Monday, November 27, 2006

The RH Factor: Regarding John Galt and the Myth of the Sacrificial Savior

Mythology throughout the ages, across every kind of culture, contains themes of divine self-sacrifice on behalf of Man. In other words- the thinking goes- in an ideal world the strong will always sacrifice themselves for the weak. It is easy, then, to see the cunning of Karl Marx in tapping into this innate human sensibility.

The legend of Robin Hood (hereafter, RH) is best viewed as a processing unit, much the same as a computer’s binary bit. RH is one of many avenues by which an average person down throughout history has been able to comprehend the goings on of the world, as well as personal performance (or lack thereof) on an achievement based scale. RH could also be considered a benchmark- an average of other people’s ideas regarding what it takes to be morally good. Does such processing do anything to spark originality? Of course not, but some would argue that originality is one thing, morality another. If everyone chose to exist on a set scale of preconceived notions, the world would be the center of the universe, and flat, besides.

And in the same way that the concept of justice encompasses a notion of illegality, so does the rise of the RH myth insinuate the following ideas: Man placates self over lack of achievement- he has given up on achieving, given in to both resentment and jealousy; Man fears success of others in that it emasculates him; Man fears own success- someone is always hiding just around the corner, waiting to take riches away; Man rationalizes all his wrongdoings in accordance with the collectivist culture. In short, RH is one of many bits, or unit labels, that allow people the luxury of not doing their own thinking. Mythologists claim that, in the long past, symbols like RH would have had important evolutionary significance- but hasn’t the age of folklore and legend passed? Some might say yes- that it has given way to the Equity Ideology, to Christianity, even to Science. Rand, however, accurately proposes that the currency of the 20th and 21st centuries is, fittingly, a rather old idea: Cogito Ergo Sum. She realizes the necessity of what many proponents of a science-only philosophy defraud themselves with regard to- and that is ‘a sense of life.’ Science in its strictest sense is no doubt a value, but it is not an immediate value to a majority of people; perhaps Rand’s philosophy (in wider acceptance) would be a blessed first step in that direction, holding objective reality and Man’s individual rationality as its highest tenet, but also allowing for a necessary bliss component.

If nothing else, people who spend their lives scouring the sky and dark alleys for a holy grail of meaning are either those who A: fall victim to the first charismatic fraud they see and become his most willing foot soldiers; or B: fill out their days wondering why they’ve been left to rot while others live in plenty. Logic, actual perceptual faculties, can be Man’s only guide.

Further, it seems as though a discussion that mentions RH must also mention Jean Valjean, who famously stole to feed his family in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. Yes, society dictates that stealing is wrong because there is usually another avenue through which to accomplish one’s goals. On some level, though, Rand appeared to tacitly condone Ragnar’s actions with the following qualification made to Dagny, upon the two characters’ first meeting in Galt’s Gulch: ‘Neither Francisco nor John really approves of what I do, but we’re all fighting the battle in our own way.’ The difference –what seems to make either a Jean or a Ragnar more tolerable than RH is that Jean’s crime regarded immediate familial survival and Ragnar stole in order to correct a long standing income tax imbalance that had very nearly strangled the industrialists supporting the nation’s economy! RH, however, had no specific purpose to guide his actions (was he righting widespread societal wrongs? by what measure? who gets to decide?) And certainly, the RH story consists of a vigilante type with NO directed action and NO long term goal- such an individual is toxic: has he any loyalties at all? To repeat, RH condones lack of ambition and dulls people into a fog, whereby they await some crack dispensing whore of a savior who will magically alter their circumstances.

…the source of all [Man’s] evils is that nameless act which all of you practice, but struggle never to admit: the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think—not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance but the refusal to know. It is the act of un-focusing your mind and inducing an inner fog to escape the responsibility of judgment. [1017].

It seems reasonable to think that RH could have been an actual man whose legend grew far beyond the scope of his reality in order to suit the needs of various local factions engaged in power struggles- a propagandistic tool. A life is thus lifted to the status of legend so as to dispel localized unrest, to ease the fears of the population (and control their actions) and to remove both the responsibility and the consequence for their actions from the unthinking hand of the populace. Those in power may believe they are saving people the trouble of thinking, but they are acting deceptively, with full malice and forethought, to convince both the local and wider population to substantiate a lie. Any such swindle would result in a false reality and a deluded populace with nothing to do but wait. Perhaps on some level it can be rationalized into a well-intentioned ideology, but no one says ‘well-intentioned’ if they can say ‘efficient’ or ‘capable.’ Well-intentioned does not get things done. Well-intentioned leads to best laid plans gone awry. Well-intentioned leads to excuses, to RH—a man (an idea) not of justice, but of justification. Stealing is stealing is wrong. A is A.

The above is only dangerous if a population refuses to think, or even just carefully consider itself. Folklore, myths and such may control thinking, they may be used to control people, but they also allow for a more directed life purpose. RH was a forerunner to the Equity Ideal; and prior to a time of widespread education, myths and story-telling songs were essential to how people from different families interrelated. The Equity Ideal was a founding tenet of this country which Rand loved so well at its best and, at its worst, still loved better than anywhere else! ‘It is the right (of all) to the pursuit of happiness, not the right to happiness.’

In this way, Mankind emerged from singular family units of hunter/gatherer to a more cohesive, larger society. However one gauges it, Man has always left his mark on society- be it once as a father or a farmer- to now, as a builder of sky scrapers, an innovator, an industrialist.

Within limits, then, such controlling of one’s thoughts may not be a bad thing, provided the receptor always realizes full well the underlying roots of his/her actions. It’s learning to separate the fact from propaganda. Even more, it’s learning to see things in an entirely new way. For example, consider the difference between ancient practices that honored local deities for protection, and the later Christian idea absorbed into judicial systems in many countries, as well as subsequent packagings and re-packagings of nationalism: Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.

RH glamorizes unearned rewards and undeserved praise. People are told its OK to exist in a state of Without. Galt’s radio speech called The Law of Identity an agent of retribution. One who negates this law in thought or in deed negates his very existence, his consciousness. There can be no degrees of wrong doing because what society would be left with are criminal acts rationalized away by the slickest debater/lawyer out there. That is why there can be no ‘RH steals because-’ there is only ‘RH steals.’

Further, the legend that’s grown up around RH allows the poor and impoverished to accept the notion of a metaphysical superman who is on their side. Thus, it becomes justifiable that RH steals from the rich and gives to the poor because the poor need it more than the rich. And it gets forgotten that something justifiable is not immediately right.

Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe once told journalist Bill Moyers the story of an African doctor who lived in a country plagued by a “justifiable” civil war. The man was tired of seeing friends and relatives slaughtered while a community, an entire nation waited for help to come. The doctor closed his clinic, took up weapons, and went into the wilderness to gather fighters. “I will wait no more,” he said. “I am the awaited.” And because no one knows or remembers that man’s name it’s hard to doubt the veracity of the story. But the point is this: he attempted to answer a need with a planned course of action- he ceased waiting around for someone else to act. It is truly a lethal drug that allows people to sit, and wait, and pray while a world falls apart around them.
Stay tuned for part two... why God believes in Ayn Rand

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Future of Science in America? Myth is the new reality...

