icons/world1.png arg.20100130.1631.html Downside of Theater

1/30/2010 16:31

Downside of Theater

The downside of good theater is that once you are there you want to live there. And you can't. It is the same as the downside of good books, poems, preaching, music, painting.

Art at its best touches us at our best and then, at least for a little while, nothing less is enough.

Theater is not actual reality. Theater is the original alternate reality game. Still, theater is a good play in the actual reality game. Theater is a strategical play in the game. You don't get much reality for playing theater; you get illusion and you give illusion. You also get a direction, a suggestion for a goal to be reached by a series of tactical movements, and a sharing of vision which allows for cooperative play.

The illusion can be pleasant, but passing. The sharing may be more lasting. The reality constructed by cooperative play is the justification for the illusion.

In the end, if the play is good and the sharing is deep, you can begin to live there.

icons/world1.png arg.20100201.1009.html Corporate Democracy

2/1/2010 10:9

Corporate Democracy

The Supreme Court of the United States recently ruled that corporations not only are people under the law, not have rights of free speech, but have identical rights of free speech with natural persons.

The rather rancorously decided case ("Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm'n", 08-205) pertains specifically to campaign financing and for that reason has aroused much heat and some cynicism among the many persons who believe that elections in the United States are being unduly influenced by other persons (other than themselves).

The Court explained its decision strictly in terms of promoting freedom of speech, saying, "more speech, not less, is the governing rule". The minority, in between tossing red-hot firebrands at their colleagues' legal competence, argued that the case is less about free speech and more about distinctions between natural and fictive persons. Justice Stevens, dissenting, says "The conceit that corporations must be treated identically to natural persons in the political sphere is not only inaccurate but also inadequate ... Although they make enormous contributions to our society, corporations are not actually members of it." Stevens adds that "this Court did not recognize any First Amendment protections for corporations until the middle part of the 20th century".

While the Justices of the Supreme Court are thus arguing past each other, addressing different issues in the same case, another question occurs to me. That is, is there any direct relevance of incorporation to the processes of democracy?

My immediate reaction, especially in the context of campaigning, is to suppose that corporations (and unions, which are given a slightly different corporate identity and structure) will be inherently disruptive of democratic governance because the concentration of wealth is coupled with narrow interests. Historically and in current law, most corporations are defined by the objective of making money for their stockholders; the corporate officers maybe held to account if they spend the owner's funds with any other purpose in view. This is a legitimate concern, and was I believe addresses in the findings of Congress prior to enacting that law which is now struck down.

At second thought, however, I see an alternative understanding. Consider that corporations are inherently democratic in conception. It is true that the modern business corporation is designed solely to address financial gain (and other types of corporate persons exist for equally narrow purposes). On the other hand, it is also true that corporations were created to involve large numbers of ordinary citizen in these purposes.

Even the earliest, individually chartered corporations wer created in order to jointly finance grand schemes, such as the colonization of North American by the English, which at earlier times would have been the sole province of the rich and powerful nobility. By means of the corporate structure, many thousands of people gained vested interest in these ventures. They also gained standing to participate in shaping the endevor, at least by representation.

There is, therefore, a kind of corporate empowerment which exists separately and in parallel with citizenship. One view is that these 2 should be rigorously separated so that each can flourish in its own way. Another view is that government, the political empowerment of citizens, may direct and control corporations (business corporations specifically) but that influence in the other direction must be prevented. The attitude of the Court last month suggests rather that both kinds of public empowerment ought to compete and cross-influence each other.

The problem in actual reality is that we have not done any of the experiments which would be needed to demonstrate which of these positions will most likely yield the benefits which we might choose to favor. Actual reality is the the experiment.

icons/world1.png arg.20100214.0940.html Ethanol and Television

2/14/2010 9:40

Ethanol and Television

I am often surprised to find how much conversation time (even among people I know and like) is spent on topics such as beverage ethanol and television. These topics have no real content; the conversation covers an artificial structure of comparison and ranking in order for the participants to have something to share. Conversation on these topics is a game, although it is not the actual reality game.

I could include professional sports entertainment enterprises as an third such category, but I choose not to raise the emotional objections from fans of the Green Bay Packers.

I notice these, in particular, because I don't drink ethanol, I hardly watch TV, I have nothing to offer on either topic, and there is nothing that I'm looking to learn. For me, these topics fail in their sole purpose and therefore are more easily observed.

There is nothing intrinsically evil with inventing vacuous topics of conversation. The positive good which ensues is that the participants connect with each other and build bonds of community.

The weakness of such invented topics is thinness. If one is discussing beverage ethanol, all that one can exchange are tokens of the game: brand names, categories, and descriptions of beverages along with expressions of personal preferences. If one is discussion television programming, the tokens are titles, episodes, actors, and characters. The final result, in the best case, is a sharing of game tokens and perhaps some increase in profits for the game promoters.

That isn't evil, but it is weak. A stronger conversation would share knowledge of more substance, knowledge which might have more positive effect on our game of interest, actual reality.

icons/world1.png arg.20100217.2141.html Respect

2/17/2010 21:41


Just what is "respect"? Etymologically it is to look back, that is, to look again, to take a second look. But that might just indicate astonishment, and that isn't what we mean by respect.

I was thinking back several years to one occasion when I used the word. I had, I said, a lot of respect for a friend's grandparents. What did I mean by that?

In the context, it was very clear. The conversation had touched on the use of automatic lights, the kind that turn on when someone walks past your house. I don't think much of these technological marvels because they typically turn on when nobody wants them and frequently are set to flash in the eyes of innocent passers-by. (For this purpose, I count myself innocent.) My friend pointed out that these grandparents had such a light installed at their house.

I had, I said, a lot of respect for this friend's grandparents. I meant that if I found that these grandparents were acting on an opinion which differed from mine, then I would want to look again at the issue, to reconsider my opinion in light of theirs.

In this particular matter, I was forced to modify my position, but only by a little bit. The grandparents have adjusted their light's sensor so that it wouldn't turn on because of a person walking past on house on the public sidewalk, but only if a person should step off onto the lawn. Besides that, they would go to the front door or window and check every time the light went on.

I was happy enough with myself for not needing to change my opinions drastically -- I still dislike automatic lights the way I most frequently experience them, shining in my eyes as I walk my dog past empty houses.

The point today is not about my self-complacency or the foolishness of my neighbors. The point today is that I stopped and reexamined an opinion. I looked again. And that is what respect is all about.

icons/world1.png arg.20100224.0709.html Embarassed community

2/24/2010 7:09

Embarassed community

Decades ago, someone told about a recent party at which the guests played some new party game. (At least it was new to the listeners at the time.) "It was so embarassing," she said; "we had so much fun."

To all appearances, she thought that party was a wonderful time, something to be repeated. In my experience, being embarassed makes me feel isolated. I made a mental note not to attend any parties with this person.

We spend a lot of time and mental attention noticing how isolated we each are from the rest of humanity and finding ways to alleviate that sensation. One problem seems to be that a technique which works for one fails utterly for another not only fails, but makes the difference and isolation all the more apparent.

A different example: Singing "Happy Birthday". I know that I'm an outlier on this one, but it has always been true that singing "Happy Birthday" makes me feel silly and more separated from the group. It's worst when it is my birthday but it is the same feeling whenever the custom is observed. (You'd think at my birthday people would defer to my sense of what is most enjoyable, but it is hard for them to escape their own experiences to empathize with mine.)

I'm not proposing to spend this space exploring just why it is that party games and familiar songs work against their raison d'etat when I am in the mix. My point is limited to this: In actual reality we are all separated from each other in different ways.

That we are each different is a truism; that we are differently different is a little more significant. Feeling separated from others is an experience we have in common, but only just barely. We feel different kinds of separation at different times in different ways for different reasons. There is no universal angst.

icons/world1.png arg.20100228.0649.html The sharing of the holy ones

2/28/2010 6:49

The sharing of the holy ones

I believe in the communion of the saints. Although I do not fully understand what it means, I do have stories about it.

