Saturday, March 31, 2012

John Haines, a Poet of the Wild, Dies at 86 -

John Haines, a Poet of the Wild, Dies at 86

John Haines, whose experience hunting, trapping and surviving as a homesteader in the Alaskan wilderness fueled his outpouring of haunting poetry of endless cold nights, howling wolves and deep, primitive dreams, died on Wednesday in Fairbanks. He was 86.

His friend John Kooistra said his health declined after he had a bad fall in December.

Mr. Haines, who won a lifetime achievement award from the Library of Congress, found inspiration in the peaks of the Alaskan range that he could see from the cabin he built himself, in the butterfly he held in his hands, in the moose he shot and butchered. He told of stones waiting for God to remember their names.

Dana Gioia, the poet who served as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, wrote in 1990 that Mr. Haines was for readers who know that "poetry can sometimes resemble a prayer." If some critics dismissed him as a nature writer, others perceived a visionary.

In "The Wilderness of Vision," a 1996 collection of scholarly essays about Mr. Haines's work, the poet Edouard Roditi described him as "not so much a 'nature poet' as a poet of sheer wonder."

In 1973, in his poem "A Winter Light," Mr. Haines wrote:

By candle or firelight

your face still holds

a mystery that once

filled caves with the color

of unforgettable beasts.

Mr. Haines may have been drawn to the far North in the manner of Robert Service or Jack London, but unlike them he came to stay and carve out a long life. He cleared forest, built cabins, planted gardens, chopped wood, cut trails, traveled by snowshoe and dogsled, trapped lynx and marten, weaved nets for salmon fishing, and had encounters with grizzlies.

He was often alone and sometimes with one of five wives or a girlfriend, most of whom quickly tired of the wilderness — or his famously cantankerous personality.

Mr. Haines used his north-country images to take readers on a profoundly introspective spiritual journey, what Edward Hirsch in The New York Times called "a primitive pantheism that prays outward to the snowy owl and the gods of winter."

Mr. Kooistra, a former college philosophy professor and commercial fisherman, contended that London and Service "were essentially tourists" compared with Mr. Haines. "This is poetry of a different level," he said.

Mr. Haines wrote a dozen books of poetry, essays and autobiography; was a writer in residence at a half-dozen colleges; and earned two Guggenheim Fellowships and a $10,000 Lenore Marshall/The Nation Award, among other prizes. In Alaska, he was a source of pride as one of the first truly acclaimed writers the 49th state produced.

Writing about the book of essays on his work, The Anchorage Daily News said, "Its very publication, the first such anthology of analytical critiques on the work of any Alaska artist, proves he has achieved a serious reputation abroad — even if he does live here."

John Meade Haines was born in 1924 in Norfolk, Va. His father was a Navy officer, and the family moved frequently. John enlisted in the Navy before finishing high school in San Diego but was still given a diploma, as was the practice during World War II. He served in the Pacific. After his discharge, he studied painting in Washington and New York.

In 1947, he and a friend drove to Alaska, where he bought a 160-acre homestead, 80 miles southeast of Fairbanks, intending to pursue an art career there. With advice from old miners, he salvaged wood from an unused bridge over Gasoline Creek to build a 12-by-16-foot cabin. When, by his account, his paint froze, he gave up his dream of painting and began to write.

He soon had poems in literary journals. In 1966 he published "Winter News," still considered by many critics to be his best book. David Kalstone, writing in The Times in 1972, praised its "freshness of view."

Indicative of Mr. Haines's growing fame, the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko made it a point to stop by his cabin during a visit to Alaska. The two shared a bottle of vodka.

Mr. Haines sold the homestead in 1969 and moved to San Diego. He lived in several other cities in the lower 48 states before returning to Alaska. At first he rented his old cabin, then moved to Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Mr. Haines is survived by his fifth wife, Joy Destafano, from whom he is separated. He is also survived by a stepdaughter, Annie Skilling, and a brother, Robert.

Mr. Haines's memoir, "The Stars, the Snow, the Fire" (1989), told of the first fox he killed by hand, and of making dog food from a porcupine he had shot and cooked. A reviewer noted that he revealed more about his sled dogs than he did about his wives.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Dissent Magazine - Spring 2012 Issue - Nature as an Ally: An ...

Dissent Magazine - Spring 2012 Issue - Nature as an Ally: An ...

Nature as an Ally: An Interview with Wendell Berry

EACH generational wave of environmental concern seems to lap at Wendell Berry’s doorstep. He gave up teaching and writing in New York in the sixties to return to Kentucky, establishing a small farm at Lanes Landing near Port Royal, and dedicating himself to writing about the roots of the life he leads there. Readers have sought his inspiration to overcome the incessant churning of environmental destruction and industrial food production. Berry embodies a certain sort of alternative. When I arrived at Lanes Landing, I knew that many seekers had come before me to put a face to the writing, and to see this life for themselves.

Berry is best known for his attention to place—an insistence on community and an intimate knowledge of home, from the soil to the weather patterns to the human history. I initially came to his work through the Southern Agrarians, a group of twelve Southerners who in 1930 published I’ll Take My Stand, a manifesto against Northern industrialism and the loss of a romanticized, rooted, agrarian life. Berry’s resistance to capitalist definitions of progress rhymes with a long intellectual tradition of skepticism of American urbanization, mechanization, and hypermobility. His 1973 “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” begins with the image of the uprooted, commercially oriented modern:

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

Even as he subjects market society to a scathing critique, he seeks out the tensions that remained deeply unresolved in the writings of the Agrarians: how people might become more free—free from patriarchy, racism, and so on—without becoming deracinated. InThe Hidden Wound, Berry explored race through his experience growing up on a Kentucky farm, and in essays like “Feminism, the Body, and the Machine,” he set freedom in relation to the productive household economy; feminism for him, and male freedom too, is full and free employment within an independent household, minimally reliant on commodities.

Berry’s influences can be traced beyond the Agrarians to ecological and religious conceptions of nature. He asks how we can develop our understanding of our environment so that we can respect its limits as we arrange our human lives. He therefore opposes the national-parks model of conservation: purity on this side, despoliation on the other. “Agriculture using nature,” he has written, “...would approach the world in the manner of a conversationalist....On all farms, farmers would undertake to know responsibly where they are and to ‘consult the genius of the place.’”

All of this raises serious questions about a sort of agrarian epistemology. If we can’t count on technocratic solutions, how can we determine our limits? How do we consult the genius of place? Berry approaches this question through discussions of the farming life, but through religion and poetry as well. His most recent book, The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford, is a tribute to the poet whose work explored Paterson, New Jersey, with all the sensitivity and accompanying understanding that Berry brings to poetic explorations of his own place.

Lest this all sound too abstract, the first thing Berry placed in my hands, after a glass of water, was the 50-Year Farm Bill, a long-term proposal largely devised by his friend Wes Jackson of the Land Institute “for gradual systemic change in agriculture.” The proposal focuses on redeveloping the natural biodiversity of land, and Berry has been to Washington to lobby on its behalf. Berry has been active as well in opposition to the coal industry in Kentucky, and recently withdrew his papers from the University of Kentucky after it accepted coal money to build a dormitory for the basketball team.

Berry, now seventy-seven, has received many accolades for his work. This year he was chosen to give the Jefferson Lecture in the Humanities, the federal government’s top honor in the humanities. The Michael Pollans of the world pay him tribute openly and often. But the state of ecological affairs in America and the world is now more dire than when he started writing.

