Monday, April 29, 2013

Languishing in The Department of Really Poor Taste


Dozens of shitty jokes that are just too obvious for me to make, but somehow I can't bring myself to entirely ignore FETUS SOAP  entirely.

Apologies in advance...

Friday, April 26, 2013

Don't worry. Be Happy


That song always made me uncomfortable.  It came off easy enough on the downbeat of a lilting island rhythm.  What's not to like about it?  Except that somewhere down low inside it came off as an imperative.  You WILL be happy... or of course something is wrong with you.  The song was, of course, released at the height of Reaganism, and a stunning explosion of nationalism.  There was all manner of talk about ending the welfare state, (though nobody had yet really invoked the name of the Wicked Witch of the East, Ayn Rand), and people were talking about other people taking personal responsibility... you are the captain of your own ship.  Happiness is a decision, and all that noise.

It always came off to me as IF YOU'RE NOT HAPPY YOU'RE A PIECE OF SHIT!  Of course that might have been largely due to something I was going through at the time.

Fast-forward to 2013, and I'm still going through something.  It may not be the same something that was nagging away in 1987, but something is definitely happening.  It doesn't feel particularly good.  I'm taking measures to address this something, and it really does seem to be working.

In the course of addressing my something, I woke up this morning and read this:

"I don't think happiness or unhappiness is the point...."

"In my search 'to be happy,' I changed jobs, married and divorced, took geographical cures, and ran myself into debt--financially, emotionally and spiritually..."

I've read that first part so many times, phrased in different ways, but it's a common theme, within the 'happiness is overrated' track.  I do tend to agree, and no matter how many times I repeated the actions of that second quote and came up wanting... But that's just it -- I came up wanting.  I'm not going to run the 'money doesn't buy happiness' flag up the pole just now, because I've never had enough of it to know one way or the other, and it seems a rank insult to the ranks of the poor.  There may be some truth in that old saw, but the fact remains that poverty doesn't buy groceries and it's hard to be even mildly content or less than irritated with an empty stomach.

Yet I've spent an inordinate amount of time seeking happiness that lasts, mostly through scrapping for all the externals, and it never really worked.  This is, of course, especially ironic given that I've always touted the virtues of collectivism while at the same time clawing for material gain... but I digress.

So... happiness.  What exactly goes into this alchemical thing anyway?  How would I even define it were I to set about the task?  I'm going to stop short of saying happiness is overrated as THE TITLE OF THIS ESSAY (click here to read) suggests, but its relative worth, as well as its definition, might require closer examination.  And I have been doing a lot of that and have come to a few theories, if not solid conclusions.

1) The opposite of HAPPY is not necessarily UNHAPPY.  There is a vast spectrum of NOT HAPPY, or NOT EXACTLY HAPPY, or NOT SO THRILLED AT THE MOMENT, and a good part of the spectrum falls squarely into the THIS AIN'T SO BAD AT ALL area.

2) HAPPINESS, and this is important, may be better defined along the lines of needs rather than wants.  I want, for example, an awful lot of things both for myself and for other people.  Not all of these wants fall under selfishness, nor materialism, nor empty, craven longing for things I haven't paid my dues for. Still, I find more happiness, or lack of unhappiness, in addressing things I need.

3) The evaluation of needs vs. wants is a rigorous, daily task.  The latter often overpowers the former -- for example, NEED is a bigger part of my life right now than I have at the very least been conscious of for a very long time, yet I catch myself pursuing what I WANT at the expense of what I NEED.  Figure that one out!  I can only say that old habits die hard.

4) Gratitude for the needs that are being met increases my level of contentment, and perhaps, dare I say, happiness?

5) Acceptance... Well, I'm not going to go off here and be all hippie spiritualist, am I?  It would be rather out of character.  Yet it's something to think about.  Trust me on that.

It comes down to this:  I am not necessarily HAPPY.  I am not, however, UNHAPPY.  I am not even necessarily DISCONTENT.  I am uncertain.  This often frightens me.  Yet I am not unaware of the good things in my life, BECAUSE I TAKE A REGULAR INVENTORY OF THE GOOD THINGS IN MY LIFE.  They are not always so obvious, and they're often obscured by NEED, and sometimes by WANT (though less often these days on this latter tip).

But don't tell me to cheer up.  Don't tell me not to worry.  Don't tell me to be happy.  It's not your place, nor is it mine to tell you.  There is no prime directive to be happy, and nobody is a lesser person for being unhappy... or not happy.  Platitudes are obnoxious.  They often come from people who have very little want, and whose needs are pretty well met.  Again, I digress.

No, happiness and unhappiness is not the point.  It's how you carry either.

