Friday, April 30, 2010

Too Much Information?

Jeff's team is well-prepared for its performance. We've rehearsed, honed the script, learned our parts and know our spots on the landscape.  Dress rehearsal looked good yesterday. Opening Day May lst.
Well,a few little things. Marvin flunked fingerprinting. Sitting home last night pondering his Adam's apple, he got the call for a re-test. I've been through the fingerprint failure shame myself when for a couple of hours one day last summer I thought I wanted to be a substitute teacher. Filled out the forms, got finger-printed, only to learn that my fingers didn't make it. Went back for the fingerprinting just to prove that I exist, but decided to spare the public schools and myself.
Well, wouldn't you know. So proud of myself, until the phone rings at 8:00 Friday night. Census Bureau. Maybe I'm going to be asked to run the whole show. They've finally gotten my number. No, that's not what they want at all. Seems I, too, have flunked fingerprinting. For the second time in a year. Wow, I am unidentifiable. What should I do with this great benefit?
Turns out I should show up bright and early on Saturday morning to try once again to get registered with the government. No more laughing at Marvin for me.
Lots of success among the group who did their trial interviews yesterday. Turns out all that training and role-playing was for good reason as several enumerators stepped right up to various situations. Each of the persons who reported seemed to have internalized the training and personalized it a way to communicate in an authentic manner. Great role models for the rest of us.

Big story of the day was Amy's narrative about census taking in another state, another decade. She went out to an urban 'gated community,' knocked on that thick oak door until someone responded. Showed her id card through the still locked door, and was graciously welcomed into the community. "There I am 5'1", and Mr. Leader of the Nude Community, all 6'6" of him standing straight in front of me. Right there. Eye level. You think I was going to move my arm and search for that pencil in my bag right then? Sucking air in and puffing out, I thought I'd have an asthma attack right there if they asked me to take my clothes off. No government, nobody can pay me enough money to take my clothes off - even to gather confidential information. Even when he sat down, it took every ounce of strength left in my wheezing body to keep my eyes on the forms. Then his girlfriend, long blonde hair sitting on top of those breast so inflated you could have put your dinner plate on them, comes up to give her information. He stood up to escort me to the door, again that thing right at my eye level, I couldn't move fast enough to get out. Didn't look at one of those ding-a-lings for a long time after that!"
Well, what do you do with that? Hard to tell if our culturally diverse group is more stunned at the incident itself or the telling of the tale.
"Don't you go thinking I'm making this stuff up. It's the truth as I know it. There he was, right behind those thick oak doors, with me trying to look up, down, anywhere but straight ahead. Don't think anything in Colorado is going to surprise me."
We had to take a short break to stop the laughter.
Well, worrying about the proper time to go to a retirement community whose residents are predominantly Conservative Jews or Moslems pales in comparison. They will all have clothes on. With that story as context, all of our hypothetical difficult situations disappeared....
And then the open-book final quiz, where some of us still managed to argue with syntax, vocabulary, ambiguity as if this were the test that would determine our future lives. Everyone passed, but that didn't stop our desired for good-natured give and take. I'm going to miss these group meetings, as we're off on our own tomorrow for a while. Still have Marvin's promise for a party at the Brown Palace.
But no more tales from the Census Bureau for a while, because tomorrow we enter the confidentiality zone. I'm feeling good about the continuous/continual emphasis on confidentiality. We're all crazy about Jeff, and  would join any show or project he was going to launch. Break a leg, everyone.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

U. S. Blues

At 7:59 this morning, our retired attorney in the group stands and reads from his Google research. Yes, men have Adam's apples....but so do women. Women's Adam's apples are just less noticeable. He gives us all we need to know about the role of the Adam's apple, and forgives us for the slightly erroneous info we had given him the prior day.

The group is feisty, ready to question everything, but always with humor and genuine curiosity. It's also clear that a number of people spent last night organizing their materials in preparation for going live on Saturday. The woman who is careful to get things right, because in her gently way, she wants to do things in the right way, knocks us out with her multi-level and multi-tiered folders in her Census briefcase. Oh, I have a bit of organization envy here. I'll be putting some folders together tonight.

Seems to be some wisdom to the group selection. There will be someone out there who would much rather talk to a male who speaks Arabic, Persian and Turkish than speak to me. And so it goes for each member of the group. I'd give my answers to anyone in this group, just as long as it doesn't take too long. But there's not much I would do that takes 'too long' to answer. Easily given to distraction am I. But my hunch is that this group is going to bring in the results.

I admire our Donald Sutherland,Don't Look Back, leader. Anyone who could herd major rock bands and the likes of Neil Young and Guns n Roses into performance can handle the U.S. Census. After just a few days he's able to dance around those of us who want to give all the answers or at least challenge a few and pull out the wisdom of the more thoughtful, measured members. He has deftly moved us from the predictable initial stages where everyone is sizing everyone else up to a stage of comfort and trust. Pretty savvy.

