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The State of the State

I’m thinking of starting a new business. My idea is to set up a board equally divided by members of two different philosophies. The board members know that they are almost certainly going to be on the board for several years and will be paid very well. There also will be no barriers to them working for other organizations or receiving input and money from any sources.

What do you think?

Personally, I think this is no way to run a lemonade stand let alone a business, let alone a state, let alone a country. The presumed checks and balances of such a system lead to a lot of checks for the incumbents and keep the rest of us off balance. The currency becomes wheeling and dealing, quid pro quo, with relatively minor consideration of the important issues at hand. The political social network and bargaining mindset communication is a bit like middle school but with more at stake.

How is this ever going to be resolved?

Term limits? Sure term limits would help. They would be a good start. However, as a professional politician, for example you could have two terms in the state Assembly then two terms in the State Senate, then two terms in the US House and then the US Senate. Assuming a limit of two terms of 4 years, that’s 32 years right there!

Moreover, term limits would ideally need to be matched with campaign spending limits. If not, Joe Billionaire could have his guy serve for two terms, then sponsor someone else to run for the next two terms and so on, ad infinitum.

As someone who sees the serious flaws in binary thinking, I’d like to see the demise of the two party system. It simplifies many complex national issues to absurdity and keeps people stuck in an ideological mindset that is not helpful. Still, I don’t see that demise happening soon.

I have often mused about winning the lottery and then setting up a “shadow” Senate with a group that represented the population as a whole, with three people from each state selected based on their willingness to be open-minded and accept a modest salary without perks for serving their country. I suspect that such a body would resolve many complex national issues in a considerably shorter time and with more focus than the elected government. I guess that they would work much more efficiently as a team, with less rancor. They might even make America great again.

In the midst of my despair about the way this country is run and where it is headed, I met William Herlong, a Republican candidate running for the critical post of Attorney General in South Carolina. He is competing against the Republican Alan Wilson, the incumbent, in an election on June

Mr. Herlong, an extremely accomplished and experienced lawyer, doesn’t need the money, nor does he want a political career. His motivation stems entirely from his desire to tackle what he sees as major corruption in SC politics; corruption that is apparently going unchecked in Columbia.

William Herlong believes in term limits and if elected will limit himself to two terms. That will help him focus on the job at hand, rather than worrying about a political career. As Herlong himself says, as soon as you are intent on establishing a political career your current political office is already compromised, sacrificed on the altar of personal gain and career longevity.

In Herlong, I see an antidote to the development and growth of the swamp. Don’t elect career politicians. Elect people who are pursuing the job for the right reasons; the service of the people, not their own egos. Experience as an elected official is not a positive characteristic in my view.

The Attorney General position is very powerful, perhaps even more powerful than the Governor’s role. The AG is the enforcer and without an efficient and moral enforcer, the swamp just gets bigger, no matter how popular the Governor may be.

Now I understand the culture in which we live. It’s egocentric and a detriment to collaboration, open-mindedness and wisdom. You only have to look at election campaigns where candidates slander and abuse each other, to see how low we have sunk. (By the way, did you know that primates, also have their own ‘elections’ to determine the alpha male? They team up and effectively vote. There’s one difference between these primate elections and ours: theirs are more civilized.)

So as much as, or even more, than term limits and campaign spending caps, we need honest and talented people with no political aspirations to step in and do the job for the right reasons, no strings attached. We don’t need manipulative people, conspiring with others, bartering to get their way. We simply need more honest people like William Herlong. That’s the way to run a state, an organization, a lemonade stand, and yes, even a country.

 

 

On Social Media and Privacy

I’m always wary of high tech fads

And never buy from Facebook ads

 I know this media’s not for friends

But mostly for commercial ends

 

So I’ve ensured that what you see

Does not reflect what’s truly me

 My profile says I’m a la carte

But I always shop at Wal Mart

 

I’m in Moscow working on Ux?*

No, having coffee at Starbucks

 Was that me tasered by a cop?

No, just the work of photoshop

 

My page says I’m quiet and shy

But perhaps I work for the FBI?

 I did a test right on the screen

And was told I’m England’s Queen

 

If you can’t respect my privacy

I’ll indulge in my piracy

 Advertising’s mostly illusion

So I’ll keep up with my delusion

 

Data given marketing Joes

Thus belong to alter egos

 So guys, you can keep my data

As for me, I’ll see you later

 

*UX User experience (UXdesign involves creating products that maximize the user’s experience  

Copyright 2018 Howard Rankin

BBC Christens New NBA Team

In a recent post I aired my disappointment about a BBC story that demonstrated irresponsible reporting about the value of achieving 10000 steps in a day. And my disappointment continued in the news outlet today, February 28, with another less serious gaffe about American sports.

