The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth – Book review


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I never thought reading about the techniques of rhetoric could be fun but The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth (The Inky Fool) is hilarious. The subject of rhetoric goes back to the Ancient Greeks and they invented a multitude of verbal tricks to entice their listeners to become attentive to the speaker’s way of saying things as well as the content of what they were saying. This book isn’t about the truth or falsity of a speaker’s statements but explores ear-catching and mind-catching turns of phrase.

There are 239 pages, in thirty-nine chapters, with wonderful Greek names like polyptoton, merism, synaesthesia, with definitions and examples. The whole book is a riotous romp through the comedy of the last two and a half millennia of fancified blather.

One of my friends from years ago, back in Berkeley, mentioned one day that he had a degree in rhetoric, and I remember saying something to the effect that it was a degree aimed at lying to win your arguments. There may be a distant odor of truth to that accusation, but that is not the route this book takes. The goal here is to make you more cognizant of your writing and speaking, and help your words become more interesting and more memorable. That is why I am enjoying this book, and why I will attempt to develop some of these fun little devices into personal habits. My simple-minded and a bit selfish reason for doing this is because most people find me boring. Perhaps this will help.

I like to talk about stuff after the hello — how are you feeling, — fine — how are you — fine, … which is a dialogue that some people can carry on for minutes, and consider it a deep conversation when they finally get around to the local weather and the forecast for next week. With the techniques offered in The Elements of Eloquence, it may become possible for me to carry on those inane conversations in a way that becomes exciting, at least for me, and perhaps to my interlocutors. Perhaps these conversations will be an opportunity to practice merism, that is, “words’ for words’ sake: a gushing torrent of invention filled with noun and noun and signifying nothing.” As I write this it seems more likely that I would slip over into blazon – which is a merism too far.

The techniques discussed in this book are made to sound foolish, and to be manipulative of the recipient’s thoughts, mind, and will. But, isn’t every word spoken to another guilty of that, and if that is accepted why shouldn’t we be as adept at becoming interesting as possible?

If your speech be honest it’s fair to be eloquent. 

My presentation on promoting maturity.


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Today I was the facilitator for the Human Development group and as part of that job I was to give a short presentation on some relevant subject to get the discussion fired up. Our group is usually about twenty-five people, most of whom have been professional counselors of some kind, and some are actually on their pay clock while with us. Most of these people have been involved in helping other people who are failing at some aspect of their lives and were either assisting in some form of state-sponsored helping or helping people who were seeking some professional guidance.

My presentation was aimed at helping people who were already moving along my March 29, 2016 maturity scale — Infant – Child – Adolescent – Adult – Mature – Sage – Ourora. The idea presented in that scale has been upgraded some since that post with the addition of the post – How to direct what is called growth toward maturity.

“The idea for this new direction of growing toward maturity is, “When you are feeling good, and have time and energy to do something different from your routine, choose to avoid actions that are childish and do actions that are as mature as possible.” That is a generalization that should work in all cultures.

Create more mature habits when you have the chance to do so.”

The five-minute presentation went smoothly enough and it included the example of a family going skiing with behaviors mentioned for infant through sage. There were several challenges from the group that I was misbehaving by telling people what they should do. I responded that I was only suggesting that they consider choosing the more mature option of the opportunities placed before them and that the best time to examine and choose those options was when they were feeling most free and expansive. That I had chosen the family skiing excursion as an example because in that situation there were opportunities to explore and demonstrate more mature behaviors for each of the defined levels.

There were complaints of my putting people into boxes – infant through sage – and that people are individuals and not categories. What could I say in response but that I agree with them, but when speaking we must communicate with words and they are inherently defined boxes, and what I was trying to communicate was a way of coping with one’s life in a way that would develop habits that would serve them better in the long run.