For the last three days, I've been wondering why the majority of people in our group get the same snack when they go on break. Everyone comes back with trail mix or fruit mix, coffee, tea or a bottle of water. I don't see coffee anywhere, but think it wouldn't be good so don't really look.

Finally, with only a day left at the training center, I find the FREE basket of trail mix snacks, the FREE upscale coffee that one makes individually, one cup at a gourmet time. And a refrigerator stacked with bottles of free water. Just goes to show how smart I am. I've been grabbing my parking quarters out of my car and throwing them into vending machines while the majority of the group is relaxing on free gourmet snacks. I used to be much better at ferreting out the goodies, especially the free ones. Out of practice?
For some bizarre reason, the Grateful Dead's U.S. Blues has been running through my head all day during training....a mini pep rally of the mind. So I found this old version on You Tube, recorded at Duke University. A long way from the '70's to the 2010 census.
While I am thinking of the U.S. Blues, another member is thinking of celebrating our success (group consensus that this group is going to bring it all in)at the Brown Palace when the job is completed. That works too.

Learning Styles

Two days of training down, two to go. This day was all preparation and mock training preparation. I've been on the teaching side of lots of classes in the past couple of decades, but this experience of being on the student side of a government-type learning experience is like nothing I've ever done.
It's a world where there are more acronyms than real words. A house isn't a house, it's a HU; the notebook isn't a notebook, it's an AA. And so it goes. Then there is the team itself.  The Govspeak is quite a language to learn.
Then there are the learning styles of this little group of students. I won't go into Eduspeak, but what a range.
There is the bright accountant who was laid off three and a half years ago and still unemployed. He can slice and dice, parse, look for the smallest of details. The woman who wants to get it all down exactly, word for word, do everything by the book and through the book. The retired lawyer who wants a copy of the Constitution to make sure what we are doing is proper. (To my amazement, while we are on a break, our crew leader goes to his car and comes back with a copy of the Constitution). The woman who has done it three times before, and wants to know why it's been revised.....and the quiet man with the Spanish accent, who is always a bit behind because he is still in a language translating mode of learning. There's more, but you get the picture.
Of course, I'm there also. Sitting there, wondering why in the world anyone would stand in the doorway and answer all these questions. I try not to ask too many questions that seem to be critical of the whole government, but I really don't know why anyone needs to know if the son or daughter is biological, foster, adopted, whatever.... don't understand why there are such in-depth questions about the Spanish/Mexican/Latina origins and another set of questions about race. I don't believe there is such a thing as a 'white' race or many other races, but have to accept that we aren't in an anthropology classroom. 
Other people don't like the fact that we have to ask some tall, burly guy with a mustache if he is male or female. That question is ok with me, but drives others crazy. "What do you mean, we can't look at someone and figure out male or female?"  From there, much to our leader's dismay the commentary drifts off to the Adam's apple as identifier. The retired attorney is stunned. Lived and practiced all those years in Long Island, and never heard that story. The younger man with a great sense of humor says to the attorney, "Oh, these days, when you go to a club or bar, you always have to check the Adam's apple."

The retired attorney can't wait to get home to tell his wife this theory..
But we are brought back to the book, the mandatory rote learning for a while. All afternoon we move between and among practice sheets, the salmon manual, the red manual, the practice training sheets, and other pamphlets and learning materials.  I realize that the trickiest part for me is going to be handling all the paperwork, making sure to fill in answers in block print, and not mess up the paper's neat folds so responses can be read by the computer.
It's rainy and cold this morning, with promises of more to come. We're supposed to hit the road today, so I'm pulling out that heavy fleece I just put away for the season.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

It's All Confidential and Constitutional

Well, I finished my first day of a four-day training session as an Enumerator, more commonly referred to as a NRFU (non-response follow-up). Sounds like Nerfoo or Nerf-U, depending on your frame of mind.

Census is a Constitutional thing in the US, with the first collection being in 1790. And it's all hidden away, not used or seen by anyone until 72 years after it was done. I have no idea how or why 72 is the magic number...maybe it was once a 'for sure he/she will be dead before the name appears' date. Data stewardship.

