Click Map for Details

Flag Counter

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Face of Anger

Anger is something that at one time or another afflicts everyone.  The hottest anger comes from righteous indignation.  If we are wise, we work to make anger the exception rather than the rule in our lives.  In anger we lash out.  There are fringe groups who mutually cultivate anger.  Often the end result is violence and predatory domination.  Anger in politics can attract others of like emotions.  Anger can form the substrata of political rhetoric.  We should be aware that a little flash of anger is only human, but to dwell on it and cultivate it full time is destructive.  If one must be a warrior, be a happy warrior.  Don’t go about your business as a smoldering Nazi intent on subjugation of the enemy.  Rather, show an inclination for respect that signals to others a healthy perspective of balance and proportion. Respect others even if you disagree with their position.  This may not change viewpoints, but it does open the door for beneficent reciprocity.  Neither subjugation nor even persuasion can subdue anger effectively.  The only way to subdue anger is to conduct a clean, well-focused contest while holding your opponents in uncompromising esteem.  Say openly and without any hint of sarcasm—“My friend in the opposition and I have fundamental differences of viewpoint.”

Print Page

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Today at Church

Today’s sermon by David Miller came from Acts Chapter One.  The subject was witnessing.  The second point of his sermon was a novel idea to me.  When we witness, we should not worry about selling the gospel.  It is up to the Holy Spirit to empower the word and change the heart.  What a freeing concept this is.  We do not need to be masters of persuasion.  We should not worry about tricky questions of a religious sort that are not essential to the Gospel’s impact on us.  This is almost like being a good witness in court.  We are not to embellish, but stick to the facts.  We are to believe in the radical idea that our candid witness is all that’s asked for.

Sunday school as usual was based on devotions and scripture from the Upper Room. Kunte brought up that his training in music calls for great effort and discipline.  Mitch stressed the importance of “the now” in working towards a distant goal like being a rock star.  He advised us not to be like those who dream constantly of retirement—only to find when it arrives that it is empty.  Instead of finding happiness, they find boredom and regret.  Rather, we should focus on those disciplines that bring us joy, happiness, and an outlet for our passions in the here and now.  I mentioned that I think Kunte feels he has a destiny (like I do).  We feel we have a positive contribution to make. Mitch said that was good, observing that many non-productive behaviors result from people feeling they have no destiny.  A feeling of destiny is different from a feeling of obligation, such as when we feel we “owe something” to our parents.  Such feelings and addictions to a legacy of burden can be destructive rather than guiding us to a healthy employment of our own talents and passions.

After one devotion, the question was raised are we to view everything in life in the light of faith?  Mitch pointed out that it depends on what we mean by faith.  If it means a deep belief in the power and necessity of the disciplines of love, then it would seem to be widely applicable in all areas.  As Viney pointed out, if by faith one means some sort of magic, then when we go to the dentist we would probably prefer that the dentist administer Novocain rather than faith.

I mentioned a dream I had last night.  I was reading an article in the newspaper that precisely, beautifully and masterfully described our Christian faith.  It was on the editorial pages.  As Mark Twain mentioned, mankind is good at finding true religion—in fact he has found several of them.  In the foreseeable future, fortunately or unfortunately, religion remains in the editorial section.

Print Page

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Laws of Power (10)

My son Alton and I are reading Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power and sharing our responses to the readings.

Robert Greene’s 10th law of power is:  Infection: Avoid the Unhappy and Unlucky.  You can die from someone else’s misery—emotional states are as infectious as diseases.  You may feel you are helping the drowning man but you are only precipitating your own disaster.  The unfortunate sometimes draw misfortune on themselves; they will also draw it on you.  Associate with the happy and fortunate instead.

Mr. Greene makes a distinction between unhappiness brought on by adverse circumstances and unhappiness deeply seated in a person’s soul.  It is the second type of unhappy person that he recommends we avoid.  He views this unhappiness and tendency to be miserable as more powerful than one’s charitable attempts to bring happiness to the other person.  Of course it must be said that in practice it is sometimes difficult to determine whether a person is inherently unhappy by nature or whether it is brought on by circumstances.  Perhaps a judgment can be made about this only after some time of interaction with the individual—until we can determine that the person’s primary problems are largely self-inflicted.  Mother Teresa, for example, helped the unfortunate no doubt primarily based on adverse circumstances.  Yet I feel sure that in her helping other people, she encountered some who in her opinion would be considered troubled in spirit as much or more than as troubled physically or materially.  These encounters may have challenged her own generous nature and even tested her faith.

As a Christian, I feel that we should love and help others as much as possible.  I believe this in theory.  But in practice I do tend to restrict association with negative people who always seem to consider themselves as unhappy victims. They seem to carry an active cynicism that I instinctively want to avoid.  I disagree with them intellectually and emotionally that everything is bad.  When I am with them, I find myself internally in constant disagreement.  This disagreement wells up within me.  I realize it would be fruitless to argue a more positive outlook.  They are not open to persuasion.  I avoid them for this reason—not so much that I fear infection from them, but from the stress of constant silent disagreement with them and the unsettling sense that I am being used.  There seems to be no effective remedy except disassociation.  This admittedly is “giving up” on another person—seeing them as not open to change.  But hope of change is sometimes hard to come by, sad as that is.