Once upon a time, a Spanish philosopher named George Santayana very possibly felt the very real sting of emotional regret when he uttered these immortal words, "Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it."still daydreaming of her?? Although a Renaissance man by virtue of his many affections, Santayana bore no strong attachment to the physical sciences. Perhaps this is because of his prep school chemistry teacher Angelina Bovary, a woman to whom Santayana dedicated page after page of his longing, non-sensical poetry. "Georgie was a chemist, but now he is much more. What others thought was just hormones was crazy... stinking love." Eventually, Bovary insisted the school transfer young Santayana to another teacher "for his educational and emotional well-being." Bovary told young George that if he did not comply and agree to do well by his new instructor, he would be forced to endure the stigma of repeating his classes again.

Stigmas or not, if Santayana had continued with his chemistry fascination he might have realized the eventual Scientific Method would value nothing so completely as reproducible results. Stigmas or not, lies or not. On that note, a bland classic gets a twenty-first century reality TV twist: the future is the past-- if we are ingenious enough to discern how to repeat it. In the battle over science in this country, the battle for America's very leadership on the world stage, there is no more exacting methodology to look to than this: experiment, so as to replicate the successes of prior scientific awakenings. This one's for you, George...

There once was a monkey from Scopes
With the 1859 publication of Darwin's groundbreaking treatise The Origin of the Species, evolution was inextricably bonded to religion in ways even a lovelorn Spanish philosopher could not deny. So all encompassing was Darwin's statement that it has borne out profound implications still decades after the fact. Although religion effectively hindered a complete and successful explanation of evolution for the masses, it did serve as the vehicle that brought the topic to the rural kitchen table for discussion. Why? Inherent to the worldview of most societies is an appreciation for mortality. While talk of sickle cell anemia may bring certain party conversations to a halt, almost everyone is invigorated by the interplay between science and religion because it if this book is the Bible's antidote, does that make Darwin the anti-Christ??speaks to our collective being, challenging our most deeply held convictions about the way we live and what happens when we die. Evolution has thus been packaged as "religion-lite," the only option possible for intellectuals. Scientists of other disciplines should look to this Madison Avenue branding technique as they lobby for research dollars and/or present industry debate for the public discourse. Re-think the problem, and then re-name it. Note that- as Chris Mooney reported in February, in the pages of Seed- some environmentalists are considering exchanging the dense phraseology of 'the greenhouse effect' for a more powerful image vis a vie 'carbon dioxide blanket.'

As proof of the efficacy of the above technique, take another walk with me down Not-so Memory Lane. It's 2005, it's Dover, Pennsylvania. There's Jim, the fundamentalist Christian carrying his gold leaf Bible, notorious traditions, and eerily compliant wife. There's the freethinking, funky liberal- a sprightly blond named Staci. She follows Jim from rally to rally, chanting hackneyed protest songs. "God. Good god, ya'll! What is it good for? Absolutely nuthin'." Staci is certain that if Jim has even one moment of peace, one moment where he can take a breath and smile at his glassy-eyed wife, he will destroy Western civilization as we know it. And it is on the periphery of these countless gatherings that every other kind of group- many with Christian affiliations- go about arguing the merits of intelligent design. Some predict a slippery slope until courses that touch on all belief systems are brought before students in schools funded by federal tax dollars. And there is just not enough hours in the day-- unless we cut out the 'readin', the 'ritin', and the 'rithmatic. (Bob Dylan attended one of the Dover rallies, and he remarked in passing, "I'm a big believer in religion. I've tried them all.")

The moral of the story is this: such challenges to the status quo enflame the populace. Where is the logic to scientists spending all their time lobbying Washington? The real power is in the PTA, in the school boards, in any number of a hundred different seemingly insignificant organizations that when grouped together equal unparalleled influence (misdirected or otherwise) on the mindset of average America. The average America, mind you, that is growing future Einsteins, future Curies, even a next generation crop of Nobels. Further, and perhaps most importantly, note that teaching the student evolution in school frames the opposing viewpoint for whatever he or she learns in church or at home. This develops and engages the mind in its own lifelong quest for truth.

It was a dark and stormy night year...
"I take full responsibility for the papers and offer you my apology. My life will be spent undoing my wrongdoing. I can't ever repay the debt fully until I die. We've gone crazy, crazy about work and I've been blinded."-South Korean scientist Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk, to Reuters.

With the announcement that Suk falsified parts of his landmark stem-cell discoveries of 2004-05, the disgraced researcher found himself branded with a scarlet "F" for fraud. Amidst however brief an interlude, i get it-- he was high!!it appeared as though Suk had successfully helped un-write centuries of the lore that crisscrossed boundaries between spirituality and science-- the limits as to what the human mind could and would achieve. So goes the scientific law of the new millennium: for every "discovery," there is an equal and opposite force striving to undermine the results. An already ethically challenged field of research, stem-cell and cloning technologies suffered a major blow at the hands of the man who was once South Korea's biggest superstar.

"I sincerely apologise to the people for creating shock and disappointment. With an apologetic heart. . . I step down as professor." -Suk's perp walk, as recorded in the UK's Telegraph. Later, he added, "I emphasise that patient-specific stem cells belong to South Korea and you are going to see this." Regardless of the details, many scientists readily agree with him that the outcome he attempted to produce in his lab is not far off. Someone, some time soon, will do what Suk set out to.

For several years, Hollywood personalities have come out in droves in favor of stem-cell research. Many claim it has the potential to vastly alter the landscape of treatment options, more than a few have taken their quest to the U.S Congress, and along the way scores of people have been both enlightened and motivated. On the reverse side of the coin, with profiteering at the expense of fear as their overriding motive, authors and filmmakers have created works that seek to vilify scientific advancement and to frighten the American public into believing that any deviation from the norm will have horrific effects. Still, in the days to come, whichever science offers the casual observer a mixed cocktail of both hope and convenience will without a doubt be voted most likely to succeed.

In the Beginning was the Word 'Poll'...

Now, for something completely different- an informal and fairly unscientific survey... Recently, I asked ten people on a Philadelphia street what they thought of "designer babies." A sampling of the intelligible results:

Catherine, retail, 25: "Mattel makes those, right?" Mike, student, 15: "Do you mean making everyone smarter, or just better looking?" Ashley, homemaker, 42: "I've read about this. I wouldn't have wanted to know beforehand what our future?? my children would look like. My favorite fights with my husband were over which twin had whose nose... They both had mine, by the way. Lucky for them!"

The result of my street corner research was this: I'd learned I needed to be on the lookout for the great secret fear that keeps some parents awake at night, and just instills others with a healthy sense of worry or over-protectiveness. In that light, choosing to design children without that which predisposes them to disease... well, it's hard to argue with and easy to see why geneticists both domestically and abroad are working toward that goal at an ever increasing pace.

