Archive | June, 2011

The Art of Debate – Being a bad winner

27 Jun

When debating it is considered good form to be aware of what the other party has said and to in some way tailor your remarks to let them know that you have been paying attention. If you are going to ignore the other party you might as well call it a monologue or pull up a soapbox, because it shows that you do not value the input of your discussion partner/opponent.


The same thing can be said for discussions among roommates, couples and significant others. If you live with a person, or love them, they might just be worth listening to. If you suspect that they have slighted you in some way, try being curious to figure out their reasoning behind what they said. Odds are that they meant something different than what you thought. There might be room for improvement in how they express themselves, but if once you get to the bottom of what they really meant you realize that they weren’t being mean, let them know!


Find where the breakdown in communication was and focus on making it better, rather than perseverating on how your feelings were hurt. If they go so far as to admit that they were wrong and that they should have expressed themselves better, acknowledge that and thank them for it. Try to see it from their point of view and try to remember that the person you are talking with loves you. They are not your opponent, they are your ally. They want to be on the same team, working in the same direction. When it doesn’t work it is not by design, it is by accident. Help figure out how to make it work better rather than spending time figuring out how to place blame.


When they admit that they were wrong, be a good winner. Pay attention. Be gracious. Make points with them instead of against them.


Long-term relationship: The struggle

25 Jun

I’m of the opinion that my quest to be a better partner boils down to finding a riding the sweet spot between being a patsy and being a jerk. Straying from that range is a recipe for trouble. Being a doormat sucks for the walkee, and the walker loses all respect pretty quickly. On the other hand being completely self-centered and ignoring the needs of your partner makes both parties hard to live with.


What I’m struggling with is how to adjust my own behavioral GPS to keep me on the right track. I want to be sensitive to her needs, but not afraid to let mine be known as well. Sometimes the path is wide, offering a number of positive alternatives. At other times it seems like I’ve wandered into a behavioral cul-de-sac, where there is no way forward without backtracking.


It isn’t easy and the benefits aren’t always obvious. It doesn’t always seem worth it. I’m often tempted to just give up (like my parents and all of my aunts and uncles and a great many of my cousins and friends have). I haven’t yet for a variety of reasons, and I keep telling myself that they are all meaningful. Not yet willing to think about alternatives. Probably never will. I may be a bit like the frog in the bucket with the water getting progressively hotter. If he ever wakes up to what is going on he will hop out without first torturing himself with insecurity about what is on the outside of the bucket. So far I am focusing on keeping the water cool enough to be livable. Seems to be working for now. Hasn’t killed me in 20+ years so far.

Wish me luck.

Why Glenn Beck is dangerous

17 Jun

Thought processes are like mental pathways that become better established the more often we are exposed to and follow along with the same reasoning, and our actions are ultimately the result of our thought processes.

Spending time in an environment that emphasizes and rewards diplomatic relations, active acknowledgement of shortcomings when it comes to evidence and open and honest intellectual exchange with the goal of arriving together at a more complete understanding of the physical universe is likely to cause a person to seek and apply that type of discourse in other parts of their lives as well.

Spending time in an environment where the most common reflexive reaction to disagreements is ad hominem attacks, where the rules and evidence are long established, unchanging and indisputable and the power to wield influence is more strongly proportional to the passion of the presentation than the dispassionate, objective evaluation of evidence is likely to cause a person to seek and apply that type of discourse in other parts of their lives as well.

That is why it is important to be aware of what we pay attention to and the effects that exposure to different intellectual environments can have. It affects whether we see the world as black and white, as shades of gray, as the visible spectrum of color or as the entire electromagnetic spectrum.

Understanding this is a prerequisite to being able to understand why people like Glenn Beck are dangerous. Beck appeals to the sensibility of those who want the world to be a simpler place, those who prefer true/false questions and those who think statements such as “If you aren’t with us you are against us” are an admirable form of statesmanship. Public figures such as Beck, Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann are the poster children for a form of lowest-common-denominator populism. A way of thinking that obviates any need for nuanced and objective examination of facts or comparison of alternatives. A mental landscape where belief, passion and populism trump understanding, dispassionate reasoning and compassion.

