told the men in the room,

“Pay no attention to him… He’s the biggest liar in Washington. He reminds me of an old fisherman I used to know who got such a reputation for stretching the truth that he bought a pair of scales and insisted on weighing every fish in the presence of witnesses. One day a baby was born next door and the doctor borrowed the fisherman’s scales. The baby weighed forty-seven pounds.”

“A man reached the theater one night just as the curtain rose. Eager to catch the opening speeches, and engrossed in the action, he put his tall silk hat on the seat beside him, open end up.  He didn’t notice that he had a neighbor…  a woman of bountiful proportions, for whom the theater seat wasn’t going to be a bit too large.… She sat. There was a crunch. She jumped up.The gentleman…  surveyed the expanse of satin beside him. “Madam,” he said, ‘I could have told you my hat wouldn’t fit you before you tried it on.'”

“My client is in the position of the farmer who was walking peaceably down the road when a dog raced out of a farmyard and attacked him. The farmer was carrying a pitchfork. In defending himself, he killed the dog. “What made you kill my dog?” the dog’s owner demanded. “What made him try to bite me?” “Why didn’t you come at him with the other end of the fork?” “Why didn’t he come at me with his other end?”

“A drunk wandered into a revival meeting (Lincoln related) and, after mumbling, ‘Amen,’ a few times, fell asleep. As the meeting closed, the preacher cried, ‘Who are on the Lord’s side?’ The congregation stood as one — all except the slumbering drunk. That shout didn’t wake him, but the next one did. ‘Who are on the devil’s side?’ the revivalist cried. That roused the sleeper. Seeing the preacher standing, the drunk rose too. ‘I didn’t exactly understand the question,’ he said warmly, ‘but I’m with you, parson, to the end.’ He looked around at the silent crowd, all seated. ‘But it seems to me,’ said the drunk, ‘that we’re in a hopeless minority.’

Lincoln’s easy use of humor changed America’s taste in politicians. Previously, Americans had preferred solemn, humorless men with the gravity of Old Testament prophets. We now expect our legislators and presidents to occasionally tell, and laugh at, jokes.  We believe a sense of humor reflects a sense of reason and proportion, and an ability to perceive the outrageous.

In many regards, Lincoln was a man ahead of his times. He saw, sooner than most of his contemporaries, what we all recognize: laughter is necessary for keeping our sanity.

The Classic Books of America, by W. Somerset Maugham

This week, rather than fiction or poetry, we offer a 1940 appraisal of American literature by Somerset Maugham.

The noted English author comments on a few of the Big Names in American letters. As always, his writing is rewarding and highly readable. He deflates Henry James but says all the right things about Mark Twain. He is surprisingly cool to Hawthorne, inexplicably excited about Melville, and very helpful about Whitman (“Leaves of Grass is a book to open anywhere and read as long as it pleases and then turn the pages and start at random elsewhere.”)

Read “The Classic Books of America” by W. Somerset Maugham.” Published January 6, 1940. [PDF]

Remember Post Boys and Post Girls?

Our Saturday Evening Post newsboys were crackerjack salesmen, according to the September 1909 news booklet printed to encourage these young entrepreneurs. These were compilations of success stories, jokes, and sales tips for Post newsboys.

“George Blount put a Saturday Evening Post advertisement on the biggest elephant in a circus parade,” boasted the editors in the 1909 newsletter. We’re not sure how George accomplished this task, but he apparently came away unscathed. But Kenneth Casselman of British Columbia did George one better when he “created a big sensation at a local roller-skating carnival by wearing a Saturday Evening Post suit. The trousers were made of oilcloth Post signs and the coat and cap were covered with front covers of recent issues of the Post.” Score one for creativity.

Devoted Post Boy Kenneth Casselman designed a suit made out of clipped Saturday Evening Post ads and covers.

In the 1930s, “I had a route and delivered the Post at 5 cents a piece to five to 25 customers,” Robert Bonney of Peoria, Illinois wrote us in January of this year. “I got to keep 1.5 cents a copy,” which he put in his bank account. In 1936 “I entered the University of Maine and used my bank account to help pay my way.”

We’ve been privileged to hear from many of the former Post boys over the years and have often run photos of them in the magazine’s Letters to the Editor. We’ve also discovered that regular Saturday Evening Post contributor Charles Osgood was once a Post newsboy. And guess what else we’ve found out? Not all Post newsboys were boys.

Mary Simmons of Portland Oregpn, age 10, on her sales rounds in 1927. Photo courtesy of David Powers.

Take the case of 10-year-old entrepreneur, Mary Simmons, of Portland, Oregon. We’re fortunate to have a great photo of Mary on her rounds from 1927 because, according to her son, David, she made a sale to a professional photographer, and “he asked her if she would step outside and pose for this picture.”