To this end the idea of going on a child-safe trail doing a search and rescue mission with children would automatically give a child a mature orientation to a situation. That helping people in the greater community, which is a mature activity, can be participated in by a child. That those kinds of acts by an older, and presumably mature person, would not be telling a child what to do but would be illustrating what kinds of things could be done. The skiing would be just as much fun for the child, and they would be developing the skills of skiing, but they would also be developing adolescent proof of self-worth, adult participation in a worthwhile family activity, mature doing something worthwhile for the greater community, and possibly sage-like in that they were illustrating how a person could set an example for all of the people of the world to observe and learn a worthwhile lesson.

This was my first public talk on how to develop more mature habits.










I realized that I was not invited.


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Writers’ group prompt  — That was when I realized that I was not invited.

I was sitting in my new lounge chair in the garden when it happened. It was a nearly inaudible rustling in the bushes behind me, and with a start, I reflexively turned around, but nothing was there. I assumed it was just the bushes making some adjustment as they sometimes do, and I went back to my idle reveries on the meaning of life, especially human life.

I was trying to figure out how to save humanity and how to prevent it from destroying itself. Most people I encounter say that it’s a worthy goal, and they claim they think about it occasionally, but they also mock it as preposterous and say only a fool would waste time attempting to do something so grandiose! It’s piffle, or poof, or pudding!

Well, I am that foolish and my goal is to raise the maturity level of all humanity by giving every person an easy method for improving their personal relationship with their environment, with other people, and most importantly with themselves. Truly that is a fool’s quest! How can a person sitting alone in a garden change everyone on the whole planet, especially when everyone knows they’re already on the right path, and also that I’m a fool?

A tiny twig snaps! I jump again and look around. Nothing.

If I could only communicate to people the concept that when they are feeling emotionally good and have some flexibility in their next actions, that’s an opportunity to choose to do the most mature thing available instead of some fun thing. …

Another little rustle and I turned around and … I realized that I was not invited !!! I grab my camera …

A family of skunks in Bend, Oregon

A mother skunk and four kits walking toward me from about eight feet away.

Here is my video posted to YouTube of the event – Baby skunks on parade.

Sometimes, in the midst of a seemingly profound quest, reality intrudes.


The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith – book review


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The sub-title of this Probaway blog is “Many helpful hints on living your life more successfully.” and I have 3,270 articles posted on that general topic. This afternoon I attended a lecture on the subject of suicide presented by a person who attempted suicide a single time about forty years ago. The lecture was about what he did in the meantime that made his life meaningful. While his talk was about what he was consciously thinking about, which was his inner-soul-directed misery, his life was directed toward helping troubled kids. As I was listening to his lecture it seemed this external work was what was helping him survive his inner demons. In my current frame of mind my thoughts on the stages of human maturity are – Infant, Child, Adolescent, Adult, Mature, and Sage.

In that structured view, thinking about your inner-self is the infant lifestyle. That is because the structure of maturity as described in the sequence above goes from totally within one’s self’s well-being as an infant to totally externalized toward the well-being of humanity as a sage. Taking care of kids, even other people’s kids, is an adult way of behavior, and it helped this man to have a more positive relationship with himself and to move beyond suicide.

In the book, (to be published in January 2017) The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters by Emily Esfahani Smith the chapter titles follow the same trend that I saw in this man’s life. The chapter titles are – The Meaning Crisis – Belonging – Purpose – Storytelling – Transcendence – Growth –  Cultures of Meaning. This book and this man’s life follow in part the 1930 book by Will DurantOn the Meaning of Life, which is quoted on page 37 –

“To Durant, meaning arises from transcending the self. ‘If, as we said at the outset,’ he writes, ‘a thing has significance only through its relation as part to a larger whole, then, though we cannot give a metaphysical and universal meaning to all life in general, we can say of any life in particular that its meaning lies in relation to something larger than itself.’ The more you connect with and contribute to that something, Durant believed, the more meaningful your life is. For Durant specifically, that  ‘something’ was work and family.”

I immediately went online, purchased Durant’s book and read it carefully. It was a bit disappointing because it was based on letters solicited from the famous people of 1930 about what made their life meaningful. In my previous post I concluded –

This is a book of 144 pages that gives the motivations of some of the famous people of the 1920s. It is easy reading and seems to say that even our greatest people are like journeymen workers, just doing the jobs they are destined to do by their choice of life goals for themselves and humanity.

