Tuesday, March 29, 2016


As you get older, particularly when you have no pressing duties to perform, your mind may begin to wander and delve far back into your past. I am almost as old as my mother was when she began to display Alzheimer's symptoms; before she became incapacitated she went through her possessions and mailed various items that she thought belonged to each of us. Perhaps I'm preparing for death too, because I have been pondering the past and going through my possessions. If you look closely and remove the adult filters to which you've become accustomed, the past can be deeply unsettling.

Part of my interest in the past is simple curiosity. Although I was never close to my coworkers, I am interested in their lives and the fates of the companies for which we worked. While you are working, it is difficult to see beyond the present, but over several decades the arcs of people's lives become visible and the life cycles of industries come into focus. When I started work in printing, LP record albums were at a height in popularity, and there were large plants in Terre Haute and Indianapolis that printed record jackets. I worked at both of those plants before moving to Louisville to work at a smaller commercial printer. With the popularity of cassette tapes in the 1980's, sales of vinyl LP's began to decline, and when CD's came along the demand for LP records plummeted. The record jacket plants continued to print record jackets for several years, and they printed cassette inserts while cassettes were popular. However, the printed packaging requirements for recorded music continued to decline, and the two plants gradually switched to other kinds of packaging such as folding cartons and blister cards. My recent investigations show that the two record jacket plants and the Louisville printer have all permanently closed down. What I found interesting is that a new packaging plant has opened in Indianapolis, and some people whom I used to work with from the other three plants now work there. One of those people is John Barnes. When I knew him I was his supervisor in Terre Haute, and he was a long-haired pot-smoking hippie. He went on to become the plant manager in Terre Haute! Most of the people from that era (1979-1987) have retired or died, and I find it uncanny that some of them are now working together at a common location.

After I left Louisville I worked in an altogether different printing environment, commercial web printing, at four different plants in Illinois. Web printing constitutes a much larger segment of the printing industry, and it has also been undergoing a long period of consolidation. From that period (1987-2007), only one plant at which I worked has closed. At least four people I knew in Dixon have died since I left, but many of my former Illinois coworkers are still working. One of them switched industries entirely and now works in medical devices. My final job was at RR Donnelley, the largest printing company in the world, and it is in the process of breaking up into three separate companies.

A different part of my brain has been activated by looking at my old comic books. I still have about 200 comic books that I collected from the late 1950's to the mid-1960's. They have been sitting in bags since then, and every once in a while I get them out and look at them. Since I'm not interested in collecting comics and they've gone up in value, I'm going to sell them. One that I bought for ten cents in 1960 could be worth over a thousand dollars now. I'm in the process of inventorying them and will send them to a dealer in Massachusetts for appraisal.

It is even stranger to look at your old comics than it is to investigate your previous employers and coworkers. My mental processes have changed completely since I first read comics, and I'm not the same person that I was then. Personal identity has some basis in genes, memory and cultural associations, but the proto-you is still fundamentally a different person from the current you. In a sense personal identity is a man-made construction that we generate in the context of our cultural environments. When I return to earlier mental states, it reinforces in me the idea that I have an identity beyond the one that has been assigned to me by civilization, and this partially explains my tendency to be independent and my preference for divergent thinking.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Half-Earth: Our Planet's Fight for Life

I've finished reading this latest work from E.O. Wilson, and though as expected I agree with him on just about everything, I found the book a little tiresome despite its brevity. The main idea is relatively straightforward: biodiversity is shrinking, and as a precaution we ought to set aside half the planet as a protected wilderness:
For the first time in history a conviction has developed among those who can actually think more than a decade ahead that we are playing a global endgame. Humanity's grasp on the planet is not growing strong. It is growing weaker. Our population is growing too large for safety and comfort. Fresh water is growing short, the atmosphere and the seas are increasingly polluted as a result of what has transpired on the land. The climate is changing in ways unfavorable to life, except for microbes, jellyfish, and fungi. For many species it is already fatal.
Among the facts he presents, we have identified only two million out of the estimated eight million species on Earth, and the rate of extinction is currently estimated at 877 times higher than what it was before humans came along. Wilson's primary argument is that biodiversity stabilizes the environment and that we don't know what will happen to us if the current wave of mass extinctions continues; if half the Earth is protected, that should be enough to preserve at least 80 percent of the existing species.

