Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Grandmother power

It's in their genes.  Little boys are highly susceptible to images of large, muscular brave warriors, with mighty swords or rocket launchers or some other weapon that is so awe-inspiring, it is difficult to breathe while looking at them.  But it is all a trick.  Yes, warriors are needed and have their important uses but society's real power is in grandmothers and crones, a popular tern these days for women of intelligence and power who are in their later years, typically postmenopausal.  Such women know what life is about and often have great courage and real insight.  To my admittedly limited male vision, they are the best source of inspiring, healing care.  They know when to exhort and stir, something that many coaches and drill sergeants know well but they also know how and when to soothe, to give love and encourage tenderness toward one's striving, fearing, finicky, doubtful self.

I read many different guides to a happy life and fulfillment but one of the best consistently is Sylvia Boorstein.  Lynn has gotten lots of good feelings and energy from Sue Bender.  Bender is both a potter and a philosopher and her books "Plain and Simple", about living in an Amish community, and "Everyday Sacred" are filled with insights into the nooks and crannies of life, where good sometimes lies unnoticed and untapped. So, when we finished those during her breakfast readings aloud, we began Boorstein's "Don't Just Do Something, Sit There".  Boorstein is a practicing psychologist and Buddhist teacher.  Her titles are themselves inspiring: "It's Easier than You Think" (to be happy), "Happiness is an Inside Job" and "Pay Attention for Goodness Sake".  She conveys the warmth and healing that a mother inspires in her daughter to pass her orals, her son to get engaged and her husband to bravely relax and trust in retirement.

More authors, thinkers and practitioners are able to direct people toward confidence and higher self-regard.  As the psychiatrist Christopher Germer says, when the going gets tough, the soft get going. As I say, young males can't help it.  They are indeed wired so that they are able to march unflinchingly into battle and they look so cute doing that, the girls get all atwitter, exactly what young males want.  But much of life is not so action-oriented and heroic.  Grandmothers grasp this fact fearlessly and are not wired to be hypnotized by military music. Stay in touch with your grandmother (or someone else's) because her love will nourish you, right along with her chocolate-chip cookies

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Monday, July 30, 2012

Outdated wiring

As we pass from childhood to adulthood, our bodies add features needed for baby-making.  At the same time, our brains develop a recognition template for physical beauty in the opposite sex.  Generally, the markers of this beauty tend to be signs of health, vitality, and a high probability that the beautiful person can participate effectively in creating children and parenting them.  A good parent is alive and present, for starters, so being healthy increases the chance that a parent will at least survive to the point that a child has also become capable of reproduction.

I have read that the French tend to think of a person as a child until the person is a parent.  I'm not sure if that is true or widespread, especially in an age of birth control and a limited number of births.  Roughly speaking, when my children have children, I have completed my assignment as a biological entity.  Now, that my child's children have flourishing children of their own, I am all the more biologically superfluous, redundant, unneeded.  Still, I am alive and kicking and may be so for quite a while yet.

You may have heard older people state that they feel as though they are still in their 20's or 30's inside. That can seem weird or silly but I can see that in some ways it is true, despite the cane or the pain or the trouble remembering something.  People in their 90's may still feel the same sorts of attractions and repulsions they felt in junior high school.  We know some such seniors who fear that others in the nursing home dining room are flirting with the Mrs. or the hubby, even though we realize that none of the residents can see who is who at those distances.  

But within the sensory range that still works, the shoulders or the breasts, the biceps or the buttocks that grabbed our eye in college still grab our eye when we are too old to remember why our attention is focused on the target.  It seems that the biological force that designed us and hooked us on each other continues to work even when times have changed and things are different.
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Sunday, July 29, 2012

two mnemonics

For more immediate problems, Jack Kornfield recommends RAIN:
    Recognition that you are indeed being bugged by something
    Acceptance that it is your mother-in-law or the other political party or whatever it is
    Investigation - time to check your body for tension and explanatory upset that may give clues about the problem, your feelings about it, what your thoughts are and have been about the problem and finally what the doctrines and teachings you use have to say about such a problem.
    Non-identification - the problems is not you.  Even if it is your hair or your bills, it is not you.

For long range happiness, Martin Seligman recommends PERMA:

"Well-being theory has five elements, and each of the five has these three properties. The five elements are positive emotion, engagement, meaning, positive relationships, and accomplishment. A handy mnemonic is PERMA. Let's look at each of the five, starting with positive emotion."