Berry’s farmhouse sits on a steep hillside overlooking the Kentucky River and land about which he has long written, “a place I don’t remember not knowing.” It is heartening to see Berry honored and his works quoted, but Berry asks us to be concerned with the whole agricultural process, from the land to the workers, all the overlapping realms of economy discussed by the authors in this special section. This is not an easy thing to do in the face of impending environmental catastrophe, a situation that would seem to demand quick fixes. We began with Berry’s lamentation that food alone should so dominate public discussion.

-Sarah Leonard

Wendell Berry: The discussion about food doesn’t make any sense without discussion at the same time of land, land use, land policy, fertility maintenance, and farm infrastructure maintenance. How are you going to get the best farming and the best food from a landscape that has removed its fences, which means the animals have been removed from agriculture? Without animals, something essential is removed from the minds of the farmers. Corn and bean people, I’m afraid, have extremely specialized minds.

Sarah Leonard: Can you talk about how you think about your farm working?

WB: [The British agricultural scientist] Sir Albert Howard said that in her management of the native forest—and, [Land Institute founder] Wes Jackson would say, of the native prairie—nature never farms without livestock. And Howard’s understanding of nature’s “farming” in undisturbed ecosystems is the scientific bedrock of organic agriculture....The difference, then, between a large Midwest farm practicing a corn and soybean rotation on every tillable acre and a good small farm with an orderly diversity of plants and animals is one of structure, and this is a critical difference. There is no structural complexity at all in a corn and bean rotation. The connections between people and land are dangerously oversimplified and mainly technological.

SL: And more grotesquely in meat production.

WB: You’re talking about the industrial system that confines the animals closely in one place and grows their food in another place, usually distant. This breaks the fertility cycle and violates all the principles of nature on which sustainable agriculture and a dependable food supply depend. The proper role of animals in agriculture is to complete the ecological integrity of farms, and to produce food for humans from pastures—especially pastures on land that is mainly, or entirely, suitable only for grazing.

Do you know the phrase “mind-numbing work”? This is a cliché that for a long time has been used to denigrate farming. If your economic policies drive farmers off the land, you are pleased to have saved them from “mind-numbing work”—which is usually associated with smaller farms. But if you have several thousand acres of corn, and you’re getting up in the morning to spend all day long driving a cultivator, or a sprayer, or a combine through those identical rows, day after day. . . that’s dull. And it would dull your mind. But suppose you have, say a hundred or a hundred and fifty acres of rolling land, maybe twenty-five Jersey cows, a few hogs, a garden, flowers everywhere, cliff swallows nesting against the barn wall, and children playing and wandering about. That isn’t dull. That requires hard work, of course. But it also requires constant attention and intelligence; it gives a lot of pleasure, and you’ll probably find that it depends on love.

SL: Do you think that a large portion of the population would be happy doing this kind of work?

WB: Maybe not. . . .But, you’ve switched the conversation to the question of vocation. It would be wrong to assume that every person is called to be a farmer. To use the Amish example, the agrarian community needs mechanics, manufacturers (there are things they need that we don’t make), farriers, harness makers, horse breeders, carpenters, and so on. I have never, ever said that everybody ought to be a farmer. But I do say that everybody ought to work at something useful and necessary, and not destructive. Our substitution of “job” (any “job”) for vocation is disastrous.

SL: Why do you think urban agriculture has gotten so much attention?

WB: We have everything to gain from urban agriculture. But that’s not farming. Louisville, Kentucky, for example, is not going to feed itself from gardening alone. They need milk and meat—things that you can’t produce in the city. Every time someone in Louisville plants something to eat, we’re better off out here. Urban gardeners know something of the biology, the art, and the chanciness of growing food, which makes it possible for them to imagine the life and work of farming out in the countryside. From this and the interest in local food, you get an urban agrarianism that I think is simply indispensable.

SL: Why do you think the emphasis has been so heavy on urban agriculture, and not on things outside the city? 

WB: Well, urban people have been permitted, by cheap fossil fuel and other subsidies, to think of themselves as somehow islanded. Independent. And you could contrast that with the ancient Greek idea of the city, which included both the built-up urban center and the tributary landscape. Ancient Greek cities and towns had granaries and stables. Harvested grain would be brought into the city, and the flocks and herds would be driven into the city at night for safety. That was an immediate contact between city and country, and we’ve lost that. Louisville lost the Bourbon Stockyards and much of the meatpacking industry that was there, and most Louisvillians seem to have counted that as progress. I tried to help an effort to relocate a stockyard in the Lexington, Kentucky, neighborhood but the people didn’t want it at all, anywhere. They wanted the meat, but not the live animals or the manure. That’s hard to deal with, also crazy. You’ve got to put your mind on the whole fundamental economic structure, from field and forest to city, so that you can have economic justice (some sense of parity along the line), and you don’t have any demeaning work. If you’ve got a large-scale meat-processing industry, for instance, where some poor soul has to knock cows in the head all day, that’s demeaning to everyone involved.

But any kind of drudgery is horrible. Drudgery is having too much repetitive work to do, for too long, with no choice but to do it, with no sense of vocation, and under the rule of a boss. When everybody here had a tobacco crop, an uninitiated person from some suburb or city who came to our work at harvest time would just be horrified. It was extraordinarily difficult work. Hot. Long days, virtually from dark to dark, and strenuous. But that didn’t last all year around. And we were doing it with our neighbors and for no pay. (The old rule was, nobody’s done until everybody’s done.) This was not drudgery.

SL: One of the trends among young people (maybe a bit of a revival?) is WWOOFing [Worldwide Opportunity on Organic Farms]—in which people travel and work on organic farms for a time. The farms are all listed in a book and online now. The young people can go and work on the farm. The time you stay can range wildly. It’s agriculture without place. People use it to travel…

WB: To really be effective, the apprenticeship probably needs to last a whole year—to get the annual cycle and see how the whole thing works.

SL: I think for people who want to go work on a farm, it seems like it would be fulfilling. It takes on a therapeutic ethos.

WB: You have to see the whole picture. Nobody comes to farm to dispose of dead livestock or to cope with a disease outbreak. Nobody comes to mend fences, although I happen to like mending fences myself. You have to have some sense of how each task is gathered into the larger pattern.

SL: A lot of people—not just supporters of agribusiness—wonder if there were a world of small farms, could we feed the world population as it exists now?

WB: No, it can’t be definitively answered. For one thing, we don’t know anything about the future. For another thing, the “small farm” can’t be defined once for every place. There are all kinds of critical questions requiring answers. Is there such a thing as a bad small farm? Are there good large farms? You have to study and evaluate a range of examples. If you have a lucrative grain market, and virtually every farmer is growing soybeans or corn on every acre that’ll hold up a tractor, and fertilizing it with chemical fertilizer, the inevitable runoff going into the local watershed and on into the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico—that so-called dead zone in the Gulf—you can say that is wrong. There is nothing in that scheme that guarantees you a long-term food supply. You are destroying the land resource, the land communities, and the soil itself. The soil is part of the land community, which is where you have to start, and that’s where the 50-Year Farm Bill starts. It addresses not food production but the problems of agriculture as it now is: erosion, toxicity, and the destruction of the husbandry cultures in local communities. If you are feeding people by destroying the land, and the rural communities, and polluting the water systems—and if you consider that damage to be a sustainable cost—you’re crazy.