Print Page

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Place for Grace

Today I was graced by a gracious person.  The three qualities of a gracious person I would like to discuss are genuine interest, goodwill, and consoling speech.  The first quality, genuine interest, always comes as an uplifting surprise.  Working on Dale Johnson's computer at Mangrove Bay Golf Course I mentioned I had a blog.  He wanted to see it.  On reviewing a few entries, rather than showing a polite cursory interest, he expressed quiet appreciation and understanding by reading intently and asking specific relevant questions.  The next quality, goodwill, is a deep sense that the person respects you and wishes you well.  The person provides a wide swath of accommodating space for you to express and to be yourself. The third quality, consoling speech, reflects a person’s kindness by their offering generous and peaceful words.  Rather than cynical, acerbic observations about inevitable floundering’s that accompany troubleshooting efforts, he transformed my gaffes into graces by his refreshing touch of considerate speech.  Such persons are transformative.  They have the capacity to redeem dicey, uneasy situations with a generous gift of gracious charm.  They are a valuable asset to have in any organization.

Print Page

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Where One Stands Depends on Where One Sits

I write this entry as a father to a son.  As you go through life an essential thing to grasp is that embodied in the phrase “Where one stands depends on where one sits.”  This is always true though were one sits is not always obvious.

In the South during the Civil Rights movement, not every white was opposed to the termination of Jim Crow laws.  Of course, some were, including prominent congressmen of the South.  But some like my parents; though they were Southerners (my father grew up in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, my mother in Arkansas then northern Florida) were seated in the Christian teachings of the Methodist church.  Thus, their stands on civil rights were very different from some congressmen with their vested interest in white only voting and the status quo.  My parents saw in Martin Luther King, Jr. a fellow Christian, not an agitator.

I would like to point out that when you were growing up, you and I, though one family, still “sat” in very different spots—you were in the role of a son and child, I was in the role of parent and adult.  By the very nature of things, we could not always see eye to eye.  Sometimes you would get frustrated with me; sometimes I would get frustrated with you.  Because of where we sat, we occasionally had very different points of view.

I suggest that you consider how this plays out in your present situation.  There are inmates in one role, and the prison staff in another.  To a large extent, how you “see things” depends on where you sit.  If by magic you could change places with a staff member tomorrow, no doubt you (suddenly finding yourself as a member of prison staff) and the staff member (suddenly finding themselves as an inmate) would find many of the ways you view things changing to align with your new positions.  For example how you respond to the following statements may undergo change:  “The prison staff is unreasonable.”  “The inmates are unreasonable.”  You may find your responses to these and many other viewpoints dramatically changing—where one stands depends on where one sits.

The relationship of management and labor is another example.  Despite monumental efforts to create an “on the same team” concept, there is some inevitable division of interests.  A lot of how one sees things depends on where one sits—in management or labor.  So, son, I would ask that you consider this principle when navigating life and especially when you are tempted to view those in another role as “pea brain stupid.”  Just ask yourself, if I were in their role, would my thinking be much different?  Or is this mainly a case of “Where one stands depends on where one sits?”

Print Page

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Individual Responsibility and Shared Responsibility

Our criminal law is firmly based on the concept of individual responsibility.  This foundation is a practical necessity.  Each person is held accountable for their actions.  There is no other way to proceed in public or private life.

Shared responsibility is a much more abstract concept.  Existing climate or prevalent environment reflects the mores of society at large.  A healthy and safe environment is a shared responsibility.  Shared responsibilities impinge on individual responsibility and vice versa.  Difficulties arise when this impingement is negative rather than positive.  Individual behavior is obviously impacted by the prevalent social climate and its generally accepted standards and practices.  Even if the skids to perdition are greased, it is still the rule to affix responsibility individually and let the proximate cause go free.  There is no way to conveniently and practically affix blame on a large number.  When I hear said with great satisfaction that “the individual responsible” has been brought to justice, I can’t help but consider the vast number of respectable, self-righteous enablers who share responsibility but for practical reasons will never face a day in court.   

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Invisible Blindness

Some blindness’s are total and in these blindness’s nothing is seen.  A much more troubling blindness is when no darkness is present, vision is good, but the existing object is simply not perceived.  Light abounds but the object is nowhere to be found in the field of view.  In this case, one is unaware of their blindness so there is nothing to trouble them about their lack of perception.  Today I watched as Saint Petersburg city officials once again asked for thoughts and prayers for another murdered policeman—murdered by gunshot—as are most police killings.  A huge array of police forces combed the vicinity surrounding the murder scene without success.  One difficulty was that the murderer was believed to be a black youth in his late teens to early twenties—a description that fits many innocent people in the area cordoned off and searched.  (A 16-year-old ultimately confessed to the crime.) Where does the ghastly blindness lie to which I refer?  The blindness is the peculiar absence of seeing an obvious need—the need for handgun control.  Surely and hopefully at some point the answer will appear—less massive and heartfelt response to gratuitous tragedy and more effective action to prevent it.  Not only are public servants the target of handguns, but also are countless vulnerable servants in the private sector—low-paid convenience store clerks come readily to mind.  It is time to disarm the public of handguns and limit their use to law enforcement agencies.  To do otherwise is to invest in individuals the police power of a mini-state—a gross distortion of institutional physics.

