The Meaning of The Comforters by Rudyard Kipling

This is a copy from my personal edition of Kipling’s verse

Last night, on my “Fans of Rudyard Kipling” fan page on Facebook, I had a message from  a fan of Kipling’s poetry who lives in India.

“Sir,
Can you please explain the poem ‘The Comforters’ of our dear Rudyard Kipling?I pondered too much over it but failed to understand completely..
but I, kind of, need to understand it, for its impressing initial lines…
Kindly, please please help me!

Waiting for favourable reply!
Please!

Local time 7:01 AM
Studied at University of Allahabad
Lives in Allahabad, India
From Mau, India

THE COMFORTERS

Until thy feet have trod the Road
Advise not wayside folk,
Nor till thy back has borne the Load
Break in upon the Broke.

Chase not with undesired largesse
Of sympathy the heart
Which, knowing her own bitterness,
Presumes to dwell apart.

Employ not that glad hand to raise
The God-forgotten head
To Heaven, and all the neighbours’ gaze—
Cover thy mouth instead.

The quivering chin, the bitten lip,
The cold and sweating brow,
Later may yearn for fellowship—
Not now, you ass, not now!

Time, not thy ne’er so timely speech,
Life, not thy views thereon,
Shall furnish or deny to each
His consolation.

Or, if impelled to interfere,
Exhort, uplift, advise,
Lend not a base, betraying ear
To all the victim’s cries.

Only the Lord can understand
When those first pangs begin,
How much is reflex action and
How much is really sin.

E’en from good words thyself refrain,
And tremblingly admit
There is no anodyne for pain
Except the shock of it.

So, when thine own dark hour shall fall,
Unchallenged canst thou say :
‘I never worried you at all,
For God’s sake go away!’

I find that many of Kipling’s most ardent fans live in India. This person really seemed to need an answer right away, so I answered at once:

“Fans of Rudyard Kipling:
The poem means that when people are suffering, in pain or grieving, and they do not want your help or sympathy, you should leave them alone. They might be ready for your friendship at a later date, but not now. Show respect for their wishes and don’t try to cheer them up. You will be thankful when your time to suffer comes, if they do not bother you.”

This is something Kipling understood, but so many well meaning people do not. Good intentions do not mitigate the harm that is caused by unsolicited “comforting” words and deeds.

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Can I get a toy and a senior discount on my Happy Meal?

Freedom and slavery are but illusions. Freedom is just an illusion where order is arrived through informed consent and slavery is simply order
where consent is irrelevant.

We like order, but we implicity understand that it is not perfect. We celebrate the outlaws in America, because we see them live free lives,
unencumbered by the constraints to which we ourselves do not fully consent to.

Slavery is a part of every earthly order just as surely as is freedom. How can everyone agree? How can everyone consent to every rule of our order?

The simple truth is everyone doesn’t agree as to what our order should look like. How could everyone agree to every rule of our order in every
situation?

We can only agree to pursue a more perfect order. There is a fear that comes with understanding and agreeing that the present order is not
perfect. At one level we know it as surely as we know our name, but at another level we fear the anarchy. In this fear at every upset, a call by
the emotional mob for a new law is made, making consent to our order, ever further removed from our reach.

We are called to embrace slavery by every order imagined while at the same time ignoring our desire for a freedom from its’ very constraints.

Why is it we can’t meld these illusions? Why must one man tell another man how to live?

The trick is we can meld them. The construct lost to the ages and the slavemasters is that we can meld them and that we have little need for one
man to tell another how to live.

“We must have a king” was not a call for freedom, but rather a call for slavery. The people gave in to their fear of disorder, for a more rigid
and much less perfect order.

Heaven is thought to be many different things by many different people, but the common thread among them is, that it is a perfect order where
every heavenly being knows and wants to do what is right, and in that they are free.

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Belly Lying

When you were born, there were no rules about how a baby was supposed to be positioned in the crib. Sometimes you slept on your belly. Sometimes you slept on your back. There was usually a blanket covering you. There could have been a pillow or even a small stuffed toy to keep you company.