Like other “newsboys,” Mary gained some business savvy from her route. Her father died six years later, and the children had to run his carbon paper business. “My mother at age 16 drove a Model T all over eastern Oregon selling carbon paper, camping with a tent to save money,” David Powers e-mailed us.

Like other young sellers, Mary had to work hard to earn her $10 a week toward college. But there were perks, too. Van Duyn candies later became famous, but Mary recalled seeing Mr. Van Duyn making candy himself. “I could barely see over the big copper kettle,” she later told her son. “I could see him dump the butter in and smell the candy. Best of all was that the candy that was not perfect, I got to eat.”

Post Boys could send in for one of the items in the Our Boys prize catalog.

OK, free candy was important. Even more exciting was the cool stuff you could earn with your sales vouchers. This ad from 1924 shows a Ma Jong set (with cardboard tiles), a great Boy Scout knife and, if you had as many as 95 “brown vouchers,” you could get this loud speaker. “Let the whole family and the ‘gang’ enjoy your radio concerts.” A dude (or dudette) couldn’t be more happening than that.

Fig and Lavender Honey Yogurt Pie

“Just because you cook in a crappy little kitchen does not justify a crappy meal!” In a new cookbook, Chef Jennifer Schaertl tackles the myths about gourmet cooking and shows home cooks how to make fun and delectable meals despite the lack of counter space and high-tech, expensive appliances. Try this no-bake dessert—no trendy gadgets required.

Fig and Lavender Honey Yogurt Pie

Fig and Lavender Honey Yogurt Pie

Recipe from Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens by Jennifer Schaertl
(HCI Books; April 2010; Trade paperback/$18.95)

Serves 10 to 12

<em>Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens</em> by Jennifer Schaertl. Available now from HCI Books.
Gourmet Meals in Crappy Little Kitchens by Jennifer Schaertl. Available now from HCI Books.

Stir together graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, oats, brown sugar, and salt until moistened. Press into bottom of 6-inch spring form pan and half way up sides (or press crumb mixture into 9-inch pie pan), packing tightly with your fingertips so it is even and compacted.

Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in small sauté pan and let soften for 2 minutes. Whisk together yogurt and honey in medium-size bowl. Set small sauté pan over the lowest flame possible while stirring constantly, just until it melts. Whisk melted gelatin into yogurt mixture until smooth.

Whip heavy cream until it holds stiff peaks. Gently fold half of whipped cream into yogurt mixture, taking care not to deflate cream. Now fold last of whipped cream into yogurt mixture. Gently spoon mixture into prepared spring form pan, then cover pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate until completely set, at least 6 hours and up to one day.

Hold small knife under hot tap water, and then run it along sides of pie to help release it from pan. Open the spring and slice pie into wedges. Serve each slice on dessert plate. Place 2 pieces of fig on top of each slice, and scatter a few fig pieces on plate. Serve ice cold.

Swap It:
You can substitute low-fat “Greek-style” yogurt in this recipe with fantastic results. It has a thicker, creamier consistency than regular yogurt because it has been strained to remove the excess liquid.

A New Treatment for Atrial Fibrillation

A “cool” new device could change the way doctors treat atrial fibrillation (AF)—one of the most serious, common, and poorly treated heart conditions in the U.S. and worldwide today.

AF occurs when the heart’s two upper chambers (the atria) quiver instead of beating effectively. In paroxysmal AF, the abnormal heart rhythm starts and stops on its own.

When drugs to control erratic heartbeats don’t work, doctors may use electric shock or thread catheters through blood vessels to zap cardiac cells with heat, a therapy called radiofrequency ablation.

The innovative therapy reported at the American College of Cardiology (ACC) 2010 Scientific Sessions utilizes freezing technology, or cryoablation, instead.

“Cryoablation could offer a straightforward and significantly simplified treatment for patients with very symptomatic and obnoxious atrial fibrillation,” says Dr. Douglas Packer, professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and principal investigator of the Stop AF (Sustained Treatment of Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation) study.

In the pivotal trial, the Arctic Front Cardiac CryoAblation Catheter System from Medtronic kept nearly 70 percent of AF sufferers symptom-free for one year, compared to 7.3 percent of those given the usual drug therapy.

“There are 150,000 to 200,000 new cases of AF in the U.S. every year, Dr. Packer explained to Post editors. “Some will be asymptomatic and treated with blood thinners to prevent strokes. Others might be treated with anti-arrhythmic drugs. But the target population for ablation is people who don’t respond to drug therapy—and there are a lot of them.”

To date, more than 9,000 patients have been treated worldwide with the Arctic Front Cryocatheter. The treatment is not yet approved in the U.S., however.

