Java Zen:Thinking Out Loud Sunday, 2022.07.03
Dying is a very dull, dreary affair. My advice to you is to have nothing
whatever to do with it.

		W. Somerset Maughm, his last words

2007.04.08

Althouse’s Law

[The blue ribbon panel of scientists at the prestigious Java Zen Institute for the Proliferation of Inconsequential Science and Humanities debated long and hard on whether the effects described herein should more appropriately be labeled “Althouse’s Catch,” but in the end settled on “Althouse’s Law.” The simple reason being that law professors ought to have laws named for them. That and a threatened law suit from the Amalgamated Union of Catchers, Baggers, Trappers and Boxers. Since it couldn’t be substantiated that Althouse has caught so much as a single cold in her life, the panel elected to avoid a reckless and litigious war of definitions. Besides, catches should be named after judges. – GPE]

Althouse’s Law: A law of discussions whereby the central point of an argument is increasingly marginalized by exaggerating, accentuating or obsessing on either the example elements of the argument or trivial, yet entertaining, side bars. The most common end result when Althouse’s Law has taken effect in a discussion is that the examples initially used to illustrate the original point or the trivial side bars become themselves the central theme of the argument. The effect of Althouse’s Law is accelerated if the examples or trivial side bars include so called “hot button” references such as breasts, divas or tears.

Similar to Godwin’s Law, when a discussion is trapped by the effects of Althouse’s Law, all meaningful discourse related to the original argument is no longer possible. Left unchecked or unrecognized by those caught in the flow away from the original argument, the extreme and ultimate end of Althouse’s Law results in the unfortunate casting of the unwitting into Althouse’s Vortex1.

Althouse’s Law was named for University of Wisconsin Law Professor Ann Althouse, who’s personal blog was instrumental in elucidating much of the underlying effects described by Althouse’s Law.

_______________________________

1 Althouse’s Vortex is a theoretical blogosphere construct. There is much anecdotal evidence that Althouse’s Vortex exists, however no one has ever returned from having been caught in such a structure so very little is know about its nature. What is know is that those who claim to “get” Althouse generally end up in the Althouse Vortex. There seems to be a force at work in regards to the Althouse Vortex that is similar to determining whether or not one is a “hacker.” You’re not a hacker until someone else, preferably a recognized hacker, calls you a hacker. Likewise, you don’t “get” Althouse unless someone else, preferably someone on the “gets it” list, says you “get” Althouse. This quandary was at the heart of the debate on whether to call the effect defined in this post Althouse’s Law or Althouse’s Catch.

Evidence of having fallen into Althouse’s Vortex usually comes in the form of repeated ad hominem attacks against a particular author even though the attacker may, in fact, agree with the author.

[For the record, I don’t get Althouse. At all. – GPE]

2007.04.04

Evil Twin

😈

I have one. Do you?

I’ll just let mine introduce himself…

Wow. He has birth certificates and everything. What he doesn’t have is a sense of responsibility for paying his own damn bills.

More to the story of my Evil Twin can be found here. I have more than 20 years of history in dealing with this idiot from time to time, frequently in response to risks against my credit rating. I suppose at some point all this background, plus much more, will be posted on the blog. But for now, all I wanted to do was experiment with how to embed audio files into my blog.

2007.03.20

Unbearable Cuteness

God’s Holy Trousers! Not again!

Allahpundit at Hot Air reports: Lethally adorable baby polar bear marked for death

By, um, animal rights activists. The zookeepers are domesticating him, which means he might have trouble interacting with other polar bears later, which naturally means it’s better that he die.

I’m not unsympathetic to their position. Cuteness at moderate levels is productive and useful, but cuteness this highly enriched could cause mass shock, seizures, and uncontrollable cooing. If it were ever to fall into the wrong hands…

Let’s just pray that day never comes.

I lived through the massive cuteness release here in Denver when the twin polar bear cubs, Klondike and Snow, were unleashed upon the world. It’s been 12 years and the effects can still be seen and felt – people smiling with fond memories, brisk souvenir sales of bear cub stuffed toys, bumper stickers.