This turns us toward the need for a better general criticism than we have of the economy and the culture. One crucial thing to consider is what Wes Jackson calls the “eyes to acres” ratio. If you’re going to take care of the land well you need to have enough people caring for it and watching over it. In industrial agriculture, a few people “farm” a lot of land with big machines and a lot of chemicals—with the results I’ve just described. That’s the large-scale farming some people think will “feed the world,” the billions of people now mostly in cities. It’ll feed them for a short time. But we need to feed them for a long time. My side of the argument says it’s possible to have a more complex, long-term structure. It’s possible to have a farming culture in which everything helps everything else—following the example of nature. A good farmer I know used to say, “It’s good to have nature working for you. She works at a minimum wage.” Nature is a powerful ally, if you respect her and her ways.

If you work against her, as we are now doing, she’ll work against you. The penalties may be severe.

The agri-industrialists have what they think is a rhetorical question addressed to my side: “If you farm by your principles, who’s going to decide who’s going to starve?” We could put that question back to them: “Who’s going to decide who is going to starve when you get done polluting and eroding the arable land, and destroying all the world’s cultures of land husbandry?”

SL: The Southern Agrarians looked to religion to do what nature does—to be something all powerful and uncontrollable and mysterious.

WB: Nature has a very high place in poetic tradition. What I want to insist on about religion is not that it’s spiritual, but that it’s economic. The practice of religion is economic. And that’s more or less insisted upon in the Bible. Ellen Davis at Duke has written about that in her book Scripture, Culture, Agriculture.

SL: If, in America, we were to develop a system of farming that was not corporate, the scale of the change would be enormous, it would take politics.

WB: I’m committed to the 50-Year Farm Bill, which is directed at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It’s one of my last causes. When they ask me to go to Washington and advocate for that bill, I will go.

SL: Is that, in fact, happening?

WB: Well, Fred Kirschenmann [of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University] and Wes Jackson and I did carry that bill to Washington, and were kindly received by [Deputy Secretary of Agriculture] Kathleen Merrigan and her staff in the Department of Agriculture, also a few senators or their staff people. Since then, the bill seems to have gained more attention and maybe a little momentum. Maybe you could call it the beginning of a significant change.

So I’m hardly against politics. I’m committed also to the movement against mountaintop removal. That movement is certainly growing, and it is drawing more attention. But state government here is mostly owned by the coal industry. It’s hard to influence people who are corporate properties.

SL: Do you think of good farming, or farms that are on a proper scale, to be compatible with capitalism or with free markets?

WB: To have good farming or good land use of any kind, you have got to have limits. Capitalism doesn’t acknowledge limits. That is why we have supposedly limitless economic growth in a finite world. Good agriculture is formal. You can have limits without form, but you can’t have form without limits. If you look around the country and find small farmers who have prospered in hard times, you’ll probably find that they’ve prospered because they’ve accepted their limits. Among other things, they’ve increased production by complicating structure.

But good agriculture is a community enterprise, too. The Amish prosper and net a high percentage of gross, partly because they are good neighbors to one another. The great Amish asset is neighborliness. That’s a religious principle: Love thy neighbor as thyself. But it’s also an economic asset. If you’ve got a neighbor, you’ve got help, and this implies another limit. If you want to have neighbors, you can’t have a limitless growth economy. You have to prefer to have a neighbor rather than to own your neighbor’s farm. There’s a fundamental incompatibility between industrial capitalism and both the ecological and the social principles of good agriculture. The aim of industrialization has always been to replace people with machines or other technology, to make the cost of production as low as possible, to sell the product as high as possible, and to move the wealth into fewer and fewer hands. People talk about “job creation,” as if that had ever been the aim the industrial economy. The original Luddites were right. The aim was to replace people with machines.

SL: Are you a socialist?

WB: From what I’ve read and heard, socialism and communism have been just as committed to industrial principles as capitalism. My own inclination is not to start with a political idea or theory and think downward to the land and the people, but instead to start with the land and the people, the necessity for harmony between local ecosystems and local economies, and think upward to conserving policies such as those of the 50-Year Farm Bill.

SL: Are there political figures who you think have been good at this?

WB: No. No politicians are standing up for this. No politicians. And the prominent economists whose work you see in newspapers or magazines never mention the land or the land economies.

SL: Michael Pollan about food and maybe less about farming. Do you think that the people who have taken up this burden are as concerned with the farming as you are?

WB: I don’t know—I don’t know how you’d measure somebody’s concern. I know that Michael Pollan, Eric Schlosser, and others know what is wrong with the industrial food production systems, and that includes farming. There are several good younger writers now writing about agriculture, and I’m more grateful for them than I can easily say.

It may be that a lot of the people most disposed to go back and farm are those with the least farm experience. Too many farm-raised young people want to work in industry or the professions to get away from the economic constraints their families have suffered. Their families are telling them “Get out of this,” and you can’t blame them. I was talking to a group of people in Central Kentucky about the importance of keeping the farm-raised kids in farming. Someone in the audience said, “By the time they get out of college they have so much debt they can’t afford to farm.” I said. “Then we’ve got to keep them out of college.”

SL: I want to get at this idea of looking for some intrinsic value in what’s around you, a persistent theme in your nonfiction and your poetry. I wonder if it could be described as … “wonder”?

WB: “Wonder” is a word that applies. To live and work attentively in a diverse landscape such as this one—made up of native woodlands, pastures, croplands, ponds, and streams—is to live from one revelation to another, things unexpected, always of interest, often wonderful. After a while, you understand that there can be no end to this. The place is essentially interesting, inexhaustibly beautiful and wonderful. To know this is a defense against the incessant salestalk that is always telling you that what you have is not good enough; your life is not good enough. There aren’t many right answers to that. One of them, one of the best, comes from living watchfully and carefully the life uniquely granted to you by your place: My life, thank you very much, is just fine.

SL: Andrew Nelson Lytle in I’ll Take My Stand writes something similar. I know you’ve written about the Twelve Southerners, too. I wonder if you ever think about region as useful to thinking about agriculture, whether it obscures the way people think about land and agriculture.

WB: I did talk about that in an essay on the Civil War. The South is a region, but mainly in the political sense. Geographically, ecologically, even historically, the South has many regions. Kentucky has many regions. But that won’t tell you how to farm. What we’re talking about is adapting the farming to the farm, and to the field. . . . John Todd wrote a sentence that has mattered immensely to Wes Jackson and me: “Elegant solutions will be predicated on the uniqueness of place.” One of the wonders of modern agriculture is that agricultural science—like all other science—is founded on evolutionary biology, which sees local adaptation as an absolute necessity for every species, but we have we managed to exempt the human species.

SL: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

WB: Here’s the tragedy of agriculture in our time. In the middle of the last century, Aldo Leopold was writing and publishing on the “land community” and ecological land husbandry. Sir Albert Howard and J. Russell Smith had written of natural principles as the necessary basis of agriculture. This was work that was scientifically reputable. At the end of the Second World War, ignoring that work, the politicians, the agricultural bureaucracies, the colleges of agriculture, and the agri-business corporations went all-out to industrialize agriculture and to get first the people and then the animals off the land and into the factories. This was a mistake, involving colossal offenses against both land and people. The costs have not been fully reckoned, let alone fully paid.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

50 Ways to Nurture Your Happiness

50 Ways to Nurture Your Happiness

50 Ways to Nurture Your Happiness

Decide to be happy.  It's good for your health.