****Consider this an appendix -- there seems to be a journalistic thread connecting stories from different media today****

Seligman, however, also corroborates what’s perhaps Burkeman’s most central admonition — that the extreme individualism and ambition our society worships has created a culture in which the fear of failure dictates all. As Seligman puts it: Depression is a disorder of the ‘I,’ failing in your own eyes relative to your goals. In a society in which individualism is becoming rampant, people more and more believe that they are the center of the world. Such a belief system makes individual failure almost inconsolable. (read more)

And I see this last part every single day.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Hey, I can see our house from here!


Post-Racial? No.


Okay fellow Map Geeks and Infographic Lovers... here's a good one:

There are many who would point to a couple superficial, suface-level, and all-too-obvious signs to say that we've made this or that progress towards equal rights and having moved beyond our somewhat less than honorable past regarding race and racism.

But let's talk a bit about desegregation/segregation as a sign that perhaps we really haven't made so much progress at all.  THIS MAP STUDY (click here to view) provides ample evidence of that.  Neighborhoods here and there have changed, or rather the racial/ethnic make-up has changed, but it would appear that despite movement, it really comes down to white people moving in one direction, and black and brown people moving in another.  At the end of any transition, an area changes, and we are still separate.

One can examine any number of reasons for this, and some of them will be based in racism, and others purely in economics, but the end result is the same.  While it would be easy to look at neighborhoods in Brooklyn, for example, and say that Bedford Stuyvesant is more integrated than ever, it would appear that integration is what appears to happen WHILE TRANSITION IS IN PROGRESS, but when the shift is over... well, look at the maps.

This is not to say that there hasn't been any social progress at all, but it's much less and slower than some people would have you believe.

Just a thought...

Appendix:  THIS INTERACTIVE MAP (click to view) illustrates block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood shifts in racial demographics between 2000 and 2010.  It reinforces the salient point that once a trend begins in a neighborhood, it follows to near completion.  Areas that grew more mixed quickly re-segregated over a relatively short span of time.

For this second map, I suggest focussing the map on a neighborhood that you've been in or have more than a passing familiarity with, and scrolling the timeslide from 2000 forward to view the change.  See if the changing infographic matches your experience with that particular area.  It's truly illuminating.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Time for something new?


So the good news is that Boy Scouts of America has called for an end to the ban on gay Scouts.

They HAVE, however, UPHELD THEIR BAN ON GAY SCOUTMASTERS .

This is getting really old with them.  I understand that it's really a complex matter, and that BSA has done so much for so many.  Yet any chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and the weak link here is bigotry.

You know what though?  Maybe we should just leave them to it and start a new, better, all-inclusive Scout program.  We can maybe call it Freedom Scouts.  That way we can take back a word that's starting to become a euphemism for the worst kind of nationalism and xenophobia.

This is just such backwards thinking on the part of the BSA.  It takes too much effort to explain to them what's wrong with it.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Belief In An Angry God Associated with Crappy Mental Health


Let me just say right off that this is the most disturbing representation of The Almighty that I have ever seen.  I just never imagined Him as a muscular, mulleted redneck wrestler at a toga party.  

THIS STUDY  makes perfect sense to me though.  Not simply because these last few days I've felt pretty much off kilter and I've had the suspicion that He is punishing me for some unnamed infraction of decency.  More so that everyone I've ever witnessed carrying on about how God was about to open up a can of whup-ass on us for whatever we may have been up to at any given moment, from being pro-choice, looking at porn on the internet, passing out condoms in schools or gay marriage, has seemed really entirely unhinged.  

The article points out that it is impossible to determine from the study which came first -- yes they do get into the chicken and the egg argument -- do people come unglued from believing to strongly in a punitive God, or are loony-toons just more attracted to a guy that's going to come down, bust some shit up and put things into an order that might make sense to someone whose mind was... frail?

I lean towards the latter, simply on anecdotal evidence.  Think about all the people who are always carrying on about how much better things were in the good, old days, and how what we need now is some good, old-fashioned justice!  

SOME LAW AND GODDAMN ORDER!!!  

Look at who they elect, and how they want everything they can't wrap their heads around stomped out and thrown in jail.  From the way they talk you'd think they spent every night barricaded in their homes with swarthy barbarians kicking at the door.

Fear.

Fear will, for lack of a more delicate phrase, fuck a person up.  How crazy-scared do you have to be to spend all your days praying that God will wing down and smash the bejesus out of the world and burn the remains, rather than praying for an end to famine and disease?  At some point you just have to trust that the world isn't going to make one iota more sense if there is someone to be blamed and punished for random stuff that happens.  