Print Page

Monday, February 21, 2011

Doing Taxes

Today was a holiday—President’s Day.  I spent some of the time renewing my teaching certificate (for the first time online) and doing my Federal income tax (for the first time online).  The days of manually filling out forms and mailing them in are over—just another nail in the closed case of the manual typewriter.

I still have the typewriter I used at FSU in 1971 (40 years ago!).  It is a blue and white Royal Safari portable, made in the U.S.A.  It sports “Magic Margins” and “Touch Control.”  It has courier elite type.  I bought it in a pawnshop near the university for about $20.00.  There was another typewriter in the shop that typed in script, but a professor had warned us that turning in a paper typed in script was the kiss of death.  Often now I think of the chore (not to say hell) that was involved in producing a 20 page term paper with precisely positioned footnotes at the bottom of each page.  Half one’s time was consumed in formatting issues or poring over the dictionary to check spelling or to confirm a definition.  Other agonies included finding and correcting typos and discovering in the text a sentence or phrase that needed revision after the paper was done.  The drudgery of the theme writing task has now been largely eliminated and writing today is much more fun.  In fact, doing my blog is a daily celebration of liberation.

After doing my taxes I discovered that rather than getting money back as usual, I had to pay an additional $700—apparently because a standard deduction has been eliminated.  Well, later on during the evening news I witness the turmoil in the Middle East and I begrudgingly admitted that living in the U.S. is worth the taxes I pay.  Part of the tax bill is because we live in a compassionate country—people with special needs can find assistance of various kinds.  I would rather live in a compassionate country and pay more tax than deal with the full implications of living in a country devoid of basic human empathy.

Print Page

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Today in Sunday School

Today in Sunday school we read several devotions.  Several topics of discussion ensued.  After reading one regarding our gifts and talents, Kunte asked if Mitch thought he should continue to pursue being a rock star.  Mitch answered that he wanted Kunte to be happy.  He wanted him to pursue whatever would make him so.  As the discussion progressed, we discussed what makes a star.  Usually it is some rare combination of talent and passion.  If we see five people perform, perhaps one will stand out above all others with having “it”—however hard to define what “it” is.  This is much like a company viewing the products of competing advertising agencies.  The works of all may be competent and professional—but one stands out as having “it” and far surpasses all others.  Stars by definition represent the exceptional.  What if companies or countries could develop stars of most of its people?  What if the organization was able to encourage the exceptional best from all of its members—somehow matching person to talent and passion resulting in remarkable work and widespread happiness?  Surely such an organization would be a star among organizations.    

Along with this we discussed that having “it” need not always be a positive influence when we make a meager attempt to imitate the best.  Something within us seems to be attracted to rebels and “bad boys.”  Whether it is James Dean, Tupac, or Joan Rivers, we sometimes secretly admire people who rebel against conventionality.  We may try to imitate them but find that our attempts at rebellion all flop.  Somehow we just cannot match the originals with their unique talent and passion.  Rather than fascinating others with a certain “it,” we repulse and fall short in this special kind of stardom.

Print Page

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Laws of Power (9)

My son Alton and I are reading Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power and sharing our responses to the readings.

Robert Greene’s 9th law of power is:  Win Through Your Actions, Never Through Argument.  Any momentary triumph you think you have gained through argument is really a Pyrrhic victory: The resentment and ill will you stir up is stronger and lasts longer than any momentary change of opinion.  It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word.  Demonstrate, do not explicate.

Certainly no one likes a chronic arguer.  Too often a person who is reflexively argumentative is a habitual fault finder.  To them, nothing is ever right.  Never can anything be appreciated as making a positive contribution.  This type of person—since obviously many things serve to contribute to our wellbeing—comes to be viewed as having a grave personality problem.  I would not venture to argue with Robert Greene regarding his 9th law, but I would like to make a few counterpoints.

Martin Luther King, Jr. went to jail to demonstrate a profound injustice.  But dare we for a moment discount the power of his rhetorical arguments against racial prejudice?  His nonviolent actions were deeply persuasive, but so were the words that adorned these actions.  If we should find ourselves unjustly imprisoned, do we say “I won’t file a motion of appeal, I will make no legal argument on my behalf but rather just sit here and suffer nobly.”  No, legal arguments are at the very center of the justice system.  And in any endeavors of life, from work to politics, are we not to verbally assert our views which are by their nature contrary to other points of view?  In these situations expressing a contrary point of view is in itself action.  Is not a major objective of democracy to encourage honesty and the coincidental trust that those who disagree will respect us all the more for being true to our own best lights?  We are in no position to give up argumentation by the very nature of honest social discourse itself.  Only police states can prohibit argument—by driving it underground.  Let me be candid, the 9th law is open to further discussion.  

