Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What I really wanted to post

My friend e-mailed me this blog post, which links to this blog.

Which has this rather jaw-dropping link:

Both articles makes the point that folks on the Obama left act in the same way as those who support Palin now and supported Bush then...

And Tabbai makes this interesting point:

"First of all, we should get one thing out of the way — it’s not any citizen’s job to give a politician credit for his political calculations. In fact, that should rightly be part of the calculus of any political calculation; a politician should have to weigh the benefits of making, say, an unsavory insider alliance against the negative of public criticism for that move. If a leader doesn’t have to earn the admiration you give him, then a) that admiration doesn’t mean anything, and b) he will surely spend all his political capital on the people who do make him earn it."

Just wanted to know what you think.

Monday, December 14, 2009

No blogposts???

Really, facebook has been consuuumming my shrinking internet time (trying to place some limits so that one day I don't look at my life and think, wow my life's biggest accomplishments was composing political commentary on-line)...

But I have been putting some links fairly frequently on facebook. My way of sharing articles that ring true to me. And a nice way to engage with people I knew at some point in my life (and some I didn't). It is really a fascinating forum.

By the way, what's weird is that this blog gets posted as status in facebook - so for those of you who are reading this from facebook, sorry this is coming across strange...

For those of you who are not and would like to get my facebook updates - then become my friend on facebook.

I am keeping this blog - but mainly for longer essays - although my time for those is dwindling...

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Christmas Stimulus

George Will has a provocative column up right now making the point that Christmas actually hurts our economy, and I love these kinds of provocative points, but I'm not sure I agree with everything he's saying here.

Here are the main points:

We are actually usually pretty bad at giving gifts people actually want:
"Gifts that people buy for other people are usually poorly matched to the recipients' preferences. What the recipients would willingly pay for the gifts is usually less than the givers paid. The measure of the inefficiency of allocating value by gift-giving is the difference between the yield of satisfaction per dollar spent on gifts and the yield per dollar spent on the recipients' own purchases."

Stimulus spending is actually counter-productive
"At least the Christmas stimulus strengthens the economy, right? Wrong, says Waldfogel. If all spending justified itself, we would pay people to dig holes and then refill them -- or build bridges to unpopulated Alaskan islands. Spending is good if the purchaser, or the recipient of a gift, values the commodity more than he does the money it costs. Otherwise, there is a subtraction from society's store of value."

The second point could actually be made to counter the arguments for a government stimulus as a way to combat unemployment.

The article makes some useful suggestions - give gift cards instead of gifts. And gift cards to charities for the affluent who already have everything they need.

I just want to make some counterpoints:
  1. The best gifts are gifts I have received and loved but would never have gotten for myself. My sister gave me the generous gift of a New Yorker subscription - which I loved and have continued today. Or last year my sister-in-law took all of my wife's weekly updates she sends out to friends and family (with a brief summary of our week with pictures) and created a beautiful bound book for us. In other words, sometimes others can spend money on us much more efficiently than we can spend on ourselves. Admittedly, this requires pretty deep understanding of the recipient and usually the giver has to have some skill to do so.

  2. Sometimes the recipient just has no money for many needs let a lone wants, so its all of the sudden pretty easy to give that person something they really, really want because they need and want a lot. I think children qualify pretty well on that count. So, you can use Christmas as a way to introduce a little magic in their lives and a way to satisfy the parental desire to indulge them while blaming the indulgence on Santa Claus.

  3. Christmas as stimulus is a stimulus if you have 10% unemployment, people aren't working because nobody wants want they're selling. If we use the holidays as an opportunity to spend a little more than we otherwise would have, getting a bit more money into circulation, then it should help as a stimulus. And the pay someone to dig a hole argument doesn't make complete sense because it is better to pay someone to do something 100% useless if the alternative is that they stay at home feeling 100% useless, unneeded and unwanted. At least they are working. But obviously, the better we are at spending stimulus toward things people want and need the richer we become. For example, last year I gave my parents tickets to community theater - they loved it, it helped keep the local actors working and my parents just don't do this kind of stuff on their own - stimulus, stimulus, stimulus.

  4. Christmas as a way to build and strengthen relationships. If you give something personal to someone, even if they didn't exactly want it, I think "it's the thought that counts" really counts, especially if the gift is really thoughtful. Homemade gifts apply here quite well.

But I think the article makes some good points. Gifts to charity for people who really have the means to buy what the want (especially if you don't have any special insights that would give you the ability to give them something they just wouldn't have thought to buy for themselves) is a really, really good idea.

Or you know, I'm 38, I'm really past the point where all I want for Christmas is a lot of good times with my friends and family. (I remember getting really annoyed when my parents would say something along those lines... :-))...

And you know, I can go ahead and buy the new Motorola Droid phone for myself for Christmas.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Some idle thoughts on global warming

This is an odd time to be talking about global warming admittedly. National and global politics is primarily focused right now on the economy, our middle east wars, and the health care debate. But there is a cap and trade bill out there and it will eventually (sometime in 2010?) be considered. But mostly, I've had this interesting debate with some facebook friends who seem to be pretty steady in the camp of global warming deniers.

Really, Megan McArdle sums up pretty nicely my feelings of how most people see this issue in this blog post with this comment:

"Also in the WTF category, Pew says there was a fourteen point drop in the number of Americans who believe there is solid evidence that anthropogenic global warming is real. I mean, maybe 45 million Americans spent the last year reviewing the scientific evidence on Global Warming and changed their minds. Certainly, a lot of laid-off workers have some time on their hands. But this doesn't really seem a spectacularly likely explanation of the phenomenon.

I can only come up with two explanations for this phenomenon: one, that many Americans are happy to embrace a symbolic belief in global warming as long as there is no danger that anyone will do anything about it. The other is that Americans don't know what they want, and also, enjoy messing with pollster's minds."

Global warming is an incredibly complicated issue that aligns quite nicely within the natural boundaries of the cultural war this country has been fighting since the 1960's. The liberals are always looking for new ways to put the reigns on the excesses of the free market. And environmentalists have a deeply embedded agenda and, as such, have a deep interest in preserving the environment even when it takes some pretty significant market sacrifices to do it.

Of course the conservative agenda is quite opposed to both points of view, believing in the free market likes it is some kind of religion; that all of our problems can be attributed government regulation. Obviously, I'm simplifying the positions of both sides, and I know that folks in both camps have authentic and sophisticated points of view. But just go with me right now for the sake of discussion.

The science behind global warming is complicated. This article gives a very high level history of some of it and makes an interesting proposal on how to deal with its consequences. Obviously, written in 2000, its incredibly dated, but the points it makes are still valid today, I think.

I am not a climatologist (obviously) and I have only a very superficial view of the science of global warming. But I have read fairly extensively over the years on the subject, and my impressions are that the scientific evidence that CO2 emissions have caused and will continue to cause a warming of the earth's temperature is pretty overwhelming. I do get the impression that there are some significant and serious scientists dissenters to this point of view, but I don't have a good understanding of their exact position on the subject.

I also feel that though the earth seems to be warming because of human activity, the solutions on how to address this are politically difficult and mostly not feasible, at least right now in our current political climate.

The problem is that global warming is so subtle. Global temperatures vary from year to year and from region to region pretty randomly and for a large number of reasons. The slow upward trajectory the earth is currently on is completely unnoticeable so it has no impact on the average person's day to day life. You can say that the severe weather we are seeing is a result of warming, but this is difficult to prove. We have always had hurricanes on this good earth of ours, it's impossible to say that Hurricane Katrina, say, would not have happened if not for the Industrial Revolution.

Which leads to another point, cheap oil is at the foundation of our economy. Any attempts to make it more expensive will definitely be noticed and will have a deep global economic impact. Also, to really be serious about reducing carbon emissions, it requires global cooperation that is virtually impossible to get. Basically you are telling emerging economies to stop growing so fast. Because as these countries begin to prosper, there per capita carbon footprint will grow as well, more than negating any marginal efforts we make through cap and trade.

But still I'm in favor of cap and trade. Because I believe the answer to the global warming problem is innovation in both alternative energy sources and in energy conservation. I believe this innovation is well within our reach and adding a small amount of tax on carbon will help make those energy sources more competitive, spurring greater levels of venture capital money in that direction.

But why the fervor among the global warming deniers? I do believe those who are pushing for significant political solutions to solve the global warming problem are inclined to over-reach. I believe that they have been guilty of manipulating the data to make their case more appealing. I think this instance of over-reach have fueled the denier's conspiracy theory that the whole thing is a hoax designed to take away freedoms and to grow the government. This point of view, by the way, has some truth to it.

But as a caveat to this entire discussion, I am far from an expert on this issue, and am open to moving my opinions in any direction as I receive more information. I think this issue is both important enough and complex enough to warrant a bunch more humility from both sides.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I don't understand this war on the moderates

I've been hearing somewhat anecdotally how there's this movement to try to oust RINO's from the party. What's a RINO you ask, well the acronym should give it a way: (Republican in Name Only). How does one earn this label I still want to know because I'm not entirely sure I get it. But if I had to wager a guess, its tagged on anyone who dares vote against the party line, e.g. a moderate.

And the Democrats are not completely guilty either, although not nearly so as the Republicans right now. But I've heard that MoveOn wants to give a big financial push in supporting primary opposition candidates who are running against any "moderate" Democrat who dares vote against the health care bill.

Can someone please help me understand this? It makes no political sense to me. There's a reason we have moderates in Congress - because they represent moderate districts. If your party successfully ousts a moderate in the primaries with someone more ideologically "pure" - whatever that means, you are practically ensuring that you'll lose that district in the general election.