Regarding confidentiality: We are not supposed to ever, ever say anything about anyone we meet or don't meet, houses that we get in or don't get in....nothing....absolutely nothing to no-one. Twenty-five people in a one-room apartment or a large crackhouse. Nothing. The emphasis on confidentiality was actually quite reassuring to me. And I don't think twenty minutes went by without a reminder of the confidentiality code. Even stood and took an oath. Signed the papers, and will keep my word.
But that still leaves me free to comment on content and context of the training and this new group of people in my life.
Last night, driving home from the last Buddhism in Everyday Life workshop, enjoying my own little interior monologue I thought "Where could I meet such an interesting, diverse group of people?" Where else would I hear a strong, sturdy beautiful male say, "I'm trying to be mindful not just of what I eat, but how I eat. So when I prepare dinner, I give the plate that is most attractive and has the most food to my wife."  Her reply, with a warm and gentle laugh, "Oh, easy for him to say as a man with a blind wife." They put their arms around one another, and the tenderness from them penetrates every corner of the room. Another person talks about seeing her life as a garden. "Had to do a lot of pruning this year. Got rid of the hangers-on who were becoming toxic to me. Cultivated the plants that needed nurturing. Try to make sure I water what needs to be watered."   That's just a snippet. Where else would I have such encounters?

Guess what?  I met another group today. How can there possibly be so many interesting people in the world?

Our group leader is definitely of the Donald Sutherland look; been associated with rock and roll for years and somehow is doing this.  I sat next to a woman who left her apartment at 5:15 a.m. in order to get the multiple busses that would deliver her to the training spot by 8:00. She worked the census in Louisiana in 1990 and 2000... had a car then, but not having a car isn't going to stop her now. It's a second job, and the best paying one she has had in a long time. Turns out she was on the first plane out of New Orleans during Katrina. Thought she was going to Texas, where she had a few relatives, but ended up in Denver. She desperately needs the hours, as her job at Mickey D's hardly pays the rent. In her spare time, she volunteers with the elderly at her church.
Her strong, desperate hope that this work will last a fairly long time gets me thinking. When the time comes that we 'go live,' as they say, wouldn't it make sense for me to hand over my cases so she can work longer. I know there can't be any manipulation of that sort, but I'm still thinking if I work the minimum number of hours maybe she will be able to work an extended amount of time, covering what I don't.
That's just one person. More to come, as the week unfolds.


Off for the first long day of training to be an on-the-streets census taker. With a week of 8 hour days of training before hitting the roads, I wonder how much it costs for each person counted. And does everyone really count in all of this?
And I'm about to test the old saying 'You can't teach an old dog new tricks.'  Do you think I'm trainable?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Who's Counting?

Everybody's counting something today: number of days until the snow is finally gone in Colorado; number of days until school ends; minutes until recess; calories; miles per gallon; heartbeats per minute; dollars in checking account; gray hairs; cell phone minutes; pages read, days to payday; ducks in a row.....
And most of us are counting on someone.... counting on someone to relieve our boredom, counting on the stock market going up, counting on stores to be open, the car to start, the body to move. 'I'm counting on you to do a good job.' Count me in...count me out....countdown.
What are you counting and counting on today?

I'm counting down to a birthday and to beginning training to work on the census. I know, I'm still not sure it's the right thing to do, but I signed up in a moment of total irrationality, so I'll learn more tomorrow. That's why counting is on my mind this morning. Who will I be counting and why should I be counting them?
Here's a little math poem to start my week and yours.


Arithmetic is where numbers fly like pigeons in and out of your
Arithmetic tell you how many you lose or win if you know how
    many you had before you lost or won.
Arithmetic is seven eleven all good children go to heaven -- or five
    six bundle of sticks.
Arithmetic is numbers you squeeze from your head to your hand
    to your pencil to your paper till you get the answer.
Arithmetic is where the answer is right and everything is nice and
    you can look out of the window and see the blue sky -- or the
    answer is wrong and you have to start all over and try again
    and see how it comes out this time.
If you take a number and double it and double it again and then
    double it a few more times, the number gets bigger and bigger
    and goes higher and higher and only arithmetic can tell you
    what the number is when you decide to quit doubling.
Arithmetic is where you have to multiply -- and you carry the
    multiplication table in your head and hope you won't lose it.
If you have two animal crackers, one good and one bad, and you
    eat one and a striped zebra with streaks all over him eats the
    other, how many animal crackers will you have if somebody
    offers you five six seven and you say No no no and you say
    Nay nay nay and you say Nix nix nix?
If you ask your mother for one fried egg for breakfast and she
    gives you two fried eggs and you eat both of them, who is
    better in arithmetic, you or your mother?  Carl Sandburg

Friday, April 23, 2010

Tales on a Rainy Day

Chilly winds, penetrating rain, rolling thunder and fleeting snow showers set the scene for today's tales.

What other environment would be appropriate for telling the tale of the stolen IPad? Seems as if one satisfied consumer was walking away from the Apple Store in Cherry Creek mall towards the parking lot. The plastic bag carrying the I-pad was wrapped around his pinky finger as he made his exit. From out of nowhere, a thief pulled the bag with such force that he took off skin and tendons, leaving the purchaser without his I-Pad and without part of his finger. The victim had to have what was left of his finger amputated. Turns out the thief ran off with an IPad the man was buying for a friend in Canada and his finger.
What is this world?  Is an I-Pad really worth the price of someone's finger? I've wrapped plastic and other bags around a finger and then later watched aimlessly as I untwirled the bag from my finger.  Never once did I think someone would grab me with enough force to rip a bag and finger away from me.
I don't know if the finger thief has been found, but I hope something appropriate his way comes.There has to be bad karma with that act.

