Tuesday, January 22, 2019

What is going to happen?

We all deal with the future. We have our own personal future of childhood, teenhood, adulthood and declinehood.  We can save ourselves trouble, stress and anxiety by concentrating right on the present and the fact that the past is gone and the future has not arrived.  But that is not the end of the story. Around age 4, we come to understand that somewhere far out in the future, we face death.


Some thinkers feel that understanding mortality and the fact that death lies in our future is THE fundamental marker of humans that distinguishes them for other forms of life.  

The ability to imagine, to investigate and experiment enables us to think about the future in more detail and to steer ourselves toward or away from situations in the future, at least to some extent.  I am writing this on the 21st of January, one third of our calendar through the winter season. Winter began on the day of the solstice, a day I can imagine brought wonder and awe and relief when ancient people could see that the lowering sun and the lengthening night began to reverse course.  Maybe the light would not disappear.

I have some posts about the 1972 book "The Limits to Growth" that prompted me and two fellow professors to launch our college course called "Futures."  From ancient Biblical prophets to today's worries about climate and water and poverty, human imagnations have explored ideas and images of the near and far future.  


Many attempts to figure out what will happen turn out to be quite wrong.  Many predictions are too vague to know if they were fulfilled or not. Depending on what is imagined and what is meant, the messiah hasn't come, YET.  Without a date, predictions can always be said to be about a future that hasn't arrived yet.

A friend sent me a YouTube link to a talk by Scott Galloway, a professor of marketing at NYU.  His predictions related to American and world business and commerce over the coming year. He starts by reviewing predictions that did not come true that he made last year.  Correct or not, his ideas are interesting.


Monday, January 21, 2019

Good day to celebrate Africa's contributions

I think when we can finally shake various fears and biases, we may be able to face the contributions of Africa to our lives.  Even though my appearance can be labeled "European-American", all twenty-two or so branches of the family of humans seems to stem from Africa, one way and at one time or another.  I just have to go a little farther back in time to find the connection between my ancestors and "African-Americans".

I am glad that my country celebrates the contributions of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.and the civil rights activists of the earlier decades.  

I feel as though I can understand the impulse to illegally and immorally capture people and transport them across the ocean from their homes to a foreign land.  I can understand the impulse even while I condemn it. I can thank those who survived and contributed to the development of my country, no doubt often unwillingly but still mightily and helpfully.  However, when I read Ira Katznelson's "Fear Itself" and saw how generations after the end of the Civil War, people were still cunningly and deliberately keeping opportunity away from African-Americans, I have a harder time saluting the Red, White and Blue.  I have a harder time believing in the good in people.

I realize that fear and pride and nastiness lurk in our hearts and may emerge at any time and place.  I do hope we can edge toward saluting and appreciating the good, the potential, the achievements, the value, the intelligence, and the beauty of all our citizens.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Myths, legends and us

Maybe you know the works of Joseph Campbell, as in his book "The Hero with a Thousand Faces."  You may have heard of criticisms of the work of Freud and others who have tried to understand the workings of the human mind and personality.  The critics have different sorts of complaints but some of them complain that actual evidence supporting theories and even practices in psychiatry and psychology is lacking, unimpressive, missing or contradictory.  As a graduate student, I found the list of "threats to validity" in Campbell and Stanley's book on experimental design memorable and helpful. The list can get a little technical but it starts with "history" and "maturation", terms that point to the past and to growth and change, to the future, too.

You can take just about any mother or K-12 school teacher and talk to them about the mysterious brains, pasts and futures of people, especially kids.  No research or analysis or expert can completely map out what a person of any age has done, can currently do or will become able (or unable) to do. When I saw how inexpensive that good writer Robert A. Johnson's books were on Kindle, I paid attention.  I have enjoyed his "Living Your Unlived Life" and quoted from it a couple of times in this blog.

As you may have guessed, my mother was a female and my sister, wife and daughters.  I understand that close to half of all humans are female. I bought Johnson's "She" and read it aloud to Lynn.  Like Campbell and Jung, Johnson concentrates on aspects of human life that are foretold or exemplified by events in old myths and legends.  To some extent, the typical experience of a human of a given age or stereotype is told in some old stories. "She" is mostly about a typical face-off between an young girlfriend or bride and the guy's mother.  I enjoyed the story and Dr. Johnson's assurance that animosity and sometimes worse can be expected between the new young woman and the guy's mother.

I watched the "Crazy Rich Asians" movie and found the story centered on just this tension.