The happiest people I know appreciate what they have, keep an open mind to new ideas and ventures, use their leisure time as a means of self development, and love good music, good books, good pictures, good company and good conversation.  In other words, they do small things every day to nurture their happiness.

It's a lot easier than it sounds.  Anything that helps you feel more positive and joyful is self-nurturing.  The result?  A happier, healthier you.  Here are 50 simple ideas to get you started with nurturing your happiness.

  1. Act like today is already an awesome day. – Do so, and it will be.  Research shows that although we think that we act because of the way we feel, in fact we often feel because of the way we act.  A great attitude always leads to great experiences.  Read The How of Happiness.
  2. Make yourself smile first thing in the morning. – It's difficult to feel down when your face is happy.  Fill your bathroom or bedroom mirror with post-it notes of your favorite quotes, goals, mantras, photos, etc., and then reflect on them for a minute or two when you first wake up.
  3. Spend time with people who make you smile. – Who nourishes and supports you?  Surround yourself with these people.  Spend time with those who reflect the person you want to be – people who do good things and make your life a little brighter simply by being in it.
  4. Try something totally new. – Go somewhere you've never been.  Do something you've never done.  It will shake up your vision of what the world is like and give you a fresh new perspective on things.  Variety truly is the spice of life.  You can see or do something a million times, but you can only see or do it for the first time once.  As a result, first time experiences usually leave a reflective mark in our minds for the rest of our lives.  So spice it up!  The more experiences you have, the richer your life will be.
  5. Work on something that's meaningful to you. – Engage yourself in a meaningful personal project, or pull the trigger on doing something you've wanted to do for a long time, but haven't yet had the resolve to do.  Life is short.  Today is the day to take action.
  6. Keep track of the things you're grateful for. – You can't help but feel good when you literally count your blessings.  Start a gratitude journal and express your thanks on a daily basis.
  7. Dream big. – You can do anything you set your mind to.  Visualize your dreams coming true and work at making them a reality.
  8. Listen to your inner voice. – Your instincts are good.  It's important to listen to your own head and heart.  Don't always listen to others.  Do what you know in your heart is right, for you.
  9. Trust yourself. – You are kind.  You are smart.  You are important.  Your choices are just as valid as anyone else's.
  10. Truly appreciate those around you. – Tell your friends you adore them, say thank you and mean it, flash your biggest and most sincere smile at strangers on the street, hug people for longer than normal.  The more love you give out, the more it builds inside of you and the more you'll get back.
  11. Give out compliments. – Give sincere praise every chance you get.  Compliment and cheer for those who deserve it.  You'll be hitting two birds with one stone, because when the person you compliment smiles, you'll smile too.
  12. Call an old friend and reminisce. – There are few things more satisfying than recounting some of the greatest moments of your life with your closest friends who lived these moments alongside you.
  13. Be vibrant and colorful. – Express yourself.  Inject energetic colors into the atmosphere at work and at home.  If not in dress, then in words and deeds.  The world has enough grey!  Be the antidote!  Read The Happiness Project.
  14. Be silly. – Sometimes we take ourselves entirely too seriously.  Let go.  Be spontaneous and outrageous.  Sometimes you just need a good laugh to lift your spirits.
  15. Slow down. – When you're living your life at top speed, you're missing most of it.  Stop and take a breath.  Look for ways to adopt a more humane pace.  Pay close attention to what you're doing.  Don't waste time juggling forgettable tasks.  Instead, concentrate on a few things that really matter.  Engage fully in each day.  Read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
  16. Be present. – Life is happening right now.  Instead of dwelling on the past, or worrying about the future, just practice being and living in the 'now.'  You can't learn something new or uncover a new opportunity that's happening now if your mind is stuck in another time.  Remember, right now is the only moment guaranteed to you.  Right now is life.  Don't miss it.
  17. Disconnect from the world for a little while. – Shut off your electronics, phone, computer and television.  So many of us use technology to distract ourselves and keep our minds busy when we would be far better served by just sitting still and learning to relax.  It's not healthy to be plugged in and accessible 24/7.
  18. Take a deep breathing break every hour. – Take a deep breath, and another, and another.  It's like a mini-break to reset yourself during the day.
  19. Move your body. – Run, jump, climb a tree, take a dancing class, power walk – anything that feels good that gets your blood moving.  The only limitation:  it has to be fun.  Don't get on a treadmill if you hate the treadmill.
  20. Stretch. – Take a few minutes for a good muscle stretch.  It gets the blood moving, fires up your brain and it gives you a few moments to unwind and get grounded before you start the next task.  Plus, it just feels good too.
  21. Take a walk without a destination. – A brisk walk is a great way to get some exercise and clear your mind.  Enjoy the breeze, breathe the fresh air, and be mindful of what you see, hear and feel.
  22. At least once a week, do something that's only for you. – Remember that hobby that you used to have time for, or that food that no one else in your house likes?  Indulge in it.  Reclaim it for yourself.
  23. Dress up and do something fun. – Get all dressed up and go out dancing, or to an event.  It's a good way to inject a little excitement into your routine and let loose.
  24. Listen to good music. – Listen to music that motivates you.  Put on your favorite song, turn it up loud and sing.
  25. Do, watch, or listen to something that makes you laugh. – Laughter is the best medicine.  And some of the most memorable moments in your life will be moments spent in laughter.
  26. Buy or pick fresh flowers every now and then. – Brighten up your place.  The aroma and sight of flowers is comforting.
  27. Get more sunshine. – Go to the beach or park.  Bask in the warming rays of the sun.
  28. Take a hot bath. – Add some bubbles.  Sink into your tub for a long, luxurious soak at the end of the day.
  29. Get enough sleep. – Everything is harder when you're tired.  An exhausted mind is rarely happy and productive.
  30. Stand tall. – Your spirit can't soar when you slouch.  You will feel much more powerful and capable when you stand up straight and look the world in the eye.
  31. Declutter your space. – Purge everything in your life, both physical and mental, that you don't honestly need, use or love.  The excess distracts you from your true intentions and bogs you down.  Read The Joy of Less.
  32. Purge bad habits and negative influences. – Anything that doesn't nourish or support you – unhealthy foods, cigarettes, a miserable work environment, toxic people – get these things under control and do what you have to do to set boundaries and demand the highest quality of life.  You deserve it.
  33. Plan ahead. – With a few minutes of organizing your time and to-do's, you will be better prepared to take on the day.
  34. Stop procrastinating. – Start taking action to tie loose ends.  Putting something off instantly makes it harder and scarier.
  35. Allow yourself some private time each day. – Even if it's only for a half hour, go on a fun excursion by yourself, read a book or spend time with your pet.
  36. Get things off your chest. – Bottling everything up indefinitely will end badly.  Say what you need to say.  Do what you need to do.  Also, write in a journal.  Write down anything that calls to you, ideas, experiences, dreams, frustrations – get them out of your head and down on paper.
  37. Be kind. – Be nice to someone else.  Help them.  Trust me, it will help you smile, and you will have made the world a better place.
  38. Tell someone you love them. – We often forget to say it out loud.  It matters.
  39. Make a new friend. – People are interesting creatures, and no two people are exactly alike.  So meet someone new today.  Find out what makes them tick.  They'll likely open your eyes to fascinating ideas and perspectives.  And you never know, they just might change your life.
  40. Spend quality time with children. – Children live by their instincts openly and without hesitation.  They are enthusiastic about life, eager to learn, and curious about everything.  Watch how they play, how they live, how they create, how they ask questions, how they daydream, etc.  Play with them and admire their innocence.
  41. Cut yourself some slack. – We sometimes hold ourselves to impossible standards and then beat ourselves up when we don't meet them.
  42. Take pride in the hard times that you have overcome. – What didn't kill you made you stronger.  It wasn't easy, but you got through it.
  43. Keep your words positive. – Happiness and negativity cannot coexist.
  44. Make your home a haven. – Your home should be a place where you can take a breath and really relax.  If it isn't, you may have some work to do.
  45. Get your finances in order. – Manage your money wisely so your money does not manage you.  Always live well below your means.
  46. Volunteer or make a donation. – Can you offer time, money, your voice or influence?  In life, you get what you put in.  Being reminded that the world is bigger than your bubble can inspire and uplift you.  When you make a positive impact in someone else's life, you also make a positive impact in your own life.  Do something that's greater than you, something that helps someone else to be happy or to suffer less.  I promise, it will be an extremely rewarding experience – one you'll likely remember forever.  If you want to make a big difference in someone's life without leaving your computer chair, check out GoFundMe.
  47. Say "yes" to a spontaneous opportunity. – Everything in life can't be planned.  Some of the greatest opportunities will knock on your door when you least expect them to.  Be flexible, be spontaneous, and just say "yes."
  48. Forgive someone and reconnect with them. – Grudges are a waste of perfect happiness.  If there's someone in your life who deserves another chance, give it to them.  If you need to apologize, do it.  Give your story together a happy ending.
  49. Read something that inspires and motivates you. – Would I be out of line if I recommended this blog:)
  50. Smile and notice what's right, right now. – Everything that happens in life is neither good or bad.  It just depends on your perspective.  And no matter how it turns out, it always ends up just the way it should.  Either you succeed or you learn something.  So stay positive, appreciate the pleasant outcomes, and learn from the rest.

