Researchers at the University of Minnesota filled a swimming pool with guar gum in order to find out whether people swim faster in water than they would in a higher viscosity liquid. The question has a long and interesting history, the results surprised me, and the story of their getting permission to conduct the experiment is humorous.
Paul Graham, whose “Great Hackers” essay was making the rounds recently, has written another great essay, this one about the positive lessons we should take from the great internet bubble of the late 90s. I particularly liked his sixth section, titled “Nerds” (I prefer the term “geek”):
Clothing is only the most visible battleground in the war against formality. Nerds tend to eschew formality of any sort. They’re not impressed by one’s job title, for example, or any of the other appurtenances of authority.
Indeed, that’s practically the definition of a nerd. I found myself talking recently to someone from Hollywood who was planning a show about nerds. I thought it would be useful if I explained what a nerd was. What I came up with was: someone who doesn’t expend any effort on marketing himself.
A nerd, in other words, is someone who concentrates on substance.
I’m a sucker for blog postings where the author humorously shares about the craziness of parenthood. Like this one, for instance:
When you have kids, helping them out in the bathroom becomes a part of your life. So much so, that you forget just what a pain in the ass it is until they become fully potty trained. Then there’s this crazy feeling of re-gained freedom. Like when that warm water plugging up your ear finally trickles out, or taking off that annoying condom. (If you’re really curious about this whole potty-training thing, try the second one.)
What I most enjoy about my son’s self-reliance in this department is the zeal with which he does it.
He doesn’t just go quietly about his business. First he runs around the house in a near frenzy, announcing to each individual “I HAVE TO MAKE PEE PEE!!!” After a few minutes of this, he finally makes it to the bathroom.
I find it refreshing that he’s taken a routine task, and turned it into a bonafide event. Zeal!
Could you imagine if I started doing this at work? Actually, I think we should all try it.
Before you excuse yourself from your next meeting, run around the office shouting “I HAVE TO MAKE PEE PEE!” And remember, it’s not just shouting it, but taking the time to shout it at each person in the vicinity. Oh, and don’t forget to grab your crotch. (As if you need prompting.)
Zeal: you shall be ours. Along with unemployment.
Joe gets up at 6 a.m. and fills his coffeepot with water to prepare his morning coffee. The water is clean and good because some tree-hugging liberal fought for minimum water-quality standards.
With his first swallow of coffee, he takes his daily medication. His medications are safe to take because some stupid commie liberal fought to insure their safety and that they work as advertised.
All but $10 of his medications are paid for by his employer’s medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance — now Joe gets it too.
He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs. Joe’s bacon is safe to eat because some girly-man liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.
In the morning shower, Joe reaches for his shampoo. His bottle is properly labeled with each ingredient and its amount in the total contents becaus some crybaby liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and how much it contained.
Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some environmentalist wacko liberal fought for laws to stop industries from polluting our air.
He walks to the subway station for his government-subsidized ride to work. It saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees because some fancy-pants liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor. Joe begins his work day. He has a good job with excellent pay, medical benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some lazy liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joe’s employer pays these standards because Joe’s employer doesn’t want his employees to call the union.
If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed, he’ll get a worker compensation or unemployment check because some stupid liberal didn’t think he should lose his home because of his temporary misfortune.
Its noontime and Joe needs to make a bank deposit so he can pay some bills. Joe’s deposit is federally insured by the FSLIC because some godless liberal wanted to protect Joe’s money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system before the Great Depression.
Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae-underwritten mortgage and his below-market federal student loan because some elitist liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his lifetime.
Joe is home from work. He plans to visit his father this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive. His car is among the safest in the world because some America-hating liberal fought for car safety standards.
He arrives at his boyhood home. His was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmers’ Home Administration because bankers didn’t want to make rural loans. The house didn’t have electricity until some big-government liberal stuck his nose where it didn’t belong and demanded rural electrification.
He is happy to see his father, who is now retired.His father lives on Social Security and a union pension because some wine-drinking, cheese-eating liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn’t have to.
Joe gets back in his car for the ride home, and turns on a radio talk show. The radio host keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. He doesn’t mention that the beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day.
Joe agrees: “We don’t need those big-government liberals ruining our lives! After all, I’m a self-made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have.”
Eliot Gelwan, one of my favorite bloggers, offers a nice contemplation of the Jewish new year. The equivalent time on the Christian calendar is usually Lent.
Since sundown last night, it has been year 5765 of the Jewish calendar. In Jewish tradition, that means 5765 years since the creation of the universe. Maybe this is inaccurate, but it emphasizes what order of magnitude we should place on each of our years anyway. It has always made sense to me to celebrate two new year’s days each year, one when the cyclical dimming of the days turns to the promise of renewal of the natural world at the winter solstice; and the other more aligned with the cycle of human activity, when the fallow time of late summer transitions into the renewed activity of the autumn, whether we are talking about the annual cycle of agricultural activity, of the school year or the world of commerce and the fiscal year.
The two types of new year’s celebrations also have a somewhat different emphasis. It has always seemed to me that the ritual of the Pagan New Year we celebrate in the winter, attuning oneself to the natural order of things, stands to invoke good fortune for the year to come. The Jewish New Year is more about setting oneself straight with manmade standards of right living, opening as it does the ten days of awe culminating in the Day of Atonement.