On another grim note (well, we've had our fun on Earth Day, so back to the weirdness of the world).
In this morning's Denver paper I found an article about West Hartford, CT, once my hometown and the hometown of son Red and Tara, Emma and Colin. Down the street a way is my brother Terry, Alyssa, Sierra and Jeremiah. Upscale friendly suburbs. Everyone is a soccer mom and dad.
Wouldn't you know, some mad man feuding with his female neighbor put a posting on Craigslist inviting people (and I quote) 'invited strangers to a rowdy orgy with a bored soccer mom.'  The ad said the woman wanted 'to please as many as I can before I go to work.' Gave her address.
Here's my question: Who is more bizarre, the whacko who put the stupid posting on line or the many, many men who stopped by the woman's house the morning after the posting?  Or Mr. Suave who went next door to the wrong address by mistake, thought the woman was lying to him, and sexually assaulted her? Do we really want to count these people in the census or encourage them to vote? Did these guys have too many soccer cupcakes for breakfast? And who is reading craigslist looking for an orgy with a soccer mom? Who are these people and how do they keep multiplying?

 No need to read the headlines or front page stories; I like the little fillers that find their way into various papers. The fake ad humiliating the soccer mom was enough for me. And,  no I never met a bored soccer mom who resorted to making soccer cupcakes.
All this craziness going on, I didn't even both to read beyond the headlines about all the SEC hotshots reading porn instead of paying attention to the Bernie Madoffs of the world. There is so much to be said here, but I leave it to the reader to comment.

Great comic relief if it all weren't so sad. Very sad. But that's all the sadness on a cold wet day. Better days are coming. I just feel it deep inside these damp bones.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day, Homage to Parks

Yesterday it was Eve, and today it's Mother Earth and the fortieth anniversary of celebrations for Earth Day across the world. A very clever James Cameron intentionally released the Avatar dvd today. And people will trek to Walden Pond and generally be more gentle to Mother Earth today. Many good things, including the Clean Water Act, have occurred since that first official Earth Day.
Above is an Earth Day photo I captured from the Huffington Post today. It's not exactly the vision I want to call up. Let's try and stick with Celebration and take a break from the grim, take a chance on really smelling whatever sweetness is blooming out there. Forget those irritating allergies. Breathe in...and out.

Back to Mother Earth in all her manifestations. Over the past several months, I think She has sent us several reminders that she's still in charge and we need to pay attention. Mudslides, hurricanes, volcanic ash, earthquakes, melting, warming, droughts. She has quite a bag of tricks to play. Perhaps we should treat her well. Let's hope the Big Mama Earth didn't raise too many fools among us. And you know the saying that follows, "If Mama isn't happy, no-one's happy." Something like that.
And forty years after the first Earth Day we still have lots of questions to answer, concerns to address, and information to gather. Are we making progress, and if we are, progress to what end?
I was going to post about Chief Seattle, but knowing that I don't know what Chief Seattle said and didn't say (but am pretty sure that lovely passage about the web of life, etc.was not his), thought it better to just suggest we all might be well served to just take some time and smell the world and maybe dig into it a bit. Here in Denver, it rained this morning and now the sun is out. That leaves me with the opportunity to just dig my fingers into some soft earth to see how a plant is doing. Someone else may be fortunate enough to run sand through her fingers, trim a bush or watch a cloud.

All of us reading this blog have the gifts of food and water, the gifts of the earth and the workers who plant, cultivate, pick, produce and or manufacture food.For us, Earth Day is a celebration of abundance, bounty, and having our basic needs satisfied. So it seems right that we give thanks and honor the Earth, each in our own way, today.
I don't want to get all sentimental here, but it's also a good time for me to give thanks -- big thanks -- for the visionaries who have given us national, state and local parks and seashores. I know, I know, we need to focus on energy, fuel, nuclear waste, recycling,  healthy food, all aspects of the environment. The smog, fog, and general pollution don't stay in one spot;  these are world travelers.  Who ever imagined that volcanic ash from Iceland would interfere with a flight leaving Paris?
We have much to learn and much to do.
But...with all that said, I still want to give thanks to those incredible people (yes, that includes you Mr. Roosevelt) who took a stand for preserving space and beauty for all of us.
Let's give a shout-out for every park in every city or county, every seashore, every mountain, every patch of flowers planted along a roadway. Thanks.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It's Never What You Think It Is Going To Be

How old are you? What do you look like? Are you happy or sad, helpful or helpless, big or little?
Last night in a workshop a woman who is partially sighted described what it was like when she was in her early twenties and started having operations attempting to save her sight. For several weeks after the operation on her retina, she could only make up the blur of a person in her room, a fuzzy vision at best.
Finally, the doctors removed the bandage from the covered eye and she had a clearer vision. "It's never what you think it is going to be" she said.