I toughed it out, like any resident to their hometown would. You hunker down and endure. But like so many others, I felt compelled, obligated even, to visit ground 0 X 2. So I did and was overwhelmed. I’m not ashamed to admit I smiled at their playfulness, their delightful curiosity, their innocence.

Alas, the animal rights activists have a solution different from that found for Klondike and Snow.

🙁

[Edit History]

2007.03.23

But wait! Knut lives! Reckless, it is, for those zookeepers to be handling such a critter without cute tongs and anti-cuddle suits. Mark my words, they’ll regret it.

2007.03.27

Run for the shelters, folks! Run! (H/T Allahpundit)

2007.02.19

Here Kitty, Kitty, Kitty…

Cheetahs Maul Woman to Death at Zoo in Belgium

Karen Aerts, 37, of Antwerp, was found dead in the cage, Olmense Zoo spokesman Jan Libot said. Police said they ruled out any foul play.

Authorities believe Aerts, a regular visitor to the zoo, hid in the park late Sunday until it closed and managed to find the keys to the cheetah cage.

“Karen loved animals. Unfortunately the cheetahs betrayed her trust,” Libot said.

One of the cats that killed Aerts was named Bongo, whom the woman had adopted under a special program. She paid for Bongo’s food, Libot said.

I’d say so. In this case, she paid with her life. Do you suppose that Darwin fellow was on to something? Or was it species profiling by the cheetahs?

Seriously, when people expect animals to behave as refined human beings and interact with them based on that fatally flawed assumption, there should be no surprise when the animal dispatches that belief to the bone yard. What was this woman thinking? That the cheetahs would recognize her and purr thankfully for hours, lulling her to sleep that night? Instead of recognizing her as the food lady, they recognized the lady as food.

(H/T: Tim Blair)

2007.01.25

Sponges Who Use Sponges

Bold prediction: There will soon be warning labels on sponges. Why? Just examine the evidence:

[A] study that found microwave ovens can be used to sterilize kitchen sponges sent people hurrying to test the idea this week — with sometimes disastrous results.

But several experimenters evidently left out the crucial step of wetting the sponge.

“Just wanted you to know that your article on microwaving sponges and scrubbers aroused my interest. However, when I put my sponge/scrubber into the microwave, it caught fire, smoked up the house, ruined my microwave, and pissed me off,” one correspondent wrote.

Maybe there should be a law that says you have to be smarter than a sponge to use a sponge.

(H/T Slashdot)

2007.01.21

Operating Room Tantrum

Ouch. But you’ll be delighted to know the surgeon “has already been punished enough after having his medical licence [sic] suspended.” Suspended, not revoked.

The medical costs will be paid by the hospital’s insurer, but doctors’ unions have criticised [sic] the decision that the money for the damages has to be paid by the doctor.

They say the move sets a dangerous precedent and that Professor Ciomu, a urologist and lecturer in anatomy, has already been punished enough after having his medical licence [sic] suspended.

A “dangerous precedent?” Dangerous? The Romanian doctors’ union needs a better understanding of what “dangerous” means. An unstable surgeon with a knife standing over an unconscious patient is dangerous.

Vice-president of the Romanian Doctors Union, Vasile Astarastoae, said: ‘Ciomu’s case is a dangerous precedent for all Romanian doctors. In future doctors may have to think very carefully about what work they undertake.’

Because obviously, the last thing you want is a doctor thinking carefully about the work they’re doing.

Obviously, if you are a Romanian doctor, that is. Consequences for destructive behavior commensurate with the damage done are a good thing. It’s the difference between dangerous and deterrence.

[The surgeon] told the court it was a temporary loss of judgement due to personal problems.

No kidding. I wonder if the physically damaged patient, in lieu of the monetary damages awarded by the court, would be allowed a moment alone with the good doctor for a “temporary loss of judgement due to personal problems” of his own. It is stunning to see other Romanian doctors circle the wagons around Naum “The Hacker” Ciomu, referring to his mutilating conniption as “a mistake.”

I have to say, though, the caption to the picture in the article is, shall we say, rather ill conceived.

