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Showing posts from 2012

What's Your Type? -- Writer's Poke #389

I work three different jobs; I’m enrolled in two graduate programs simultaneously. So am I delusional when I identify myself as a “Type B personality”? My lifestyle belies my self-diagnosis.
And yet, I sincerely think of myself as Type B. At the same time, I realize an inner restlessness. It is difficult for me to “do nothing.” Like a lot of people I know, “taking a break” can prove stressful; not only does it cause me more than a little bit of anxiety, but I also find it somewhat depressing. Time off is time lost.
I wasn’t always like this. At least not exactly. When I was younger and more free from responsibilities, it was easier for me to be true to my Type B nature. Something about responsibilities and “being an adult” transformed me into the Type A monster I am today.
More than that, I think another reason for my Type-A-ness is a recognition of my own mortality. I’ve often joked that all the greats die young, and if I was going to die young, I wanted to have something to show for i…

Santa Claus: Equal to or Greater than St. Nick?

I Like Meatloaf

Thank You for Your Service

Once it become clear that Obama had defeated Romney, CNN's "partisan" contributor Paul Begala noted that he felt empathic for Mitt Romney. After all, Romney had just spent the better part of the past six years, really, running for president. For the man so richly blessed, not finishing first in this week’s presidential race must rank as the bitterest disappointment of his life.

Like Begala, I found myself feeling bad for Romney, too.

This isn’t the first time I’ve felt bad for the runner-up in a presidential election. In 2000, I didn’t support Al Gore. Not, at least, until it was clear that he was not going to be president. But when Gore conceded the race to George W. Bush, he displayed an aspect of character that had been missing during the campaign. By accepting defeat, he proved himself to be an honorable man. Although conservatives would continue to belittle and mock Gore for the rest of the decade, I grew to respect his leadership on the issue of climate change. Hi…

Mitt and the Gipper's Slipper

On the eve of the 1992 election, the unemployment rate was 7.4%. Bill Clinton ran a campaign on the economy, and with a little help from his little friend, Ross Perot, his message resonated.
On the eve of the 2012 election, the unemployment rate is 7.9%. Mitt Romney has tried everything he can to make this an economy election,but he hasn’t been able to seal the deal. Why not? Because 2012 isn’t just an election about the economy.

When Ronald Reagan was re-elected in 1984, unemployment was 7.2%, but Walter Mondale didn’t stand a chance against Reagan. Why not? Because people genuinely liked Reagan; more than that, they liked his broader “morning in America” message. Obama in 2012 isn’t Reagan in 1984; but neither is he Bush in 1992. He will not win in a landslide over Mitt Romney, but he will win. The reason is simple: this election is about much more than the economy. The nation is deeply divided on most issues. From healthcare to gay marriage to energy, people tend to take the view of …

Beautiful Iceland

Wrestlemania III -- Professional Wrestling's Quality Event -- Writer's Poke #388

Wrestlemania is WWE’s annual sports entertainment spectacular. The show itself is typically four hours long, and event usually sets attendance records for whatever stadium that houses it. Wrestling fans know by heart, for example, that Wrestlemania III attracted 93,000 people to the Detroit Pontiac Silverdome. This event was headlined by Hulk Hogan defending his heavyweight title against Andre the Giant. Hogan even managed to body-slam the 500 pound giant, but the effort it took to do so almost destroyed his back.

Not surprisingly, wrestlers usually didn’t try to body-slam Andre, but it had been done before and would be done again. And yet, nobody talks about Kamala or Big John Studd or Ultimate Warrior slamming Andre. They don't even talk about Hulk slamming Andre at other events. All people remember and all they talk about is Hulk slamming Andre at Wrestlemania III. Something about this slam was different and special. Something about this slam could only happen at Wrestlemania. B…

