Sunday, December 31, 2017


From both science and philosophy, it seems to be clearer all the time that many of us can feel the emotions we want to feel much of the time.  Sure, slipping on the ice outside and whacking my head on the pavement is going to be a poor time to immediately practice deep bliss.  Well, maybe, that wouldn't be such a bad time.

We learned in Boy Scouts to do something about breathing and bleeding first.  But even in the midst of breathing difficulties, it may be helpful to stay aware of what is going on in my mind and mood.  I read recently of a soldier trying to not black out while helping a wounded buddy.  He had learned "square breathing", a simple pattern of breathing in to a count of 4, holding breath for a count of 4, exhaling to a count of 4 and again holding the breath for a count of 4.  It was felt that concentrating on keeping that pattern going while tending to his wounded comrade kept him conscious and effective.

But after that experience, after he got some help and was in a hospital, would be a good time to create positive feelings if they didn't arrive naturally.  Positive feelings can be overdone.  I suspect evolution and life in general is smarter and richer than any simple formula I can cook up.  Just as I am not attracted to continuous drugging, I am more interested in open-eyed, full-frontal participation in whatever feelings (and events) that emerge from living and loving. 

Still, it is nice to practice creating positive feelings when I have a moment.  Eric Barker reported someone's method of thinking of someone I love and the checking how many ways that someone and my love might not have gotten together.  Many Zen, Buddhist and happiness coaches and gurus advise awareness of THIS moment.  Bleeding or not, I will never see THIS moment again.  Hats off to it!  Its special quality, its preciousness, its particular and peculiar flavor of yuckiness.  (It is hard to get good quality yuckiness these days.  Not like when I was a kid.)

A major key to emotion construction is careful awareness, eye and ear and smell and touch and body sensations.  We have 11° below zero outside just now and the merry wind takes that oppressive heat away quickly so it actually feels more like -24°.  It is a sunny, bright day.  Imagine our gratitude for good clothes and heat and calories.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Business communications

He found his membership card had his middle initial wrong.  He called the customer service number.  There were other customers keeping all agents busy but his call was very important to the organization and an agent would be with him shortly.  Within a minute or so, a voice came on and introduced the speaker as "Mike".  

He needed to understand that all calls were recorded for training and transactional improvement.  He suspected that the recordings might be introduced into court proceedings if the organization's lawyers thought they would help.  

He explained to Mike that his membership card had come in the mail but that it stated his middle initial incorrectly.  "It says that my middle initial is "T" but it is actually "B"." Mike stated that he was sorry that the organization had mailed a misprinted card and that he would be happy to help correct the error. Mike asked him to give verifying information to establish that the caller was really who he claimed to be.  He stated his name, address, ZIP, phone number and email address.  Mike said he had found the account in question, including his middle initial.  

"Sir, we have your middle initial as "T".  Now what do you say it actually is?"

"My middle name is Bertram.  My middle initial is "B", as in basketball."  

"I am sorry, Sir.  What did you say about basketball?  

"I said my middle initial is basketball - No! - I mean my middle initial is B."

"Did you say your middle initial is P?"

"No, B, as in the word 'basketball'."

"I understand, Sir.  You want a membership card mailed to you bearing your corrected middle initial on it, a "B".  

"Yes, that is correct."

"Very good, Sir.  Is there any else I can do for you today?"  

He could think of dozens of things that Mike might do, things that needed doing, but he doubted that Mike would agree to do them. Additional dozens of actions might be performed by Mike that he didn't want at all.

"No, thank you.  A corrected card will be fine."

"Sir, if you wish to stay on the line, we have a short survey.  We would like to have your opinion of our service today."

He hung up.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Self 101

I wrote some prompt notes for possible use in today's blog and shared them with Lynn.  I don't do that usually but I wanted to see if anything jumped out at her.  She laughed a little at "Guess who it is easiest for me to sympathize with? Me!"

That got me to thinking: Why do I get along with myself better than with others?  Other questions came up: Do I?  Maybe it just seems that way.  Do others have a special arrangement with themselves to see things their way, agree with their thoughts, sympathize with their own (perceived) feelings?  If we tend to take ourselves more completely and sympathetically than we do others, why do we behave that way?

