New Blog Schedule Coming

Just in case you are paying attention, I am moving from a new post every five days to a once a week schedule.  The NEXT post HERE will come on Wednesday, April 1 and each Wednesday thereafter.

Since I have two blogs, this will afford me more time for quality content while providing more time for working on my novel and other writing projects.   As always, your comments are most welcome as are subscriptions.

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Time–It’s All in Our Minds

It’s always refreshing when people confirm what we think we know. Time is relative–just ask Albert Einstein. But I’m not talking about his theories. I’m talking about what our minds do with time. Doesn’t it always seem to take longer getting somewhere, especially when you’re running late, than it does going home? Time is, of course, what the clocks we live with say it is. But we don’t just live with clocks, we live with memories and perceptions. Waiting in an airport or a doctor’s office can take forever. The birthday bliss or other times of exceeding joy in bedrooms  are over in no time at all. Claudia, rather than Clarissa, explains it all in her book, Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception. The reviews, as you will see in this link to Goodreads, are quite good. You can find the book at the usual online sources. It also may be available at a public library near you. Maria Popova, in turn, has an excellent explication of Claudia Hammond’s book on her own site, BrainpickingsContinue reading Time–It’s All in Our Minds

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Top Federal Agencies for Partiers

Did that get your attention? A whole host of websites annually rank the top party schools. That may be a plus for some or a minor for others on choosing a college. I tried surfing a variety of terms to find a similar ranking for government agencies to work for, but to no surprise didn’t find one. With the news coverage of embarrassing Secret Service scandals, one could be excused for thinking that the agency might rank in the top ten–if not number one. If the Department of Agriculture were on top of such a list (no offense to the workers there, this is just a hypothetical) would it be newsworthy? Doubtful.

Incompetence is bad enough–the Kardashian style wannabes, the Salahis,  who managed to attend a White House dinner without proper credentials; people scaling the fence and actually getting way inside the White House itself; a bullet(s) hitting a window (bullet proof, but still); the drone on the grounds and the list goes one. But worse is the sex and the booze. Agents hiring prostitutes in Cartagena. Passing out drunk in hotel corridors. Crashing into a fence at the White House in an official vehicle.  So yes, there seems that an oft heard phrase among agents might be, “Let’s party!”

But as we all know, or should know, scandal is way more “newsworthy” than humdrum events. So maybe the news media unfairly tars the agency. Successful protection of presidents does get coverage. But even there, the central mission of the agency has been far from perfect. How successful are security agencies in protecting leaders around the world compared to America? I don’t know. Perhaps given the number of public appearances the agency does a fantastic job. Undoubtedly having the mission to take a bullet for someone and do a good job at preventing the bullet from ever being fired is a stressful job. But so is being an air traffic controller. Are there news reports out about a culture of sex and boozing among their employees? No, I don’t think so.

While living in a Virginia suburb home to employees for various federal agencies, particularly law enforcement ones, several inquiries came from investigators every year updating the security clearances of current or prospective employees. There were, at one time or another Secret Service agents both uniformed and plain clothes living on my block. They had families with children; none were hard partiers (the investigators always asked that, along with any disturbances–loud music, fights, etc. and about their loyalty to the United States). So I have no personal knowledge of bad behavior. But then, whether married or single, one might conclude that the activity reported on might not be something happening in the backyard or front porch of suburban homes either. More likely it comes as frat boy peer influenced conduct while out of town. How really rotten is the core of this agency apple? As bad, not as bad or worse than what news reports lead one to conclude? The tip of the iceberg or not, the fact is that the events reported happened. The fact is that they keep happening.

There shouldn’t be a report on the top Federal agencies for partying. If there were, the Secret Service shouldn’t be near the top of that list. Surely there are individuals who are not prone to such behavior; they need to step up to the task of changing the culture. More importantly, the supervisors who fail to discipline or properly evaluate such behavior need to go. It is difficult to get rid of Federal employees, but It needs to happen. And it needs to happen now, not later, before things get worse and a president or a member of his or her family dies as a result.