Those people’s lives didn’t seem as transcendent, in their own words, as our modern reminiscences about them seem to imply. What was lacking in all of these people’s works was an over-arching method for achieving a higher state of being. The statement – work and family – doesn’t seem like much of a transcendent goal. It was Sigmund Freud’s sum of significance, but it doesn’t energize me. Even the two thousand-year-old Golden Rule as stated by Jesus in the King James Version of the Bible is much better. “All things whatsoever you would that men should do to you do ye even so unto them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” The key word here is should and not as in the later versions translated as would, because should has much more demanding ambitions for one’s behavior. It takes a person from fulfilling their own desires with what one would want for themselves at their current state of being and thrusts them into a much higher pursuit of doing what they should do to attain to heaven.

I have proposed in How to mature from Infantile to Sage and beyond that we can attain to a higher state of personal being by choosing to behave in the most mature way available to us at the moments we are feeling emotionally good, and situationally where we have options. This method is more easily applied than Jesus’s method. Although it may not get you to Heaven, it will get you to a much happier place and to an old age of contentment.

The moment humans became human.


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Obviously, there is a difference between modern humans and all other animals. We have the ability to easily learn how to speak in ways that communicate complex and subtle observations to others of our species who have learned our common language. The obvious proof of this is the human ability to warn our friends of dangers which are invisible to them. That is the key forcing factor which has the ability to become heritable, because if we can verbally warn our friends of life-threatening dangers we can later interbreed with them and their progeny. If we and they lack that ability to warn of dangers, they and we are obviously at greater risk of being taken out of the gene pool, and that ability to communicate will not be included in our offspring’s genetic code.

The question then becomes what are the necessary precursors to learning this ability and encoding it into our DNA? Our ancestors of say one million years ago had large brains, and the Neanderthals of half a million years ago even very large brains, and it would seem reasonable to assume that they had the capacity to learn a large number of words. But their expressions would in the beginning be single referent words, without a syntax for linking them together into what we would now call simple sentences.

In the earlier eras, there would be simple verbal warnings, saying “look out” there is danger, and these kinds of words are common even to birds. Some primates are known to have warning words for a dozen or so unique dangers. Single syllable warnings such as cat, snake, eagle, wolf, would be essential to not being killed and eaten by those animals. As pre-humans evolved and were searching for edible foods, such warnings would be applied to potentially edible plant foods. And these too would have a value judgment applied to them. Single syllable terms for food items such as fruit or root for edibles and yetch and puke for inedible things.

There is a positive-friendly quality to some of these things and a negative-danger aspect to others, but these qualities would still be indicated by single words, and possibly single syllable words. But, about this time in the development of a vocabulary, there comes the ability to apply these positive-negative concepts to other people and to potential mates. Mate selection has been going on from near the beginning of sex, but with the ability to identify the “good” and “bad” mates with words communicated among early people there is a new layer added to the selection process, and that brings into the mate choice the potential for this verbal ability to appear and to be selected for. Natural selection has developed into sexual selection of living ideal healthy survivors, and that with the advent of words is refined into verbal selection for qualities beyond simple adaptation to the existing environment. The ability to use words better than other potential mates becomes a selective factor that can be carried into the group gene pool.

When the ability to speak, even to speak single words, becomes a selective factor, then the ability to link two words together becomes possible for the selection process to advance. With that ability, it becomes possible to say snake-tree, cat-ground, good-guy, and the selection process can take off and select for all of the qualities that distinguish modern humans from all other creatures.

Humans became human the moment they could put two words together.


Writer’s group prompt- Abigail, San Francisco, confusion


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Dudley’s writers group with Michael as leader and people from SAC (Spiritual Awareness Community)… I was given this name, location and subject. – Abigail, San Francisco, Confusion – and the prompt was – The last thing she wanted to do was leave the place.