[Edit History]

2007.01.21

Added thoughts related to the position taken by the Romanian doctors’ union.

2007.01.03

The Helping Hand

Normally, when eating an orange, I like to carefully peel the skin away and enjoy each perfectly portioned slice. Such was the goal when I sat down this evening to cruise a few favorite blogs and catch up on what’s been happening. What I happened to be reading as I started peeling the orange caused one of those nanosecond wince-flinches that resulted in the orange being torn near in half.

Orange

It brought forward some painful memories. I was reading one of Cathy Seipp’s posts in which she mentions a few of the ways people have endeavored to “help” her, but which have caused her to bite her tongue.

Since several years before Janet’s death, I’ve been taking notes on how a person might be helpful to someone fighting a life threating disease or injury. This will eventually be part of the book I’m writing to compliment Janet’s book. I do believe everyone means well, but for a variety of reasons, how they express their desire to help often ends up being…well, not very helpful. I made note of some to the goofy things people did in the name of “helping” as well as those things which others did that were exquisitely, even elegantly helpful. Inspired by Cathy’s post, I’d like to share a few of those notes here.

What you offer to do should save the person you are helping their most precious commodity: time. Time to spend how they see fit – alone, with family, friends – not necessarily you. If you are genuinely helpful, it will be appreciated if not always acknowledged, particularly if the one you are helping is in pain.

Think before you do. Is your help really helping? It may make you feel good to spontaneously empty the dishwasher. But when the person you were trying to help has to spend the equivalent amount of time looking for the potato peeler you stashed in a seemly logical place on the other side of the kitchen from where it normally lives, you have not helped. Worse, you have cost them valuable time and left them aggravated.

This leads to the notion of helping in a consistent manner. If the person takes the time to show you where things belong when unloading the dishwasher, then be the dishwasher helper person. Own that chore and do it consistently. The more you can be transparent in your help, the more helpful you actually are. Trust me, this will be noticed and greatly appreciated.

Do some of the unpleasant chores, like empty the trash or clean a bathroom. When ever Janet was feeling particularly bad, there was no want for people willing to rub her feet, massage her hands, read her stories and such – all things I wanted to do because they were enjoyable, things we did normally together and, most importantly, time spent with Janet. Not once did anyone ever pick up a clue and offer to pick up the dog shit in the backyard. No special skills needed for that one. There were a couple of offers to weed Janet’s rose garden. One actually followed through, the other bailed when Janet died before the promised weeding date. Er, that was helpful.

Cooking is a risky way to help someone who is ill. If you are unfamiliar with the ill person’s dietary needs, it’s almost guaranteed to be a miss. (H/T to friends Angie and Bruce who pulled this one off with perfection. But then again, they are each skilled in the ways of paying attention to the details.) If you must, bring canned or otherwise non-perishable food (i.e. it can be kept in a box in the basement for 5 years.) And make sure what you bring is high quality. It may be fancy for your tastes, but show you care enough to see they are eating good when they feel like eating. That 5 pound can of Ol’ Slim’s Genuine Campfire Stew from Costco says “doorstop” and not “I care.” Go ahead and visit that high floutin’ organic food store and buy some quality soups.

Offer to help only in ways you can complete. Leaving a chore half done is most often worse than having never started it. This also implies offering to help only with things for which you are qualified. If you think the Internet is made of tubes, keep your hands off anything electronic. If your experience with cooking doesn’t go much beyond vending machines and a can opener, stay out of the kitchen. And even if you are qualified to practice medicine, perform an aura balancing, read tea leaves, preach the gospel or exercise The Devil, keep your yap shut unless the person you wish to help specifically asks for your help in this regard. It’s near certain you will upset them on some level, even though they may be polite to your face.

If they do ask for help, be attentive to when they have had enough of what you are offering. Tune your senses to recognize when they are tired or increasingly uncomfortable. Then look for other ways to help that get you out of the way. Running errands is a good way to help. You are saving the person time and energy while staying out of their way.

That’s about it for now. Rule of Thumb: If how you are contemplating helping has you feeling a nagging sense of uncomfortable doubt, it’s best to reconsider and cast around for another, simpler way to help. “Thinking of you” cards with a personal note are a good thing.

