Nov 182016
 

This is beautiful. From Open Culture:

1. Decide your own life; don’t let another person run or rule you.

2. When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.

3. Don’t take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hobos.

4. Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but ensure employment should you return to that town again.

5. When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts.

6. Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals’ treatment of other hobos.

7. When jungling in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as badly, if not worse than you.

8. Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling.

9. If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help.

10. Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever possible.

11. When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member.

12. Do not cause problems in a train yard, another hobo will be coming along who will need passage through that yard.

13. Do not allow other hobos to molest children; expose all molesters to authorities…they are the worst garbage to infest any society.

14. Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home.

15. Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.

Nov 142016
 

downtownsky

Over at Research as a Second Language: Writing, Representation, and the Crisis of Social Science, Danish writer Thomas Basbøll does not view this question as an academic one. Neither would he give “both” as his answer.

In his stirring dissection of the United States election, “The Liberal Arts of Being Ruled,” Thomas writes:

The past few years have seen an intense effort to “purify” our political organisations, not least within the university and it would seem that university students and their teachers are now the least equipped to understand how Trump was able to win the highest office in the land.

You can’t beat a political opponent that paralyzes you with fear simply when he expresses his opinion. It’s because the left demonized Trump that they were unable to defeat him. In a word that I hope to give a particular meaning to in this post, they dehumanized him. In that sense, the rise of Trump can be attributed to the fall of the humanities. …

And that means that it can also be attributed to the inextricably related rise of the social sciences. For over a century, funded by a network of powerful foundations, they have wrested our understanding of our own selves away from, well, our own selves, and placed it under the tutelage of confederacy of academics and journalists, a convocation of politic worms, who are more comfortable with ideologies than actual ideas. …

Think of rhetoric as the liberal art of humanizing your enemy, of converting animosity into language. Not for the sake of your enemy but for the sake of your own moral orientation in the universe. Once you have decided that half your country has chosen a leader to represent only its bigotries, you have lost your way. Your ethics have been compromised by generalities. You have allowed a vague “theory” to overwhelm your data, which you have, I am afraid, taken too much for given. You’ve been taken in. And now you are living in fear of an inhuman oppressor. …

I think we may have to face the fact that social science and democracy are incompatible. The social sciences conduct an undemocratic inquiry into society. Democracy is an unscientific way of governing it. It is because psychologists and sociologists have supplanted poets and novelists as experts on who “we” are that we have lost faith in democracy—at a deeper level, we have simply lost faith in each other. Democracy is possible only on a “humanist” foundation. As Pound tried to tell us a hundred years ago, the arts provide the “data of ethics”.

Basbøll is a brilliant writer and thinker. I can recommend all his work to you without reservation.

Oct 162016
 

There needs to be two of you: you and “you prime.” The latter is an heuristic entity brought into being by you for the purpose of protecting and orienting you.TigersAtBronxZoo

Your “you prime” makes the hard decisions – saying no to friends, curtailing vampiric commitments, enforcing skeptical habits of mind, and keeping you safe – when you are, for any reason, disinclined to do so.

This little bit of as-if – this guardian phantasm – is a nifty trick, I have found, and good mental hygiene.

Jul 292016
 

Even when participants are not being paid by the hour, meetings are costly: Notwithstanding smart-phones, no one around the table is really doing something else, at least not with an undivided focus. A poorly planned or run meeting wastes everybody’s time, not just yours.

A meeting called for the purpose of brainstorming is a weird thing. There is an agenda, but nothing’s really on it … except be thoughtful, and be creative, and be that way *right now*.

Hootsuite’s James Mulvey writes that business-marketing teams – I would add academic departments as well – can brainstorm more effectively by applying techniques used by writers of television comedy. He quotes his Hootsuite colleague Liam MacLeod – who is also a comedy writer: “The biggest mistake most marketing brainstorms make is that people don’t listen to each other. Everyone is talking at once and trying to get their idea heard. In most marketing brainstorms there’s a lot of noise and not a lot of actual thinking.”

MacLeod a his co-writers divide their writing sessions into three stages:

  1. Silence and thinking
  2. Sharing ideas
  3. Collaboration

The thinking period in a comedy brainstorm begins with a writing prompt and two minutes of silence, explains MacLeod: “For us, when we’re writing a script, when we’re coming up with the idea for an episode or a scene, we like to start with a keyword like ‘restaurant’ or ‘first date.’ This is the writing prompt.