It was the so-called Summer of Love in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, and Abigail was in a state of absolute confusion. She had just arrived a week earlier from her home town in remote Central Oregon. That was a small logging town named Bend, and it was only fifty years since the railroad had been built to take out the lumber and bring a modicum of civilization to the local lumberjacks, farmers, and cowboys. It was a beautiful place with mountain views, a fine river, and, if you liked fishing, lots of entertainment.

The people there in Bend were serious-minded, and their minds were focused on making a living and enjoying their family life. Their social life was comfortable and conservative with the big challenges coming in the form of the annual cooking competitions at the county fair. The life was thought to be as good as it could be, and no one wanted anyone to change their homey lifestyle. The limit of most folks’ ambitions was to make a little more money, add a few more acres plowed on their farm, or a room added to their home, perhaps a newer car, but that was about it. Life was good the way it was.

Abigail had been named after her grandmother, and her mother had raised Abi to be like her grandmother, and that meant being very conservative but willing to take big risks like her grandmother, who had been a pioneer when she came to Bend in a covered wagon. When Grandma Abigail got to Bend there were fewer than one hundred people, and thus everyone knew everyone and everything about everyone. There was no need for much of what the city folks called law and order, and social pressure kept everyone in line. Even the town drunk. That was the culture that Abi brought to San Francisco and to the Summer of Love.

Free drugs, free sex, free rock and roll. That meant cheap pot, cheap sex, and horrible music. Abi didn’t like any of it. She didn’t participate, she watched, she thought, she rejected it all. Then one day she met Bill. He was a guy from a little town in Idaho, called Homedale. He was so different from the boys she knew back in Bend, he was exciting and had grown up on a farm and knew all about cows and apple trees.

It was only a month into the Summer of Love and Abi was pregnant. They decided to move back to Homedale where Bill knew he could get a job. And so they did and lived happily ever after.

The function of truth is to avoid problems and pain and to bring pleasure.


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To maximize the chances that your future will be happy and tranquil, do your evaluations of the facts before becoming overcommitted to a path of action that may lead to serious unintended consequences. But before you can know the truth you must evaluate the information that is relevant to the coming actions, and for those evaluations to be best for the coming situation you must have accurate information, and for the information to be valid there must be some way of judging its facts and their accuracy, and for all these factors to be meaningful there must be freedom of speech of all the people with information. Thus the most basic necessity for future contentment is free speech.

Free speech means allowing every person involved to express their opinion about the relevant things without the fear of punishment, or even of contradiction. They must have the option to speak nonsense and even lies. Because if everyone can speak the truth as they see it, those speaking nonsense and lies will be exposed. Those giving poor representations of the truth need not be challenged because you as the evaluator must make the assessment as to what the truth you are going to act upon actually is. A version of truth depends upon the point of view from which the speaker is making their observations and opinions. Thus it is important for you as the evaluator to put yourself mentally into the place from which they are making their observations. Once there you may find yourself in total agreement with what they said.

Take in all information from the point of view that makes it true, and then make your evaluations of what truth is for the task at hand.


List of things that are getting better.

The world is a much better place for human beings than at any time in human history. The illustrations below are of the terrible things that humans have endured. Why are Americans so upset about the current situation?

Human life expectancy

Total life expectancy for humans has gone from 30 to 80+ years.

Source Health food science

Log chart of historical war deaths

A history of major war deaths shown on a logarithmic chart.


Since WWII, which ended in 1945, and Mao’s Cultural Revolution ending about 1976, war deaths have been below the green line, 0.1% of world population. The current worst case is in Syria with 300 to 500 thousand deaths. As horrible as that number is it would only get onto the bottom line of the chart above the numeral 2000, and note the chart is logarithmic. Chinggis Khan killed over 10% of all humans, and he didn’t know of America and didn’t enter Africa or India.

Some clearly better things that have come into our world since 1900: greatly improved cars, airplanes, powered ships, vaccinations, sanitation, movies, TV, computers, web, information, Wikipedia, cell phones, antibiotics, anesthetics, surgery, disaster prediction and response, plastic, understanding, and acceptance of testable reality.

Perhaps the greatest bounty we presently have is access to healthy food. We now have about ten times as much food as we did in 1800, and a vastly greater variety to choose from.