I interpret Wilson's position as an update of the warnings made by Thomas Malthus two hundred years ago. Essentially he is saying that our species may become extinct because overpopulation may make it impossible to sustain ourselves, and he is adding that our destruction of the environment is creating an even larger challenge than the prospect of running out of food. The shortcoming of the book is that it meanders over this turf without sticking to a controlled argument and leaves the reader distracted by an accumulation of superfluous information. Much of the information is interesting in its own right, but its presentation detracts from the pointed subject matter summed up by the title. Half-Earth is getting little attention in the press, and if Wilson wasn't marginalized already as a thinker, he is clearly becoming so now. At 86, and having suffered a stroke, it is remarkable that he has the stamina to continue working at this pace – this is his thirty-second popular book – but you have to question his efficacy at this point.

Like many of Wilson's books, portions of the text are devoted to descriptions of unusual organisms, and in this instance they don't particularly support his argument. He also describes in detail regions of the world that would be suitable for preservation as wilderness. He often inserts personal anecdotes about his experiences in the wild. These parts of the book seem more like recruiting tools to attract people to his profession, because he is keenly aware that true naturalists like him are becoming a rarity. The jobs now available to young biologists are far more specialized than they used to be, and it seems unlikely that future generations will produce generalists like him.

Wilson is somewhat more effective when he describes just how destructive humans have been to ecosystems. This is particularly true of isolated islands:
Hawaii, universally acknowledged as the extinction capital of the world, had the most to lose when the Polynesian voyagers first came ashore, and with the later help of Europeans and Asian colonists, they extinguished most of its native bird species. Gone are the native eagle, a flightless ibis, a ground species the size of a turkey, and more than twenty species of drepanidid honeycreepers, the latter small pollen feeders, many with brilliantly colored plumage and long curved bills that probe deeply into tube-petaled flowers. And many more – in excess of forty-five species – vanished following the arrival of the Polynesians before A.D. 1000, and twenty-five followed the entry of the first Europeans and Asians two centuries ago. Oddly, the feathery remains of some of the most colorful extinct species are preserved in the cloaks of the old Hawaiian royalty. 
He devotes too little space to countering the arguments for "new conservation" put forth by "Anthropocene enthusiasts" such as Erle Ellis, who says: "Stop trying to save the planet. Nature is gone. You are living on a used planet. If this bothers you, get over it. We now live in the Anthropocene – a geological epoch in which the Earth's atmosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere are shaped primarily by human forces." Wilson's refutation of this position is muted and haphazardly scattered throughout the book. His main argument, as far as I can make one out, is that ecosystems are complex beyond our current comprehension, that we don't know how most of them operate, and that it is sheer unfounded arrogance to state that we can somehow "manage" the environment to ensure human survival in the future.

He does get in a few jabs at scientists and environmentalists who embrace "Anthropocene ideology." He aptly compares some of them to contemporary economists who use complex mathematical models to explain economic behavior. I didn't think that he exploited this criticism enough, because it has been apparent in recent years that even the most sophisticated economic models produced by leading economists have been of little value for macroeconomic forecasting. Economics, insofar as it is a science, attempts to predict certain aggregate behaviors of one species; if it is doesn't work for one species, who would expect that, using similar techniques, conservationists would be able to predict the behaviors of millions of species, most of which haven't even been discovered yet? When it comes to the world's ecosystems, we have only the flimsiest understanding of them. The argument that humans are incapable of managing all of the living organisms on the planet in order to produce the outcomes we want is pretty much a no-brainer, and Wilson would have been more effective if he had devoted more space to that. In reading the book, one repeatedly senses his outrage at technological arrogance and the shortsightedness of capitalism, but many of his readers won't come away from it feeling that he has succeeded.

Because my worldview was already quite similar to that of Wilson, I am still able to see his proposal as a bold one that should be given credence. However, as it stands, the book is likely to be "shelved" literally and figuratively. I can only speculate that he was attempting to pull his punches a little so as to gain acceptance from a wide audience. In particular, he must be wary at this stage in his career of offending the large number of people who never warmed up to his ideas about sociobiology. Unfortunately, in America, that group still includes a majority of the public, as well as a majority in business, politics and academia. Whatever his weaknesses, Wilson is a truly courageous thinker whose ideas are definitely worth considering.

