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Short Circuit Your Reflexive Tendency to React

Short Circuit Your Reflexive Tendency to React

“If we don't become aware of our own reactions so that we can short-circuit precisely the kind of addictive and reflexive response that we have to these things, and if we're unwilling to turn them off, we will participate in the continuing debasement of our democracy.”

~ Brooke Gladstone

Practicing Factfulness

Practicing Factfulness

"Stories about gradual improvements rarely make the front page even when they occur on a dramatic scale and affect millions of people. And thanks to increasing press freedom and improving technology, we hear about more disasters than ever before. This improved reporting is itself a sign of human progress, but it creates the impression of the exact opposite." 

~ Hans Rosling

Maybe This Brain Can Be Reset

Maybe This Brain Can Be Reset

"I do know enough as a psychologist about learning and memory. And I know that we learn. How much of this I need to do in order to change, I cannot say. But I can say that there is a point at which this brain is not just elastic in moving to what is being suggested, but that it may be plastic in that it can be reset into a new mold."

~ Mahzarin Banaji

The World at Peace

The World at Peace

"The reason that we have the impression that the world is a violent place is that that's what news is about. News is about stuff that happens, not about stuff that doesn't happen, and all the parts of the world that are free of war, that are free of terrorist attacks just don't get reported to us and so we forget about them. We're getting better and better at reporting the violent events that do occur. Something blows up, you can be sure you'll hear about it, but we don't appreciate how much of the world at any given time is at peace."

~ Steven Pinker

 

 

 

Feeling Broken

"I do think that all of us think in poems. I think of a poem as being deeper than headline news. You know how they talk about breaking news all the time, that — if too much breaking news, trying to absorb all the breaking news, you start feeling really broken. And you need something that takes you to a place that’s a little more timeless, that kind of gives you a place to stand to look out at all these things. Otherwise, you just feel assaulted by all of the tragedy in the world."

~ Naomi Shihab Nye, from "Telling a Story Helped Us Figure Out Who We Were," PBS NewsHour: Art Beat, Nov. 18, 2003

Austin Kleon, Blackout Poems

Open Road by Austin Kleon

Telling Part of the Story

Krista Tippett, from "Who Do We Want to Become," On Being, September 8, 2011:

I have to say that I limit my consumption of journalism or I'm more selective about it than I used to be, because — precisely for this reason. It's not telling us the whole story. It's telling part of the story, sometimes well, sometimes badly, but we have to look in other places — and I think we should mention the Arab Spring in this context. Who knows how that's going to unfold?

But we were not trained by our political leaders, our pundits or our journalists to see anything but breeding grounds for terror on Arab streets. And it turns out that Arab streets could also be breeding grounds for dignity and democracy and the same kinds of longings — in fact, a narrative that Americans know very well. And that actually gives me hope. This realization that we are too shortsighted, that we simply don't see the whole picture at any given time, that history will surprise us has a terrifying dark side and it has a very hopeful side if you can lean into it.

Listen to the whole conversation here...

The Surprising Interplay of Basic Forces

A collection of direct quotes from reading today.

Found Poem March 13, 2011

I hold the cigarette in my mouth the entire time,
and with the feather boa involved,
there's a sense of danger.

Architects all want to be
philosophers or artists now.
I think they love to hate me.

It was an emotional catastrophe at the time,
being conceived from the inside out,
the fashion industry's disdain for
the great, unwashed masses,
enabling clients to buy shadows of shadows,
sixteen shades of gray.

Over and over complexity from the simplest of rules,
beauty from the surprising interplay of basic forces.
Those are the kinds of patterns that catch my attention.
That turned out to be a fatal miscalculation.

Why are you suddenly awake?

The kind of conversations that
I want to be having
occur best in daytime,
This is a little more challenging —   
and a lot better.

Losing Our Tolerance for Vulnerability

“In our anxious world, we often protect ourselves by closing off parts of our lives that leave us feeling most vulnerable. Yet invulnerability has a price. When we knowingly or unknowingly numb ourselves to what we sense threatens us, we sacrifice an essential tool for navigating uncertain times — joy. This talk [explores] how and why fear and collective scarcity has profoundly dangerous consequences on how we live, love, parent, work and engage in relationships — and how simple acts can restore our sense of purpose and meaning.”

~ Brené BrownTEDxKC, August 2010

Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work where she has spent the past 10 years studying courage, shame and authenticity. She is the Behavioral Health Scholar-in-Residence at the Council on Alcohol and Drugs and has written several books on her research.