Years pass. You grow up. Eventually, your own child is born. At the hospital, they show you an instructional video. It is all about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Nobody knows why some babies die of it. But you as a parent must always place your baby on its back and not its belly. This is not just for the first few days. You must do this all the time, because SIDS can strike any baby up to one year of age and possibly beyond. It is better to be safe than sorry. The video is scary. It is like the videos they used to show at driver’s ed that almost scared you out of wanting to drive at all. You must not cover your child with a blanket. You must never give your child a pillow. Stuffed animals are forbidden. Your child should lie flat on her back for the first year of life with nothing at all in her empty crib, on pain of sudden death.

You go home. The rules are horrid. Everything inside you cries that it is wrong to treat a baby this way. But at first you try to live by the rules, because you love your baby, and you don’t want her to die.

Little by little, though, you disobey some of the rules, hoping that no one will notice and that the evil gods will not visit a terrible punishment on you for being kind to your child. You place her on her belly some of the time, to make it easier to pass gas and to play with toys. You still avoid pillows and blankets, until you realize that living in Taiwan, with no central heat, in the dead of winter, even though your child is dressed in layers and layers of clothes making her look unusually bloated, she still needs a blanket at night. So you buy a little quilt, and you hope that by covering her up and letting her be warm and safe at night, you are not dooming her to sudden death.

Eventually, one day you place your baby on her back and lo and behold! She finds a way to roll over to her belly all by herself! She is nowhere near a year old. But she looks so happy. She is so pleased with herself. Are you going to tell her not to do that, because it might mean sudden death? Of course not.

The cat is out of the bag. Your child is now in control of her own body, and even if you lay her to sleep on her back, you may find her on her belly in the morning. Are you going to stay up all night watching her sleep and turning her over on her back every time she turns? No. That would be torture for both of you. So you just decide that the people in the hospital with their scary videos can go to a special place in the netherworld reserved for baby torturers. You are not paying them any attention anymore.

Meanwhile, you hear that back in the US of A, there is a whole crop of flatheaded babies your own child’s age. These are the babies whose parents did exactly what they were told!

Copyright 2013 Aya Katz – – Words and Images

 

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The Ghost Mask Maker of Jiufen

When I was a professor in Tamsui Oxford University College in Taiwan, my students liked to invite me on outings to see other parts of the island. One time a whole group of us, students and professors, traveled together to the town of Jiufen, (九份) which means “Nine Portions”.

The ghost mask maker, shining a flashlight on his own face, surround by the masks he had made.

There are many things to see in this town, but what they particularly wanted to show us was the house of the ghost mask maker. All the way there, the students were chattering about the ghost mask maker, and I had no idea what they meant.

“There is a man,” they tried to explain. “He makes ghost masks. That is all he does, all day long. Because of this, the walls of his house are covered with ghost masks!”

I did not know what to think of that, until we got to the ghost mask maker’s house. He was a happy, jolly man, and sure enough, the walls of his house were covered with ghost masks. He seemed to enjoy acting the part of a crazy man for the students, and I wondered if that is all there was to him. Was he just a crazy old guy who made ghost masks all day?

The artbook the ghost mask maker gave me

In the corner, on the floor, I saw some canvases. I asked him about them, through the interpretation of the students. His aspect changed. It turns out he had been a famous painter once. He had had shows. There was even an artbook with prints of his paintings. I wanted to buy the book, but he would not accept my money. He gave me a copy of his book for free. I still have it.

His name was Wu Jyh Chyang. And today, I shared his paintings with Bow. Bow very much enjoyed the art of Wu Jyh Chyang. I wish I could share this photo of Bow and the artbook with the Ghost Mask Maker of Jiufen. I wonder how he is today.

Bow leafing through the Ghost Mask Maker’s art

Copyright 2013 Aya Katz — Words and Pictures

[This article was first published in 2013 on a site that has since gone defunct.]