Seligman, Martin E. P. (2011-04-05). "Flourish" (p. 16). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Seligman's PERMA -

    • positive emotion - you experience a preponderance of positive emotions
    • engagement - you habitually are into something deeply, to the point that time flies, similar to Csikszentmihalyi's well-known "Flow"
    • relationships that are positive for you
    • meaning - your life includes aspects that have strong meaning for you, often related to something that you feel is bigger than you
    • accomplishment- you have genuine accomplishments of which you are proud

Martin Seligman is the founder of positive psychology and a respected author, professor and researcher.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Three cheers for cheer

While thinking about extroverts and inspiration, I remembered "The Managed Heart" by the now retired woman Berkeley professor of sociology Arlie Russell Hochschild, written in 1983.  Professor Hochschild focused on airline stewardesses as an example of employees hired and required by their employees to SMILE, to keep a happy face at all times.  Smiling is part of being likeable and inviting, I guess, and my experience is that many women, especially young women, say, under 40 years old, are interested in being liked.  

I remember being surprised as a young man trying to learn to be a teacher that my female classmates said they were reluctant to discipline students for fear of being disliked.  Up to that point, the idea of prizing the students' like or love of me had not entered my perhaps dense male head.  I thought my aim should be to contribute to student success and knowledge.  I had assumed that our relation would be temporary at best.

Some things are not cheery.  Facing my reaction to them fully, even sympathetically, is often a key for my energy and inspiration.  Sure, upbeat is good but it needs to be genuine, authentic.  

Reviewing what I read in Quiet, I reflected on a school for professional leaders, executives and thinkers in which one has a duty, a duty !, to be cheerful.  Uh-oh, I took an oath myself to be cheerful.  I had forgotten about that.  It was in the Boy Scouts (memorably mentioned in Third Rock from the Sun as a "paramilitary organization for boys").  I took the Scout oath and laws seriously and I know they guided me and inspired me for years.

Yes, the 8th point of the Boy Scout Law is that a Scout is cheerful.  Reading carefully, I see the Oath says I will do my best to obey the Law.  If I am truly grumpy or otherwise not cheerful but am trying to be, I may be doing all right.  

I have been told by some of my women friends that a husband's duty, among other things, is to take care of himself to whatever extent he can in order to be around to husband his wife.  Husbandry is an art and can't be practised in absentia.  I have read several times that being of good cheer is enjoined on us by both Testaments and has been shown more recently to be linked, at least statistically, to longer life and greater health.  So, I guess that is another way that I have a duty to be cheerful, or at least, as soon and as often as possible.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

Lying with emotion?

After reading Susan Cain's observations on a Tony Robbins rally for confidence, I read about her trip to the Harvard Business School.  Much like my wife experienced in graduate school 20 years ago, the HBS students do everything in teams.  She follows a Chinese-American student a bit and finds:

His day begins early in the morning, when he meets for an hour and a half with his "Learning Team"— a pre-assigned study group in which participation is mandatory (students at HBS practically go to the bathroom in teams).

Cain, Susan (2012-01-24). Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (Kindle Locations 894-896). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

I got to thinking that the curriculum, the atmosphere and the aims were all to produce extroverts, or people who could fake extroversion.  That seemed dishonest to me.  Cain states:

The essence of the HBS education is that leaders have to act confidently and make decisions in the face of incomplete information. The teaching method plays with an age-old question: If you don't have all the facts— and often you won't— should you wait to act until you've collected as much data as possible? Or, by hesitating, do you risk losing others' trust and your own momentum? The answer isn't obvious. If you speak firmly on the basis of bad information, you can lead your people into disaster. But if you exude uncertainty, then morale suffers, funders won't invest, and your organization can collapse.

I can certainly understand a leader's impulse to take a positive slant, regardless of his/her actual estimate of the odds of success.  I think of Churchill's famous "We shall fight them on the beaches" speech as many believed a German invasion of Britain was imminent.  Read closely, one can see his determination to do his utmost to inspire and to create a lasting resistance, successful or not.  

I guess it is not lying if the leader says "we can do it" or "we must do it".  It does seem to me that unending cheer, enthusiasm, if not a form of lying, is certainly poor communication.  Information theory says that information conveyed is related to uncertainty, which means that if the leader always says "Yes, we can", we don't need to hear what the leader has to say.  We know beforehand that he always says the same thing -- he conveys nothing new.

