Friday, May 25, 2018

Epidemic of crisis fatigue

You probably remember the boy who cried "Wolf".  He thought it was amusing to see the alarm in response to his fake news that there was a wolf prowling in the village.  He spread a false alarm so often that people no longer believed his shouts. When a real lupine came stalking him, his cries were indistinguishable from his earlier fakes and no one came to his aid.  His bones are still in a little pile behind that bush.

Today, we have a crisis in crises.  We got a crisis in the schools, we got a crisis in medicine, we got toddler crises, children's crises, lots of teen crises, marriage crisis and crises in older people's lives.  There are many others that I won't take time to mention: legal, incarceration, agricultural, climate, military, governmental and more.

It is time for Congress to explain how many crises we can deal with at a time.  I recommend seven. Once seven crises are announced, nobody can announce another one until one or more of the seven are eliminated or at least demoted to the rank of former crises that we may pay further attention to at a later time.  There was a famous psychology paper, The Magic Number Seven Plus or Minus Two. The premise is that we humans can recognize about 7 items at once, without counting or calculation. We can hold up a playing card with 7 pips on it and immediately recognize it for what it is.  For some people, 5 is the max and others can deal with 9.

We do alright with seven days in a week, we fight seven deadly sins, there were seven brides for seven brothers.  I think we can handle 7. If we have 7 crises officially announced already, you can get your badges and banners ready to campaign for your favorite unannounced emerging crisis to be officially recognized, but you can't launch your campaign until one of the current 7 is officially declared over.  Or, at least, in abeyance, or on hold.

I realize there are going to be fights at first since we have an oversupply of crises, emerging crises, mini-crises and unrecognized crises.  There is going to be a tussle for a position, but I hope you realize we have a crisis of crises and we need to get organized.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Sometimes I have incorrect feelings

I know that some of my feelings are wrong. Somehow, I made a mistake in developing feelings.  The emotions I have come out wrong. I know they are wrong because others tell me they are incorrect and that I need to have different feelings.  Take peanut butter, for example. I like smooth and I am not much in favor of crunchy. The people I admire and look up to like crunchy. They say it is more peanut-buttery than smooth.  I don't want to argue or be persuaded and neither do they.

They like crunchy and they can't believe that anyone as intelligent and congenial as I am could hold an opinion so clearly inferior to theirs.  These loveable friends look at me tenderly and they offer some crunch peanut butter on a cracker with a warm and encouraging smile. They seem confident that if they are warm and friendly and I am open and willing, I will taste the superiority in that better version.  Before I lose my temper and tell them off, I do try. I do taste that crunchy and it isn't bad. I mean if I could never have smooth peanut butter again, I could, yes, survive with crunchy peanut butter. But honest to Heaven, those little crunchies are irritating. They really seem to interfere with the complete taste of the "butter."

I have been warned that I am going to be ostracized or assaulted, that I cannot expect to have true friendships unless I develop different feelings.  I am not sure if there is something wrong with my taste buds or if I just don't see the superiority in crunchy. I may never be admirable or accepted but I can't stop feeling that crunchy is the wrong way to go.  All those little bits! You can't have a smooth layer of peanut butter with those little chunks in there!

Once in a while, I try to launch a counter offensive, without being actually offensive, I mean.  I offer a cracker of my own, with that nice creamy smooth peanut butter, uninterrupted by chunks, luscious wave of pure nut butter.  I offer my stuff with a warm smile, just like they did. But they don't seem to notice. If they don't see chunks littering the smooth surface, they immediately frown.   I have got to develop new feelings!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A fast path to feeling good

I read a while back that a person can appreciate a marriage or a friendship by thinking of all the things that might have prevented it.  If she had not wanted to be a teacher, if her family had not moved near that college, even if she had had gone to the library that day….

Gratitude and wonder are helpful feelings, easy to appreciate and enjoy.  It doesn't take much to extend the notion to other parts of life. Think of doing without, think of losing something and suddenly having it as part of your life can be a big deal.  When I pause for a moment, I often direct my attention to my feet. They carry me around. Without conscious effort, I don't pay much attention to them. I am trying to move my attention around and notice things I usually don't.  

The other day, I thought of my feet but I also thought of the floor.  Last year, we had new flooring installed so the floor's wood-like appearance gets my attention.  I often think of my gratitude for our roof and our walls and our windows. When it is quite cold outside or very warm, our house does a good job of giving us a comfortable, useable, enjoyable space.  But this time, I thought of our floors. Again, would I miss them if they were gone? You bet. Would it affect me if one of those Hawaiian lava flows ate a hole through our floor?

I can still remember the time I volunteered to cut firewood in the forest in northern Wisconsin in late spring.  Lovely temperature, wonderful light and the mosquitos thought so, too. I quickly found what it is like to be assaulted, swarmed by bugs and bugs and bugs.  I am thankful for our floors. Hope they last and last.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Why do they talk so funny?

I am limited to English so I can't point fingers at people from another language who are making progress in mine. But I am interested in trying to speak and write in words that are acceptable and understandable by a wide range of people.  

A friend got me into the book by Barbara Ehrenreich "Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer".  It is valuable, thought-provoking and witty. At the same time we started a book for me to read aloud but it is not for us. So, I am on the search for something else.  Searching for a book means reading through the table of contents of my Kindle which makes me see books that I have been meaning to get to. One of those is "Crooked" by Cathryn Jakobson Ramin, which is about back pain and the back pain industry.  I have had some back pain but I recently seem to have made progress with my latest physical therapist and her diagnosis. Ramin was the result of a 2nd friend's recommendation.