 

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Taking a Hiatus

Recently I talked about dropping out of the rat race, and why some young people who were doing this had my sympathy. One comment that kept recurring was that they had better not try to drop back in, once they drop out. There was a kind of bitterness to this statement that caught me off guard. The commenters sounded so angry and offended by the idea that someone might want to quit.

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It was as if these people commenting were so deeply entrenched within the system that they were afraid of freeloaders! Which is very funny, because it is a system that encourages freeloading! If they don’t like freeloading, they should change the system. A really good system allows people to move in and out freely without exploiting anyone.

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Within a lifetime people make many different choices. Dropping out of the employment market might happen when:

  • a mother chooses to stay home and raise children.
  • a.writer takes time to finish a novel
  • an entrepreneur tries to develop a new business
  • a scientist takes time to do independent research
  • someone who is burned out and tired stays home to recharge batteries
  • a sick person works full time on making a recovery
  • an older person has decided that he has worked enough, has enough savings to retire and so he does
  • a younger person sets out to see the world before embarking on a career
  • someone who cannot find a place to work in his own country goes abroad to accept employment
  • a young person discouraged by a bad market decides to sit it out till a good job opportunity appears

The possibilities are endless, and in each of these cases, it is really the choice of the person in question whether they want to earn money at a job in their own country or do something else for a while. As long as no one is mooching off anyone else, they don’t need anyone else’s permission. The choice to quit can be permanent, but it also can be temporary. And yes, people can also change their minds.

A mother who thought she wanted to be a stay-at-home-mom may decide that it is really not for her. Or the children may grow up, and she then resumes her career. The writer may finish the novel and go back to work. Or he may experience writer’s block and go back to work. The entrepreneur’s business might start to show a profit, so he will begin to pay taxes again and be back in the system, or conversely, it could go badly, and he will go back to being an employee. I won’t list all the things that could happen for each example, but you get the idea. It is all right to drop out, and it is all right to drop back in. How do people decide? It’s whatever is best for them.

I’ve done it many times myself. After law school, I took a year off to write a novel, before I started my law practice. Nine years into my law practice, I decided to go back to school and get a PhD in linguistics. After that, I could not find an academic position in the US, so I went and worked in Taiwan for three years. Later, I came into some money that enabled me to quit my job in Taiwan, so I came back to US and did ape language research full time. I hoped this would lead to a career success in linguistics, but when it didn’t, I started publishing books and writing online. If tomorrow I get a great job offer, I might be back in the system. What would be wrong with that? Why shouldn’t people make changes in their life and decide what they want to do as they move along from one thing to another?

In a system that is fair, nobody would be afraid that somebody else’s life choices – to work, or not to work – would have anything to do with them. Nobody would say, well if she’s taking time off to be with the kids, she’d better not ever come back to work. Or if his scientific research does not pan out, we never want to see him teaching science 101 around here again. In a system that works, dropping in and out would be understood as normal and right and even helpful to others, as well as oneself.

I believe that when we follow our own internal urgings, it will eventually turn out the best for everyone. And if you have no idea what I mean, then you should re-read “Who are the flowers for”.

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Copyright 2013, 2017 Aya Katz

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Modeling the Audible Vacuum County Shirt

I am not really comfortable modeling clothes. Julia Hanna did a much better job showing the Vacuum County T-shirt to full advantage.

But this is the Audible Vacuum County T-shirt. So far, I think I am the only person on earth who has one.

And I think the person who is best qualified to model it is Kelly Clear. With a kilt, of course. But for the time being here is the back of the shirt on me.

It’s a very comfortable shirt and allows you to move around unhampered, even if your chimp is handling your iPhone and you need to move fast!

Bow didn’t want me to model the shirt. He just wanted to go inside. But the chimp in your life might really like the shirt.

To order the book, click here. To order the regular Vacuum County shirt, click here. To order the Audible Vacuum County shirt click here.

