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Location: Newark, Delaware, United States

My name is David P. Bellamy. The only significant thing not mentioned elsewhere here is, I think, that I almost always prefer to read a book instead of watching a movie.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Bilateral symmetry: Discoveries and ways of managing, an autobiographical vignette

In early 1948, when I was not quite four years old, my family moved to a new house my parents had had built. Before that time, we lived in a small three room house with neither electricity nor indoor plumbing. My brother Tom, two years younger than I, and I were the only children at that time. Cooking was done on a wood-burning kitchen stove, which also heated the house. There were three rooms, a kitchen, a bedroom, and a livingroom. We ate at a small table in the kitchen. I sat in a particular chair to eat. It had once been a highchair, but the tray had broken and my dad sawed off the arms.

The reason I remember this is that I have always had trouble distinguishing right and left. For decades, to remember which was my right side or left side, I had to visualize myself sitting in that chair. My right side was the side closest to the cookstove. I still have a vivid mental picture of this. (My chair was white, but years later it was painted aqua, my mother’s favorite color. It was eventually thrown out.)

Perhaps because of this difficulty, I became obsessed at a very early age with my body’s bilateral symmetry. This happened well before I started school. When I learned to write, I thought that symmetry demanded that I should be able to write with either hand. I wrote much better and more quickly with my right hand, which was a little bit frustrating. Eventually, while in elementary school, I discovered that I could easily write with my left hand in mirror writing. I don’t know whether I discovered this on my own, or tried it after learning that da Vinci had written in mirror writing. I still can do so, although since I have not practiced mirror writing with my left hand very much, my handwriting is not as attractive with my left hand as with my right.

I still have difficulty thinking quickly of which side is left and which is right. This has annoyed ballet teachers, air traffic controllers, and friends riding with me and navigating when I am driving somewhere unfamiliar. With ballet teachers, the frequent line was “Your other left leg!” An air traffic controller once told me, just after I had landed, to turn right and I reflexively turned left. He said, “I am going to come out there and tie a string to that airplane and pull you where you belong." (I was in a Cessna 150, probably the smallest airplane that ever landed at this airport. The largest would have been a C-5, so “the tie a string” comment was a remark on the size of my airplane.) When told to turn left while driving, it is not uncommon for me to turn right, although this does not typically happen where there are separate lanes for left turns, right turns, and straight ahead traffic. When I exit a restroom in an unfamiliar place, I often turn the wrong way, away from where I need to go. Thinking about it now, I wonder why the side of the car the steering wheel is on has not had the same function as the high chair memory did for many years, but it does not.

I began studying ballet at age 14, in January 1959. My first ballet teacher taught us to do pirouettes to both right and left. Most of the time I did them (pirouette en dehors) better to the right. After a few years of training, I could generally do a triple to the right and only a double to the left. But on a day when my balance was exceptionally good, I could do a triple in either direction, easily. The few times I did a quadruple, they were always to the left. I don’t remember what the situation was with respect to pirouettes en dedans. I was not at all happy when later teachers taught turns only to one direction. I have always been, and I still am, irritated when I attend a ballet performance and everyone always turns only to the right (as almost always happens, of course.) I was thrilled when, in the Nutcracker we saw a few days ago, there were some turns to the left!

In modern light aircraft, the yoke, rather than a stick used in earlier airplanes, controls the side to side roll, and the up/down pitch of the airplane. It looks like a stylized steering wheel. I thought it might be difficult to use, since it was operated by the left hand. I discovered quickly that, in fact, it was much easier than when I sat in the right seat and had to use the yoke with my right hand. My left hand turned out to be much better at dealing with spatial things. This led me to try using a mouse with my left hand, as I was really clumsy with my right hand doing it. It was much easier. I still use a mouse with my left hand when possible; when using an unfamiliar computer, as in a hotel, I move the mouse to the left side of the keyboard. On rare occasions, the mouse cable is too short to do this, and it is quite frustrating. It also led to realizing that if I drive with only one hand on the steering wheel, I drive much more smoothly with my left hand than my right.

There are a few other curiosities here. I swing a baseball bat right handed. Left handed batting feels extremely awkward. However, I prefer to use an axe left handed. I can use a hand saw equally well with either hand. I bought matching left and right handed sewing scissors. These have really come in handy, although I originally bought them just out of a philosophical devotion to symmetry. I have only played one nine hole round of golf, in college phys ed class. I used right handed clubs. Since then, I have from time to time wondered whether I would have fared better with left handed clubs: Are golf clubs more like axes or more like baseball bats. I have not wondered about this sufficiently to motivate me to try another round of golf; it just does not see like a particularly interesting game.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Traffic and speed limits

I have been thinking about this for a year or so.