Run an extreme liberal against a moderate Republican in such a district, expect to see a Republican taking that seat for the next 2 years. And this runs even stronger if the economy remains in the doldrums in the 2010 election cycle - which it most assuredly will. Incumbents will naturally be in trouble in such conditions (fairly or not). So I suppose if you're running a more extreme candidate against a moderate incumbent, you have some chances of winning that seat. And I guess that's what the current Republican strategy is banking on. But its almost certainly not a sustainable strategy.

Get a voting record behind that less moderate candidate, and that protest vote that got her elected will turn against her just as fast.

What the Republicans are missing in spades is a viable message that resonates broadly as a viable alternative solution to what the Democrats are offering. They have become the protest party, the party of no. And until they figure this out, even if they succeed in picking up some seats in 2010 (with a big assist from a miserable economy) I have no idea how this is a long-term winning strategy.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Flow and Politics

Loved this section:

The Wider Community

A person is part of a family or a friendship to the extent he invests psychic energy in goals shared with other people. In the same way, one can belong to larger interpersonal systems by subscribing to the aspirations of a community, an ethnic group, a political party, or a nation. Some individuals, like the Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Theresa, invest all their psychic energy in what they construe to be the goals of humanity as a whole.

In the ancient Greek usage, "politics" referred to whatever involved people in affairs that went beyond personal and family welfare. In this broad sense, politics can be one of the most enjoyable and most complex activities available to the individual, for the larger the social arena one moves in, the greater the challenges it presents. A person can deal with very intricate problems in solitude, and family and friends can take up a lot of attention. But trying to optimize the goals of unrelated individuals involves complexities an order of magnitude higher.

Unfortunately, many people who move in the pubic arena do not act at very high levels of complexity. Politicians tend to seek power, philanthropists fame, and would-be saints often seek to prove how righteous they are. These goals are not so hard to achieve, provided one invests enough energy in them. The greater challenge is not only to benefit oneself, but to help others in the process. It is more difficult, but much more fulfilling, for the politician to actually improve social conditions, for the philanthropist to help out the destitute, and for the saint to provide a viable model of life to others.

If we consider only material consequences, we might regard selfish politicians as canny because they try to achieve wealth and power for themselves. But if we accept the fact that optimal experience is what gives real value to life, then we must conclude that politicians who strive to realize the common good are actually smarter, because they are taking on the higher challenges, and thus have a better chance to experience real enjoyment.

Any involvement in the public realm can be enjoyable, provided one structures it according to the flow parameters. It does not matter whether one starts to work with the Cub Scouts or with a group exploring the Great Books, or trying to preserve a clean environment, or supporting the local union. What counts is to set a goal, to concentrate one's psychic energy, to pay attention to feedback, and to make certain that the challenge is appropriate to one's skill. Sooner or later the interaction will begin to hum, and the flow experience follows.

Of courses, given the fact that psychic energy is in limited supply, one cannot expect that everyone will be able to become involved in public goals. Some people have to devote all their attention just to survive in a hostile environment. Others get so involved with a certain set of challenges - with art, for instance, or mathematics - that they can't bear to shift any attention away from it. But life would be harsh indeed if some people did not enjoy investing psychic energy in common concerns, thereby creating synergy in social systems.

The concept of flow is useful not only in helping individuals improve the quality of their lives, but also in pointing out how public action should be directed. Perhaps the most powerful effect flow theory could have in the pubic sector is in providing a blueprint for how institutions could be reformed so as to make them more conducive to optimal experience. In the past few centuries economic rationality has been so successful that we have come to take for granted that the "bottom line" of any human effort is to be measured in dollars and cents. But an exclusively economic approach to life is profoundly irrational; the true bottom line consists in the quality and complexity of experience.

A community should be judged good no because it is technologically advanced, or swimming in material riches; it is good if it offers people a chance to enjoy as many aspects of their lives as possible, while allowing them to develop their potential in the pursuit of ever greater challenges. Similarly the value of a school does not depend on its prestige, or its ability to train students to face up to the necessities of life, but rather on the degree of the enjoyment of lifelong learning it can transmit. A good factory is not necessarily the one that makes the most money, but the one that is the most responsible for improving the quality of life for its workers and its customers. And the true function of politics is not to make people more affluent, safe, or powerful, but to let as many as possible enjoy an increasingly complex existence.

But no social change can come about until the consciousness of individuals is changed first. When a young man asked Carlyle how he should go about changing the world, Carlyle answered, "Reform yourself. That way there will be one less rascal in the world." The advice is still valid. Those who try to make life better for everyone without having learned to control their own lives first usually end up making things worse all around.

That last paragraph explains exactly why I was so hard on Bill Clinton during the 1990's... He just didn't seem right to me, and I guess the Monica Lewinsky scandal confirmed that for me. In retrospect, he governed better than I gave him credit, and I'm sure the Republican party at the time was on a witch hunt. But despite some of his successes (he reduced the deficits drastically and presided over a pretty prosperous time, and some of that was because of his policies - although most of that came because of the internet revolution), but I think also he governed selfishly, looking mostly toward his own legacy, concerned more over how he was seen by others.

The Bush Jr. presidency was different I think. More or less, I think Bush was probably a pretty good, sincere person, but prior to the presidency, I'm not sure how much he really had to push himself toward difficult goals. Sure he was governor of Texas, owner of the Rangers, etc. But most everything he got was received with a pretty serious assist from his name and his family connections. And his resume was bereft of any really serious accomplishments, and plenty of failures litter his stat sheet. I think his brother Jeb may have been a better candidate and probably would have been a better president.

As a result, much of the first six years of his presidency was presided over more by Cheney than him, especially foreign policy. And his administration was very slow to react, to recognize the failures of their actions and to adapt. Most notably, the Iraq war deteriorated for 6 years without any adjustments, until Rumsfeld was tossed aside and the reigns were handed over to Patreus. And although Paulson and Bernanke responded violently quick when it became obvious the economy was teetering, we got to that point, under the neglectful care of Bush and his administration.

With Obama, I remain hopeful, but his presidency is still young. Unlike Bush, Obama has worked his way up from a much lower rung of the ladder. And he has seen some significant life accomplishments, especially academically and politically. His main successes were in the classroom - both as a student and as a professor (he was a constitutional law professor at the University of Chicago for 8 years) and as a campaigner: he knew how to work the political machine to get ahead. And his campaign for president was masterful and disciplined. You could say this was not sufficient enough to qualify him for the presidency, and I would agree. But in my view, he was significantly more qualified than Bush was before him. And more suited for the office than Clinton, so has the chance to exceed both of his predecessors.

But he also faces much more complicated challenges: two wars, a tinderbox in the Middle East, a global recession with unprecedentedly high unemployment, a health care system that is on a trajectory to bankrupt our country, serious global warming concerns, and a toxic and politically poisoned political environment.

I think his first year has been good but not great. He has not lived up to impossibly high expectations many had of him. Given his experience and the circumstances he faces, I think it was unrealistic to have expected him to live up to some of our past great presidents - at least right away.

I'm still not sure if his pursuit of the presidency was a pursuit of political power or a pursuit to take on the challenge to improve our country. I expect its a combination, but we'll know more as we see things progress.

But even if he is doing everything he's doing for the most sincere reasons, I'm not sure whether his administration is even capable to meet the incredibly complex challenges he is being asked to face.

In fact, on his own, its impossible. He needs the cooperation of both political parties and the minority party serves an important purpose in this regard. All successful presidents have to work with the opposition party at least to some degree and the Republican party can if they desire do nothing more than to try to sabatoge President Obama at every turn.

Or they can try to work with him to come up with viable solutions in the spirit of compromise.

I hope we see the latter. I'm afraid we're getting too much of the former.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Flow - Families, Teenagers

This is from the section on families, I pulled out the section starting on teenagers with some nice summary comments on the family as a whole. Really powerful stuff in here:

Teenagers are physiologically mature beings, rife for sexual reproduction; in most societies (and in ours too, a century or so ago) they are considered ready for adult responsibilities and appropriate recognition. Because our present social arrangements, however, do not provide adequate challenges for the skills teenagers have, they must discover opportunities for action outside those sanctioned by adults. The only outlets they find, all too often, are vandalism, delinquency, drugs, and recreational sex. Under existing conditions, it is very difficult for parents to compensate for the poverty of opportunities in the culture at large. In this respect, families living in the richest suburbs are barely better off than families living in slums. What can a strong, vital, intelligent fifteen-year-old do in your typical suburb? If you consider that question you will probably conclude that what is available is too artificial, or too simple, or not exciting enough to catch a teenager's imagination. It is not surprising that athletics are so important in suburban schools; compared to the alternatives, they provide some of the most concrete chances to exercise and display one's skills.

But there are some steps that families can take to partially alleviate this wasteland of opportunities. In older times, young men left home for a while as apprentices and traveled to distant towns to be exposed to new challenges. Today something similar exists in America for late teens: the custom of leaving home for college. The problem remains with the period of puberty, roughly the five years between twelve and seventeen: What meaningful challenges can be found for young people that age? The situation is much easier when the parents themselves enjoy playing music, cooking, reading, gardening, carpentry, or fixing engines in the garage, then it is more likely that their children will find similar activities challenging, and invest enough attention in them to begin enjoy doing something that will help them grow. If parents just talked more about their ideals and dreams - even if these had been frustrated - the children might develop the ambition needed to break through the complacency of their present selves. If nothing else, discussing one's job or the thoughts and events of the day, and treating children as young adults, as friends, help to socialize them into thoughtful adults. But if the father spends all his free time at home vegetating in front of the TV set with a glass of alcohol in his hand, children will naturally assume that adults are boring people who don't know how to have fun, and will turn to the peer group for enjoyment.