Sunday, March 20, 2016


I have thought a lot about the nature of work, perhaps because I never fully adapted to the workforce. It is difficult to say exactly why that was the case, and my theory is that I have an innate preference for natural relations with others, i.e. the same kinds of relationships that our distant ancestors used to have, perhaps as far back as the hunter-gatherers. Whenever I had a job, I distinctly felt that my relationships with my supervisor and coworkers were contrived. After observing forced collegiality for over thirty years, I still think that my work relationships were based on false behavior. That partially had to do with my immediate recognition that I was not the same as the others, that we were not really a cohesive group, and that I didn't care in the slightest about career or organizational goals. Beyond the income provided, I didn't think it would matter in the least if any of the companies for which I worked ceased to exist. Actually, most of them have since shut down, and I doubt that anyone is mourning their loss. The crux of the matter probably relates to the fact that my work environments existed exclusively within the context of free markets and that the primary objective of the companies for which I worked was to make a profit. From my point of view it seemed as if other important factors such as whether the employees liked working there or whether the goods and services provided by the companies were desirable beyond narrow economic parameters were never examined or discussed at all, making the enterprises seem mindless and potentially foolhardy to me.

If you are critiquing this post as you read it, you may be thinking at this point that I just happen to have worked in a commercial environment that didn't suit me, and that perhaps I would have been happier doing something else. I've thought about that too, but haven't been able to come up with a solution, because the free-market economy directly or indirectly affects how nearly everyone makes a living. For example, I liked science in high school, so perhaps I ought to have had a scientific job. If you look closely at that, the jobs of most scientifically-trained workers are little different from those of others: they work at for-profit companies. If they are doing research they may have to jump through hoops to get funding; much of that funding comes from corporations or corporate-influenced government agencies. Engineers and medical doctors also work in environments with economic constraints and competitive infrastructures.

What if I had been an artist or writer? We recently watched a documentary on the painter David Hockney. For a modern painter, he isn't bad in my opinion. He worked hard for many years, was competitive and persistent, and he prevailed. However, to succeed at his level, you also have to be an entrepreneur, which instantly associates you with ordinary capitalists. Although I like some of his paintings, he is no Vermeer or Bruegel, and with comparable effort I could probably paint just as well as he does. Or perhaps I could have been a writer. As a writer I would never have been able to produce work fast enough, would not have fit in well in a writing program, would immediately have detested the literary establishment, and, with no entrepreneurial spirit, may well have ended up writing for pleasure without remuneration.

When I look back on my working years, I can't honestly say that I found them enjoyable, but they provided me with enough wear and tear to know something of the world. If I had to do it over again, rather than take the approach of finding a field that would be satisfying or in which I would be more likely to make important contributions, I would most likely take a vocational approach and try to find a path in which the least amount of stress and annoyance would result in the earliest possible retirement.

As an independent thinker I am immune to most of the mythologizing that accompanies those who have successful careers in any field. I know enough not to get carried away with hero-worship, and it is even difficult for me to identify people whom I might count as role models. Different people have different drives, over which they have little control, and admirers who seek to emulate the successful may not realize that success may require compromises that they would be unwilling or unable to make. Moreover, success often has unintended consequences for both individuals and society. I'll use Henry Ford as an example. Though he is revered as one of the greatest industrialists in history, his relationship with his only son, Edsel, was irreparably damaged by his drive for success, and he did not foresee the destructive effects that automobile manufacturing would have on the agrarian Michigan that he cherished; global warming is also in part his legacy. Regarding successful artists and writers, many have led uninteresting lives that wouldn't warrant a biography, and some have had psychiatric conditions with which I'd prefer not to be afflicted. In my experience, whenever I have looked closely at any highly successful person there is usually a prominent caveat that others seem to overlook. Finally, another aspect of work is its relationship to social status; in this society, one's job almost defines one's social standing. As I've said, social climbing is not in my blood.

Don't construe my views on work to be entirely negative. I think we all need to work at something, but whenever possible that work is best separated from the models imposed on us by the economic structure that we happen to inhabit and the pressures that we encounter daily from prevailing social norms. The psychological needs met by work can be satisfied by something as simple as painting a shed, installing a new mailbox or posting on your personal blog. Working without compensation has been a liberating experience for me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Basic Income

On several posts I've made allusions to the likelihood that technology will eventually make earning a living extremely difficult, but I haven't said much about how this problem could be resolved. Fortunately, there have been people thinking about this for quite some time, and I suspect that some form of basic income may eventually come to be used in all developed countries, because there may be no better alternatives. At present, basic income is being discussed seriously in Europe, where Switzerland is holding a referendum on it this June. Worldwide, there is discussion of the topic, with supporters and opponents ranging from serious thinkers to cranks. In the U.S., basic income is occasionally presented as a potential replacement for the current welfare system. As you might expect, most American economists have a highly blinkered view of the subject and can scarcely think beyond traditional labor economics. I stopped paying attention to economists such as Paul Krugman several years ago, because like most mainstream economists he appears to be unable to envision a future in which capitalism implodes. In my view, capitalism will inevitably end simply because economic competition entails a powerful incentive to decrease labor costs, and that trend has been unmistakable over the last fifty years.