A lot of law enforcement effort goes into enforcing speed laws. There is a lot of infrastructure monitoring equipment in place which could readily be repurposed as follows: For example, let us assume by way of illustration that the current speed limit on a stretch of highway is 65 mph. The use of this highway at speeds under 65 mph would be free. From 65 to 70 mph, there would be a premium level use fee of one cent per mile. From 70 to 75 mph, the toll would be 10 cents per mile. From 75 to 85 mph, it would be twenty cents a mile. From 85 to 100 miles per hour, it would be fifty cents a mile, and above 100 mph it would be a dollar a mile. Collecting these tolls automatically, using the same technology as red light or speeding cameras, is feasible nowadays.

No fines nor drivers license points would ever be issued on the basis of speed (on limited access highways, at least) but tolls for premium level use of roadways would discourage excessive speed.

This seems to me to be advantageous as a highway safety measure, and also as a revenue source.

I invite comments from anyone who wishes to respond.

Friday, January 06, 2017


I will be retired in ten days. I am easing into retirement in the sense that I am teaching a course as an adjunct during the upcoming Spring Semester. It is very reassuring that I can decline to teach a course if I choose.

It is always possible, of course, that my department could decline to offer me a course to teach, so there is a symmetry here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Book Reviews

I don't think I have written a book review of a novel since I wrote book reports in school; papers in college English literature classes are not the same thing. However, I have read three fascinating books over the last few months which I want to discuss. The books are: (In reverse order of publication, I think) Love in the Time of Unraveling, by Franetta McMillian, Sister Mine, by Nalo Hopkinson, and Broken Kingdoms, by N. K. Jemisin.

Franetta McMillian's and N. K. Jemisin's books are parts of trilogies; Nalo Hopkinson's is a stand-alone. While searching for these on Amazon, I discovered that Broken Kingdoms is the last volume of a trilogy. I have read the first one but not the second. However, this review involves only Broken Kingdoms, although much of what I say applies also to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which is the first of this series. Love in the Time of Unraveling is the first book of a trilogy; it is the author's first published novel.

One aspect of myth, perhaps the defining aspect, is that it involves the relationship between mortals and immortals. Magic, or Magick, is often seen as a power of immortals which may or may not be given to select mortals under some circumstances. These three books deal with this in dramatically different ways. All of them are wonderful blends of sf and Magickal fantasy, written by black women authors. SF and fantasy by black women nowadays seem to me to be the most exciting current part of science fiction and fantasy. These books form a tripod of approaches to the relationship between humans and immortals; even though they have different styles and characters, and probably draw upon different Pantheons for their mythic underpinnings, the three of them taken together provide a more complete picture of the human/deity interface than any one or two of them alone.

Broken Kingdoms is another example of Jemisin's continuing break with the Celtic, or more generally Mediaeval European, settings for heroic fantasy. This was so long overdue that it is a real breath of fresh air, in my opinion. (I wish I had read this entire trilogy; I will do so soon.) The overwhelming political intrigue and larger than life heroics makes this book satisfying in a standard way. The focus is on the political intrigue, and phenomena far more important than the individual characters' problems. The interaction between humans and the assorted gods, demigods, and demons provides a depth and texture that I find really satisfying.

Sister Mine is at the opposite extreme. The issues around which the story revolves are personal ones. They involve sibling conflicts, family dynamics involving disturbing or strange relatives, and the problem of being mortal humans who are closely related to immortals. This one gets more closely at what someone (Joseph Campbell, maybe?) says in effect is the archetypal Creation Myth. There are issues of cosmic significance in the setting, but they are peripheral. To avoid spoilers, I will not say more about this. I will ask, however: Who knew that kudzu could have such mythic importance?

Love in the Time of Unraveling takes a third path. Gods and goddesses do not appear as characters in the book, but they are always present and accessible to the characters through ritual invocation. In this sense, this book is the most realistic of the three, since this is how most of us encounter deities, if we encounter them at all. It is also the most dystopian, since it takes place on a future Earth where the air is so polluted and toxic that it is the rule rather than the exception for ordinary people, not wealthy enough to afford extreme remedies, to die young of environmental diseases. I am eager to read the rest of the trilogy when it becomes available. In Love in the Time of Unraveling and Sister Mine, I find myself deeply caring about the characters; I want to spend more time with them. I am thus sad that Sister Mine is not part of a larger work. In Broken Kingdoms, I am most absorbed by the plot and story arc. The characters are interesting, but they do not captivate me as those of the other two books do. All three of these books make it clear that deities are not necessarily superior to mortals, but they are very different. They have different challenges, different abilities, and different needs from humans. I am absolutely thrilled by all three of these books; and I am very glad that I happened to have read them all, one after another, which led me to see the complementarity that I would likely have missed otherwise.

If any readers here have not read them, please get them as soon as possible and do so!