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Archiving Artwork Online

A painting I made in art when I was about fourteen

Sometimes we have drawings or paintings we are not particularly proud of, but they have sentimental value. As amateur artists, should we keep everything but our best work away from the public? Will it detract from our “reputation” if we publish the less than perfect work that we created in the past? I used to think that. until I misplaced a drawing I really liked, but found that I did have a photo of it online.

Here’s what I think about it now: when we write a novel, it is good to print up a hard copy, because something might happen to the original electronic file. When we draw or paint something, it is good to make an electronic copy, because something might happen to the physical artwork.

Another very early painting of mine that used to hang in my grandmother’s apartment

Do we have to publish everything we want to archive? No, not necessarily. But even with my most  imperfect paintings and drawings, I don’t feel so ashamed of them that I don’t want to share.

Take these two paintings that  I made in art class when I was fourteen, and I was just learning to use acrylics. Clearly they are amateurish in so many ways, but I still like to look at them, and I think there is something to learn even from the obvious mistakes.

If we do not expect everything we produce to be perfect, but there is some joy in the overall effect, why not share it with others. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to look.

This is a photo of a sketch of my children that used to hang in the pens. I don’t

A sketch of my kids that has disappeared.

know what happened to it.  It just disappeared. I did not even notice it was gone until very recently. But because I had written about it on a site that has since gone defunct, I was able to find the electronic file. I think it is worth preserving, because it is a part of my artistic endeavor, even if it is a deeply flawed attempt. Maybe someday I will try again, using this sketch as a reference point for a brand new painting. I feel better knowing that the sketch will be available to me online, even if the laptop where I found it today and its hard disk are damaged.

Watching how our artwork improves over time is best served by having available for comparison some of our less developed works.

 

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Benefits of Risk Taking

My daughter when she was learning to turn over

The social, pediatric and medical policies that have been circulating in the United States in the past several decades and up to the present have had the tendency to penalize health, intelligence and success in favor of sickness, lowered cognitive performance and less independent functioning on the part of all citizens. When this progression is mentioned, it is often confused with reallocation of resources, redistribution of wealth or sharing. But that is not the full story. In many cases, the lowering of potential achievement happens without redistributing wealth by the application of universal policies that have the overall effect of lowering potential for the able and reducing risk for the less able, and this happens even when we do not know who the more able or the less able are in advance.

These policies are not a question of discrimination against successful people so much as a matter of ensuring that all people, whoever they are, have lowered performance but less risk.

I am going to give three examples of policies that work this way, and each such policy can be discussed in more detail in a future article.

  • All newborns are forced to lie only on their back and not on their bellies, so that the very few newborns who might succumb to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) do not die a crib death. Since there are no markers for greater risk factor for SIDS at birth, and SIDS threatens all economic or ethnic populations, this policy is applied to all without discrimination, and its effect is to 1) reduce the incidence of SIDS in defective infants and 2) cause developmental delays in rolling over and becoming more mobile in healthy infants.
  • All children are vaccinated against childhood diseases such as chicken pox, mumps, measles and rubella, in order to ensure that those children whose immune systems are not as strong will survive the childhood diseases in question. The children who would have survived those diseases in any event are prevented from getting to make a normal exercise of their immune system in order that those with faulty immune systems do not perish. The result for the population at large is a lowered immune function across the board, partly because of the lack of selective pressure and partly because of the effect of vaccines on otherwise healthy children. In some rare cases, healthy children are severely damaged in order that sick children should not die.
  • All taxpayers with earned income below a certain threshold have part of their income withheld from them under the social security system. This applies equally to rich or poor below that threshold. They are then paid social security benefits upon retirement. Without any regard to the fact that no funds are earmarked to pay for the benefits or the apparent mismanagement of the funds, the overall result of this system, even when it works as designed, is to help those people who would have squandered that money if they had simply been allowed to have it right away, while penalizing those people who would have known how to save the money or to invest it wisely themselves. The eventual result for the population at large is an economic benefit for people who are not good at managing money and an economic penalty for those who are good at managing money. This effect is quite apart from any redistribution that the social security system also causes. This works even though we do not know which individuals are benefited and which are damaged by the system.