“Seeking FDA approval for the system is the next step,” says Dr. Packer. “Data from Europe support the approach, but the FDA requires a large U.S. trial to demonstrate the device’s effectiveness and safety,” he explains. “This is the hallmark clinical trial in the U.S.”

Other ACC News on Atrial Fibrillation

Ablation therapy: Dr. Packer also reports that the CABANA pilot study of 60 patients with persistent or long-standing AF and underlying cardiovascular disease found that catheter ablation more effectively prevented recurrent AF than drug therapy. But the NIH-funded study is just getting started.

“The 4 to 5 year Cabana trial will consider longer-term issues of ablation: Does it reduce mortality, does it prevent strokes, and how much does it cost,” notes Packer.

Drug therapy: Analysis of pooled data from the EURIDIS and ADONIS trials suggest that it’s safe for doctors to prescribe dronedarone (brand name: Multaq) for their patients with atrial fibrillation within two days after discontinuing treatment with the drug amiodarone (brand name: Cordarone).

“Many doctors want to switch their AF patients from amiodarone to dronedarone,” says Dr. Peter Kowey, lead investigator and chief of the division of cardiovascular diseases at the Main Line Health System in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. “These data will give some guidance until a randomized trial is completed.”

Experts believe that atrial fibrillation originates in the area where the left pulmonary veins enter the heart, carrying oxygen-rich blood from the lungs. See Atrial fibrillation: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute for an animation of atrial fibrillation from the National Institutes of Health.

The Facebook Generation

Facebook, over the past year, has reached a critical mass. No longer relegated to hip college students trying to find dates, the Facebook community now includes everyone from 20-something celebrities to grandmothers and sewing circles.

As a 20-something myself, I thought it would be interesting to profile the ways in which Facebook is changing how my generation communicates with friends and family.

I am part of the first generation that will never long for a high school reunion; Facebook has made it more difficult for me to lose track of old acquaintances. Whenever I go on Facebook, I see a stream of all the things my friends are currently doing. Even if I don’t speak to them for three months at a time, there’s still a “connection.”

In the past, this type of passive communication on a mass scale was impossible. If I wanted to stay connected to a group of 15 friends from long ago, I might have sent letters, but it would have been far from efficient. I would have written the same things to each of them. The personal content of these letters would have been small compared to the informational pieces that would be the same in the other 14 letters. Facebook makes your information a kind of boilerplate. It becomes a given, so conversations with old friends can be a lot more productive when I do see those people. In a way, I never really lose my connection.

That feeling of social ties is the magic of a service like Facebook. My family, like a lot of other modern families, is spread out across the Unites States, from Florida to California. I also have family members overseas. I’m lucky if I see my entire family once a year. Yet, with the assistance of Facebook, I can apply the the same efficiency of staying connected with high school friends as with my family. My sister, for example, recently had her first child. I have met my niece only a handful of times since then, but she is constantly in my thoughts thanks to a stream of pictures and updates about how she’s doing. It’s a lot like the old family Christmas cards except it’s happening every single day of the year.

The Internet has come a long way in the last couple of decades, and we’re seeing some noticeable generational trends. For instance, one of my friend’s aunts “friended me” on Facebook, and I noticed that she had three times the number of Facebook friends as her nephew, despite the fact that she has only recently started to spend more time on the Internet. She spends more time on Facebook than he does. Yet he is part of the younger generation that grew up using the Internet.

The beauty of Facebook is in the packaging of the service. Almost every facet of Facebook is technology that existed from years before: e-mail, instant messaging, photo galleries, personal Web pages, RSS, etc. Facebook has taken these function, which young people have been able to do for the past decade, and made them more user-friendly, more accessible—for young and older generations alike.

Facebook is the second act in the people’s Internet Revolution; the first being America Online, which spurred the adoption of the Internet in the homes of ordinary Americans. In a similar fashion, Facebook is spurring the adoption of Internet use in demographics that have been dismissed as the non-Internet users. It gives people a reason to be online in a way that simply checking e-mail, the 1996 equivalent, did not. Facebook is active in a way that the general population may find more rewarding.

Instead of waiting for items to roll in addressed to you personally, as in the case of e-mail, you can take the initiative to find out about your friends without having to speak to them directly.

The ability to communicate (or not communicate) with your friends in different ways also heightens the ‘stickiness’ of the service. For example, it tells you who else is using Facebook right now. You can then exchange instant messages with any of them. There’s always one more thing to check, see, or do on Facebook. It’s like a never-ending dinner party and all your friends and family are invited.

Whether or not Facebook is a festive Christmas card or more of a raucous dinner party is up to the user (or non-user). Suffice to say, even if the Facebook service goes offline tomorrow, services like Facebook have changed the way we communicate in our society.