Hank, truck driver, 56: "It'll never happen, even though they keep talking about it. The drug companies won't let genetics get that far ahead of itself. It would cost them billions. And everyone in Washington is in their pocket." Aye, there's the rub... In the weeks just prior to the indictment of South Korea's Dr. Suk, the dog he genuinely cloned- Snuppy- celebrated his first birthday. Why, then, are we not making greater strides with human genetics? Certainly mores in this country prevent a large amount of research from being done, but what about the cost issue? Once again we see that the battle must be taken out of the hands of lobbyists and placed in the hearts and minds of Middle Americans. After all, if it were cheap enough, wouldn't opponents to stem cell research find the temptation too great? ("Junior has a predisposition to acne. What did you expect? You knew me in high school. We'll have him fixed.")Snuppy the cloned dog with his [sortof] father

In all seriousness, if Ashley- homemaker- 42 could stretch a buck that far, it's hard to imagine she would have skipped the step of assuring that her perfectly nosed twins lacked any disease predispositions. Timothy, lawyer, 34: "And that's what people keep fighting about. It isn't like the concept cars of the new millennium. It isn't about drawing up perfect children either, or editing away the undesirables. It's about assuring a chance for normality."

Amazingly, the lesson we should take away from this last experiment is perhaps the most unscientific of them all. No one has any control over the journey of life and what we do with our "chance for normality." No amount of planning can take the place of living, of experimenting. If the future of science in America is to strive to replicate the successes of the past, than the journey is indeed its own reward. America will always sit at the head of the table because of its aversion to strict controls and oversight (when compared with the rest of the world) as well as its deep love of the exchange of ideas- the worship of invention and creation and experimentation in all its many forms. The future is deeply rooted in the past. As long as we honor that heritage we will never lack great stories to tell and- perhaps most importantly- we will never experience a shortage of ideas. That is our legacy to the world.

wednesday, october 25th, 2006

Sunday, October 01, 2006


Another DVD hit... if it makes it that far!!

sunday, october 1st, 2006

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Overheard this week...

Apparently, suburban Philadelphia ordinances restricting where sex offenders live in relation to school zones only apply to CONVICTED offenders. Hmm...duh!

But for those who've openly admitted their crimes, yet are still awaiting trial, it's okay that THEY spend their mornings on the front porch, watching the kiddlies walk to school (only a spitting distance away!!) Yes, I'm talking about a specific case...

In other news:

Who knows about this PA law that allows high-school dropouts, at 16, to enroll at community college and finish their HS degree--- at the SAME time they are awarded college credits (for, in many cases, the same classes) viable for transfer to a 4-year degree granting institution!

Dual school and a 2 year jump on your peers... I would've loved to tell people my college career began at 16.

wednesday, september 6th, 2006

Thursday, August 17, 2006

World View Offense... and Vegan Flow?

Conventional belief systems are less morally based than they are responses to an over-stimulating or taxing environment; conventional belief systems (“structure”; anything all-encompassing—even gang membership) are convenience mechanisms that order an individual’s consciousness, to make new use of Csikszentmihalyi’s term (1975).

From the Jain article:

“…the modern concept of egoism and self-absorption…has had devastating effects…If we’re going to solve [the ecological crisis] we’ve got to solve our own problems first. We’ve got to deal with our own internal environment and our own spiritual environment.” The belief system evinced here would be either Jainism or perhaps veganism. The self-absorption infers taxing environmental messages. Deal with our own problems/ spiritual environment—the issue is conceived of as moral.

“Everyone was talking about non-violence…but it’s useless. It is just talk. It’s got to be your life.” The everyone was talking infers overstimulation. It’s got to be your life infers consciousness ordering.

From the NY Times article:

“…many join gangs searching for familial ties…” The belief system here is gang-life, a response to taxing environmental stimuli. “I thought it would be like my family. I thought I’d get the love I was missing.” Gangs are wholly structured, hierarchical systems.

From the Broward Times:

“Typically gangs recruit…” Inherent structure. “Female gang members…prove they are tougher than men” Response to taxing environment. “Gang members go where the opportunities are’’ Inherent strategy/structure. “(Potential gang members) have no role model, a weak family structure, no affiliation to a church, and low performance in school” Taxing environment/ need to order consciousness. “Wherever there is a gap, someone has to fill it. And it has to be a parent, school, faith group, or an organization to do it.” Nicely references the convenience aspect I note in the very first sentence.

As a gang lifestyle is chosen more or less out of necessity, one cannot really argue against it functioning as a belief system, a mechanism to order consciousness—but what of veganism, or the eco-chic mindset pointed to in the Jain article? For the gang member, the morality component examined here is not really a function. But for the vegan, the Christian, the liberal democrat or the conservative republican, it certainly is touted as a primary function both of Being (in terms of Identity) and belief systems (more vacillatory in nature, acting as responses to environmental cues). Is it morality, or is it convenience (for lack of a better word) that causes us to rationalize adopting certain belief systems in order to more efficiently process the multitude of dizzying messages that society hurls at the individual day in and day out? In that sense, may we view morality as a construct conceived of by man in order to alleviate the pangs of cognitive dissonance? Multitude of dizzying messages sounds like a very current trope, but imagine living in Hitler’s Germany, and trying to understand what was happening, to rationalize your actions (or lack thereof) in terms of a cause with clear moral ramifications. In other words, my perception of morality being in service to the individual (as opposed to the other way around) could be supported in any historical as well as modern context. Imagine the earliest possible example: a theologian might argue that two cavemen, standing back to back in the forest, will warn each other of a pending animal attack because it is right (do unto others…). An evolutionary psychologist might argue that the cavemen warn one another because it serves self-interest. What if the cavemen warn each other after convincing themselves it is right, but knowing subconsciously that their actions serve themselves and were self-preservation/survival not an issue, their actions would have proceeded differently. In the previous sentence, self-preservation/survival refers to my representation of taxing environments, also a multitude of societal messages hurled at us day in and day out.

What does it all mean? Certainly referring to belief systems in a given context as self-delusional is nothing new. But consider the actor—the believer… the zealot—the ‘reformed personality’ in many respects seems to be one formerly driven to excesses (that which is psychologically taxing) usually in the same vein in which the new belief system has been adopted. Saint Francis of Assisi, the girl who in high-school had an abortion and later adopted a hyper-religious or hyper-conservative stance, the obese person or the cancer patient who adopts macrobiotic veganism in order to survive. The gang member who joined because he/she was convinced there was no alternative. I would propose that rehabilitating gang members or preventing future ones involves a necessary pedagogical shift in urban schools, whereby instructors encourage students (beginning very young) to specialize. It seems as though, at least prior to the last two years of high-school, specialization is viewed by educators as a dirty word. Specialization, the counterbalance to potentially damaging belief systems, is presented by Csikszentmihalyi in his book, Flow. Symbolic systems (p 123) are the foundation of an internal life that is dependent on no one, is wholly self-reliant, and is not swayed by even a gale force wind.


Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. (1975). Play and Intrinsic Rewards. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 15, 41-63.

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Collins.

Dechesne, M., Pyszczynski, T., Arndt, J., Ransom, S., Sheldon, K. M., van Knippenberg, A., & Janssen, J. (2003). Literal and symbolic immortality: The effect of evidence of literal immortality on self-esteem striving in response to mortality salience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 722-737.

Lacey, Mark. (April 11, 2008). Abuse Trails Central American Girls Into Gangs. New York Times.

Roby, Cynthia A. (April 2, 2009). Florida Attorney General Seeks to Reduce Gang Activity. The Broward Times, 19 (13), 1-2A.

Sanghavi, Trisha. (July 17, 2009). Jain Keynotes Focus on Environment. India Abroad, 39 (42), A27.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Corporate Branding by the big guy upstairs...

