Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Brooks: It's Not About You

David Brooks had a column in the New York Times today, It’s Not About You, that got some attention around the web. It's mostly about all the stupid things that people say in commencement speeches. I found this article nicely refreshing for a number of reasons. While I’m not sure that I agree with Brooks’ assessment of the sad state of the world that we’ve bequeathed our children, the rest provides a lot of good stuff to chew on.

First off, I never liked the advice to follow your dreams. It always struck me as mostly banal, hopelessly individualistic and was about the same as saying do whatever you want to do. And it’s absolutely devoid of moral content. No doubt Timothy McVeigh was following a dream when he blew up the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City.

I also agree that kids today mostly live in a way too structured environment. We now have play dates. The common phrases we hear today are life lived on a leash and helicopter parents. Parents, I think, need to be a bit more selfish, or have more interests than just their kids. As Brooks points out, this much control does not serve our children well. I always liked the phrase "benign indifference."

And then, as I will discuss at a much greater length in another blog entry – if I ever get it finished – the idea of “finding yourself” is not only another one of these empty expressions that doesn’t stand up to much thought, but it is blatantly anti-existentialist. It suggests that there is a pre-existent blueprint of yourself out there for you to find. Sartre rejects the idea of a pre-existent self: "Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself." I think that Brooks mostly has it right: we don’t discover ourselves; we form ourselves by what we do.

Finally, the last lines – “The purpose in life is not to find yourself. It’s to lose yourself.” – deserve comment. It reminds me of the guy with the impossible name, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. He’s one of the happiness psychologists. He proposes that happiness is achieved paradoxically by forgetting about whether you’re happy or not. So following your dream of happiness will most likely just make you unhappy. He, instead, has proposed this concept of “flow,” in which you are so deeply engaged in what you are doing that you forget yourself. Let’s let Csikszentmihalyi explain it:
In the early seventies, I spoke with chess players, rock climbers, musicians, and inner-city basketball players, asking them to describe their experience when what they were doing was really going well. I really expected quite different stories to emerge. But the interviews seemed in many important ways to focus on the same quality of the experience. For instance, the fact that you were completely immersed in what you were doing, that the concentration was very high, that you knew what you had to do moment by moment, that you had very quick and precise feedback as to how well you were doing, and that you felt that your abilities were stretched but not overwhelmed by the opportunities for action. In other words, the challenges were in balance with the skills. And when those conditions were present, you began to forget all the things that bothered you in everyday life, forget the self as an entity separate from what was going on—you felt you were a part of something greater and you were just moving along with the logic of the activity.
This is happiness.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Is it weird I am not Suprised?

My Bad- misread, Priest in the archbishop diocese, thanks for the correction myk (shouldn't blog and work can't multitask). Apologies to Angelo Bagnasco.
Father Riccardo Seppia, a 51-​year-​old parish priest in the village of Sastri Ponente, near Genoa, was arrested last Friday, May 13, on pedophilia and drug charges. Investigators say that in tapped mobile-​phone conversations, Seppia asked a Moroccan drug dealer to arrange sexual encounters with young and vulnerable boys. “I do not want 16-​year-​old boys but younger. Fourteen-​year-​olds are O.K. Look for needy boys who have family issues,” he allegedly said

Piercarlo Casassa, a retired priest, in a report by The Daily Telegraph, said of Seppia, “I told the Church about him in 1994 but was ignored. I told them he was not the right person to have around youngsters.” 

The article

Latest news Riccardo Seppia is HIV positive.

Saturday, May 21, 2011


"The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." Martin Luther King, Jr.

Gallup Poll Finds Majority Support For Same-Sex Marriage

Memorial Day Weekend

Not so much a post, but just fyi: Megan, Patrick and I will be in Pittsburgh over the Memorial Day weekend, so hopefully we will see many of you. I think we are staying with Pete and Lisa.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dear Answer Man:

I was referred to this site as having expertise with my particular problem as well as a concierge service known as Ask Answer Man. Here is my problem:

I'm currently playing in a Texas Hold 'em game with some friends. I've been doing well but this hand really has me stumped. I hold a suited 9-8. Remarkably, six players stayed with a $10 big blind and a $20 raise. The flop was Q-10-5. The queen and ten were hearts, the same as my 9 and 8. Betting was quite heavy and when the dust settled there were four players still in, and the pot was well over $1,000. The turn yielded a jack of hearts. Needless to say, my heart was pounding. After betting, the pot was pushed to $10k. The river was the king of hearts. There are two of us left.

