Archive for March, 2013

What Are Men Good For?

March 31, 2013

I’ll tell you this much, and of course I speak only for myself.  If you’ve got yourself a dead possum, a good man will pick up the deceased by its tail and drop him into the trash bag.  For this reason alone, I would plead the case for the masculine gender in any court in the land.

I had such good intentions.  I went out to survey the situation.  I located the proper tools for removal.   I had a very nice conversation with the huge turkey vulture whose lunch I was determined to steal away, apologizing for my intended rudeness.

There’s nothing like confronting a dead critter to remind you just where your personal limits lie.  I’m sure there are many women who are tougher about these things than I.  Come to think of it, I know several.   And I would be the last to want to fall back on old stereotypes.  I’m sure there are many men who would be at least as squeamish as I in such a situation.

But really, there’s toughness and there’s toughness, and sometimes those distinctions fall out along gender lines.

There’s been so much written lately about the ragged frontiers between the sexes, especially with the Steubenville case in the news drawing attention (regrettably, yet again) to rape and the skewed attitudes some boys apparently have toward it.

A very brief but fabulous video has apparently gone viral, the gist of which is: What do you do with a girl who’s passed out drunk?  You make her comfortable and cover her up.

There are a lot of points I could make here.  Girls, drinking yourself into a stupor is a bad idea.  Boys, wherever you got the idea that the weak or defenseless are fair game (no matter how poor their judgment), you’ve been wrongly advised.  Some of the people you’re listening to have betrayed your trust.

At a time when equality is advancing in so many ways, kids are still flailing around under the influence of a culture that perpetuates the weird idea that human beings come in only one gender – yours, whichever that may be.   All those other alien-but-attractive creatures out there belong to some “not quite really human” category, easy targets to be exploited, manipulated, or otherwise treated as if they exist solely as props in our own little play.

Here’s a newsflash: the hormones that can drive you to despicable, harmful actions, can also propel you toward humanity, even nobility.  The payoff’s better, and longer lasting.   And no messy consequences, like jail time.

So, I’m rooting for the men, and hoping the boys among us will find some better guides and guidance; that someone will take the time to personally illustrate to them that we really are all human.   And I’m aspiring to man up a little myself, the very next possum that comes along.

Relativity Tango

March 25, 2013

When I was in grad school, I stumbled onto an article about Heisenberg and his Uncertainty Principle. In case you’ve forgotten, Heisenberg was pointing out this sticky little physics problem: in trying to measure quantum particles, the presence of the observer (or more precisely his/her tools and procedures) affects the particle being observed.  In other words, it’s (so far) impossible to measure position and velocity of those little buggers because the observer’s presence will cause those qualities to be something different than they would be (we think) if the observer wasn’t there, observing.

The article, as I recall, was densely technical, but they started out with an emphatic statement as to how they were talking sub-atomic realities which had nothing to do with normal humans and no such comparisons, literal or metaphoric, should be drawn.

Now, I’m no physicist, only a mere social scientist, but I understood what they meant, which I might (very) loosely characterize as, “Now don’t all you regular folk get all excited and think that the whole quantum dance stops what it’s doing just because you showed up.  Stupid non-physicist humans, always thinking you’re so special…”

At first I was properly chastised, but on further thought, I decided those Heisenberg proponents were possibly a bit shortsighted themselves.   It certainly seems commonsensical, from a human point of view, that the presence of an observer affects those things being observed, whether those “things” are, so to speak, animal, vegetable or mineral.   And even though we’re talking here about sub-atomic particles, it’s also true, to the best of my understanding, anyway, that those particles aren’t dancing in some galaxy far, far away, but right here, inside me, inside you, inside everything around us.

Like all spectrums (spectra?), this one has two extremes: those huffy Heisenberg proponents on one end saying, “it’s sub-atomic particles, people.  Don’t you dare try to misappropriate our pure physics for some mushy, touchy-feely conclusions.”  On the other end, we have people like the author of “The Secret”, representing exactly that “human application”, the theory that we all have some vast power to command the forces of the universe with our very attention.  Such advocates claim that “it” is all within our grasp and if you’re not rolling in the dough (or the hay?) as much as you’d would like, you just haven’t believed hard enough.  So just practice those affirmations more, and oh, by the way, buy my book!

Is there any bridge between these polarities, some way of resolving or integrating these two extremes: the grumpy pure scientists who say the sub-atomic world can’t be said to affect us regular mortals, and the blindly chipper new-agers, with their equally emphatic mind-over-matter mantras?

Here’s my modest theory as to what might link those apparently non-overlapping circles, the funky quantum realms and our much more recalcitrant, uncooperative day-to-day world; one word –  discipline.

Sorry.  Not what you wanted to hear?

Yeah.  Discipline.  Commitment to the quest.  The development of a serious skill set that starts with actually opening the eyes rather than squinting them closed and constantly muttering, “I believe, I believe, I believe…”

Not to say we haven’t all been in that white-knuckled hanging-on-for-dear-life state from time to time.  Bless your heart if that’s where you are right now.