Feeling Secure

“We respond to the feeling of security and not the reality. Most of the time that works…So it’s important for us, those of us who design security, who look at security policy, or even look at public policy in ways affect security [to realize that] it’s not just reality it’s feeling and reality. What’s important is that they be about the same. If our feelings match reality we make better security trade-offs.”

~ Bruce Schneier

Common cognitive biases related to risk perception:

  • We tend to exaggerate spectacular and rare risks and downplay common risks
  • The unknown is perceived to be riskier than the familiar
  • Personified risks are perceived to be greater than anonymous risks
  • People underestimate risks in situations they do control and overestimate them in situations they don’t control
  • We estimate the probability of something by how easy it is to bring instances of it to mind [availability heuristic]
  • We respond to stories more than data

Books by Bruce Schneier:

Through a Prism of Comedy

Jon Stewart, in conversation with Terry Gross, from “Jon Stewart: The Most Trusted Name In Fake News,” Fresh Air from WHYY, October 4, 2010:

Jon StewartThere was a congressional bill where they were going to get money for first responders for 9/11 for chronic health issues. And I mean, its a no-brainer. The people that went into the Towers—or were down there searching—to have their health bills taken care of and legislative maneuvering—the Democrats wouldn’t bring an up or down vote because if they did that the Republicans would be allowed to insert amendments. And one of the amendments that they could insert was that you could give any of the money to illegal aliens.

And so the Democrats were afraid that they would have a commercial that would be made that would say, you voted to give money to—so rather than standing up and being moral for the people that risked everything for us down there, they decided to try a legislative maneuver that made it so that two-thirds had to pass the bill, so that no amendments could be put in it. Well, the Republicans obviously, you know, shot it down—their own moral failing.

So we did a segment on the show called "I Give Up.”

And the ability to articulate our sense of just absolute sadness, but through a prism of comedy—like, we came in that morning just really despairing as we watched this go down. And we walked out that night feeling like we had yelled and felt, you know, we had put it through the prism and the synthesis and the digestive process that we put it through and we made ourselves feel better.

And we didn’t make ourselves feel better by ignoring it, by dismissing it, by not dealing with it. We made ourselves feel better by expressing our utter rage at the ineptness and lack of courage from our legislators and we walked out of there that night feeling like, you know, what, (bleep) good day's work. That was it.

Listen to the whole conversation here…

Procedural Voyeurism

Excerpt from "The Art of the Deal as Entertainment," by Walter Kirn, New York Times (July 20, 2010):

LeBron James Mural Comes Down (Cleveland Plain Dealer) In the contemporary entertainment business (and also, increasingly, in sports and in politics), it’s the business that’s the entertainment and the art of the deal that’s the art that draws most notice. We have become a society that is fixated on process and absorbed by the slippery, complex machinations of the middlemen, brokers and executives who conspire offstage to determine what takes place onstage. Call this outlook “procedural voyeurism” — a redirection of mass attention from the spectacle of the game itself to the circus of the game behind the game, as when LeBron James, the N.B.A. superstar, commandeered the TV sets of umpteen thousands of sports bars, not to mention the better part of the Web’s bandwidth, to tell us, months before the season’s first tipoff, that he was moving from Cleveland to Miami to take advantage of the new team’s “cap space,” a slangy term for the ability teams have to add new strings of zeros to coveted players’ salaries.

You might also think back to last winter’s late-night-talk-show feud, its battlefield swarming with lawyers, go-betweens, snitches, seducers and propagandists, that pitted Conan O’Brien against Jay Leno for the desk that the senior comedian nobly ceded to the younger and then, as if by tugging on a lasso encircling the desk’s legs, rudely jerked away. This orgy of Jacobean backstage backstabbing wasn’t televised directly, but rumors about its intrigues captured our imaginations anyhow, stirring extensive discussions of ratings numbers, severance payments, contractual etiquette and viewer demographics...

Procedural voyeurism grants us an illusion of control over realities that we secretly fear we have no power over — sometimes correctly, as with the BP oil spill, whose coverage has been rich in process and until recently short on meaningful developments. The Romanian religious philosopher Mircea Eliade wrote about mesmerizing narratives that he called origin myths. He said they helped people feel a sense of authority over an otherwise chaotic world. Today our origin myths are more mundane, but we still see the deal as a primordial act. We might do well to call these decadent versions “LeBron Announcements” or “Conan-Leno Matches”: rituals of symbolic participation in games-within-games that are way above our heads and occur within heavily guarded inner circles that we can peek into but never truly penetrate.