"The woman I pictured as young and perky because of her voice, her laugh and her light saunter in and out of the room every day  turned out to be the oldest person in the room. And so it went..  No-one looked the way I had pictured them."
It's been a long process for her over the past twenty years, but she has continued to 'see' people and the world in different ways. She loves to hike and still has her vision of the world. I love the way she looks directly at whomever is speaking, always paying careful attention. She's been a nurse and a massage therapist. As a massage therapist she can feel how someone feels without seeing a clear face or characteristics. She chuckled and continued.
"One of you mentioned your age last week and I was so surprised. I could see the blur of white hair and the outline of your body, but I would never have guessed your age from your good humor and laugh. I see you in another way."
  She'll  mention a book she has read or a movie she has seen and I think about how different our experiences of 'reading' and 'seeing' are.  I know I shouldn't, but I want to ask her if she knows how cute looking she is and if she can see how handsome her husband is. I want to know more than is my business. It takes me a while to get back to the major points of the two-hour discussion: what we 'see' is not necessarily what is, and a definition of Freedom as
"the capacity to pause between stimulus and response."  Pause?  Didn't we all study stimulus-response theory? Was the hyphen a pause in disguise. Noone told me.

Ivan Pavlov, did you ever think about the pause?
There has to be something to the pause. Since Sunday I had heard the same message three times by three very different people. "Don't always trust your first response. Try pausing, breathing, maybe thinking. Slow down and then respond."
     I am not well acquainted with the pause. Perhaps I should be.
So, I paused. What happened? I remembered that it's April 20. 420. World Weed Day. I'll be expecting something better from my future pauses. 

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dreams and Drama

I love dreams and have a pretty long and strong record of waking in the morning with one or two dreams still lingering in my consciousness. Obviously, there are many, many ways to interpret dreams, and I tend to go with the Gestalt theory. It helps to remember that I created the characters and the actions, and am solely responsible for the consequences. I do struggle a bit with the notion that all the characters in the dream are really extensions of me, so, depending on the behavior of any given dream character, I've been known to manipulate an interpretation or two on occasion.
From my perspective, Dream time is extended thinking time, and the events are both less real and more real than 'real' or waking time. It's complicated, and I won't bore you with the details of my thoughts on the non-linear relationship between the conscious and unconscious mind of mine. But this morning's dream character who lost her reading list, skipped a class, pretended she had been there, and lied about doing all the reading was probably me. Yes, I was also the unforgiving professor and the bumbling friend.

Dreams long gone, around lunch time I stopped at a drugstore and got in a short line that seemed to be taking a long time. Just three of us in line, and it was clear the man in front of me with his tall bottle of lemonade and large pack of gum was ready to pay and go. But the cashier was trying to convince the woman in front of him to buy a wellness card, a club card, whatever it was that she had to try and sell each customer. When his time came, the young man said 'no,' 'no,' 'no' to each question, setting me up, I thought, for a quick walk through.
But not, exactly. I said 'no' to the first query about the wellness card, but when the cashier asked if it was getting warmer outside I said yes.
And the sales pitch was quickly replaced by the tale of her dream last night. The air-conditioner had been on at the store yesterday and she had gotten a little chilled. Then last night she dreamed she was in an ice palace that had many paths, hallways and rooms.  (note: I have Neutrogena face sun cream, a pad of paper, and calcium in my hand. Three items. I'm in a hurry.)
"Yep. All those hallways and some of them leading to warm rooms, but I kept getting lost and ending up in even colder rooms. I didn't understand how the furniture got into the ice palace. I was hungry but couldn't find the kitchen. I couldn't find anything or anyone."   Then, the question:
"Do you think I had this dream because of the air conditioner being on yesterday or because I was thinking of that volcano in Iceland? You know, ICEland?"
Well, I don't know. But I do know that my purchase came to $11.08 and I gave you a $20. And I can tell that, for the moment, you don't care about my neutrogena, but want to know what I think of your dream.
Waiting for my change, I gather my wits and say, "Oh, I see you have a sweater under your uniform. Must have been the air-conditioner that caused your dream, because now you are prepared for the cold."
She was so grateful I felt guilty. Finally she said, "Oh, I can't make change and talk at the same time, but I can do it now."  I took my $8.92 and sped out the door, hoping not to be nailed as a fake dream therapist. You just never know how one thing will lead to another.