I thought of Sarah Bakewell and Michel de Montaigne.  Bakewell is a London librarian of today who wrote a book about Montaigne (1533-1592) called "How to Live".  She since has another book "At the Existential Cafe".  I had read about Montaigne before.  He is sometimes said to have invented the essay as a form of writing and to have been one of the first writers to sit alone and examine his thoughts from what today might be considered a psychological point of view while staying aware of himself and his place in his view of history and philosophy.  In other words, he was both introspective and extroverted. 

It only took a few minutes before I remembered how often I surprise myself with thoughts and opinions and feelings I didn't expect.  I have read "Incognito" by Eagleman and "Before You Know It" by Bargh and "The Hidden Brain" by Vedantam and other books about the mind and the subconscious.  I remember Eagleman's comparison of the conscious mind to a passenger on a giant, complex ship thinking he himself was doing a fine job handling the boat while in fact it ran without him.  So, I am aware that what I think I know about myself is only a tiny, temporary bit of what my brain and body are up to. 

I am old, cranky and critical.  I often question my thoughts, my memories and my convictions.  I frequently compare my second guess to my first guess and dismiss both.  In fact, doubting myself and looking for evidence for and against an idea or conviction is one of my favorite pastimes.  I like myself all right and I seem to be pretty good-spirited and have a good humor but I was probably overestimating my self-knowledge.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Phones and the fate of our society

I don't have a smartphone but I might be addicted to email.  About 1987, I started doing more online teaching.  Students could see me live or on tape and send homework and questions by email.  That meant I could get student work at any time, 24 hours a day.  My students were undergrads and grads so they were older than K-12 students. 

In 1987, I hadn't had much experience with the internet and the iPhone combination of a computer and voice and printed capabilities were still in the future.  I expected that student work would reach me electronically from a student at a computer who was seriously interested in getting a good grade from me and also learning the material I was teaching.  Around that time, Lycos was my favorite search engine and Google hadn't started.  

I have heard from high school and college instructors that there seems to be too much attention paid by students to their phones and the most recent snappy comment, picture or flirtation. (I have observed quite a bit of attention to phone screens on the part of grayhaired oldsters, too, but that seems to be worry nobody.) I have heard of some app or other that wise guys and girls use, at times, to ridicule the teacher right during class.  I have heard that the local high school faculty will confiscate the phone of any student who uses or even shows his or hers in class.  First offense, the phone can be retrieved from the main office at the end of the day.  More time lapse is required for later offenses, I think.

The name Sherry Turkle, professor at MIT, is one I have seen as an author and thinker about the effect of social media and social networks on people, especially young people today.  A Google search gave these results for books on the topic:

I pay attention to my computer, my iPad, and my dull flip phone all day.  I get a very different reaction when an ad or an impersonal item like a newsletter comes if from my reaction to someone I know personally.  I don't think I would qualify as a candidate for one of those Chinese internet camps aimed at breaking (teen) addiction to internet communication and searches.  But, I might be headed down a slippery slope toward more and more texting and selfies and moral degradation.  

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Once each day

I started this blog to advocate for personal meditation practice.  That topic got to be a bit boring to write about while more and more other authors, videographers, teachers, professors, trainers and others wrote about the same topic.  There still are unexplored avenues related to meditation but excellent sources and classes abound that can help.  

Meanwhile, I realized I could take note of what I experienced, what I felt, what I thought and topics that emerge during each day and write about them.  I like to read powerful, well-written books, both stories that someone made up and accounts and explanations of real events and sciences, can fill my mind and inflame my enthusiasm on each page.  It turns out that a practice of writing one blog post a day is both too hard and too easy.  

Many days, I have so many wonderful leads and prompts and inspirations that I could be a real pest.  At the same time, both for the problem of an oversupply as well as the problem of deciding what is salient, it can be challenging to find a topic to write about.  I have too much while having too little.

I try to find five themes that seem valuable to write about and sufficiently helpful or novel or inspiring that they seem to have a chance of being valuable to those who read an email I send or look at the blog web page.  I have about 2200 prompts and notes that have seemed worth writing down.  When I read something catchy or notable or surprising or validating in my Kindle reader, I highlight it.  Most books that I read have a file of at least a few highlights.  Some have many.

Admittedly, any book by Jack Kornfield is not ordinary, since he is not an ordinary writer or teacher or thinker.  However, here is an example of a file that comes from highlighting striking parts of a text:

I think it is surprising that writing once a day can be both too limiting and too big a job to accomplish.  

