Archive for January, 2016

News access

January 31, 2016

I haven’t really changed how I access news, but the ground has been shifting, with the result that what used to work for me doesn’t, at least reliably, anymore.

For example, I was able to watch the first minutes of the Democrats’ town hall meeting last week, and then the website insisted I input a password from my cable subscription to continue.  Since I don’t have a cable subscription, and the other watching options I read about online required at least some sort of paid subscription to some company, I forwent the rest of the event.

On the other hand, I do pay for two print newspaper subscriptions, The New York Times and The Boston Globe, and their delivery became unreliable about a month ago.  We are still sorting through that.  My Times delivery has not yet been assigned to a new permanent driver, so sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not.  The new Globe delivery person has already inserted one of those envelopes for remunerative consideration.

Then there’s streaming news broadcasts online.  The one I try to watch can be missing in action altogether or begin somewhat late into the program.  When I try to find it on a TV broadcast, I am not always successful, either.

Whatever the contributing factors are to these various situations, the net result is that things ain’t what they used to be.  I assume that for people using different means of access, ways of getting the news have improved, that I’m just not in the right segment, using the means being catered to now.

With the primary races for the presidential nominations going on right now, analysts sometimes try to figure out how people become disaffected.  I would say that these sorts of impersonal business decisions by multiple organizations simultaneously can produce a sense in the consumer of being left by the side of the road.  I don’t know, maybe there are other things to do along the road’s shoulder, like watching some birds or observing cows grazing, listening to water running over rocks in a stream, imagining what the clouds in the sky might resemble.  Lord knows, I always have plenty of chores and paperwork to do, I could cut back on how much time I spend taking in the news and put that time to other use.  It’s a thought.




January 31, 2016

I’ve been to a number of antique stores over the years, and I am aware that in some, the policy is “You break it, you bought it.”  Some high-end dealers don’t use that policy, some low-end dealers don’t — I haven’t noticed a pattern with regard to the financial part of the issue about who insists on compensation and who doesn’t.  (And no antique dealer I have ever known supported themselves from selling antiques, there has always been another source of income for every one.)

So what goes into the decision of how to handle breakage?  I don’t know.  Personality of the dealer?  As I said, I don’t know.

But I think the fact that there are different approaches to this issue in the context of something so tangible and concrete is interesting:  who bears the burden of the cost of damage?

Well, first issue is agreeing there is damage.  That’s why I started with the title “Convincing”: some people will try to convince you the antique was always cracked, that they did nothing to cause it or even contribute to its creation.  I suspect they convince themselves, but the usual Achilles heel of their argument is that their perspective is the only point of view.  In some cases, it is an assumption that everybody agrees that the norm is whatever it is they are claiming, say, that it’s okay to pull what you see as weeds out of stranger’s garden.  Never seems to occur to them that a gardener might prefer to have their space invaded by weeds rather than by other people, or that they might actually want that plant in there where it is.  This is why looking for internal guidance that does not come from the ego is so helpful — the content of such guidance provides neutral space for our behaviors to intersect with each other with less friction and damage.  With a cracked antique, this assumption might be expressed by saying it’s a cost of doing business that “stuff happens.”

Once there is damage — uprooted plant, cracked antique, bills unpaid when the income check bounced — who absorbs it?  I am wondering about how people decide this as a social matter, not as a matter of law.

I think it was in Maureen Dowd’s column this weekend about Donald Trump that suggested to me that rich and powerful people may feel they can get away with never having to absorb the damage at their end:  “’I’m really rich and successful,’ he replied. ‘I don’t have to make up with everyone.’”

On the other hand, some rich and successful people will want to buy that cracked antique, not just as a gesture to the dealer or in acknowledgement that the value of the item has been diminished by the damage, but because they will feel better about themselves in the long run, they feel the mishap brought the item to their attention and are curious to see how it might enhance their life, they feel that’s what is called for, perhaps through their internal guidance,etc.

An antiques dealer may just write the expense off like the expense of having paid too much for a piece that won’t sell in their area.  A browser may apologize profusely and buy a lesser item they can afford if they can’t afford what they damaged.  A dealer may not care about the money at all or may eventually close their business.

What I think is actually most important in determining the bearing of the cost of damage is the process of working it out to a mutually acceptable arrangement.  I suspect there are no “one size fits all” remedies.  But I think the problem is made worse by a unilateral attempt to leave the other person with the onus of absorbing the costs.  And I can see in this context too the lesson of the blind men needing to pool their respective experiences of the different parts of the elephant — the lesson may be about communication, not about the underlying damage.


Poor choices, damage, and choosers

January 27, 2016

I have been trying to decide how to explain, including to myself, what I meant in what I posted yesterday about characterizing behavior not meeting a moral standard as a poor choice.

What I realized is that for me, the action, the damage, and the actor are three separate strands that come together in the problematic situation.  Rather than dismissing the whole package and moralizing against it, I prefer to think separately about what to do about the damage, how to respond to the behavior, and how to relate to the person engaged in the behavior.

I wanted to jot that down because it’s not the case that I don’t see the damage that some behaviors cause others, or that a response may be required to address the behavior and a response may be required to address the damage.  I think I just am in favor of a more emotionally neutral way of dealing with the situation than the moralizing approach uses, and one that does not counterproductively create new damage in the person who has chosen the behavior.