On another note, in yesterday's posting I talked about the Self Recipe: What Do I Need to Add to Me to make this a good day?
I was explaining the recipe to my seven-year old granddaughter on the phone last night and asked her "Oh, what ingredients would you have added to your day today if you could?"  I'll keep a couple of her ingredients secret, as they are hers, not mine. Then Emma paused.  "Dramatic...more drama," she said firmly. "That's what I would add to my recipe today."
Oh my. Hadn't even entered my mind.  But a good reminder. Going to put some drama up there with the other spices. You never know when you're going to need it.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

So Much to Learn, So Little Time

This morning, around 7:00 a.m., I scanned the Denver Post and the New York Times, trying to figure out what I would read later in the morning. It's my habit to skip the Post and go right to the NYT, but this morning was different.  I noted a column by Dottie Lamm about the fact that boys are struggling even more in early school than they did in the past because there is more pressure to read earlier, etc., and boys' abilities in that area develop more slowly than girls'.  She suggested that we need a men's/boys' movement. I figured I'd get back to that later. I've always admired Dottie for standing tall and taking heat with some dignity, so I'll be back. Then I noticed an article about a well-educated woman who fell into homelessness, and thought to myself 'way too much bad news so early in the morning....
Big headline about CU Dental School eliminating its 'get your DDS' in four months program. Who knew I could have been dentist?. All the hours spent sitting in those dental chairs getting braces, root canals, implants, veneers would probably have given me the contact hours to be in advanced standing mode and had me with degree in hand by Fourth of July.
Then there's that volcanic ash interrupting lives, Dr. Oz doesn't like food, we don't have a nuclear strategy against Iran....more volcanic ash....
Don't know if I'll actually go back to any of that. What is it I really need to know?
Luckily, I skimmed through Education Life of the NYT. I knew MIT had many courses on line, but didn't know the many, many courses available free. Harvard, Yale, everywhere....  Nice.
Top courses on You Tube? Moral Reasoning 23: Justice by the well-known Michael Sandel at Harvard. 500,000 hits by the time you read this. Half a million lookers at Justice.  Here are the first two sessions of Sendel's course. Who wouldn't want to be engaged in this kind of thinking? Sign me up.
Queen v. Dudley and Stephens (1884) (The lifeboat case)
Suppose you find yourself in a situation in which killing an innocent person is the only way to prevent many innocent people from dying. What's the right thing to do? This question arose in The Queen v. Dudley and Stephens (1884), a famous English law case involving four men stranded in a lifeboat without food or water. How should we judge the action of Dudley and Stephens? Was it morally justified or morally wrong?

Jeremy Bentham, Principles of Morals and Legislation (1780)
One familiar way to think about the right thing to do is to ask what will produce the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest number of people. This way of thinking about morality finds its clearest expression in the philosophy of Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). In his Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1780), Bentham argues that the principle of utility should be the basis of morality and law, and by utility he understands whatever promotes pleasure and prevents pain. Is the principle of utility the right guide to all questions of right and wrong? 
Next? Integrative Biology 131, from Berkeley. More than 400,000 hits.  And on it goes.
Another article about teaching moral reasoning and ethics to eight year old.

I'm not usually in a good mood when I put the paper down (see first two paragraphs if you don't understand why), but this morning I feel energized. Give me a section about the opportunities to learn, and to learn for no cost, and I am in a good mood. And I'm happy for everyone.
 There's lots more left to peruse, and maybe my good mood won't last forever, but I'm holding on as long as I can.
From one form of open education to another. NIA isn't free at Studio Soma, but it sure is open. Lots going on today, but thinking about what ingredients to add to the recipe that would be me today left me wondering about kindness, softness, a little energy, consistency? I don't know, maybe another cup of kindness would help; couple of tablespoons of energy. Don't need any consistency today. Tad more humor. Pinch of wry. Wouldn't it be nice if we could just add whatever ingredients we needed each day for the recipe of me.Must remember to sprinkle on the gratitude today.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Where is the Missing Energy?

We're coming up on Earth Day, so today on NPR's Science Friday the talk was about global warming, the  changing climate and how we are going to solve or control our environmental problems.
One of the questions Ira Flatow, friendly host, asked  Scientist Kevin Trenberth, CU Boulder scientist, was
'How is it possible that we are in a period of global warming if we've just recently (2008) had one of the coldest years recorded in over a decade?'
There were lots of theories and hypotheses, but finally the scientist said, "We're missing some energy. We don't know where it is. We're looking for it and we'll find it."
Well, I know a lot about missing things: keys, eyeglasses, gloves, sunglasses, occasionally the whole pocketbook goes into hiding. But energy? Lost" Kidnapped? Being held for ransom? I never cease to be amazed at what it is that I don't know.
The conversation went on, with suggestions that some of that energy may be deeper in the ocean than we have instruments capable of measuring. That could make sense if the ocean were getting significantly warmer. Significantly is the important word...and it's not happening.  El Nino gets a lot of fingers pointing its way; it could be the culprit or at the very least a suspect in the case of the missing energy. The conversation was far more sophisticated than I am portraying it, but I'm trying to capture the illustration of scientists as great solvers of mysteries, discoverers of knowledge, and stalkers of the missing. What adventures of the mind.