In poorer communities youth gangs provide plenty of real challenges for boys. Fights, acts of bravado, and ritual displays such as motorcycle gangs parades match the youths' skills with concrete opportunities. In affluent suburbs not even this arena for action is available to teenagers. Most activities, including school, recreation, and employment, are under adult control and leave little room for the youths' initiative. Lacking any meaningful outlet for their skills and creativity, they may turn to redundant partying, joyriding, malicious gossiping, or drugs and narcissistic introspection to prove themselves that they are alive. Consciously or not, many young girls feel that becoming pregnant is the only really adult thing they can do, despite its dangers and unpleasant consequences. How to restructure such an environment so as to make it sufficiently challenging is certainly one of the most pressing tasks parents of teenagers face. And it is of no value simply to tell one's strapping adolescent children to shape up and do something useful. What does help are living examples and concrete opportunities. If these are not available, one cannot blame the young for taking their own counsel.

Some of the tensions of teenage life can be eased if the family provides a sense of acceptance, control, and self-confidence to the adolescent. A relationship that has these dimensions is one in which people trust one another, and feel totally accepted. One does not have to worry constantly about being liked, being popular, or living up to others' expectations. As the popular sayings go, "Love means never having to say 'I'm sorry,'" "Home is where you're always welcome." Being assured of one's worth in the eyes of one's kin gives a person the strength to take chances; excessive conformity is usually caused by fear of disapproval. It is much easier for a person to try developing her potential if she knows that no matter what happens, she has a safe emotional base in the family.

Unconditional acceptance is especially important to children. If parents threaten to withdraw their love from a child when they fail to measure up, the child's natural playfulness will be gradually replaced by chronic anxiety. However, if the child feels that his parents are unconditionally committed to his welfare, he can then relax and explore the world without fear; otherwise he has to allocate psychic energy to his own protection, thereby reducing the amount he can freely dispose of. Early emotional security may well be one of the conditions that helps develop an autotelic personality in children. Without this, it is difficult to let go of the self long enough to experience flow.

Love without strings attached does not mean, of course, that relationships should have no standards, no punishment for breaking the rules. When there is no risk attached to transgressing rules they becoming meaningless, and without meaningful rules an activity cannot be enjoyable. Children must know their parents expect certain things from them and that specific consequences will follow if they don't obey. But they must also recognize that no matter what happens, the parents' concern for them is not in question.

When a family has a common purpose and open channels of communication, when it provides gradually expanding opportunities for action in a setting of trust, then life in it becomes an enjoyable flow activity. Its members will spontaneously focus their attention on the group relationship, and to a certain extent forget their individual selves, their divergent goals, for the sake of experiencing the joy of belonging to a more complex system that joins separate consciousness in a unified goal.

One of the most basic delusions of our time is that home life takes care of itself naturally, and that the best strategy for dealing with it is to relax and let it take its course. Men especially like to comfort themselves with this notion. They know how hard it is to succeed in the job, just want to unwind, and feel that any serious demand from the family is unwarranted. They often have an almost superstitious faith in the integrity of the home. Only when it is too late - when the wife has become dependent on alcohol, when the children have turned into cold strangers - do many men wake up to the fact that the family, like any other joint enterprise, needs constant investment of psychic energy to assure its existence.

To play the trumpet well, a musician cannot let more than a few days pass without practicing. An athlete who does not run regularly will soon be out of shape, and will no longer enjoy running. Any manager knows that his company will start falling apart if his attention wanders. In each case, without concentration, a complex activity breaks down into chaos. Why should the family be different? Unconditional acceptance, the complete trust family members ought to have for one another, is meaningful only when it is accompanied by an unstinting investment of attention. Otherwise it is just an empty gesture, a hypocritical pretense indistinguishable from disinterest.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Flow - Free Time

Loved this excerpt from the book:

The Waste of Free Time

Although, as we have seen, people generally long to leave their places of work and get home, ready to put their hard-earned free time to good use, all to often they have no idea what to do there. Ironically, jobs are actually easier to enjoy than free time, because like flow activities they have built-in goals, feedback, rules, and challenges, all of which encourage one to become involved in one's work, to concentrate and lose oneself in it. Free time, on the other hand, is unstructured, and requires much greater effort to be shaped into something that can be enjoyed. Hobbies that demand skill, habits that set goals and limits, personal interests, and especially inner discipline help to make leisure what it is supposed to be - a chance for re-creation. But on the whole people miss the opportunity to enjoy leisure even more thoroughly than they do with working time. Over sixty years ago, the great American sociologist Robert Park already noted: "It is in the improvident use of our leisure, I suspect, that the greatest wastes of American life occur."

The tremendous leisure industry that has arisen in the last few generations has been designed to help fill free time with enjoyable experiences. Nevertheless, instead of using our physical and mental resources to experience flow, most of us spend many hours each week watching celebrated athletes playing in enormous stadiums. Instead of making music, we listen to platinum records cut by millionaire musicians. Instead of making art, we go to admire paintings that brought in the highest bids at the latest auction. We do not run risks acting on our beliefs, but occupy hours each day watching actors who pretend to have adventures, engaged in mock-meaningful action.

This vicarious participation is able to mask, at least temporarily, the underlying emptiness of wasted time. But it is a very pale substitute for attention invested in real challenges. The flow experience that results from the use of skills leads to growth; passive entertainment leads nowhere. Collectively we are wasting each year the equivalent of millions of years of human consciousness. The energy that could be used to focus on complex goals, to provide fro enjoyable growth, is squandered on patterns of stimulation that only mimic reality. Mass leisure, mass culture, and even high culture when only attended to passively and for extrinsic reasons - such as the wish to flaunt one's status - are parasites of the mind. They absorb psychic energy without providing substantive strength in return. They leave us more exhausted, more disheartened than we were before.

Unless a person takes charge of them, both work and free time are likely to be disappointing. Most jobs and many leisure activities - especially those involving the passive consumption of mass media - are not designed to make us happy and strong. Their purpose is to make money for someone else. If we allow them to, they can suck out the marrow of our lives, leaving only feeble husks. But like everything else, work and leisure can be appropriated for our needs. People who learn to enjoy their work, who do not waste their free time, end up feeling tha their lives as a whole have become much more worthwhile. "The future," wrote C. K. Brightbill, "will belong not only to the educated man, but to the man who is educated to use his leisure wisely".

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Flow - At Work

I've been reading this book kind of sporadically. Part of the reason its been so sporadic is because I'll read a segment and it'll shake up me so profoundly, I'll have to just stop right there allowing it to sink in. I just had one of those experiences.

Some background, the whole point of the book is that the way to find happiness or as the book puts it, optimal experience is by pursuing "flow-inducing" experiences. Where you take on tasks with increased complexity, and in pursuing the activity you lose track of time and expand and grow in the pursuit.

Here's the segment:

"Occasionally cultures evolve in such a way as to make everyday productive chores as close to flow activities as possible. There are groups in which both work and family life are challenging yet harmoniously integrated. In the high mountain valleys of Europe, in Alpine villages spared by the Industrial Revolution, communities of this type still exist. Curious to see how work is experienced in a 'traditional' setting representative of farming life-styles that were prevalent everywhere up to a few generations ago, a team of Italian psychologists led by Professor Fausto Massimini and Dr. Antonella Delle Fave recently interviewed some of their inhabitants, and have generously shared their exhaustive transcripts.

The most striking feature of such places is that those who live there can seldom distinguish work from free time. It could be said that they work sixteen hours a day each day, but then it could also be said that they never work. One of the inhabitants, Serafina Vinon, a seventy-six-year-old woman from the tiny hamlet of Pont Trentaz, in the Val d'Aosta region of the Italian Alps, still gets up at five in the morning to milk her cows. Afterward she cooks a huge breakfast, cleans the house, and depending on the weather and time of year, either takes the herd to the meadows just below the glaciers, tends the orchard, or cards some wool. In summer she spend weeks on the high pastures cutting hay, and then carries huge bales of it on her head the several miles down to the barn. She could reach the barn in half the time if she took a direct route; but she prefers following invisible winding trails to save the slopes from erosion. In the evening she may read, or tell stories to her great-grandchildren, or play the accordion for one of the parties of friends and relatives that assemble at her house a few times a week.

Serafina knows every tree, every boulder, every feature of the mountains as if they were old friends. Family legends going back many centuries are linked to the landscape: On this old stone bridge, when the plague of 1473 had exhausted itself, one night the last surviving woman of Serafina's village, with a torch in her hand, met the last surviving man of the village further down the valley. They helped each other, got married, and became the ancestors of her family. It was in that field of raspberries that her grandmother was lost when she was a little girl. On this rock, standing with a pitchfork in his hand, the Devil threatened Uncle Andrew during the freak snowstorm of '24.

When Serafina was asked what she enjoys doing most in her life, she had no trouble answering: milking the cows, taking them to the pasture, pruning the orchard, carding wool ... in effect, what she enjoys most is what she has been doing for a living all along. In her own words: 'It gives me a satisfaction. To be outdoors, to talk with people, to be with my animals ... I talk to everybody - plants, birds, flowers, and animals. Everything in nature keeps you company; you see nature progress every day. You feel clean and happy: too bad that you get tired and have to go home... even when you have to work a lot it is very beautiful.'

When she was asked what she would do if she had all the time and money in the world, Serafina laughed - and repeated the same list of activities: she would milk cows, take them to pasture, tend to the orchard, card wool. It is not that Serafina is ignorant of the alternatives offered by urban life: she watches television occasionally and reads newsmagazines, and many of her younger relatives live in large cities and have comfortable life-styles, with cars, appliances, and exotic vacations. But their more fashionable and modern ways of life does not attract Serafina; she is perfectly content and serene with the role she plays in the universe."