In Defense of Propaganda -- Writer's Poke #387

Propaganda is a rather discredited term, but not necessarily a discredited concept. Probably best recognized in politics (and generally called “spin”), propaganda has its origin in the Reformation. Back in the 16th century, the Catholic Church was trying to keep the faithful from turning Protestant, and so they developed a propaganda office to forward their cause. Even today, some people try to defend propaganda by suggesting that all it is, really, is a way for activists to promote a position. As long as propagandists allow the facts to speak for themselves, refrain from omitting some details and exaggerating others,  and avoid purposely using logical fallacies, then propaganda is good. The problem is: the term “propaganda” is no longer associated, if it ever was, with “good argument construction.” Propaganda is associated with manipulation. The propagandist has no interest in letting the facts speak for themselves; rather, the propagandist wants to direct your thinking in a specific w…

What the Hell Is Quality? -- Writer's Poke #386

We act like we can measure quality. In the game of education, we develop “rubrics” and then we measure performance by how well students measure up.This is somehow supposed to be different from just giving out letter grades. Sure, an A can tell a student that she’s doing quality work, but it doesn’t explain why. The Rubric is supposed to break it down so that the student can see where quality lives.
But can the Rubric be used to help a student achieve quality? Accrediting agencies and politicians, and therefore school administrators, seem to have a fanatical appreciation for Rubrics. At Rochester Community and Technical College, for example, the Rubrics for Aesthetic Response, Civic Responsibility, Communication, Critical Thinking, and Global Awareness/Diversity are all available on the Faculty homepage. Anytime I wish, I can click on a Rubric, access a specific class that I am teaching, and rate a student’s performance in a number of subcategories on a 1 (Unsatisfactory) to 4 (Above Av…

The Passion of Uncertainty -- Writer's Poke #385

Why are there so many books written about Alexander the Great? I have at least eleven in my personal library, and I’m sure that I will end up buying even more.
In Paul Cartledge’s introduction to his 2005 biography, he offers what sounds to me like a preemptive apology when he writes that “no explanation is necessary” for why he decided to offer the world another biography on Alexander the Great. While that may be true, it does seem as though the thought crossed his mind, or that at the very least, he knew the thought would cross the minds of others.
Yes, Alexander the Great was, at least for a brief moment in time, King of the World, but how important is he really in the grand scheme of things? His empire, after all, fragmented almost immediately upon his death. On the other hand, his influence on the so-called “known world” was everlasting.
Most modern historians rely on three ancient texts when writing about Alexander: Curtius Rufus’ The History of Alexander, Plutarch’s Nine Lives, …

The Center of the Universe -- Writer's Poke #384

Ptolemy believed that the Earth was the center of the universe. This view was the “truth” for hundreds of years. Only in the 16th century did Copernicus challenge the truth and suggest otherwise.

Today, of course, we can look back on Ptolemy’s beliefs and laugh, but as Robert Pirsig notes, it took Copernicus to help us fundamentally change the way we understand the truth of our universe. People simply are not generally willing to question the established truth. Perhaps, as Pirsig suggests, this is because institutions in control of “truth” are more interested in perpetuating themselves than they are in questioning the fundamentals. Why should anyone be so worried about protecting ideas from scrutiny? One reason may be that ideas define who we are. Maybe they shouldn’t, but there is fear of change and security in stability, even if the stable foundation is incorrect. How do we really know if our perspective is “incorrect”? After all, we cannot look outside ourselves. We are locked wit…

The Lost Art of Living -- Writer's Poke #383

“Measuring Happiness” is one of my more recent Writer’s Pokes. According to the blogger stats, it’s generating more hits than any other post within the last few weeks. In fact, it’s generating about ten times the amount of interest of any other post. The key word in the title is “Happiness,” and apparently people are searching for it.

Living is an art, or should be. For a long time I had Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” up on my office wall. This is a fairly iconic painting that probably most people know, but why is it so popular? Is it true that most of us live lives of quiet desperation? Am I, and others, attracted to this painting simply because the central focal character is no longer staying quiet?

What makes life so difficult? Many of us may think we’re “connected,” but more and more we spend our lives isolated from real human contact. Even saying “hello” to someone passing by in the hallway may seem pointless, especially if “hello” is the only thing you ever say to that person. Wh…

No Instruction Manual -- Writer's Poke #382

At the end of Chapter 2 of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig writes, “We were all spectators. And it occurred to me there is no manual that deals with the real business of motorcycle maintenance, the most important aspect of all. Caring about what you are doing is considered either unimportant or taken for granted.” Now, assume for a moment that “motorcycle maintenance” is a metaphor for life. How do people live? By a instruction manual? Can an instruction manual teach caring?