And remember, happiness is often found by enjoying the small things in life all while chasing after the big ones.  Take life one step at a time, breathe, and enjoy the journey.

Photo by: Scarleth White

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

1 Big Chart: There Is No Social Security Crisis

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1 Big Chart: There Is No Social Security Crisis

Here's a question for the under-30 crowd: Do you think Social Security will still be around when you retire? Half of you don't. Here's why you should.

The below chart, courtesy of Peter Diamond and Peter Orszag, compares what we spend on Social Security and Medicare today (blue) as a percent of GDP versus what the CBO projects we will spend on them in 2050 (red). It's a tale of two very different entitlements.

What a difference 40 years makes. While Social Security and Medicare make up roughly equal portions of the budget today, the CBO expects Medicare spending to be exactly double Social Security spending by 2050. There is no "entitlements" crisis. There is a Social Security problem, and a Medicare crisis. And the Medicare crisis is really a general healthcare spending crisis -- indeed, Medicare actually spends less than private insurance does.

That doesn't mean that Social Security doesn't need to be tweaked. A bump from five to six percent of GDP, as the CBO projects, isn't trivial. But checks to retirees won't bankrupt us. Fee for service for those retirees might.

So why do politicians prefer to talk about fixing Social Security? It's precisely because it's so easy to fix. Social Security is an accounting problem. Money goes in. Money comes out. If you increase the income, or decrease the outlays, you're finished. The challenge is raising revenue or slowing benefit growth in a way that is savvy enough to pass Congress and fair enough to keep benefits for those who really need them.

But we're pretty much clueless when it comes to reining in health care spending. The Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) does contain a good number of ideas about how to "bend the curve" of healthcare spending down, but we can't say with much certainty how well they'...

Watching Hens Eat « The Contrary Farmer

The Contrary Farmer


I've learned more about the economies of small scale food production from watching chickens than from any library or university.  The hens reveal a world almost foreign to our human experience. Ever since farming became a capitalistic enterprise, husbandry has been organized around the idea of making money, not making food.  When the farmer is freed from the yoke of money-making, wonderful alternatives become possible in food production. More people can do it, for one thing. It doesn't take a quarter million bucks to get started.  If more people do it, eventually the gardeners will become the farmers and the economics of food production will be turned upside down.

It amazes me how, as a farm boy, I learned to raise chickens the money way and thought that was the only way. We lived on a farm that was close to nature, but we were already evolving factory farming. The factory way meant that farmers had to raise lots more chickens in one place than nature ever intended, and the more they raised, the more they had to raise to try to squeeze out a profit. The chickens were penned up, which meant that they had to be provided all their food and water. They developed various diseases in unnatural captivity, started pecking bloody holes in each other, got lice, and suffered from various disorders and diseases that were related to unnatural diets. The ultimate absurdity came when the utility companies instructed us to leave the lights on all night in the coop to make the hens sleep less and lay more eggs.

Now, with only eight hens that are free to roam several acres of woodland, meadow and yard, I never cease to be amazed at how simple nature's way to good fried eggs for breakfast can be. Chickens are amazing omnivores. They will eat anything except citrus rinds. No bug or worm or weed seed is safe from their daily patrol. I follow my little flock around, sometimes on all fours, trying to figure out just what they are pecking at all the time.

First of all, they eat a lot of dirt. Muddy, icy clots of dirt in winter, loamy pinches of humusy soil in the summer. I get right down there beak to beak with them, and I am sure they are eating dirt sometimes, not insects or worm eggs. Or if the latter, they take in a lot of dirt too. Yet over the years, I have never detected any signs that they have internal parasites. How can that be?   And they like manure. When I let them out of the coop in the morning, they rush around the barn to where the sheep are gathered and peck in their manure. If I were feeding grain to the sheep, that would be easy to explain because chickens love half-digested grain. But my sheep get no grain. So what are the hens eating? Perhaps the half digested grass, clover and weed seeds that are in the hay?

And oh my, do they love weed seeds. Here is a whole world of unexplored natural food for fowl. Having learned that the seeds of giant ragweed, the scourge of grain farms but a staple food for wild quail, have a 47% crude protein content, higher than any grain we cultivate, I started feeding the golden little seeds to the hens. They gobbled readily. Having learned to open my eyes to the real world, I noticed that the hens also strip the seeds off regular ragweed growing around the coop. They like the fruit of pokeberries which also grow around the coop. The seeds are supposed to be poisonous but no one told the hens. How many myriad other seeds are they eating that I don't know about in my ignorance?

Hens like to graze grass and clover.  In winter, during thaws, they will seek out patches of greenish bluegrass and devour it. In the aging livestock manure in the barn they scratch incessantly for fly eggs, which is why we don't have a bad fly problem. They march through the woods like a little army, uncovering worms and bugs out of the leaf litter. They love to raid the compost pile. Their favorite food, if I can judge by their enthusiasm, is table scraps. The older hens know the garbage bucket by sight and when we carry it up to their coop, they are right there at our heels. (Needless to say, natural hens stay healthy into their sixth year, a tremendous savings over having to replace them every year as so often is the case in hen factories.)