Print Page

Friday, February 18, 2011

Almond Blossoms

Tonight I ordered a print of “Almond Blossoms” by Vincent van Gogh.  He wrote the following regarding this painting:

My work was going well, the last canvas of branches in blossom--you will see that it was perhaps the best, the most patiently worked thing I had done, painted with calm and with a greater firmness of touch. And the next day, down like a brute. Difficult to understand, things like that, but alas! it's like that.
Letter 628
Vincent to Theo
St. Rémy, 15 April 1890

I like the artist’s frank admission that he has good days and bad days.  The bad days may produce works of tumultuous genius, while the good days, serene beauty.  That is why it is so important in our daily relations to realize that the manifestation from others that we see is really a behavior that can be placed on a continuum of conduct for that person.  This is easiest to understand and appreciate from those we see daily.  We have a much more complete picture of their behavior and can place today’s actions in a larger context.  However, when encountering the public at large, all our knowledge of the person, often a total stranger, is what we see in a brief moment.  Most everyone regrets their making a jackass of themselves at one time or another—frequently this outlandish behavior is during one of those fleeting public encounters where amends cannot be made to the people affected.  One time I made a jackass of myself at Subway.  I thought a sign relating to prices was not explicit enough and took it out on the vulnerable person behind the counter.  I have relived that moral lapse many times and realize the only possible way to amend it is to vow never to do it again.  Nevertheless, I must live with the knowledge that the harm I did in the past can never be totally redeemed by future actions.  So, as I mount “Almond Blossoms” over the dining room mantel, I will remember as much as humanly possible to gift my best presentations while saying about the rest “but alas! It’s like that.”

Print Page

Not Seeing the Forest for the Weeds

Ignorance Is Bliss defined: it is often better not to know about something unpleasant. Encarta Dictionary.

Sometimes if ignorance is not bliss, it is at least necessary for mental health.  When confronted with a daily stream of police blotter crimes; one’s optimism, hope, and faith are under constant assault.  At some point for sanity’s survival, it is necessary to insulate oneself against the daily viciousness reported in the news.  Otherwise, one’s world can become unbearably dark. A constant feed of the most dysfunctional and darkest side of human nature can drown out the good—which in reality far outweighs the bad.  To focus on the bad at the expense of the good is in itself unrealistic. It indicates a proclivity to cultivate cynicism.  It is not seeing the forest for the weeds.

Print Page

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tool Maker Extraordinaire

The following excerpt from today’s St. Petersburg Times for the first time got me thinking of computers as merely another result of man’s penchant for tool making:

Back in 1965, a British mathematician named I.J. Good projected what he called an “intelligence explosion”:

Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an "intelligence explosion," and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make. Source

In a way, the computer is no more remarkable than any other tool.  Like the Caterpillar track loader far exceeds man’s unaided muscle capabilities, the computer far exceeds man’s unaided intellectual capabilities. In neither case now nor in the future will man be relieved of his essential role as skilled hands and motive force.  Try as one will to get goose bumps thinking about how tools will take over (a silent movie comes to mind in which the central character is entrapped in a nightmare of gears and machinery) it will never happen except in cases where people willingly cave-in—as when the computer says “buy” a certain stock and we blindly do so—a self-willed abdication of responsibility.  In fact, the awe factor regarding tools can be dangerous when we start seeing them as infallible masters instead of fallible aids.  As painful as it may be for our addiction to the romance of technology, we should never favor goose bumps over a wary regard for the constant possibility of tool fatigue.

Print Page

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Song to the Creative Sector

The sacredness of work and creativity
The employment of the human species
In creating and achieving,
In innovation and application:
The new is conceived in the imagination
In concert with sensual facts
The old is transformed
Problems are discovered, defined, and solved
Creating and applying tools to the task
Identifying the emerging comprehensible,
Emancipating labor and producing abundant fruit
Manufacturing outcomes pleasing to God and man,
This fulfilling toil, this meaningful journey
This management of the physical realm
Sojourning together into the fecund promised land.

Print Page

Valentine’s Day

Monday was Valentine’s Day—a day that hovers over friendship, romance, and family.  It celebrates God’s way of bringing light and color into our lives—it is not good that man (nor woman) should be alone.  We have many roles to play in life, but the most significant role with greatest personal impact is who we choose as lovers.  It is the blessed experience of welcoming a onetime stranger into the connectedness of family.  We become suddenly aware that magically beyond our meager abilities to create it, in the full regalia of psychological and spiritual fact, a new family unit has been created and destinies linked.  We, with the help of God, have created a new institutional entity.  The family feeling is a forever feeling.  It is commitment carried lightly for a lifetime.  It weds generosity to generosity and miraculously tosses the scorecard into oblivion.  Such is the final mark of love.

Print Page

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Laws of Power (8)

My son Alton and I are reading Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power and sharing our responses to the readings.

Robert Greene’s 8th law of power is:  Make Other People Come to You—Use Bait if Necessary.  When you force the other person to act, you are the one in control.  It is always better to make your opponent come to you, abandoning his own plans in the process.  Lure him with fabulous gains—then attack.  You hold the cards.