Moon of the Arfy Darfy by Nelson Algren

Nelson Algren (March 28, 1909 – May 9, 1981) first attracted national attention in 1942 with the publication of Never Come Morning, a powerful novel of poverty and crime. His best-known work is the 1949 National Book Award winner, The Man with the Golden Arm, a fascinating study of Frankie Machine, dealer in a gambling club and the sordid world in which he operates. (In 1955, the book was made into a film starring Frank Sinatra). In 1956, A Walk in the Wild Side, appeared to great critical and popular acclaim, reaffirming Algren’s place as one of America’s leading contemporary writers.

Read “The Moon of the Arfy Darfy”, by Nelson Algren. Published in the Post in 1964 [PDF].

Albert Einstein: “Imagination Is More Important Than Knowledge”

In this 1929 interview with a Post reporter, Albert Einstein discussed the role of relativity, why he thought nationalism was the “measles of mankind,” and how he might have become a happy, mediocre fiddler if he hadn’t become a genius in physics.

When a Post correspondent interviewed Albert Einstein about his thought process in 1929, Einstein did not speak of careful reasoning and calculations. Instead —

“I believe in intuitions and inspirations. I sometimes feel that I am right. I do not know that I am… [but] I would have been surprised if I had been wrong

“I am enough of the artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

Something else that was circling the globe in that year was Einstein’s reputation. At the time of this interview, his fame had spread across Europe and America. Everywhere he was acclaimed a genius for defining the principles of relativity, though very few people understood what they meant.

Imagination may have been essential to his breakthrough thinking, but Einstein’s discovery also rested on his vast knowledge of physical science. Knowledge and imagination let him see the relationship between space, time, and energy. Using mathematics, he developed a model for understanding how objects and light behave in extreme conditions — as in the subatomic world, where the old Newtonian principles didn’t appear to work.

Whenever Einstein explained his work to the popular press, though, reporters got lost in his talk of space-time continuum, absolute speed of light, and E=Δmc2. So they used their own imaginations to define relativity. One of their misinterpretations was the idea that relativity meant everything is relative. The old absolutes were gone. Nothing was certain anymore.

It was a ridiculous interpretation that could only have made sense if newspaper readers were no bigger than a proton, or could travel near the speed of light.

This misperception was so common that the Post writer used it to start his interview.

“Relativity! What word is more symbolic of the age? We have ceased to be positive of anything. We look upon all things in the light of relativity. Relativity has become the plaything of the parlor philosopher.”

Einstein, as always, patiently clarified his concept.

“‘The meaning of relativity has been widely misunderstood, Philosophers play with the word, like a child with a doll. Relativity, as I see it, merely denotes that certain physical and mechanical facts, which have been regarded as positive and permanent, are relative with regard to certain other facts in the sphere of physics and mechanics. It does not mean that everything in life is relative and that we have the right to turn the whole world mischievously topsy-turvy.'”

The world of the early 20th Century certainly felt like it was being inverted — with or without relativity.  Even as Einstein was developing his theory about the space-time continuum and the nature of light, old Europe was dying in record numbers. Just a few weeks before Einstein released his general theory of relativity in 1916, the German Imperial Army began its assault at Verdun. In the ensuing, ten-month battle, France and Germany suffered 800,000 casualties. Four months later, the British launched their catastrophic attack at the Somme and suffered 58,000 casualties in a single day.

Doctor Einstein accompanying Mrs. Einstein's piano song with his violin.
Doctor Einstein accompanying Mrs. Einstein’s piano song with his violin.

The survivors of these debacles were disillusioned by the waste of this war, and the peace that followed. The youth of Europe and America were looking for new truths. The old ones seemed empty and especially lethal to young men. They saw how noble sacrifice could be used for political ends. And they had seen how virtue and faith fared against massed machine guns.

This “Relativity” they read about seemed promising, if it meant that thousands wouldn’t have to die needlessly, of that could live beyond the limiting moral codes of their parents.

Einstein, himself, didn’t indulge in any of this relativism.  He was a man of strong beliefs, not equivocations. For instance, his love of music was absolute.

“‘If… I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music. I cannot tell if I would have done any creative work of importance in music, but I do know that I get most joy in life out of my violin.'”

“Einstein’s taste in music is severely classical. Even Wagner is to him no unalloyed feast of the ears. He adores Mozart and Bach. He even prefers their work to the architectural music of Beethoven.”

He disagreed with the traditional Jewish concept of free will.

“I am a determinist. As such, I do not believe in free will. The Jews believe in free will. They believe that man shapes his own life. I reject that doctrine philosophically. In that respect I am not a Jew… Practically, I am nevertheless, compelled to act as if freedom of the will existed. If I wish to live in a civilized community, I must act as if man is a responsible being.”