Just 3 years ago yesterday, on February 27, early in the morning, I was suddenly awakened. I had the sort of physiological response one expects if there were the smell of smoke or a cry of pain, but without a sense of needing to do anything or even to get up. It was sufficient that I be awake and sharing. At that moment I did not know what I might be sharing in. After a little while, I lay back down and slept until I was awakened again by a phone call informing me that my friend Marchia had died.

The experience of awakening was nearly the same as I had less than a week earlier (on February 22) also early in the morning, when my mother needed me in the hospital. The difference was that in the earlier case I felt a powerful need to get up and go to her.

Similar experiences are attested by tradition both scriptural and legendary. The experience is difficult to convey since it is so internal and any external and objective reality varies with the situation. Stories from the past often gain an accretion of culturally dependent interpretation, making them even harder to identify clearly.

There are some typical features: sudden awareness, strong emotional and physiological involvement, complete certainty, and close correlation in time with a significant event in actual reality. How these sharings are perceived is likely to be a function of how we work as human beings. That these sharings occur is a reality of a different order.

icons/world1.png arg.20100307.0818.html No friends

3/7/2010 8:18

No friends

I recall my father decades ago saying he had no friends. My mother rushed to contradict him, saying that he had lots of friends, but my father was right, in his own terms. He did not then know people with whom he had the level of relationship with him personally which he would class as "friend".

In my terms, a friend is one at whose house I will expect a welcome pretty much any time; one who will listen with interest to my opinions and even solicit my opinions on topics of concern; who will defend my idiosyncracies to third parties as virtues, or at least some of them.

OK; I set a rather high threshold for the term. It makes "friendship" rather more rare than if you use a lower threshold. But that is only use of a term; the reality is how rare or common is a relationship of any particular closeness.

I've noted that our culture tends to emphasize our isolation from each other. Setting a high threshold on friendship participates in that tendency.

I'm wondering whether we might play the actual reality game with more success if we balanced the awareness of our separation with a stronger awareness of ways we are linked together. It seems possible that friends as I defined them are rare commodities, perhaps inevitably so by the nature of our humanity. But perhaps we devalue other ways through which we are bound together through shared work, ideas passed informally among acquaintances, or even yielding to strangers on the roadway.

The error behind some of our poor plays in the game more be less a lack of objective realism than an excessive narrowness of attention.

icons/world1.png arg.20100322.0718.html Adjutant

3/22/2010 7:18


It seems to me that every revolutionary movement has had to have a thinker at the top levels of leadership. There is, I think, almost always a member of the top levels whose primary role is not to lead so much as to write, to philosophize, to justify, to explain, to clarify what the movement is about.

Having done no research whatsoever, this statement is more about my view of life than it is about actual reality. What is really on my mind is the self-image I've had since elementary school days. I can remember running around the back yard playing at being the second in command to some imaginary captain in the traditional image of the American Revolutionary War.

Throughout my employed life, I've tried to find managers whom I could support and influence. My favorite work memories are stories such as the ones from Wick Building Systems, where I found satisfaction in translating between the concepts of IBM's DOS (VSE) and their OS/VS MVS operating systems for our director so that Dave Binius could use his own experience and expertise to more effectively run the department.

Rather than be the administrator, I've tended toward being the adjutant. Not everyone will see the difference.

Every game plan has its difficulties. The main problems with my strategy have been, first, to find a candidate leader to whom I could attach myself; second, to avoid being trapped by unreflective career paths. Hidden in that pair of problems is the question of just how revolutionary the work is really going to be. Is it revolutionary to empower computer operators? Is it revolutionary to rewrite government budget tools? Is it revolutionary to track software changes? Many of the efforts I and my managers have carried out could have been revolutionary, could have been influential. But most of them died away as we ourselves moved on.

It seems to me that every revolutionary movement either dies or metamorphoses into stasis as soon as the thinker at the top level turns away. Having done no research whatsoever, this statement is more a reflection on my own life than it is about actual reality.

What one hopes is that the memory of the revolution lives on in someone else's mind, that it will be told and perhaps embellished a bit, that eventually what we have done will inspire someone else to instigate another little revolution at another time.

icons/world1.png arg.20100406.0751.html Why Vote?

4/6/2010 7:51

Why Vote?

It is election day today, and I've never felt less like voting. The election in my district is mainly about public schools. The public schools are more broken than I had realized and none of the choices offered to me seem likely to help.

Two of the ballot issues are financial questions. The worst: Shall the school district issue bonds to pay for deferred maintenance? No! They should not commit future taxes to pay for interest on costs which should never have been deferred! But what are the current alternatives? Defeat the referendum and let the buildings decay further? Or support the bonding and encourage inexcusable fiscal management?

Some of the seats on the school board are also being filled. Shall I vote for the incumbents, who got us into this mess? Or shall I vote for the one newcomer whose generalities are perfectly fine but who, in particular, supports experimenting with gender discrimination in the classroom? (On her website, she also supports the referenda and explains away the past mismanagment.)

On Monday afternoons, I volunteer with homework help for elementary and middle school students. Recently, I've been asked to help mostly with mathematics homework. (This is nice, because I like math and like to explain how it works.) The homework assignments consist almost universally of worksheets published by the textbook publisher. The worksheets are reasonable in content and acceptable in format -- I mean that they don't detract greatly from learning mathematics and in many cases support learning the basic concepts. But there is no creativity on the part of the teachers in handing out the publisher's worksheets.

Recently I read an article in Science magazine reporting a study of the effects of involving high school science teachers in science research. The conclusion, as I interpret it, is that participation of motivated teachers in a program of professional support translates (through a mechanism not yet elucidated) into a small but statistically significant improvement in the standardized test scores of students whose parents are more likely than average to expect college attendance. Establishing that such a relationship is real, and not either imaginary or an artifact of the process, is an essential step in developing a science of education. That we are still at such an elementary stage is disheartening.

Perhaps this experience is an opportunity for me to empathize with those (self-defined) "conservatives" who have felt alienated from public education for several generations. I doubt, however, that feeling empathy for other disaffected individuals does any more to improve the schools than will voting for fiscal mismanagement.

icons/world1.png arg.20100411.0642.html Clarity of thank-yous

4/11/2010 6:42

Clarity of thank-yous

There is an upcoming event, perhaps fittingly located at the "hallowed" Lambeau Field, which is billed as "Wisconsin's official Thank You event ... honoring our Vietnam veterans for their service and sacrifice."

At first thought, it is hard to argue with such an event. These are people who may have experienced great personal hardship at the demand of their national government, who may have had continuing hardship as a direct result, who may have suffered blame as victims so often are.

Some form of public recognition would not be out of place. Especially appropriate is another aspect of this program and its several ancillaries: providing forums for veterans to express their own stories, whatever those stories actually are.

But that phrase, "official Thank You", stuck in my mind. What is it, I wondered, that we are to be thanking these veterans for?

Are we thanking them for their direct actions in Viet Nam, including killing men, women, and children in their fields and villages? For destroying houses and livelihoods and for poisoning whole landscapes? For using illegal drugs? Are we thanking them for their involuntary service under the compulsion of heavy sanctions -- and is such a statement even meaningful?

Or do we thank these veterans for the indirect effects to which their actions contributed, such as destroying our national reputation, damaging our national economy, and creating civil unrest across our country and around the world?

The public statement which is called for amidst the telling of the veterans' stories is not thanks but an apology. More correctly, since no defense is possible, we should offer an act of public contrition.

icons/world1.png arg.20100503.2013.html Losing Control

5/3/2010 20:13

Losing Control

I helped a friend update a church website the other day. It was nice to be asked to help out, and nicer still to be asked to help in a matter where I actually have a skill. (My friend is computer competent and has seen my work.) Nevertheless, I finished my task with a bit of unease. The website is being maintained with an HTML generator. It isn't a bad generator, but the result isn't quite up to the standards that I would consider right.