Granted, some people may claim that an “instruction manual” for living exists, but does any written document really explain how to live a purposeful life? And, how do people use the written documents they claim as “life’s instruction manual”?

Pirsig’s friend John is dependent on his instruction manual. He doesn’t know his motorcycle, and therefore, he falls back on what the manual tells him to do. He doesn’t have the ability to deviate from the manual. He assumes the manual is 100% accur…

The Key -- Writer's Poke #381

Lakshmi doesn’t know much of anything about the outside world, but like the other girls who live at Happiness House, she is fascinated by television. When she first came to the city, she thought that the roofs of houses would have golden roofs, but even though that turned out to be false, television didn’t disappoint her. In fact, television is better than golden roofs. Even the commercials.

What the girls most like to watch is American soap operas. What do they think when the watch Days of Our Lives or One Life to Live? Do they assume that what they are watching is real? Remember: these are the same girls from the country who didn’t even know what to expect from the city. The city didn’t turn out as they expected, but can they still believe in the magic of America?

Americans, they all know, cannot be trusted. Is this lesson reinforced by the soap operas they watch? America is undoubtedly a strange and mysterious place, but perhaps there is no real to assume that all Americans are b…

I Have Decided to Let You Live -- Writer's Poke #380

In the United States, abortion has been legal nationwide since 1973, the year that Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. So, assuming you were born after 1973, you should call your mother and thank her for allowing you to live.

Once you’re born, you probably no longer worry about someone else having life and death control over your existence. That is, unless you happen to commit a capital offense, you assume that your life is your own and that no one can take it from you. Even when you are a teenager, you know that you might be punished, you might be grounded, but no one is going to kill you for not doing what you’re told to do.

Imagine living in another world from the one you know and grew up in. In this world, you have a “master,” and this master can do with you whatever she wishes. Like the world you know, this world might have laws to protect you, but the laws are not enforced. No one cares if you live or die, and you have no way of escaping the prison you find yourself in. Eve…

The Rules of Being a Woman -- Writer's Poke #379

For Lakshmi, being a woman means looking up to your mother. It also means understanding that your mother does not have the power to protect you. Lakshmi’s mother has had four children after her, but none of them have lived. Being a woman means no health care.

Being a woman means remaining in the goat shed for seven days when you have your first period.

Being a woman means working like a mule. “Women’s work” includes cooking, collecting wood and dung for the fire, raising the children, patching the hut walls, and burying the children.

Being a woman means not looking a man in the eye, not talking back to a man, not eating until your husband has eaten, and satisfying your husband in every way.

Being a woman means needing a man for protection, but being powerless to do anything about a man that doesn’t uphold his obligations. A man’s obligations are voluntary, whereas a woman’s obligations are mandatory.

Being a woman means dreaming big and hiding disappoint when the dreams evaporate.

Measuring Happiness -- Writer's Poke #378

I like the idea that Bhutan has established. It’s a poor country, so not surprisingly, it doesn’t put as much emphasis on Gross National Product as the United States does. Instead, it has developed something called “Gross National Happiness.”

Is Bhutan happier than the rest of the world? That, I don’t know. Every so often, some sort of “contentment survey” is released, and I don’t recall that Bhutan has ever topped the list. Then again, perhaps the people conducting the survey neglect to include Bhutan in their evaluations.

Bhutan is a country that was “closed” to the outside world until 1974. Even today, while Bhutan welcomes tourists, it charges them around $200 a day for the privilege of visiting. That obviously makes Bhutan a fairly expensive country to visit. But it is a country that is being more modern. Heck, ten years ago, it finally got a TV station, and the people of Bhutan now have access to the Internet. Bhutan’s main road, finished just 25 years ago or so, has also made …

Tibet Appropriated -- Writer's Poke #377

David Attenborough was probably joking when he said that he rather doubted if there was anything in Tibet. Of course when Michael Palin first arrives in Tibet, what he sees he describes as “lunar landscape.” And, it’s true. Not much is there. At least, we don’t see any strip malls, and who knows how many miles it might be to the nearest McDonalds.