Now, through the course of the game, I was able to mark each ace on the back and I know that my opponent, let's call him Fred, holds an ace. Silly me, but I didn't mark the suit. So it is possible he holds a royal flush to my straight flush.

Here is where it gets complicated. I've been dating Fred's daughter. I just learned she is pregnant. Without this pot there's no way I can support a wife. However, I know she would like a nice wedding which would be impossible if her dad loses the hand.

I faked an epileptic seizure and a medical response team has come to take me to the hospital. Everyone has agreed to keep the hand alive until either I die or return. (I'm currently sending this from my iPhone in the ambulance.) What should I do?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Blog Traffic Summary

Didn't have a 2nd Anniversary Post on Dec 1, 2010. So here are the stats-  The viewership is consistent,  the last 14 months had returning viewers averaging 400 a month, an increase from the first 15 months which averaged 248 a month.  So good job.  Still trying to get find the best way to automate family picture uploads.

Is there any value in TV news?

There's an old canard in defense of bad TV that says, "We are just giving the public what it wants." This sentiment has embarrassingly come back to bite TV news with the Donald Trump "run for the presidency" fiasco. Shouldn't there be some gating?

On the other hand we have the notoriously gated Fox News Network.

I personally think watching TV news harms the individual, but I don't have that much experience. Is it as bad as I think? Can or should anything be done?

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Talented Mr. Gingrich

In the upcoming New Yorker, my buddy Hendrik Hertzberg presents us with his comment Off And Running, wherein he discusses the emerging Republican presidential field. Without question, the clear frontrunner in entertainment potential is Newt Gingrich. Hertzberg first notes the "violence of [Gingrich's] political language."
Twenty years ago, he was urging Republicans to describe Democrats as sick, pathetic traitors. More recently, he has accused the Democratic Party of “behaving exactly in the spirit of the Soviet tyranny,” of being responsible for “the greatest political corruption ever seen in modern America,” and of advocating “euthanasia.” Obama is “the most radical president in American history.” His foreign policy is rooted in “Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior.” His Administration “represents as great a threat to America as Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union once did” and aims, oxymoronically, to turn the United States into “a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists.”
Hertzberg goes on:
Then there’s the matter of “personal baggage,” which in Gingrich’s case is a steamer trunk of Titanic proportions. Republicans are strong believers in man-on-woman marriage, so it makes sense that three of their most prominent Presidential possibilities—Daniels, Trump, and Gingrich—have married eight times. (Only seven wives, though: Daniels married the same woman twice, with a Grover Cleveland-like four-year interval during which she left him to marry someone else.) Gingrich stands out, for hypocrisy (daily demanding Clinton’s impeachment while carrying on his own extramarital affair with a subordinate), brutality (dumping his first wife while she was in treatment for cancer), and chutzpah (attributing his adulteries to “how passionately I felt about this country”).

We can only hope that Newt stays in the race for a good long while.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Screenings - Some films that pleasantly surprised me

Recently, I've watched a few films which I didn't expect to be a good as they were. That is not to say they didn't get good reviews. They did. But, not knowing anything about them other than the genre and title, I was surprised how much I enjoyed them.

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)
Writer: William Davies, Dean DeBlois
Director: William Davies, Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders, Cressida Cowell (novel)
Genre: Animated adventure (for the family, i.e. PG)

Good story, great animation—a beautifully done picture.

Megamind (2010)
Writer: Alan J. Schoolcraft, Brent Simons
Director: Tom McGrath
Genre: Animated action comedy (for the family, i.e. PG)

Excellent story, fine comedy—with a little philosophical insight à la the best of Pixar.