So this post is for you, Cathy Siepp. Thinking of you and hope this helps.

2006.12.17

It’s All About You, But You Knew That, Didn’t You?

Time Magazine’s Person of the Year: You

So, since “You” are the Person of the Year that makes “Everyone” the Person of the Year which makes “No One” Person of the Year. So just chill and get back to work. You’re not so special after all. Now, “Me”, on the other hand…

UPDATE!

Once again, the crack Java Zen Table, Desk and Counter Intelligence Teams have intercepted crucial documents. This time, it’s the early candidates for Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year.” Here’s the finalist…

POTY Final

… and here are the candidate personal pronouns:

POTY Draft 2 POTY Draft 1
POTY Draft 3 POTY Draft 4

[Edit History]

2006.12.17

Tim Blair has sussed a slight conceptual problem with Time magazine’s selection for Person of the Year.

2006.12.05

A Little Racist Kit – Home Delivered For Your Convenience

This little kit actually arrived on my driveway sometime around June 2005. I had tossed it back in a corner where it stayed until I came across it a few weeks back while cleaning out that particular part of the house.

Package

Back in June, 2005, just weeks after my wife’s death, I didn’t pay much attention to it, being rather distracted as I was. At first, I picked it up and tossed it into the trash, thinking it was just a piece of marketing junk for lawn service or some such. That is until my neighbor across the street, a High School history teacher, asked what I thought of it. Turns out, everyone in the development had one of these little bombs delivered to their driveway. I pulled it out of the trash and read the enclosed flyer:

Flyer

Whoa, Nelly! The “Earth’s most endangered species: The White Race!” More genetic confusion. A race is not a species. This past week I did a little research into who the hell the “National Alliance” was and what their agenda might be. Well I’ll be… A tidy little racist organization they are. How thoughtful of them to include rocks for throwing in their little home delivered racist kit. “The National Alliance – Toward a New Consciousness; A New Order; A New People” From their web site:


General Principles

  • A Natural Order
  • The Law of Inequality
  • A Hierarchy of Responsibilities
  • Summary statement of belief

National Alliance Goals

  • White Living Space
  • An Aryan Society
  • A Responsible Government
  • A New Educational System
  • An Economic Policy Based on Racial Principles

The logic behind this organization’s goals is convoluted and tortured. There are some amazing leaps of faith dressed as some sort of science, but their mission is clear. It smacks of the same air of entitlement which I as readily reject when pushed by other races claiming victim status and seeking reparations.

Their effort backfired, at least among those on my street. There are several teachers within a few houses and these little bags-O-bile found their way into classrooms as examples of racist thinking.

2006.10.07

Foley’s Follies

In building my Bloggers League baseball team, I want Ann Althouse on the roster for a power hitter position in the rotation. She hits another one out of the park:

Like many from my generation, I am very strongly dedicated to the ethic of individual expression. That does not, however, in any way make it hard for me to acknowledge the absolute rule against adults doing anything sexual with children. I think you can flatly reject what Foley did and still believe in the value of individuals finding their own way around conventional morality and making their own rules about what is good. Obviously, social conservatives are the big champions of the moral order, but that doesn’t mean that to oppose what Foley did requires you to become an all-out social conservative. A responsible, freely expressive individual recognizes the need for some rules. (Emphasis added)

While individuals go about the process of “finding their own way around conventional morality and making their own rules,” in my observation, quite a few seem to drop the bit about being responsible for the consequences of their decisions and actions on other people. I’m sure it’s a complex problem, but it appears as if in the process of expanding the expression of their individuality they come to believe that the only way to “really” manifest their complete individuality is to drop the idea of limits entirely. Rules set limits. By extension, so does the concept of responsibility. Rules and responsibility become bad things on the path toward absolute individualism.

Abandoning limits on individual expression, and therefore abandoning responsibility for however that expression may manifest, imposes greater limits on those around such a person. Someone expressing themselves with an extended vocal outburst of profanity in a public coffee house will cause those within earshot to place additional limits on their own expression by reducing the number of coffee houses to which they may frequent by one (assuming the don’t want to hear extemporaneous profanity à fortissimo, of course.) This is but a trivial example.