If by “anything” one means people or even human structures, then perhaps vast portions of Tibet are “nothing.” Then again, Buddhist monks call it home. Are they attracted to the nothingness? Everest is there, too, of course, and it’s the “tallest nothing” on the entire planet. People from around the globe like to test themselves against it. Why?

Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, isn’t “nothing.” It’s home to over 250,000 people. However, is Lhasa actually “Tibet”? Palin notes that since the Chinese came, so too came the wide roads, the modern communist-style apartment complexes, and something more: the Chinese. Did the Chinese see Tibet as empty…

Ten Facts about Tibet -- Writer's Poke #376

The website illustrates that the fight for who controls the idea of Tibet is not yet resolved. China might have assumed political and military control, but it has yet to win all hearts and minds. Following is the link to an interesting page on this website that lists ten facts about Tibet. All the facts listed are political and connect specifically to the mission of the website. ( )

For facts of a more trivial or fun nature, check out’s Tibet facts page: ( Below are tidbits of knowledge about Tibet that you will gain when you make your visit:

Q: What is the average altitude of Tibet?

A: 14,000 feet. Covering an area the size of western Europe, Tibet consists of a vast plateau at an average altitude of 14,000 feet. It is one of the most sensitive and unique environments on Earth.


Q: In greetings, Tibetans honor guests by placing a decorative cloth …

Borders -- Writer's Poke #375

Nepal, a country that was never colonized, was only “opened to the outside world” in the 1950s.

Closed societies aren’t all that uncommon throughout history. At one time, Japan and China were “closed” to the West. Today, of course, North Korea is a closed country, although it apparently is toying with the idea of promoting its own brand of cruise-ship tourism.

But what does it mean to be a “closed country”? Are such countries simply xenophobic? Elitist? Scared of strangers? Correct in trying to protect themselves, just like individual homeowners are correct when locking their doors and windows?

Countries, like people, probably have a variety of reasons for building walls around themselves. China built a Wall to keep the “barbarians” out, and so the mindset seems to be that bad guys come from “out there.” Close the borders, and keep out the bad guys.

Nepal and Tibet only has one legal border crossing; only opened in the 1980s, it was commissioned by the Chinese, who dubbed it “the F…

Butting Heads -- Writer's Poke #374

From Pakistan to India to Nepal, one link in the travels of Michael Palin’s Himalaya experiences is human conflict. Palin doesn’t necessarily dwell on it, but it’s always there, just underneath the surface. Sometimes the conflict crosses borders, such as the battle over Kashmir, but other times the conflict is internal, such as the Communist insurgence in Nepal. It might be a stupid and cliché question, but I’ll ask it anyway: Why can’t people all just get along? In Pakistan, the people who seem to get along best are the ones, like the Kalash, who are completely isolated. But I’m sure that even the Kalash have their issues. What affects this region? Poverty, illiteracy, lack of resources. Are these, or like reasons, explanation enough for why human conflict is inevitable? Is it the difference in religions practiced, philosophies held? Is the Himalaya region really all that much different from any other region of the planet in terms of human conflicts? In other words, it’s probably not t…

Discover Iran -- Writer's Poke #373

“Politicians come and go. The people are here to stay.” – Rick Stevens

In 2008, Rick Stevens traveled to Iran to see if the country matched the images Americans see in the United States. Not surprisingly, he found some of Iran to be like what is shown on American television, but he also found so much more.

The people of Iran were genuinely glad to see him. He recalls asking Iranians to guess where he was from. Typically, they would wrongly guess five or five different countries before he told them he was from the United States. Instead of shouting “Death to America!”, however, they inevitably smiled at him, welcoming him warmly as, perhaps, the first actual American they had ever met. Stevens felt as though the people of Iran didn’t hate Americans, although they might hate America’s leaders.

Why would they hate America’s leaders? Because they scare them. In 2008, for example, presidential candidate John McCain parodied the Beach Boys with his version of “Bomb Iran.” Presidential cand…