He never expressed any belief in a personal God, but he believed in the historical Jesus — not the popularized prophet such as appeared in a best-selling biography by Emil Ludwig.

“Ludwig’s Jesus,” Einstein replied, “is shallow. Jesus is too colossal for the pen of phrasemongers, however artful. No man can dispose of Christianity with a bon mot.”

“You accept the historical existence of Jesus?”

“Unquestionably. No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life. How different, for instance, is the impression which we receive from an account of legendary heroes of antiquity like Theseus. Theseus and other heroes of his type lack the authentic vitality of Jesus.”

Einstein was no relativist on the subject of nationalism, which he saw grow violent and intolerant from his Berlin home.

“Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”

It was different in the United States, he believed.

“Nationalism in the United States does not assume such disagreeable forms as in Europe. This may be due partly to the fact that your country is so immense, that you do not think in terms of narrow borders. It may be due to the fact that you do not suffer from the heritage of hatred or fear which poisons the relations of the nations of Europe.”

Judge Phillip Forman hands Albert Einstein his certificate of American citizenship on October 1, 1940. (Wikimedia Commons)

Three years later, Einstein fled Germany to seek asylum in the United States, where he became a citizen in 1940. (Not for the last time, America was enriched by the intolerance of other countries.)

It is interesting to see how Einstein viewed America three years before he made it his new home.

“In America, more than anywhere else, the individual is lost in the achievements of the many. America is beginning to be the world leader in scientific investigation. American scholarship is both patient and inspiring. The Americans show an unselfish devotion to science, which is the very opposite of the conventional European view of your countrymen.

“Too many of us look upon Americans as dollar chasers. This is a cruel libel, even if it is reiterated thoughtlessly by the Americans themselves. It is not true that the dollar is an American fetish. The American student is not interested in dollars, not even in success as such, but in his task, the object of the search. It is his painstaking application to the study of the infinitely little and infinitely large.”

The only criticism Einstein could find for America was its emphasis on homogenizing its citizens into a single type.

“Standardization robs life of its spice. To deprive every ethnic group of its special traditions is to convert the world into a huge Ford plant. I believe in standardizing automobiles. I do not believe in standardizing human beings. Standardization is a great peril which threatens American culture.”

Read “What Life Means to Einstein,” by George Sylvester Viereck. Published October 26, 1929 [PDF].

Feeling Sleepy? You’re Not Alone

Daylight Saving Time (DST) advances the clock to add an hour of sunshine to the afternoon. Getting enough sleep just might add time to our biological clocks, too.

“The first week of DST is not the only time to think about sleep loss,” says Dr. Ronald Chervin, director of the University of Michigan Sleep Disorders Center and a professor of neurology at U-M.

Even though one hour of lost sleep can make it harder to wake up and to stay alert, many people get less than the recommended 8 to 8.5 hours of sleep each night—an often hard-to-break pattern that sometimes gets its start during childhood.

“We generally spend one-third of life sleeping—or at least we should,” Dr. Chervin explains. “And we’re learning more and more about how that one-third has critical impact on the other two-thirds.”

It’s hard to find any area of health untouched by the amount (and quality) of sleep that we get. Here are some of the health problems that researchers link to chronic insomnia and sleep disorders such as sleep apnea:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Emotional instability
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Colds and flu
  • Weight gain
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Dying early

 

Dr. Chervin and his team at the UM Center for Sleep Science http://www.med.umich.edu/umsleepscience/ are researching the best ways to get the right amount of rest. Current clinical projects focus on aspects of sleep in newborns, pregnant moms, and Parkinson’s patients. They are also testing a new telephone-based therapy for chronic insomnia.

Urban Homesteads and Hope

The concept of “urban homesteads” is gaining popularity in recent years. To put it simply, modern-day pioneers are living as self-sufficiently as possible to protect the earth.

They live in the midst of all of the contemporary amenities, but choose not to participate in them, or at least as little as possible. They practice gardening and grow most, if not all of their own foods. They keep animals to give them milk and eggs. Some even convert their vehicles to diesel engines and brew their own bio-diesel fuels.

In an effort to unearth the appeal of urban homesteads, we caught up with the founder of the Urban Homestead movement, Jules Dervaes. We were reminded of a very important message: Each and every one of us can help make one aspect of our life more earth-friendly with minimal effort. All it takes is the decision to make a difference!

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Before he founded the The Path to Freedom movement in Pasadena in 2000, Jules Dervaes homesteaded in the New Zealand outback and rural Florida, where he had lots of land to work with. Coming to Pasadena with his family, he had to shrink his operation from 10 acres to an area that, if you subtracted the house, was one-tenth of an acre.