"But what of the case of an urban laborer, whose work is not so clearly tied to subsistence? Serafina's attitude, as it happens, is not unique to traditional farming villages. We can occasionally find it around us in the midst of turmoils of the industrial age. A good example is in the case of Joe Kramer, a man we interviewed in one of our early studies of the flow experience. Joe was in his early sixties, a welder in a South Chicago plant where railroad cars are assembled. About two hundred people worked with Joe in three huge, dark, hangarlike structures where steel plates weighing several tons move around suspended from overhead tracks, and are welded amid showers of sparks to the wheelbases of freight cars. In summer it is an oven, in winter the icy winds of the prairie howl through. The clanging of metal is always so intense that one must shout into a person's ear to make oneself understood.

Joe came to the United States when he was five years old, and he left school after fourth grade. He had been working at this plant for over thirty years, but never wanted to become a foreman. He declined several promotions, claiming that he liked being a simple welder, and felt uncomfortable being anyone's boss. Although he stood on the lowest rung of the hierarchy in the plant, everyone knew Joe, and everyone agreed that he was the most important person in the entire factory. The manager stated that if he had five more people like Joe, his plant would be the most efficient in the business. His fellow workers said that without Joe they might as well shut down the shop right now.

The reason for his fame was simple: Joe had apparently mastered every phase of the plant's operation, and he was now able to take anyone's place if the necessity arose. Moreover, he could fix any broken-down piece of machinery, ranging from huge mechanical cranes to tiny electronic motors. But what astounded people most was that Joe not only could perform these tasks, but actually enjoyed it when he was called upon to do them. When asked how he learned to dal with complex engines and instruments without having had any formal training, Joe gave a very disarming answer. Since childhood he had been fascinated with machinery of every kind. He was especially drawn to anything that wasn't working properly. 'Like when my mother's toaster went on the fritz, I asked myself: 'If I were that toaster and I didn't work, what would be wrong with me?' ' Then he disassembled the toaster, found the defect, and fixed it. Ever since, he has used this method of empathetic identification to learn about and restore increasingly complex mechanical systems. And the fascination of discovery has never left him; now close to retirement, Joe still enjoys work every day.

Joe has never been a workaholic, completely dependent on the challenges of the factory to feel good about himself. What he did at home was perhaps even more remarkable than his transformation of a mindless, routine job into complex, flow-producing activity. Joe and his wife live in a modest bungalow on the outskirts of the city. Over the years hey bought up the two vacant lots on either side of their house. On these lots, Joe built an intricate rock garden, with terraces, paths, and several hundred flowers and shrubs. While he was installing underground sprinklers, Joe had an idea: What if he had them make rainbows? He looked for sprinkler heads that would produce a fine enough mist for this purpose, but none satisfied him; so he designed one himself, and built it on his basement lathe. Now after work he could sit on his back porch, and by touching one switch he could activate a dozen sprays that turned into as many small rainbows.

But there was one problem with Joe's little Garden of Eden. Since he worked most days, by the time he got home the sun was usually too far down the horizon to help paint the water with strong colors. So Joe went back to the drawing board, and came back with an admirable solution. He found floodlights that contained enough of the sun's spectrum to form rainbows, and installed them inconspicuously around the sprinklers. ow he was really ready. Even in the middle of the night, just by touching two switches, he could surround his house with fans of water, light, and color.

Joe is a rare example of what it means to have an 'autotelic personality,' or the ability to create flow experiences even in the most barren environment - an almost inhumane workplace, a weed-infested urban neighborhood. In the entire railroad plant, Joe appeared to be the only man who had the vision to perceive challenging opportunities for action. The rest of the welders we interviewed regarded their jobs as burdens to be escaped as promptly as possible, and each evening as soon as work stopped they fanned out for the saloons that were strategically placed on every third corner of the grid of streets surrounding the factory, there to forget the dullness of the day with beer and camaraderie. Then home for more beer in front of the TV, a brief skirmish with the wife, and the day - in all respects similar to each previous one -was over."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Running, praying, and scriptures every day makes me happy and productive

Coming off our vacation I got out of my routine and for about a week afterward I just stopped going to the gym, I stopped running... And I stopped reading scriptures and got lazy with my prayers...

At any rate... This past Monday night, I was extra impatient with my kids, trying to get them into bed, etc, etc...

I decided to go to the gym for a quick run... Once back, I was in a much better mood. My daughter was still not asleep. I was able to talk to her much more gently, with much greater compassion. I've been running every since (and praying and studying)...

Its definitely not getting me to loose weight (my diet is not under control for that), but it makes me feel so much better. I can't live without my quick daily runs...

Thanks Sara for letting me do it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Financial Crisis - A Recap

I just heard a really great interview with the author of this book: http://www.amazon.com/Too-Big-Fail-Washington-System/dp/0670021253/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1256103580&sr=8-1
and a New York Times financial reporter.

The interview is here:


He gives a pretty graphic behind the scenes description of what happened during the financial meltdown...

What most people don't realize was how close both Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs and GE were, all three, in going bankrupt.

A few days after Lehman went under, AIG had to be rescued... Then Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and GE were on the brink and would have went under except for a few things that happened (Morgan would have went taking out Goldman, taking out GE).

What saved them was allowing Goldman and Morgan Stanley to become bank holding companies and that Warren Buffet invested in Goldman and some Japanese investment firm invested in Morgan, this brought more money into those firms. Saving those firms saved GE... This save was only temporary. What really saved the companies and the entire system was the TARP money that came in October.

The author makes a point I really believe in. That Hank Paulson acted in good faith. That he really believed we were on the brink, and we probably were, and that he did what he did because he really believed he had to to save our entire economy - indeed the world economy.

He also makes the case that what's happening now is not right either. Both Morgan and Goldman are making record profits and giving their employees huge bonuses. To be fair, they are not making the same risky bets that were made before the crisis (author's words), although these profits have come through trading and winning on an increasing stock market..

But what's sad is these firms were bailed out by tax payers and there's not a firm recognition by these firms of that fact.

And the greater question is even bigger? What does this crisis tell us about capitalism.

The problem is that our system is designed to incentivize people to do what it takes to make money for the shareholders... Nothing about an obligation to the broader community as a whole, and that really is capitalism's greatest weakness because often what is good for a shareholder is not what's good for all of society...

A lot of what happened pre-crisis was legal but reckless and pretty evil. And many people want stronger regulation, which would probably help... But regulation is a flawed approach to this problem because we had regulation pre-crisis, but the regulators simply did not do their job.

Democracy and capitalism only work well when individual people as a whole are honest and ethical, work hard and try their best to do right by themselves and their community. In many ways we've lost that in our society, and we've lost it broadly.

I'm not sure government or regulation or new laws or anything else can really solve that problem.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Less than two weeks away

Thanks for so many of you for supporting are drive to raise money for diabetes research. I've previously posted about this here and here

Many of you have responded by registering for the walk, donating money, and passing on the message. We deeply appreciate that. For those of you who cannot, we understand and appreciate your support anyway. For those of you who want to support but have not yet done so, please do so now (or soon), time is running out. If you plan on walking, please register so we know.

I'm still trying to find someone to fund our t-shirts, but there's a chance we may not do t-shirts this year... But I have not given up yet. But hopefully that won't be a blocker for you...

Thanks again for your support.

As always here's our video:

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Case for Obama's Conservatism

What does it mean to be a conservative anyway? I don't know, but I prefer the definition that its a practical adjustment to events, with the intention of keeping the whole show on the road as coherently as possible. But that's probably being unfair to liberalism which could also fit into that definition. Many its a definition of a political moderate.

But when you truly feel that your country and nation is generally on the right track and you feel that you want to basically keep things as they are. Of course, nothing is perfect, and our country and our government, both those who serve and the institution itself, can be improved upon, can and should adjust to the challenges of a rapidly changing world. But by and large, I feel we have the institutions in place to do just that.

Which is why essentially I believe I am a conservative and its why I'm a supporter of Barack Obama because I feel that his style and substance matches closely to what our current global and national challenges require. His is a conservative approach, a pragmatic approach, which is why he is giving heartburn to those polarized on both sides of the political aisle.

For me its a good sign a politician is hated from both ends of the spectrum - it shows a willingness to compromise, a willingness to find the pragmatic center. Sometimes the center solution is not the right solution but its the best solution given the political winds that blow. Our political system is designed with two political parties diametrically opposed to one another, and especially on domestic issues where Congress has a lot of power, our political system sometimes requires the good instead of the best solution.

There's a good reason for this. So much better to mute a really good leader's ability to effect really positive change so that you can mute a really bad leader's ability to affect disastrous change.

Other times, the middle ground happens to be the exact correct solution. The Constitution was created as a result of many compromises - between big states and small, between those who wanted a strong federal government and those who wanted all of the power left to the states, and so on.

It struck the right balance.

So, call me a moderate, or a pragmatic, I call myself a political conservative.

On that note, I came across two links that strike just the right cord for me.

This post describes why the Obama administration acted in reality pretty timidly in response to the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, both in respect to the bailouts and the financial crisis.

If you read progressive-minded economists like I do, they ripped Obama's (and Bush's) bailouts because they didn't go far enough. They wanted Obama to follow the Swedish model and to effectively take over the failing banks, recapitalize them with federal funds, and then turn them back over to the public sector (while first firing all of those blasted CEO's that got us into this mess).