Just the day before, I was helping a different organization as a volunteer with no specialized skills. I was inventorying a box of miscellany. The employed staff brought out a new laptop computer so that I could type the inventory directly without the need for a low-tech intermediate. The computer, however, had Windows 7 installed, a version of what I call the Mala Vista operating system. After about 10 minutes of trying to work with it, I went out to get a yellow legal pad and a ball point pen. Mala Vista just isn't right.

A couple of days before that, I had been photographing school groups participating in a museum field trip. Taking pictures, watching kids learn, eating a free lunch -- it's hard to imagine a better noon break. Later, I heard that one of the schools informed the museum that they, the school, had a "no pictures" policy and that the school expects the museum to adhere to it. The museum has every reason to be cooperative with the policies of the school, which is their client. But it isn't right for the school to expect an outside organization to modify their activities (or in this case my activities) after the fact.

Yesterday I biked to church and was distressed to find the odor of lawn poisons hanging in the air throughout my entire trip. It doesn't seem right for lawn owners to spread poison into the air that I have to breathe to get to church.

Today my painting contractor came over to confirm colors and operational requirements for painting my living room. I nearly had the room ready for his crew to come tomorrow, but when he was here this afternoon he changed the schedule to Thursday.

What is common to all of these minor annoyances? Am I really feeling depressed about the propriety of these actions? Not at all. What distresses me is that in each case I find that decisions are being made that I cannot control. Worse, these decisions are creating a world contrary to my vision of an ideal and perfect world.

What if nobody programs their own web pages anymore? What if Microsoft succeeds at creating a monopoly? What if all my photography comes to naught? What if anonymous strangers make me sick? What if I have to live with piles of books another day? Will the entire world come to an end? Probably not. Will I be unhappy? Probably so.

The fact that actual reality is not perfect in my eyes is something that I've come to terms with. But that the world isn't inevitably tending toward my vision of perfection remains an annoyance.

If the world were inevitably tending toward perfection, toward my vision of perfection I mean, then I wouldn't need to play the actual reality game. If that were the case, I would win inevitably. But "waiting for perfection" isn't the game we're playing, and coasting without making a play isn't an effective strategy in the actual reality game.

icons/world1.png arg.20100525.0628.html Choosing Exemplars

5/25/2010 6:28

Choosing Exemplars

People need to structure their self-understanding. We need to define a behavioral space within which are activities normally fall. Human players of the actual reality game are constantly seeking to find structure or to create it; our minds work more efficiently when reliable principles of organization reduce the range of what is possible. This is just as true of our self-understanding as it is of our understanding of the outside world.

In many cases, we try to define ourselves (and others) with the aid of labels: I am a programmer. I am a teacher. He is a concert pianist. These labels are a shorthand to describe a wide range of psychological and behavioral attributes. To say that I am a programmer is to say, for example, that I have a constructivist outlook and habit (rather than an analytical or interactive bias), that I think systematically, that I prefer to start from elementary building blocks.

At least that's what it means when I say this about myself. I find that a great amount of effort is required to convey the correct connotations of my categories to other people. That's one of the drawbacks of using labeled categories for self-understanding. The other drawback is that the labels are often more effective in drawing boundaries than in describing behavior; that is, it is easier for us to know what a programmer is not than about what a programmer is.

There is an alternative technique for self-understanding, which is to identify a exemplar or a model character: "I am like Thomas More", or perhaps "would like to emulate" him. One advantage of using an exemplar is that it is positive rather than negative; the exemplar's behavior is positive evidence about what I am (or, again, what I wish to become).

I do not want to be Thomas More -- he is dead and the proximate cause was a headsman's axe -- but I might want to be like him in some important ways. This implies another advantage to using exemplars, which is that it is less limiting than a labeled box. The exemplar defines a central tendency but neither excludes deviation from that ideal nor mandates the path by which to approach it.

Of course, deciding which of Thomas More's personal attributes are central and important in terms of my self-understanding is just as fuzzy and incommunicable as is the correct meaning of being a programmer. No solution is without its drawbacks, and that's what keeps this actual reality interesting.

icons/world1.png arg.20100529.1956.html The truth about babies

5/29/2010 19:56

The truth about babies

Whatever is attractive about a human infant is not any of the usual attributes of esthetics. The truth is that infants are ugly, misshapen, and asleep (except when hungry or wet). It is a quirk of perception that they can (and are) looked upon as if they were cute and adorable.

Well, I suppose that infants are "adorable" in a literal, etymological sense. They are in fact adored and so must be capable of being adored.

It would be more useful to say that the infant is lovable. What is important is that larger humans behave as if the infant human is attractive in the ordinary senses of that word. We can only hope that close relatives of newborns don't read this musing for several years, because they are convinced that their baby meets all the criteria for visual beauty (and may claim olfactory beauty as well).

A potential for some sort of incipient comeliness may be visible even in the youngest children. I'm quite certain that's not what the adults find attractive about them, however. What attracts the adults is that the baby is misshapen and helpless in specific, stereotypical ways which record as infant human in the adult brain.

That category of infant human engenders responses such as closeness, protectiveness, and various other kinds of service which are useful to the infant (and the species). These responses are generally rather costly to the adult, whose only immediate benefit is emotional. A reductionist view would argue that there is nothing else. The fact is that we can plausibly (if speculatively) explain parental activity entirely on the basis of innate infant recognition cues and responses.

One needn't be so completely reductive, though, to recognize that the attraction of infants is a distinct class of human response. To the parent or caring adult, the appearance of the infant in their sight feels like the apparition of pure beauty. But it isn't.

The actual reality is stronger and deeper than pure beauty, more profound than cuteness.

icons/world1.png arg.20100602.0721.html Single Authors

6/2/2010 7:21

Single Authors

A large piece of our legal and economic culture is based on the fiction that a single person (whether a real or fictive person) can be assigned authorship and ownership of a writing. We call the ownership right the "copyright" and the writings we've renamed "intellectual property".

This was not the case among our ancestors. Community and evolving authorship was natural and assumed. Presumably only those changes and additions which improved the work would be received by the community; all others would be lost.

Our reality is the same; we have not changed so much as the changes in our law of property might suggest.

I recall Dr. William Naumann demurring when I asked to confirm a quotation from one of his lectures. "The words might be mine," he admitted, "but it was certainly not an original thought." (I should note that I have not confirmed the exact wording of the demurral.)

This is always so. Someone -- several people, no doubt -- suggested that it takes 10 years to come up with one original idea of your own; 5 years to fully assimilate another's original idea. Most ideas are not truly original at all, but are rearrangements or new presentations of existing and even well-known thoughts.

Such rearrangements are very valuable to us. They are the engine of intellectual progress. But they are also intrinsically community actions. You juxtapose 2 old ideas in a new way, then I see an application to an old problem, an after that someone else finds an elegant solution to supercede my klutzy combination of ideas ... and so we move forward.

Who owns that elegant solution? In our time and culture, that "someone else" does. Only that "someone else" reaps the economic reward. But you and I were also contributors to this solution, and so were those who passed along the 2 old ideas, those who earlier had identified that old problem, those who shared your juxtaposition with me, those who commented on my new application of the ideas to that old problem.

It was, in reality, a community development becoming a community benefit. It is only a legal and economic fiction to assign ownership of the result of this process to the one who touched it last.

Why do we engage in this particular fiction? Past societies engaged in different fictions for community authorship. (An author would commonly place the writing in the mouth of a famous historical character for example: The Testament of Abraham.)