Kick-Ass (2010)
Writer: Jane Goodman, Matthew Vaughn, Mark Miller (comic book), John Romita Jr. (comic book)
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Genre: Action Adventure comedy

This one you can stream from Netflix. It starts out as another off-beat, coming-of-age-comedy (Juno, Youth in Revolt) but unexpectedly shifts.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Easter Message -- OK, So It's a Bit Late

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” which means Teacher. Jesus said, “Touch me not, for I have not yet returned to my Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I return to my Father and your Father, and to my God and your God.”

At the Easter service I attended this was our Scripture reading. Whether or not familiarity breeds contempt, it certainly breeds inattention. In its repetition, have we missed what a remarkable passage this is?

We learn that this account contains the central theological message of Christianity, yet it is surprisingly human and ordinary. Mary Magdalene cares nothing for prophesies, salvation or victories over death. Instead, like Antigone’s fixation on her brother Polyneices, Mary is concerned only with the proper burial of her lord, and she is horrified at prospect that the body has been desecrated. I have read elsewhere that Mary’s lament uttered amid tears – “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” – is perhaps the most heartfelt passage of all Scripture.

And then, not content with just poignancy, the Bible writer throws in some humor. Here, at the moment of Jesus' supposed cosmic victory, Mary Magdalene mistakes him for the gardener. What she thinks a gardener might be doing outside the tomb at that -- shall we say "ungodly" -- hour on a Sunday morning is not clear.

And finally, what about Jesus' injuction to Mary to "touch me not"? According to The New Yorker critic, Joan Acocella:

This scene is the New Testament’s most powerful statement about the confrontation with death, about losing forever the thing you love. The setting is beautiful: the green garden, the morning light, the angels. Then we hear the cruel words: “Don’t touch me.” He was there; he had called her name; she had reached out to embrace him. Now she must stand back, let him go, and make her way alone.
Billy Collins in his poem “Introduction to Poetry” describes how he feels a poem should be viewed. He then describes the usual approach:
But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.
This method, of course, is also the approach that many take to Scripture as well, and there has been lots written about what this passage from John really means, like it’s written in some kind of code that can only be understood if it is de-cyphered. My feeling is that, while there are hints and suggestions here, if you don’t see this passage as essentially unfathomable, you have missed the boat on it.

N.B. Not that Christianity is any more unfathomable than any other major religion that has demonstrated some staying power; there is simply a tendency in religion to have the bottom drop out on you. In this way, the subject of religion is like the subject of science: the more closely you study it, the more mysterious and ultimately unknowable it becomes.

In Rembrandt's painting, we see Jesus as Mary did -- a gardener. He's got a spade and a jaunty red gardener's hat, while striking a noticeably relaxed pose. The two angels comically sprawling about the tomb seem mostly uninterested in the proceedings.

Friday, May 13, 2011

How the King James Bible has shaped our language

Some advocates want to remove religion from society. Good luck trying to remove it from the English language.

We've been Hacked! …by Blogger


Thanks Pete, for the Vote mechanism. Although, I think I need to condense for future polls.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Tortuous Question of Torture

"I have watched in bemusement" at the debate on the use of torture, especially after Bin Laden's fatal capture. Without the ability to set up a real poll, here is the best I can do:

How do you feel about the use of torture?
A. It is justified when the object is to save lives.

B. It is justified when the U.S. or its allies use it to save lives.

C. It is justified when a democratic country uses it to save lives.

D. It is justified when a democratic country with good intentions uses it to save lives.

E. It is justified when a democratic country with good intentions uses it when there is a 50% chance that the one being tortured knows something and that there is a 50% chance that what he/she knows may save lives.

F. It is justified when a democratic country with good intentions uses it when there is a 10% chance that the one being tortured knows something and that there is a 10% chance that what he/she knows may save lives. After a specified time period it the tortured person reveals no secrets, it is justified under the same circumstances to torture his or her family or loved ones in order to save lives.

G. It is justified under certain circumstances which I can not specify but I will know them when I see them.

H. In all practical circumstances, i.e. not a fantasy 'ticking bomb' scenario, it is not justified. But please don't quote Thomas Moore from A Man for All Seasons about "And in your pursuit of the devil would you cut down every law?"