When we talk about the perils of equalization, many progressives respond that everyone owes something to the society they are a part of and that sharing of resources is good, even when forced on more successful individuals against their will. While I don’t agree with that, there is another more important point that such answers entirely miss. We don’t always know in advance who the more successful or healthier or smarter people are going to be. Looking at an infant at birth, there is usually no way to know whether this individual will pass all or any of life’s tests. We don’t know who is destined to die of SIDS, but we do know that if we make all the necessary adjustments so that those who are defective can thrive, then we are reducing the potential of everyone who would have done better under the care that a parent would normally give a child, without being hampered by concerns that placing an infant on its belly might cause death. We are dooming an entire population of children to developmental delays and flat heads, just so that some babies — and we don’t even know who they are — will not die a tragic, mysterious death.

We tell parents to immunize all their children, even though some will be damaged by the immunization, most would have survived the childhood disease anyway, and only a very few would die of it if they contracted the original disease. This is not about sharing the pie more equally; it is about making some people sicker and most people a little less healthy so that people who are born sick will not die. Is that ethical?

In the case of social security, the system is designed to apply equally to everyone. Up to a certain threshold everyone pays in. If we forget about all the things that are wrong with the system and merely talk about the benefits that it is intended to achieve, we can see that without even a single redistribution of resources, the system hampers those who are good with managing their own money while helping those who would have squandered it all if they had been allowed to keep it.

The question is not whether we all want to help society. The question I am addressing here is quite different: if we really do care about society, why would we want to weaken it by reducing the effectiveness of healthy and efficacious members and damaging the health and effectiveness of nearly all? Is it ethical to create a system that lowers the potential of some for the sake of others who had lower chances to begin with? My answer is no. But maybe you care nothing about such ethics involving individuals. Maybe you only care about society as a whole. The question is: how does society as a whole benefit by having the general population weakened in matters of health, cognitive development or fiscal responsibility?

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Insurance and the Safety Net

Sword and Bow on the Trampoline

Nowadays, when Bow and I look out on the backyard we see our dog Leo lounging on the trampoline. But there was a time not long ago, when Sword and Bow used to play on that trampoline together. I mentioned this once on social media and reminisced about how it was a wonderful experience for all of us.

When I wrote about our trampoline, I got two comments that I thought were interesting. One person said that where she lives, nobody has trampolines, because the insurance companies would increase the charges for homeowner’s insurance on anyone who had one, and this has a chilling effect on trampoline ownership.

Another person mentioned that she has a trampoline with a safety net. I told her we never got a safety net for ours because Bow would have destroyed it, but that in retrospect, I was glad we never got one, because it would have lulled my children into a false sense of security. Instead, I made it very clear to them that no one would catch them if they fell, and so they had better not fall. And they never did!

This got me to thinking of the concept of insurance as a kind of safety net.

A trampoline really is dangerous. So is a chimpanzee. A chimpanzee on a trampoline with a little girl you would think would be very dangerous. But really it depends on the chimpanzee, the little girl and their mother to see to it that things do not get out of hand. I insisted they jump close to the center of the trampoline and that they do so in a safe manner. I supervised. And as athletic as my children are compared to me, they are not super-athletic, so they never tried any dangerous stunts. I have heard about children getting hurt on trampolines. I have heard of it happening with a safety net on.

But you could also say that it’s a matter of statistics. That our case was unusual, but that insurance companies play the numbers game, and that statistically speaking, if lots of people and their chimpanzees jumped on a trampoline without a safety net then someone was bound to get hurt.

I can definitely see the insurance company’s point of view. If I were in the business of selling insurance, then I, too, might not want to bet on nobody getting hurt, especially if I stood to lose money on it. So I would probably tell people not to do what I allowed my own children to do, because I do not know those people and some of them might not be very careful and somebody would end up getting hurt and I would have to pay for it.

The thing is, to me, our family is not a statistic. And I can tell you with 100% certainty in hindsight that we made it through the years of a little girl and a chimpanzee on a trampoline with flying colors, and nobody in fact got hurt. It would be a real shame if an insurance company robbed us of those beautiful memories.

