Smudging The Difference


Neil Remington Abramson
Faculty Profile Photo, 2013
Back online

I mentioned to Neil Remington Abramson that the photo in his faculty profile seemed to have disappeared, and then reappeared. He commented as follows:

I don’t know if my Beedie profile has a photo. I never look at it. I know I am supposed to brush it from time to time, like a woman arranging her hair in a mirror, or a peacock preening its feathers.

Somehow, I have never been attracted to self-idolatry. I’ve always thought statistical social invisibility was the best policy, insofar as possible. Less possible if one is the president of the faculty association and, at 6’9″, a standout, at least physically. People know me when they see me, rather than the more usual seeing me if they know me.

As I recall, I developed this preference considering my father’s circumstances. It’s better to not stand out. It’s better to not distinguish yourself in ways you may later regret, since tastes change and even laws (e.g. marijuana) may be set aside, depending on collective will.

I’ve never put much stock into what I looked like. I developed an image from time to time, but mirrors provided eternal disappointment. I’m always too big, towering over others. I don’t usually notice that, without the visual aid.

I suppose it’s the same as if I were a black among whites, a white among yellows, a woman among men: sticking out, when harmony hopes for the smudging of difference.

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From an article by Haroon Siddiqui, “Saudis work to define themselves”, Toronto Star, February 8, 2001, A26:

Dr. Ali Abdullah Al-Daffa is professor of mathematics at the King Fahd University in Dhahran, author of 33 books and winner of an award as the best researcher in the Islamic world. But his real passion is to pump some pride into his students who have grown up watching American television by satellite.

He reminds them of how Muslim astronomers, architects, mathematicians and natural and social scientists preserved the scientific tradition of late antiquity by translating it from Greek into Arabic, elaborating and refining it and passing it on to medieval Europe.

All this important need to know what happened in the past, in terms of the origins of the present. Wonder how many lost and found lessons in history, such in relation to aboriginal approaches to nature and medicine. First time knowledge of the medicine wheel.

Posted in Community of Scholars, Medicine, Saudi Arabia | Leave a comment

Whitebirch Animal Hospital, Designed By John Holliday-Scott

Whitebirch Animal Hospital 1971

Saskatoon architect John Holliday-Scott is discussed here. Miriam Hills Macdonald comments further, as follows:

John Holliday-Scott was the architect who designed the Whitebirch Animal Hospital and Clinic at 1006 22nd Street West for my husband, veterinarian Dr. Donald Keith Hills, according to his specifications. It was a state-of-the -art full service animal hospital when it opened December 1st 1969. The hospital was sold in 1981 to Dr. Brian Gibbs and is now named Westward Animal Hospital.

Keith was able to obtain John’s services to build the hospital because there was a slump in the economy and John was “between jobs”. Although he was relatively new in town he was already well known for his work. In the attached photograph, taken in the early 1970s, when it was almost new, you can see that it could be mistaken for a modern building constructed in recent years, rather than 57 years ago. I wish I had some interior photos for you, but they have all been lost. I believe my daughter Debbie still has the framed certificate that was hung inside the front door showing that the hospital was certified by the American Animal Hospital Association. The waiting area was open with high ceiling and skylights and there were skylights in part of the kennel/utility room area. The decor in the waiting room and office, including the doors, was oak. The landscaped grounds, planned jointly by Keith and John, offered a pleasing and welcoming entrance. On several occasions, the Whitebirch Animal hospital won the Kiwanis award for Business Property Beautification.

Apparently there were five photos taken by Gary Tannyan for the Saskatoon Star Phoenix May 4th, 1973, of Keith in his animal hospital. They may have all been taken in his office but I don’t know for sure because I have never seen them. It’s possible that they may show some other parts of the interior. Only one (#3) was published. They are located in the SAIN archives. (Ref. code S-SP-A 7957 (1-5). They are copyright SP (expiration date 2024). If interested you may access them by contacting or phoning 306-933-5832. I e-mailed SAIN several weeks ago, but so far have received no response, so will probably phone them to see if I can obtain a copy of each for my own records to share with our children.

Dr. Keith Hills died April 28, 2016.

Posted in Architecture, Saskatoon Reflections, Veterinarians | 1 Comment


Relating to a context I forget, Neil Remington Abramson commented as follows:

Everybody has to reinvent misfortune.

Something along the lines of you take it wherever you go:

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Diversity of Focus

Have clients obsessed with “the case”. Life focus becomes some search for perceived justice. The rest of life seems to fall away. In many cases, the rest of life seems to have fallen away some time ago.

Across religions, emphasis seems to be on avoidance of pride. Part of this may be avoidance of excessive self-focus. Focus instead on others, and on other activities within one’s own life, that are outward, rather than inward.

Have a friend who deals with employment slights, over a career, by immediately redirecting focus to other aspects of his life. Others end up literally on the street, haunted by those same slights. See them mumbling out of a nearby shelter. Saw one whistling, wide-eyed, through a mall.

Moving forward being much easier than it appears. Lots of life beyond the immediate.

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From a book on Aerosmith:

Aerosmith also found themselves in legal trouble when the songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland threatened to sue the band over the main melody in Aerosmith’s song “The Other Side“, which sounded similar to the melody of the song “Standing in the Shadows of Love“. As part of the settlement, Aerosmith agreed to add “Holland-Dozier-Holland” in the songwriting credits for “The Other Side”.

