[Following is an essay written by my father, Paul Arnold Bredenberg, in 2003. A further explanation will follow. ARB]

A Yearbook Encounter

By Paul Arnold Bredenberg

It started with a newspaper clipping sent by my brother, who still lives in my old home town. The story was a tribute to Naz Servideo, an old acquaintance of mine who died recently. He was a basketball star on our great high school team of ’38-’39, the team that almost won the state championship. We lost by four points. I always felt that we would have won if Naz, our best shooter, had taken just three more shots. Do you suppose that loss is long forgotten and has entirely ceased to hurt? Think again — it’s been only sixty-four years. A fellow needs time.

PaulABredenbergAndTennisHatAbt1965_smallI was a student manager for that team, and the players treated me like one of the family. How many times had I taped Naz’s ankles before he went out on the court? 1 just had to get out my yearbook and find the team picture for that year. Maybe not one of my better ideas, but I couldn’t help it.

There they were. What athletes! Two of them, who also played football, went on after the war to play the end positions (offense and defense in those days) on the New York Giants first team. Both are also now deceased.

But what happens once your yearbook lies open? Your finger turns page after page, you see row after row of those clear young faces, most of them hauntingly familiar. Your finger stops now and then under pictures of the smart and talented and, in my case, of a few girls who caught my eye, gave me “ideas,” but seemed unreachably distant. I found, however, that they had signed their names beside their pictures, so apparently I was not hopelessly shy.

My finger paused for some time under Vito’s picture. It seemed I had always known him. His father had been my barber as far back as I could remember. The next pause was for Archie — tall, raw-boned, tough — but as gentle and kind a friend as you could ask for. The thing is, I knew that Vito and Archie never came back from the war in Europe.

The picture that held my attention for the longest time was the one of Stanley. Seeing that strong young face, with the expression that always seemed to me slightly cynical, my thoughts spun back in time more than sixty years. Stanley was the kid next door, my companion on neighborhood adventures. We walked to school together and were about as close as teenagers can get.

When the war was over and I had received my discharge from the Navy, I went home for a brief visit with my parents before going back to work on my college degree. Approaching the house, I looked down the driveway between our place and the neighbor’s; then upward against the sky I could see the line running between the second floor windows of the two houses. I smiled.

On my first trip upstairs to my room I went over to my desk beside the window. There was my little apparatus, just as I’d left it several years before. I’d put it together with scrap wood, metal and wire. Adding a store-bought lantern-type battery and a buzzer, what I had created was a kind of telegraph terminal. Stanley had put together a similar rig in his room across the driveway, and we had strung a two-way insulated wire through our room windows connecting our “terminals. ”

What we had in mind was to send messages back and forth by Morse Code. But first we had to learn the Code. Perhaps we thought it might be worth a Scout merit badge. We went to work on it and got to the point of being able to chat back and forth at about ten words per minute, maybe more.

Now, years later, 1 thought to myself, just for the heck of it, let’s try it out. Surprisingly, my buzzer worked just fine. I raised my window, pressed my key, but couldn’t tell for sure whether Stanley’s buzzer was sounding.

I found my mother down in the kitchen.

“Mom, I just tried to get a signal to Stanley. Do you know whether he’s home these days?”

Her hand flew to cover her face, as it always did when she was surprised or embarrassed. “Oh, my Lord,” she said. “I forgot to tell you …. His parents got word, oh sometime last summer, I think …. that he was missing in action. Then a few months later someone came to tell them that he … that he would not be coming back … from Europe.”

She reached out her arms to hold me, her eyes watering. “I’m so sorry … I know how you and Stanley ….” I held her close and didn’t try to stop my own tears. The wound was as dose to the heart as any that war would bring me.

Back in my room I sat at my desk a long time, looking down that telegraph line to Stanley’s window. My youthful sentiment at the time was that in the years to come there would always be a kind of connecting line between us, even though one of the terminals lay under a small white cross on a gentle green slope in the north of France.

Nearly sixty years later, that line is still there. It carries no messages in code tapped out with finger on key, but one can tell movement on the line by pressing a finger under a certain small picture in an old high- school yearbook.

[The essay quoted above was published in 2003 in the newsletter for Whitaker Glen, the retirement community where my father and mother, Paul and Gladys Bredenberg, were living at the time. During his last several years, my dad began doing some writing and published a series of essays and poems in the newsletter. I always wished he had done more writing and that he had sought broader publishing venues, but near the end of the life he seemed satisfied to reach his small audience there at Whitaker Glen. This was always my favorite of his pieces, and recently some family members said they would like to read it again. So here it is.]

ARB — 14 November 2015

 

 

Advertisements

I think a lot about assertions, things that people assert as true, very often without acknowledging their personal bias. To be fair, most of us are so immersed in our ideologies that we’re not aware of how they are compelling us toward bias.