Dove is giving away the secret


of why it's so damn easy to sell beauty products to women.  We didn't exactly need them to tell us that the schism between how people (particularly women) see themselves and how others see them (or they actually are) is vast, but it's a worthy exercise.  You have an FBI sketch artist render an image as the subject sees herself, and then have the same artist render an image of her as a random stranger sees her.

Yes, at the end of the day, they are still hawking their wares.  Call it enlightened self-interest or what you will.  It's a rather novel approach though.  As the ADWEEK ARTICLE  mentions, they never even really mention that they're selling soap.  There is enough evidence though that their empathy angle is the right approach.  They are not trying to sell you on what you COULD be, but rather asking that you accept yourself the way you are, love yourself,  and treat yourself well.

Wow!

That is a genuine exclamation.  This is so clever it almost hurts.

It doesn't hurt though.

Boston Marathon Bombing

There was a time when I might have rushed to paste up something I believed to be poignant and insightful about the BOMBING  at the Boston Marathon yesterday.  Plenty will, though, so rather than be... well... a jerk about it, and expound on some half baked thesis of the how and why and what lesson we should all take from it, I will say a prayer for the victims and their families, and say a second prayer of thanks that to date I have not suffered such horror.

Inevitable


Oh, it's coming, and you know it.  You know the outcome.  It will be the same as the last time, and the time before that.  Yet you stand there waiting, as if it will be different this time.  As if by some miracle time itself will freeze and it will hang there suspended in time, and you can remain safely where you are.  Why not?  Miracles do happen, right?

But it's really not likely, is it?

So what do you do?

There are only two choices if you want to avoid getting crushed again.  You could take a step back and let it fall.  Of course then you have to walk around it, and had you bothered to look up when you were one step back and see what may be dangling precariously above you there?

Or you could take a step forward.  Sure you don't know what hanging danger awaits there, but the one thing is sure is you're not going to get brained by the piano.

The inclination though is to stand right where you are and see if it will happen differently this time.

It won't.

But you stand right there looking up and watching the inevitable come towards you.

Hoping.

Thinking that maybe if you exert every last iota of your willpower that you can change it.

You can't.  

Oops.

Step forward.

Take two steps.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Nuclear Mash-up


What do you get when you cross North Korea with Doctor Strangelove?



Insert Jeopardy music sound effect here.





Wait for it...






Slim Jong-un

Thursday, April 11, 2013

There's a word for it...


Detached?

Dis... something...

So the vicarious thrills of media violence are no longer enough.  Some move on to the visceral impact of rollercoasters, or bungee-jumping, or skydiving.  Others PAY SQUIDWARD HERE TO KIDNAP THEM (click here), and scare the wits out of them.  

At what point does one's narcissism and self-absorption and what seems to me to be the tedium of entitlement, become so profound that a person will go to such lengths as to introduce violence into their life to get off?  

I'm not the sort that you're going to find jumping out of a plane unless it reaches a point where it's the safest way down, but I really do understand why people do.  

This?

No.  

Simply, no.  

Are we "first-world" sorts becoming so removed from any conscious connection with our humanity and mortality that we have to resort to this?  Isn't there something else you could do to reconnect to the natural world and donate the money to someone who really has to live daily with their own vulnerability to forces around them?  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Thinking about North Korea


In the event of global nuclear conflict, if there is really a remote chance, all I can really say is if it happens I would prefer to be among the first to be incinerated.  I've no interest in living out science fiction unless it's like The Jetsons.


Glossophagia Design Awards

sort of....

maybe....

Billed as RADICAL NEW CONDOMS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY, this gentleman claims to have "reinvented the condom."  Having not test-driven said reinvention, I cannot affirm or deny any promise that this is the new sensation sensation, but I do have questions.  My first concern is that the design looks suspiciously like the POPEET STORAGE DEVICE, and not being possessed of anything approaching a radical new genital design (correct me if I'm wrong here) I see a couple issues.

Call me a skeptic...



Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Kids & Sex... it hasn't gotten any worse

Since we covered Kids & Drugs earlier today... well, sort of... not really.

Play along, for the sake of argument.  Since we covered that stuff earlier today, it's time to cover Kids & Sex.  The media would have you believe that we live in a hyper-sexualized era where more and more of our children are having sex for the first time (the insinuation is that they are experimenting earlier on their own) at a much younger age than before.

When is before?  Apparently it's some undefined era known as "BACK WHEN WE WERE KIDS" by folks over 45 or so.  Tabloid news will throw out any number of apocryphal stories in support of this concept that our 'tweens have more active sex lives than many of us do.