All of these bounties have a downside. Even the greater life expectancy means more stress on the natural resources provided by the Earth. But my point is that at present humanity is for the moment living better than ever, and it appears that trend will continue for several more years. The current angst of the American public has been generated by unrealistic expectations for things to be perfect. Unfortunately, we live in a real world where nothing is perfect in human terms.

You presently have the opportunity to live a wonderful life. Don’t waste it by wallowing in the despair that is being generated by the media.

The Trolley Problem by Thomas Cathcart – book review


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A trolley is out of control and there are five people on the track ahead, but on a siding, there is only a single person standing on the track. You have a switch which will divert the trolley and kill the single person instead of the five. Do you throw the switch? A similar problem is the only way to save the five is to push a fat guy off a bridge onto the tracks to stop the trolley. Do you push the fat guy off the bridge to sudden death?

The Trolley Problem – or – Would You Throw the Fat Guy Off the Bridge? by Thomas Cathcart. The “trolley problem” has stimulated discussions ever since it was presented by British philosopher Philippa Foot in 1967. There are an infinity of deep questions that arise from these problems and this book presents many of them in a clear and easily understood style. Do we side with Jeremy Bentham and his ideas of “maximizing total human happiness,” or with Hippocrates and make our prime directive “do no evil”? Is throwing a switch and thereby killing a person with a trolley to save five people less evil than pushing a fat guy off a bridge and killing him to stop the runaway trolley from killing five others?

Those seem like important questions, but what does the average person’s morality guide them to do? What would you do? How would you justify your actions in a public court of law, and how would you justify your actions to the court of public opinion? In some jurisdictions, you might be convicted of voluntary murder and executed, and in others called a quick-acting hero and given some honors.

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), the author of Summa Theologiae, provides some guidance for these problems through the Principle of Double Effect:

  1. The act itself must be morally good or at least indifferent.
  2. The agent may not positively will the bad effect but may permit it. If he could attain the good effect without the bad effect, he should do so.
  3. The good effect must flow from the action at least as directly as the bad effect. In other words, the good effect must be produced directly by the action, not by the bad effect. Otherwise, the agent would be using a bad means to a good end, which is never allowed.
  4. The good effect must be desirable to compensate for the allowing of the bad effect.

The Trolley Problem is a fun book to read, and will provoke you to thought and to laughter.

The best risk analysis you are ever likely to see.


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Tragic Story of the BEST Plane EVER MADE – Rockwell-MBB X-31 Thrust Vectoring NASA Project

This is an important video to watch by any person who will ever encounter a potentially dangerous, even life-threatening situation. It is about the X-31 experimental airplane that had flown 550 test flight missions, and on the 19th of January 1995 on the very last scheduled flight where it was flying another routine mission, one that was well within its capabilities, it suddenly went totally out of control and crashed.

The airplane was being video recorded with at least two high-definition cameras, and monitored on all possible sensors at the highest possible quality multichannel radio, back to Edwards Air Force test facilities. In the control room a team of some of the world’s best research personnel were monitoring the flight, analyzing risk and learning how to improve thrust-vectored airplanes. You may never see a better report for an accident than this video. The video was made by the people on the inside who were responsible for all aspects of the situation.

Some text from the video.

(video time marker) 0:04 of 38:51 – Chase pilot radio “NASA one. We have an ejection, we have an ejection. The aircraft is descending over the north base area. I have a chute. The pilot is out of the seat and the chute is good.”

Ground control, “Copy.”

Rogers Smith X-31 Project Pilot, “We had a highly competent team. Very experienced. Many flights under their belt.”

Ken Szalai, NASA Dryden Center Director, 1990-98. “Each mishap has its own set of circumstances and its own sequence of events. But you find similar issues, communications, complacency, assumptions that haven’t been warranted, human frailties, and you have to account for these things in a program.”

“This was the A team! The best people from every organization and we lost an airplane. So, if it can happen to the best team, it can happen to any team.”