In fact, if any insurance company had tried that, they would have seen me cancel the policy. If all of them did, then I would do without insurance at all. My house is paid up. There is no law that says that I have to have homeowner’s insurance. Which means that I am free to make my own risk calculations.

There are, however, other kinds of insurance policies that are now being forced on me, and I am afraid that it’s not just about the money. It might also be about what sorts of chances I get to take with my own life and that of my family. It might be about how much fun we can have or whether we get to stay together at all.

A safety net is a very dangerous thing, even when you choose it yourself, because it can lull you into a false sense of security and make you less vigilant about real dangers. But a safety net that you cannot choose to discard is a noose around your neck.

Copyright 2013 Aya Katz – – Words and Images

When Sword Met Bow — Order Now

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Remembering Amnon Katz

My father, Amnon Katz, died seventeen years ago today. It was October 3, 2000. His helicopter crashed and he was killed instantly. There were no other people on board. It was an experimental helicopter he had built with his students at the the Universiy of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. He was sixty-five years old at the time, and a Cudworth Endowed Professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Mechanics at the University of Alabama.

My father, Amnon Katz, on his tricycle

To the right is a picture of my father mounted on a pony in 1938 in Krakow before the war broke out. To the left is photo of him, probably taken for some identification document, when he was a refugee in Vilnius,Lithuania, on the way to Israel.

Amnon Katz was born in 1935 in Krakow, Poland. Here is a picture of him riding his tricycle in a  park in Krakow when he was three years old. When he was four, he and his parents left the country by stealth, and took a long and arduous journey that led to Palestine, where they settled down. I know that none of his relatives who remained in Poland survived. But looking at this picture, I suddenly wonder what happened to the tricycle.

My father’s parents were Zionists, and so he spoke Hebrew at home even before the move. He had a nanny who spoke Polish with him, but his parents only ever addressed him in Hebrew. It was a grand linguistic experiment he was involved in: reviving a dead language.

My father and his Polish nanny

Neither of his parents was a native speaker of Hebrew. There were no native speakers until the language was revived in the late nineteenth century by Zionists. Yet my father became a native speaker, because that is what his parents spoke to him from birth.

When people ask me how dare I run a linguistic experiment on my own children, I smile and reply that there is an ongoing family tradition to experiment linguistically on our children. As far as I know, it has never done anyone any harm to be exposed to dead languages that have been revived.

My father in Texas with our dog Aza and the twin engine he called Gearcheck

My father’s love of flight developed en route to Palestine, when he boarded his first plane. But his first career was as a physicist, at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovoth, Israel. It was there that he met my mother. It was also there that he wrote and published the following books: Classical Mechanics, Quantum Mechanics, Field Theory, Academic Press 1965 and Principles of Statistical Mechanics (The Information Theory Approach), (Freeman 1967).

My father was a member of the Canaanite movement. He believed in separation of church and state and equal rights for all Israelis, of whatever ethnicity or religion. He also thought Israel should not accept aid from the United States, and he believed it should keep all territories conquered in war.

In 1970, disillusioned with politics in Israel and the uselessness of the academic calling, my father decided to immigrate to the United States and become an aerospace engineer. But he had much to learn about industry, and especially the way the defense industry has been corrupted by government contracts.

My father also ran his own company, Inverted-A, and he designed one of the first electronic flight simulators for general aviation: the Minisimulator IIC. He is the founding member of Inverted-A Press, which I inherited from him. His book one political book, Israel: The Two Halves of the Nation was published by Inverted-A.

Eventually, my father went back to academia. While a professor at the University of Alabama, he published the following two books: Subsonic Airplane Performance, (Society of Automotive Engineers 1994) and Computational Rigid Vehicle Dynamics, (Krieger 1997).

My father has always been my role model. He was an independent thinker and a pioneer in more than one discipline. I owe everything I am today – even the weird stuff – to him.

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