It is said that the life unexamined is the life unlived. This is a time to use in reflection on the year just past, in order to live the next fully. How much time was wasted? Were your days filled with life or dull routine? Was love expressed or left unsaid? Was there real companionship with those around you or a growing apart and a taking for granted? Were the kind deeds done or postponed? the gibes unleashed or the tongue held? Have you worked for peace and social justice as much as you could have? Did you acquire only things, or insights and knowledge as well? Have you freely asked for and granted forgiveness ? Did you deceive others? yourself?
Finding oneself wanting, as I do, in some or all of these regards helps in considering the uses to which one will put the year to come. What I do with my next year is important, because I will pay for it with a year of my life, and I hope I do not regret the price.
So, to all my readers Jewish and otherwise, a happy new year. I pray for assistance being kind to my fellow creatures and working for peace. I ask your forgiveness if I have wronged any of you reading this, and I absolve anyone of you who has wronged or offended me.
This is, at once, both cool and revolting:
Maggots aren’t high on most people’s favorite-animals list. But maggots–specifically, the larvae of the green blowfly, Phaenicia sericata–can be helpful for the very reason they horrify. By eating dead tissue at a patient’s wound site, maggots may help decrease the risk of post-operative infections, according to an article in the October 1 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, now available online.
Last Friday, Terry Gross (I think Terry Gross is a horrible interviewer, but she does get good guests) interviewed Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who has worked for nearly 20 years to help gang members in Los Angeles find jobs and integrate into society. The man is a saint many times over, but what stopped me in my tracks was when he talked about his recent struggles with leukemia.
When Terry asked him about his diagnosis and chemo treatments, Father Boyle said as they heard about his diagnosis, the men he had helped over the years came to him one by one to offer him assistance and to console him. But almost invariably, Father Boyle recounted, the men would break down and cry their eyes out–out of concern and love for him. He took that as an opportunity to minister to them–to allow them to express feelings that they normally have a hard time with, to console them.
He was suffering from a life-threatening disease, had a large community of supporters willing to help him in any way possible, and what is he concerned about? The others, not himself. That is truly an example of “WWJD?”
Later in the interview, Terry asked Father Boyle how it felt to be faced with his own mortality. He said something to the effect, “Death just isn’t high on my list of concerns.” Interestingly, he didn’t mention feeling consoled by the promise of eternal life, as one might expect of a Jesuit priest. He is simply so engrossed in helping others in the here and now that he can’t be bothered by such worries. Again, a shining example of selflessness.
In fact, now that I think about it, I don’t recall Father Boyle directly referencing Christian theology at all in his interview. He just explained his work–how he walks the walk. He’s an incredibly inspiring model of the Christian life.
In a recent blog post, Lance Arthur shares some insights about therapy, but I think they’re good advice for life in general:
Your therapist knows what your problems are pretty early, but they have to allow you to discover them for yourself or you won’t believe them, and/or you’ll be so quick to believe them that the discover itself has no meaning to you and you think you’re cured simply because you now understand what’s wrong, but that’s only the first step in a long, laborious process.
Knowing what’s wrong isn’t really helpful. It’s a step along the way, and it has a certain satisfaction, but it isn’t the resolution. It’s like cooking. You set out the ingredients and there they all are, sitting there, the sugar and butter and flour and salt and baking soda and semi-sweet chocolate chips and brown sugar… but that’s not cookies, is it? It’s what makes up the cookies, but you have a lot to do before it’s cookie time.
Saying things out loud changes them. You’re constantly telling yourself things internally, things about how you feel, or “woe is me” things, or ideas about how you’re feeling and why. It’s only when you say it out loud that, suddenly, and for whatever reason, it turns real. It hasn’t changed… but it has.
However you feel about yourself, you’re right. There is no wrong. You can be wrong about the reasons, and you can be wrong about the person you are (characteristics and behaviors and so on, the things that physically manifest based on the way you think you out to be) but you’re never wrong about how you feel. Feelings are just that, and trying to control them is an exercise in futility.
You can’t force anyone to do anything they aren’t ready to do, including yourself. You can’t force yourself to be happy. You can’t logic your way out of it or into it. There are always reasons, but you may not be able to see them or verbalize them or understand them.
Words can fail you, but they’re only words. Don’t think that because you can’t describe the way you feel or why that it isn’t real. Words may come later, so don’t let that frustrate you.
It’s sometimes more important to understand something than to believe it.
Someone commented as follows to a post on one of my favorite blogs:
As a Brit, what I find puzzling about this whole [U.S.] election campaign is why does Bush want to be President again? Look at the mess his country is in – the quagmire that is Iraq, the crumbling economy, the looming oil crisis etc. Why would any sane person want to continue to carry the responsibility for all that? Doesn’t Bush want to simply toss the White House keys at Kerry, tell him “It’s all yours now, buddy – may you have the joy of it!” and head off to settle down on his Texas spread to ride horses, shoot his guns and quietly drink himself into oblivion?
Very good question.