Greene began his discussion using European kings and emperors as examples.  I come from America where very few politicians in my experience have ever been elected to dog catcher much less congressman or President by waiting for the public to come to them.  They always must campaign hard for the people’s vote.  Likely a person who is waiting to be acclaimed into an office by popular demand will be waiting outside of power forever.  In the states we admire go-getters with a frankly enunciated agenda.  We don’t much trust people with hidden agendas and ulterior motives.  The politician must sell themselves—they are the product.  But on a much grander scale in terms of volume is advertising for everyday products and services.  It would be a strange marketing plan indeed to sit back and wait for the public to beat in your door.  It is very difficult to be in control through this strategy in a competitive market economy.  Individuals seldom find employment waiting for jobs to come to them.  Even oligopolies succumb sooner or later to competition even if it is international.  And in courtship and marriage do we sit back and wait for the perfect match to come to us?  No, both partners proactively try to make their dreams come true.

I am a little put off by Greene’s approach that seeks to put one side or the other in control—it’s either me or thee in control, but not both of us.  No doubt the need for control is universal.  All human beings seek to have a sense of control over their lives and environment.  This condition is necessary for happiness. Since this is so, it behooves anyone who wants to achieve success in human relations to develop strategies that allow shared control.  In this regard, life can’t successfully be a zero-sum game.  Once again, Greene with his focus on myopic self-interest misses the essence of human nature.

Print Page

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Funny Truth

This afternoon Kathy and I watched Hal Holbrook in "Mark Twain Tonight!" (1967).  I saw the original broadcast in 1967 and probably it had more effect on me than I realized.  At least Twain said skillfully what I was thinking with less definition.  For example, he makes an eloquent plea for religious tolerance.  It is bizarre in a way that religion which should instill compassion so often lacks it.  The following video clip of the 1967 performance is on this topic.

In 1967 the Civil Rights movement was attempting to overcome years of prejudice and Jim Crow cruelty.  The Vietnam War was also underway.  Twain spoke of a very special kind of lie—the “silent lie.”  This lie comes from an informal but implicit conspiracy of silence from all quarters.  The following video broaches a topic which is for all ages.  Every age finds itself managing its own pack of silent lies.

Print Page

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hold that Memorable Moment

Today I watched the celebrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square as the people of Egypt celebrated the birth of a new nation.  In an attempt to share their exhilaration, I asked myself when was the last time I felt like that.  The answer came reluctantly—I guess I never celebrated a whole day and night for anything.  The next question, then, was what would make me feel like that?  Maybe nothing except that identical experience—freedom after thirty years of yearning for it. The closest experience I can think of has occurred in spiritual retreats I have attended held under the auspices of the Methodist church.  These retreats lasting a few days to a week are a time of spiritual renewal.  One feels deeply inspired—on a mountain top; but there is also the numbing recognition that the time and feeling are special.  Neither can nor should they last.  One must return from the spiritual feast of the retreat to the fray of everyday life and work. Even the church experience back home will include budgets, expenses, and leaky roofs.  Just so the spiritual rejoicing enjoyed by the Egyptians will be followed by the toil that is part of daily life.  If their efforts at democracy are successful, ahead of them lie the seemly endless conflict of political campaigns and debates, the assumption of the business of nation building and maintenance, the long and lonely hours of individual preparation to become competitive in labor markets, the struggles with all the foibles of human nature.  Spiritual celebrations are essential to confirm in our minds the values that we hold and share, but their specialness only serves to confirm their transient aspect.  We must cherish the memorable moments in our hearts.

Print Page

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Literacy Legacies

Today an employee at Leisure Services and I had a brief email exchange. The employee is noted for his wry observations.  It began when he pointed out a typo in a media advisory.  The following is an excerpt from the advisory: 

"The keynote speaker is Dr. Shelly Stewart, a noted successful businessman, radio personality and dynamic public speaker who overcame poverty and literacy on his way to success and fame"

The following exchange ensued:

Employee: Does one actually overcome literacy? I was always under the assumption that the ability to read and write was a good quality, not an obstacle to success.  Maybe I've been going about it all wrong.

Wayne: Actually literacy can become a problem--it can sometimes cause us to put too fine a point on something that is better understood in a more blunt fashion.  Sometimes with children, for example, it is better to say "Sit down and shut up" rather than "let us all reason together regarding the necessity and effectiveness of excessive activity and vocalization."

Employee: As I said, maybe I've been going about this all wrong. Today will be the last day my children partake in fancy book learnin'!

Wayne:  You're becoming a true American.

Employee:  Amen!. Do you know where the next Tea Party rally is being held?

Literacy among the privileged (like me and most blog readers) too often is taken for granted.  We too easily forget the hours spent with us by our parents getting us comfortable and interested in the skill, guiding and nourishing us during those vital early school years.  “Taint fair” the dearth of support some children receive.  “Taint fair” the chain of illiteracy and poverty that is too rarely broken.  Public education is often not effective without lots of home based support.  In Saint Petersburg the City is just starting a READ campaign.  I saw some great posters for it today created by Robert Norton and the TASCO team.  Perhaps if the City can only become more of a family some children otherwise left behind will find decisive encouragement.  The extended family can grow to include the support of Saint Petersburg residents who love to read.  The campaign must surely be counted a success if one child is saved from illiteracy.  Happy people read—that’s what the posters I saw plainly portrayed.  And, indeed, perhaps literacy is essential for happiness.

