Friday, June 30, 2006

(a small piece, a big loss)

Credibility is gained in pennies, but spent in dollars.

In another forum, I spent my credibility recklessly, and I regret it. Besides credibility, that means a loss of time to recover. This is a reminder* to invest wisely.

* a reminder to myself, as well as hypothetical readers

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Tar Heel Tavern #70:
qualities of life

Tar Heel Tavern logo
Welcome to the 70th weekly Tar Heel Tavern.

Last week's Tavern led me to think about "quality of life" as a theme for this week. It's something I think about a lot, a fundamental value that guides my life and my blogs. To keep the mood light for Tavern guests, I suggested a variety of qualities, ranging from bright shiny crunchiness to good food and good photos.

Good food and photos come to us from Moomin Light. Strawberries, blueberries, and apples picked fresh in the North Carolina mountains--what a wonderful way to appreciate quality.

Taking a rest from walking in those mountains, Waterfall at A Sort of Notebook offers a photo of part-time bobcat, Beau, demonstrating the art of lounging. Dogs and cats really know how to relax completely, don't they?

Over at the coast, however, one dog isn't relaxing, and neither is the crab it found on the beach. Sometimes one view of quality conflicts with another view, doesn't it? Mandie, at Captivated by... assures us that no crabs were harmed during the production of this video. There is, however, no word about what happened at dinner.

You might want to keep that dog and crab relationship in mind as you consider George's comment about the relationship of elected officials to their constituents, especially when it comes to email. (Email about quality of life, perhaps?) There's more quality George at

Dan, from BlueNC, sent a letter to an Asheville editor about an elected official and the quality of health care for veterans. He thinks his letter may not be published in his local newspaper, but it's online at BlueNC.

Also at BlueNC, Lance unveils a new database of North Carolina blogs. It's colorful, taggable, searchable, self-serviceable, and now available. Lance hopes a "free 'n' easy" blog database will contribute to the quality of blogging life.

Alex Wilson, who has a studio named after him, also unveils a web project this week. Carrboro Hill is a "community wiki", a collaborative way to document all the qualities of life in Carrboro and Chapel Hill. And if you can spare the bandwidth, his song Untitled Pretention Pontificated by a Passive Voice offers sunny advice to us writers.

Titled without pretention and announced at a reasonable volume, Tavern newcomer Jerry, at idiom savant, says he's proud to be an introvert despite living in a world of extroverts. And he is not bemused...or is he?

Regular readers know what to expect when they open a window into the mind of Anonymoses. Irregular readers are advised to fasten their seatbelts and to keep their hands and feet inside the ride at all times. It's about quality, not quantity. "Love everything that breathes," he advises.

It's dusk now as I write. A barred owl wails, "Who?" outside my window as I quote Anon: "Love everything that breathes." I go outside to reassure the owl, "You!" but it's gone. It doesn't trust us, I guess. It may take us a while to undo the sad track record of our own species.

It might help if we have a clearer vision of what we care about most. Billy, the Blogging Poet writes about someone who lives with a clear guiding vision in The Ballad of Crunchy Corn. The title character (Crunchy, not Billy...or is it? hmmmm....) knows exactly what constitutes a satisfying quality of his life, and he doesn't allow Congresspersons or cornstalks to interfere.

Unfortunately insomnia can interfere with bloggers' quality of life. That's been a recurring subtext recently, a not so pleasant quality of our lives. Coturnix studies the science of sleep, but apparently doesn't sleep himself. Oh, he claims to sleep, but I doubt that sleep is compatible with his attempt to set the land speed record of blogging. (Over 100 posts in ten days, and that's just a practice lap.) One of those umpty-thousand posts recalls his recent visit to New York. His quality time with his family included the Broadway show, Spamalot, based on Monty Python comedy.

The Monty Python reference is important because it sets up this transition joke about...

(wait for it...)

The Comfy Chair!

(Well, it's hysterically funny when it plays in my head. For the Python-challenged, there's a brief explanation here, with the full Monty here.)

At any rate, Erin's solution for insomnia turned out to be a new office chair. If you examine the photo you may ask yourself, as other readers asked, "How does one sit on that thing?" And Erin would explain, "Like this." The key, in her case, is that her funky chair encourages good circulation that prevents nighttime restless leg syndrome. Feel free to visit Poetic Acceptance to admire her comfy chair, but please don't wake her up. A good night's sleep is improving the quality of her life.