The title of this post refers to some of the kinds of assertions I hear, by which someone states something as a fact:

  • The way things are — some assertion about fact, whether it has to do with science, economics, politics, or some other sphere. One of my favorite manifestations is when someone begins an utterance with the stark word “Fact,” followed by a colon to emphasize the factiness of what follows, then followed by an unquestioned assertion.
  • The way things were — some statement about history or the past. For example, such and such Egyptian dynasty ruled in such and such time period, or some assertion about why humans came down from the trees to live on the savanna.
  • What is true — This is really akin to the other two kinds of assertions I’m pointing to, but maybe in this case I’m thinking about an assertion that goes beyond a mere statement of some fact. Some examples might be that God exists or that he doesn’t, or that evolution is an incontrovertible fact.

An assertion might be well supported, but what I’m trying to spotlight here is the common practice of making an assertion without acknowledging the background and context surrounding the assertion and the person making it. One result is that people get into fierce arguments even though they aren’t really arguing about the same thing.

Here are some of the kinds of influences that one might make clear to provide context to an assertion:

  • The lines of evidence behind the assertion — Is the assertion based on scientific or scholarly research? Sometimes a speaker will make an assertion, basing his or her statement on the consensus within a profession or academic field. (Academic or scientific consensus doesn’t always mean the same thing as the everyday understanding of what constitutes a consensus.) One of the problems here is that there may actually be a minority that disputes the consensus view. There might be a legitimate critique that isn’t getting acknowledged when the speaker makes the assertion.
  • Assumptions — Many assertions are based in part on ideas or constructs that are taken for granted. As with lines of evidence, there might be a legitimate minority critique of a given assumption. One example would be dating a past event based on the conventional chronologies hypothesized by historians and archaeologists.
  • Definition of terms — Often people get into arguments without establishing and agreeing on the meaning of the point they are discussing. For example, people argue about whether evolution is true without coming to a prior understanding of what they mean by evolution.
  • The ideological leanings of the speaker — For someone who wants to evaluate an assertion, it could be useful to know something about the speaker’s ideological convictions. Is the speaker a theist? An atheist? A free-market fundamentalist? An eco-socialist? One problem here is that many people don’t like to admit that they subscribe to an ideology or aren’t even aware of it.
  • The speaker’s authority for making the assertion — When evaluating an assertion, it can be useful to know the speaker’s credentials.
  • The speaker’s underlying agenda — As with ideology, many speakers don’t like to own up to their agendas, which are often political or ideologically-driven.

As is often the case with this writing project, my purpose here is to set out some basic ideas with the intention of coming back later to revise and add ideas and examples.

ARB — 3 Oct. 2013

Just a note that I have written a post over at Tools for Thinkers with brief reviews of some of my favorite books about intelligence and how to improve it if you so desire. I review books by Tony Buzan, Jeff Hawkins, Daniel Golemen, and Joshua Foer. See “Some Great Books About Intelligence.”

ARB — 2 Nov. 2013

Small house interiorOver at ThomasNet Green & Clean recently, I wrote a pair of articles about small houses, with a mix of interesting photos, statistics on home sizes, and quotes from Henry David Thoreau. Here are links to the articles:

Living in Small and Tiny Houses – Thoreau Would Be Proud

Want to Build Green? Start by Thinking Small.

(Photo: Tiny house interior. Credit: RowdyKittensCC BY 2.0.)

AB — 14 Oct. 2011

Congratulations! You’ve never had an auto accident, even though you drive fast, tailgate, and weave in and out of traffic.

And you’re already 27 — way to go!

You will never have an auto accident. Until you do. Then you will.

Congratulations on your great skill and brilliance.

AB — 9 May 2011

 

I just wanted to preserve and share links to a series of video interviews with my high school friend George Douvris, publisher of Links by George. As I understand it, these interviews were conducted in Hawaii recently. George is discussing his experiences with Terence McKenna.

First segment (scroll to the bottom for this video): http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1862402066/the-brotherhood-of-the-screaming-abyss/posts/78893

Second segment: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1862402066/the-brotherhood-of-the-screaming-abyss/posts/78918

Third segment: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1862402066/the-brotherhood-of-the-screaming-abyss/posts/78919

AB — 23 May 2011

The Undo function — a life-saver.

From “Behavioral issues in the use of interactive systems,” Lance A. Miller and John C. Thomas, International Journal of Man-Machine Studies, Sept. 1977:

A more complex situation, however, occurs … when a user wishes to “undo” the effects of some number of prior commands — as, for example, when a user inadvertently deletes all personal files. Recovery from such situations is handled by most systems by providing “back-up” copies of (all) users’ files, from which a user can get restored the personal files as they were some days previous. While this is perhaps acceptable for catastrophic errors, it would be quite useful to permit users to “take back” at least the immediately preceding command (by issuing some special “undo” command).

Now if they would only invent an Undo button for one’s personal life.

AB — 15 April 2011