Our choice of fictions is based on our common understanding of what drives our society forward. We hold the notion that progress is founded on economic self-interest. Faithful to that concept, we choose a fiction which creates an economic self-interest for engaging in community intellectual development.

I am not entirely comfortable with using fictions such as this to guide our play of the actual reality game. It seems to me that actual reality is, or ought to be, a better basis for play than such common fiction. My discomfort is tempered somewhat by the observation that while this fiction has shaped participation in communal intellectual processes, it certainly has not squelched people's willingness to participate.

Many, indeed, believe that their particpation is motivated entirely by the hope of personal gain which our cultural fiction dangles before them. Others actively engage in counter-fictive activities, such as intentionally communal development processes and "public" licensing. The rest of us are enjoying the fruits of this very communal actual reality which is played by dancing around a peculiar cultural fiction.

icons/world1.png arg.20100702.0814.html Clarity of purpose, sharpness of aim

7/2/2010 8:14

Clarity of purpose, sharpness of aim

If I were searching the world-wide web for a debate between fighting terror with fear of censorship and fighting terror by means of fear of firearms, and was looking for an exchange of idea which is expressed using demeaning, sexist, and scatalogical terms, how would I know to look for a blog page about heavy-handed corporate attempts to control former employees with threats of lawsuits? True, all these topics share contact with fear, but then fear is a fundamental experience in actual reality and will be a theme on millions of pages.

I wasn't looking for such an odd mixture of discontinuous ideas. I happened on the page by following odd links off another page. Following the link in the first place was a poor play; the other web page wasn't very interesting, either, and I suspect the chances are low that an uninteresting page would link to an interesting one.

It is interesting that people take off on wild tangents this way. It appears that the first turn was a deliberate attack by an organized group which is actively looking for openings to throw out their opinions. The interesting thing is that other people simply accepted the revision of the topic. Presumably none of them were originally looking at the page in order to discuss terrorism cloaked in Islamic trappings. (At best, someone might have been looking for something about corporate terrorism cloaked in legal maneuvering.) Yet when the new topic was introduced, the content of the comments veered onto the new agenda.

This illustrates how terrorists, propagandists, and advertisers are able to shape the public conversation and to limit the discussion of important policy issues. If you are going to play the actual reality game well, you need to make use of this tendency or to defend against it.

Not only the topic is mutable by a strong voice, but the range of tactics is also set by the most visible example. One commentator attempts to battle a terrorist group by making threats against third parties. Another commentator suggests that if you want world peace you should get a gun and start killing people. Even the language and style is quickly shared between the disputants (as they echo low-grade insults to each other).

The participants in this debate oppose each other but they share both methods and style. Warriors can battle warriors, but only in the context of war. Threats may attack terrorists but cannot lesson terror.

Stepping outside the current terms of engagement is hard, and maintaining clarity of purpose is even harder. The web log postings illustrate the pitfalls, but we will have to look elsewhere for examples of a more effective way to play the game.

A few excerpts from the blog

wooga Says: May 23rd, 2007 at 9:50 am

Why is DreamHost knowingly hosting “Voice of Jihad," an AL-QAEDA website?

Ask your lawyer what happens when you knowingly provide support to a designated terrorist group.

Here's a clue, the 1st Amendment offers no protection. Have him read Gillars v. United States, 182 F.2d 962 (D.C. Cir. 1950). Then crap your pants.

Redjack Donovan Says: May 23rd, 2007 at 10:08 am

Really bad karma in taking money from terrorists, Josh. You'd better nip this in the bud and delete “Voice of Jihad." I expect you don't care about the moral ramifications of supporting our enemies, the brave jihadi babyhunters, so consider the business ones.

Mike Says: May 23rd, 2007 at 10:52 am

If every site was taken down that someone else didn't like, there would be no more web sites. You sissies need to get a life and spend less time googling for terrorist sites.

Want to fight terrorists? Quit being pussies and go join the service. Whining in blog comments isn't going to achieve world peace.


Mike Says: May 27th, 2007 at 8:36 am

If those little pussies cared half as much about terrorists as they claim, they’d be running towards them with rifles as soldiers–not spamming for them from keyboards.

icons/world1.png arg.20100705.1554.html Ten Warning Signs of Alzheimer's Disease

7/5/2010 15:54

Ten Warning Signs of Alzheimer's Disease

The Green Bay Sun arrived in the mail the other day. It's only an advertiser ("Private Party Classifieds Up to 20 Words $10/1st Week") so the lead story is invariably an advertisement. This week the front page was given over to fund-raising for the Alzheimer's Association Memory Walk.

All well and good, except that they filled the space with the Top Ten Warning Signs of Alzheimer's Disease.

(1) Memory changes that disrupt daily life. This item is not too big a concern. Lots of things are disrupting my daily life, but I'm not aware that changes in memory are among them.

(2) Challenges in planning or solving problems. Challenges ... aren't they the essence of planning and problem solving? How can having challenges be a warning sign of impending dementia? Actually, my worry has been more along the lines of whether I can retire and still have sufficient challenge to keep myself involved and attentive.

(4) Confusion with time or place. Does this include rushing off to my volunteer position at the Salvation Army's Homework Help Club 2 hours early? At least I went to the correct location that time. Sometimes when I'm walking my dog I'll look up and say, 'Where are we?' The dog laughs at me.

(3) Difficulty completing familiar tasks. In the past, I have been able to maintain numerical order.

(5) Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships. What direction does Deckner Avenue run, anyway? If I head east on Main Street, Deckner crosses. If I head east on the Baird Creek bike trail, Deckner is parallel.

(6) New problems with words in speaking or writing. I'm OK here; all my word problems are old ones. At least all the ones I can rememeber.

(7) Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps. All afternoon I've been pondering where I put a clothespin-based reindeer figure that used to be on the wall in the kitchen before the painter came. At least I remember that the painters did come and that I put the reindeer ... somewhere.

(8) Decreased or poor judgement. Whether my judgement has decreased is uncertain, but I can list numerous examples of poor judgement. One obvious one was the choice to read, and then worse to think about this list of warning signs.

(9) Withdrawal from work or social activities. It's uncanny, like they know me. Yes, I have been thinking about withdrawing from work.

(10) Changes in mood and personality. That idea of withdrawing from paid employment has affected my mood, increasing anxiety and distractedness. The idea of stayed employed in my current situation also affects my mood, mostly toward fear and depression.

icons/world1.png arg.20100711.1349.html Efficiency

7/11/2010 13:49


I noticed my neighbor the other day, tending the grass on his lawn. Now, I've never understood why people want their entire lawn to be covered with a monoculture of a particular weed species, but that is a question to ponder at a later date. This neighbor went through the usual machinations of mowing (with a gasoline-powered engine) and and trimming (with a gasoline-powered engine); between times he has someone else come and pour various (petroleum-derived) poisons over the plants. So it is clear that, whatever the reason, he is committed to a grassy lawn.

Upon completion of the mowing operations, my neighbor took out a "leaf blower" (with a gasoline-powered engine) and attacked the grass clippings in the portion of the lawn between the street and sidewalk, blowing them into the gutter.

In this way, he was able to accomplish 4 goals at once: He created air pollution and noise pollution from the motor, he created water pollution from the blades of grass which will (as they rot away) flow into the river and bay, and he impoverished his lawn by mining nutrients.

This is efficiency.

That is, this would be efficiency if these results are what he was striving to attain. I have no direct knowledge of my neighbor's actual goals, but I have some knowledge of what he accomplished in reality.

The quality of my neighbor's play in the actual reality game can't be measured in absolute terms. The measurement must be tied to the goals my neighbor set and the strategy by which he is working to achieve them. Were his goals remotely similar to mine, these tactics would be precisely counter-effective. I have already observed that my neighbor's goals are almost certainly distinct from my goals, so there remains the possibility that he is accomplishing exactly what he set out to do, and with great efficiency.