I. Other - please explain. As in most things, I'm still searching for an answer, so please share your thoughts and ideas.

Wild Bill Hickok presents Harvey Texas Hold'em Final table in 2 min

Watch in HD

Monday, May 9, 2011

The Islands of the Day Before and Day After

Have a day you would like to repeat? The Samoa Islands await you!

With better ties to New Zealand and Australia than to California and the U.S., Samoa will reverse an 1892 change (when they celebrated two July 4th's) and will cross back over the international date line. America Samoa will stay the same time. So, starting next year, if you have a day that is especially satisfying, an hour's flight from one island to the next will let you relive that day.

Inception performed and explained by… The Finder

Please expand to full screen once the movie starts.

INCEPTION_FOLDER from chris baker on Vimeo.

Is BrandZ better than Brand X?

Continuing with an Apple theme…although this post really has nothing to do with Apple but rather the value of information…, Apple was ranked by BrandZ as the world's most valuable brand. The report is produced by Millward Brown Optimor, a brand strategy and financial consultant. Basically, the report is a marketing strategy to advance Millward Brown's brand. But, for some reason, they publish it under the name BrandZ. I'm sure they know what they are doing.

The first thing I noticed was that some of the companies in the top 10—the best brands in the world—which Apple beat out were: McDonald's (4), Coca Cola (6), and Marlboro (8). So, congratulations Apple, you are ever so slightly better than an obese maker, a sugar water manufacturer and a purveyor of death.

What does brand value mean? Well, put simply, they take the financials and back out products that don't depend on the brand. For example they would back out sales of any healthy Coca Cola products, like Minute Maid. Then they add survey opinions from some customers. How many? They say 2 million in 13 years, but this is only the 6th annual rating. Why they would give the "2 million in 13 years" figure makes no sense for this year's rating, so I can only guess they surveyed less than 150,000…perhaps much less. Finally, they add a predictive value of what they think the future holds for growth potential. They are analysts, don't forget. (See Myk's quoted Niels Bohr comment.)

So, in a nutshell, they start with real financial data, add opinions from surveys, and add their own opinions. That leaves us with a rewriting of the Fortune 500 modified by some people's opinions or an award show for brands where we start with box office reciepts. Meh.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Pirate Baseball early season report

Per our own Pirate Preview!!! the Pirates would show dismal pitching in 2011. Thus far they have shown anything but. They are 8th in the National League (12th overall) in pitching with an ERA of 3.63, almost a run and a half better than last year's 5.00. Their record is 16-17, still not over the 18 season .500 slump, but better than some other teams being followed by blogateers. Boston is 15-18. San Diego is 13-20. Only the Philadelphia bloggers can gloat at 22-10.

Perhaps more significant, Apple Stores have passed Major League Baseball as America's favorite pastime.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Benjamin Franklin's Daily Schedule

Snips and Snails vs. Sugar and Spice

The most common words used in toy advertisements scaled by frequency of use and separated by gender.

Now I realize why girls surpass boys in practically all things. Their toys are often "fun", while ours never are.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Anatomy of a Photograph

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, along with members of the national security team, receive an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden in the Situation Room of the White House, May 1, 2011.

David Brooks and Gail Collins

David Brooks: The other photo I’ve been fascinated by is the one of the president’s security team gathered in the White House Situation Room. The first thing the photo illustrates is that whenever we disagree with an office holder, we should all nonetheless pay them a large dose of respect. Presidents and others make these horrific decisions that could lead to death and suffering for people thousands of miles away, and then they sit passively far removed from the action, hoping that things turn out right.

On a human level I’m struck by the varied emotions etched on people’s faces. I can read nothing on Bob Gates’s face or even Joe Biden’s, whereas Obama, Denis McDonough and John Brennan look tense. Hilary Clinton’s face is the most riveting, a mixture of anxiety, dread and concern. I suspect most people will relate to her expression.

Gail Collins: Did they have to pick the one where Hillary had her hand over her mouth? The secretary of state doesn’t need to prove her toughness, but it would be nice if the definitive photo didn’t show the only woman in the room looking stricken.

