Can money buy happiness?

Apparently not

The American tradition is to enshrine economic activity as a central element of “the pursuit of happiness.” In reality, however, economic activity is largely concerned with the relief of unhappiness. At the subsistence level of economic activity that has prevailed through most of human history, people must work to eat and to be clothed and housed, not so that they can enjoy the happiness that these goods can bring but so that they can avoid the pain of hunger, cold, and exposure to the elements.

In developed economies, most of us can assuage these fundamental sources of unhappiness.  But whether because of drives inherent in our nature or because of the constant efforts of advertisers and others, we seem destined to remain unhappy with our economic lot. Despite the burgeoning literature on happiness, and the contributions of prominent economists such as Richard Easterlin, Richard Layard, and Andrew Oswald, the general response of the mainstream English-language literature in economics has been to shrug and leave questions of this kind to psychologists and marketers.  However, there is some interesting discussion going on in Europe, and a couple of recently translated works might help to stir the debate.

From The Chronicle of Higher Education

The Nation’s Largest Libraries

The Nation’s Largest Libraries: A Listing By Volumes Held
The book is not dead yet…far from it.
ALA Library Fact Sheet Number 22
This fact sheet lists the top 100 largest libraries in the United States by volumes held.  The top 10 include:
Number Library Name Volumes Held
1 Library of Congress 34,528,818
2 Boston Public Library (Branches + Research Collections) 19,090,261
3 Harvard University 16,832,952
4 New York Public Library (Branches + Research Collections) 16,342,365
5 University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign 13,158,748
6 Yale University 12,787,962
7 University of California – Berkeley 11,545,418
8 Columbia University 11,189,036
9 University of Michigan 10,778,736
10 University of Texas – Austin 9,990,941

reading the empty spaces

Image via Wikipedia

Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clark introduced me to the wonders of science fiction and fantasy.  My favorite Bradbury novel:  Something Wicked This Way Comes

‘Fahrenheit 451′ Author Ray Bradbury Dies At 91  via NPR

“…holding a book but reading the empty spaces.”

–Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes

The art of cutting paper

Rooster papercut by Magdelana Gilinsky Jannotta.
(American Folklife Center)

When I was very young, we had a framed wycinanki on display in our home.  Created by my mother, a Polish immigrant, the design was of stylized flowers, in bold colors of red, yellow and black.  The framed papercut was decorated with a blue ribbon, a prize from a local arts and craft exhibition.

Ever sine I’ve been intrigued with this simple craft made with paper and glue, combined with the artist’s skill with scissor and knife.

The art of cutting paper may have originated in China.  During the eighteenth century, German cutwork (scherenschnitte) and paint were combined to adorn all manner of personal messages, such as declarations of love and New Year’s greetings, as well as official documents such as birth certificates and marriage licenses.  Papercuts called wycinanki began to appear in Poland in the mid-nineteenth century, and are still used to decorate windows, joists, and other parts of the home, particularly at Christmas and Easter.  –Source:  The Library of Congress, American Folklife Center

words that have a tale to tell

Discovered at a used book sale: a vintage copy of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable

I’ve often found dictionaries to be interesting reads, especially the older ones, providing multiple definitions, the history and background of words, usages, and cool pictures and illustrations.  Brewer’s Dictionary takes this a step further, providing fascinating insights into culture and history through the use to which words and phrases were put.

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable is:

…one of the world’s best-loved reference books. First published in 1870, this treasury of ‘words that have a tale to tell has established itself as one of the great reference classics-the first port of call for tens of thousands of terms, phrases and proper names, and a fund of fascinating, unusual and out-of-the-way information.

At the heart of the dictionary lie entries on the meaning and origin of a vast range of words and expressions, from everyday phrases to Latin tags. Alongside these are articles on people and events in mythology and religion, and on folk customs, superstitions and beliefs. Major events and people in history are also treated, as are movements in art and literature, famous literary characters, and key aspects of popular culture, philosophy, geography, science and magic. To complete this rich mix of information, Brewer and his subsequent editors have added an extraordinary and enticing miscellany of general knowledge-lists of patron saints, terms in heraldry, regimental nicknames, public house names, and famous last words.

Take at look at the listings for the common name Tom or Tommy:

Tom, Tommy   Short for Thomas:  used of the male of certain animals (especially the cat), and generically–like Jack (q.v.)–for a man.  It is also a generic name for a little boy.  When contrasted,  Jack is usually the sharp, shrewd, active fellow, and Tom the honest dullard. No one would think of calling the thick-headed male cat a Jack, nor the pert, dexterous, thieving daw a Tom.  The former is almost instinctively called a Tom-cat, and the latter a Jack-daw.

Other usages of Tom:
Great Tom of Lincoln
Great Tom of Oxford
Long Tom
Tom and Jerry
Tom Collins
Tom, Dick, and Harry
Tom Fool

Old Tom is “A specially potent gin.  The story goes that a Thomas Norris, employed in Messrs. Hodges’ distillery, opened a gin palace in Great Russell Street, Covent Garden [London], in the late 18th century, and called the gin concocted by Thomas Chamberlain, one of the firm of Hodges, “Old Tom,” in compliment to his former master.”

An online copy is found at Bibliomania

Avian drama

Sunday night after church we watched a  pair of American Oystercatchers flying frantically over Stony Brook harbor, desperately trying to divert seagulls from their nest and eggs.  The Oystercatcher is a large waterfowl, the size of a chicken.  They zoomed overhead, repeatedly dive-bombing the seagulls on the rocky shore.

Other witnesses to the drama: an egret, mergansers, plenty of seagulls, a variety of ducks, and a three-foot long bluefish.

We left before the drama ended.