The iBelieve iPod: Click here for audio salvation at only 13 bucks a pop!

thursday, june 22nd, 2006

Thursday, June 22, 2006

An Ivy League tale... can you handle it?

Wikipedia writes: "Kaavya Viswanathan (born January 16, 1987) is an Indian-American undergraduate student in the Harvard College class of 2008, and a novelist noted for her plagiarism. She was born in Chennai, India, and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, and suburban Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, United States...."

In high-school, Viswanathan received a $500,000 advance- a 2 book deal from Little Brown & Company. It's hard to decide who's most at fault here. What about the agent- or, the publishers for lax editorial support- or, the schlub who read this girl's application essay for Harvard??

Viswanathan told the New York Sun in early 2005 (just after her book deal was made): "I still cannot believe this. I never expected this would happen... I had only vaguely thought of becoming a writer. But a book contract? From a major publisher? This is so incredibly unbelievable. It's so hard to believe that I'm going to be able to walk into a bookstore and see something that I wrote on display there." liar, liar!

...on the rack next to James Frey and Doris Kearns Goodwin.

Another "V" quote from the same article:
"This is a big-time commitment. It's not like writing an essay for a class."

omigosh, Harvard admissions people, did it strike a warning bell when her application essay started "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." ??

Yet another little tidbit I enjoyed:
"Strangely, Ms. Viswanathan's novel is a case of life imitating art."

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In fact, writers and would-be writers are often told to parrot the styles of those who've gone before. But this is not even genuine EFFORT in my opinion...


From page 6 of Megan McCafferty's novel "Sloppy Firsts":
"Sabrina was the brainy Angel. Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: Pretty or smart. Guess which one I got. You'll see where it's gotten me."

From page 39 of Viswanathan's novel:
"Moneypenny was the brainy female character. Yet another example of how every girl had to be one or the other: smart or pretty. I had long resigned myself to category one, and as long as it got me to Harvard, I was happy. Except, it hadn't gotten me to Harvard. Clearly, it was time to switch to category two."

From page 7 of McCafferty's first novel:
"Bridget is my age and lives across the street. For the first twelve years of my life, these qualifications were all I needed in a best friend. But that was before Bridget's braces came off and her boyfriend Burke got on, before Hope and I met in our seventh-grade honors classes."

From page 14 of Viswanathan's novel:
"Priscilla was my age and lived two blocks away. For the first fifteen years of my life, those were the only qualifications I needed in a best friend. We had first bonded over our mutual fascination with the abacus in a playgroup for gifted kids. But that was before freshman year, when Priscilla's glasses came off, and the first in a long string of boyfriends got on."

[The link above is to a Harvard Crimson article by David Zhou and it details many more examples of V's thievery.]

Writers, of course, should take the lead from those who've gone before- by mimicking their styles for effect, to learn, to see what's worked for others.

Rolling Stone contributing editor David Lipsky has said this, regarding "sampling" other authors:

"...writing, as far as I've learned it, has a lot in common with hip-hop... You look around for stuff you can grab, you think: What worked on me? Why did it work? And then: How can I put that same sound into my own CD?"

Lipsky was referring to this sentence, which he wrote in 1996. "Then Larson went home, put on a pot of water for tea, and died around 1 a.m."

He goes on to describe the evolution of the sentence from its original inspiration- a novel called Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh. "I remembered it going like this- He laid hishead in the oven, and presently died... In fact, I pulled the paragraph off of Amazon, and here's how it actually goes- The sniff made him cough, and coughing made him breathe, and breathing made him feel very ill; but soon he fell into a coma and presently died."

THAT is how to be a writer. THAT is sampling. THAT is being so affected by the work of someone else that it stays with you forever-- even if the memory fades, the emotion does not.

By the way, has anyone bothered to question McCafferty's agent and publisher regarding her early advances? This stinks of bias. If that's not the case, and it really is just a matter of a bright-eyed "ingenue," then Little Brown's negligence astounds me.

thursday, june 22nd, 2006

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A friend said to me recently, "He may have beady eyes, but he's a great dancer!"

naked zorroYou should always look on the bright side...

So, Philly is the 4th dumbest city in the country. Let's pity the poor suckers at 1, 2, 3.

Or maybe laugh.

Then again, Philly did give birth to this guy... (when you click on the image, he drops his pants!)

thursday, june 15th, 2006

A Propsed Study of Second Language Compositional Proficiency

L2 Compositional Proficiency 1


L2 Compositional Proficiency in Professional Writers
Marjo R. Moore
Temple University
L2 Compositional Proficiency 2
In the proposed study 30 professional writers and 30 non-writing career controls, all English monolinguals, will take part in a foreign language immersion program, with a terminating session consisting solely of a cumulative Russian language essay assignment, with no time or topic constraints. The resulting essays will be rated first according to the Computerized Propositional Idea Density Rater (CPIDR3, pronounced "spider") then by 10 blind raters for complexities that span the language spectrum including emotional content, idea development, and cohesion. The anticipated results will show that as L2 compositional proficiency is rated to have increased so will participant experience, defined as expertise/length of time in a writing-intense professional field.

L2 Compositional Proficiency 3
L2 Compositional Proficiency in Professional Writers
Successful Second Language Acquisition has long been an area of interest for researchers. In the last ten years, a subordinate category focusing on second language written gains (L2 Writing Systems) has yielded many promising new leads in the scientific and mainstream communities alike. More mainstream, if you will, is the Nun Study, a 30-year longitudinal look at Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and aging, the work of Dr. David A. Snowdon. Among Snowdon’s more popular findings have been distinct associations between early life verbal/written skills, education, positive mood, and late life longevity, defined as absences of AD/dementia (Mortimer et. al 2003, Danner et. al 2001). Despite the oversimplification that Snowdon’s work has been saddled with by Oprah Winfrey and others, his emphasis on written skills and the inner workings of the mind, his contributions overall, are impossible to ignore. It is for this reason that the proposed study seeks to examine L2 written skills acquisition in a sample of writers, in order to ascertain whether they are more adept at gains in some way (as Snowdon’s multiple findings seem to suggest). In the same way that certain individuals are visual and others auditory learners, so are some L2 novices noticeably much more proficient at L2 writing than at L2 speaking. The “curve” should thus be more evident in a group already possessed of quantifiable writing talent.
The proposed study seeks to examine whether, over the course of an 8-week Russian language immersion program, career-professional monolingual writers do indeed outpace monolingual non-professionals in successful L2 writing acquisition. The Russian language was chosen for its basic structural similarities to English, versus Asiatic languages, as well as for its
L2 Compositional Proficiency 4
relative degree of unfamiliarity in everyday life and in media usage, versus Spanish or German. Compositional proficiency in the cumulative Russian language essay, completed in the final session of the program, is predicted to be strongly associated with expertise, defined as years/experience spent in a writing-intense profession.
Participants in the experimental group will be 30 English-only career-professional writers, 15 males and 15 females, between the ages of 30-50, with ‘career-professional’ defined as sole source/highest source of household income. The proposed sample will be gathered via advertisement and outreach in communities within 50 miles of Temple University’s Main Campus. Additionally, contact will be made with alumni associations of Philadelphia-area colleges and universities that offer graduate writing degrees. There will be no limitations put on writing genre. Furthermore, there will be no requirements as to educational degree attained. Work experience (i.e. quantifiable “talent”) will be the most important factor.
The microcosm that is the traditional ‘college town,’ within a city the size of Philadelphia, makes it reasonable to assume that researchers could locate participants for the proposed study both with and without degrees or graduate degrees amid this population, via snowball sampling. English-only experimental and control participants will be matched for gender, age, ethnicity, memory, and race from community advertisements/outreach and from alumni associations of Philadelphia-area, non-writing graduate degree offering colleges and universities.
L2 Compositional Proficiency 5
Prospective participants will be prescreened by phone for bilingual ability, considerable second-language exposure, and Russian ethnic ties. In the case of the control group, writer hobbyists, defined as those who engage in writing at length for the purpose of recreation at least once a week, will be excluded. For the purposes of this study, in which the minimum participant age is 30, ‘considerable second language exposure’ will be defined as more than one semester of secondary or college L2 training with significant recall. The ideal would be to find the unlikely mix of college-trained writers with zero semesters of second language exposure, however that notion can still be considered via study participants who do not possess bachelor’s or graduate degrees—the projected 19% composition of freelance writers, for example.
Participants will be told in advance of their rights regarding privacy, informed consent will be obtained, and they will be notified of their ability to discontinue with the study at any time.
The proposed study will utilize a t-test for independent means. Measurement of proficiency will be 10 blind raters’ coding scores and the results from the CPIDR3 program (11 separate scores on 14 total dimensions across 60 essays). CPIDR3 (Computerized Propositional Idea Density Rater) is Michael Covington and David Snowdon’s software platform, used to automatically determine the propositional idea density of written English text.