Read the entire essay…

A Global Water Cooler

Excerpt from “Texts Without Context,” by Michiko Kakutani, New York Times (March 17, 2010):

Today's technology has bestowed miracles of access and convenience upon millions of people, and it’s also proven to be a vital new means of communication. Twitter has been used by Iranian dissidents; text messaging and social networking Web sites have been used to help coordinate humanitarian aid in Haiti; YouTube has been used by professors to teach math and chemistry. But technology is also turning us into a global water-cooler culture, with millions of people sending each other (via e-mail, text messages, tweets, YouTube links) gossip, rumors and the sort of amusing-entertaining-weird anecdotes and photographs they might once have shared with pals over a coffee break. And in an effort to collect valuable eyeballs and clicks, media outlets are increasingly pandering to that impulse — often at the expense of hard news. “I have the theory that news is now driven not by editors who know anything,” the comedian and commentator Bill Maher recently observed. “I think it’s driven by people who are” slacking off at work and “surfing the Internet.” He added, “It’s like a country run by ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos.’ ”

A Context for Correcting Misinformation

Kathleen Hall Jamieson in conversation with Bill Moyers and Drew Altman on Bill Moyers Journal (8.14.09):

unSpun : Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation People who are angry and frustrated and not necessarily well informed in part driven by people who are on the other side of the reform effort. And it's driving into news evocative visuals that are leading the public, I think, to overgeneralize the extent to which there is principal, reasoned dissent from health care reform.

...But when people are shouting at each other, the answer doesn't get through. And when you're impugning the integrity of the person who's answering the questions, the member of Congress, that person's response isn't going to be believed if it is able to be articulated and isn't simply shouted down.

And so it's not creating context in which misinformation on both sides can be corrected. And that's the problem. We don't have a deliberative process here taking place in public to inform public opinion.

Instead, we're potentially distorting it.

Free-for-All

From a Slate.com interview with Michael Crichton regarding his 1993 prediction of mass-media extinction ("Michael Crichton, Vindicated" by Jack Shafer, 5.29.08):

I have been very interested in the differences between how scientists and engineers treat information, for example. The fact is, engineers are much more rigorous about information, and it has legal consequences for them. In contrast, scientists (and politicians) are just playing with information. Broadly speaking, they have no responsibility for what they say at all. Now, as our society shifts away from manufacturing (now something like 15 percent of workers are engaged in making something), I speculate that this is having an effect on what we regard as information. I speculate we are moving from the rigor of engineers to the free-for-all of politicians. In which case, nobody is interested in high-quality information. It only gets in the way.

Arguably, contemporary media has made that shift away from hard information toward free-for-all opinion and speculation. This shouldn't cost a lot, and indeed modern media peddles an inexpensive product. Most cable television "news" is just talking heads and food fights; they don't even change the heads very often—they hire regulars who appear week after week. Most newspaper reporting consists of rewritten press releases and faxes. Many reporters don't go after stories, they wait for the stories to be fed to them by publicists and flacks. Now if you set aside this cheap model and instead start staffing bureaus around the world, putting reporters and cameras on the ground, assembling smart teams to do real investigative work in business, high tech, and so on, that costs a lot of money. I remain convinced that plenty of people would pay for a good news service—who stayed with a daisy wheel printer once laser printers arrived? We didn't know we wanted laser printers, as we didn't know we wanted digital cameras, but it turns out we did. In any case, what we are now being fed as news is repetitive, simplistic, and insulting.

Natural Causes

Mummified body found in front of blaring TV

Sat Feb 17, 2007 4:15 PM ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Police called to a Long Island man's house discovered the mummified remains of the resident, dead for more than a year, sitting in front of a blaring television set.

The 70-year-old Hampton Bays, New York, resident, identified as Vincenzo Ricardo, appeared to have died of natural causes. Police said on Saturday his body was discovered on Thursday when they were called to the house over a burst water pipe.

"You could see his face. He still had hair on his head," Newsday quoted morgue assistant Jeff Bacchus as saying. The home's low humidity had preserved the body.

Officials could not explain why the electricity had not been turned off, considering Ricardo had not been heard from since December 2005.

Neighbors said when they had not seen Ricardo, who was diabetic and had been blind for years, they assumed he was in the hospital or a long-term care facility.