At the age of 34, I was selected to head a group of 40 students, 33 of whom were women, on a trip of months in Britain and a tour of Western Europe.  I had no experience in administration and sought advice.  I read this in "On Becoming a Person" by Carl Rogers:

I might start off these several statements of significant learnings with a negative item. In my relationships with persons I have found that it does not help, in the long run, to act as though I were something that I am not. It does not help to act calm and pleasant when actually I am angry and critical. It does not help to act as though I know the answers when I do not. It does not help to act as though I were a loving person if actually, at the moment, I am hostile. It does not help for me to act as though I were full of assurance, if actually I am frightened and unsure. Even on a very simple level I have found that this statement seems to hold. It does not help for me to act as though I were well when I feel ill.

Rogers, Carl R. (2011-07-20). On Becoming a Person (Kindle Locations 425-430). Constable Robinson. Kindle Edition.

Carl Rogers was not an inspirational leader with a microphone and a giant screen, trying to empower people to walk barefoot on hot coals.  He was not trying to inspire a frightened nation to gird its loins and defend itself.  But his call for the utmost basic honesty has helped me very much and I recommend it.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Halting the Gung

Whether working on a single task, such as lifting a heavy weight off of an injured colleague pinned beneath, or a group task of manufacturing 150% of the daily output of widgets in a special effort, a surge of spirit can inspire us to new levels.  We can decide as a group to excite ourselves for a coming battle or contest and work at doing so with group cheers and songs.  

In the very interesting and helpful book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking”, Susan Cain describes in detail attending a Tony Robbins event which paying participants learn confidence and assertiveness.  Since a very similar event also run by the same man and his organization was in the news in the last few days, I paid special attention to her explanation of the emotional and stimulating aspects.  The news items recount participants in the recent event suffering severe burns during a climactic test of their self-confidence that consisted of walking on hot coals in bare feet.

I must be an introvert at heart since I have never been very attracted to joining in swept-up emotion stimulated by a leader.  The some extent, the more I can see and feel the height of the group’s emotion, the more my internal question mark glows.  It says to me “Why?”  Why are we being urged?  Why do we want to score more than the other team?  That is not what happens to me in the case of a beautiful hymn sung either by others or including me.  

When I listen to a fine orator, I can get aroused.  I can get determined to try harder, much harder.  But I have some limitations and some questions.  The main limitation is that today can only be a special effort if yesterday was not and if tomorrow is not expected to be.  Too many special efforts are no longer special.  Tenacity can pay well, I know, and I can do sustained effort but usually that effort is just that: sustained.  It isn’t a spurt.  It isn’t a flare.  

I am fascinated by the picture of a fencer.  We had fencing in high school and I could see that a fencer who does a full thrust, stretching out to the fullest extent, is especially vulnerable at the last second of that thrust.  He is like a muzzle-loading gun that has just been fired.  Time is needed and steps, like rest and novelty, must be taken to reload.

Continuous exhortations become just so much boring noise.  Watching a string of cheap ads on tv, I see one gleaming smile after another, one highly excited voice after another urges me to hurry right down!  Buy now!  Calls for speed, more speed, more effort seem like so much madness.  Gung ho has its place but so does stopping and lolling in the grass.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

long time, short time, no time

I am reading the essays in "This Will Make You Smarter" but I switch off to other books, such as "A Universe from Nothing".  Today, I read the classicist from Georgetown U., James O'Donnell:

Because we think and move on a human scale in time and space, we can deceive ourselves.

Brockman, John (2012-02-14). This Will Make You Smarter: 150 New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking (p. 128). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

That kind of words were familiar from yesterday's reading from "Universe":

we humans live such brief lives, at least on a cosmic scale.

Krauss, Lawrence (2012-01-10). A Universe from Nothing (Kindle Locations 1091-1092). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

So do we live a long time or a short time?  The answer, of course, depends on what we mean by "long" and "short"?  Say that modern humans have been on Earth for 200,000 years.  A person who lives to be 70 years old will have been on Earth for .04% of that time.  Not 4%, but just one twenty-fifth of a single percent.  Of course, many humans don't live for 70 years while some live much longer.  The oldest well-documented age is 122+, which is considerably more than 70.