But back to that missing energy (no, it's not in my pocketbook or car). I think it's pretty smart to ward off discussions of all the conflicting evidence by suggesting that the evidence or the facts aren't in conflict, but the instruments that measure the climate are.  The question becomes: do we have sophisticated enough instruments to measure what our sophisticated scientists want to measure? I like that.
And I've done the same kind of thinking myself. Bet you have also. For instance, every get a weight reading you don't like on a scale. No? I don't know you.
Ever try moving the scale to a different surface? Hardwood floor, rug, tile....what's giving the correct measurement today? Ever tried several scales to get the reading you want?  Maybe we're all better scientists than we've been led to suspect. It's not the weight that's the problem; it's the instrument doing the measuring that is deficient. I can handle that.
Science Fridays make driving in traffic so much easier.
That's all the science I can report before the weekend begins. Check your instruments.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Nothing Good or Bad, but Thinking Makes it So

I was just about to write something about Hamlet, but just read good news from a Washington Post e-mail. Here it is:

President Obama signed an order Thursday night requiring hospitals to allow gays and lesbians to have non-family visitors and to grant their partners medical power of attorney.

The president ordered the Department of Health and Human Services to prohibit discrimination in hospital visitation. The memo is scheduled to be made public Friday morning, according to an administration official and another source familiar with the White House decision.

An official said the new rule will affect any hospital that receives Medicare or Medicaid funding. About time.
I know lots of things have shifted for the better in medical care, but those 'Immediate Family Only' signs in Intensive Care Units used to make me crazy. I'm fortunate enough to have lots of immediate family so I'm all set. But I have many, many friends who don't have biological families who are alive or still connected in any way. Friends are real family for many, many people, yet I've heard many tales of friend-family not be allowed in to an ICU for a visit. Girlfriends, boyfriends, partners, the list goes on.
So, I'm delighted for all the gay and lesbian members of the community and anyone else who has had to struggle with the definition of family in a hospital or anywhere else.
As for medical power of attorney, I've heard horror stories from same-sex and different-sex partners about medical power of attorney. Good news on this one too.
Every once in a while I don't automatically delete those afternoon news e-mails. This was the perfect day to read the breaking news.

About Hamlet. It's a great play, no question. Line after line of rich language, exploration of the dark mind, the obsession with revenge, and love lost and found. Brilliant. We saw the play at the Conservatory Theatre here in Denver. The staging, set, scenery were all stunning. Among the best I've seen. But, understanding, that I've been totally spoiled by going to the theatre for a solid three months in London during the fall, I still found the acting flat and uneven.
Of course it was uneven. These were students and they were performing Shakespeare. But it still was a bit disappointing. Several actors played Hamlet (quite a smart move)and the young woman was the best actor in the play. Even when she moved into the role of gravedigger, she was outstanding.
The audience was full of high school students, and with the exception of the young woman directly in front of me whose attention was focused on snuggling as close as possible with her boyfriend, it was a great audience. During intermission I listened to the two young men next to me talking about the lighting, the stage, shadows and the transformation of Hamlet. I asked, and learned they were from Lakewood High School. Don't know who's teaching these students, but at least two young men were totally engrossed. Their commentary reminded me that I might be a little harsh on the acting, because it was good enough to keep the attention of an auditorium of high school students absolutely engaged.

"To be, or not to be: that is the question"."

"This above all: to thine own self be true"

"Though this be madness, yet there is method in 't."

"In my mind's eye me thinks I see my father"

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

The list of powerful quotes goes on forever.
I am particularly taken with "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." How many philosophers from around the world have contemplated that thought? It's a strong tenet of Buddhist belief, and beliefs of people around the world. Yet it is impossible to truly grasp (at least for me) that we are not our thoughts. I get it in an abstract way, but up close and personal I have a heck of a time separating myself from my thoughts.
And then Descartes set us spinning in the western world with his "I think, therefore I am."
Well, let's take those two sentences or belief systems together and see what emerges. I've struggled with this for years, and still don't have my head, heart, hands or mind wrapped around my relationship with my thoughts. I know they can lead me some pretty interesting places, but am I really separated from them?
So I guess allowing non-family visitors in the hospital is neither good nor bad. It just is. I understand that my thinking it is a good decision doesn't make it good.
It is what it is. But I sure like to think my thinking is right, in spite of the evidence.
That's my thinking - good or bad - for today.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lost in Translation

This posting is taken directly from an e-mail newsletter that comes my way from Classical Pursuits ( a classy travel organization with whom I've never traveled). If their trips are as interesting as their newsletter, the travel must be fabulous.