In the beginning, the Dervaes family goal was simple: to survive. And within a few years, they realized their plan was working. They also saw potential to turn their homestead into an outreach program so others could benefit. They began a Web site, www.pathtofreedom.com, which expanded to include a daily blog. A revolutionary idea at the time, the blog chronicled the family’s day-to-day experiences.

Today, their homestead in Pasadena can claim some amazing stats.

The Dervaes Homestead in Pasadena boasts over 400 different kinds of produce, 1,780 chicken and duck eggs and 25 pounds of honey. In addition, they produced 1,500 gallons of bio-diesel fuel since 2004. © 1970 – 2009 Jules Dervaes.

Annually they produce around 3 tons of fruits and vegetables, 1,780 chicken and duck eggs and 25 pounds of honey.  Additionally they have produced 1,500 gallons of bio-diesel fuel since 2004 and over 11,500 kwh of solar power produced since 2003. Not too bad for one-fifth of an acre.

When the Web site began to grow, they realized the value of a social networking site just for gardeners, and www.freedomgardeners.org was born. The site has over 6,000 members from around the world and provides a forum where gardeners can help each other.

Post: What costs are involved in getting started?

Dervaes: We were on a budget and things were expensive here, so we went on the cheap. We’d collect bed frames and turn them in to trellises, and turn river rock and glass bottles into edging. I wanted to show that every family could do this, without having to be rich. We were always trying to find the least expensive way to have things done. You don’t have to be rich to take care of the environment.

Post: How can people educate themselves on gardening?

Dervaes: Pepper your local nurserymen with questions: What grows in your neighborhood? What are they selling? They’re making a business out of it. They know what works, or else you wouldn’t come back. Look around your neighborhood (to your neighbors and see what works for them.)

He also encouraged people to join the networking site. He described www.freedomgardeners.org as “a facebook for gardeners only.”

Post: You refer to the practice of “being neighbors.” What do you mean by that?

© Jules Dervaes 1970 – 2009

Dervaes: I try to think of the spirit of neighborliness, like the Amish do. Your neighbors are your extended family, and they’re there for you like you are there for them, and you can’t charge for that. We didn’t want to be a business of neighbors. We wanted to be really, truly neighbors.

He talked about modern life and its fast pace. While we can be driven by the need for instant gratification, he observed, gardening is, in many ways, the opposite of this lifestyle. It takes patience and time, but the rewards are worth it, and the changes in life it encourages are also valuable.

“Unfortunately, in America, we think you have to be big, fast,” Dervaes notes. “An instant makeover. But nature works in a different way.  It takes 500 years for nature to make an inch of soil. So you have to look at it in a slower perspective; we have to slow it down.  Slow food. Some of my food takes 30-60 days to get to the table. You have to reduce your expectations.”

Post: What do you hope your children will learn from gardening, homesteading, and the Path to Freedom?

Dervaes: What I’m doing here gives me hope. I couldn’t take the bad news in the newspapers and the Internet and everywhere, unless I could do something about it, and growing a garden gives me hope, and it gives my children hope. They have something to do. Because it’s the hopelessness and helplessness when they give you bad news and you throw up your hands and say “What can I do about it?”  This gives you a direction, and with that direction comes hope.

Who couldn’t use a little hope in this modern world?  For Jules Dervaes, gardening is a first step towards a greater step, and his life is an example of that.

For more information, visit www.pathtofreedom.com.

PS: The Post would like to thank Jules Dervaes and everyone at Path to Freedom (including Janice and Anais) for making this such a positive experience! We truly enjoyed our interview and follow up. Many of us (at the Post)—who haven’t already—are going to try a hand at gardening. It may be a small step, but it is a step inspired by you!
Sincerely,
Jen Stewart for The Saturday Evening Post

Swindler’s Luck

The mobsters would kill him if they ever caught on to his game. He was betting his life they wouldn’t.

Read the short story “Swindler’s Luck” by Ben Hecht [PDF].

The Short, Noisy Life of the Vigilance Committee

On May 14, 1856, James King stepped out of his editor’s office at the San Francisco Bulletin and was immediately confronted by James P. Casey, editor of the San Francisco Sunday Times. The two exchanged a few words before Casey drew a pistol and shot King. The Bulletin editor fell, mortally wounded.

It was one of hundreds of murders that occurred that year in San Francisco, but it prompted an army of 3,000 armed vigilantes to seize power, and threatened to topple the state government of California.

San Franciscans had become accustomed to shootings, but King’s death was intolerable. The editor had earned a reputation in the city for his relentless attacks on government corruption and inaction. One of his targets was James Casey whom King had revealed as a former inmate at Sing Sing Penitentiary.