The intellectual path welcomes honest challenge as a way to improve understanding and processes. It is not afraid to re-examine beliefs in the light of new evidence. It seeks to create a better mousetrap and to find a better way to skin the cat. The idea is that a more complete understanding of the physical universe and the human condition can provide a stronger foundation upon which to base decisions of collective and individual importance. It can be aware of the demonstrated failures of socialism while freely acknowledging the demonstrated need for certain controls on capitalism. It recognizes the overwhelming drive of rational self-interest and searches for the best balance of governing principles that will allow all to create the best lives for themselves without doing so at the cost of the freedoms or potential for self-actualization of others.

That vision of the future recognizes that the collected wisdom of our past is a foundation upon which to build, not a final design specification that can never be improved upon. It recognizes the historically evolution of the roles of mysticism, organized religion and scientific inquiry and seeks to create a construct for cultural co-existence that can be respectful of what we believe while at the same time being realistic about what we know.

The mindset of the Modern Fundamentalist Constitutionalist seeks to simplify all political, social and economic questions in the extreme, actively rejecting the possibility of new solutions to new challenges. It would replace nuanced rational examination of the facts with ideologically reflexive action, no matter how ill-suited said action might be to the situation at hand or how much it might actually conflict with any higher purpose. The mindset can in some ways be likened with a reach back to authoritarian tribalism, where many derived comfort from the steady presence of a guiding hand, never being called upon to think on their own or to be responsible for their own actions in a wider context.

The safety of not needing to think on one’s own because all of the difficult decisions have already been made is the cradle of intolerance, not democracy. The same primitive fundamentalist urge that rejects the right for homosexuals to marry in California puts women in burqas and destroys historical treasures in Afghanistan.  It divides the human race into us and them rather than combining our intellects and resources to address our common challenges. It defines the decisions of the present exclusively in terms of the principals of the past rather than including a deep awareness of the past into discussions of the future.

The fundamentalist urge seeks to make the future more like the past, while the intellectual seeks to learn from the past to make the future better. The fundamentalist seeks to remove the intellectual from the scene altogether, while the intellectual recognizes the right of the fundamentalist to exist and seeks to achieve a more common understanding.

Enough ranting for now. I need to watch some Jon Stewart to restore my hope.

Poetry corner – Nostalgia

15 Jun


I’m flying back to yesterday

at thirty thousand feet

Shedding years from my mind’s eye

and wondering who I’ll meet

Been over half a life ago

A teenaged year away

It shaped my life, my appetites

For better or worse, it made me what I am today

So I’ll indulge nostalgia

and kiss her tender face

Surrender to her tempting wiles

and let her take me to her magic place

Her love may be illusion

But it’s a powerful embrace

So I’ll indulge nostalgia

and kiss her tender face

Next week I’m back to real time

My home and kids and wife

Trade reality for memories

and end another chapter of my life

The stories just keep piling up

A lifetime’s worth of friends

Some days it seems I’m starting out

while others feel like it could be the end…

So I’ll indulge nostalgia

and kiss her tender face

Surrender to her tempting wiles

and let her take me to her magic place

Her love may be illusion

But it’s a powerful embrace

So I’ll indulge nostalgia

and kiss her tender face

Poetry corner – The Time Capsule

14 Jun

The Time Capsule

First experiences are like the first brush strokes on a fresh mental canvas. Some remain simple sketches, while others are revisited, reworked and expanded over the years. Either way, the structure is often set very early on.

Time pulls me inexorably forward, but occasionally a portal to the past opens, eliciting feelings from long ago. Some are fleeting, causing nothing more than in internal smile. Others appear to be just ripples but turn out to be whirlpools, spinning and pulling me back, distracting me from the reality of today.

The scent of sun-warmed pines and granite transports me to childhood summers in the Sierras. Thousands of hours in dozens of other forests since then don’t matter; the Sierras were my first, so they define the genre.

Mixing chocolate chip cookie dough takes me back to my mother’s kitchen. That I am on another continent and that my mother has passed on make no difference.

Riding a mountain bike makes me a blissfully unselfconscious pre-teen. Pre-baldness, pre-gray beard – heck, pre-beard period. Just a kid rolling along a dirt trail having fun.

Recently  I saw a name from the past, one that I had not thought about for years (decades really). I’ve got so much going on in my life that it would be impossible for such a small ripple from so long ago to mean anything.

Then there was something more. My name on a child’s photo. No, not my name, just a cute kid with the same name. Curiosity. A reason to reach out.