3:31 – Ken Szalai, “We were not expanding the envelope or trying anything new … this was a routine mission, a routine task, routine environment, with an experienced pilot and an experienced crew.

6:08 Mission Pilot: “Okay, remind me…I just put pitot heat on. Remind me to put it off.”

Ground control, “Copy that.”

Internal Communication Only Engineer: “The pitot heat’s not hooked up on the Kiel Probe.”

“Copy that.”

10:38 – Commentary “R3 was a reversionary mode that would have removed within two seconds the airspeed data input into the flight control system. The control surface response to pilot input would then be independent of airspeed, allowing the airplane to remain controllable for the remainder of the flight back to the landing.”

12:27 – Rogers Smith, “A lack of attention to the reversionary mode. … Push the backup reversionary button, get the airplane under manual control and talk about it.”

14:29 – “It’s like expecting to hear, that went fine. After this program, with hundreds of flights, and everything going perfectly, in your mind you’re hearing things that weren’t happening. Everything is working fine, let’s come home.”

20:00 – Ken Szalai, “Every person involved in an experimental flight research program should actually study the mishaps of all experimental aircraft in the past twenty to thirty years. There’s a lot of things you can learn because human nature doesn’t change, the processes don’t change. It’s always the same set of contributing factors, just the names and the details change. Of the ten things that I describe as contributing causes of the mishap, six of them occurred prior to the day of the flight, four occurred within about two minutes. So we have a better chance of working on the six than we did on the four.”

29:20 – “In the case of any discrepancy, anything that doesn’t sound right, feel right, smell right, let’s stop and think it over. I think that kind of attitude has been built now into the control room mission, the control room processes since then.”

30:12 – Patrick Stoliker Lead Control Systems Engineer, “The mission is not over until the airplane is on the ground and the engine is shut down.”

35:58 – “We didn’t have it to the chase plane, we didn’t have it in the control room, lack of hot mikes is a contributing factor. We didn’t have in the control room, we discussed things internally that didn’t get to the pilot. We have to have an environment where people can speak up when they “think” something is wrong. They don’t have to be right, if they are concerned, they should be able to speak their mind. They put their hand up and we stop the train. Then we look at things and say, it’s all right and we go on. We didn’t do that.”
“We didn’t understand the severity of the problem.”

36:03 – Ken Szalai, “There aren’t many accidents. We don’t lose many airplanes in flight research activities at Dryden, we haven’t over the years. And so when you do have one you better learn everything about it, in fact, you should do the same thing for close calls.”
“The lessons to be learned. Don’t assume that they have been learned. We can always, with every new group… Every new group will have to learn the same lessons. And, you don’t want to do it the hard way with an accident …

36:51- good judgment from all levels of the program.

37:20 – Rogers Smith, “It’s always clear after the fact what you should have done … and nobody ever thinks it’s going to happen to them. To lose judgment, to lose communication, to not do the right thing.”

37:30 – Ken Szalai, “So, what is the message? What is the message for the team? It may mean that “I” am a part of the chain, and if I don’t catch this and if other people don’t catch their mistakes we will run through the entire chain and lead to a mishap.

“‘Everybody’ is responsible for safety. If you think some safety office analysis is going to find these things, they won’t. Mishaps can occur everywhere, but the point is … You have to fly safely, but fly.”


Everyone is a risk at some time during their lives, and this video will help you to clarify just how difficult it is to spot rare events before they happen. A tiny piece of ice in the wrong place can bring about a catastrophe. However, if you haven’t put yourself into a situation where a tiny error will bring about a serious problem, then a tiny event probably won’t have any unusual effect.

If there are hurricane winds blowing, a tiny object might strike you with deadly force. Therefore, heed advice to get away from the hurricane, and if that’s impossible get into a place where the wind can’t possibly affect you. In those hurricane situations, it is more likely that fast-moving water will kill you. That may come from a tsunami-like storm-surge, or from getting into a flowing stream. Even a foot of fast flowing water can sweep a person off their feet and smash them into invisible things.

It’s easy to avoid problems when they are far away, and hard to cope with them when they are close.