On the other hand, some mayflies evidently live for only 1 hour.  Even though the portion of the whole time of humans covered by a 70 yr. old is quite short, it is about 214 times as long as the portion of a human life covered by a poor little mayfly.  

If you would prefer, you can step out of the whole business of time, according to Eckhart Tolle in "The Power of Now."  He doesn't mean that you won't age but he advocates forgetting about time, about the past and the future.  Be like a cat trying to catch a mouse: just concentrate on what is in front of you.  Tolle says take a moment to stop and see what your next thought is, what it is about.  When you do, you are like a cat watching for the next thought to emerge.  That type of stance pauses one's thinking and during the wait, which of course will be short, you are free of the subject of time.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Me, pole un-vaulter

Me, pole vaulter

The Olympics in London are just about to begin.  It is always an exciting time, even if I don't spend much time watching.  I have read that various nations tend to concentrate on different sports and tend to show those on tv and emphasize them.  I think even Wimbledon has too many matches for very many of them to be televised much, so I can imagine a 4 year, international sports event has way too much to put on the tube.  My copy cover of Time showed the American gymnast Gabby Douglas but I gather different covers were sold all over the US.

When the issue arrived, I saw "Joe Klein, Pole Vaulter" was one of the article.  Klein's regular page is usually at the end of the issue and he is a self-deprecating writer who can take a George Plimpton-type stance about his ridiculously inept or mediocre skills.  That immediately brought back the days in my senior year of high school when I tried to be a pole vaulter.  The regular performer was hurt and the coach asked me to see what I could do, in case I might save the team a forfeit.  I had always been thrilled to see that lift up and up, 18 feet into the air and over that bar.  I figured it would be fun.

It wasn't fun.  I got no coaching, since the coach was busy with his real athletes.  I got no lift but I did get several clunkings in the head from the falling pole.  The clunks finally got my attention and the next falling pole was blocked by my forearm.  Who knew that crazy-bone nerves are not just in the elbow?  Wow!  That hurt and hurt.  I think I may have tried for 45 minutes or so and I may have come out the next day, too.  I did try to give it a full effort.  I imagined those pictures I have seen where the last moment is the vaulter doing what amounts to a one-hand stand from the end of the pole.  Nice image but none like that of me.  Don't look for me in London.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

The Passing Show

Westerners look at Buddhism and see two things.  The Buddha's teachings and what has been made of them.  He taught 2500 years ago so I only know what I read of his teachings but all (the secondary in-English) sources seem to agree on his basic principles, The Four Noble Truths:
  • Life is suffering
  • Suffering comes from craving
  • It is possible to stop craving
  • There are eight areas that must be tended to stop craving
In the time since the Buddha's life, all sorts of modifications and additions have been made.  Most seem to me to relate to basic fears of death and oblivion.  When Western Christians look at his teachings, they see what looks like a psychology, not a religion.  Religions for us tend to relate to being good and upright, and perhaps attaining salvation and eternal life as a reward for being good.

The Buddhist-related authors I read emphasize the continuous change in and around us, even though the transitory nature of the world is not explicitly mentioned in the basic four. The Buddha's main tool for seeing one's craving, which almost always relates to changing the past or controlling the future, is meditation.

Meditation increases one's ability to watch what goes through the mind.  You don't have to sit in the traditional cross-legged position to be aware of the stream of thoughts that go floating or zipping through.  Food, money, duties, failures, hopes, memories and other figments that may or may not be welcome, helpful or irritating can all show up, often in a single space of ten minutes.  There are times when a comparison of thoughts and urges that are quite close in time is actually funny.  My mind can send me a picture of myself at my strongest, another of me too old, I'm prosperous, I'm sinking, I'm healthy, I'm not.  

I was going to be clever and urge viewing of one's inner show on the grounds that there are no ads.  Then, I realized that it is all ads!  Want this, don't want that, want more, want less, want again, never want again.  The show itself can be amusing and interesting.  Brings to mind my wife's bumper sticker: Don't believe everything you think!