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Fwd: The history of human emotions

It is the featured TED talk by Tiffany Watt Smith on emotions that made me watch this twice and show her talk to Lynn.  Today, happiness is all the rage and for very good reasons.  How about more practice at developing our ability to feel sad, really sad?  Is it good for us?  Are we underdeveloped sadness-wise?  Bill
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: This week on <>
Date: Sat, Dec 23, 2017 at 9:27 AM
Subject: The history of human emotions

What do we call our feelings? Open in your browser
This week on
December 23, 2017

Tiffany Watt Smith: The history of human emotions

14:20 minutes · Filmed Nov 2017 · Posted Dec 2017 · TED@Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany

The words we use to describe our emotions affect how we feel, says historian Tiffany Watt Smith, and they've often changed (sometimes very dramatically) in response to new expectations and ideas. Take nostalgia: Today, it's a gentle wistfulness for the past, but when it was first defined in 1688, it was an illness -- and it was deadly. In this fascinating talk, learn more about the language we use to describe how we feel, and how it continues to evolve -- and pick up some new words to capture those fleeting feelings.

Playlist of the week

Most popular TED Talks of 2017

What a year! These 14 talks challenged our perceptions of love, happiness, what the future will hold ... and, um, the very nature of reality itself. Watch »

Total run time 3:48:09

catch up on this week's new TED Talks

Sometimes, words are magic. But in this subtitled talk, legendary poet, lyricist and screenwriter Javed Akhtar asks why we seem to be losing our power to use words these days -- and inspires us to better understand and communicate with one another using this wondrous tool that carries our ideas and culture across generations. (In Hindi with English subtitles) Watch »

Could smartphones and cameras be our most powerful weapons for justice? Through her organization Witness, Yvette Alberdingk Thijm is developing technologies that help people use raw video to protect their rights. She shares stories of the growing power of distant witnesses -- and a call to use the tools at our disposal to capture and stop injustice. Watch »

Christian Benimana wants to build a network of architects who can help Africa's booming cities flourish -- balancing rapid growth with values that are uniquely African. From Nigeria to Burkina Faso and beyond, he shares examples of a pan-African movement of architects, designers and engineers who are learning from and inspiring each other. Benimana invites us to imagine future African cities as the most resilient, vibrant, inclusive places on earth. Watch »

Heather Lanier's daughter Fiona has Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, a genetic condition that results in developmental delays -- but, as she makes clear, that doesn't make her tragic, angelic or any of the other stereotypes about kids like her. In this talk about the beautiful, complicated, joyful and hard journey of raising a rare girl, Lanier questions our assumptions about what makes a life "good" or "bad," and asks us to take life as it comes. Watch »

Joel Jackson wants to reimagine transportation around the needs of the African consumer. He's designed an SUV that's rugged enough for long stretches of uneven terrain and affordable enough to be within reach of those who need it most. Learn more about the challenges of mobility and manufacturing in Africa -- and what a localized motor industry could mean for the future of the continent. Watch »

"I'm Deb's son." "And I'm Hank's mom." In this warm, loving, funny talk, Deborah Willis, the legendary photographer and art scholar, speaks onstage with her son, the artist Hank Willis Thomas. The mother and son artists show how they draw from one another in their work, how their art challenges mainstream narratives about black life and black joy, and how, ultimately, everything comes down to love. Watch »


Handy: 6 strategies to take into your next performance review >>
How to listen to criticism without losing your cool

Design: Visit an apartment that shows life in 2050 >>
A fictional scenario you can walk around in

Crime: Inside a scheme to launder money through Panama's tallest building >>
A multi-million-dollar scheme ... featuring some familiar names

You: 9 creative New Year's resolutions inspired by TED Talks >>
Inspiring ideas to break the resolution rut

Psychology: How to make your New Year's resolutions stick >>
A one-word trick that can put your goals within reach


Quote of the Week


Today, we celebrate happiness. Happiness is supposed to make us better workers and parents and partners; it's supposed to make us live longer. In the 16th century, sadness was thought to do most of those things. It's possible to read self-help books from that period which try to encourage sadness in readers by giving them lists of reasons to be disappointed. These self-help authors thought you could cultivate sadness as a skill, since being expert in it would make you more resilient when something bad did happen to you, as invariably it would. I think we could learn from this today. Feel sad today, and you might feel impatient, even a little ashamed. Feel sad in the 16th century, and you might feel a little bit smug."