One of the main causes of the current insurgencies in both American political parties is the prolonged state of low income growth. Real incomes for the middle class have remained stagnant for decades, and there is nothing on the horizon indicating a change in that status. The topic is usually discussed in terms of income inequality, and economists such as Thomas Piketty advocate higher taxation on the wealthy in order to rebalance equality. As an economist, Piketty is far from radical, and, like Krugman, he doesn't seem to find economic competition inherently problematic. In my view there is in principle no reason for economic entities to discontinue the driving down of wages. If you are running a for-profit corporation, it is your fiduciary responsibility to move jobs overseas when labor costs are lower there and to install computers, software and robots whenever they reduce operating costs compared to hiring people. Although this inevitably leads to a scarcity of jobs and lower wages, this manner of operating a business is fundamental to the capitalist model, and it can't be changed without degrading the very idea of economic competition, which carries almost religious status in the U.S.

The principal irony I find in capitalist mythology is that here, precisely while we are witnessing the success of large corporations, these same corporations are toying with their future demise by creating a large underclass which one day may be unable to afford their products. That hasn't happened yet, but you can see signs of it in the falling quality of many consumer products. Because most consumer products are designed to be sold to the middle class, there is an upper limit on their price, and with falling incomes the middle class can only afford cheaper products. We already seem to be in a race to the bottom in product quality. What we now call food deserts in inner cities may expand to suburbs, and deprivation of other goods and services will increase when businesses have no economic incentives to locate in poor neighborhoods. I see no hope for places like Ferguson, Missouri.

The primary drawback to the concept of basic income is that its time may not have come. For now it could work well in a wealthy developed country with a large population of unemployable citizens. For me, its real interest lies further out, when technology has made it almost impossible to find a job, when an economy becomes so automated that there is no need for economic competition and little demand for human labor of any kind. Barring an unforeseen disaster between now and then, from that point onward capitalism may be viewed as a driver of technological change that outlived its usefulness.

Saturday, March 12, 2016


As someone who adopted reading relatively late, I have always been intrigued by how people think about it and what types of writing they prefer. For as long as I can remember there has been a "reading is good" mantra, and it contains an ambiguity that still puzzles me today. There is nothing natural about reading, which is evidenced by the fact that almost none of our ancestors were literate. Books were not widely available until the nineteenth century, and the oldest systems of writing are only about five thousand years old, making it understandable that learning to read may come with difficulty to many who have no impairments in a biological sense. On the other hand, our facility with language is comparatively old; something resembling modern language was probably present seventy thousand years ago, and simpler linguistic communications were probably extant in our hominid ancestors hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Like many things, I tend to view reading through an evolutionary lens. In its greatest impact, literacy led to a sudden, unanticipated acceleration in technological development that started by the Middle Ages and has continuously changed civilization up to the present. Without written language and reading, the dissemination of knowledge would have been stunted, perpetuating the isolated and redundant reinvention of similar tools and methods. Without written records and communications, life today might resemble life in the fifteenth century; perhaps Europeans would never have colonized the Americas, the automobile would not have been invented, etc. For what it's worth, on the positive side, the world's population would be far lower than it is today and there would be no anthropogenic global warming or nuclear weapons.

While these unanticipated consequences are certainly something to think about in a historical context, to most of us reading is a personal matter that relates to three specific areas: our vocation, our social life and our private entertainment. I recall hearing that by attending a liberal arts college I would "learn how to learn" and be set for life. In hindsight that sounds like promotional material for a product. When I look at my college peers, the main impact of college seems to have been that they became literate enough to get jobs, and after that they pretty much stopped learning, at least insofar as reading is concerned. The impression I have is that the human mind has little desire to learn for its own sake, and my college acquaintances don't seem in their subsequent lives to have become vast repositories of learning; though they do know more than they used to, most of that additional knowledge was derived from practical experience, not books. Of course, some college students do end up becoming academics, but even there, with a life of books and reading, there is the narrowing effect of academic specialization. One of the reasons why I was never cut out to be an academic was that I developed a sense early on that many academics tended to be playing a career game that ultimately had nothing to do with understanding.

