A Poem for the Late Judy Asplund


I have the most vivid memory of you, Judy.

I see you smiling, seemingly saturated with a kind of joy

the rest of us can only envy.

You’re seated, head cocked a little, replying silently with your eyes and smile,

to some passing, inconsequential thing.

I would have asked you out at some point.

I was a senior; you, a year below.

But, and in the hierarchy of high school dating’s possibilities,

I saw you as at least two or three rungs out of my range.

But I want to convey my feelings now,

albeit too late, of course.

Judy, you were a kind of beacon.

A light source. 

What I would imagine pure human spirit to feel like

were I in its presence.

So much so that when I heard you’d died

(by chance, I was driving down one of the depressing stretches of 101,

Between S.F. and Palo Alto)

I felt my own spirit suddenly dim.

The shock of it was

that it just seemed your spirit couldn’t be extinguished,

not, at least, before everyone else’s in our generation had flickered out.

Yours was too strong, too incandescent, too warm.

Even so many, many years after,

the feeling was palpable, visceral, and sad as can be. 


– Ron Roizen                                                     




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The Rejection of Omphalos: A Note on Shifts in the Intellectual Hierarchy of Mid-Nineteenth Century Britain

Note:  This old chestnut used to be available on the web.  But now I see that it’s disappeared there.  I’m hoping no one will mind that I re-present it here at my blog, on this bright Easter morning.  (Citation:  Ron Roizen, [title], Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 21:365-369, 1982).

Creation of Adam.jpg

Omphalos (which is Greek for navel) is the title of an ill-fated book published in Great Britain in 1857–in the period just preceding the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859.  The book presented Philip Henry Gosse’s attempt to resolve one of the great contradictions bedeviling naturalists of his day, namely, the apparent disagreement between the enormous age of the earth suggested by the geological record and the comparatively much shorter six-thousand-year age suggested by the book of Genesis.1  Gosse proposed an ingenious and thought-provoking theory, a theory that seemed (to him at least) to resolve the great contradiction and at the same time to leave geology and Genesis intact.  But Omphalos was very badly received, and Gosse’s theory mercilessly rejected.  Some years later, on the occasion of Gosse’s death, an obituary writer in Nature would suggest that “perhaps no work since Vestiges of Creation was received with a greater tempest of adverse criticism….Neither Gosse’s friends nor foes seemed to have any appreciation for it.”2  As might be guessed. the book has been almost completely ignored and forgotten in our own century.  In this brief essay I would like to consider some of the reasons for this rejection.  My hunch is that the rejection of Omphalos provides us with an intriguing window on the shifting intellectual priorities and matrix of values in the mid-nineteenth century.

First, it is necessary briefly to examine the essence of the theory Gosse advanced.  Fortunately, this is easily accomplished merely by considering a little thought experiment.  Suppose that Adam in the Garden of Eden, was sitting next to a big pine tree twenty minutes after his own creation.  Suppose he took a saw and cut the tree down, and then examined the stump:  Would it have tree rings?  Being a big tree, it would be expected to.  On the other hand, tree rings accumulate year by year as trees grow, and this tree had been created less than a week before.  Gosse pondered the problem and he came to the conclusion that, yes, the tree would have to have rings.  In fact, he argued that any and all living things show the marks of past development as a matter of course and in many different ways.  Martin Gardner wrote of Gosse’s case: Continue reading

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Notable WildWords Moment

WildWords record game 031419 Tahoe - cropped left

In one sense the third game of our three-game match was a disappointment.  I got almost all the good trays and Peter got garbage trays.  And yet that same luck-of-the-draw led to a personal best score for me — a remarkable total of 683 points.  This may be a WildWords family record.  The game was played on Thursday, March 14, 2019 at Peter & Sonja’s place at Tahoe Keys.  The combined score, if memory serves, was 1,162, which also may be a family record.  My own favorite play in the game was “EXTRATERRESTRIALS” (upper right, horizontal), which play used seven natural letters in my tray (i.e., I had no asterisk tiles and I did not use turn-to-wild squares in this play either).  The third-game win gave me the victory in the match of course.  But that win was more or less meaningless given the unfortunate distribution of good trays.  WildWords, even so, is and remains a great game.

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Don’t-miss-it film alert!


“Not One Less” is its title.  The regular teacher at an impoverished rural Chinese primary school needs to take a month off to care for his ailing mother.  The only available sub is a 13-year-old girl from a neighboring village.  What follows is a tale of making-do worthy of Frank Capra.  (Incidentally, the film would be an edifying experience for American children who may have lost touch with the bounty in material wealth they enjoy every single day.)  Highly recommended film.  Watched it (free for subscribers) on Amazon Prime last night.  Watching “Not One Less” also proved to be an interesting exercise in decoding and evaluating Chinese culture.

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A “Catch” in the NFL and in MLB

Mookie catch.jpg

Mookie Betts’s would-be catch (SOURCE:  ESPN)

The pro football season is drawing to a close and once again no little controversy has surrounded the NFL’s rules.

If I had to pick, I’d say the two biggest issues this past season have been (1) what defines a catch and (2) when has head-to-head “spearing” occurred?

Football is prone to superheated controversy over rules and significant rule changes year after year.  Baseball, on the other hand, not so much.

The biggest MLB rule change I can think of in recent years was the one that allowed pitchers simply to announce they were giving a free pass to a batter – i.e., without having to pitch four straight balls to a waiting catcher standing outside the box.  (Yawn.)

But why the difference between the NFL and MLB regarding rules? Continue reading

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Walking Back Flint’s Childhood Blood Lead Crisis

Published in the Shoshone News Press on Janurary 23, 2019.

Flint graph.gif

Chart borrowed from Mother Jones’ commentary on Gómez and Dietrich’s op-ed.

Because I took an active part in the public debate over childhood blood lead levels here in Shoshone County in the early 2000s — when the EPA proposed the expansion of the Box’s Superfund site to the entire Coeur d’Alene Basin — I had more than a passing interest in the blood lead crisis in Flint, Michigan when it erupted into headlines in the nation’s press in 2014-2015.

Although article after article lamented the regrettable lead contamination situation in Flint, I never seemed to be able to find accounts that included actual data on changes in juvenile blood lead levels there.  Hence, it was with no little surprise that I encountered, this past summer, an op-ed in The New York Times (July 22, 2018) saying, in effect, that there had been no juvenile blood lead crisis at Flint in the first place – that the juvenile blood lead situation had been grossly exaggerated. Continue reading

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1918’s Influenza Epidemic, Here — Part 2, The Forgotten Scourge

By Ron Roizen


Soldiers afflicted with influenza being cared for at Camp Funston, Kansas, 1918.

Historical studies of the U.S.’s great influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 often note its relative historical unrememberedness.  Even as it was occurring Americans arguably downplayed the epidemic’s harrowing cost in human suffering and deaths.  More than a few reasons have been suggested.  For one, the influenza epidemic’s worst weeks, in October and November, 1918, coincided with the triumphal advances and ultimate victory of the Allied forces in World War I.  In the Wallace Press-Times, for example, war coverage dominated October’s and November’s news pages, reducing space available to influenza coverage.  The American war effort may even have harbored an implicit warrant that only upbeat, supportive, and positive news should emanate from the American homefront, thus also subtly muting the record of the epidemic’s devastating course.  The war’s progress, moreover, was indisputably a public drama playing out on a wide European stage whereas the epidemic’s stateside story was more often one of private tragedy shielded from public view behind the closed doors of afflicted and grieving households. Continue reading

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