“We then set a timer for two minutes and all sit in silence, thinking on that prompt. The timer, we find, is really useful in giving everyone a set amount of time to think.”

When the timer rings, one person goes through their list of ideas. The majority of the ideas at this stage are mediocre. But going around the room one-by-one ensures everyone has a chance to be heard and that everyone is listening to one another.

“In your typical company brainstorm, there’s pressure to perform. Especially at ad agencies—everyone wants to be seen as someone who can come up with ideas. So often the loudest voices end up on the whiteboard,” says MacLeod.

“We find that by the time we go around the room, new ideas are starting to form. For example, you might have meant one thing—but it sparked a different direction for me. So you’re getting a new synthesis of all those initial ideas. This is where you break into more creative ideas.”

Once everyone in the room has had a chance to share their ideas, the brainstorm enters the collaborative phase. “It’s speed thinking at this point,” says MacLeod. “A lot of ideas are going to be dumb. But you need that quantity. I’d rather leave a brainstorm with 20 ideas rather than three or four.”

Sorting the good from the mediocre is simple: “Typically, if you say something and everyone in the group starts to add things and run with the idea, it’s usually original. Those are the moments you need to look for. Even if it is a stupid idea, but gets people talking and laughing together—that’s what you want to look for. This is why listening is important. You want the group to take an idea and add to it and get the group thinking together.”

The whole post is really helpful, with a step-by-step ‘recipe’ at the end. It’s a good use of your time.

Oct 282015
 

Regarding Devoney Looser’s ‘Chronicle of Higher Education’ article “Me and My Shadow CV: What would my vita look like if it recorded not just the success of my professional life but also the many, many rejections?” my friend Jonathan Mayhew writes,

Nobody cares about your list of rejections and failures. When I first saw the title of this essay I thought it would be about something much more interesting: the parts of the scholarly formation that seem less scholarly but that somehow affect one’s writing: my study of jazz and percussion, my obsession with prosody: all the things I never wrote about but that are essential to who I am: for my friends, it could be their work as zen masters, or being in a band: the translations someone has worked on but not published.

The point the article is trying to make is that we see a cv loaded with stuff but don’t see the rejections and failures that everyone experiences. The longer the cv, the longer the shadow cv too, because someone more active will also have more opportunity not to get grants they apply for. Everyone knows this, so it’s supposed to be great for younger people to see that these successful people have also failed. I get the point, but it is a stupid article because it is not the one I would have written with this title. (Sorry.)

My shadow CV would certainly include a long section on hitchhiking, an obsession of mine for several years during which I learned how to talk with many different kinds of people. (When I graduated from SUNY/Buffalo no one – friend, family, or foe – believed me when I told them, with the exception of my then-future, now-former wife, because I seemed to have spent more time on the road than on campus – or in New York state, for that matter.)Steinway Upright

Also on my shadow CV would be my study of the piano (thank you, Mom and Dad, for the lessons and for the summer music camps). I feel my devotion to that instrument pouring into my palms as I type this. After I broke the pinky of my right hand in a stupid fight when I was in eleventh grade – it was poorly reset – my repertoire and record collection for several years thereafter focused almost exclusively on jazz. (I named my son after Miles Davis.) Now I play all kinds of things – this week it’s Arvo Pärt, some old hymns, always some Bach, and some easy & winsome pieces by a fellow named Charles Koechlin.

A third section would have to describe my study of radical politics and conspiracy theories, to which I was introduced, as most of us are, I would guess, in our young university years. It became an interest, and then a hobby, while I was on the road riding shotgun and listening to drivers talk about UFOs, the Illuminati, the CIA, JFK, Jonestown, and lizard people, and those secret and super-powerful, super-rich cabals controlled by Mormon or Catholic or Jewish magnates (or by the British Royal family!). When the drivers got tired of talking, we’d listen to the radio and learn even more. I went from hobbyist to serious amateur while putting together my book on the New Age movement. My correspondence with people in far out religious movements tended to be very vivid, to say the least, and I treasure it to this day. I never became a believer in the conspiracies, or in the religions, alas – not that I ever wanted to – though I do prefer the grand verbal edifices they produce to fictions like novels, and by a wide margin. (My favourite “researcher” is Dave Emory.)

reposted from basil.CA

Jan 162015
 

I had always found eHarmony Inc.‘s advertisements vaguely disconcerting: too optimistic about romance, and too confident about its vaunted heuristic (the “Relationship Questionnaire”!).