On a larger stage, the effects are more pervasive and less easily remedied. The effects from the Law of Unintended Consequences begin to manifest as the spin goes out of control. This is what I see happening with the events surrounding the Foley scandal. Things get recursive and bizarre (Gays asserting “traditional values” to out other gays for the purposes of advancing a liberal party agenda? What’s up with that?) The hyperbole is enough to make one dizzy. People who’s experience with taking responsibility for their own actions is, shall we say, a bit rusty, are all gung ho to dust off what ever “moral code” seems to serve their agenda and apply it to the object of their moral outrage.

There are many other current events which illustrate this principle. Declaring “freedom” from the shackles of responsibility reveals all manner of contradictory outrage in individuals as well as larger collections of individuals. Their actions become decreasingly rational and increasingly emotional. In classic ends-justify-the-means style, behaving from such a frame leads to actions devoid of any need for explanation or justification and the consequence to others is of no concern. So, for example, we see soldiers hiding behind women and children in Lebanon (applying the apposing side’s moral code of not killing women and children) for the benefit of fulfilling their own individual expression (saving their own ass) with zero regard for the consequences (women and children caught in the crossfire.)

[Edit History]

2006.10.07

A manager’s dilemma. My Bloggers League baseball team isn’t even a post old and I can’t decide if Althouse should go in the rotation as a power or clean-up hitter. I see she has a post today that beautifully illustrates my point about adherents to the Church of Individualism loosing track of the consequences of their actions.

Her post addresses recent developments around an incident involving protesters at Columbia University who stormed a stage where Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minuteman Project, was giving a presentation (video here). It seems Columbia’s investigation involves looking at various Facebook profiles.

As of late Thursday night, 13 Columbia students and alumni had joined a Facebook group titled, “YES, I was there when Gilchrist was rushed faster than CUFT’s Quarterback.”

“I don’t [agree with the decision], but there’s nothing we can do about it,” Patric Prado, SEAS ’09 and creator of the group, said. “I was there, and it’s fine that they want to incriminate people who actually started violence. … Yes, we were stupid, but we got our message across that we weren’t going to accept this on campus.”

Universities, employers, and law enforcement agencies have widely contended that materials posted on Facebook-including posts, photos, and personal information-are admissible in investigations. Hornsby emphasized that screening Facebook was just one of several methods that the University would employ to conduct its investigation.

Student leaders expressed concerns Thursday night about the tactic.

“I was worried that that was going to happen,” Marcus Johnson, CC ’07 and co-chair of the University Senate’s student affairs committee, said. He later added in a statement, “As a University Senator and chair of the student affairs committee, I will do my best to make sure that all students are as safe as possible. On another note, everybody should quit Facebook right now.”

“On some level, I have to agree with the University,” Daniel Okin, SEAS ’07 and president of the Engineering Student Council, said. “That being said, it worries me that they would use the Facebook for that.”

The protesters did themselves in by not thinking about what might follow from their blunt protest (University launches investigation) and the subsequent posting of their involvement on a public web site (University collects evidence). But, Ann pushes the run home:

To use the material in an investigation is not to presume it is conclusive proof of something. What makes people think that if they do something in a place that makes them feel confessional it somehow doesn’t count? The students storming the stage also seemed to feel entitled to act out. That doesn’t make them not responsible for what they did. They can’t say oh, we were surrounded by friends who all thought this was just fine and we felt in charge of our own space. Really, these are intelligent college students. Why do they feel a special immunity from being observed in a public place?

Read the whole thing. She illustrates how the selective application of rules and responsibility exposes various agendas among the players involved.

2006.10.08

One example of the hyperbole around the Foley scandal. Gateway Pundit has a post related to the scandal in which he states:

Representative Jack Kingston and 10 fellow Republicans sent a letter to the Democratic leadership asking them to go before the Ethics Committee and disclose what they knew about Foley’s activities for the safty (sic) of America’s children.