Literacy defined: “Ability to read and write: the ability to read and write to a competent level.”  (Encarta Dictionary)

Some statistics (quoted from Source.):

Why learn to read early?

Two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the end of the 4th grade will end up in jail or on welfare. The fourth grade is the watershed year.

Literacy statistics worldwide

  • According to UNICEF, "Nearly a billion people will enter the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names and two thirds of them are women."

Many of the USA ills are directly related to illiteracy. Just a few statistics:

  • Literacy is learned. Illiteracy is passed along by parents who cannot read or write.
  • One child in four grows up not knowing how to read.
  • 43% of adults at Level 1 literacy skills live in poverty compared to only 4% of those at Level 5
  • 3 out of 4 food stamp recipients perform in the lowest 2 literacy levels
  • 90% of welfare recipients are high school dropouts
  • 16 to 19 year old girls at the poverty level and below, with below average skills, are 6 times more likely to have out-of-wedlock children than their reading counterparts.
  • Low literary costs $73 million per year in terms of direct health care costs. A recent study by Pfizer put the cost much higher.

Literacy statistics and juvenile court

  • 85 percent of all juveniles who interface with the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate.
  • More than 60 percent of all prison inmates are functionally illiterate.
  • Penal institution records show that inmates have a 16% chance of returning to prison if they receive literacy help, as opposed to 70% who receive no help. This equates to taxpayer costs of $25,000 per year per inmate and nearly double that amount for juvenile offenders.
  • Illiteracy and crime are closely related. The Department of Justice states, "The link between academic failure and delinquency, violence, and crime is welded to reading failure." Over 70% of inmates in America's prisons cannot read above a fourth grade level.   

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Milestone Day

Sometime in the 1990’s while at Bayfront Center I was networked.  Today I was virtualized.  Incredible as it might seem today, I can remember we accepted networking back then with some reluctance.  Search engines and the internet had no dominant place as they do today.  The major advantage of networking then was getting intra-organizational email.  This was before Google (conceived in 1996) was even heard of.  Had we known the future and the unlimited resources of the internet, I’m sure we would have been much more positive when confronted with the efforts required to network.  Today I was reminded of all this when I was virtualized.  While I still for a time retain my desktop computer, I can now access on a data rack of a server downtown the full functionality of a desktop computer—this functionality, since it is on the server and not actually a desktop, is called a virtual computer.  In the future, this functionality will be accessed by a less expensive and less powerful interface than my current desktop computer.  So eventually, say in seven years, a cost savings can start to be realized as today’s desktops are replaced by less powerful computers called thin clients.  Another future advantage will be the ability to link virtualized computers.  If 50 computers are linked, then a revision to the software loaded on the virtualized computer is reflected on all linked instances of it.  In other words, rather than having to install software (say a new version of Flash Player) on 50 separate computers, one need install it only once and all linked computers will reflect this update. Obviously this can be a great advantage in the deployment and maintenance of software.  But it may well be that as with networking, the greatest advantages of virtualization are yet to be identified. Vistas may open that are today not conceived of, being only the glint in the eyes of some unknown innovators working on a university team project.

Print Page

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A View from My Kitchen Window

When all is said and done
It comes down to basic human need in the end
Political and economic theories can pad the nest
But it is the wide open beaks of simple need
Like shrill cries of hatchling deeds
That provide the lasting impressions of what will be.

Print Page

The Requisite Bet

“Dive right in.”  Advice offered Monday by Ari Fleischer (Bush Admin Press Secy from 2001-2003) to George Washington University Students.

“Dive right in” is great advice for students as well as people of all ages.  There will always be a thousand reasons—often rationalizations—why the timing is not right to take up a challenge.  One of the great objectives for GWU students is to by studying politics to raise their comfort level in this realm—to prepare the mind to accept the challenge to dive in.  The university experience is a way to enter the pool on the shallow end before taking the big plunge off the high dive of politics.  The substance of the task to raise the comfort level to dive right in is not a mystery. “Dive right in” is brother to “I can do it.”  Self-confidence is essential and is based on experience—not necessarily years of it.  It can be based on a flash of inspiration and insight (as in the case of Saint Joan).  God’s challenge with Moses was basically that of increasing his self-confidence.  He had to overcome his belief that “I can’t do it.”  Once this was accomplished, Moses dove right in.  Yet it is important to remember the lines of William Butler Yeats:

Even the wisest man grows tense
With some sort of violence
Before he can accomplish fate,
Know his work or choose his mate.

Before jumping off the high dive, there is always an instance (however fleeting) that calls forth the thought: “To hell with it; I’m going for it.”  Preparation alone isn’t enough.  One must learn to bet on themselves.  This is one reason why we are willing to follow a leader—we tacitly understand that they are willing to place that bet.