King’s followers expected Casey’s corrupt friends in the city government to secure his release from jail and protect him from prosecution. Consequently, they revived the Vigilance Committee, which had been inactive since 1853. The Post of June 21, 1856, picks up the story:

“On the 16th, Mr. King died, and the whole city became a scene of excitement. The old Vigilance Committee called a meeting, and placards of an inflammatory nature were posted up, calling upon the citizens to take the law in their own hands… On Saturday, the 18th, an organized force of 3,000 citizens, divided into division and companies, marched from the Committee’s rooms and took possession of the jail. They took from thence Casey and a gambler named Cory, the murderer of Colonel Richardson, and carried them to the Committee rooms, where they remained strongly guarded. … Both the prisoners, it is supposed, would be hung.”

Vigilance Committee, San Francisco
This headquarters of the Vigilance Committee, San Francisco, is situated on Sacramento street.

Which they were. The Vigilance Committee held a swift trial of both men and, five days later, hung them before a large crowd.

The Committee did not disband after this execution, but proceeded to arm itself, arrest questionable characters, and try them, completely ignoring the city’s police and courts. Fearing the governor would disband them by force, the Committee members fortified their offices and gathered weapons. Meanwhile, the governor’s political machine, calling itself The Law and Order Party, attempted to obtain weapons from Federal arsenals.

In August, a Committee member named Sterling Hopkins, attempted to arrest Rube Maloney, who was trying to secure Federal rifles from the local armory. David S. Terry, a judge on the state supreme court, and a man loyal to the state administration, was present. According to the Post of August 2,

“Judge Terry… interfered to protect Maloney, and, together with others, formed an armed party to escort Maloney to the [weapons at the] Dupont Street armory. Hopkins collected assistance, and attacked the other party in the streets. A struggle ensued, in the course of which Terry stabbed Hopkins with a Bowie knife.

“The news of the melee was communicated to the Executive Committee, who were in session, and the great bell was sounded for the rally of the Committee’s troops. In fifteen minutes a regiment of infantry, two companies of cavalry, and five companies of artillery were in motion.

“Maloney and his friends had taken refuge in a brick building, well guarded and fortified. This building was invaded on all sides by the Committee’s troops, and the inmates ordered to surrender. They obeyed without hesitation, and Maloney and Terry were… conveyed as prisoners to the headquarters of the Committee.”

The Committee then entered the armory, seized the weapons, and arrested the state troops, but released them on parole.

“On the same  day Hopkins was stabbed, two vessels, freighted with arms for the State authorities were seized in the Bay by armed vessels, belonging to the Committee… [The] commander of one of these vessels, was arrested by the Federal officers, and held in $25,000 on the charge of piracy.”

The governor declared a state of insurrection and ordered a local banker and former artillery officer, William Tecumseh Sherman, to form a state militia. Sherman appealed to citizens to join his force, but gave it up after a week, when only a handful of men showed up.

The Committee tried Judge Terry but, to general surprise, acquitted him. Terry was freed, but resigned his judgeship in the state court.

In July, the Committee was roused to summary action again:

“Messrs. Hetherington & Randall, large real estate operators in San Francisco, doing business together, had a disagreement about pecuniary matters. They met on the 24th of July at the St. Nicholas bar. Hetherington commenced an assault upon Randall, and they fired simultaneously at one another—six shots being exchanged. Randall fell, mortally wounded. The regular police attempted to arrest Hetherington, but they were overpowered by the police of the Vigilance Committee, who hurried Hetherington away to their headquarters. Randall died the next day. Hetherington was tried by the Committee on the 26th, and hung on the 29th.

“Philander Brace, who committed a murder a year or two since, was hung at the same time. About fifteen thousand spectators witnessed the execution, and there were four thousand troops of the Committee present under arms. All the approaches to the place of execution were guarded by cannon.

“One of the most revolting scenes ever witnessed occurred at the execution. Hetherington proceeded to address the crowd, but was continually interrupted by the most disgusting profanity on the part of Brace, which at last proceeded so far, that it was deemed necessary to silence him by tying a handkerchief over his mouth.”

These executions seemed to dispel much of the passion for justice in the city. The Committee conducted an investigation of state corruption and, after publishing its findings, disbanded.

For all the weaponry it seized, the Committee’s action were generally bloodless. It executed only four prisoners and ordered over two dozen out of the state. Altogether, its actions were only a small part of the city’s mayhem: “There were 489 persons killed during the first 10 months of 1856,” the Committee reported. “Six of these were hanged by the Sheriff, and forty-six by the mobs, and the balance were killed by various means by the lawless element.”