An advertisement currently in frequent rotation on television promises viewers that “You can start communicating for free today” – a trademarked phrase (of course). This advertisement is specifically disconcerting. The company is presenting a birthright as a corporate gift.

Jun 272014
 

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin wrote his autobiography, “Enemies who do you one favor will want to do more.” He illustrated the maxim with a story:

A political adversary had been lambasting Franklin in public speeches. Franklin knew that this person was very proud of his large library, so he sent him a note requesting that he borrow a particularly rare book. The adversary sent the book over right away. Their next in-person meeting was very civil, and the two became friends, remaining so until the one-time adversary’s death.

Katie Liljenquist and Adam Galinsky confirm Franklin’s insight (although they don’t mention it) in a Harvard Business Review blog-post titled ‘Win Over an Opponent by Asking for Advice’:

We seek advice on a daily basis, on everything from who grills the best burger in town to how to handle a sticky situation with a coworker. However, many people don’t fully appreciate how powerful requesting guidance can be. Soliciting advice will arm you with information you didn’t have before, but there are other benefits you may not have considered:

 … Arthur Helps sagely observed, We all admire the wisdom of people who come to us for advice.” Being asked for advice is inherently flattering because it’s an implicit endorsement of our opinions, values, and expertise. Furthermore, it works equally well up and down the hierarchy — subordinates are delighted and empowered by requests for their insights, and superiors appreciate the deference to their authority and experience. James Pennebaker’s research shows that if you want your peers to like you, ask them questions and let them experience the “joy of talking.” This is especially important because research shows that increasing your likability will do more for your career than slightly increasing competence.

Jun 262013
 

Erin Dick gave a superb talk, and then led an illuminating discussion, on the topic of “mentorship” today, the last day of the IABC’s world conference. Inspired by the speaker and my discussion attendees, I will be posting on this topic – an emotional one for me – over the course of the next few days. This quote from Erin Dick really resonated with all of us:

Be the master of the job before you, a student of the job above you, and a teacher of the job below you.

 

Jun 072013
 

In 1987 I promoted a story about “Secular Organizations for Sobriety” [SOS] that appeared in the Buffalo News. SOS was one of those secular humanist initiatives promulgated by Paul Kurtz’s publishing enterprises out of Buffalo, in this case “Free Inquiry,” a quarterly journal that published critiques of supernatural belief and religious dogma. I was Executive Editor of Free Inquiry at the time.

SOS was started as a secular alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous, which has numerous religious overtones (“a higher power,” “the Serenity Prayer,” and so on). SOS has kept the peer-counseling component and left out these overtones.

I was interviewed by a Buffalo News reporter for the story. In the course of the interview, I said I had “a lot of friends in the arts and music community who were beset by terrible problems with alcohol.” The next day that quote appeared in the article. (The photograph of me accompanying the article made me look like a long-time “friend of Bill” myself: eyes not completely open, my hands clutching at a cup of coffee. I wished I had been better prepared for the interview.)

The Pink Flamingo

The Pink Flamingo

That night I went to the Pink Flamingo, a gritty Buffalo pub where lots of writers and artists took their recreation. I had been a regular there for a couple of years. I walked in, saw about a dozen people I knew and some good friends, and went up to the bar to order something (I am guessing a shot of tequila and a Molson Extra).

“Hey, Bob!” A good friend of mine, “Fay,” tapped me on the shoulder. I gave her a kiss. Fay organized arts events and wrote articles freelance.

Fay smiled, but then said plainly: “We all read that article in the News today, how all your buddies here are terrible alcoholics.”

I winced.

I was surprised by what my friend said next.

Fay neither rebuked me nor wondered aloud how I could disparage and embarrass my friends. Instead she said, “You drink here, and elsewhere, as much as we do, and often with me and everybody here. It would have been delightful had you mentioned that happy fact as well.”

Rather than telling me that I was a hypocrite, she said, in effect, “We like you, and you can tell the world you are one of us.” I was humbled by Fay’s gracefulness and courtesy.

Here was the “us” of whom I was a lucky part: a gregarious, generous, and hard-working coterie of writers, artists, students, film-makers, arrangers, editors, and their friends and lovers and roommates and their relatives who repaired to the Pink Flamingo to drink, plan projects, receive solace, read out loud, and debate everything.

After Fay and my other Flamingo buddies made it clear I wasn’t going to be scolded any further, we talked until 2AM, feeling the love, as it were, and I was reminded that scolding might succeed best as words of welcome that can rescue relationships and fortify friendship.