The art of video games

'Pac-Man' at the Smithsonian Namco Bandai Games Inc.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington is showcasing more than 80 videogames in “The Art of Video Games.”

As reported in The Wall Street Journal:

The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington will showcase more than 80 videogames in “The Art of Video Games,” one of the first major shows to explore the artistic power of the medium. Games—from 1970s “Space Invaders” to recent offerings like “Flower” in 2009—are featured for their visuals, narratives and music, as well as their reflection of world events and popular culture.

The show, which will travel to 10 other U.S. venues, includes still images, video, playable games and a piece called “Gamers”—clips of players talking to the screen or reacting with emotion. In a nod to the interactive nature of the medium, voters from 175 countries cast 3.7 million ballots to narrow down the selection of games, which are grouped by themes such as action and tactics. The show is meant for a general audience and attempts to avoid violence and gore.

Artistically powerful certainly, many of these early games have achieved iconic status in the global visual culture.  And their popularity continues to grow.

Currently 183 million Americans play – 25 percent over age 50. What’s behind the fascination?  The games have become more realistic, more engaging, more hypnotic…a siren song luring us into alternate realities that are infinitely more attractive than our mundane lives.

Yale professor Paul Bloom, author of “How Pleasure Works,” points out that Americans find many products of the imagination – games, movies, TV – more interesting than real life.

A powerful art form indeed, one that combines the art of the illustrator with the art of the storyteller, transporting the player to an alternate universe.

Half a billion stars, galaxies and more

In visible light, the star-forming cloud catalogued as NGC 281 in the constellation of Cassiopeia appears to be chomping through the cosmos, earning it the nickname the “Pacman” nebula after the famous Pac-Man video game of the 1980s. However, the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE, observed the nebula in infrared light revealing a different view.

NASA unveiled a new atlas and catalog of the entire infrared sky showing more than a half billion stars, galaxies and other objects captured by the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission.  Incredible images!

For a collection of WISE images visit here
An introduction and quick guide to accessing the WISE all-sky archive for astronomers is found here

This post makes use of data products from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, which is a joint project of the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory/California Institute of Technology, funded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

L’Odyssee de Cartier

Have you seen the latest television commercial from French jeweler Cartier?  View it at the Cartier Facebook page or at Adweek.  I watched the ad, which is laden with fantastical images, with mouth open as it ran one, two and finally over three minutes in length, following the Cartier leopard as it comes to life, travels ’round the world, dances with a Chinese dragon, and finally comes to rest on the wrist and under the caress of a beautiful woman.  What an odyssey!  There’s a sleigh ride and the Taj Mahal and a Wright Brothers airplane.  And jewels.

According to Adweek:

The French jeweler is out with a fantastical new long-form ad that reimagines the brand’s 165-year history as a diamond jungle cat’s adventures through space and time. Created by Marcel Agency and directed by A-list commercial director Bruno Aveillan, the three-and-a-half minute spot is gorgeously shot—an absurd little treasure that, like most fashion spots, is long on style and short on substance. It opens on the brand’s flagship Rue de la Paix storefront, where a bejeweled feline statuette comes to life before embarking on a journey to the ends of the Earth. The trip takes her past a snowy Russian tsarina flashing a Cartier diamond, across the Great Wall—which we learn is actually the back of mystical serpent—and through the Taj Mahal, bursting with other Cartier-crafted flora and fauna and located atop an oversized mammal.

Ultimately, a Cartier-watch-wearing pilot whisks our heroine away on the nose of a Wright-era flying machine, carrying her back to present-day Paris, where she is apparently reunited with a character the brand calls “The Lady in the Mansion,” played by model Shalom Harlow, who clues us in to the fact that the panther sheds diamonds, too.

Will this house sell?

What a surprise and pleasure to discover the image of this Japanese home in the pages of The Wall Street Journal!  Located in Kanazawa’s Teramachi district, I’ve walked and cycled past this property dozens of times when living in Kanazawa.  The feeling of homesickness is strong as I view the picture of this traditional Japanese-style home surrounded by beautiful gardens.  The gardens were built around the end of the Meiji period, between 1868 and 1912.

This property in Kanazawa boasts an immaculate Japanese garden that was born by a fusion of modern technology and natural masterpieces including the beautiful Io Mountain range and the flowing Sai River of Ishikawa Prefecture. This invaluable garden was created by Jihei Ogawa (a.k.a. Ueji), one of Japan’s most important grand masters of garden design from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, best known for works such as Chinzanso and Furukawa gardens in Tokyo, and Hekiunso and Murinan gardens in Kyoto. In 2004, this garden was appointed a Cultural Asset by the City, which became the first garden in Kanazawa made after the Meiji period to receive this honor.

Within the garden grounds lies lava rocks from Mount Fuji and a grand 5.5 meter waterfall, that flows through two more small waterfalls and mountain streams, finally ending in a pond where Koi carp are playfully swimming. The clearness and gentle flow of the water and the moss covered rocks that resemble soft velvet; there is so much visual stimulation that leaves an ever-lasting impression.

At first glance, this grand residence looks as though it is only surrounded by nature, but also there are Taisho period, state-of-the-art construction technology in the portions that are not visible – for example in the concrete construction method for the modeling of the waterfalls. The residence itself is built with Hinoki wood from the Kiso forest and Jindai Cedar woord, thus, considered extremely precious by expert craftsmen, and has been appointed as a National Registered Tangible Cultural Property. Inside the beautiful Japanese style home exists spaces of rich color utilizing ultramarine blue and deep forest green, which create brilliant contrasts with the natural and serene landscape.

The house is listed with Sotheby’s International Reality for JPY800 million.

Will this house sell?  Certainly it will if I have anything to do with it.  I’d love to own this property in Kanazawa.  Friends, family and former JET ALTs, can we pool our funds?

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