And that is what, in fact, Christina Romer suggested was required:

"Romer believed that the banks wouldn’t lend again until they were well capitalized. For banks in severe stress, she favored creating a government-backed “bad bank” to take the toxic assets off the banks’ books and then recapitalize them with government funds—essentially a version of nationalization, and what the Swedish government had done during that nation’s financial crisis of the early nineties. This argument was quickly rendered moot because of the cost. There wasn’t much money left in the TARP kitty, and any chance of getting more from Congress had ended with that morning’s news: A.I.G., which had received a hundred and seventy billion dollars in federal money, had handed out multimillion-dollar bonuses to the executives responsible for the company’s demise. Axelrod said, 'The one thing that was absolutely clear was, we were not in a position to go back to Congress.'"

I've been having some pretty hardcore debates with some extreme progressives who wanted to see this kind of overt nationalization (temporarily) and many smart economists also favored this approach. But my argument was that it just wasn't possible politically even if it was the right thing to do.

And of course, most economists that I read believed the fiscal stimulus was far too small:

"I’ve seen a fair amount of commentary on the part of Ryan Lizza’s profile of the Obama economic team where Christina Romer recommends a $1.2 trillion stimulus proposal and they wind up with just a bit more than half of that out of deference to the tender sensibilities of the United States Senate. "

A significant portion of that stimulus came as tax cuts which were added as a way to win Congressional support no matter that they were the least effective portion of the stimulus.

So, on both accounts, probably the best response was a much more bold response. Obama instead was relatively tepid. The result was he did enough to avoid the worse and maybe enough to allow the economy to ever so slowly find the bottom and work toward a recovery, but not enough to really fully fix our most severe problems (our banks are still not lending, unemployment is still too high).

The side effects of a bank bailout that really did not lead to a necessary overhaul is that we have fewer banks (the smaller banks in trouble were allowed to fail via the FDIC nationalizing them for a very short time and reallocating their assets to other institutions), those banks are more powerful, and its unclear whether they've learned their lessons sufficiently to avoid another bubble/bust cycle.

But an overhaul would have been expensive and there's little chance Congress would have went along...

Now to the second link by Bruce Bartlett, a true conservative, one of the authors of the supply side economic philosophy that was so effective and such an important part of Reaganomics.

He outlines why tax cuts and other supply side aspects of Reagan's economic policies were so important in the early 1980's to address excessive demand in relation to supply, the resulting inflationary conditions and the high tax rates, and why those conditions do not exist anymore.

In many ways, George W. and Jimmy Carter are similar, both were inexperienced when they were elected president, both were ambitious and ideological, but unfortunately, neither ideology was appropriate for the problems they faced.

In so many ways Reagan was a breadth of fresh air. I was young when he was elected, but what he said made a lot of sense especially for the time he lived. Free trade introduced greater competition and brought more and better products into our markets. He had this sense of optimism and confidence and was able to face the communist threats effectively. He moderated his foreign policy stances at the right time, willing to reach out to previous adversaries when it made sense.

A while back I read this book about the history of North and South Korea post Korean war and I was impressed with the role Reagan played in helping South Korea make the transition from a military dictatorship into a free and open democratic country.

But the 1990's really was a transitionary decade and we live in a much different world now. And the economic problems we face right now are much more aligned to what we faced in the 1930's. But the Republican party has not evolved appropriately. Really, neither has the Democratic party.

But Obama really represents something new and in some ways is positioned to lead and evolution of the Democratic party into something contemporary and relevant. Currently there are no such leaders in the Republican party.

Bartlett makes many of the same arguments I've been making (not original with me, just a compilation of arguments I've accumulated from others that have made sense to me):

Bartlett first of all rips Bush's tax cuts and his economic policies in general:

"During the George W. Bush years, however, I think SSE became distorted into something that is, frankly, nuts--the ideas that there is no economic problem that cannot be cured with more and bigger tax cuts, that all tax cuts are equally beneficial, and that all tax cuts raise revenue.

These incorrect ideas led to the enactment of many tax cuts that had no meaningful effect on economic performance. Many were just give-aways to favored Republican constituencies, little different, substantively, from government spending. What, after all, is the difference between a direct spending program and a refundable tax credit? Nothing, really, except that Republicans oppose the first because it represents Big Government while they support the latter because it is a "tax cut."

I think these sorts of semantic differences cloud economic decisionmaking rather than contributing to it. As a consequence, we now have a tax code riddled with tax credits and other tax schemes of dubious merit, expiring provisions that never expire, and an income tax that fully exempts almost on half of tax filers from paying even a penny to support the general operations of the federal government."

The Republicans post-Reagan (and really during Reagan) adopted this "starve-the-beast" philosophy that didn't work:

"Indeed, by destroying the balanced budget constraint, starve-the-beast theory actually opened the flood gates of spending. As I explained in a recent column, a key reason why deficits restrained spending in the past is because they led to politically unpopular tax increases. But if, as Republicans now maintain, taxes must never be increased at any time for any reason then there is never any political cost to raising spending and cutting taxes at the same time, as the Bush 43 administration and a Republican Congress did year after year."

He also argued that Keynes was a conservative, in the sense that he was trying to save capitalism and that fiscal stimulus is only necessary when you hit the zero bound of interest rates. You just don't tax and spend to tax and spend...

"What both Keynes and Fisher said was that when the economy is in a deflationary depression the collapse of private spending had to be compensated for by public spending, because that was the only way to get money circulating and make monetary policy effective. While monetary policy would drive the recovery it needed fiscal policy in order to work."

"It seemed obvious to me right from the beginning that there was a close parallel between the causes of the Great Depression and the current crisis. The principal difference is that the former was caused by a collapse of the money supply resulting from the closure of many banks and the disappearance of their deposits, while the latter was caused by a fall in velocity resulting from a sharp decline in consumer spending following bursting of the housing bubble. (Because GDP equals the money supply times velocity, a decline in velocity has exactly the same effect as a decline in the money supply--nominal GDP must shrink, which causes both prices and output to fall.)"

"That analysis led me to support a large fiscal stimulus. Without public spending on goods and services I didn't see any way for monetary policy to be effective, thus prolonging the deflation at the root of the economy's problem. I was disappointed that so little of the February stimulus package went to the purchase of goods and services, which drives spending, and so much into economically ineffective transfers, which don't. But I understood that time was of the essence and that taking the time to design a better package would have required even more effort to overcome the economy's inertia, not to mention the political obstacles."

His conclusions are here:

"But as I try to explain in my book, my views haven't changed at all; it's circumstances that have changed. I believe that my friends are still stuck in the 1970s when tax rates were considerably higher and excessive demand (i.e., inflation) was our biggest economic problem. Today, tax rates are much lower and a lack of demand (i.e., deflation) is the central problem. I really don't understand why conservatives insist on a one-size-fits-all economic policy consisting of more and bigger tax cuts no matter what the economic circumstances are; it's simply become dogma totally disconnected from reality.

Nor do I understand the conservative antipathy for Keynes, who was in fact deeply conservative. He developed his theories primarily for the purpose of saving capitalism from some form of socialism. Same goes for Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose biggest economic mistake, I believe, was not that he ran big budget deficits, as all conservatives believe, but that he didn't run deficits nearly large enough until the war forced his hand. (I discuss these points in columns here and here.)"

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Giant Pool of Money

I just listened to this "This American Life" episode as it was happening last Saturday while I was busy cleaning/organizing my garage. It is really, I mean really, a must listen if you care at all about the financial crisis and want to be an informed citizen. Its a second pass on an episode that played almost a year ago.

Some highlites:

1) The total amount of money in the world in fixed-income securities (in other words savings) in 2006 was $80 trillion which was more than double it was in 2000, at that time it was $36 trillion.

2) This is more than the entire world spent and earned in the entire world, a lot of money. The story of the world post 2000 was that globalization really kicked in, with off-shoring and trade, and countries like China and India and the oil producing countries started making a lot of money, and they all essentially banked it.

3) The world wasn't ready for this amount of money, money that had a lot of investors with itchy fingers looking for ways to both keep it safe and to make it grow. But there wasn't twice enough good investments in the world to absorb twice enough money in savings.

4) Allan Greenspan made a really bad situation and made it worse when he essentially kept the Fed Funds rate at 1%. To quote the transcripts of the original episode, Greenspan basically told the "Giant Pool of Money", "screw you".

As a result of this, the giant pool of money started to trend torward real estate investments as more money came into this market, they needed to find more people willing to take on mortgages on buy real estate. And that is essentially what caused the massive debilitating real estate boom.

Most of the essence of this I got from the original episode. The follow up tracked down some of the people they interviewed in the original show to see what they were doing now.

Some conclusions - many people on wall street are evil and could care less about the average person. Its not a market that cares about the average citizen. Some people are still hanging out in their homes not having made a mortgage payment in 3 or so years and have yet to be foreclosed on - since the banks are flooded.

The size of the giant pool of money now a year later? More than 80 trillion dollars. Why? Because government all around the world have poured money into the banks in hopes of trying to get the money back into the market.

So far, banks are still holding tight on the money. The primary reason we have double digit unemployment right now, is that no one is spending that money. Its being stashed away in accounts that are essentially earning no interest. There's still a lot of fear.

It seems to me that $80 trillion dollars is wayyyy too much money to have stashed away in savings. Especially considering many of those countries with high savings are countries that are in desperate need of infrastructure. The problem essentially is that the money is being held (in my view) in the hands of a very small percentage of the global population. When you have economic disparities as high as we're currently experiencing, you end up with bubbles. Too few people controlling too many assets leads to a lot of crazy swings.

In the US, its interesting that when the dot com bubble crashes and we experienced a quick recovery, it was a jobless recovery, and that recovery introduced much of this disparity (speaking off the cuff here).

If that money was spread out more evenly, you would see much stronger long term growth (albeit slower in the short run), you would see less bubble/bust cycles. How do you do that?