When the tense geopolitical situation keeps him up at night, Screwy Hoolie says Drinking Liberally works for him. More at Scrutiny Hooligans...

Iddybud recommends simple things. Grape Crush. A creamsicle. Oh, and a musician named Alexi Murdoch. Also Bruce Springsteen. And....a few other things, too.

A few other things happened in the world this week, of course, including at least three Sporting Events with Capitalized Titles. One of them culminated in a bright, shiny cup and considerable attention for lil ol' Raleigh. At 2sides2ron, that's just the beginning of a journey that explores qualities of life. From Raleigh, Ron jumps in time and space to a French ice rink, then to a Caribbean cruise ship, with stops for chicken livers, Portugese vocabulary, and the wonder of friendship.

That's a lot to follow. So I'll just close by sharing a question that I've been thinking about this week:

How would we live if the phrase, "And we all lived happily ever after..." began a new story?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Tar Heel Tavern #70,
here, this weekend

The 70th weekly Tar Heel Tavern will arrive here Sunday.

For folks who are inspired by a theme, I suggest "quality of life". I hope this can encompass lots of possibilities: light-hearted or serious, musings about family and friends, vacations (both going and returning), good food, good music, good photos, and whatever else contributes to the quality of our lives.

Contributions may be sent to (obsolete address deleted) by Saturday evening. The sooner the links arrive, the better the quality of the host's life, and (probably) the better the quality of the Tavern. It's kind of a reciprocation thing.

I'm looking forward to the experience of hosting the THT. I'll do my best to make it fun, tasty, crunchy, chewy, bright, shiny, and generally a quality life experience.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Finding value in giving;
an economy that values people

Both of my hypothetical readers noticed that I haven't told any personal anecdotes here. I prefer to direct our attention toward culture and communication rather than autobiography. But community is part of culture and communication, too, and I like to encourage a sense of community online and off.

Since I do have this blog, and I do live in North Carolina, I thought I would join the community of NC bloggers who participate in the Tar Heel Tavern. The theme of this week's 69th edition of the THT is "reciprocation."

It reminded me of the complicated game that dominates much of our lives, the economy*. An author with remarkable insight, Daniel Quinn, has characterized the economy as a reciprocation of products: "Make products, buy products." Production and consumption: It's all about the products.

When I hear or read economic news and commentary, it often seems that people are entirely incidental to the reciprocation of products and money. If the produce-and-consume cycle chews up and spits out some people, well, I guess that's just the price we gotta pay. Wait, did I say "people"? Oops. I meant: Human Resources. They're raw material; of course they get chewed up and spat out. That's what resources are for. Apparently that's how the economy game is meant to be played.

Quinn and others have suggested a different reciprocation, one that emphasizes the value of people over products: "Give support, get support." A support economy, some call it, a reciprocation of cooperation rather than products. Some Human Resources, er, some people also call this form of reciprocation a gift economy.

Hardcore mainstream economists, the professional league players of the economy game, might say that the exchange of money is a kind of support. You pay me for a product; I pay him for a product; he pays you (for a product, of course!). Money changes hands, so that's reciprocation, right? What's the difference?

The difference is attitude. Attitude makes a difference in how we live and how we value our lives. What attitudes underlie the economy game, the way we play it now? When people become mere resources, chewed up and spat out as incidental by-products, what are we really saying about our values?

The Tar Heel Tavern call for participation noted that "being able to do something for someone else is a very satisfying experience, and that when giving, it comes back in some way." When I think about that statement, I think about people. I think about relationships that maintain communities.

Giving--a gift economy. During the 95% of human history that we ignore, and within the human cultures we try to ignore, the gift economy was routine. Give support, get support; that was just expected. Saying that being able to do something for someone else is a satisfying experience, and that it comes back in some way, people from other times and other cultures might look at us funny and reply, "Well...duuuuuh."

And we might say that now in regard to our immediate families. But how would we live if the satisfaction of doing something for others was a more fundamental part of our lives? How would we live in a support economy? Would we argue furiously to deny people a minimum supporting wage? Would social security be just another "well...duuuuh" expectation? Would we debate for decades about who deserves basic medical care?