It can be tempting to aggressively take a vow to have no more desires, since they lead to trouble.  Guess what?  Desires are both the food and the spice of life. You are going to want air, food, drink, love, and air conditioning, plus lots more.  Mark Epstein remembers being a young psychiatrist interested in applying Buddhist principles to his life.  He and others like him sat around wanting to go to a restaurant to enjoy food and each other's company but since all were working at no desires, no one dared to suggest a place to go.  The bumper sticker approach of seeing the desire, tolerating its arrival, but taking a few minutes or weeks to let it arise again, to consider it, to accept or reject it, is more likely to be helpful.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Walter Matthau as Christian Grey

While I was reading all three volumes of "50 Shades of Grey", I looked for a movie that might be enjoyable one evening.  I tried some current show about spies or bank robbers or something but it seemed too much the same old thing.  I stopped and searched some more.  I spied "A New Leaf" with Walter Matthau and Elaine May, a 1971 film.  I respect both actors and their talents and watched the show.  I was surprised that the story was "50 Shades" in a different version.

Matthau is Harry Gardner, a grumpy, spoiled middle-aged guy who has been quite wealthy all his life, from birth to now.  He believes that luxury is his due and it damned well better show up on time and stay showed.  His various advisers have repeatedly warned him that he has dwindling funds and they finally show him that he is going into debt and has no more money.  None, he is out.  He slowly gets the message and begins to face his situation.  His butler has been with him since his birth and he asks the butler how one goes about acquiring lots of wealth quickly without talent or effort.  The butler answers that one marries someone who is wealthy.

So, we meet Henrietta Lowell, Elaine May.  She is quite clumsy and our first sight of her at the party where Harry plans to meet her is her spilling her tea cup.  She is not married and she is quite wealthy.  Once one looks beyond the horn-rimmed glasses, a few mannerisms and the awkwardness, one sees an attractive woman.  That is not the important fact for low-libido Harry, though.  He cares about her fortune, her marital availability and just as importantly, how vulnerable she might be to murder.  Harry works on his project, learning about poisons in the garden shed and opportunities for his fiance/bride to slip off a cliff.  But all the while, her basic goodness is working on our grouchy child-man, evidently without his being aware of the fact.

I am honor bound to go no further in revealing the plot.  But I can say that just as Anastasia Steele is able to show Christian a better, more loving, more sustaining and less abrasive way of coexisting, our heroine comes out the champ in the end. Don't go up against love.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Humor as great literature

It seems to me that if text, speech, photographs, movies or other art get most people aroused in a sexual way, they will refuse to consider the source to be great.  This sort of bias is sometimes said to have its source in the Puritans or the Victorians or some other group.  It seems much more basic than the ideas of any particular group.  I still think much restraint in this area has to do with the simple proximity of sex organs and elimination organs.

I guess I am more puzzled by what seems similar restraint in the area of humor.  If text, speech or other material makes people laugh, either gently or deeply, it seems as though they will again judge the material to be second rate at best.  Why?  Great art isn't supposed to make us laugh?  

A friend and I were comparing favorite movies.  I realized that probably all of the films I really like, the ones I have watched repeatedly are funny.  The two movies I have watched the most times are "The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!" and "In the Spirit", the former available in more places than the latter.

"Russians" is a wonderful exploration of the humor of terror.  The Russian sailors on a sub have gone aground on a sand bar off the coast of a New England island, despite their pleading with the captain who was too curious about America to pay attention to the sonar warnings and the crew's warnings.  This is during the Cold War, when the US considered the USSR its deadly enemy.  Being a Russian naval sailor could easily result in death immediately and the crew is quite aware of the danger.  Neither group, the island American residents nor the Russian crew has anything to fear from the other accept their terror, which might motivate somebody to shoot somebody.  The whole mess is a great demo of reactions to fear and rumor.  It is tender and funny and I have watched it through 14 times.  A great demo on humans when frightened.

"In the Spirit" is available from Amazon but I accidentally bought the censored version.  Normally, I like less rough or earthy humor.  My friend reminded me that words mean what I want them to mean and all but I still usually find more wit with less 'blue' language. (Seems an odd color for off-color words.)  But in this case, a group of older middle-aged people are dining together and trying to be friendly and open.  An older man asks a young attractive woman what her occupational background is.  "I used to be a porn star but I never swallowed anything", she matter of factly replies -- if you are watching the original.  Jeannie Berlin is the actress who plays that part.  She is the daughter of Elaine May and Berlin is the writer of the screenplay.  May and Marlo Thomas are the hilarious stars who are trying to escape bad guys who ought to have no reason to be after them.  The dialogue comes quite fast but is worth paying attention to.