I’m just saying there really IS more ‘out there’ than meets the eye (you may take that cliché literally), which we all kind of know, because even the most unbelieving among us have had those moments you might brand as ‘numinous’, which means, according to Webster, “supernatural or mysterious”.

Which in turn really just means ‘not understandable, given our current observational and measurement capabilities’.   Think about it.  Magic has a limited shelf life.  Take my iPad.  A century ago it would have been totally magic.  Quite likely you would have been burned at the stake, just for checking your Twitter account.

Come to think of it, would that be so wrong?

But I digress.

These days Magic doesn’t so much go stale on the shelf, as it gets re-branded and re-packaged as Science Fiction.  Think of Captain Kirk in the ‘60’s with his super-cool flip-top communicator.

So pre-iPhone.  Thus Magic morphs into Science Fiction, which itself eventually becomes The New Reality, and the cycle starts all over again, in some other direction.

Back to my point.  Practitioners of any serious endeavor – yoga or meditation or tennis or cupcake baking – will tell you the real secret: the more you do anything, the better you get at it.

And the other piece of the puzzle is the willingness to get better; the –  how shall I put this? – humility to actually study and hold yourself up to some relatively universal standards that have stood the test of time.  Grumpy scientists take note: yes, that sounds a lot like the “scientific method”.

If there is a way for humans to tune in more closely to that quantum boogaloo, we have to start by admitting just how vast and numinous it really is.  There’s no aisle for this at Walgreens.

There are those out there who feel like wisdom really ought to be free, that it ought to fall in one’s lap, or maybe they’ll find someone who’ll just give it to them, if they ask.

A wise man knows what he knows – and how he came to know it.  A wise man also knows there’s always much, much more to know; that there’s always another horizon to move toward.

Only an idiot believes you really ought be able to see with your eyes closed, just because it’s just too darned much work to open them.

Laws of physics, man.  Laws of karma.  There may just be a point in the universe where everything simply is, all of it, all at the same time, some “place” we can – someday – get to, where there is no place, no time.  Quantum mechanics gives us a nice little hint of that ultimately mind-blowing “mystery”.

But from where we are now, shakily poised in our own weird era of impending mayhem and miracles, it’s still a step-by-step journey.  All you metaphysical couch potatoes out there: yep, the cosmic music actually is playing, but what’s it for, if you’re not ready to dance?


As always, I invite you to visit my website and my YouTube channel.



Can You Smell Me Now?

March 18, 2013

Unless I’m greatly mistaken, you can’t smell me, though at the moment I’m much more fragrant than I was after an hour of vigorous exercise earlier in the day.

Technology does not yet allow you olfactory access to random bloggers.

Does that matter?

Let’s put aside, for the moment, some of the creepier implications and talk about what we’re doing to the kids.  That’s the topic Pamela Paul raises in today’s NYT, in an opinion piece titled, “Reading, Writing and Video Games”.   Ms. Paul makes a point I agree with.  Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that she agrees with me; I’ve been making the point since I was in grad school studying instructional technology and she was a kid playing video games.

And no, I’m not going to yield to the temptation to wax geezerly (geezerish?) about the good old days of growing up with no video games, although –  argh! –  it’s so darned hard to resist.


The point – and I salute Ms. Paul for making it – is that there is a large contingent of folks pushing ever harder to integrate computers into schools for ever younger kids.  The computer contingent holds the opinion that computer-based learning is both better (than more traditional kinds, one assumes) and downright necessary, even for kindergarteners.

As best I can tell, there are two groups pushing to raise a new generation of iTots.  The first is, of course, the computer /software/ technology industry (I’m talking to you, Bill Gates).  No big surprise there.  What do you expect them to say?

The second – and I have some compassion for this group – is the parents, who, having found something that actually keeps the kids engaged, pretty much have to hope like hell that it actually IS good for them, because the alternative is just too unthinkable.

In the opposing camp, we have the overwhelming majority of people who actually know something about learning – the teaching community – and an equally overwhelming body of research about child development.  The topic is not new.  The facts have not changed.

But let’s not bog down in facts for the moment.  Let’s get sensory.

Humans still have five senses.  In case you’ve forgotten, these are: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste.   These faculties come in really, really handy for living in the actual world.

I know, I know, virtual reality, smell-o-vision, all these technologies with their splashy promises and truly astounding advances.  I’m as dazzled as the rest of you, really, I am.

But let me put this to you in human terms.  Circuitry is not chemistry.   Your computer screen doesn’t hear the collective heartbeats of other people around you.  The best simulations in the world can’t factor in the infinite range of stimuli we all encounter every day:  the way your hands feel, clasped around a cold glass on a hot afternoon; how, even though they stopped making Twinkies, and you stopped eating them after the age of 10, you can still taste that impossibly spongy cake with that so-called “crème” filling, just reading these words, so much so you can still smell the school cafeteria that sold that delicious crap.