Tiffany Watt Smith
The history of human emotions

ted radio hour: rethinking medicine

Our approach to treating disease is, in many ways, narrow and rooted in the past. Is it time for a new paradigm? This hour, TED speakers share their visions for new ways to understand medicine. Listen to TED Radio Hour on Apple Podcasts »


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Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas to all and a Happy New Year!

We hope you have some wonderful holidays and a fine, fun new year.

Lynn and Bill

Sunday, December 24, 2017

It's typewriters (What's a typewriter?) (2nd mailing, security didn't like my earlier shortened link)

A friend, highly educated with an active and agile mind, said,"When I was young, it was typewriters that were ruining the world."  I hadn't heard of the typewriter threat but I am not surprised if some human imagination foresaw the death of something fine and lovely because of typewriters.  It seems to me that
It may be that more intelligent people worry more than less intelligent people.  The famous Mad comic fellow, Alfred E. Neuman, now passed the age of 60 (Look him up if you don't remember him) had that well-known slogan "What, me worry?" His appearance also implied that, like Aesop's grasshopper, he took the tact that everything was fine and even dandy.  He had no worries. 

What about North Korea?  What about the new tax code?  What about earthquakes?  What about dengue fever, drought, crime, miserliness, ISIS, inflation, deflation, flation?  As Dr. Cook mentioned, what about incarceration and the huge US prisoner population? 

Two intelligent friends separately explained to me that we (you and me) are increasingly controlled by large, dangerous, callous corporations.  I don't think so.  You may be but I don't feel that I am.  I think my actions, including use of international corporate online offerings like Facebook and Google and computer systems like iOS and Windows are still under my control.  

It may be some years before the end of my days but I don't want to spend them worrying about typewriters or smartphones or flation.  I agree that my heart still beats and my flesh may be sought by tigers.  Shingles and flu are out to get me but I don't want to darken more days than necessary with worry.  How about you worry for me?  Let me know if it gets to be too much and I will add some additional worriers.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Bread and circuses

I wrote about the theme of bread and circuses to fascinate and occupy the minds of the citizens before.

I was surprised the other day when the phrase "bread and circuses" came to mind.  I know that it has been used since ancient Roman times to refer to cheap entertainment and cheap food, tools for keeping the populace occupied and distracted while others carry out their plans for the people, the nation, the world, themselves.  Since I spend my time reading, watching Netflix and Amazon TV and Acorn TV and writing this blog, the question arose in my mind "Am I feeding myself bread and circuses when I should be doing something else?"

I think of people besotted with alcohol or mutual funds or prayers or warfare or novels and I wonder whether I am besotted with inferior activities?  Maybe I am spending my money, my calories and my hours unwisely.  Maybe I should be critically examining my life and taking careful notes that might guide me in my next reincarceration.  Maybe it really doesn't matter how I behave.  I feel confident that drunkenness, drugs, worry, anxiety can easily be misguided and wasteful but I have trouble proving that I am right. I am surprised to find that, at least, superficially, I have to use my intuition to sort ok activities from inferior ones.  Can it really be that I have no better guides than I don't feel that many of the disdained ways of living are worthy?

I get recommendations to serve.  My wife wants help cooking and housekeeping.  I like her, I love her and I want to support and assist her.  But she shoos me away sometimes.  The cooking and housekeeping are done.  Is bread ok then?  I don't know what to do then but drag myself to another circus.  Maybe participating in a rally for or against isn't such a waste of time. I guess I need to write more poems, carve more trinkets, post more supportive comments on Facebook.  I am not a member of Instagram or Snapchat or LinkedIn.  Maybe I should be.  I could follow Sandy's lead and sell more stuff on Ebay.

Friday, December 22, 2017

message distortion and degradation

There are "typos" in speech and in hearing as well as in typing.  Without verification and maybe even discussion, it is easy for messages, statements, interpretations and related items in human communication to get distorted.  Some distortion may well be deliberate but I think there is a good bit of it that is unconscious and unrecognized.

Lawyers and interrogators and some married partners are good at uncovering implications and possible associated meanings and conclusions connected to a statement.  