It could also be that he has not considered his plays with sufficient care to choose a more effective tactic.

icons/world1.png arg.20100717.0802.html Corporate training

7/17/2010 8:2

Corporate training

While discussing a bit of corporate dysfunctionality, a colleague suggested that communications training was needed. That's a standard corporate response -- always true, but almost never acted upon.

Being able to communicate is all well and good. After all, a worker can't effectively carry out direction if the direction to be followed is not expressed well enough for the worker to know what to do. But that's not all there is to making an organization function. I suggested that there are really 3 topics that should be covered in this non-existent training program.

1. Relationships

The first topic is how to build releationships of trust and respect. I've seen some attempts in this direction, but most of them tend toward the warm fuzzies and the hope that we can all just get along. That's not what I mean.

From an organizational point of view, the value of trust and respect is that such relationships induce a person to want to perform well and in conformance with the desires of the other person. In a context of trust and respect, I will accept your decision about what tasks ought to be done and when. Absent trust, I would want to reexamine each decision and would tend not to conform until your judgement is confirmed by independent evidence. That is, at the least, inefficient. Without respect, I will tend to disregard or even subvert every directive I receive.

The fundamental mutuality of respect is a key element here. The boss will not be well respected if the boss does not respect the other members of the team. The team will not trust management if low-value employees are treated as if they were highly valued by management.

Even if I understand exactly what you want from me, it communication is perfect, it does not follow that I will perform as you desire. This topic is about creating the relationship in which people will want to work effectively together.

2. Communication

Naturally, trust and respect require the practice of communication. Then, to achieve any specific goal, the objectives, the task assignments, and the personal roles of all involved need to be communicated. That is, they must be shared, they must be made common to the participants.

I'm not sure that communicating can quite be taught; there are always some people who don't communicate even when they know how to do it. And without trust and respect we may not want to communicate. Merely teaching how to share ideas and information is not sufficient alone, but it is necessary.

Clearly it is possible to teach the techniques of communication, to answer such questions as: How can I express my thoughts clearly? How can I vary my communication to account for differences in language skills, background, experience, and modalities of learning? What signs should I look for to know whether or not the content has been successfully communicated? When should I try again? When should I back off and wait?

There are a lot of programs being sold to improve communication, and some of them work. If at the end of participating in such a program you can objectively evaluate whether the program successfully communicated the skills needed for better communication, then I say it was a success. If not ... better to look for another program.

3. Thinking clearly

Being able to communicate well is important; wanting to communicate well is important; but having something to say is essential. You have to have an idea in order to communicate it.

(I almost said you have to have an idea before you communicate, but that is not true. It is possible, and sometimes desirable, to develop the idea during the process of communication.)

My experience is that many people never have a clear thought. For many people, all communication is purely connotative; nothing specific is ever denoted in their speech or writing. They may connote beautifully (although most do not) but at best the picture they paint is abstract art. It could be nice to look at, but by itself it doesn't inspire a concrete response.

The category in which this topic falls is "critical thinking". Before, during, and after an effort in communication, it is valuable to examine whether what is being said is relevant to achieving the goal, whether the information is sufficient to do the work, whether assumptions are being made which ought to be tested, whether there are ambiguities that need to be further resolved, and whether the totality of what is being said self-consistent.

Thinking probably can't be taught directly, but the techniques of critical thinking can be taught and the practice of critical thinking can be modelled, recognized, and honored.

I don't think I'm particularly qualified to teach any of these 3 topics to corporate employees, but I wouldn't mind having an opportunity to try. Even if my students didn't learn what they need to know I would have fun learning the subject in new ways.

icons/world1.png arg.20100802.0753.html Dan Nowak

8/2/2010 7:53

Dan Nowak

Dan Nowak for State Representative: "Believe in Yourself, Not the Politicians". The question, Dan, is why should I make an exception for you?

I'm not sure why farmers, lawyers, and retired truck drivers who have made an effort to serve in political office are less to be trusted than farmers, lawyers, and truck drivers who have never made any such commitment. Perhaps only persons already warped even seek public office. There's some logic to that line of thought, and if it is correct Dan Nowak is surely as warped as anyone. Perhaps it is the attempt to get elected which somehow warps the spirit of these citizens. If that's the case, Dan Nowak is doomed.

Alternatively, it may be possible for good people to run, be elected, and serve effectively in public office. Then the question to be asked is this: Is Dan Nowak a better person, a more skillful legislator, more committed, more idealistic, more wise, or in any other way a better candidate than some other person? In other words, the question to be asked is the same question as should always be asked about any candidate.

Dan Nowak's literature tries to deflect the question to something else. He says, "politicians are running our country/state". Politicians! Imagine! Who else would be running our government, except for citizens who have offered their services as legislators and executives to the voters and have been approved to serve?

I'm a little bit confused about just where Dan Nowak sees the problem to exist. What is a "country/state"? "Country estates" I've heard of, and even seen from a distance although I'm not rich enough to afford one for myself. Apparently there are several of these country/states, none of which meet Dan Nowak's criteria for perfection.

However, the current condition of these entities is not without some positive impact on society, at least according to Dan Nowak. He writes, "Our country/states are so screwed up morally/financially, [that] people want to find an example of what good looks like." (I'm uncomfortable mixing morality and finances so closely, but let that go for now.) If Dan Nowak is right, and I admit that I can't vouch for him on this point, then the imperfections of country/states are inspiring philosophical inquiries after the example of Plato.

But not by Dan Nowak.

Dan Nowak is instead proposing 3 changes, none of them either philosophical or good.

First, of course, Dan Nowak wishes himself to be given political office. I've already noted the incongruity of this aspiration with his stated concern that politicians run the government. If not to run the government, then why would we pay you that salary?

Second and third, Dan Nowak proposes enacting "2 state constitutional amendments". The first of these would prohibit a truck driver or restauranteur with experience in the legislature (or any other elective office) from continuing to serve the public in that capacity. The second would mandate that corporations, unions, political parties, east coast investors, and political action committees (all being other than "individuals that reside in the state") buy their political advertising separately from the candidates whom they support or oppose, thus enforcing of a welter of disparate and uncoordinated voices.

What Dan Nowak does not propose is any reason for Dan Nowak to be elected to office. In this, of course, Dan Nowak is being a true politician.

icons/world1.png arg.20100821.0946.html Demons

8/21/2010 9:46


Recently I watched a movie about demons. Ostensibly it was about evil and the effect that evil had on a family. The plot involved a serial killer, his father, and his younger brother. The father and brother were also serial killers, but they claimed to be destroying demons under the direct command of God rather than killing human beings.

The older brother, in contrast, made no moral claims. The movie allows us to interpret him as a more or less normal child who was psychologically destroyed by the experience of living with, and finally killing, a pathological father.

You might suppose that my synopsis fully indicates just how messed up this movie plot could become, but you would be wrong.

As the movie progresses, more and more details hint at some sort of reality to the father's claim to be executing divine justice. At first we move have only unsupported statements about visions of angels, revealed lists of names of targets, and references to evil perpetrated by the targets (that is, by the supposed demons). Step by step we move from this to knowing details of child murder and the other targets' crimes and the inexplicable failure of surveillence camera to record the demon-killer's face.

The audience should discount most of these hints because they are presented by the younger brother who, as we said, is making the same claim for himself. The camera failure, by itself, would be inconclusive. What finally requires our attention is the younger brother identifying the FBI agent as a matricide and the agent's apparent, implied confession.

Here, then, is the crux of the problem. If the father and younger brother are merely psychopathic, how are these revelations about their victims to be explained? (Not to the mention the TV monitor.) One would need to step outside of the artistic evidence and make up an explanation from whole cloth. That might be the most believable result, but it would say nothing about the movie's message.