[In the interest of disclosure, I will say that Nalo Hopkinson and Franetta Mcmillian are friends of mine. Jemisin I have met only once, briefly. I want to thank Nalo for help with the html coding, after the review was written. I apologize that the links do not work, but the books should be easy to find.]

Friday, August 17, 2012

Hmmm. It has been almost 13 months since I posted here. Too long. It is a curious fact that fifteen or so years ago, in my early fifties, i could not wait to retire. Now, in my late sixties, I have no desire at all to retire. Somehow, the work I am doing has become fun again, as it was in the 1960's and 1970's. I am not sure why, since the working conditions are no better. Our students are somewhat better than they were around 1990, on average, but I am not inclined to consider that too big a factor.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Apollo 11

Forty two years ago today, July 20, 1969, two men walked on the moon for the first time. No one has been there at all since the early 1970,s. My students this morning had no idea of the significance of the date.

It is a tragedy that space explorations have been abandoned except for near earth orbit and robotic probes for scientific purposes. A defining part of the American character has been the need for a frontier, for most of the history of this country. Space, beyond Earth, is our frontier these days. It is a profound tragedy that very few people seem to care that we are not pursuing it nowadays. The retirement of the shuttle fleet is just the most recent of the lack of vision, the malaise, that seems to pervade our psyche. Some optimists have argued to me that for example, it was a century and a quarter between the first European contact with the American continent and the establishment of the first permanent [English] settlement. This is not a valid comparison, really, since there were already people here who were conquered by the English and other Europeans. There are no such people on the moon, for example. The land is there for the taking. But, I hope their optimism is justified, nontheless.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Initiation from childhood into adulthood

I posted this entry a few years ago in another venue. It just came to my attention again, and I thought it would be useful, perhaps, to edit it slightly and post it here.

I have often heard it said that we have no satisfactory formal rite of passage initiation into adulthood, for either boys or girls. I think this is true, and I think it causes us much trouble when teen gangs, groping in the dark, so to speak, attempt to create their own. I have friends who say that our culture's only boyhood-to-manhood initiation is military basic training, which only a minority ever experience. In some imperfect way, the self-reliance and original contribution to knowledge, followed by defending what one has created, in the course of earning a Ph. D. degree, plays a similar role. I have experienced this one, but not military basic training. Regardless, both are missed by the vast majority of young people.

It is popular in some circles to decry this situation and work to create rituals which meaningfully initiate young people into adulthood; I have participated in such in the Pagan community, and I think some other groups do similar things. I believe that these have SOME merit.

I think there is a deep and serious problem, however, which reaches far beyond the question of each individual's journey. In many societies, wild creativity is tolerated in children, but adults are required to think "inside the box" and to abandon the free-thinking of childhood. Saint Paul (for whom I have no love whatever) wrote (KJV, quoted from memory) "When I was a child I spake as a child, I thought as a child, and I understood as a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things.*" This pattern exists in almost every society, where adults become much more rigid in their thinking, giving up their childhood creative energy as irresponsible. I read an sf story years ago which had the thesis that gorillas do the same thing: Adults lose the playfulness and accompanying creativity which they possessed when immature.

It is easy to see how sociobiological selection creates extreme pressure in this direction. Unbridled creativity most of the time leads to disaster. Changing the tools or methods of hunting, gathering, or even agriculture will lead to extinction of the whole culture if it does not work, so keeping things the same is a major survival trait for cultures unless they have an abundance of resources and so can afford lots of mistakes.

Our own culture, having a lack of adulthood rituals, does not effectively initiate this rigidity of thinking which the vast majority of cultures do, at least not in every person. As we live in relative plenty compared to many human societies, we can get away with this. The result has been, in the past few centuries, the greatest flowering of creativity in art, science, and engineering that humanity has ever experienced. (Yes, the ancients in Greece, India, Egypt, and Rome, accomplished a lot in this regard, but they never came close to going to the moon or creating the Internet, for example.)

So I think this is a serious conundrum. We, individually, desperately need serious transition-to-adulthood rituals. But, if we create them in a way which is really satisfactory for individuals, we will lose the creative edge which has made our times so amazing in so many ways, and fall into a state of stagnation.

I would love to read the reactions of other members of this group to this. Does anyone else feel that there is an ultimately insoluble problem here, or does anyone see a way to have both needs met?

It seems to me that this is both our culture's greatest strength and, simultaneously, its greatest vulnerability.

*Aside footnote: I confess that I have never seen the connections between the first 10 verses of I Cor 13 and the text I quoted. My father always used the "When I was a child..." text to explain why it would be a sin for him to play with his three sons while we were children, even though when he did so, I think he enjoyed it. But he felt guilty afterwards. Since I no longer regard the Bible as an important sacred text, I do not expect to spend any significant mental effort to further understanding this particular Biblical passage nor any other. Admittedly, some of my fellow Wiccans and other Pagans think I am making a mistake with this attitude.