"Ruthless People" with DeVito, Bette Midler is unforgetable but full of laughs.  "Johnny Dangerously" with Michael Keaton and some great others will never make a top 10 list unless it is mine.  My Cousin Vinny, Love Potion No.9, Three Fugitives, Short Time, Breaking Away, Cold Comfort Farm have all done as much for my spirit and my brain as Silas Marner or The Scarlet Letter.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
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Friday, July 20, 2012

7 more at once

  1. C.Y.'s link to nice USA Today chart of life in and on our bodies, Herbert's "The Autism Revolution" and human microbiome - this subject is popping up all over: bacteria and such that live in and on us
  2. group delusion of money - I spend lots of time thinking about seeing what is there so it makes me laugh that a $20 bill is just a green and white piece of paper that I durned well better have images and ideas about and not just see it for its actual self.  Author here is very well known, a New Yorker columnist and author of "The Wisdom of Crowds."
  3. 7-way venn diagram – You probably remember Venn diagrams that typically show areas for 2 variables that have some common elements and some unique ones.  This is a rendition of seven variables in a two dimensional form
  4. e pluribus unum (inspired by the essay of that name by Jon Kleinberg in Brockman's "This Will Make You Smarter"- computers, a fist of five cooperating digits, mural on UWSP CNR wall by Richard Schneider and many students, USA motto of course, our brains and our whole bodies are amalgams, conglomerates are cooperating bundles of components - all show a unity when taken together.  Kleinberg emphasizes that we are moving slowly out of an age of analysis (taking apart) and into an age of synthesis(putting together). Educators have long used Bloom's taxonomy of steps of learning from knowledge (the basic facts), comprehension (understanding their meaning), analysis, synthesis, (and evaluation, where we judge the over-all impact and worth).
  5. Shorter fits better sometimes into our lives and not just on Twitter: tv shows of 45-50 minutes instead of movies (see "Men of a Certain Age" and others like the early "Grey's Anatomy", "Foyle's War", "Ballykissangel", "Cheers", "The Wonder Years")
  6. Let's face it: It is never the RIGHT time (Ferriss), You never have all you need (Boorstein)
  7. "Let's outsource the presidential campaign!"  Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg View

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Thursday, July 19, 2012


I try to conserve my attention and not let too many distractions or great deals or wonderful-sounding books or movies pull me off what I want to do.  It is not easy since there are many, many great videos, stories, blogs, contacts, etc on and on that may well pay off.  May even be better than what I am doing.  Still, I don't want to frazzle myself to death.  I don't want my monkey mind to jump about even more wildly, staying with even fewer tasks than I do.

My intelligent nephew suggested I check out "Everything is Miscellaneous" by David Weinberger.  It sounded like a recent novel but it isn't.  It changed the way I search for what I want to know and did indeed show important changes to the way through human resources and knowledge.  So, when Amazon.com or somebody let me know about a recent Weinberger book "Too Big to Know", I hopped right to it.  The book is about the structure of knowledge in today's internet world.  Sounds like a widely cast net and it really is.  

Weinberger mentions Edge.org and remarks several times on the high level of discussion and comment that takes place on that web site.  Meanwhile, Amazon's suggestions or something kept putting the title "This Will Make You Smarter" by John Brockman.  I am a senior citizen and as such, strong claims such as made by the title, immediately elicit strong doubt on my part, right along with doubting the trustworthiness and quality of the maker of the claim.  But I recognize the name John Brockman.  That was the name of the author of a couple of paperbacks I had before the last book weeding we did. They had attractive titles that lured me into buying them: "What We Believe But Cannot Prove" and "What Is Your Dangerous Idea?" ($1.99 on Kindle).

But when I looked at the books, I found multiple short essays.  I didn't like what I saw and put them aside.  Then, the other day something clicked.  I read that Brockman is the founder and moderator of this Edge.org.  I started getting interested, looked Brockman up.  Found that he runs his own literary agency in New York.  I remembered both Weinberger's comments and my rejected books of his.  

I now realize that Brockman's brains and tastes coupled with his contacts on his web site make for very high level contributors to collections he puts out.  "This Will Make You Smarter" has my attention and I am 20% through it.  One of the contributors is Kathryn Schultz, smart educative author of "Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error."  Any collection with an essay of hers in it is automatically worth checking out.  It is certainly true that Brockman has leading thinkers in the collection and it is definitely worthwhile.  