Then went to the source: Aerosmith: The Complete Guide. The author: Wikipedians. Means that the book has the same sourcing issues as Wikipedia. No footnote reference to support the threat to sue, versus a settlement following the commencement of an actual lawsuit. Could be that Aerosmith gave credit at the outset. One would have to go back to when the album was released. An earlier release version excludes them. A later digital download version includes them. So they had to sue, or threaten to sue.

Wrote about “The Other Side” earlier. Don’t see the “main melody” similarity. Some see it as a “sample”, but still:

Original “Standing in the Shadows of Love”, by the Four Tops:

Live original:

Makes one want to stop right there. Want to hear more Four Tops from 1967, in Belgium.

Original “The Other Side”, by Aerosmith:


Dancing a different tune, to each…

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Growth spurts depend on people who don’t know how bad their odds of success are.

Some people hit on something, and it resonates.

Came across 2001 New York Times article by Virginia Postrel, “A vital economy suffers fools gladly” (September 6, 2001). News article about an academic article by Dr. John V.C. Nye, published ten years earlier, in 1991: “Lucky Fools and Cautious Businessmen: On Entrepreneurship and the Measurement Entrepreneurial Failure“, published in a collection of essays in a “Research in Economic History” series: The Vital One: Essays in Honour of Jonathan R.T. Hughes, edited by Dr. Joel Mokyr. People trying to make sense of economic history. And where, when some people hit on something, it resonates.

Basic ideas of Nye from 1991, discussed by Postrel in 2001:

The traditional view, articulated by the economist Joseph Schumpeter, sees entrepreneurs as brilliant calculators who take rational risks that other people are afraid to try. Some risks don’t pay off, but enough do to cancel the losses.

The problem for economic historians is to explain why some countries, like Victorian Britain, seem to lose their edge, even though their financial markets work as well as those elsewhere and their entrepreneurs continue to take rational risks. Historians who have delved into the evidence have found no reason to believe that Victorian businessmen failed to invest wisely. Yet Britain’s economy fell behind those of the United States and Germany.

Professor Nye, of Washington University in St. Louis, offered an explanation. Suppose we think of “the entrepreneur as the valiant, but overoptimistic investor rather than the heroic seer,” he wrote. In this story, entrepreneurs miscalculate their odds of success. They start more businesses than they should, but those mistakes lead to social benefits.

It’s easy to see how people might overestimate their chances. William H. Gates and Thomas Edison become famous. We all know about the entrepreneurs who hit the jackpot. The losers are more scattered and less well known, though far more numerous.

If the few big wins cancel out the many losses, starting a business would be a risky, but rational, bet — the sort of investment a “cautious businessman” might make. But Professor Nye argued that the wins and the losses probably don’t cancel out. Even the biggest winners don’t make enough money personally to cover the losses of all the individuals who went into businesses that failed.

The big winners are usually people who, based on rational calculations, shouldn’t have bet their time, money and ideas. They overestimated their chances of striking it rich. But they were lucky and beat the odds.

Even more important, the lucky fools create huge spillover benefits for society: new sources of wealth, new jobs, new industries offering less- risky opportunities, new technologies that improve life. Entrepreneurship does generate net gains, but most of those gains don’t go to the risk- takers. The gains are spread out to the rest of us. Capitalism, in this view, works by exploiting the capitalists themselves.

“We depend upon people continuing to open up new businesses for the success of industry and of the economy and for our health and well-being,” Professor Nye said in an interview. “But on the whole it probably doesn’t make sense for the average person to open up a business. Hence, the lucky-fools phenomenon.”

Entrepreneurship is not, in this view, a sort of rational risk calculation. It is, as critics of capitalism sometimes say, a bit like gambling. But society plays something like the role of the house, gaining from the process.

“It’s like having a Powerball lottery where you say nobody should really play Powerball,” because the odds of winning are so bad, Professor Nye said. “But if nobody plays Powerball, we won’t be better off.”

And while the social benefits of real-life lotteries don’t justify the risk, he said, the metaphor does hold “true for things like technological innovation.”

Foolish optimism solves a basic economic problem. Usually when there’s some sort of positive spillover effect — say, the social benefits of education — economists suggest that the government subsidize the activity.

But this policy won’t work for entrepreneurship because there’s no way the government can guess any better than private individuals which businesses to subsidize. If anything, interest- group politics will tend to make the government somewhat worse at picking good targets.

Instead, Professor Nye said, “a dynamic society simply creates more people willing to take these chances.” They risk their own resources, rather than the public’s, but on those rare occasions when they succeed — and even sometimes when they don’t — the public enjoys spillover benefits.

Most economic activity isn’t like gambling, of course. For most businesses, the odds are reasonably well known, and the procedures are rational. Cautious businessmen can thrive. But they won’t produce a lot of innovation. And if they drive out the crazy innovators, the economy will stagnate.

The lucky-fools theory suggests, then, that Victorian Britain’s economy was successful but stagnant not because investors were irrationally afraid of risks but because they were all too mature and calculating. They didn’t tolerate the foolish chances that a vital economy requires.

Growth spurts depend on people who don’t know how bad their odds of success are. Sometimes those people are too young to know better, and sometimes they’re doing new things for which the odds simply aren’t known…

Nye is still very active. As is Mokyr, who seems to have started things a quarter of a century ago, when interested in honouring Dr. Jonathan R.T. Hughes. Hughes, the former Chair of the Department of Economics at Northwestern University, died of cancer in 1992, at the age of 64. within a year after the collection honoring him was published.

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