On the other hand, if they truly are sent by God, if the father's self-interpretation is true, then the evils that are being addressed were performed by demons who are not human beings. If this were so, then we have done away with human sin, repentence, forgiveness, and salvation. Besides that, we do not know the God who is being portrayed by the film, a God who acts through lies and killing, in secret.

A third possibility is that the father was never in touch with God but that the evil-doers were revealed to him by the devil. The demons are destroying each other. We would then quote Jesus quoting the proverb that a house divided against itself cannot stand.

It is the movie which cannot stand. Technically competent and psychologically engaging, but it's intellectual foundation is vapor. The plot presumes aspects of Christian theology but then proceeds in contrary directions. It cannot stand within the logic of Christian revelation nor can it stand on its own, without Christianity as its background.

Here is a movie about evil which says nothing about evil. It is well enough done that this is a disappointment.

icons/world1.png arg.20100824.1524.html Predjudice

8/24/2010 15:24


It's been interesting watching Green Bay integrate over the past years. The curious fact from which we start is that GB had almost no minority people other than Oneida and Menominee for a ridiculously long time. When I was in high school, I'm pretty sure that there was exactly 1 black student among the 1600 or so. He was integrated by default. (The Native Americans in the city were substantially integrated, too, with a low-grade but continuous level of prejudice.) Other minorities had bypassed Green Bay to a surprising degree.

When I moved back to Green Bay 25 years ago, this was only just starting to change. Schools became integrated at a faster rate than the population as a whole, and I watched parents struggling with the twin issues of prejudice and discrimination among their children a generation ago. The other adults were able to ignore the issues for a while longer. I should note that the first major minority influx was of Hmong refugees, which occurred much more quickly than changes in the Black and Hispanic groups. That probably had some influence on how the community responded, since Hmong were considered strangers but did not arrive with the baggage of criminal association. That is, Hmong gang membership only became an issue later, whereas Blacks might be seen as potential gang members and drug dealers as soon as they moved to town.

Today we've finally arrived at some modicum of an integrated community. There are various minority homeowners across my neighborhood -- still not many, but you do see them in their yards, talking to neighbors, walking and driving down the street. It would now be difficult to believe that GB doesn't have any significant minority populations, although I'm sure that some older residents hold that idea as their working hypothesis. My impression is that those white adults who have lived here for years are generally aware of the issues of racism and prejudice and desirous of avoiding those problems. There are, of course, exceptions. My neighborhood also includes a pickup truck with white pride and Hatebreed bumper stickers.

People behaving differently from people of our past experience are noticed. That is both natural and prudent and not, in itself, an indication of prejudice or discrimination. At the same time, being noticed and wondered about makes any person more vulnerable to prejudice. I remember my former neighbor classifying the kids who lived behind me as being "hooligans" -- despite their being white and polite and not walking on her lawn. She probably put that label on them because they were more visible and audible than she expected. When you see someone or something which doesn't exactly fit within your category of normal, your brain attempts to fit some other established category. If the neighbor boy doesn't look or act like a "nice" boy, and you have a category of "hooligan", you will test whether your observations fit "hooligan" better than "nice". (Neither of those categories work for me, or even denote anything meaningful to me.) If there is no category available to you, you will be open to your friends and neighbors suggesting a classification for you to use.

Until you find a classification that fits your knowledge, the observations nag at the surface of consciousness. And that is always uncomfortable.

There is a tendency for minorities to be more common in older and poorer neighborhoods of GB, which reinforces some of the continuing prejudices. Many of my neighbors have prejudices about poor people which are entirely separate from racial and ethnic prejudices. (Some of them may also have prejudices about rich people.) I can imagine people in GB saying, "We all know that crime is rampant along South Maple Street and always has been." Or Day Street or Jackson Street. They might also ask, "Why would anyone move there, unless they are criminals too?" That would be prejudice, but not racial or ethnic prejudice. (It is in line with the question, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?") To the extent that identifiable racial and ethnic groups live more frequently in these areas, the geographic prejudice becomes also a racial or ethnic prejudice.

I would contrast this prejudice about South Maple Street with the prejudice that no drug dealers live on my street. I live on a nice street (whatever that means) and it may be true that there are no dealers living here now. But I'm quite confident that there was one living directly across the street from me a few years ago. The police visits were one sign, and the cars which drove up in the middle of the night another. Fortunately for our property values, reality hasn't deeply affected the prejudgement about my neighborhood.

Recently I've noticed groups of minority youth, mainly boys and (in my neighborhood) more often Black than Hmong of Mexican. These gatherings are not infrequently larger, noisier, and rowdier than the groups of kids we became accustomed to over the prior 40 years, a fact which reinforces another, overlapping set of fears and prejudices. One such group was worrying some neighbors around the corner from me on a recent evening. The neighbors told me that the group had been waiting for a fight; maybe they were, but all I saw was a typical end-of-summer bunching of teenagers.

Of course, many people have prejudices about teenagers which are distinct from any racial and ethnic prejudices. Most adults are a little bit afraid of teenagers. (This is often in spite of wishing to be like them.)

Like geographical prejudices, age-related prejudices can easily merged with other categories of pre-judgement. A Mexican teenager from the poor side of town is more quickly categorized as evil and dangerous than a middle-aged Hispanic professional living just a little bit upscale from me. We can still prejudge the professional, but it takes a little bit more work to do so and our judgement is a little less confident than in the case of those rowdy boys and trashy girls.

Teenagers we actually know, Mexicans we actually know, Blacks we actually know are for the most part exceptions to the general prejudgement. One might think this reality would trump the prejudice, but that is not the case in general. Reality only applies to the individuals we know. Predjudice applies to all people we do not know, those about whom we do not have enough direct knowledge to treat as a part of our personal reality.

icons/world1.png arg.20100917.2342.html Never-Ever Land

9/17/2010 23:42

Never-Ever Land

I believe that I have just visited Never-Never Land or a fairly close facsimile. Never-Never Land is the place where nobody ever matures, nobody evers provides continuity or stability to life.

In the land I visited, people on bicycles happily wave their thanks to motor vehicle drivers who actually stop at stop signs. The bikers themselves, just as in the real world, never stop at stop signs. But sometimes the drivers stop where there is no sign, and sometimes they stop where the bicycles have a stop sign. And sometimes they don't, of course.

And so in Never-Ever Land every intersection requires a negotiation.

I don't want to live where nobody ever grows up. Childhood is great -- for children who are growing up. What makes childhood great, what makes childhood safe, what even makes such a childhood possible are the traditions, rules, and social structure which are provided by adults.

Every intersection is new to a child, but not to an adult. People ought to reach pre-agreement on some things; not everything which happens -- not every intersection of life -- should require full attention to negotiate. We've done that; we've figured out a system that works, at least fairly well; we agree to follow the system; we are adults.

I suppose that the custom of negotiating the right of way irrespective of any overtly stated rights is a sort of agreement among the people of Never-Ever Land. It's an agreement to void adult responsibility and to reinvent their rights at every meeting. There's a certain amount of protocol in that agreement, but it turns every meeting into a meeting of children, children who have to explore their mutual responsibilities all over again.

In actual reality we are not children. We were only pretending to be children, only acting like children.

In actual reality we are adults. We are capable of creating Constitutions and lesser laws, of ordering life sufficiently that we do not need to focus all our attention on renegotiating minutia of daily life. We are capable of redirecting our mental abilities from negotiating the right of way at every intersection to developing the rights of life -- food, shelter, health, opportunity.

Why do we choose to create a Never-Ever Land of walking in circles over and over again?

icons/world1.png arg.20101006.0543.html Anger

10/6/2010 5:43


Anger arises from discordance between my observations and my expectations for how the world ought to be. That is, first I claim ownership of the world and then I find that this claim is not immediately efficacious.