For most people, particularly younger ones, an important aspect of reading has to do with how it integrates their social lives, or, more precisely, their perceptions of their social lives, since actual engagement seems in some sense to be a thing of the past. I can't comment on this with much authority, because I am profoundly indifferent to social media, but Sherry Turkle and others have shown how smartphones and social media have altered how young people perceive reality. From my vantage point, that environment, though superficial to the extreme, allows its participants to communicate rapidly and precisely according to the social standards that currently prevail, but the texting world has no appeal to me. Here I think the social setting that has arisen in conjunction with commercial interests is unstable and is unlikely to be sustainable without further development, because it doesn't meet the psychological needs of those who inhabit that culture. However, that evolution is ongoing, and it is still possible that social media will one day become effective at meeting psychological needs at a deeper level than they currently do.

A third domain of reading is private entertainment, which I suppose applies to aesthetic works such as poetry and fiction as well as nonfiction. There is an aspect of literary fiction that overlaps with vocational choices, as in academic careers, which I think has a tendency to degrade the purely aesthetic aspects of writing in those instances where the actual motivator is a paycheck. I've already made several posts on the pitfalls of the literary establishment, so I won't harangue you any more about that. What prompted me to write this post in the first place was my awareness of how writing, in the form of prose, fiction and poetry, including that found on the Internet, fills needs beyond work and socialization. Private entertainment interests a segment of the population in which bibliophiles and web surfers converge to form a population whose lives hinge vicariously on the written words of others. This is a group that I have often complained about, because on the Internet they usually show no interest in reciprocal communication, and ostensibly they don't seem to think beyond their personal gratification. For some, reading may become a private experience that makes up for the absence of a social life. That category includes socially inept people who can't be bothered with or don't know how to develop actual relationships, for whom reading becomes a substitute life, and perhaps also a small number of people who simply love the written word for its own sake regardless of its vocational or social benefits. The most private may be the hardest to engage, because they may have no desire to communicate with others, thus contributing to some of my Internet chagrin.

Because reading did not come naturally to me I grew to expect a lot from it if I were to make the effort, and thus I arrived at my current status as a picky reader who finds much writing unsatisfactory. I have gradually retreated to this blog, where I can at least make an attempt to write things the way I would like to read them, and where perhaps I can strike a chord with a reader, known or unknown, who may or may not be communicative. In fully engaged writing there is a certain intimacy that one may never experience elsewhere in life; the written word may allow you to come as close as you ever will to inhabiting someone else's brain. Even so, there is still an element in me that rebels against reading, because I recognize, as did the mad poet Laura Riding, that there is a "silent half of language" that precedes words. There is knowledge that exists independently from words and language, and we can access it through the parts of ourselves that predate language.

Monday, March 7, 2016


After considering various options, the guest from hell dilemma has been solved with a plan to spend sixteen days on Lopez Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington in June, during which I will see family members. The trip will be expensive, but it makes more sense than spending time living like a hermit in a cabin somewhere on the East Coast. With any luck there won't be a major earthquake that month.

I am at a lull in my reading progress, as I haven't been able to find any books that currently interest me other than ones that haven't been published yet. As mentioned earlier, I've ordered Half-Earth, by E.O. Wilson, which should be available soon. I've also ordered The Big Picture, by Sean Carroll, and Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, by Frans de Waal, both of which should arrive by May. I learned of Sean Carroll on 3 Quarks Daily; not only is he a leading cosmologist, but he is also an excellent writer and even a nice guy. Frans de Waal is a leading primatologist whose articles I've come across from time to time; he is known for his comparisons of humans to other animals. If I weren't so picky about fiction, I'd probably be reading more of that, but the fact is that it takes an extraordinary amount of effort for me to find fiction that I consider worthwhile, and, comparatively speaking, we are living in a Renaissance of popular scientific writing that complements the growing mountain of scientific knowledge. Contemporary fiction, on the other hand, seems to be stuck in boring paradigms. The major writers of the developed world don't seem to have anything new to say, and at best they may come up with new styles that are unlikely to change literary history. That opens the field to lesser-known writers from the developing world who, unfortunately, probably won't do much more than put their cultural spins on old formulas. Ultimately most people are about the same at a fundamental level, and in fiction local culture isn't much more than window dressing. There may always be a demand for storytelling and entertainment in fiction, but those aspects of literature don't interest me as much as new ideas.  Krasznahorkai is worth reading, but I'd rather not read two of his books in a row.