Invest it in infrastructure, in ways that strengthen the many: education, highways, the environment, health care. China and India have massive needs in this regard. As the general population feels greater security (Chinese population saves 50% of their income on average, so I"m told, because many don't have access to some sort of health insurance), they will invest and spend, which should also help our large trade deficit. As China and India consume more, the US will have a greater opportunity to become producers and not just consumers.

These sort of imbalances take time to correct though...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Write To Discover/Read to Discover/Facebook to Discover

Once again Paul Graham writes another provocative essay that just gets me thinking. His latest is here. He's talking about his style of writing - blunt and offensive. It was strange that he felt his writing was offensive because he never offends me? But he's offensive because he's writing to discover not to persuade and that is a big difference I guess.

Most people write to convince (do I? I I think I write to discover, but you know I probably really don't write since I put so little effort into this - I really should try harder, but when you have three kids, this is all I got).

"The reason there's a convention of being ingratiating in essays is that most are written to persuade. And as any politician could tell you, the way to persuade people is not just to baldly state the facts. You have to add a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down."


"Because I'd rather offend people needlessly than use needless words, and you have to choose one or the other.

"That's not even the worst danger. I think the goal of an essay should be to discover surprising things. That's my goal, at least. And most surprising means most different from what people currently believe. So writing to persuade and writing to discover are diametrically opposed. The more your conclusions disagree with readers' present beliefs, the more effort you'll have to expend on selling your ideas rather than having them. As you accelerate, this drag increases, till eventually you reach a point where 100% of your energy is devoted to overcoming it and you can't go any faster."


"It's hard enough to overcome one's own misconceptions without having to think about how to get the resulting ideas past other people's. I worry that if I wrote to persuade, I'd start to shy away unconsciously from ideas I knew would be hard to sell. When I notice something surprising, it's usually very faint at first. There's nothing more than a slight stirring of discomfort. I don't want anything to get in the way of noticing it consciously."

The funny thing is I started to think, do I facebook to discover? No, I facebook to persuade. A few of my fb friends pretty consistently put up some provocative Glenn Beck video or some such, so when I perusing my news channels and I see something that directly or indirectly addresses something they've posted directly or indirectly, I link it. Now that's fb to persuade.

Other times, I see something that's just so simply too great and I post it, that's fbing to discover. Because sharing is discovery I think. That's why writing is such a powerful exercise. It codifies your thoughts into something concrete. You're forced to drag these vague ideas out of the recesses of your imagination and force them into the limits of the English language.

Then when you spark a fb friend's interest and get a comment that's a tad on the disagreeable side, if you're fbing to discover, you are forced to look at the argument again in a new light. Maybe you need to clarify the point a bit more - perhaps the commenter missed it. Or maybe they see the issue in a different way - differently than you understood it.

Another point about Graham's essay. If writing to discover is often offensive, is the converse true? Any writing that's offensive is writing to discover? That doesn't make sense. I find Glenn Beck's style, not so much offensive as ludicrous. But it seems like Glenn Beck is really trying hard to offend while at the same time, trying to rile up his constituency. But none of it seems to be about discovery.

His personal style doesn't seem to be of such that allows him to admit he's wrong or maybe to admit he didn't have all of the facts before he made his latest ad hominem attack.

So, Beck is writing to persuade? Definitely, but his persuasive style is pretty offensive.

At the beginning of Graham's article he describes an encounter with someone that made him think that person was a jerk. Turned out he just read the signals wrong: the man wasn't a jerk, just wasn't socially aware enough to follow social conventions., but not nerdy enough to make it obvious to him that he was not socially aware enough to follow those conventions.

So, I guess the definition of a jerk is someone who intentionally ignores social convention for the purpose of offending someone.

By the way, in case you're wondering whether I'm a jerk, someone who's just trying to discover new ideas, or a nerd who doesn't understand social conventions, or someone who's trying really hard to persuade in the nicest most pandering kind of way. The answer is probably all of the above, someone else will have to tell me which of these is the most common occurrence.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

JDRF Walk For a Cure Update

A few posts ago I posted a plea to help us raise money for diabetes research. I just wanted to clear up a few points just to make sure.

I know there are many worthy causes out there and I know for many people money is tight, so it would be a wonderful thing if you have the time just to walk with us. It would be a wonderful emotional support for our daughter Lizzie if we had a nice big crowd of walkers all wearing our soon to be created "Live for Lizzie" t-shirt. And as we take pictures of the event, it would be something nice for her to look back on to see a big crowd of walkers supporting her specifically, especially as she hits discouraging times in the future and she's tempted to slacken her efforts to manage her own blood sugar.

If you can donate money, great! There are a lot of promising avenues of diabetes research in the works and it would be a wonderful life changing event for Lizzie if a cure for her condition were found. Any money you could donate would work to keep scientists and researchers employed looking for a cure.

As a reminder, the website to donate and to register as a walker are here:


If you enter "Live for Lizzie" as the team name and "Arizona" as the state, you'll find currently three walkers on our team. I'm the team captain, Scott Turley (you can also look for me as a walker), but you could donate money on behalf of any of the walkers and it will go toward the team.

If you register as a walker it will ask you for a donation goal. Feel free to fill in anything you want there, but don't feel obligated to do anything extra to raise money. Don't feel obligated, but anything you were able to do would be greatly appreciated as well. But please if you plan on walking (I know some of you are out there) be sure to register so that we can get an accurate tally of the number of walkers when we get the t-shirts made.

By the way, so many people have said so many nice things about our video and have graciously passed it on to others. There are over 200 views of the video on youtube currently, so I know many people have gotten a glimpse of what we go through every single day.

Despite the challenges, Lizzie is doing wonderful and I'm sure she'll look forward to a happy and wonderful life, but there are a growing number of children who share in this struggle. So a donation to jdrf not only helps Lizzie but helps so many other children and families.

Thank you for all of your support so far and we look forward to having a successful walk this Halloween.

The details of the walk are here:


City: Tempe, AZ
Venue: Tempe Town Lake
Date of Walk: 10/31/2009
Registration Start Time: 7:30 AM
Walk Start Time: 9:00 AM
Length of Walk: 5K
Contact Person: Ashley Benedetto
Local Chapter: Desert Southwest Chapter
Local Chapter Phone: (602)224-1800

By the way, just a reminder, the video follows:

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Why We Homeschool Part II

For part I, well, that was written a long, long time ago, right here, but for this post I want to focus on curriculum because that's what got me started on this kick, right after I got married and well before it was time to make these educational decisions, I read this book and it made me ache wishing I had this kind of education I grew up.

And now my wife is following the classical approach to education at home, basically following the outline within this book.

And as we review the material together, I got excited by excerpts like this:

"Documentary filmmaker Ken Burns appeared at the National Press Club in early 1997 to plug his latest project (the life of Thomas Jefferson). Afterward, he took questions. One questioner pointed out that an astronomical percentage of high-school graduates saw no purpose in studying history and asked for a response.

Ken Burns answered: History is the study of everything that has happened until now. Unless you plan to live entirely in the present moment, the study of history is inevitable.

History, in other words, is not a subject. History is the subject. It is the record of human experience, both personal and communal. It is the story of the unfolding of human achievement in every area - science, literature, art, music, and politics. A grasp of historical facts is essential to the rest of the classical curriculum.

When you first introduce the elementary student to history, you must keep one central fact in mind: history is a story.

The logical way to tell a story is to begin (as the King said to Alice) at the beginning and go on till you come to the end. Any story makes less sense when learned in bits and pieces. If you were to tell your five year old the story of Hansel and Gretel, beginning with the house made of candy and cookies (because that's likely to be the most interesting part of the story to the child), then backing up and telling about the woodchopper's unfortunate second marriage, then skipping to the witch's demise, and then scooting backward again and relating the story of Hansel and Gretel's walk in the woods, the story isn't going to form a coherent whole in the child's mind. Even if he listens to the end, you may have lost him long before that.

History is no different. Yet it's too often taught unsystematically - as a series of unrelated bits and pieces: American history this year, ancient history the next, eighteenth-century France the year after that. Think back. By the time you graduated high school or college, you'd studied King Tut and the Trojan war and the Bronze Age; you probably learned about the end of the Athenian monarchy and the rise of the city-state; you may have been taught about the Exodus and the conquest under Joshua or the early history of Ethiopia. Chances are you studied these subjects in different years, in different units, out of different textbooks. You probably have difficulty fitting them together chronologically.

Furthermore, you probably started with American history (which is pretty near the end of the story as we know it) and then spent at least twice as much time studying American history as you did studying the rest of the world. Yes, American history is important for Americans, but this myopic division of curriculum does the Founding Fathers a disservice. Children who plunge into the study of the American Revolution with no knowledge of the classical models used by Jefferson, Washington, and their colleagues can achieve only a partial understanding of American government and ideals. And American history ought to be kept in perspective: the history curriculum covers seventy centuries; America occupies only five of them.

A common assumption found in history curricula seems to be that children can't comprehend (or be interested in) people and events distant from their own experience. So the first-grade history class is renamed Social Studies and begins with what the child knows: first, himself and his family, followed by his community, his state, and only then the rest of the world.

This intensely self-focus pattern of study encourages the student of history to relate everything he studies to himself, to measure the cultures and customs of other people against his own experience. And that's exactly what the classical education fights against - a self-absorbed, self-referential approach to knowledge. History learned this way makes our needs and wants the center of the human endeavor. This attitude is destructive at any time, but it is especially destructive in the present global civilization.

The goal of classical curriculum is multicultural in the true sense of the word: the student learns the proper place of his community, his state, and his country by seeing the broad sweep of history from its beginning and then fitting his own time and place into that great landscape. The systematic study of history in the first four years lays the foundation for the logic stage, when the student will begin to understand the relationships between historical events - between Egypt and Greece, Greece and Rome, Rome and England, England and America.