Anger is invariably alienating. Anger is based on setting myself against the world and it inspires similarly antagonistic responses. The result of anger can only be division and separation.

I can be angry with myself, but only to the extent that I find me a stranger to myself. This experience of self-alienation is not uncommon to us humans, and therefore self-anger is also well known in human experience.

Anger carries an illusion of being motivating. Anger does raise my energy level but at the cost of focus and direction (not to mention the high physiological costs). Anger suppresses rationality and goal-setting. I can be motivated by anger to move but not to be productive.

There is a negative motivational component to anger. Anger is uncomfortable and disruptive; this gives rise to the negative motivation to avoid being angry or making another person angry. This negative motivation, this avoidance, extends the alienating aspects of anger itself.

Anger is at its core a response to threat. Anger's undirected response to threat can be protective; it can set an assailant off momentarily and allow a more directed response to succeed. Since I am privileged with social and economic power, with safety, health, and generally orderly surroundings, I am not much or often threatened and I ought to be angry little and seldom.

icons/world1.png arg.20101103.1036.html Economic Tautology

11/3/2010 10:36

Economic Tautology

Idealogues are seldom beneficial to prosperity or to progress of any other sort. That seems almost a tautology. After all, if you know all the answers, what benefit is there in pursuing new ideas? Or, for that matter, letting others pursue them? If you have all the answers, "progress" is a waste of time.

The conundrum comes from the observation that having no answers does not lead to prosperity or to progress of any other sort. If you have none of the answers, what good do you do by trying anything new? Any choice you can makes, if you have none of the answers, is a shot in the dark, a grab in a bag, a random chance. The only certainty when you are uncertain is maintaining whatever you have, however good or bad it is.

To move forward, to make the world better in any way at all, you must first have some certainty about the direction in which you should move. Yet in order to continue to progress, you must be uncertain, enough unsure of yourself that you will reexamine and refine your tactics, your strategy, even your fundamental objectives.

The best position is not merely a middle ground between overconfidence and passive uncertainty. The best orientation, in actual reality, is actively reaching for true humility: knowing and owning your own true worth, and neither more nor less than that; knowing and granting the true worth of others, and neither more nor less than that.

icons/world1.png arg.20101117.1414.html It is a poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word

11/17/2010 14:14

It is a poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word

The title is perhaps a quotation from Andrew Jackson. Perhaps not. If he did say it, he deserves the credit for it.

My own view is that Spanish has implemented a much better idea about spelling than has English. That should go without saying; English has no idea of spelling. What English has is the dictionary. That is, English spelling has an authority (several, in fact, which sometimes disagree among themselves) but it lacks any rational basis for its spelling.

Or consider the parts of speech. As language has evolved the conjugations have been simplified. Latin seems to have simplified the Etruscan forms; Spanish certainly simplified the Latin. Oneida, by the way, is among the languages with a vast range of special forms: person, gender, number, and relationship to the speaker all affect the word form. English, the most recent of major languages, has the least fixed structure. You or I or the guy in the auto shop can use paint (n.) to paint (v.) my truck, provided that you use the correct paint (a.) color; and nothing changes in the word form. Any noun can be used adjectivally (or "attributively"). Many verbs are commonly used as nouns, with the tendency being to expand this usage -- hence "an invite". Nouns are being verbed. And with the overlap of homonyms and homographs, there hardly seems to be any discernable structure left. The diehards, me included, continue to demand conformance but we have little effect.

And yet ... English is used quite successfully to communicate in a wide variety of situations. Also to obfuscate when desired. It would appear that authority has been overrated for language.

If this is true of language, is is also true of theology? Some of us really appreciate systematic theology, such as Rahner's Foundations of Christian Thought, for example, but that doesn't automatically make Rahner into an authority whose views constrain theological thinking. His contribution is to organize and systematize, which helps us to think more clearly. All of us still think. Some theological positions emphasize the community contribution to theological discernment. Two which come to mind are the earliest [Moravaian] Unity in Prague (in Luke of Prague's time) and Latin American base communities (at the end of the 20th Century). It may well be that authority has been overrated for theology.

If authority has been overrated for theology, then it may be much more overrated in the area of spirituality. The horror, real and pretended, which met the spiritual awakening in the European middle ages and Reformation period was predicated on the fact that direct contact with the Holy Spirit can not be effectively regulated by either church or state. (Worse, perhaps, was that merely imagined contact with the Holy Spirit can't be regulated, either. They were quite familiar with pretense.)

Who is the authority competent to judge the Judge of the Universe? Jesus spoke about discerning the work of the Spirit, and it seems to me that his words lead us back again to community. Specifically, Jesus' words point to the people gathered in Jesus' name together with the Holy Spirit. Clearly that was the structure for discernment among the apostles in the earliest days of the church.

One does not want to over-extol this ideal. We know that in actual reality church boards are at best imperfect. We know that annual congregational meetings seldom do any theology or spiritual discernment whatever. We know that synods and conferences are as likely to reflect established habit and prejudice as to discern the will of God. And we know that gathering the whole Church together to reach a consensus on any point whatever would be a failure under every possible measure.

We also know some tricks and techniques to help us emulate such a gathering and to achieve, over time, exactly such a discernment. And that, in actual reality, is where "order" brings benefit to faith. Good order, well used, is a means toward extracting the clearest discernment, the highest worship, the closest community and leaving aside more of the uncertainty, self-centeredness, and division.

The etymology of authority is auctor, author. Authority is overrated when it is not grounded in the concept of authorship; authorship is overrated if it is not grounded in the experience of a gift overflowing the author. In actual reality the only true authority must be the opinion of people whose lives are overflowed by Spirit.

icons/world1.png arg.20101119.0639.html Cell Phones

11/19/2010 6:39

Cell Phones

I do own a cell phone, but I don't understand the popularity. For me telephony is a Red Queen technology. I only need the cell phone because alternatives like pay phones are disappearing because most people have cell phones; you have to run as fast as you can just to stay in one place.

Walking down the street, mumbling to my dog, I notice a percentage of people (with and without dogs) in constant conversation on their cell phones. (Walk the same streets at the same times and you can often see the same people saying the same things.) This I do not understand. Who can they be talking to? Other people who are walking the streets in the next block?

The other day I was reading an article about the developing world which helped me understand, just a little bit, how cell phones have achieved some of their popularity. The article stated that cell phone use in Africa, India, China, and other nations is growing at an astonishing rate. (That is, the rate astonishes me.) Some of this change is simply leapfrogging technology; there is no advantage to creating a wired infrastructure in developing areas and then converting to wireless. The rest appears to be the economic advantages which accrue from connectivity: farmers knowing commodity prices or obtaining needed technical advice, among other examples.

What struck me was that farmers and business people in these developing areas were described as becoming more independent, more in control of their own destinies. I still don't understand precisely how this technology is accomplishing this change. I accept on faith the report that the change is occurring.

From this I am able to draw an analogy with youth in developed countries: teenagers in the US specifically. Youth, those people who are nearly adult in mind and body but still children in status and social power, are relatively unempowered. (I do not dispute the economic impact of teens and tweenagers in the United States but merely note that their influence is secondary and dependent.) For the relatively unempowered, the cell phone is a tool for generating independence. My suggestion is that what cell phones are doing for farmers in eastern Africa is analogous to what cell phone use does for youth in Europe and America.

I still don't understand precisely how this technology is accomplishing this change. I merely observe that the proposed analogy may be explanatory. For if independent connectivity supports independent control in the lives of poor farmers, very likely it provides that same social service in the lives of dependent subadults in rich countries. If cell phones do provide this service, then it is not surprising that the technology is embraced by the youth.

If my hypothesis is correct, it may not matter so much to whom a person is speaking or what they say to each other; what matters may only be that the reality of this independent communication is constantly affirmed.