I try to go to the weight room for a short workout three days a week.  I have been told that at my age, going once a week is adequate to keep some good strength while facing the fact that I am withering and no longer look like a prize-winning bodybuilder.  Lately, it has been colder (Happy first day of winter!) and my motivation has slipped some while my holiday session calendar has gotten crowded up. So, despite pretty good intentions, some weeks have gone by without a single trip to weights.  

Yesterday, I kept telling myself I had almost completed my four part program of yoga, sprints, walking and weights.  I felt pretty virtuous and all as I checked in at the entrance desk of the weight room.  The desk attendant was training a new employee.  As I gave him my admittance card, he said to the new man,"This guy comes in every day."  Yikes and double yikes!  I am happy to get there once or twice a week!  I didn't correct the statement but it is possible that the new employee thinks I really show up daily.  I am not that motivated but I am also not dumb enough to overtrain.  I am not that enthusiastic and I think two or three times a week is plenty for my needs and goals.

Our friends are excellent cooks and enthusiastic Christmas cookie bakers.  They wanted to share some of their goodies but they "knew Lynn and I had given up sugar."  Maybe we should have but we didn't.  Just yesterday, we split a giant sandwich cookie Those cookies are too thick to bite.  The icing between the two very sweet cookies is luscious but sinfully rich and sugary.  But it is possible that we are still known for our virtue and self-control and discipline (falsely, very falsely).  As soon as I finish another dish of chocolate malt ice cream, I will tell you about my legendary goal orientation and steely focus.

Thursday, December 21, 2017


We haven't mailed any Christmas cards yet.  It is less than a week until Christmas.  We have only a small number of friends that we will mail paper cards to.  We have received ten cards from friends so far and none by email, as far as I can remember.

This is the primary time of the year for contacts, rememberings, touching base and saying Hello.  When I look at the word "rememberings" in that sentence, I think it is more or less non-standard and maybe awkward wording.  Howevever, I I use some odd language, I might cause a pause, a notice, a moment of recognition that I am thinking of a person I want to contact.  It is not a completely hopeless task, even today, to try to express genuine appreciation for someone.  

If you have ever watched "Call the Midwife" on

Amazon or Netflix or PBS or Hulu or YouTube or Direct TV, you know the feeling that each person, each human is a miracle.  

There are people you know that will be surprised that you contacted them but are people you admire or like or wouldn't mind being closer to.  Maybe you can select a few and give contacting them with a card or an email a try.

As we read "Approaching the End of Life", as I read "1917" by Arthur Herman, as I think about politics, civic life, business, education, and medicine, law and health, I meet the power of words over and over.  In today's world of online marketing and advertisement, honest, thoughtfully accurate words are rather rare.  Doubly so for words of appreciation for voice, presence, ideas, inspiration that I get from knowing others.  

You know I have a mainly British ancestry and my upbringing included impulses to be emotional, but restrained at the same time.  It comes naturally to me to attempt to express love, warmth and delight in being acquainted with you.  I bet you can do something like that in your own way with somebody that will be happy to get your words.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Fwd: Identity Theft Updates

Quite a while ago, we jointed Pre-paid Legal Services and also their IDShield service.  Here is a mailing about keeping your Identity safe.  Bill
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: IDShield
Date: Tue, Dec 19, 2017 at 1:26 PM
Subject: Identity Theft Updates

'Tis the season for scams! Keep your identity safe with our holiday tips.
'Tis the season for scams! Keep your identity safe with our holiday tips.

Who's Really Calling?
Have you received a call about suspicious activity on your bank or credit card account? It's comforting to know someone's looking out for you.

Or are they? If they're asking questions for which they should have the answers, these callers may only be looking out for themselves!
Be Smart with Used Devices
On average, U.S. smart phone users upgrade their device every 22.7 months. That leaves a lot of used, late-model devices on the market.

Don't let visions of fast cash dancing in your head distract you from taking steps to ensure you're not giving away your identity!
What You Are Saying:
"We have had a few issues with fraudulent activity and this investigator has been extremely helpful. He's also very professional and accessible in that if he is not able to answer exactly when I have called he promptly returns my call. That's important to me." - M.M in FL
"Kroll was very helpful in assisting with the identity theft situation. Extremely pleased!!" - D.D. in MO
"The investigator went above and beyond in looking into things for me and proposing a course of action in the interim. I️ got off the phone feeling like I had done all I could up to that point. Greatly satisfied with the service in what was a very ambiguous situation." - G.G. in CT
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