I took issue with this in the comments to Gateway Pundit’s post, specifically, the “for the safety of America’s children” phrase:

I don’t think what Foley did, in context, was a threat to America’s children. Rather, a threat to a specific (yes, vulnerable) group.

To my knowledge, Foley didn’t have access to the entire nation’s children and the entire nation’s children were not somehow at greater risk from Foley’s behavior. Acceptance into the White House page program is a highly competitive process, not just any child/young adult can participate. As a result, it’s a select group of bright kids. What ever the result of the Ethics Committee’s inquiry, it would likely have little or no bearing on the safety of America’s children. It could, however, have a significant impact on how the White House page program is monitored and therefore the safety of the children/young adults in the program.

The more rigorously problems are defined, the higher the quality and durability of the solution. And in cases like Gateway Pundit’s post, the scope is too broadly defined to yield a meaningful solution to the actual problem at hand (i.e. the relationship between elected officials and their pages.)

This is but one example of what happens as scandals are sensationalized. There has been so much of this in the Foley scandal that the whole thing has spun off its axis. In this state, no one will be happy with the outcome as any proposed solution will not sufficiently cover each position’s definition of the problem space.

2006.09.21

The Tin Foil Brain

This from Swiss researchers, so you know it’s accurate:

Stimulating a certain area of the brain can produce a creepy feeling that someone is watching you when no one is, scientists said Wednesday.

Swiss researchers made the discovery while evaluating a young woman for surgery to treat epilepsy. They believe their finding could help explain feelings such as paranoia which afflict patients suffering from schizophrenia.

When they electrically stimulated the left temporoparietal junction in her brain, which is linked to self-other distinction and self-processing, she thought someone was standing behind her.

If they repeated the stimulus while she leaned forward and grabbed her knees she had an unpleasant sensation that the shadowy figure was embracing her.

“Our findings may be a step toward understanding the mechanisms behind psychiatric manifestations such as paranoia, persecution and alien control,” said Olaf Blanke, of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, in the journal Nature.

The left side of the brain. Hmmmmmmmm. We can only hope that someday appropriate medication will help.

[Edit History]

2006.09.23

Added link to original article.

2006.09.02

Steal This Lunch

Go ahead. I dare you. From the New York Times:

For those with autonomy in their jobs – generally, well-paid professionals – breast-feeding, and the pumping it requires, is a matter of choice. It is usually an inconvenience, and it may be an embarrassing comedy of manners, involving leaky bottles tucked into briefcases and brown paper bags in the office refrigerator.

I think what creeps people out, and by people I mean “guys”, about this is that it’s stuff which was once inside someone’s body and now is on the outside. Most generally, when this happens, it’s not a good thing, ranging on a scale from unpleasant (“Earl, there’s something on your nose.”) to disgusting (“Earl, that looks infected.”) to flat out horrifying (“Somebody get a tourniquet around Earl’s torso fast!”).

To most, there’s nothing cute about a baby burp, especially as the count rises over time. Although Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes might go gaga over baby’s goo goo given their propensity for collecting trophy excretions. What’s worse, from a guys perspective, is the stuff is being saved. And for non-clinical reasons at that. Imagine a bag labeled “Earl’s sputum. DO NOT TAKE!” or “Earl’s sperm. DO NOT TAKE!” parked in the office refrigerator right next to your egg salad sandwich.

That’s how guys think about it. Of course, babies think otherwise. They have yet to be bent by our convoluted, contradictory and puritanical social conventions. They have yet to be pressured by peers and crushed by the protuberant herd in their journey from self expression to self repression.

Personally, this doesn’t bug me. My perspective is rather pragmatic on these things, the result of having grown up with five sisters, three of whom followed my mother into nursing careers, and supporting my late wife, Janet, through 10 years of battling breast cancer. These experiences left scant room for mystery in regard to what women have to deal with while growing up and trying to forge a career.

Pump away girls, it bugs me not.

A discussion thread is happening about this article over on Althouse (H/T, by the way).

[Edit History]

2006.09.03

Fixed klutzy sentence.

2006.09.23

Edited for clarity.