I occasionally toss the hens a handful of whole corn or wheat just because I can't quite let go completely from the factory farm mentality I was brought up in.  It is good to have grain (but it does not have to be milled grain) when there is snow on the ground. And that's another thing. You don't really have to worry about waterers freezing up if the hens have access to snow. They like snow, sometimes eating it even if water is available. They like to peck on ice crystals too. Nature has been dealing with the real world for eons and eons. Will we ever catch on?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Have You Ever Tried to Eliminate a State-Run Commission? - Jeb Bush - Politics - The Atlantic

Have You Ever Tried to Eliminate a State-Run Commission? - Jeb Bush - Politics - The Atlantic

The accretion of old law is a problem across the spectrum of American government. Once laws are passed, they just don't go away. In 2000, we attempted to eliminate 141 Florida boards and commissions out of the more than 800 that existed at that time. Only 10 were eliminated and the legislature created another 31. Clearly, we put the effort in the loss column!
It's hard to describe how much pressure was brought to bear to defeat this effort. The people with a special interest in defending the status quo put all of their energy into blocking reform, while those with a general interest in better government and free competition had less incentive to commit the time or resources to the fight.

Somehow, we need to change the structure of government to require the systematic review of rules and laws. Requiring regulations and statutes to "sunset" is one way to force legislatures and agencies to review whether they're still a public priority. Another productive approach is Senator Mark Warner's proposal requiring an agency to eliminate an old regulation as a condition to each new regulation.
A third suggestion would be to ban so-called "omnibus bills," legislation that sometimes run in to the hundreds and thousands of pages, and where appended items have nothing to do with the main subject of the law. Laws that throw in the kitchen sink are not comprehensible to anyone, including the unwitting legislators who vote for them. It's hard to make sense of a law that never made any sense in the first place. It's also hard to hold political leaders accountable if the laws they pass are so big that a vote for or against could mean many different things. Laws must be targeted so their effectiveness can be evaluated.
The job of political leaders is not only to pass new laws that make sense, but to make sure that old laws meet the current needs of our society. Getting political leaders to do this job, however, will require a major shift in our public priorities.
A postscript on the accretion of old law. A year after our failed boards and commission effort, I signed into law a bill allowing beer to be sold in any size under 32 ounces. For 36 years, the law required beer to be sold in 8,12, 16 and 32 ounces. Of the more than 4300 beer brands available in the US in 2000, only 772 brands could be sold in Florida. Now, Floridians can drink beer in almost any shape or size container. Let freedom ring!

Krugman from 1991 on the Rules of Research


In the course of describing my formative moment in 1978, I have already implicitly given my four basic rules for research. Let me now state them explicitly, then explain. Here are the rules:
1. Listen to the Gentiles
2. Question the question
3. Dare to be silly
4. Simplify, simplify
Listen to the Gentiles
What I mean by this rule is "Pay attention to what intelligent people are saying, even if they do not have your customs or speak your analytical language." The point may perhaps best be explained by example. When I began my rethinking of international trade, there was already a sizeable literature criticizing conventional trade theory. Empiricists pointed out that trade took place largely between countries with seemingly similar factor endowments, and that much of this trade involved intra-industry exchanges of seemingly similar products. Acute observers pointed to the importance of economies of scale and imperfect competition in actual international markets. Yet all of this intelligent commentary was ignored by mainstream trade theorists -- after all, their critics often seemed to have an imperfect understanding of comparative advantage, and had no coherent models of their own to offer; so why pay attention to them? The result was that the profession overlooked evidence and stories that were right under its nose.
The same story is repeated in geography. Geographers and regional scientists have amassed a great deal of evidence on the nature and importance of localized external economies, and organized that evidence intelligently if not rigorously. Yet economists have ignored what they had to say, because it comes from people speaking the wrong language.
I do not mean to say that formal economic analysis is worthless, and that anybody's opinion on economic matters is as good as anyone else's. On the contrary! I am a strong believer in the importance of models, which are to our minds what spear-throwers were to stone age arms: they greatly extend the power and range of our insight. In particular, I have no sympathy for those people who criticize the unrealistic simplifications of model-builders, and imagine that they achieve greater sophistication by avoiding stating their assumptions clearly. The point is to realize that economic models are metaphors, not truth. By all means express your thoughts in models, as pretty as possible (more on that below). But always remember that you may have gotten the metaphor wrong, and that someone else with a different metaphor may be seeing something that you are missing.
Question the question
There was a limited literature on external economies and international trade before 1978. It was never, however, very influential, because it seemed terminally messy; even the simplest models became bogged down in a taxonomy of possible outcomes. What has since become clear is that this messiness arose in large part because the modelers were asking their models to do what traditional trade models do, which is to predict a precise pattern of specialization and trade. Yet why ask that particular question? Even in the Heckscher-Ohlin model, the point you want to make is something like "A country tends to export goods whose production is intensive in the factors in which that country is abundant"; if your specific model tells you that capital-abundant country Home exports capital-intensive good X, this is valuable because it sharpens your understanding of that insight, not because you really care about these particular details of a patently oversimplified model.
It turns out that if you don't ask for the kind of detail that you get in the two-sector, two-good classical model, an external economy model needn't be at all messy. As long as you ask "system" questions like how welfare and world income are distributed, it is possible to make very simple and neat models. And it's really these system questions that we are interested in. The focus on excessive detail was, to put it bluntly, a matter of carrying over ingrained prejudices from an overworked model into a domain where they only made life harder.
The same is true in a number of areas in which I have worked. In general, if people in a field have bogged down on questions that seem very hard, it is a good idea to ask whether they are really working on the right questions. Often some other question is not only easier to answer but actually more interesting! (One drawback of this trick is that it often gets people angry. An academic who has spent years on a hard problem is rarely grateful when you suggest that his field can be revived by bypassing it).
Dare to be silly
If you want to publish a paper in economic theory, there is a safe approach: make a conceptually minor but mathematically difficult extension to some familiar model. Because the basic assumptions of the model are already familiar, people will not regard them as strange; because you have done something technically difficult, you will be respected for your demonstration of firepower. Unfortunately, you will not have added much to human knowledge.
What I found myself doing in the new trade theory was pretty much the opposite. I found myself using assumptions that were unfamiliar, and doing very simple things with them. Doing this requires a lot of self-confidence, because initially people (especially referees) are almost certain not simply to criticize your work but to ridicule it. After all, your assumptions will surely look peculiar: a continuum of goods all with identical production functions, entering symmetrically into utility? Countries of identical economic size, with mirror-image factor endowments? Why, people will ask, should they be interested in a model with such silly assumptions -- especially when there are evidently much smarter young people who demonstrate their quality by solving hard problems?
What seems terribly hard for many economists to accept is that all our models involve silly assumptions. Given what we know about cognitive psychology, utility maximization is a ludicrous concept; equilibrium pretty foolish outside of financial markets; perfect competition a howler for most industries. The reason for making these assumptions is not that they are reasonable but that they seem to help us produce models that are helpful metaphors for things that we think happen in the real world.
Consider the example which some economists seem to think is not simply a useful model but revealed divine truth: the Arrow-Debreu model of perfect competition with utility maximization and complete markets. This is indeed a wonderful model -- not because its assumptions are remotely plausible but because it helps us think more clearly about both the nature of economic efficiency and the prospects for achieving efficiency under a market system. It is actually a piece of inspired, marvellous silliness.
What I believe is that the age of creative silliness is not past. Virtue, as an economic theorist, does not consist in squeezing the last drop of blood out of assumptions that have come to seem natural because they have been used in a few hundred earlier papers. If a new set of assumptions seems to yield a valuable set of insights, then never mind if they seem strange.
Simplify, simplify
The injunction to dare to be silly is not a license to be undisciplined. In fact, doing really innovative theory requires much more intellectual discipline than working in a well-established literature. What is really hard is to stay on course: since the terrain is unfamilar, it is all too easy to find yourself going around in circles. Somewhere or other Keynes wrote that "it is astonishing what foolish things a man thinking alone can come temporarily to believe". And it is also crucial to express your ideas in a way that other people, who have not spent the last few years wrestling with your problems and are not eager to spend the next few years wrestling with your answers, can understand without too much effort.
Fortunately, there is a strategy that does double duty: it both helps you keep control of your own insights, and makes those insights accessible to others. The strategy is: always try to express your ideas in the simplest possible model. The act of stripping down to this minimalist model will force you to get to the essence of what you are trying to say (and will also make obvious to you those situations in which you actually have nothing to say). And this minimalist model will then be easy to explain to other economists as well.
I have used the "minimum necessary model" approach over and over again: using a one-factor, one-industry model to explain the basic role of monopolistic competition in trade; assuming sector-specific labor rather than full Heckscher-Ohlin factor substitution to explain the effects of intraindustry trade; working with symmetric countries to assess the role of reciprocal dumping; and so on. In each case the effect has been to allow me to tackle a subject widely viewed as formidably difficult with what appears, at first sight, to be ridiculous simplicity.
The downside of this strategy is, of course, that many of your colleagues will tend to assume that an insight that can be expressed in a cute little model must be trivial and obvious -- it takes some sophistication to realize that simplicity may be the result of years of hard thinking. I have heard the story that when Joseph Stiglitz was being considered for tenure at Yale, one of his senior colleagues belittled his work, saying that it consisted mostly of little models rather than deep theorems. Another colleague then asked, "But couldn't you say the same about Paul Samuelson"? "Yes, I could", replied Joe's opponent. I have heard the same reaction to my own work. Luckily, there are enough sophisticated economists around that in the end intellectual justice is usually served. And there is a special delight in managing not only to boldly go where no economist has gone before, but to do so in a way that seems after the fact to be almost childs' play.Kr