Now, I am into "He" by the same Robert A. Johnson (deceased in the past year at age 97).  Although there are plenty of movies and references to a similar tension between a father and the intrusive guy who is making off with his daughter, "He" is about a different aspect of male life and psychology.  Johnson says that from the 1200's to now, much of young male life and development is exemplified by the legend of Parsifal and his quest for the Holy Grail. I haven't read much of the book but it certainly inspires me to stop and reflect on big moments in my life, surprising events or strong feelings or both.  Unlike careful science, legends and myths can involve explicitly magical and supernatural events. Such freedom provides a broader palette of ideas, powers, dangers and causes.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

More Marie Kondo

We wanted to watch "Crazy Rich Asians" but Amazon can't play it now. It is available elsewhere but we were interested in watching the Marie Kondo episodes on straightening up the house. I was impressed with how good and interesting it was.  She was very friendly with the couple she was helping and she brought a translator along with her in case her English was too limited.

Before she started in on the clothes scattered around, she asked the couple to thoughtfully thank their house.  Seems like a good move to me. Stopping to thank the house, to face the value and the good that comes from the house is the beginning of an important type of gratitude and thoughtful appreciation of the value and the good times, the shelter, the warmth and the centrality the house gives to their lives and their family.

Her first activity was having the couple get all their clothes, scattered about or hanging in the closet or packed in drawers and pile them all in one great pile on the bed.  Then, one garment at a time, pick it up and consider it. Does it "spark joy"? (That's the name of one of her books, "Spark Joy") Does the garment make you glad you have it? If so, keep it.  If not, it goes in the get-rid-of pile. Again, like the blessing of the house, take a moment for each piece to consider one's feelings for the item.

After all the garments are sorted, fold each one that is being kept.  Fold with concentration and respect for the piece of clothing. We saw pictures of Kondo's own kids folding their own clothes, again with respect and consideration.  She told the couple that their children would soon pick up an interest in folding their clothes. Shortly after, we saw the couples' kids doing just that.

My own thinking and that of just about everyone I know has been about duty, storage and resultant neatness.  The psychology, especially of the acts of "tidying" rather than focusing on pride in the result, had not occurred to me.  I would have thought that pictures of people straightening their house and their clothes were pictures of people doing their duty and being correct, not pictures of thoughtful people appreciating the value and the history and the stories and memories associated with their garments.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Marie Kondo, Don Anslett and stuffed spaces

I had an adult student who read Don Anslett's "Clutter's Last Stand" and found it life-changing.  As I remember, the student was an art teacher and often felt overwhelmed by the clutter and disorganization of her house or classroom or studio.  She took the book to heart and enthusiastically supported it as a key to greater happiness.

You may have seen Marie Kondo's current book "The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up" or her series on Netflix.  Her books and her Netflix series are getting high praise and attention. You can see quite a bit about her with a Google search or look at her videos on YouTube:

Only you can tell if you are burdened by the actuality, or maybe the thought, of what's in the basement, or what your grandmother would say about the condition of your closets.  One thing Anslett got into my head was that just because I toss the little brown vase that is my symbol of my grandmother does not mean that I didn't love and cherish her.

The movie "Coco" explains the Mexican-Indian tradition that my soul will be happy as long as someone living remembers me.  It's a nice idea but I know I have been worthwhile, whether or not anyone still has pictures of me.

Hoarding, having too much stuff, having to get a larger rental locker just to house stuff are problems that affect many people today.  I say "Take lessons, read Kondo or Anslett, hire someone to haul away ⅔ of your stuff and find freedom and a new start."

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Along with Gmail

My friend had trouble with his usual email. He tried Gmail as an alternative.  I wanted to tell about and show him some of the additional tools available now that he has a Gmail username and password. So, I made this page on my website:


Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Guides to being good

I am a bookish kind of guy. I didn't ever set my mind to be that way.  It just happened. I like stories and I like being transported to far-away places and finding out about cells and planets and heroics and cowardology.  I am too impatient and ordinary to be overly transported by ornate poetry, but words and ideas, images and meanings matter to me.

So, when I joined the Boy Scouts (the Girl Scouts didn't want me!!), I knew the motto, the oath, the Scout laws and the related words, documents and concepts.  I wasn't hot to track bears through the forest but I was hot for books. The first merit badge I earned was for scholarship. My Scoutmaster was a wonderful person who was surprised when I applied for the badge:"There's a merit badge for scholarship?"  Looking around the internet, I find that scholarship was one of the original 57 merit badges and it is still part of scouting.

I suspect that most people know that the Boy Scout motto is "Be Prepared".  The Girl Scouts have the same motto. When I was in about the 8th grade, my stepdad gave me an article by Bruce Barton that seemed to nicely encapsulate some valuable advice.  It advised aiming to

  1. Stand at the head of the class in English

  2. Be accurate

  3. Be thorough

Being prepared, loyal, trustworthy, and practicing ten other virtues while doing "my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight" is asking quite a lot, especially what with homework, chores around the house and trying to keep up a budding dating life. But there is more: I grew up in a state whose motto is in Italian and says in English: Manly deeds and womanly words.  My high school has a motto too: The palm to who merits it.

I think I followed all this advice at times and I have ignored each bit at times.

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