There is mounting evidence that this is simply not true:

"Policymakers and the media often sensationalize teen sexual behavior, suggesting that adolescents as young as 10 or 11 are increasingly sexually active," lead author Lawrence Finer, director of domestic research for the Guttmacher Institute, said in a press release. "But the data just don't support that concern." (read more)

There are some other disturbing findings in the study, concerning among other issues, the number of sexually active children that use contraception or take any measures to protect themselves from STD's.  That can be addressed, I'm sure, but that's another argument.  I would also like to see more exact numbers on the frequency of the sex and the number of partners before I rest easy, but I'm certain that data is available as well.

So if I were to follow this trend I would wrap up the day with something about Kids & Music, but to be fair to the muse of truth and honesty, I'm over 50 and I've long since ceased to care what young people listen to.  I like what I like and if they don't like it, well... they're wrong.

I can live with that.

GET THEM UP AND MOVING!


Wind me up and watch me go...

Okay, admittedly it doesn't really take a lot to get me going.  Call it an impulse control issue. 

Someone sent me this article yesterday:

A.D.H.D. Seen in 11% of U.S. Children as Diagnoses Rise (click here)

Now, before going a step further in what may appear to be an indictment of every doctor and parent who puts a child on medication, that's not what this is.  I fully understand that there are children and families whose lives would remain a living hell without chemical regulation.  Nothing but respect and compassion where you're concerned.

And let's step back from the inevitable turn the article takes about misuse/abuse/illegal resale of Ritalin and Adderall.  Is it there?  Certainly.  I had two sons in NYC public schools.  I am well aware that a few of their friends supplemented their lunch money by selling their meds. 

What puts my piss on a high simmer is where the article doesn't go instead.  The person who sent me the article posed this angle, dripping with sarcasm, "I'm sure there is no correlation with the disappearance of recess and athletic programs.  We are so dumb."

Yes, we are just that dumb.  The human body is a wonderful machine, if operated properly.  Science and medicine, while still behind their game with figuring out every last detail, have at the very least proven that these bodies of ours do certainly produce organic medications for many of our ailments.  The NYT article sort of takes the low road on this and goes with the sensationalist path.  OUR CHILDREN ARE MISDIAGNOSED AND GROSSLY OVERMEDICATED AND ABUSING DRUGS ETC.  

Anyway, firstly, is there a correlation between the increasing number of ADHD/ADD diagnoses and the decline of Phys. Ed. programs in school.  Well, there is ample evidence that both phenomena occupy the same time frame.  The NYT knows that, and even wrote about it, if in a somewhat different context:

Despite Obesity Concerns, Gym Classes Are Cut (click here)

Secondly, is there evidence that increased, school-based, physical activity could help?  Yah, there sure is.  Facts are really always just a Google search away.  There was no skipping around to find supporting links and excluding others.  These are the first three search results:

ADD / ADHD Treatment in Children Finding Treatments That Work for Kids and Teens (click here)

Association of Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder with Physical Activity, Media Time, and Food Intake in Children and Adolescents (click here)

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PHYSICAL FITNESS AND ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT (click here)

Herein lies my frustration.  There are solutions at our fingertips.  Kudos to Mayor Michael Bloomberg for being very vocal about the dangers of childhood obesity, but speaking out isn't quite the same as fully addressing the issue, is it? Proper fuel is a start, as evidenced by extensive studies.  

Yes, certainly the issue at the center of this is funding for the schools, but there seems to be no lack of money put towards stopping, shaking down and arresting young men who've already slipped through the academic cracks (as well as those who are doing well, but that's a tangent).  I spent years involved with school leadership teams, working with administrators, teachers and other parents on yearly school curricula.  The way money for "prep classes" was meted out for each school was confounding. 



There's a weird process in how money and resources for gym, art, music, school shrinks, social workers, NURSES. are doled out in schools.  It has to do with school population.  Not every school, based on the size of the student body, gets full time staff or all these positions.  For example, a small school may get a nurse's aid rather than a regular nurse, yet only the regular nurse can mete out required medication which is required by law to be held during the day in the office... so if a child has an asthma attack... high risk or death.  BAM!  

Gym, art and music are the same. Small schools often have to choose one or the other.  Not coincidentally there are more small schools than ever because of the tendency to close large schools and open mini-academies in their place.

So who benefits from these trends?  Seems to me that Big Pharma is loving it!  

Going back up to the original article that was sent to me yesterday -- there are school districts in this country where 19% of high school boys have a diagnosis.  Can you even wrap your head around 1 in 5 boys being medicated?  We're missing something really obvious here.  

Yes, we are so dumb.