This morning, a third friend mentioned a provocative article "Arteriosclerosis as Clogged Pipes".  It has seemed to me that some people blame clogged arteries on fatty foods while other people say that metaphor is out-of-date and misleading.  I think I found the article he meant here:

I once kidded my doctor that I knew all about health care from watching "Scrubs."  I have since updated my medical knowledge with tv shows Gray's Anatomy, Private Practice, Bones and recently Emily Owens, MD.  I have been interested in the controversy between the low fat people and the fat-is-ok people. As I read through Clogged Pipes, I tried to understand what the expert meant.  

There are several references to PCI's.  What's a PCI? The letters stand for the words "percutaneous cardiac intervention".  Cutting into the chest and fixing the heart. Why not say that? There are several reasons.  "PCI" is shorter than either phrase. When the doctor says "PCI", I can feel that it is professional language and my loved one is in good, advanced hands.  As Prof. Richard Lanham wrote in "Style: An Anti-Textbook", people would rather be informed that they are losing their jobs or might lose a loved one by formal, solemn language, not by crisp, light, ordinary words.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Worshiping science

I keep finding salutes to science.  I like science but it isn't a pure temple of wonderful reasoning.  The modern idea of searching for evidence to support our theories seems a clear advance and has paid off many times.  Still the idea of what is evidence for or against something is not always cut-and-dried. Any piece of evidence can often be used to support different, sometimes opposing, claims.  

Like it or not, there are fashions in our thinking.  We cannot pay attention to everything and as we discover more facts, more truths, more principles, more connections, the range of things a single individual can master, even grasp, even understand, shrinks by comparison.  You hear about S.T.E.M. classes, training, emphases, majors, occupations. Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics are wonderful fields but we all want a little love and warmth in our lives, not just equations and beakers and silicone friends.

When we ask Science to take a bow, we may be thinking of imaginative and hardworking laboratory workers.  It can be helpful when thinking of what science is and who scientists are to think of five typical chapters in a doctoral dissertation:

  1. Introduction - what is this document about

  2. Review of research - what have others already done with this topic

  3. Method - what was done by the author

  4. Results - what happened

  5. Conclusions and implications - what does this mean?  What are implications for the future?

You can probably see that judgment, supposition and hope, as well as luck, all have a place in choosing a topic, deciding what to call it and say about it, finding related research that has already been carried out.  

In our current society, science, technology, engineering and mathematics all matter but so do finance, politics, the legal system and marketing.  If you are interested in science and related fields going astray, you may want to look at "mistakes in science" in Google:

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Slow, silent, social reading

According to "Space Between Words" by Paul Saenger, handwritten manuscripts were first written like this:


When Irish monks began inserting a space between words, silent reading became possible.  Before then, one used the voice to try to sound out words without our tools of spaces, capital letters and punctuation.  We have all grown up with these tools and expect most reading to be a silent activity. Reading can be done quite rapidly when it is silent and solitary.  For me, reading a good book was indeed that sort of process, until recently.

Now, I sit down with "Natural Causes" by Barbara Ehrenreich or some other fine book.  Pow! The first phrase is a delight. Just what my friend was writing about the other day.  I want to share my delight and the particular phrasing the author uses. I want to emphasize that my friend and I are quite the modern current literary up-to-date people that we are.  I reach for my computer, sign in, open email and type up a short note quoting the way the author phrases her comment, citing the page. Now, back to my reading.

Pow!  The next sentence reminds me of the discussion the guys had about the subject.  Back to the computer, address a email to the group and again, write out the comment, add a note of explanation and send it off.

No wonder, it takes me much longer these days to read through a book.  Not only the emails, tweets and notes for blog posts. I realize that this author is quite good.  How old is he? What else has he written? Check him out on Amazon, Google, maybe Facebook. Suddenly, I remember a book by this author that I bought a couple of years ago.  I search for it on my Kindle but it says I have nothing like that. I look up the book and discover I have the title wrong and I have been spelling the author's name incorrectly.  Might as well take a moment to send corrections out.

So it is that various indicators, predictions and notes assert that the book will take me ten hours of reading to finish while in reality, I take much longer.  And that is when I focus on reading the book and not branching off to the news, the most recent magazines that have arrived and other books that deserve a little attention, too.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Old News

Every Friday, the Internet Scout report is published online and by free subscription. The publication highlights web sites and software that can assist with computing, such as changing a file from one format to another.  One of the items that came in today is a website that publishes an item of news from the Williamsburg, Virginia paper in the 1770's. I often find that learning what was on people's minds centuries ago helps give perspective to what is on our mind's today.  

To our ears today, this is formal language, of a sort that we don't expect in a news item today:

Today in the 1770s: May 18                    WILLIAMSBURG, May 18, 1775.

(From the Williamsburg Gazette of that date)

We understand that private letters are received in this city, which inform that the troops at Boston were exceedingly justifiable as to their conduct on a late alarming occasion and that there would not have been the least bloodshed, had not the impertinence and ill behaviour of the provincials urged them to take up arms in their own defence. The printer will not be so indecent as to declare that the authors of these letters lie; but this he will venture to say, that they have not only contradicted almost every printer on this continent, but also the accounts given by gentlemen, of the strictest probity and veracity, from every intelligent quarter.


Virginia Gazette (Pinkney) May 18, 1775

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About this entry:    Pinkney, a patriotic printer, notes that letters from Boston loyalists have been received that give another point of view of the Battles of Lexington and Concord.


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