In this day of steady winds of information, often of better and better quality, it is very difficult to focus long enough on any one book or any one show, on any one thing long enough to digest what it is.  Brockman's collections feature highly packed essays that go down quickly but need to be digested slowly.  I didn't see that before.  Like having so many books at my fingertips with a Kindle, it takes a while to get adjust to 500 channels or 500 books and not be distracted wondering if the one I am watching is really the best one for right now.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Recent reactions to posts

Recent Reactions to Posts On World Ignorance Day -
  •     When I can see how ignorance is bliss, then I can celebrate its presence.
  •     You (Bill) can do better than this.
  •     A single day is not enough to adequately celebrate how much ignorance there is.  (I modify the plan to propose a World Ignorance Month.  I always liked those complex schedules sometimes featured as jokes, you know, "we are open during the months whose name doesn't have a Z in them" sort of thing)
  •     World or national ignorance day would merely make money for all the card companies. It would turn into an exercise, commercialized in many ways, to "prove" we are celebrating what we are "supposed" to be celebrating.
  •     I would concur with a day, or many, to recognize in humility how little we know about so much, and redirecting our national education and agendas to vital (vita, Latin for life) issues which truly merit full attention, exploration, debate, careful and sustained listening, truth testing in crucible of argument and reason, and election of those committed to representing the policy directions yielded from the ongoing national dialog. (Note: the tools listed needed to be supplemented by experimentation and data-gathering these days.)
On tired vs. new and better suspects

from my dear friend Bonnie Clendaniel "Add to the tired list of those needing less attention

    1. "Muslims overtaking our cities
    2. "US population becoming too integrated with non-whites
    3. "Welfare

    "Add to the hot list of new and worthy suspects
    1. "Greed
    2. "Narcissicism
    3. "Not being able to spell narcisissim
    4. "Keeping up with the Joneses or whomever is living next door or down the block
    5. "Lack of introspection
    6. "Too much introspection/not enough action"

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Improving our perfectionism

Let's keep in mind that whenever we realize that something is not perfect, we have to be carrying around in our head a notion of perfection.  That notion may be wrong.  Maybe perfectly straight lines aren't perfection.  Maybe something else is, for one purpose or another.

Our idea of perfection may be limited or out-of-date.  We might do better to expand the idea to include more characteristics or pare it down to fewer conditions.  It might have been a fine guide five or ten years ago but not now.

It is not especially comfortable to question our idea of what is perfect.  Doing so opens our goal to examination and possible change. We can't tell if we are winning if we don't know what the goal looks like, where it is.

We can't tell if we are being virtuous if we aren't able to recognize the virtuous state, the state of propriety.  Questioning what exactly the perfect state is can create anxiety.  If we aren't sure which way is perfect, maybe we will get totally lost, abandoned, headed to oblivion.  To avoid that anxiety, we may shy away from considering alterations to our blueprint of what we are aiming for.  Reading Prof. Chris Argyris years ago, I learned that he had found that people are much more able to evaluate progress toward a goal than to question or change the goal.  

It is understandable to be reluctant to modify our goal.  If we show up on the building site after the crews are halfway done with the job and explain that we want to modify the overall plan, there is going to be disappointment, irritation and expense.  It is probably going to be easier to live with our original plan and so we continue toward the same end.

We are usually better off if we can discover the truth and work with it.  That is not easy since we have internal truths, such as how we are feeling now and what sort of mood we are in today, as well as external truths such we are having an earthquake or drought.  We can't stop the quake or bring rain on our own but we feel we really ought to be able to control our internal feelings.  To a large extent, we can but beyond that extent, an early measure we can take is a gentle meeting with our minds and feelings.  

Periodically having a cup of coffee with ourselves, our whole internal group of feelings, memories, hopes and fears and taking notes on their positions and statements, we may be able to face the fact that our best version of perfection has changed or needs to.  Maybe we do want to become pet owners or we do want to divest ourselves of that property.  Our best interpersonal conferences may yield logic, evidence, needed and possible experiments and challenges that we actually do want to take into ourselves.  Tim Ferris is young and may be too much so to impress older people but he is very popular with people all over the world.  He emphasizes in his "The Four Hour Work Week: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere and Join the New Rich" that bigger, more challenging goals can be much more inspiring that smaller, more easily attainable ones.

Main blog: Fear, Fun and Filoz
Main web site: Kirbyvariety

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