I probably gleaned this approach from observing how special education handles behavior that does not meet a required standard and has also caused damage.

Moralizing and contempt

January 26, 2016

I was reading the new iteration of the feature in the NYTimes called “The Conversation.”  It used to be between Gail Collins and David Brooks, now it’s come back with Gail Collins and Arthur Brooks.

Part of the dialogue discussed the role of contempt in shaping current politics and what’s going on in the presidential race.  In a comment I wrote, I voiced my agreement that contempt is divisive and widespread.  I also mentioned that my hope that David Brooks was interested in bringing people together by bridging the gap opened up by contempt between, say, liberals and conservatives, had been disappointed.  I think I thought he was interested in seeing how conservatives have strengths in political and social relations that may not be present among liberals, and vice versa.  I had this idea that he was going to observe what each group can bring to the table that’s positive and how the members of each group might learn to relate to the positives and put aside the contempt.  Something like that.

Then later I read an article about David Brooks by Danny Funt in Columbia Journalism Review from last October that discussed Brooks’s moralizing.  I have often had a problem reading this moralizing, for my own reasons, but in light of the point raised by Arthur Brooks about the divisiveness of contempt, I started thinking about what separates moralizing from the expression of contempt.  And I decided that often, not much.

I think that doing what some people happen to deem to be morally correct is enjoyable to do because doing the thing in that way makes it go better — more easily — and less detritus is formed from doing it in that way than would be formed from engaging in behavior that tried to accomplish the same thing through things like deceit, fraud, coercion, etc.  I don’t generally think about it as being what one does because it’s a superior thing to do, I think of it more in terms of friction and fallout and how it makes one feel in the long run.  It’s kind of like picking the comfortable shoes for the hike instead of the fashionable ones.

So behaving morally doesn’t have to involve moralizing, I don’t think.  I don’t think it has to involve the part of moralizing where a person might feel contempt for people or their behavior that doesn’t measure up to a particular moral standard.  Instead such people and their behavior can seem more like something involving making a poor choice.

So why do people go in for promoting moral behavior in a way that involves moralizing and something that borders on contempt?

I don’t know if I know the answer to that, but I am aware that some people feel a need to feel special, but don’t admit that to themselves, much less consider if that’s a good idea or what its impact on others might be.  I have no idea if that’s what goes on with moralizing in general or with David Brooks’s moralizing in particular, but that’s probably the avenue I would explore first — once I was able to put aside my reaction from feeling held in contempt.

“Spiritual beings having a human experience”

January 20, 2016

I heard that this morning and I really liked it:  “We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

The person I heard saying it was quoting it from someone else, and they thought it was a fairly old summation, not original to their source, either.

The person I heard it from had had a very negative experience of religion growing up, and found the distinction between spirituality and religion a welcome surprise when they discovered it later in life.  I think what’s reflected in this quotation was part of the spiritual outlook they came to as an adult.

It makes plenty of sense to me, and I think its formulation helps put the biological underpinnings of our material life experiences in a better perspective.

Hearing these words this morning I started wondering why I don’t spend more time with people who see things this way and less time trying to explain such a perspective to those who are dismissive of it — which often feels to me like trying to get someone to see the other picture in one of those specially-drawn sketches that include two entirely different depictions visible as alternatives.

With my younger son’s color blindness, he’s aware he’s missing something and has work-arounds to distinguish many purples from blues or reds from browns or greens from grays, depending on other clues and cues.  People who dismiss the spiritual tend to not discern any of what they are missing, in my experience, although I have known some atheist rationalists of a scientific bent who will admit to having intimations of something when they stare up at a starry night sky, to take one example.


January 11, 2016

The Boston Globe attempted to change its delivery service vendor at the end on December, and managed to throw a monkey wrench into not only the delivery of its newspaper but the delivery of other newspapers to homes in the region.

I think many of us thought that the disruption to The Globe delivery would be something like a couple of days of non-delivery (we were given 2 coupons to obtain a paper for free at a store) and then some late deliveries.  But the new company hadn’t hired enough drivers and their software for planning routes was unable to handle the idiosyncratic layout of New England roads, and so the disruption was more like no papers for days stretching beyond a week.

And at the beginning of January, my delivery of The New York Times was also disrupted.

Now delivery has been restored, not quite to the level it was before the disruptions (papers have been arriving later in the day and not where they’re supposed to be left), but they seem to be coming again regularly.

What’s interesting, in this day and age of concern about carbon footprints, is that the two newspapers I subscribe to are now delivered by two separate drivers.  This is clear from when and where the respective papers arrive.

The Globe is apparently going to save some money from the new arrangements.

While cap-and-trade has always struck me as some kind of a kluge, this newspaper delivery situation makes it clear that the good of the environment is not always lined up with corporate profits.  One would think that it should be more profitable for everyone involved to have one driver deliver two papers to the same house, but apparently it isn’t.  That arrangement would also reduce the amount of gasoline consumed and exhaust vented.  But since profits lie elsewhere, two delivery services we have.

To paraphrase Tacitus, they make a less environmentally-friendly arrangement and call it progress.