Or what about the woman who steps into the elevator and fills the closed space with her perfume, so that the scent lingers on your sleeve all day long?  Will that scent haunt you all day, distracting you with amorous imaginings so that you blow the big presentation?  Or will it make you annoyed and sneezy?

I remember something I learned a long time ago.  In education classes we used to talk about poor kids who were raised in so-called “deprived” environments, but a wise professor pointed this out:  all natural environments are rich with sensory stimuli.   The only deprivation lies with kids whose adults don’t take the time to point out the sights and sounds and smells and tastes and touchability of the real world around them.  If no one draws attention to those rich objects and inputs, children’s perceptions never get a chance to develop.  Their very intelligence is stunted by a lack of sensory stimulation.

And now we’re saying, “Oh, never mind, everything you need is on this little screen”?

Maybe one day soon there’ll be a scratch-and-sniff app for us bloggers.  Not only will you be able to smell me, but I can market my new perfume, a potent fragrance I’m concocting to capture the essence of what I’m feeling about all this.

I’m thinking of calling it “Appalled”.

Read Pamela Paul’s article HERE

As always, I invite you to visit my website and my YouTube channel.

Look, Girls! A Million Men, Boldly Going…

March 10, 2013


Jean Luc Picard.  Gotta love him.

In honor of International Women’s Month, I’d like to give a shout out to the men.

For those of you who don’t know Jean Luc, intrepid Captain of one of the many iterations of the Starship Enterprise, he is more properly addressed these days as the actor Sir Patrick Stewart, and worthy of our praise.

This week, Sir Patrick launched a new project called “Ring the Bell”, a global campaign to get one million men to “make one million concrete, actionable promises” to help end violence against women.  He speaks from the heart in his advocacy: he has vivid memories of trying to intervene, as a small boy, when his own father beat his mother.

Other notable men have already stepped up, Sir Richard Branson among them.  Another, former NFL quarterback “and feminist”  (!) Don McPherson, made a comment I think is worth repeating, “We don’t raise boys to be men,” he said. “We raise them not to be women, or gay men.”

Let’s face it, the past 5-6 decades have been tough in the gender-role department.  First, women fought their way into a new visibility in the 60’s and 70’s, leaving a lot of men wondering, “where does that leave us?”

Since then, new generations have come along whose concepts of the world are so different that many young women today think of “feminism” as an outmoded, unappealing, and unnecessary idea.  In the meantime, young men develop and exercise their manhood by trying on electronic personas that pump up the artificial violence, with nary a Yoda – or a Jean Luc Picard – in sight.   Feel free, as President Obama did this week, to mix all the Star Trek and Star Wars metaphors you want.  We’ve been running low on Wise Men lately.  We may need to cobble some together from spare parts.

Lots of the macho stuff everywhere – although a Mexican man I know still insists that the older – and truer –  understanding of “macho” is more along the lines of “doing those things that are right for a man to do”, like providing for and protecting his loved ones.  Isn’t that a far healthier understanding than the swagger and bellicosity of those video-game “heroes”, all rippling muscles and six-pack abs and indiscriminate guns a-blaze?  Can’t we reclaim some constructive channels for all the natural testosterone of our young men?

Another obscure term I stumbled across offers a definition of manliness I love:  Sankoch is a Sanskrit word, referring to the embodiment of all the good qualities of a man, and what is called “enlightened restraint”.   According to this definition, a Sankochi is “a man full of grace”.

 A man full of grace.   How fabulous is that?  How strong, how sexy, how… needed.   Now, be it known, we women are more than capable of stepping up to our own challenges.  We don’t need to passively sit waiting to be rescued.  But neither should we assume there’s no more work to be done.

And just like the dirty dishes and the laundry, changing the world has always been a task best served by a productive gender partnership.  Men, you have no idea how totally we will welcome that man full of grace.

And now the eminently graceful Sir Patrick Stewart is calling for a million more to join him.

I can’t wait to see who shows up.


Read more about Ring the Bell at:


And for more of my words and music, please visit my website:

and my YouTube channel:



More, and in More Directions

March 3, 2013



I was born under the sign of the crab, astrologically speaking.  The best description of us crabs I ever read said that anyone observing us would see that we are constantly sidling sideways, to all appearances aimless and with no particular end in sight – and yet, sooner or later we end up where we knew we were headed all along.


After a concerted blogging effort for a couple of years, I sidled off, first into poetry and then into a novel and then into another novel that became some strange literary mutation that has kept me engaged for the past year.


Along the way I finally decided to get my on-line act together, so that you can now find me – should you care to – at my main oh, so cleverly named website:


From there, you can listen to music, watch videos and check out that mutant literary effort which has taken up residence at its own website:   I’ll be blogging about that creative process soon.


As for this site, look for weekly comments on the state of the culture.  Thanks for finding me here.

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