I chat via computer on a daily basis for work and for fun. Rarely emotional. Why then, am I feeling this way? Unsure. Insecure. Silly. I don’t understand.

Suddenly I’m thirteen again, with feelings from the time between the wonder years and the worried years. Between BMX and a B-average. Between infatuation and learning about love. She was the first, the one that I always wanted but never came close to having. Other crushes since then ended up dissolving into familiarity or fading away with time, but number one somehow got packed away in some interior time capsule, unresolved.

Odd that so little contact so many years ago should have such a lasting effect. Most of what makes me, me has happened since then. School, love, loss, life, work, parenthood – all more significant and all of which happened in real life. Even so, the flowers pressed between the pages of the dusty, forgotten book so long ago retain their unique bittersweet scent.

I’m very happy with my family and she seems happy with hers. So many years, so many stories untold. Hard to imagine that she is a grandmother (especially when she looks the way that she does), but it all makes me smile just the same.

Perhaps that scent has matured a bit over the decades. The fantasy that it represents has become more unobtainable than ever, but that doesn’t matter anymore. The effect is less bitter, more sweet. Thoroughly enjoyable. Just as it should be.

Poetry corner – Roller Coaster

14 Jun

Being a father has helped me to be at peace with the fact

that some of the more compelling attractions

in the amusement park of my life

are perhaps best left


What women want

13 Jun

How much of our lives and energy have we balding white guys wasted in the fruitless attempt to understand what women want? Of course, the fact that it is all about figuring out what they want so that we can give it to them in the hope that they will reciprocate by giving us what we want is besides the point.

We know what we want. We are pretty straightforward about that. It might not always be kosher or prudent or politically correct or socially acceptable, but we aren’t often too terribly confused about it.

Women on the other hand, don’t seem to be so sure. Their style of communicating is so different that it could be easy to assume that they were playing some kind of devious game, scheming to drive us men crazy with some form of oblique reasoning that would make us their unwitting slaves. I no longer think that.

At this point my theory is that they have different conversational goals. They are also much more confused than we are, but don’t want to admit it. They have an amazing need to share information so they have to talk about how they feel all of the time, but they haven’t necessarily thought things all the way through so they aren’t really sure how they feel until they have talked about something for a number of days. During that time they swing back and forth on the issue, which drives us men loopy.

I call it the moving target syndrome. They say something. We take what they say and base a line of reasoning and a speculate on a plan of logical events and consequences. The fact that we do this seems to trigger some kind of response in them, convincing them to change their minds.

If there are other woman around to hear this they will sometimes commiserate in a supportive manner, enjoying a positive feedback loop of energy. That doesn’t often happen if the conversational partner is a man.

Of course, once the woman who started the conversation leaves, her friends will get all bitchy and say bad things about her behind her back. That is another thing that doesn’t often happen if the conversational partner is a man.

The problem is that men don’t know how to listen to a woman talk about something that they aren’t sure about without wanting to help. We like women. We want to be useful. We try to help. That is what we do. Women hate it. We don’t know why. They just want you to sit there and listen to them and let them know that you know how they feel and that you want to be supportive.

What good is that? Our whole lives have been about solving problems. School is about solving problems. Work is about solving problems. Heck, even the games we men play are about solving problems. The better we are at those things the more successful we become. Is it reasonable for women to expect us on a daily basis to be intuitive enough to understand the difference between when they want our help with solving a problem and when they just want to be heard? Is it reasonable of them to expect us to be skillful enough to bring all of those decades of problem-solving mental inertia to a screeching halt at a moment’s notice? Have they met us? What on earth leads them to believe that we will be able to do that?

To honor my self-imposed rule about no whining without offering some form of suggestion (I am a man, right?) I’ll finish by saying this: Fellow BWG’s, when a woman talks to you about something that you perceive as a problem, stifle your initial impulse to offer a suggestion until you can determine whether she wants help or just support. If she does not expressly ask for help, don’t offer it. No matter how much you want to tell her what she should do, don’t do it. You might be Einstein and she might be telling you how she feels about getting a bad grade in physics, but resist the urge to solve her problem unless she asks specifically for help.

That way she can be mad at your for being an insensitive lout who can’t pick up on a hint rather than for being a patronizing bastard who is always telling her what to do.