When I travel, I am always aware of how fluent people from other countries seem to be with several languages. Far too busy trying to figure out how to sound out four words in a row in whatever language may be tripping up my tongue, I rarely notice the ways in which English can be mis-translated. So here are a few examples collected by Classical Pursuits.  A little levity always helps, especially after walking through the 'bad' neighborhood yesterday.

A collection of signs and notices written in English that were discovered throughout the world.
In a Paris hotel elevator:
Please leave your values at the front desk.
In a hotel in Athens:
Visitors are expected to complain at the office between the hours of 9 and 11 a.m. daily.
Outside a Hong Kong tailor shop:
Ladies may have a fit upstairs.
In a Zurich hotel:
Because of the impropriety of entertaining guests of the opposite sex in the bedroom, it is suggested that the lobby be used for this purpose.
In the lobby of a Moscow hotel across from a Russian Orthodox monastery:
You are welcome to visit this cemetery where famous Russian and Soviet composers, artists, and writers are buried daily except Thursday.
In an Austrian hotel catering to skiers:
Not to perambulate the corridors in the hours of repose in the boots of ascension.
On the menu of a Swiss restaurant:
wines leave you nothing to hope for.
In a Bangkok dry cleaners:
Drop your trousers here for best results.
In a Rhodes tailor shop:
Order your summers suit. Because is big rush we will execute customers in strict rotation.
In a Bucharest hotel lobby:
The list is being fixed for the next day. During that time we regret that you will be unbearable.
In an advertisement by a Hong Kong dentist:
Teeth extracted by the latest Methodists.
In a Yugoslavlan hotel:
The flattening of underwear with pleasure is the job of the chambermaid.
In a Rome laundry:
Ladies, leave your clothes here and spend the afternoon having a good time.
Advertisement for donkey rides in Thailand:
Would you like to ride on your own ass?
On the door of a Moscow hotel:
If this your first visit to the USSR, you are welcome to it.
In an Acapulco hotel:
The manager has personally passed all the water served here.
From a brochure of a car rental firm in Tokyo:
When passengers on foot heave in sight tootle the horn. Trumpet him melodiously at
first, but if he still obstacles your passage then tootle him with vigor.
In a Budapest zoo:
Please do not feed the animals. If you have any suitable food, give it to the guard on duty.
 I don't mean to poke fun at anyone or any language; it's just the way it is when we try to translate. I still remember meeting a woman in Bologna Italy whom I thought was a gynecologist.  That was my translation. She wasn't. She was a CFO. Don't know how I did it.

You might be wondering why this is such a derivative post....not much thought from me, just a cut and paste from someone else. Well, I'm heading out to see Hamlet, a play I haven't seen or read in a long time. So, taking on a retro-professor mode, I have to do some reading.
The lat couple of posts have been about language and self-awareness, and I look forward to being enmeshed in those themes for a couple of hours tonight.
 We'll see what 'To thine own self be true' brings to mind tonight.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The 'Hood

"Sometimes my mind is like a bad neighborhood. I just shouldn't go there alone."

I went to a Buddhism in Every Day Life seminar last night and as we were discussing our finely-honed skills in the art of negative and judgmental self-critique, the facilitator made the above comment. Don't go alone into that bad place.

Indeed. I can just picture my neighborhood when I am in one of those negative places. Filled with illusionists and tricksters on every corner. Dr. Shoulda-Coulda-Woulda stands there, just waiting for me to stroll by and recognize her.  "Hey there, what about that book you are working on?"  "Oh, thought you were going to exercise every day of the week. What happened?"
Dr. Self Doubt, all duded up in her lime green spring outfit looking for attention, is on one street corner and Dr. Next Time I'll Try Harder flexes his muscle. The streets reach dead ends or come to turn arounds, so I often find myself spinning in one place.
I need a trusted soul with me when I'm in that part of town.Now, I don't wander there on purpose. Sometimes what seems like a good neighborhood turns bad; sometimes I just find myself there by mistake.

I can't stop thinking about all the wisdom in that one little sentence. Ironically, it is often when we're in a good part of town, when our mind is happy and fulfilled that we crave community. We reach out, share, confide, and listen when it's all safe.
But when those nagging self-doubts, doubts that just pop up when we least expect them, appear, that's when we isolate, move away from people, close in, isolate.
Well, of course, no-one should walk through that bad neighborhood alone. That's when we need a guide, a mentor, maybe just a silent friend to make us feel safe. Sometimes it's just better to take the long and winding detour. How's your 'hood today?