I heard on the radio recently a brief interview of the author of a book with the provocative title, Why School. The author makes the very good point that an education should be much more than preparing for a career and learning knowledge and developing skills should be much more than a means to a future high salary. And that's why I feel emphasizing history in educational pursuits is so important because they are a better person because of it.

Today in primary, our ward had a brief, really well-done and appropriate discussion on pornography with the primary children and their parents. The core of the message was to tell the children if they accidently see pornography to stop, run and talk (shut it down, run out of the room, and immediately tell a parent or a trusted adult). Funny because my kids don't really get pornography, but its an important lesson nonetheless because the issue is looming soon for them.

But the point is the woman who presented the lesson did it masterfully, like a trained professional. She is a trained kindergarten teacher, so I'm sure that helps, but she just had this masterful way of presenting a difficult subject to children in a way that was not scary and in a way they understood. How grateful am I that there are adults in my community that support us in that way.

But more than that, you could tell she was educated in a deep way and she used her talents to bless others without a monetary reward. And that's the point I guess.

The author of the book makes the excellent point that when education is too focused on career preparation, it focuses too heavily on math, science and reading and neglects other subjects like art and music. Can you imagine a someone with a highly focused technical training trying to explain the dangers of pornography to young kids? I can't.

But it's one example. And it's why I feel that the classical education curriculum is so cool. It's comprehensive and thorough. The child reads from the original sources as much as possible instead from text book summaries. The pint again is to prepare a child for life in all of its facets. I could go on, and maybe I will in later posts.

But I just felt this explanation of the history curriculum was well done.

Friday, September 11, 2009

My Thoughts on Glenn Beck

Someone asked me to respond to this video featuring Glenn Beck's attack on ACORN and by extension why the ACORN story was not reported by the mainstream media with the exception of FOX.

Here's the video:

I really am in no position to defend or even criticize ACORN. I simply know nothing about them. But this post is not about ACORN its about Glenn Beck and his style.

Pure and simple, Glenn Beck is a curmudgeon. Its a style I don't like and a big part of me is repulsed by it. Its ugly and I don't trust it. For the record, I really don't like this style from either side of the aisle.

I love political discussion, but Glenn Beck leaves no room for it. He attacks corruption, fine. So, he finds examples of it within his very narrow ideological blinders and instead of carefully crafting a story to prove his point, he just yells a lot. It riles up his followers, but it just leaves me doubting everything he says. By the way, I get the same nauseating feeling listening to folks like Michael Moore on the left.

For the record, I'm against corruption in all of its forms. I believe criminal activity should be prosecuted when found no matter what the ideology. And the advantage of the two party system is it allows each to check the power of the other.

But you have to be careful with this style of reporting.

Here's a conservative attack on Glenn Beck that resonates with me. Best quote:

"Glenn Beck is not the first to make a pleasant living for himself by reckless defamation. We have seen his kind before in American journalism and American politics, and the good news is that their careers never last long. But the bad news is that while their careers do last, such people do terrible damage."

The article details an absolutely reckless attack Beck made on Cass Sunstein.

"It’s striking that Beck never actually quotes Sunstein. Beck instead relies instead on an argument from pure assertion: Sunstein opposes animal cruelty, the Princeton philosopher Peter Singer also opposes animal cruelty, therefore Sunstein must agree with everything Peter Singer has ever said or written.

This is beyond sloppy, beyond ignorant, proceeding straight toward the deceptive."

I want to dismiss Glenn Beck out of hand. I don't want to hear from that guy, watch him, I want him out of my life for good, but people keep sending me clips...

But here's why Glenn Beck and his ilk are so dangerous:

This is from a quote from C.S. Lewis in "Mere Christianity":

"Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one's first feeling, 'Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that,' or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything -- God and our friends and ourselves included -- as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred."

Got that from my favorite libertarian blogger Megan McArdle.

I get that this happens on both sides. There are the "birthers" on the right convinced that Obama is evil just like there were the truthers on the left convinced that Bush had a role in 9/11. This tendency to assume your enemies are evil is something that deserves a lot of introspection.

I know I'm far from perfect here. Its fun to have philosophical discussions on ideology. That stuff is fun.

But when the debate descends to the level of personal attack, e.g. Bush is evil, Obama is evil, the fun ends, the debate ends. I know I'm in no position to prove someone's ethics, morals or motivation. Often I don't have access to all of the facts.

If you think Bush is evil (which I don't), then where do we go from there? No where. Same is true for Obama.

Now, the interesting thing is we want to hold our government accountable. And there is plenty of corruption, pervasive, sick corruption throughout our government. And we need journalists to do the serious investigative reporting to shine a light on the dark deeds of our politicians.

But this kind of investigative reporting is hard and expensive and from my point of view it is dying. Because if you want to report on corruption, you have to make sure you get your facts right. You need to make sure the investigation is thorough and intelligent. You want to make sure its not defamatory or wrong or ideological. It needs to be vetted carefully. Because its an enormous disservice to call good people evil. To falsely accuse someone else. Its hateful in the worst possible way.

And Glenn Beck has an enormous microphone, and as a result a powerful platform. I'm not sure he realizes how much damage he can (and has) inflicted through his recklessness.

I hope that he will eventually be marginalized once people realize he's a hack journalist. I hope that time is not far from now.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Walk For a Cure

We are just kicking off an effort to help raise money for a cure for diabetes. Our youtube video is here:

A letter we're e-mailing friends and family is follows:

We are writing to ask for your support in a very important cause. As most of you know, our daughter, Elizabeth, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in November of last year. This October, we will be participating with thousands of other families in Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s Walk to Cure Diabetes.

Since it’s founding in 1970 by parents of children with Type 1 Diabetes, JDRF has awarded more than $1.1 billion to diabetes research. More than 85 percent of JDRF’s expenditures directly support research and research-related education.

Type 1, or juvenile, diabetes, is a devastating, often deadly disease that affects millions of people—a large and growing percentage of them children.

Many people think Type 1 Diabetes can be controlled by insulin. While insulin does keep people with Type 1 Diabetes alive, it is not a cure. Aside from the daily challenges of living with Type 1 Diabetes, there are many severe, often fatal, complications caused by the disease. Diabetes is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.

For Elizabeth, diabetes means that she must have her finger poked an average of eight times a day to check her blood glucose level, and that she must have a tiny plastic tube lodged under her skin keeping her connected to an insulin pump 24 hours a day. The pump has improved her life considerably, but it cannot prevent her from still experiencing frustrating high and low blood sugars and the accompanying symptoms of fatigue, frustration, and grogginess.

Elizabeth will never outgrow diabetes, but we have hope that JDRF will find a cure for this terrible disease within her lifetime.

Won’t you please help Elizabeth and all of the 200,000 children with diabetes by “Saying Boo to Diabetes” on October 31, 2009? There are three ways you can help:

1. The easiest way is to give a tax deductible donation via the website www.walk.jdrf.org then select Arizona as your state, and search for the “Live for Lizzie” team. Donate to the walker and fill in the information needed.
2. You can join our team, and walk with us. To join our team also go to www.walk.jdrf.org and search for “Live for Lizzie” and register as a walker. If you’d like to collect pledges in addition to walking, just forward this information to every you.
3. Send us a donation made payable to JDRF.

No donation is too small. No amount of support is too little. Your consideration is greatly appreciated.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Cameron Willingham was executed an innocent man

I recently read this very moving article about Todd Willingham who could become the first verified person in the modern American judicial system where the state who administered the execution admitted the person was innocent.

And if you read the article, there seems to be little doubt.

"In 2005, Texas established a government commission to investigate allegations of error and misconduct by forensic scientists. The first cases that are being reviewed by the commission are those of Willingham and Willis. In mid-August, the noted fire scientist Craig Beyler, who was hired by the commission, completed his investigation. In a scathing report, he concluded that investigators in the Willingham case had no scientific basis for claiming that the fire was arson, ignored evidence that contradicted their theory, had no comprehension of flashover and fire dynamics, relied on discredited folklore, and failed to eliminate potential accidental or alternative causes of the fire. He said that Vasquez’s approach seemed to deny “rational reasoning” and was more “characteristic of mystics or psychics.” What’s more, Beyler determined that the investigation violated, as he put it to me, “not only the standards of today but even of the time period.” The commission is reviewing his findings, and plans to release its own report next year. Some legal scholars believe that the commission may narrowly assess the reliability of the scientific evidence. There is a chance, however, that Texas could become the first state to acknowledge officially that, since the advent of the modern judicial system, it had carried out the “execution of a legally and factually innocent person.”"

Article is right here.

Reading the article, it lead me to some of the following conclusions:

1) State government can be both woefully inept, and ideologically blinded by their own agenda. Texas is a very scary place to be condemned to die. They seem woefully too ready to inject the needle. Those folks who feel like the federal government should push everything down to the states, really should think twice about that. The federal government has access to a much broader pool of talent with the opportunity to pull from this knowledge base to write policy that works broadly. Having a good balance between the federal and state government seems more correct to me.

2) The poor just do not have access to a fair judicial system. The state appointed defense attorneys often seem to be unreliable and incompetent.

3) Similar to 2), the deck is stacked against the poor, especially the poor with large tattoos on their biceps. An assumption was made early on of his guilt, and he was guilty because to some, he looked guilty.

4) I'm inclined, philosophically, to support the death penalty for the most serious of crimes. But realistically, I just don't think you can trust any judicial system to consistently, over the long haul be good enough not to execute an innocent person. That a lone is reason enough to completely abolish the practice.