I have been following the American presidential primaries, and this year's are truly bizarre. Bernie Sanders is doing quite well considering his political beliefs. He still has little chance of defeating Hillary Clinton, but that isn't important in relation to his overall impact. He has opened the way for younger politicians with unorthodox ideas who are likely to dominate the Democratic Party once the Clintons are out of the way. In the Republican Party many years of miscalculation are coming to a head. Trump is the worst nightmare of the Republican establishment, and if he is able to win the nomination the party may be in turmoil for some time. Their narrative has not taken into account economic reality, and no matter how much money they spend they can't win elections if they have nothing to offer ordinary voters. On a cautionary note, Donald Trump's success seems emblematic of all that can go wrong in a democratic political process when emotional voters become overwrought about their future well-being. Trump has nothing substantive to offer them, yet, psychologically, he has an appeal similar to that of dangerous fascists such as Hitler and Mussolini. If you put too much power into the hands of a person like that, the consequences may be catastrophic, and this is why I have doubts about the existing democratic process and believe that it will have to be changed sooner or later.

Thursday, March 3, 2016


The winter seems to be ending before it began, one sign being the preparations now underway for the tapping of maple syrup, which requires freezing temperatures at night and warmer temperatures during the day. Another harbinger of spring is the announcement of the annual itinerary for the visit of the guest from hell. I won't go into great detail about him, since he is the father of a household member, but I think I am entitled to say a few things, considering that, given the otherwise ideal living conditions to which I have become accustomed, Norman, relatively speaking, is the bane of my life.

Norman lives in Bridlington, UK, and has been visiting his daughter in the U.S. annually for decades. In earlier years, when he was less ancient and her children were young, he was less obtrusive and even helpful during her post-divorce period, because he could cook, do household chores and watch the children, and he assisted her when she moved from her house to a condominium. For many years the standard visit was six weeks, which was fine until I became a household member and the children grew up.

Initially the problem I had was simply that I felt uncomfortable and disrupted by having a guest in the house for such a long period of time. Otherwise it seemed to make sense that he would spend Christmas with his daughter and grandchildren. However, the grandchildren have long since grown up and moved out, and he usually doesn't see them on his visits. Moreover, he is now 85 years old, legally blind, overweight, and requires far more assistance than he used to, though he is still somewhat independent. On a typical day he will have all of his meals prepared for him, and unless an activity is planned for him he will spend the day sitting in an armchair reading popular novels with a magnifying glass. This would not necessarily be problematic if he were sensitive to the interests of others, socially alert and a good conversationalist, but he is not.

Over the years he has been given hints that his long visits were not appreciated by all. Some years I have gone away on trips by myself during his visits. He has gradually been pressured to reduce their length, first to three weeks and currently to sixteen days. We have avoided directly confronting him and telling him that I don't like having him around, but any sensitive person would have readily noticed that a problem exists, given my absences and increasing lack of participation during his visits.

If I were not forced to live in close quarters with Norman, he would be easier to tolerate. He isn't stupid, only poorly educated and lacking in curiosity, and he appreciates opera, though I don't. Unlike most Americans, rather than being overbearing and assertive, he is timid to the point of dysfunction, which makes a change. However, he doesn't follow world events or watch movies, and there is little to discuss with him beyond the decline in recent years of public transportation in Yorkshire. His lack of awareness and insensitivity were major contributing factors to the ill-conceived visit that he engineered for his granddaughter, Victoria, two years ago. In short, Norman has almost singlehandedly transformed me from an Anglophile to an Anglophobe.

For better or for worse, my personality is such that I closely watch things that capture my attention, and when it occurs to me that something is wrong I can't rest until some sort of solution is reached. In the case of Norman, the problem is that he is either oblivious to or takes no responsibility for the disruptive effects of his visits. He probably hasn't ever given a thought to how much time I have spent with him. I am a private person who likes to be alone, and I have involuntarily spent more time with Norman than I have spent with a combined total that includes my mother over the last 34 years of her life, my sisters since 1973, my son since 1985 and my daughter since 2006. Over the last ten years there is only one person who has spent more time with me. He may not think anything is wrong, but I do. Although the length of this year's visit is a significant improvement over previous years, and he may not be around much longer, I am suffering from the cumulative toxic effects of his visits and am seeking ways to make myself scarce in June.