2006.10.02

Updated dead link to Tom and Katie’s trophy.

2006.07.27

Everyone Has A Story…

…if you are patient and let it emerge. Sometimes you do have to sleuth it out, chase it down or darn near drag it out of people with them kicking and screaming. Follow along and I’ll show you what I mean. Before reading any further, watch this video, making note of your reactions to the two players involved: The Bus Uncle.

Were you angry at the Bus Uncle? Sympathetic toward him or the young man? How would your have reacted to the Bus Uncle? What would you have done if you were the young man? And what if you were one of the spectators, perhaps even the person who caught this on video?

Well, there is more to the story of the Bus Uncle. Click here and get yourself some learnin’.

Now that you know a bit more about the cast of characters, how has your response changed to the event depicted in the video?

I’ve nudged people, just as the young man in the video, prompting them to speak lower while on their cell phone. But at 6’5″, 230 lbs and all the confidence of an Aikido black belt behind my nudge and polite request, the risk of anyone bus uncling me is no doubt quite low. In other words, the threshold for provoking a negative reaction against me is rather high. For the young man in the video, that threshold was no doubt much lower. If anyone ever were to cross my threshold, I would have responded in a manner similar to the young man – its that Aikido stuff again – assume a defensive posture and make efforts to deescalate the situation. Only if physically attacked would I have responded aggressively, decisively, and only with enough force as was necessary to stop the attack.

So my response would have mirrored that of the young man’s, although undoubtedly with a different strategy and set of motivations in play. What the heck, we’re all on this train for the duration of the trip and as long as the Bus Uncle isn’t hurting anyone, including himself, its all a bit of goofy entertainment. I’m cool with that.

About half way into watching the Bus Uncle video, I remembered a story, probably because it took place on a train as well, told by Terry Dobson which I read many years ago and hadn’t thought of for about as long. Terry was an Aikido student in Tokyo when a drunk laborer stumbled onto a train he was riding.

He was a big man, a drunk and exceedingly dirty Japanese laborer. His clothes were stiff with dried vomit, his hair matted and crusted with filth. His eyes were a bloodshot, neon red, and his face was apoplectic with hatred and rage. Screaming unintelligibly, he swung at the first person he saw – a woman holding a baby.

From there, things got worse. A young, healthy, sober and highly trained Aikido student, this was just the sort of situation Terry was hoping for to test his skills. As the two squared off for battle, they were interrupted at the last second by a small, elderly man immaculately dressed in a kimono and hakama. “What you been drinkin’?”, asked the old man and from there he proceeded to deftly diffuse the conflict. Eventually, the old man made reference to the laborer’s “wonderful wife.”

“No,” replied the laborer, shaking his head sadly. “I don’t got no wife.” He hung his head, and swaying silently with the motion of the train. And then, with surprising gentleness, the big man began to sob. “I don’t got no wife,” he moaned rhythmically, “I don’t got no home, I don’t got no clothes, I don’t got no tools, I don’t got no money, and now I don’t got no place to sleep. I’m so ashamed of myself.”

Terry’s response was profound:

And all of a sudden I felt ashamed. I felt more dirty in my clean clothes and my make-this-world-safe-for-democracy righteousness than that laborer would ever be.

I saw that what I had been prepared to accomplish with bone and muscle had been accomplished with a simile and a few kind words. I recognized that I had seen Aikido used in action, and that the essence of it was reconciliation, as the Founder had said. I felt dumb and brutal and gross. I knew I would have to practice with an entirely different spirit.

As with Terry Dobson’s story, the Bus Uncle is a good lesson in the importance of context when you seek to understand a situation. It is critical if you wish to find a solution to a problem. The bigger the problem, the more important it is to understand the problem context. If you are trying to hammer a nail into a piece of wood, just the facts will suit you fine. If you are being physically attacked or otherwise in imminent threat of serious bodily harm or death, you have all the context you need to make any life saving decisions. If, however, you are trying to do something like build peace in the Middle East, you’ll need the context if you want to avoid building a house of cards.