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Frankl versus Liddy; Dueling Book Reviews

Man's Search for Meaning book cover
Will, by G. Gordon Liddy, book cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

This came to me the other day, from where I don’t know, to review two books in the same post for purposes of contrast. One is Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning (1946; 10 million copies sold) and the other is Will, G. Gordon Liddy’s autobiography (1980; 1 million copies sold).  I read Frankl’s book while in college in the 70s. I read Will in  2002, in preparation for writing my own book, Waiting for Westmoreland. Continue reading Frankl versus Liddy; Dueling Book Reviews

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A Picture Is Worth a 1,000 Words–Sometimes

A day late on this. Searching for inspiration. Got it. It all started, I think, with the ridiculous hyperbolic aggrandizement of calling comic books “graphic novels.” If the art were removed, the word content might equal what–microfiction? At the highest page count a very short story? Do the images really amount to 1,000 words each? If they did, would the total amount to a novel of 100,000 words? Then it spread to websites. Now, every news site has increasingly more images.

Here are two examples, both from March 9, 2015. One is CNN and the other MSNBC. To be fair, I captured a smaller part of MSNBC’s home page but that’s because their images are SO  much larger. I leave it to you to form your own opinion of which is better. Continue reading A Picture Is Worth a 1,000 Words–Sometimes

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Lower Pump Prices Can Cause Foolish Vehicle Purchases

Tundra

The price at the American gas pump is creeping back up, but it’s still at least a dollar a gallon below last year. That’s $15-20 a fillup of regular. Savings add up quickly. Still, over the course of a year of driving say, 15,000 miles it is not an enormous sum–depending on the vehicle being fueled. Let’s say it’s a (relatively) fuel-efficient car that gets 25 miles per gallon. That’s 600 gallons or $600 in savings. So what happens when the gasoline cost drops? People rush out to buy that pickup they really wanted but were avoiding when pump prices went up. So now they get 15 miles per gallon. That’s 1,000 gallons. So let’s say the price at the pump is now $2.50. With the pickup, the driver spends $2,500 on gas; with the car he or she spends $1,500. So instead of saving money, the driver spends $1,000 more! What happens when the fuel costs rise back up further, which we all know they will? That’s right, the driver is further behind.  How many years will the driver own the pickup? Well, if the gas cost goes WAY up, they will sell it sooner. But when they do, they will lose out there too, because of depreciation on the truck. Consumer psychology is a strange and marvelous thing, if you are a manufacturer or dealer; not so much if you are a reflexive buyer. Many people are now keeping vehicles for 8-10 years or even more. Buying and keeping more fuel efficient vehicles really makes a difference over that time span! Yes, there are reasons why you might need a pickup. Living in rural or semi-rural environment it may be essential. Ditto for hauling stuff. But no one really needs a high performance vehicle for street use.

Bill the Bombastic–Is There a Cure for What Ailes Him?

So it has come to pass lo these many years after becoming King of Fox News, AKA False News, Bill the Bombastic has been brought low, to the brink of ignominious defeat by a guttersnipe son of the Mother Jones. What will become of him? Will Roger the Dodger be able to cure what Ailes Bill? Will there come a rescue or reprieve from Saint Rupert of Murdoch, the patriarch of the unfair and unbalanced network? Only his brother in bluster Rush matches Bill’s zeal lambasting lefties and delighting the right. All is true, he says, everything he has ever said during his entire repertorial career. Yet his words on tape, his memories in print in his own books defy reality and the truths of others present when his stories unfold. The Bombastic never set foot in a combat zone in the Falklands; he covered the affair from 1,200 miles away in Buenos Aires. He never saw nuns being killed, except possibly by viewing video coverage later; he arrived a year after the killings. He couldn’t have been outside the door when George de Mohrenschildt, JFK killer Harvey Oswald’s friend, shot himself to death in Florida; Bill was in Dallas at the time. Bill takes nothing back; it’s just the way he told the stories of the events, just the way he wrote it in his book about Kennedy’s death. Neither Roger nor Rupert can help him now, he is on his own. One who skewers  by the word is skewered by the word–his own word.

I have been trying to reduce the political posts here, but this one was too sweet to pass by.  Here is the back story: Once we write down or record our recollections, they become our memories as they are recorded. At one time, they may have been different–not necessarily more accurate, but possibly. The act of compiling and editing them itself alters them, rearranges and replaces the original. So, without excusing Bill, despite what I have just explained, here is the stylized version of current affairs, influenced perhaps just a little by the wizard’s opening narration to Conan the Barbarian. From my political perspective, of course.

Oliver Sacks Undefeated by Death

I cannot pretend I am without fear

Oliver Sacks, 81, recently learned he has terminal cancer. Sacks is a professor of neurology at the New York University School of Medicine. He also is the author of books such as Awakenings, the true story of his treatment of patients awakening from sleep after decades. The book was made into a movie starring Robert de Niro and Robin Williams. As a doctor, he knows much of death. But that is not what Sacks is focused on for his remaining days.

In an op ed piece in the New York Times, Sacks tells of his predicament and describes his response.

I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can.

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life.

Read the rest of my take on this and a little more of Sack’s words  on a blog post I shared on LinkedIn.

Hope, Cynicism and the Stories We Share

As often told here and elsewhere I acquired the dream of being a writer at an early age. Scifi became an early objective. By the time I had experienced Vietnam and read much of Kurt Vonnegut’s work, dark humor had become a more likely focus. Watergate made that notion all the more likely.  Still, I began a quest for a means to make the world a better place than those innocence destroyers, those illusion dispellers left me with as a cynical idealist. Easier said than done. I found no  answer to regain a positive perspective or hopeful outlook. At least not until I encountered the philosophy of Nichiren Buddhism. That’s all detailed in Waiting for Westmoreland, a memoir published several years ago now.  But this post isn’t about my faith, it’s about an article I read on Brain Pickings by Maria Popova, from which I cadged and modified the title of my own post:

Some thoughts on Hope, Cynicism and the Stories We Tell Ourselves

Here is what she says, in part

“To live with sincerity in our culture of cynicism is a difficult dance — one that comes easily only to the very young and the very old. The rest of us are left to tussle with two polarizing forces ripping the psyche asunder by beckoning to it from opposite directions — critical thinking and hope.

Critical thinking without hope is cynicism. Hope without critical thinking is naïveté.

Finding fault and feeling hopeless about improving the situation produces resignation — cynicism is both resignation’s symptom and a futile self-protection mechanism against it. Blindly believing that everything will work out just fine also produces resignation, for we have no motive to apply ourselves toward making things better. But in order to survive — both as individuals and as a civilization — and especially in order to thrive, we need the right balance of critical thinking and hope.”

Popova goes on to establish the task of storytellers, a group among which I count myself at least at times, to make things better.

What storytellers do — and this includes journalists and TED and everyone in between who has a point of view and an audience, whatever its size — is help shape our stories of how the world works; at their very best, they can empower our moral imagination to envision how the world could work better. In other words, they help us mediate between the ideal and the real by cultivating the right balance of critical thinking and hope.

I want to see myself, this site and my writing generally–as much as I can, to be congruent with this quote Popova cites from E.B. White,

“[W]riters do not merely reflect and interpret life, they inform and shape life”; that the role of the writer is “to lift people up, not lower them down.”

Read the article. It will make you think–think better thoughts.

Does Boredom Benefit Creative Thinking?

Rodin sculpture, the Thinker
From the gardens of the Musée Rodin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Fast Company, writer Vivian Giang posts the article “The Science Behind How Boredom Benefits Creative Thought.”  In it, Giang notes that while past studies associated boredom with frustration and a weariness in facing challenging situations recent research suggests that bored people actually outperform others. Pointedly, that this improvement comes from a creative response to the the boring situation. Here’s a quote from the article lead-in:

“Boredom gets a bad rap. Truly amazing ideas and offbeat solutions have often come from endless hours of daydreaming.”

What do you think? Do you agree with the article’s premise that boredom can lead to more creative thoughts? Had any experiences of boredom leading you to innovations?

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