I'm pleased that the Tar Heel Tavern reminds us to think about reciprocation. I'm pleased that we have an opportunity to remember how satisfying it is to participate in a support economy. I'll be even more pleased when we create--actually, recreate--a support economy. It really isn't far removed, even now. My grandparents fondly remember when the cheerful (and reciprocated) support of neighbors was a routine part of their lives. And this Tavern theme reminds us that the satisfaction of giving lingers in our lives now.


* "the economy" or The Economy? Or even, THE ECONOMY!

When I hear it spoken on the news and even in conversation, the words sound capitalized. Have you noticed that, too?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Pavement or Paradise?

If we pave Paradise to put up a parking lot, doesn't that suggest someone prefers pavement to Paradise?

How sad.

Oh, but it's just one small corner of Paradise, and we need want paved parking. It's a small parking lot, and Paradise is big.

Tomorrow our growing population needs wants more parking. So we'll pave over a little more of Paradise. And the day after that, and...

And one day we notice that Paradise seems very small. Hey, where did Paradise go?

Was the parking lot really worth the trouble? A simple shift in our values makes a huge difference. A simple decision.

Yesterday, we wanted parking lots. Today we decide we like Paradise better after all. So we choose to save Paradise and pull up the parking lots.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Finding value, not just flaws

I'm pleasantly surprised by the number of readers who find their way here because they seek information about George Box and his comments about conceptual models.

In other words: There are some! I hope those seekers find wisdom and applicability in his comment, as I have.

Most models are wrong, but some are useful. The realization that most mental models, along with policies, plans, propositions, crazy ideas, brilliant ideas, and just plain ideas, the realization that most of them have flaws makes finding their flaws seem pointless. Yeah, they're flawed, but so what? Some are useful. I like the way this insight redirects our attention toward usefulness.

I like that attitude a lot. In my experience that attitude brings knowledge and understanding with minimal hassle and conflict. It contrasts with an attitude that I find disturbingly common. I spend considerable time in the presence of people who delight in finding flaws, but who express no interest in finding utility. Their trademark characteristic, their default attitude, and their habitual behavior is rejection. And way too often, it's vehement, vociferous, angry rejection.

What's up with that?

I feel like I've inadvertantly stumbled into a shooting gallery. So many of these self-proclaimed skeptics seem to do nothing but wait for ideas to be tossed in front of them like clay targets. Bang! Another idea shot down. Did that idea have merit? Who cares! I shot it! I found a flaw! Woohoo!

I used to be a pretty good shot myself, in that way. I practiced daily, just like the idea shooters blasting away now on the web, on TV, on radio. But if most models are wrong, if most ideas are flawed, then we're surrounded by pathetically easy targets. Found a flaw? So what. An attitude and worldview in which most models are wrong, but some are useful, puts shotgun skepticism in a less flattering perspective.

Whether we call it skepticism, cynicism, or critical thinking run amok, by itself it's not helpful. Such behavior is not useful.

Can we find value? Can we find utility? Is this model, this idea, this proposition, is it useful? Surrounded by trigger-happy shooters trying to impress their friends (it's no fun without an audience, is it?) finding value amid the noise and the debris, that's a talent I admire.

Does this beg the question whether I'm finding flaws in finding flaws, whether I'm skeptical of skepticism? Of course it does. Bang. We shot that one, too. And gained nothing of value.

Instead, what if...?

What if we think of finding flaws as just one component of careful, clear thinking? It seems to me that seeking value, seeking merit, seeking usefulness, that attitude of inquiry is another component of careful, clear thinking. To me that's a critical component of critical thinking.


Shooting down ideas for the sake of making a big noise and impressing a crowd;


Seeking usefulness while acknowledging limitation...

What attitude do we display in each case? What's the most likely outcome in each case?

Which attitude creates the world we want?

"cynicism is a self-imposed blindness"

Court jester Stephen Colbert spoke at Knox College this past weekend. Amid his usual humor he offered bits of useful insight and wisdom. He closed by advising graduates to say "yes" often, and to just say no to cynicism:

Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics don’t learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying “yes” begins things. Saying “yes” is how things grow. Saying “yes” leads to knowledge.

Yes. I find value, insight, and wisdom in that comment. Yes, indeed.

(Full transcript of Colbert's speech at,

(Thanks to Leathej1 at Scaffadaffa for bringing this to my attention, and now to yours. I'm sure it's widely cited and linked, but I saw it there first.)