The problem content, contrary to what most people generally think, is not the only important element or even the most important element. You could be seeking a solution to a life threatening illness, a relationship issue, problems at work, international conflict, or an angry commuter on a train. Content can be important, but its rarely the only important thing. Approaches to problem solving, based on technologies like neuro-linguistic programing, where content is intentionally removed from the process offer excellent illustrations to just how much easier a solution can be found when the distractions of content are removed.

Fixating on content can leave one in a panic or paralyzed from acting. If the issue is health, for example, you want to make sure the medications involved are not in conflict with each other. That sort of content is important, even critical. The potential for things to go awry increases when content is given the priority to the exclusion of all else, especially the context. That can lead to the common result where the solution becomes part of the problem.

Another excellent video that deals with context: Koyaanisqatsi – At the beginning of the movie, you do not know what you are seeing. Gradually, the viewer is given a little more information, a little more context. It is only when you have enough context that you understand what you are watching. How soon the viewer is able to understand what they are looking at is dependent on their personal experience and knowledge of the subject and ability to extrapolate what they see and match it to what they know. This is a theme throughout the movie as the viewer is challenged to consider the bigger picture.

You know nothing, if you do not know the context.

2006.07.08

Life on Fellini Street

Odd week, this. More so than most. Turning 45 without the one I had hoped to grow old with probably set the tone and the rest just flowed from there.

We’ve had a solid week of rain here in the land of perpetual drought. I had planned to replace one of the sprinkler zones during the holiday but that just turned into a muddy mess.

The person responsible for keeping me employed declared I was introverted. The surreal song-and-dance that followed as he strained to make this sound like an asset and a compliment is just too…beige…to describe.

Thursday I came home to discover someone had seen fit to walk up onto my porch and steal the 6 or so small American flags I had stuck into a flower pot. I found one in the street out in front of the house and retrieved it. This one will be hung on the inside of my glass door next to the Urban Scare Crow. I decided this act had some intent behind it which I didn’t like. Was it a political act? Was someone casing the house? Was it a solicitor miffed at the Urban Scare Crow? Is this making me needlessly paranoid (as opposed to necessarily paranoid, I suppose)? I filed a police report for the theft in case I need to establish a pattern or if others in the neighborhood had their flags stolen.

Minutes after the all-business police officer left along with his rather cute ride-along, Bethany I think her name was, all bloody hell broke lose. Six or seven police cars converged on the house two doors down along with an ambulance. The street was blocked and crime scene tape went up. The couple in the house had been in the midst of one of their numerous arguments and the dude went into his backyard and shot himself dead. We know this because the coroner showed up, too. As this was playing out, I looked to the neighbor directly behind me who is busily mowing his lawn. A little leaguer could have thrown a stone from where the lawn mowing neighbor was and hit the dead neighbor. Smelly gasoline powered machine being pushed across a lawn. Dead guy on a lawn. Only one conclusion can be made from this at the end of a week like this: Lawns are bad things. But of course, I already knew this.

I fully expect Rod Serling to ring my door selling cookies, magazines and V8 engine blocks. If he does, would you like me to put in an order for you?

2006.06.17

Modern Day Marshalsea

While on a recent trip I found myself short of cash. “Not to worry,” me thinks. “A convenient cash advance from my credit card and all will be set right.” And so it was, until I got my credit card bill. I hadn’t done any kind of cash advance for years, as in 15 years. Having learned early about the black pit that is “Credit Card Debt,” I vowed to myself as a young lad never to fall into that dark, unholy place again. Since that day, I’ve paid my credit card balance in full each month.

But there are new rules (new to me, anyway) about cash advances. Not only do you pay a “fee” for the cash advance transaction, $20 in my case, but the damn thing is subject to immediate and Draconian finance charges. Check out the APR put in place by a simple cash advance:

Ouch

It would seem with the recent changes in bankruptcy laws (aggressively lobbied for by the banking and credit card industry) and the ability to jack interest rates to such obscene levels, the credit card industry has successfully pilfered the signage above the very gates of Hell: “All hope abandon, ye who enter here!” All the more reason to be mindful of the benefits of hard work and grateful I can pay my balance in full each month.


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