Monday, August 31, 2009

From Classical Music To Pop

This article is really good about a man (about my age) and his love of music:

On Beethoven's Eroica:

"I don’t identify with the listener who responds to the “Eroica” by saying, “Ah, civilization.” That wasn’t what Beethoven wanted: his intention was to shake the European mind. I don’t listen to music to be civilized; sometimes, I listen precisely to escape the ordered world. What I love about the “Eroica” is the way it manages to have it all, uniting Romanticism and Enlightenment, civilization and revolution, brain and body, order and chaos. It knows which way you think the music is going and veers triumphantly in the wrong direction. The Danish composer Carl Nielsen once wrote a monologue for the spirit of Music, in which he or she or it says, “I love the vast surface of silence; and it is my chief delight to break it.”"

"If I were in a perverse mood, I’d say that the “Eroica” is the raw, thuggish thing—a blast of ego and id—whereas a song like Radiohead’s “Everything in Its Right Place” is all cool adult irony. The idea that life is flowing along with unsettling smoothness, the dark C-sharpness of the world sensed but not confirmed, is a resigned sort of sentiment that Beethoven probably never even felt, much less communicated. What I refuse to accept is that one kind of music soothes the mind and another kind soothes the soul. Depends on whose mind, whose soul."

On Classical Music itself - defined at something written a long time ago. At its core its a disdain for anything modern:

"Scholars eventually defined the Classical Era as Viennese music of the late eighteenth century, especially Mozart and Haydn, who, in their day, had been racy, modern figures. The word was nonsense from the outset."

"In Europe, the past began to overwhelm the present just after 1800. Johann Nikolaus Forkel’s 1802 biography of Bach, one of the first major books devoted to a dead composer, may be the founding document of the classical mentality. All the earmarks are there: the longing for lost worlds, the adulation of a single godlike entity, the horror of the present. Bach was “the first classic that ever was, or perhaps ever will be,” Forkel proclaimed. “If the art is to remain an art and not to be degraded into a mere idle amusement, more use must be made of classical works than has been done for some time.” By “idle amusement” Forkel had in mind the prattling of Italian opera; his biography is addressed to “patriotic admirers of true musical art,” namely the German. "

It used to be that people got rowdy and clapped during the classical music performance - no longer.

"The rise of “classical music” mirrored the rise of the commercial middle class, which employed Beethoven as an escalator to the social heights. Concert halls grew quiet and reserved, habits and attire formal. Improvisation was phased out; the score became sacred. Audiences were discouraged from applauding while the music was going on—it had been the custom to clap after a good tune or a dazzling solo—or between movements. Patrons of the Wagner festival in Bayreuth proved notoriously militant in the suppression of applause. At an early performance of “Parsifal,” listeners hissed an unmusical vulgarian who yelled out “Bravo!” after the Flower Maidens scene. The troublemaker had reason to feel embarrassed; he had written the opera. The Wagnerians were taking Wagner more seriously than he took himself—an alarming development."

Composers were egomaniacs but they weren't snobs like the classical music listeners of today:

"Composers liked the fact that listeners were quieting down; the subtle shock of a C-sharp wouldn’t register if the crowd were chattering away. Even so, the emergence of a self-styled élite audience had limited appeal for the likes of Beethoven and Verdi, who did not come from that world. The nineteenth-century masters were, most of them, monstrous egomaniacs, but they were not snobs. Verdi wrote for the masses, and he scandalously proclaimed the box office the only barometer of success. Wagner, surrounded by luxury, royalty, and extreme pretension, nonetheless railed against the emergence of a “classical” repertory, for which he blamed the Jews. His nauseating anti-Semitism went hand in hand with a sometimes deeply charming populism. In a letter to Liszt, he raged against the “monumental character” of the music of his time, the “clinging and sticking to the past.” Another letter demanded, “Kinder! macht Neues! Neues!, und abermals Neues!” Ezra Pound condensed this thought as “Make it new."

And then the whole thing broke down, and composers wrote for each other and no one else:

"Unfortunately, the European bourgeoisie, having made a demigod of Beethoven, began losing interest in even the most vital living composers. In 1859, a critic wrote, “New works do not succeed in Leipzig. Again at the fourteenth Gewandhaus concert a composition was borne to its grave.” The crazy modern music in question was Brahms’s First Piano Concerto. By 1870, seventy-five per cent of works in the Gewandhaus repertory were by dead composers. The fetishizing of the past had a degrading effect on composers’ morale. They began to doubt their ability to please this implacable audience, which seemed prepared to reject their wares no matter what style they wrote in. If no one cares, composers reasoned, we might as well write for connoisseurs—or for each other. This was the mentality that gave birth to the phenomenon of Arnold Schoenberg. The relationship between composer and public became a vicious circle; the more the composer asserted independence, the more the public clung to the past. A critic who attended the première of the “Eroica” saw the impasse coming: “Music could quickly come to such a point, that everyone who is not precisely familiar with the rules and difficulties of the art would find absolutely no enjoyment in it.”"

Jazz used to be the modern, now its classical - all music becomes classical eventually:

"All music becomes classical music in the end. Reading the histories of other genres, I often get a warm sense of déjà vu. The story of jazz, for example, seems to recapitulate classical history at high speed. First, the youth-rebellion period: Satchmo and the Duke and Bix and Jelly Roll teach a generation to lose itself in the music. Second, the era of bourgeois grandeur: the high-class swing band parallels the Romantic orchestra. Stage 3: artists rebel against the bourgeois image, echoing the classical modernist revolution, sometimes by direct citation (Charlie Parker works the opening notes of “The Rite of Spring” into “Salt Peanuts”). Stage 4: free jazz marks the point at which the vanguard loses touch with the mass and becomes a self-contained avant-garde. Stage 5: a period of retrenchment. Wynton Marsalis’s attempt to launch a traditionalist jazz revival parallels the neo-Romantic music of many late-twentieth-century composers. But this effort comes too late to restore the art to the popular mainstream. Jazz recordings sell about the same as classical recordings, three per cent of the market."

Rock and Roll is even on the fast track toward classical:

"The same progression worms its way through rock and roll. What were my hyper-educated punk-rock friends but Stage 3 high modernists, rebelling against the bloated Romanticism of Stage 2 stadium rock? Right now, there seems to be a lot of Stage 5 classicism going on in what remains of rock and roll. The Strokes, the Hives, the Vines, the Stills, the Thrills, and so on hark back to some lost pure moment of the sixties or seventies. Their names are all variations on the Kinks. Many of them use old instruments, old amplifiers, old soundboards. One rocker was recently quoted as saying, “I intentionally won’t use something I haven’t heard before.” Macht Neues, kids!"

The key is reinvention:

" The mistake that apostles of the classical have always made is to have joined their love of the past to a dislike of the present. The music has other ideas: it hates the past and wants to escape."

The future is the iPod shuffle (or maybe the present), because it merges styles in unsettling ways:

"Ihave seen the future, and it is called Shuffle—the setting on the iPod that skips randomly from one track to another. I’ve transferred about a thousand songs, works, and sonic events from my CD collection to my computer and on to the MP3 player. There is something thrilling about setting the player on Shuffle and letting it decide what to play next. Sometimes its choices are a touch delirious—I had to veto an attempt to forge a link between György Kurtág and Oasis—but the little machine often goes crashing through barriers of style in ways that change how I listen. For example, it recently made a segue from the furious crescendo of “The Dance of the Earth,” ending Part I of “The Rite of Spring,” right into the hot jam of Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues.” The first became a gigantic upbeat to the other. For a second, I felt that I was at some madly fashionable party at Carl Van Vechten’s. On the iPod, music is freed from all fatuous self-definitions and delusions of significance. There are no record jackets depicting bombastic Alpine scenes or celebrity conductors with a family resemblance to Rudolf Hess. Instead, music is music."

Classical concerts are dull:

"I feel dispirited from the moment I walk in the hall. My black jeans draw disapproving glances from men who seem to be modelling the Johnny Carson collection. I look around dubiously at the twenty shades of beige in which the hall is decorated. The music starts, but I find it hard to think of Beethoven’s detestation of all tyranny over the human mind when the man next to me is a dead ringer for my dentist. The assassination sequence in the first movement is less exciting when the musicians have no emotion on their faces. I cough; a thin man, reading a dog-eared score, glares at me. When the movement is about a minute from ending, an ancient woman creeps slowly up the aisle, a look of enormous dissatisfaction on her face, followed at a few paces by a blank-faced husband. Finally, three grand chords to finish, which the composer obviously intended to set off a roar of applause. I start to clap, but the man with the score glares again. One does not applaud in the midst of greatly great great music, even if the composer wants one to! Coughing, squirming, whispering, the crowd visibly suppresses its urge to express pleasure. It’s like mass anal retention. The slow tread of the Funeral March, or Marcia funebre, as everyone insists on calling it, begins. I start to feel that my newfound respect for the music is dragging along behind the hearse."

But it doesn't have to be:

"Two centuries ago, Beethoven bent over the manuscript of the “Eroica” and struck out Napoleon’s name. It is often said that he made himself the protagonist of the work instead. Indeed, he engendered an archetype—the rebel artist hero—that modern artists are still recycling. I wonder, though, if Beethoven’s gesture meant what people think it did. Perhaps he was freeing his music from a too specific interpretation, from his own preoccupations. He was setting his symphony adrift, as a message in a bottle. He could hardly have imagined it travelling two hundred years, through the dark heart of the twentieth century and into the pulverizing electronic age. But he knew it would go far, and he did not weigh it down. There was now a torn, blank space on the title page. The symphony became a fragmentary, unfinished thing, and unfinished it remains. It becomes whole again only in the mind and soul of someone listening for the first time, and listening again. The hero is you."

The author compares this hip hop recording with Steve Reich's Its Gonna Rain, enjoy:

Steve Reich: