Recent Articles

Heavenly unanimity

| January 25, 2015 | Reply

I was raised Catholic and I was taught to believe that God was actually three distinct persons in one, somehow, and this was nebulous.  But I was also told that there were a lot of other heavenly characters up there.   I don’t believe that prayer is communicating with any sentient being, but a lot of people do believe this.

It is interesting that whenever someone tells me that they prayed and that they received wisdom,  all members of the Trinity, and Mary, and all the saints and cherubim all agree with each other on all topics. It’s not like people seeking prayer guidance come away with this result: God says take the new job, whereas Jesus says wait a month and think about it, whereas Mary says go back to school, whereas the chorus of angels sings that you should give it all up and join a commune.   It seems like there is a lot of Groupthink going on up there . . .

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Have a nice day

| January 25, 2015 | Reply

Ever notice the way people use the phrase, “Have a nice day”? Or “Have a great week”? Or “Enjoy your vacation”?

These are all essentially wishes, secular prayers. There is no expense involved in saying these things to anyone other than the cheap breath we expend while saying them. This is definitely not paradigmatic expensive signaling explored by Zahavi.

Therefore, we might as well wish BIG. Shouldn’t we say, “Have a nice year”? Or even, “Have a nice lifetime”? Or I hope you live a good life for 1,000 more years”? Or, I hope that you and everyone you know, and everyone you don’t know, and people who aren’t even born yet, have ecstatic lives”? Or “I hope you and all present and future sentient life in the multi-verse enjoy your lives”? Or “If there is an afterlife, I hope that all of those sentient dead people in heaven and hell, and those formerly in limbo until that was abolished by the Pope, have great lives/afterlives”?

There is actually more going on than vapid wish-making. Notice that the length of time chosen by those who utter “Have a nice [choose a period of time] correlates with the next time that that person will communicate with you. A good friend might say, “Good luck with that project next week,” knowing that you will communicate to each other in a matter of weeks. What if you only see someone sporadically? Then you might say, “Have a great summer.” What if you might never see that person again? Then you might say,”Good luck with your new job” or “Good luck with that new diet.”

Regarding those who actually know you, then, “Have a nice day” or “Enjoy your weekend” often signal social or emotional closeness.

This is not the case with the checkout person at a big box store, who hands you your bags of purchases and utters the phrase required by her oppressive corporation: “Have a nice day.” I hate that these folks are forced to work like automatons, to the extent that they are made to utter canned phrases to customers. I like to break through that script, asking how their day is going, or whether they are working a long shift. If they are reciprocating, I “wish” them that they will enjoy the remainder of their evening. At least some phrase to break through the chatter we so often encounter, and make some semblance of a connection, looking them in the eyes and meaning it, when I tell them “Thank you.” But never, “Enjoy the remainder of your life, as the time-treadmill of oblivion moves you inexorably toward your demise.” That, of course, is a different topic.

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Lack of human connectedness as the cause of “addiction”

| January 22, 2015 | 1 Reply

This article at Huffpo argues that addiction cannot be found as internal chemical hooks, but rather as a symptom of human boredom and isolation:

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

At first, I thought this was merely a quirk of rats, until I discovered that there was — at the same time as the Rat Park experiment — a helpful human equivalent taking place. It was called the Vietnam War. Time magazine reported using heroin was “as common as chewing gum” among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about the head home when the war ended.

But in fact some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers — according to the same study — simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn’t want the drug any more.

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Ignorance about income disparity in the United States

| January 22, 2015 | 1 Reply

According to this article in Slate, Americans are ignorant of how outrageous wealth disparity is in the United States:

According to the Harvard study, most people believe that the top 20 percent of the country owns about half the nation’s wealth, and that the lower 60 percent combined, including the 20 percent in the middle, have only about 20 percent of the wealth. A whopping 92 percent of Americans think this is out of whack; in the ideal distribution, they said, the lower 60 percent would have about half of the wealth, with the middle 20 percent of the people owning 20 percent of the wealth.What’s astonishing about this is how wrong Americans are about reality. In fact, the bottom 80 percent owns only 7 percent of the nation’s wealth, and the top 1 percent hold more of the country’s wealth – 40 percent – than 9 out of 10 people think the top 20 percent should have. The top 10 percent of earners take home half the income of the country; in 2012, the top 1 percent earned more than a fifth of U.S. income – the highest share since the government began collecting the data a century ago.

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Free climb of “Dawn Wall”

| January 20, 2015 | Reply

I’m not a climber. This climb at Yosemite is beyond words.

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Spinning Sculptures

| January 19, 2015 | Reply

I really enjoyed seeing these sculptures come alive when they were spun.

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How to stop procrastinating

| January 12, 2015 | Reply

I don’t know whether I’m a typical procrastinator. I avoid unpleasant and difficult tasks by doing difficult tasks that I enjoy. I’m not a time-waster, but the effect is the same: I repeatedly struggle to get finished with projects that I deem to be the most important.

I paused my “modified” procrastinating for a moment and decided to post on this summary by Eric Barker, who consistently does a good job of posting on self-improvement topics.

The take home is this, but do check out the article, which is filled with useful links:

  • You don’t need more willpower. You need to build a solid habit that helps you get to work.
  • Getting started is the tricky part. Turn that habit into a “personal starting ritual.” It can even have some fun to it as long as it signals that in a few minutes, it’s time to get cranking.
  • The most powerful habits change how you see yourself. Think about what makes you feel like someone who gets things done and make that a part of your starting ritual.
  • Eat chocolate with friends. Maybe not literally, but it’s a good reminder that you need both rewards and a support network to build rock solid new habits.

Here’s one other excellent article by Eric Barker, along the same lines:
How To Stop Being Lazy And Get More Done – 5 Expert Tips. I do like the idea of scheduling EVERYTHING, and not simply making to-do lists. Point two of the list below is also golden.

  • To-Do Lists Are Evil. Schedule Everything.
  • Assume You’re Going Home at 5:30, Then Plan Your Day Backwards
  • Make A Plan For The Entire Week
  • Do Very Few Things, But Be Awesome At Them
  • Less Shallow Work, Focus On The Deep Stuff

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“The Imitation Game” is a poor imitation.

| January 12, 2015 | Reply

Saw “The Imitation Game” last night. Lots of eye candy (elaborate scenery, extras, vintage war footage) but as is so often the case, the film-makers forgot to pay enough attention to the screen play, which made cartoons of Alan Turing, his thought process and those he worked with. I can barely recommend it, despite that fact that his story is so incredibly compelling, heroic and, in the end, sad.

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The Best Questions For A First Date

| January 6, 2015 | Reply

Fascinating research indicates that certain questions one can ask on a date serve as proxies for complex realities. This is from OKCupid’s blog in 2011, but still quite relevant.

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