David Brooks: The second thing the photo shows is how small the room is. In the movies, executive decisions are made in big, Roman Empire type rooms. But the White House is an early 19th century kind of place. It does all it can to humble the people who work there with its smallness, at least in the work areas.

The posture of the president is fascinating. Instead of occupying the power chair in the center of the table, he is perched on a low chair off the side, hunched over looking tense. If you just looked at this picture, you might think that Joe Biden was president or Bill Daley, who is standing behind looking imposing and grave. You’d think Obama was a midlevel aide.

Gail Collins: The president really did put all his chips on the line. These are the kind of moments we elected him for — we knew from the financial crisis that when all hell breaks loose, he doesn’t lose his cool.

But he’s also lucky. People partly make their own fortunes, but I wonder if he’d have had the confidence to take such a huge gamble if he didn’t believe innately that he’s the kind of guy fortune favors.

Meanwhile, our report says Biden was fingering his rosary beads. Luck is good, but the Blessed Virgin Mary is better.

David Brooks: In the case of Obama’s perch in the Situation Room, I think what happened is this: some sort of communication or technical relay had to be done, so the president got out of his chair and relinquished it to Brig. Gen. Brad Webb, who is the assistant commanding general of the Joint Special Operations Command. The president just slid over to the low chair off to the side, which one of the standers must have relinquished.

Still, I wonder how many White Houses would have been confident enough to release a photo with the president looking so diminutive. I think it speaks well of Obama and the administration that they released this as the iconic image of the decision-making process behind the event.

Gail Collins: They wouldn’t have released it if they hadn’t won. And isn’t it interesting how big a deal this was? Bin Laden wasn’t all that central to the terrorist network any more, but taking him down created a kind of national catharsis. It’s been a really, really long time since we had something to celebrate that didn’t involve a sports team. I’d rather it had been a non-death-related occasion, but we’ll take what we can get.

Jeffrey Goldberg

No, not the soon-to-be-released Bin Laden-shot-in-the-head photo (which could become one of the most viewed photographs in history), but the photo of the President and his advisers in the White House situation room. Why amazing? Because the President seems so small and peripheral to the action. He is hunched down, seated on the margins of the meeting, seemingly trying not to take up space. It appears as if he couldn't even find a place to put his jacket. By contrast, Tom Donilon, the national security adviser, practically bestrides the room like a Colossus (an affable Colossus, if you know him). I was struck, when I saw this photo, that the Bush White House would have ever released a similar photograph. This is not to cast aspersions on Bush, but could you seriously imagine his public relations releasing an image of him leading from behind, as it were?

I was just talking to David Brooks, and he, too, was struck by this photo. He noted that the President most likely had to move seats to see the screen, but he did not move to a central seat, but to a small chair against the wall. The negative interpretation of this, of course, is that the President wasn't running the meeting, but both of us found this impossible to believe. The positive interpretation is that the President is so confident in his power that he is comfortable even in a corner. This speaks well of him, to my mind; a president who kills America's enemies without swagger is better than a swaggerer who doesn't kill America's enemies. (Maybe here I'm casting a few aspersions on Bush.)

David recently posted,
on one of his many blogs, a piece about research conducted by Harvard Business School's Amy Cuddy, who, with colleagues, studied power poses, and how adopting a power pose (in police jargon, a command stance) can actually change a person's mindset. Look at the photo below: No evidence of a Barack Obama power pose there. Just power.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Osama Bin Laden is dead

This picture adorned the front page of Tuesday's Post Gazette. When I saw it, I couldn't help but think it was a strange choice. But perhaps it is reflective of a strange celebration.

We aren't celebrating a safer world. Few believe that our troops will abruptly leave Afghanistan or our 'advisors' will leave Iraq, or that the defense budget will return to its 2001 level of $432 billion down from today's $720 billion, or that we will eliminate Homeland Security and its expenditures ($424 billion since established), or that we will board planes faster, or that the Guantanamo Bay detention camp prisoners will be released. No, what Bin Laden wrought won't be so easily unwrought. It was more of a celebration of relief and revenge.

Perhaps that's why the author of the sign had to thank G-d, rather than God.