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Festival of Lies -

A Festival of Lies

THE historian Victor Davis Hanson recently wrote a brutally clear-eyed piece in The National Review, looking back at America's different approaches to Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan and how, sadly, none of them could be said to have worked yet.

"Let us review the various American policy options for the Middle East over the last few decades," Hanson wrote. "Military assistance or punitive intervention without follow-up mostly failed. The verdict on far more costly nation-building is still out. Trying to help popular insurgents topple unpopular dictators does not guarantee anything better. Propping up dictators with military aid is both odious and counterproductive. Keeping clear of maniacal regimes leads to either nuclear acquisition or genocide — or 16 acres of rubble in Manhattan. What have we learned? Tribalism, oil, and Islamic fundamentalism are a bad mix that leaves Americans sick and tired of the Middle East — both when they get in it and when they try to stay out of it."

And that is why it's time to rethink everything we're doing out there. What the Middle East needs most from America today are modern schools and hard truths, and we haven't found a way to offer either. Because Hanson is right: What ails the Middle East today truly is a toxic mix of tribalism, Shiite-Sunni sectarianism, fundamentalism and oil — oil that constantly tempts us to intervene or to prop up dictators.

This cocktail erodes all the requirements of a forward-looking society — which are institutions that deliver decent government, consensual politics that provide for rotations in power, women's rights and an ethic of pluralism that protects minorities and allows for modern education. The United Nations Arab Human Development Report published in 2002 by some brave Arab social scientists also said something similar: What ails the Arab world is a deficit of freedom, a deficit of modern education and a deficit of women's empowerment.

So helping to overcome those deficits should be what U.S. policy is about, yet we seem unable to sustain that. Look at Egypt: More than half of its women and a quarter of its men can't read. The young Egyptians who drove the revolution are desperate for the educational tools and freedom to succeed in the modern world. Our response should have been to shift our aid money from military equipment to building science-and-technology high schools and community colleges across Egypt.

Yet, instead, a year later, we're in the crazy situation of paying $5 million in bail to an Egyptian junta to get U.S. democracy workers out of jail there, while likely certifying that this junta is liberalizing and merits another $1.3 billion in arms aid. We're going to give $1.3 billion more in guns to a country whose only predators are illiteracy and poverty.

In Afghanistan, I laugh out loud whenever I hear Obama administration officials explaining that we just need to train more Afghan soldiers to fight and then we can leave. Is there anything funnier? Afghan men need to be trained to fight? They defeated the British and the Soviets!

The problem is that we turned a blind eye as President Hamid Karzai stole the election and operated a corrupt regime. Then President Obama declared that our policy was to surge U.S. troops to clear out the Taliban so "good" Afghan government could come in and take our place. There is no such government. Our problem is not that Afghans don't know the way to fight. It is that not enough have the will to fight for the government they have. How many would fight for Karzai if we didn't pay them?

And so it goes. In Pakistan, we pay the Pakistani Army to be two-faced, otherwise it would be only one-faced and totally against us. In Bahrain, we looked the other way while ruling Sunni hard-liners crushed a Shiite-led movement for more power-sharing, and we silently watch our ally Israel build more settlements in the West Bank that we know are a disaster for its Jewish democracy.

But we don't tell Pakistan the truth because it has nukes. We don't tell the Saudis the truth because we're addicted to their oil. We don't tell Bahrain the truth because we need its naval base. We don't tell Egypt the truth because we're afraid it will walk from Camp David. We don't tell Israel the truth because it has votes. And we don't tell Karzai the truth because Obama is afraid John McCain will call him a wimp.

Sorry, but nothing good can be built on a soil so rich with lies on our side and so rich with sectarianism, tribalism and oil-fueled fundamentalism on their side. Don't get me wrong. I believe change is possible and am ready to invest in it. But it has got to start with them wanting it. I'll support anyone in that region who truly shares our values — and the agenda of the Arab Human Development Report — and is ready to fight for them. But I am fed up with supporting people just because they look less awful than the other guys and eventually turn out to be just as bad.

Where people don't share our values, we should insulate ourselves by reducing our dependence on oil. But we must stop wanting good government more than they do, looking the other way at bad behavior, telling ourselves that next year will be different, sticking with a bad war for fear of being called wimps and selling more tanks to people who can't read.

A Festival of Lies -

Thursday, March 22, 2012

3 tips for TED speakers (and other talkers) | Daniel Pink

3 tips for TED speakers (and other talkers)

March 22nd, 2012

Okay, so yeah. TED is amazing. It's a culture-shaping, era-defining, not entirely uncontroversial extravapalooza that has earned the mind share, eyeballs, and admiration of tens of millions of global citizens. I had a chance to do a TED Talk a few years ago. And last year, my pal Bruno Giussani, one of TED's impresarios, asked me to write up some advice for future speakers.

I stumbled across that advice the other day — and decided to repurpose it on the Pink Blog in the hopes it will help the legions of TEDx speakers and anyone else trying to move others by standing and delivering.

Here are my three key tips.

1. Prepare . . . but not too much.

These days, very few TED speakers arrive unprepared and just try to wing their presentations. That's great. Preparing is a sign of respect for your audience — and the only way to wrangle your ideas inside an18- or 9-minute fence. But lately I've seen a handful of people who were too prepared and too rehearsed. Their presentations were so heavily shellacked that they seemed inauthentic; their ideas suffocated under all that varnish. Remember: Human beings, despite their imperfections (and sometimes because of their imperfections), are far more persuasive than expertly-tuned presentation robots.