L2 Compositional Proficiency 6
Procedure/Experimental Task
Sixty participants will take part in a Russian language immersion program for 8 consecutive Saturdays, for four hours a session. The schedule of language instruction, adapted from accepted L2 curricula currently in use at Temple University is laid out fully in the appendix (Davis 2004).
The final session of the class will consist solely of the cumulative, long, untimed, unrestricted essay assignment. The only requirement for the essay will be that it is at least 6 paragraphs, with at least five sentences per paragraph. Participants will write the essay in the exact same lecture hall where they attended classes. They will be encouraged to spread out and sit anywhere. At the conclusion of the task, the participant will remain in his or her seat, raise his or her hand, and as quietly as possible gain the attention of one of the researchers. At that time, a 100 response questionnaire will be given out, pertaining to the participant’s experience with the study (Appendix contains abridged version). The main purpose of the questionnaire will be to serve as a distraction, an effort to prevent a premature emptying of the lecture hall. It will be the job of one of the researchers to keep track of how many of the 60 study participants are still working on the essay, versus completing the questionnaire. When the first participant completes his or her questionnaire, if there are still participants in the essay phase, the first participant will be permitted to quietly proceed into a smaller nearby classroom where the study debriefing will occur.
The above outlined will not necessitate the use of any technological equipment. On <5 occasions, the instructor may present web appropriated videos to aide in discussion, such as
L2 Compositional Proficiency 7
those pertaining to Russian cultures and customs, but he or she will be the only one to operate the computer, an Apple machine, and the related classroom projector. Seventy-five percent of instructional time will consist of lectures, 15% will involve small group interactions, and 10% will consist of in-class timed, topic-specific assignments and peer/instructor critiques.
Measurement of Dependent Variable
The coding system utilized in rating the Russian language essays, including the smaller in-class compositions written during weeks three and six, will consist first of the CPIDR3 program, then the compositions will be passed to a group of 10 blind raters who will classify them according to general competence/style: knowledge of topic, organization, cohesion, coherence, emotional complexity, uniqueness, audience awareness, overall amount of content; according to development: logical transitions, idea progression, expression, argumentation, and clarity; and lastly, according to precision: broad and appropriate vocabulary usage, accurate grammar, punctuation, spelling (scale of 1-3). The rater group will be comprised of: four female English monolinguals; 4 bilingual Russian/English speakers (three males and one female); and two male Russian speaking monolinguals.
The raters will be instructed to rate according to a scale of 1-3, with “1” being unsuccessful, “2” being somewhat successful, and “3” being successful. Ratings will then be compared. A detailed rubric is included in the Appendix.

L2 Compositional Proficiency 8

The coders will rate 60 essays and score from 1-3 on 13 dimensions of compositional proficiency. The CPIDR3 program will also provide analysis of proportional idea density. The mean and standard deviation for each essay, according to the dimensions previously outlined, will be analyzed, ultimately using a t-test for independent samples.
Because the analyses will be sufficient to reject the null hypothesis, this study will prompt future examinations into the intersection of written/oral communication, as well as the seeming enigma of how dissimilar minds process speech systems. In what ways is the writer’s brain wired uniquely to that of the non-career writer? In the same vein, the frequency of co morbidities among this population indicates that it is an area brimming with opportunities for researchers.
What are the possible future implications of the proposed study, with regard to learning disorders such as dyslexia? Insofar as L2 instruction, what can the processes and proficiencies of a novel L2 writer offer the general population of learners? The idea of teaching non-writers the conscious thought-patterns and habits of writers is nothing new. However, in the context of L2 instruction, it may be possible to ascertain some heretofore unknown thought/behavioural dimension. With that in mind, it may be the stuff of a subsequent study to examine whether, in a like research design, writers have the same spoken language gains as written gains.

L2 Compositional Proficiency 9
Considerations pertaining to the structure of this study include the following: the idealized format would incorporate non-English speaking monolingual writers, but time and location constraints prohibit this, perhaps it is an aspect that can be examined in a subsequent study, by colleagues at sister institutions abroad.

L2 Compositional Proficiency 10

Cook, Vivian & Bassetti, Benedetta (Eds.) Second Language Writing Systems. Clevendon, UK: Multilingual Matters, 2005.
Danner, Deborah D., Snowdon, David A. & Friesen, Wallace V. (2001). Positive Emotions in Early Life and Longevity: Findings from the Nun Study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 80(5), 804-813.
Davis, Robert L., Siskin, H. Jay & Ramos, Alicia. Entrevistas: An Introduction to Language and Culture (2nd Edition). McGraw-Hill Humanities/ Social Sciences/ Languages: 2004.
Grice, H.P. Logic and Conversation. Article from Syntax and Semantics 3: Speech Acts, by Cole Peter and Jerry Morgan. New York, Academic Press, 1975.
Li, Ping & Shirai, Yasuhiro. The Acquisition of Lexical and Grammatical Aspect. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2000.
Matsuda, Paul Kei & Silva, Tony (Eds.). Second Language Writing Research: Perspectives on the Process of Knowledge Construction. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2005.
Mortimer, James A., Snowdon, David A. & Markesbery, William R. (2003). Head Circumference, Education and Risk of Dementia: Findings from the Nun Study. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, Vol. 25(5), 671-679.
Rueda, Alicia D. & Schmitter-Edgecombe, Maureen. (2009). Time Estimation Abilities in Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s Disease. Neuropsychology, Vol. 23(2), 178-188.
Snowdon, D.A., Kemper, S.J., Mortimer, J.A., Greiner, L.H., Wekstein, D.R. & Markesbery, W.R. (1996). Linguistic Ability in Early Life and Cognitive Function and Alzheimer’s Disease in Late Life: Findings from the Nun Study. JAMA, 275: 528-532.