In its earliest reporting, the Post was critical of the Vigilance Committee

“The Pacific State seems to be in a far from pacific condition. Two murders a day, we  see it stated, is about the average for the past year. Criminals escape through the meshes of the law, and [lynch law] has to be appealed to—which, even when it does justice, does it unjustly.” [June 21, 1856]

If the state had become lawless and corrupt, the article asked, who was ultimately responsible?

“Evidently the majority of the people. They must be lacking either in the ability or the desire to choose the right kind of judges. In either case they are proving themselves incapable of self-government.”

But later that summer, the Post had become more sympathetic to the vigilantes:

“When ruffians… [grew] audacious in their villainy, no longer… content with pillaging the city treasury, but, trusting to the fact that their cronies occupied high civil and even judicial positions, [they] began to believe that they could knock down, stab and shoot peaceable and orderly citizens with impunity

“The great masses of society, including nearly the whole of the powerful middle classes, began to grow alarmed. And when they found that these gamblers, rowdies, and cut-throats were not trusting in vain in their political friends in high civil and judicial stations—then, as practical and justice-loving men, they felt that the time for resistance had come.”

Vigilance Committee Seal
Seal used for the Vigilance Committee of San Francisco

Was it an insurrection, as the California governor claimed? Or the triumph of a law-abiding public? According to William T. Sherman, it was a pointless and dangerous exercise in mob thinking:

“As they controlled the press, [the Committee] wrote their own history, and the world generally gives them the credit of having purged San Francisco of rowdies and roughs; but their success has given great stimulus to a dangerous principle, that would at any time justify the mob in seizing all the power of government; and who is to say that the Vigilance Committee may not be composed of the worst, instead of the best, elements of a community? Indeed, in San Francisco, as soon as it was demonstrated that the real power had passed from the City Hall to the committee room, the same set of bailiffs, constables, and rowdies that had infested the City Hall were found in the employment of the  “Vigilantes;” and, after three months’ experience, the better class of people became tired of the midnight sessions and left the business and power of the committee in hands of a court.”

Fishing for a Better Self

There is more than one way to catch a fish, and every one of them is easier than fly-fishing. In the end, though, no other style is more fascinating or spiritually satisfying than catching one on the fly.

Why else would people dedicate so much time learning how to cast a fly rod or tie a fly? Only something that is truly enjoyable would justify going to the effort of studying the life cycle of insects or the diet patterns of fish.

Fly-fishing requires mastering arcane skills and plenty of patience. But, it also offers the chance to embrace nature in a way unlike any other.

Neophyte fly-fishers face the basic challenges of learning the equipment and prey. But what begins as a pastime soon becomes a cause, as these men and women pursue their new passion with large amounts of time, effort, and resources. They are, in fact, starting an endless quest.

In the midst of learning new tactics, they often discover a rare sense of accomplishment. The pursuit is so intriguing that even days of little or no success on the water can be filled with enthusiasm and an eagerness to return.

In a 1958 Post article, Corey Ford describes the peculiar pleasures he found in fly-fishing.

“His satisfaction lies in dropping cocked at the head of run, and watching it ride back down the swift current, bobbing lightly over a riffle, gliding around a boulder; reversing its course and halting poised for an instant in a back eddy under the bank. If a trout happens to share his enthusiasm for the fly, well and good. The angler plays his adversary on a taut line until the fish is exhausted, and leads it carefully to shore. Then he kneels beside it and grips it firmly around the body—first wetting his hands so he will not damage its protective oily coating—and removes the barb from its upper lip. He holds the trout facing upstream a moment longer, until its gills begin to move regularly, and then he spreads his hand and watches it dart back into the current with a farewell flick of its tail.

“…the dry-fly angler does not come home empty-handed. His creel may be barren at the end of the day, but be brings back other things; the sound of running water and smell of wet rocks, the memory of a grouse drumming on a log, a beaver’s v-shaped wake as it crossed the pool, the sudden skirl of a kingfisher, like a winding reel. They will last longer than a fish curling in a pan.

“A friend of mine, an ardent purist, was challenged once by a golfing acquaintance as he turned loose a large trout he had just netted. ‘Why go to all that trouble to catch a fish,” the exasperated golfer demanded, ‘if you don’t want to eat it?’

“‘Do you eat golf balls?’ my friend inquired pleasantly.”

Fly-fishing is best known as a method for catching trout and salmon, but it can also be used for catching a wide variety of species: freshwater fish such as pike, bass, panfish, and carp, and marine species such as snook, tarpon, bone fish, and striped bass. A growing number of fly-fishers are broadening the number of species they pursue, using cold- and warm-water techniques.

Whether you are an amateur or an expert, the goal is not to catch the most fish. It is to gather rich memories and sharpen skills that apply to everyday life, like thought, planning, and dexterity.

Read “The World’s Fussiest Sport” by Corey Ford [PDF].