2. Say something important.

There's a big difference between saying some important things and saying something important. Your goal isn't to demonstrate how much you know or to catalog your many insights, but to leave the audience with one idea to ponder — or better, one step to take.  When people hear some important things, their heads nod. When they hear something important, their souls stir, their brains engage, and their bodies prepare to act.

3. Say it like yourself.

Don't mimic someone else's style or conform to what you think is a particular "TED way" of presenting. That's boring, banal, and backward. Don't try to be the next Ken Robinson or the next Jill Bolte Taylor. Be the first you.

Connectome: A New Way To Think About What Makes You You | Brain Pickings

Connectome: A New Way To Think About What Makes You You

22 MARCH, 2012 by

"You are more than your genes. You are your connectome."

The nature vs. nurture debate pitted the hard and social sciences against each other for decades, if not centuries, stirred by a central concern with consciousness, what it means to be human, what makes a person, and, perhaps most interestingly to us egocentric beings, what constitutes character and personality. In Connectome: How the Brain's Wiring Makes Us Who We Are, MIT Professor of Computational Neuroscience Sebastian Seung proposes a new model for understanding the totality of selfhood, one based the emerging science of connectomics — a kind of neuroscience of the future that seeks to map and understand the brain much like genomics has mapped the genome.

A "connectome" denotes the sum total of connections between the neurons in a nervous system and, like "genome," implies completeness. It's a complex fingerprint of identity, revealing the differences between brains and, inversely, the specificity of our own uniqueness. Seung proposes a simple theory: We are different because our connectomes differ from one another. With that lens, he argues, any kind of personality change — from educating yourself to developing better habits — is a matter of rewiring your connectome.

That capacity is precisely what makes the connectome intriguing and infinitely promising — unlike the genome, which is fixed from the moment of conception, the connetome changes throughout life. Seung explains:

Neuroscientists have already identified the basic kinds of change. NEurons adjust, or "reweight," their connections by strengthening or weakening them. Neurons reconnect by creating and eliminating synapses, and they rewire by growing and retracting branches. Finally, entirely new neurons are created and existing ones eliminated through regeneration.

We don't know exactly how life events — your parents' divorce, your fabulous year abroad — change your connectome. But there is good evidence that all four R's — reweighting, reconnection, rewiring, and regeneration — are affected by your experiences. At the same time, the four R's are also guided by genes. Minds are indeed influenced by genes, especially when the brain is 'wiring' itself up during infancy and childhood.*


The connectome theory of mental differences is compatible with the genetic theory, but it is far richer and more complex because it includes the effects of living in the world. The connectome theory is also less deterministic. There is reason to believe that we shape our own connectomes by the actions we take, even by the things we think. Brain wiring may make us who we are, but we play an important role in wiring up our brains."

Harnessing the power of those four R's, Seung believes, is the most important goal of neuroscience — but, given your connectome is 100 billion times larger than your genome and has a million times more connections than your genome has letters, it's a daunting task. Still, new technologies and new directions of scientific curiosity are bringing us closer to understanding this microcosm of meticulously structured chaos.

Map of the C. elegans nervous system, or 'connectome,' borrowing from the language of genomics

DNA is a long chain-like molecule composed of nucleotides connoted by the letters A, C, G, and T, and your genome is the entire sequence of nucleotides in your DNA. Similarly, your connectome is the totality of connections between the neurons in your nervous system.

At the heart of Seung's vision is a new way of thinking about human personality, a fascinating and controversial subject we've previously explored. He proposes an apt metaphor, underpinning which is a desire not only to find and understand our connectomes, but also to develop methods for changing and optimizing them:

In the nineteenth century, the American psychologist William James wrote eloquently of the stream of consciousness, the continuous flow of thoughts through the mind. But James failed to note that every stream has a bed. Without this groove in the earth, the water would not know in which direction of the flow. Since the connectome defines the pathways along which neural activity can flow, we might regard it as the streambed of consciousness.

The metaphor is a powerful one. Over a long period of time, in the same way that the water of the stream slowly shapes the bed, neural activity changes the connectome. The two notions of the self — as both the fast-moving, ever-changing stream, and the more stable but slowly transforming streambed** — are thus inextricably linked. This book is about the self as the streambed, the self in the connectome — the self that has been neglected for too long."

In elaborating on this dichotomy of the self, Seung echoes Daniel Kahneman's notion of the experiencing self vs. the remembering self:

One self changes rapidly from moment to moment, becoming angry and then cheering up, thinking about the meaning of life and then the household chores, watching the leaves fall outside and then the football game on television. This self is the one intertwined with consciousness. Its protean nature derives from the rapidly changing patterns of neural activity in the brain.

The other self is much more stable. It retains memories from childhood over an entire lifetime. Its nature — what we think of as personality — is largely constant, a fact that comforts family and friends. The properties of this self are expressed while you are conscious, but they continue to exist during unconscious states like sleep. This self, like the connectome, changes only slowly over time. This is the self invoked by the idea that you are your connectome."

Sample Seung's insights with his 2010 TEDGlobal talk:

Scientific American has an excellent Q&A with Seung about Connectome.

* For more on this fascinating early wiring, especially as it applies to our emotional lives, see the excellent A General Theory of Love.

** For a different metaphor articulating an analogous concept, see Jonathan Haidt's The Happiness Hypothesis, where he describes the self as the interplay between the conscious "rider" and the unconscious "elephant" he struggles to command.

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How to Quickly Overcome Inexperience « Leadership Freak

How to Quickly Overcome Inexperience

10 dangers of inexperienced leaders:

  1. Needing to be liked.
  2. Blaming.
  3. Emotional decisions.
  4. Impulsiveness.
  5. Trying too hard.
  6. Neglecting the long term.
  7. Focusing on symptoms rather than causes.
  8. Aiming without pulling the trigger.
  9. Meddling.
  10. Forget to say thank you. (Speaking of thanks, many of these points were inspired by contributors on the Leadership Freak Facebook Page. Thank you!)

10 questions every inexperienced leader must keep asking:

  1. What type of world are my behaviors building around me?
  2. How many questions did I ask today?
  3. What am I learning?
  4. Am I acting or reacting?
  5. When was the last time I spent an hour in self-reflection?
  6. What's the most fun?
  7. Am I soliciting input from experienced leaders and staff?
  8. Do I welcome ideas from everyone?
  9. How are we leveraging everyone's strengths?
  10. Who do I feel threatened by? Why?

12 powerful suggestions for inexperienced leaders:

  1. You matter in ways you can't imagine. Watch your tone, body language, and attitude, everyone else is.
  2. Be optimistic about the future and realistic about the present. Optimism frustrates others if you don't acknowledge present realities and problems, first.
  3. Challenges aren't your biggest opportunity, people are.
  4. Be tender when you're being tough.
  5. Remove manipulators and backstabbers. They may quickly deliver results but everyone around them slows down.
  6. Courageously ask dumb questions. (From the Chief Security Officer of Microsoft)
  7. Protect your team from political fallout and organizational interference.
  8. Believe your perspective matters. Listen to yourself as well as others.
  9. Avoid extreme reactions.
  10. Recruit mentors, advisors, and, coaches. Get support.
  11. Take responsibility.
  12. Make the best interests of your organization and others your priority, always.

Bonus: Stick with it. The reason it's called experience is it takes time.


What can you add to these lists?

What can you modify or amplify?


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This entry was posted on March 22, 2012 at 7:56 am and is filed under Fear, Humility, Influence, Insecurity, Leading, Listening, Marks of leaders, Optimism, Personal Growth, Strengths, Taking others higher. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.