L2 Compositional Proficiency 11
Week One—Russian cultural identity, greetings, the alphabet, weekdays, numbers 1-30, telling time, speaking formally/familiarly, descriptive adjectives, subject pronouns, gender/number agreement, question words, prepositions, negations, initial verb conjugations: to talk, to eat, to live, to know, to be.
Week Two—Russian family, family members/relationships, activities, express age, numbers 30-100, express possession, possessive adjectives, introduction to irregular verbs, parts of a house, household items, demonstrative adjectives, converse in the present tense, affirmative commands.
Week Three—Russian food, meals and preparation, general comparative words, speak impersonally, direct object pronouns, describing the weather, climate and its affect on mood, introduction to the past tense, quality of life: routines, work, health, traditional/alternative remedies, numbers 100-300, Russian music, your daily routine, reflexive pronouns. *At the conclusion of this session, an in-class essay assignment will be administered. The topic will be: My plan for studying Russian Effectively. The time limit will be 20 minutes. The recommended length will be at least four paragraphs, of at least five sentences per paragraph.
Week Four—the Russian marketplace, shopping, bargaining, shopping online, clothing, handcrafts, outdoor markets, numbers 300-600, more past tense, indirect objects and indirect object pronouns, sports in Russia, the Social Circle, New Year’s, pastimes, having fun, irregular verb forms in the past tense, negative words, using direct object and indirect object pronouns together, converse about something that happened in the past, introduction to the future tense.
Week Five—Russian historical landscape, childhood memories, family traditions, expressing frequency, stages of life, holidays and traditions, expressions of emotion, more future tense, test on verb conjugations for present and past tenses, travelling, vacations, means of transportation, popular tourist destinations, national symbols, indirect object/direct object pronouns + adjectives.
Week Six—Borders in Russia, borders in our hometowns, crossing borders, maintaining contact with your family’s country of origin, expressing emotions, bio-cultural identity, expressing unexpected or unplanned actions, adverbs, the business environment, job skills, interviewing for a job, the changing roles of women in Russia, occupations, looking for work, formal
commands, familiar commands, reciprocal actions, converse about future actions. *In-class essay assignment, 20 minutes, at least 5 paragraphs: Your memory of a time in your life when you lost something or someone important.
Week Seven—Conflict and peace in the Russian satellites, ethnic groups in Russia, Impact of technology on culture, cultural images in the media, newspapers, TV, movies, Internet, oral/written test on present/past/future Russian tenses and verb conjugations, expressions of

L2 Compositional Proficiency 12

doubt, stereotypes, societal problems and solutions, connections with other people, friends/loves across cultures, friendships/dating relationships, results and consequences.

Knowledge of Topic
For any concretely presented or implied fact in the essay, the rater must fact-check; for instance, that winter my dog ran away was the coldest on record. We walked every night through our Tampa neighborhood and it must have been less than 20 degrees! This is not possible. The rater will be instructed to rate this as a “1.” Certainly such a statement by the participant may have had artistic intent behind it, but it is still not factual. There will be measures below with which one could balance this low score (a “3” on the uniqueness or emotional complexity scales).
Strict rubric here: topic sentence, four supporting sentences. With creative writers, this format may not tend to be as strictly held to. However, this task will be framed as a classic academic essay and should be structured as such. Points may be awarded elsewhere for creative license.
Does the essay remain completely on-point the entire time? If seemingly superfluous diversions are made, do they have a clear-cut artistic intent?
In L2 learners, compositions may contain lapses in logical progressions simply due to lack of recall for necessary vocabulary; for instance, I thought my dog had died and I was sad. Then we found her and I was happy again!
Emotional Complexity
Any word connoting a unique emotion will be tagged in red pen. A differentiation must be made between emotions and elicitors; for instance, My sister really hates Fido, so she screamed and cried all day after we found him. “This is terrible!” This is a singular instance of emotional representation (Danner 2001). Any ambiguities would be considered in a final phase of coding that examines all the raters’ work, side by side.
Does the participant have a distinctive style? This will be a catch-all stylistic category. Raters can score according to their own personal opinion of the piece either by itself, or compared with other writing, or compared with other participant writing.
Audience Awareness
Does the participant write with an appropriate view of his audience in mind? Does the tone vacillate between sounding adult and sounding childish? (Grice 1975)

L2 Compositional Proficiency 13

Overall Amt of Content
Were the minimal length requirements met? Were they exceeded? Task should be presented to class as “Essay must be AT LEAST 5 paragraphs with 6 sentences. More is GREAT!” In this view, then, a “2” will connote meeting the minimum requirements. Remember, this is examined on a per-paragraph basis; for instance, if paragraphs 1-3 all contain 6 sentences, paragraph 4 contains 4, and paragraph 5 contains 8, this should work out to the following ratings, per paragraph: 2,2,2,1,3= 10/5= 2 total.
Strict rubric: does A follow B? Is a sequence labeled “first, second, third,” as opposed to “first, second, finally”?
Idea Progression / Expression
If an idea is broached, is it fleshed out? Did they succeed in fully working out their thesis or topic idea? The old theater adage goes: if there is a gun hanging on the wall in act one, there better be shots fired by act three.
If participant takes a position in the essay, does he or she back it up with factual supporting evidence (“3”), with opinion (“2”), or with non-sourced “facts” (“1”)? An example of a non-sourced fact will be: I remember when I was growing up, my father had a closet full of every nutritional “supplement” known to Man. He made us give the dog Vitamin E because it would make Fido smarter, and it did—he ran away after all!!
Is the composition lucid and simplistic (in the sense of being easy to understand?) Are the sentences transparent?
Is there broad and appropriate vocabulary usage? Is repetition avoided? What about accurate grammar, punctuation, and spelling?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Where have all the cowboys gone, again?

German director Werner Herzog was shot by a crazed fan during a recent interview with the BBC.

The 63-year-old was chatting with movie journalist Mark Kermode about his new film, documentary Grizzly Man, when a sniper opened fire with an air rifle.

Kermode explains, "I thought a firecracker had gone off.

"Herzog, as if it was the most normal thing in the world, said, 'Oh, someone is shooting at us. We must go.'tim treadwell at play

"He had a bruise the size of a snooker ball, with a hole in. He just carried on with the interview while bleeding quietly in his boxer shorts."

An unrepentant Herzog insisted, "It was not a significant bullet. I am not afraid."


-- i know this news item is a bit dated, but i just discovered it at my new favorite watering hole the morning news.
read cowboy part I, here.

wednesday, june 14th, 2006

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Men in Trucks: They just can't let go of their toys...

Once upon a time, a shirk-ling among Pennsylvania highways was being torn up. (The project was locally based, in suburban Philly, rather than another brainchild of one of Penndot's erratic mood swings- at the very least, there was that much to be thankful for.) 313 was not the biggest of the big... not the most widely traveled, not the most overused. 313 was maybe the running back in the high school football pecking order of roads.

For a year or more, business owners along the highway speculated and griped about what effect the construction would pose on their bottom line. Some talked of lower than normal inventory orders, others conceived of closing for the duration of the work or laying off staff. Some merely made due with trying to direct their customers through the maze of detour signs and cement trucks.