In order to extend this idea into a testable theory, to move into science from my reflective speculations, one might need to propose some explanation of how a cell phone effectively enhances the youths' control over their own lives. But I don't understand precisely how this technology can possible accomplish this service; it doesn't seem to do much to enhance my independence and control. Then again, I am relatively powerful in my own life, even compared to other financially stable US adults.

In actual reality I still understand very little about the popularity of cell phones.

icons/world1.png arg.20101119.0912.html Evolutionism

11/19/2010 9:12


I saw it coming. But it still set my blood to simmering.

The problem is that 65% of Americans don't agree with 98% of professional scientists. And that many scientists believe that they should.

Specifically, the scientists believe in an evolutionary origin of species. The 65% who disagree know (most of them) that species can adapt and change and they know that the theory of evolution posits that this adaptation is sufficient to explain the existence of different species. This 65% believes that the explanation for speciation set out in the theory of evolution is (as a later letter writer paraphrased) "just dumb." (Perhaps not all of the 65%; I oversimplify. The data is that "72% of Americans answered correctly when the statement about humans evolving from earlier species was prefaced with the phrase 'according to the theory of evolution.'" Where "correctly" means "like 98% of working scientists".)

The National Science Board decided not to publish the percentage of people who disagree with the working scientists. Apparently they recognized that more people are informed about evolutionary theory than are in agreement with it, thus making the bare percentages misleading for most purposes. Alternatively, they might have been trying "to hide a national embarrassment".

Like many scientists, I believe that everyone else should agree with my opinions. One difference is that 99% of people who have even heard of me have no idea what my opinions are, whereas a sizable portion of Americans do have some idea about the theory of evolution. On any given issue, however, 99.65% of people who know me, or about 65% of the people who know my opinion, do seem to hold a variety of opinions which all disagree with mine. This would substantially match the experience with evolution (although I don't have solid data for these imaginary statistics).

My experience is that merely being informed of the conclusions I have reached is insufficient to shape other people's opinions. Why this should be is not entirely clear; merely observing my conclusions ought to be enough to overwhelm all others with my brilliance. But it is not.

Oh, there is much more to be said on this general topic. We could consider such tangential factors as scientists speaking out of all three sides of their mouths when they write journal articles proposing that a virus has evolved for the purpose of evading host defenses and then chastise the lay public for insisting that there is purpose in creation. We could examine the even more abysmal results in the area of The Big Bang Theory (not the TV show, but the cosmological speculation in which physicists discuss in some detail what happened during the first 5 nanoseconds of the universe before any mechanism for defining the passage of time had yet formed).

Or we could revisit my college speculation on the probability that our civilization is on the cusp of entering a new Dark Age.

Science magazine; 9 April 2010, page 150; 19 May 2010, online.

icons/world1.png arg.20101213.0638.html Disturbia

12/13/2010 6:38


I have to think that Shia LaBoeuf is a good actor. When I saw him in the teen horror movie Disturbia, I want to be him.

Not the actual actor, of course. I didn't want to be LaBeouf, and even less so after I read about his real life in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shia_LaBeouf:Wikipedia -- even though he was slim, muscular, and 22 years old. Nor do I mean the movie character Kale Brecht who was not quite 18, in trouble with the law since the traffic accident which killed his father (while Kale was driving), and, worst of all for a character in a movie, eminently forgettable.

No, the person that I felt I wanted to be was the imaginary person that LaBeouf caused the character Kale to evoke when Kale was in the presence of the girl next door.

This desire is not based simply on the fact that the girl next door was portrayed by the slightly older model Sarah Roemer, although that played its part. Another part is that in the movie, unlike actual reality, the character Kale was most admirable, most enviable, and -- because we want it to be so -- most believable when he was with the girl.

Even LaBeouf couldn't make his character believable when moving the insipid plot forward. But then the movie wasn't about the plot; the plot was only a tool to bring teenaged girls and boys close together for 105 minutes. And that, in actual reality, is why Kale is so enviable when he is with the girl.

Movies are not real life, but the movie business is a piece of the actual reality game and making people feel that they can be what they wish they were is a strong play for any player in the game.

icons/world1.png arg.20101222.0746.html The Band Concert

12/22/2010 7:46

The Band Concert

I was only making small moves last night in the actual reality game, but I did want to connect in a more visible way with a bit of actual reality. So I went over to West High School to see the band and hear actual music being played by real people.

Good music, teenagers, and - as it happened - exactly the right length concert to hold my attention and yet satisfy my sense of completeness. I couldn't have asked for much more in a concert.

The conductor (the band teacher) was persistent in finding many ways to praise his students to the audience and to elicit applause from the audience for the students, both for their actual performance before us and for his reports of their performance in other situations. This seems to me to be an odd method of motivating people, because it is not one which draws out the best from me. I could see, however, that it was a good play in terms of rewarding and influencing many of the band members on the stage. I can't say whether or not this play proved effective at making the students into better musicians, but it appeared to make many of them feel good about their performing, something which similar plays have never done for me.

The better play of the game last night, all puns intended, was found in people in making music together. I am quite sure that some of the band were aware of the fact that they were, by playing together, making music.

When I was at Franklin Junior High School I made a year's foray into being a musician. That is, I took one year of junior high band and played the trombone. I wasn't very good. I don't think the band was very good, either. Although it might be that I wasn't equipped to hear whatever music we were creating, it never seemed to me that the junior high band, students and teacher, really made music together.

Many, many years later, but still perhaps before the members of last night's band were born, I sat on a hill in the woods and played with a semi-professional musician. We made music together. It was an entirely different experience from junior high. I wasn't very good, that much was the same. The difference was that we played together and by doing so created a different music than playing alone.

I like to hope that band students will learn to play well. All puns intended: I hope they play music well and with music add to the pleasure of actual reality for themselves and for others. I hope also that they learn to play the actual reality game well, that they learn to harness the synergy of playing together. But if they don't, at least they help to teach the rest of us.

icons/world1.png arg.20101226.1415.html Violence

12/26/2010 14:15


What kind of a country us it where teenaged movie stars shoot each other in the streets with guns and die instead of living another 10 years and dying quietly in their hotel rooms of drug overdoses?

I bring this question up because I just discovered actor Mexican Alan Chávez only to learn that he's already dead. "He and some friends exchanged gunfire during an argument. While fleeing from police responding to the incident, more gunfire ensued, and Chávez was mortally wounded." imdb.com

Dying young by arguing violently with your friends is not evidence of playing well in the actual reality game. How does such an outcome advance your own goals or those of anyone else in the game? It does not show mastery of play, it does not support a larger collective strategy, it does not allow for corrective tactics. The play is so bad that I suspect the player of having lost the connection to that reality which is the game.

It is all very sad and pointless.

But then I ask the other question: What kind of a country is it in which accidental death by illicit drug use seem to be more normal than death by violence among friends? I cite the United States, because that is the playing field where I participate in the game. And because I noticed the difference in my reactions to learning of an 18-year-old dying from gunplay compared to learning of yet another actor dying from drugs.

Habituation is a key mechanism for our success in life; this is true both at the level of broad, social acceptance and in the narrow, biological phenomenon. All forms of selectivity are potentially useful tools for directing limited resources toward decisions which merit a greater level of attention. Effective use of habituation is a good tactic in the game.

Ineffective habituation arises when the natural processes are allowed to progress unattended and without rational input. If fatal drug use becomes commonplace, unattended habituation can cause us to ignore the mounting waste around us. If fatal gun violence becomes commonplace, unattended habituation can cause us to ignore the mounting waste around us. If fatal traffic accidents become commonplace, unattended habituation can cause us to ignore the mounting waste around us. It can and it does.

The effective player uses habituation as a tool of attention rather than as a hole into which to place one's head. Sometimes we need our attention drawn to our own use of our tools so as to reevaluate how well we are using them in playing the actual reality game.

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