Print Page

Sunday, February 6, 2011

A Modest Proposal

I watched Super Bowl XLV this evening and would like to make a modest proposal.  There were great efforts on both sides and many outstanding plays by deserving players.  Clearly a single score cannot comprise the entirety of effort and talent shown during the entire game.  It is highly unwarranted to allow a few points to create a winner or manufacture a loser.  In short, when the whole game is considered, clearly no decisive winner or loser exists.  In such cases a panel of experts should be convened to adjudicate a winner—or winners.  Many factors would need to be taken into account.  Statistics for individual players calibrated.  It is entirely possible that the most meritorious and deserving players be found on the superficially losing side. All this would have to be taken into consideration for a final determination.  In all football games, including little league, it is important to convey to all that a few trifling points do not determine in any meaningful way ultimate winners or losers.  Such determination requires due consideration, and I might add, requires that one be considerate.  It’s important that we not give the wrong impression to our kids.  Simple fairness necessitates the prolonged and extensive consideration of many factors best left in the hand of expert adjudicators.  Sports inherently become an analogy for life; it is unwise to promulgate the lesson that personal fate and final judgment are determined by a few fickle points on a scoreboard.

I have an additional proposal to replace birthday celebrations with conception day celebrations—but that’s another entry.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Laws of Power (7)

My son Alton and I are reading Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power and sharing our responses to the readings.

Robert Greene’s 7th law of power is:  Get Others to do the Work for You, but Always Take the Credit.  Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of other people to further your own cause.  Not only will such assistance save you valuable time and energy, it will give you a godlike aura of efficiency and speed.  In the end your helpers will be forgotten and you will be remembered.  Never do yourself what others can do for you.

Do human beings desire to be special?  Yes, I think so without exception.  Do human beings yearn for and require justice.  Yes, I think that’s another human trait.  Certainly America seeks to “establish justice.”  Yet justice operates at two levels—justice according to the law and justice according to merit.  The police power of the state often cannot enforce justice according to merit because it would be impossible to write a law for every instance. Unfortunately the world is replete with examples where things “taint fair.”  And since we all seek to be special, we all sometimes feel that we are not receiving sufficient recognition.  Monetary compensation somehow seems insufficient for the full subjective need to be special.  In short, even though we are paid, sometimes well paid, the need for recognition is not satisfied.

One reason the institution of the family is so important is that it confers recognition on people at a meaningful level.  No matter how ignored by the world, our relatives make a special place in their hearts for us.  The church is another institution that confers human respect and recognition from within the context that God loves us all.  In the church there is an ethos of the recognition of human individuality and specialness.  The U.S. government by charter guarantees individual freedoms and human rights.  The creative sector in a thousand ways serves to satisfy our need to feel special.  Yet this need is so profound that we can never seem to get enough.

Robert Greene’s 7th Law deals with the need for recognition especially as it regards the accumulation of power.  Recognition can be a form of social power.  Recognition can give you a “godlike aura of efficiency and speed.”  He recommends that you exploit others to attain this power: “In the end your helpers will be forgotten and you will be remembered.”

He begins the law innocently enough: “Use the wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of other people to further your own cause.”  Certainly this is at the base of why human beings are social animals. It pays us individually and corporately to live and work together.  Every day in a thousand ways, we all use the “wisdom, knowledge, and legwork of others” to help address our own needs.  That is at the root of every society.

But as in the past with his other Laws Greene takes a God given human trait and turns it to ill.  He recommends not only the use of the contribution of others but the theft of the contribution of others.  In the early days of personal computers this was a great temptation.  I was flattered with potential recognition each time I was tempted to install pirated software on someone’s computer.  “Computer Genius” would be conferred upon me for committing software theft.  Recognition is a devilishly powerful human need.

So in the end, how do we view Greene’s plea: “Get others to do the work for you, but always take the credit?” (source in caps).  Sometimes this can be just—managers and their departments come to mind.  Not only should managers get credit if their departments do well, but likewise, managers who do well bring credit to their departments.  I guess there can be a sense in which neither credit is fully earned.  But justice we often find is improved by generosity.   

Print Page

Friday, February 4, 2011

Discerning Challenges

Today I felt defensive.  My manager said to our work group that we must not in relation to our jobs stop striving to master the latest advances.  To do so would indicate that we had retired on the job and our employment would be in jeopardy.  This attitude is one that I am well familiar with.  When I was in my thirties I felt very strongly in this way.  I had the romantic notion that no person should ever stop seeking onward and upward.  To do so would be to indicate a sad resignation from the struggles of life; it would be sign that one had given up.  As one who frequented higher learning institutions, I felt a little sorry for those who had given up and stopped taking courses to better themselves.  That was then; this is now.  Father forgive me, but I have come to feel that after 66 years of soaking in the knowledge of others—reading texts and attending courses—it’s time for me to express myself based on my own life experiences.  In effect I ask, “Don’t I ever have a chance to speak?”  This certainly does not mean that I retire on the job and not learn new innovations as they impact my job.  But it does mean that I have stopped seeking the next job, my next advancement. I am now experiencing the sin of contentment. I struggle to do my present job well, rather than seek the next job.  There is a lot to be said for doing one’s present job well.  Much of my job is customer relations.  It is showing up to do humble tasks cheerfully with a kind and loving heart.  I have come to understand that spiritual challenges (as ancient as Genesis) are every bit as challenging as the latest technology.

Print Page

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Real Deal

Tonight I watched presentations by competing teams who want to manage Mahaffey Theater in Saint Petersburg.  It was a televised recording of a City Council gathering held January 27th.  All three presentations were, of course, at a professional level.  But in my view the Ruth Eckerd Hall team was the winner.  Without going into detailed specifics about the presentations, what was the deciding factor that distinguished this team?

Every member of the Eckerd team demonstrated love for what they were doing.  I don’t want to use the word enthusiasm for that can be easily misconstrued.  Frenetic enthusiasm is too often used to hide the absence of love and to hopefully assure that its absence will not be noticed.  Love is a quality very difficult to describe except to say that it is apparent when it is present.  There is ease and mastery even in the presence of passion.  There is a lack of self-consciousness and focus on the object loved.  There is a conveyance of comfort and peace even though body language can be animated.  Imagine two people performing comedy.  Eddie Murphy is on one side of the stage and I am on the other.  Eddie does his presentation; then I do mine.  There would be absolutely no question as to who was the real deal—who loved and enjoyed being a comedian from their innermost soul.  Despite my greatest efforts, even if the funny lines were written for me by Eddie Murphy himself, there would be no hiding who was the real deal. It would be unfair in a way.  I would be trying so hard.  But I would lack (talent, it’s true) but most of all the full resonance of love for the task at hand.  Natural comedians, like other natural achievers, have rare abilities; but the most important ingredient is love for what they're doing.    
Print Page

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Joe Bender Basics

My brother-in-law Jim Franz once said that the problem with Americans is that all of our social conversations are shallow.  We never get below conventional niceties.  Today I had a conversation that was an exception.  I was at the computer lab at Sunshine Center.  I was sitting at a desk working on a computer problem.  Sitting next to me at another computer was a man working on a project requiring the internet.  We began a conversation that still has me thinking some twelve hours later.  After a while we introduced ourselves.  His name was Joe Bender.  He began with an idea he said that he had gotten from a French psychologist, Émile Coué (February 26, 1857 – July 2, 1926).  Using one fist to represent imagination and another to represent will, Joe conveyed the gist of Coué thinking: “When the imagination and will power are in conflict, are antagonistic, it is always the imagination which wins, without any exception.” Source.

Joe said that this thought was powerful, and I have come to agree with him.  I have been taught from a young age that man has free will.  Our laws underscore this belief when it holds people accountable for their actions.  Our justice system holds people individually responsible based on the theory that they had a choice and willfully chose the wrong path.  We go further and assume that people will to work, will to get an education, will to get medical treatment, will to live in a certain location, will to be homeless, even will to have a good or bad attitude.  The visual of a moment of choice is typically a scene pristinely peaceful and replete with careful rational deliberation.  Next to this place the Coué idea:  “When the imagination and will power are in conflict, are antagonistic, it is always the imagination which wins, without any exception” (ibid).      

Wikipedia notes that Coué held that imagination operates through the subconscious: “Unlike a common held belief that a strong conscious will constitutes the best path to success, Coué maintained that curing some of our troubles requires a change in our unconscious thought, which can only be achieved by using our imagination. Source.

While I have great respect for the subconscious, I think the power of the imagination has significant direct force on our behavior.  For example, those who commit crimes often are inconsiderate of the law for their imagination is fixed on immediate exigencies often charged with great fear or desperation.  Legal consequences—even life sentences—can be absent from the active imagination and seem remote abstractions.  Health is another example.  Obesity is a problem in America and doctors who have ample first hand experiences—and can therefore mentally “see” the horrible consequences—find themselves counseling patients without these experiences with dying patients.  Treats to eat are easy to imagine.  Threats assumed to be in the distance and beyond one’s immediate experience have little imaginative power.  Therefore with diets that fail, it is not the lack of will power, but the lack graphic imagination that is operative.  For another example, it might be said that I will to obey speed limits in school zones.  That may be true, but what is certainly true is that I can imagine the pain of receiving a $300 speeding ticket from a policeman if I violate the law.  In these examples, I would argue that it is active imagination not will that has the primary influence on behavior.

The assumption that we all choose—based on will—which way to go is a common fiction.  We are moved instead by imagination and the graphics of the mind inducing terrific fears or fabulous incentives.  Our daily actions are driven more by the concrete and visceral than by abstract balancing acts.        

Print Page

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Contrived Recurrence

Contrived recurrence occurs when we do things in order to receive associated rewards.  The mouse learns that by tapping on a bar he gets food.  Contrived recurrence is a form of conditioning but is peculiarly human in that the result is not learned but foreseen.  Without ever having “tapped on the bar” we foresee that reward will be the result.  An example would be an employee who retires contemplating double rewards by returning to work after retirement.  The income will then be doubled—his pension and the new earnings after returning.  Another example is the public employee who leaves public service to be employed as a private lobbyist.  He then gets retirement and handsome remuneration as a lobbyist.  We like to pretend that this recurrence is not contrived—“being compensated as a lobbyist came upon me as a fresh opportunity out of the blue that I graciously accepted; I had no idea this was in my future.”  It behooves us not to become jaded by the constant practice of self-interested human foresight.  We, after all, did not just fall off the watermelon truck.  

Print Page