I spoke to one clothing retailer who said he'd fantasized about taking a large portion of his inventory to the next local government meeting. "Since they're not doing anything to help the business owners, the least they can do now is throw some money our way. Besides, you've seen how these guys dress. They need all the help they can get." He gave me his 'off the record' wink...

Where local government took a holiday, the media at least tried to step in. Another storeowner told me about a fluke Monday, early during the scheduled construction, when a large number of people had somehow made it to the store. Several used its back alleyway entrance. (One set of mother and child actually made the mad dash across the highway, skirting between open pits and bulldozers. After an hour, still in the store, still waiting to be helped amidst the crowd, Child said to Mother: "Let's leave before the hole out front gets bigger!")

As this store was already short staffed, when a reporter tried to speak with the owner "over how the construction was affecting business" he was unable to steal even a moment. The owner told me later, "In two weeks time, that was the busiest we ever were!"

The most amusing note about all this construction is how it brings out the little boy in every man. For all their complaining- for all their worries accentuated by dollar signs, and red zones, and bottom lines- where was every male owner and employee when the big trucks arrived? Watching the stone being hauled in and out, the pits being dug, and the giant bulldozers racing here, there, everywhere. The look of glee on these faces was borderline reverent...

All of this reminded me of the day care center I worked at while I was in college. Every Thursday morning on trash day, the boys would NOT sit still at the breakfast table. They had to run to the windows and watch the garbage men go by in their great, reeking trucks. They cheered and begged the men to honk their horns. Obligingly, many did, most waved, and I think all of them smiled at those fat little faces plastered against the glass.

Even amidst the 313 construction of 2006, a suburban Philly mom told me that when the road was being worked on in front of her place, on a particular Friday, the men graciously invited all the neighborhood kids to explore the trucks after they were done for the day. With supervision, the kids climbed into the seats and made every sort of mechanical sound possible. Afterward, the workers brought pizza for all.

Childless cynic that I am, I asked her who paid and wondered aloud if this wasn't time better spent moving ahead with the job??

The mother just scowled at me and walked away.

wednesday, june 7th, 2006

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

david lipsky, will you be my mentor?

The incomparable David Lipsky, writer and Rolling Stone editor, emailed me recently. (Imagine the nerve of this man--taking the time to offer hope to wannabes everywhere.)

Here's the story... The first version of my blog still hangs frozen in cyberspace. (I've actually forgotten the password, though my friend Andy Martello might joke that it's "iLuvLipsky.")

I'd titled the journal space: "David Lipsky, Will You Be My Mentor?" I don't quite know what I was hoping for. I can't imagine what I expected, but it was nothing akin to the help this talented man would later deliver.

When I was 16, I'd first read Lipsky's wonderful article "Impossible Dream" in US Magazine. It detailed the life and death of Rent creator Jonathan Larson. I literally carried that article in my pocket for 5 years until it started to fall apart! I xeroxed and carried it for another 2, until I lost somehow lost it.

I was devastated. Every writer has an article or a book, something like that... Something they cherish- some standard they measure themselves and everyone else against.

So that first blog of mine still includes the same plea that I had posted on this blog, up through Christmas. 'Can someone please find me another copy of Impossible Dream?!'

He's emailed me several versions of the piece, including editorial notes and his own recollections on the genesis of story. Check this out:

I think this is a nice example
of how a piece comes together. I'm a huge Liz Phair
fan, and when I really liked a song of hers I'd tried
to get hold of as many demos as I could. It's also a
pleasure to hear a demo -- a confusing pleasure, since
the notes don't tick and follow the line you're used
to. And though demos are fun to listen to, they don't
tend to be an improvement over the final, shapely
thing. As the writer of the piece, my heart is with
the opening of Larson4. As a professional, I
understood and admired the changing and shaping that
produced 10, and accept that it's probably better.
And I'd bet you, in your readerly persona, are always
going to prefer the finished draft, the first one you
read. What to me seem like better ideas will sound
to you like false notes, like wrong turns that were
usefully not-made, en route to the piece you know.

His most recent book is Absolutely American. Intertwining stories of disparate personalities who attended West Point in the years leading to 9-11, Lipsky accomplished something truly amazing.

He made the prospect of war- the life of a soldier- engrossing.

Lipsky's eulogy for Larson.

RENT book, by David Lipsky.

Jonathan Larson's Great Expectations, by David Lipsky.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Spurlock told not to talk about McDonalds??

McDonalds = Death
On [March 23] at Hatboro-Horsham High School in eastern Montgomery County, administrators say [Morgan Spurlock] put his foot in his mouth during an entertaining and humorous but profanity-laced, politically incorrect address to about 700 students.-Steve Wartenberg
( read the whole thing here...)

Tragic, but not really surprising, is it? Here's the part where they buried the lead:

According to Spurlock, shortly before his talk, he was told not to talk about McDonald's because a board member of the education association owns a franchise -a request akin to inviting Babe Ruth to speak and asking him not to talk about baseball.

photo of Spurlock by Catherine MeredithNo doubt, the reporter TRIED putting this fact higher in the story, but it was probably edited down for the sake of "community standards." Eye roll.

This group of educators had the 'foresight' to mention the above tidbit about McDonalds and yet were unaware of any background whatsoever on Spurlock AND his presention style?!

As Spurlock himself would probably say WTF?!

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Marvin Minsky once wrote:

Experience has shown that science frequently develops most fruitfully once we learn to examine the things that seem the simplest, instead of those that seem the most mysterious."

Is Minsky right? Do we have much to learn from little things?

Sociologists & anthropologists have long touted the importance of patterns- of cultural mainstays, of myths and fables- claiming they are the groundwork of civilization. It's said the mind defines itself and surroundings through such a vocabulary. Joseph Campbell spent his life believing that. Religions are built upon that. Even Timothy Treadwell, the bear expert eventually mauled by his fur-covered messiah, lived a confusingly happy life (post drug abuse) by substituting grizzly bears whenever anybody talked about God (rent the Dvd!)

Interestingly, it is a similar method of pattern acquisition that now informs the robotics industry. But is there another way to successfully assimilate information?

Pattern acquisition has long been the BEST way to define the learner/information INTERSECT. How does a human, let alone a machine, process information without recognizing its validity to one's own operations?

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

"You can't put all your eggs in one basket," he explained...

Camden Shop Offers Coffee - And DNA Testing

A few blocks from family court and state child welfare offices in this downtrodden city, a coffee shop is serving up more than lattes and muffins: DNA tests are also on the menu.


Small businesses in the city often embrace the diversification model. Camden City Wireless and Fishing Supply, for instance, sells cell phones and fishing tackle.

Likewise, Ford works several businesses at once. He runs Ronald Ford Inc., a 20-employee mini-conglomerate that offers business consulting, real estate and accounting services, and provides copying and fax services-in addition to the coffee and the DNA tests. Ford plans to add pre-employment drug testing and a photography studio to take pictures for aspiring actors in his two-story building across from City Hall.


Behind the coffee bar, Ford's employees swab the mouths of clients and the people they want to check for a possible DNA link. The samples are sent to a lab in Texas, and results come back within a week. His fee for the service starts at $550.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Forget blogs. Buy this book!

I've nearly fallen off the edge of the blogosphere. So much for posting regularly...

In the meantime, buy this book- buy this book- buy this book!

Click here to buy 'Absolutely American: Four Years at Westpoint' by David Lipsky
Click the image to read more

Monday, January 09, 2006

String Theory, schming theory. I've got your 4th dimension RIGHT here!

Theoretical physicist Lisa Randall, in a recent issue of science mag SEED:

"Why do we only experience 3 dimensions of space-- the familiar up-down, left-right, and forward-backward?"

Dr. Alan Lightman, author of over a dozen books and novels, 9 pgs later, in a different story: (no inner-magazine link available)

"Whether it's listening to a concert, or watching a dance performance or a play, the arts take me out of my normal time-driven routine. I'm in another dimension. For the period that I'm watching, I'm having an experience where time is basically stopped... In a way, it's exactly the same experience when I'm writing. I lose all sense of where I am or who I am."

Same story as above, choreographer Richard Colton:

"A dancer like Baryshnikov, through his sheer virtuousity, can stop time. When you see him go around for the sixth revolution of pirouette, the sense of suspending time becomes a visceral experience for the spectator...All great dance pieces-- Twyla Tharp's Fugue, Tricia Brown's Glacial Decoy, Merce Cunningham's work-- do this sort of weird thing with time. There's this natural forward momentum, speed, but at Scientist alone is true poet he gives us the moon. He promises the stars he'll make us a new universe if it comes to that. O Einstein I should have sent you my flaming mss. O Einstein I should have pilgrimaged to your white hair.-Allen Ginsberg the same time it suddenly arrests and turns away from itself. And it's that tension-maybe as a metaphor you can think of blending future, past and present- that kind of playing with different dimensions of time, that dance is wonderful with. Dance can visualize beautifully how time moves the same for all human beings, but each human being moves through time differently."

Hello, theory of relativity, anyone...???

For you Scientific Method huggers out there, the Dalai Lama weighed in on clinical objectivity early in the self-same issue of SEED:

"...valid subjective experiences must be verifiable both through repitition by the same practicioner and through other individuals being able to attain the same state by the same practice. If they are thus verfiied, such states may be taken to be universal, at any rate for human beings."

There's your 4th dimension, and it's quantifiable to boot. Problem solved.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The perils of unfinished thought: there once was a story 'bout a man named "Dave"

A salesguy of 35 lived one of those existences obit writers are so fond of calling "unassuming," whatever that means- from the moment we're born, we're at least assuming something...

What I mean to say is that Dave was a quiet man. We met at a party one year and remained in casual contact. I'd often imagined his demeanor was a detriment to his job, but it didn't seem to matter very much. I wonder why.

He talked to himself more than to anyone else. Not in that crazy way some people have. Dave just murmured quietly all the time, constantly going on as if his mind couldn't stop.

Now you know that after a certain age, people like to ask why a reasonably successful, decent looking man isn't married. I'd heard Dave field this one a few times. "I psyched myself out. There aren't a lot of happy marriages. Do you know any- do you really? I got scared or something. But at the same time, I don't feel like I'm missing anything. I love my life."

Honey, it sounds good when you talk. Very macho, very tough, in an over-analyzed Ethan Hawke sort of way. But you're the same guy you always were- someone who's talked himself out of everything. No marriage. No kids. No travel. The same string of girls you and the boys keep swapping like playing cards. There's detachment and there's deprived. There's emotional un-involvement and there's plain old depressed.

Is over-analysis in vogue now that therapists are opening offices in Beverly Hills, moving out of their back alley chop shops? Are we better for it? Or is the mistake-filled path of unfinished logic the stuff of real adventure? There are parallels everywhere, if you look carefully (or, I guess, even if you don't...)

A for instance: here's a technological nightmare- get ready.

The incongruous nature of capitalism is that it lends itself to destruction. (whaa...?)

Imagine- a society not unlike the United States chooses to value the almighty dollar over just about everything else. Sadly, the inherent and not untrue assumption is most people who live in that society, even the poorest of the poor, are better because of the decision to deify money. Anyway, I say 'sadly' because the culmination of such thought processes leads to a brain and labor drain as the corporate bosses look for cheaper workers and better ideas in other markets. Also, it mustn't go unnoticed that prevailing societal morality is displaced by money's rise to the throne of Christendom. That's not a shout out to religion, but it is a vote for some kind of structure. Whatever that thing is that keeps two guys face-to-face in a room feeling compelled to warn the other when an attacker's approaching from behind.

I feel like I'm clouding the point... we all sense that generalized oppression breeds innovation; whereas, nowadays in the U.S., highly specific oppression completely sucks innovation from the air- the many potential implications of the Supreme Court's ruling in the Grokster file sharing case come to mind. Hey, I've said it before and I'll sing it again: moneyed ideals = the future. And our man leading the charge is saintBillGates.txt.

Technology industry analysts all predict a magnificent future as Moore's Law continues to unfold. Computing power will be cheaper and easier to build, not to mention more accessible. Some even say we'll have robots doing our housework within the next decade. At what cost? In this brave new world, will my man Dave ever get out from under the covers...?

Anyway, industry on the whole is facing a downturn. Technology, of course, is painted as the bright hope for the future. If we're to believe that our lives will be changed totally by Internet hook-ups every which way but loose, then where will labor come from?

Our jobs are outsourced at an ever-increasing rate. You know the 1-800 song and dance. His name is "Bob," but there's that persistent accent... Again, the disturbing notion is that this is exactly in line with the tenets of our society. Good CEOs living in this country would be wrong to do anything differently. This is how they were raised. This is what they know. This is all they know.

If these generalized assumptions are true (and labor/test scores based here and abroad support the overriding thesis of this column) then the future will present an imbalance in the technological sector even as the standard of living continues to rise. If affordable and accessible education does not keep pace with posited technological innovation, then the U.S. will inevitably lose its superpower status to a burgeoning world market. We could be looking at a vastly increased standard of living for all if educators match wits with Gates' crowd. That's a biig IF. A King Kong sized, tantrum throwing, earth shattering IF.

Otherwise, I guarantee the EU will continue provoking stabs at regulation on the world stage. The recent attempts at outsourcing Internet domain names to the UN are but an early case to the point. Hungry societies belching and squirming through their early attempts at moneyed idealism may prove more passionate, may prove to be more worthy adversaries in the battle for technological supremacy.

The sad denouement of all this is that, even if a more technologically educated populace emerges, the inherent cost-benefit will not prove appealing enough to keep jobs stateside. Some may say then that the problem is labor/union. But why should the man without a corporation give up his moneyed ideals? He too was taught, just like baby CEOs around him in the playpen, that the wallet is the Holy Grail. Therefore, if CEOs are to be excused for following the moneyed impulse to other markets- IF it is not at the behest of American politicians offering tax breaks to those who would open other markets to a product generally and capitalism specifically- why should we expect less from labor union bosses who couldn't afford pricey corporate powered educations?

No, at the end of the day the problem may be that capitalism itself has destructive tendencies in spite of all the value it affords potentiality in personal growth. Just how do we resolve that, before the markets go bust?


Now you've seen my crime. I tend more toward over-analysis than the tantalizing possibilities of unfinished thought. Both are somewhat thrilling, if equally frightening ways to live. As for Dave, he and I are kindred spirits...

Honey, two neuroses are better than one.