In a story about the Florida shootings, the piece mentioned that the National Basketball Association Miami Heat player, Dwayne Wade was moved by the fact that one of the victims was buried wearing a shirt with Wade’s name on the back. The story goes…

“The day before the Miami Heat player was to play against the Philadelphia 69ers, Wade decided to dedicate the rest of his season to that student, Joaquin Oliver.”

The piece continues to mention the fact that Wade and his teammates “went on to beat the 69ers on Tuesday evening..”

(That was in the piece still available online at the time of my writing this: 8:30am ET on 2/28/2018)

I did check and to the best of my knowledge Philadelphia’s NBA team is still called the 76ers, after a certain important date in American history.

Perhaps the writer got confused between the NFL’s San Francisco  49ers and the Philadelphia 76ers but if so perhaps he or she should have split the difference and called them the ‘62 and a half ers.’ Or alternatively, they were confusing the important dates in American history and thought the city of Brotherly Love and home of the Liberty Bell were named after the critical events of 1769 when John Harris of Boston, Mass, built the first spinet piano.

Doesn’t anyone edit these pieces? It may not be quite the status of fake news but it doesn’t inspire confidence. Come on BBC!

Meanwhile, I still follow the BBC and their sports coverage. I’m looking forward to the weekend when my team, Tottenham United, play the Huddersfield Rangers.

BBC 10,000 Steps Headline Is Misleading, Disappointing and Potentially Dangerous

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In a January 31st BBC health story, Dr. Mark Mosley wrote, “Forget about 10,000 steps.” It’s unclear who actually said that. Was it Professor Rob Copeland from Sheffield Hallam University whom Mosley visited while Copeland conducted a “study” on four people? In any event, the gist of the story was that doing more vigorous activity for 10 minutes, three times a day was a better way to improve fitness than doing 10000 steps.

Culture and society are sinking into a binary brain morass. Everywhere you look, there is a dangerous and idiotic trend of seeing everything as an either/or proposition even where common sense let alone logic dictates otherwise. This is especially true of the media, who need to sensationalize everything to attract more eyeballs, and more sales. It’s one of the reasons I typically turn to the BBC for my news. As one who grew up in England I might be biased, but I am usually more trusting of the BBC than any other news source.

This story is a microcosm of the downgrading of critical thinking and serious analysis that is crippling society. Someone suggests, that doing more vigorous activity is better for your health. Duh! That’s a real surprise. It might have an advantage over 10000 steps for developing cardiovascular fitness BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN THAT TRYING TO ACHIEVE 10000 STEPS IN A DAY SHOULD BE SCRAPPED. There are still advantages to reaching that level of activity, especially as so many people lead very sedentary lifestyles. However, here we have a headline that tells people to “forget” about doing a healthy activity, which surely has no ill-effects. Now, there will be many who will see this story, or even just the headline, and believe that the 10000 steps idea has been discredited and is no longer a useful goal. I mean who has got time for some critical thinking? And the advice came from…well, it’s unclear but Dr. Mosely seemed to support the idea.

Perhaps the defense to this is something like, “I couldn’t get that complexity into a few hundred words.” I say it’s better to try than give some misleading and potentially dangerous advice. As a writer, I could easily see how you could construct a more helpful and TRUTHFUL story. The headline could read, “How Helpful is the 10000 Steps Goal?” Such a story would allow some discussion of the value of including more vigorous activity in the 10000 steps, and the advantages and limitations of the advice.

For me, wisdom is about escaping the restrictions of binary brain thinking and recognizing the full context as well as acknowledging what you don’t know. For example, how many people, like me, consciously or otherwise, use their 10000 step goal to actually get some vigorous activity into their day? Even if 3  ten minute bursts of vigorous activity are better than 10000 steps a day for building cardiovascular fitness it doesn’t mean that 10000 steps should be “forgotten.”

As you can tell, I was disappointed by the headline and the story. Does BBC now stand for Binary Brain Cognition?

What Is Wrong With The World? Automatic Weapons, Automatic Assumptions and Tired Cliches

“I maintain then that the common sociological method is quite useless: that of first dissecting abject poverty or cataloguing prostitution. We all dislike abject poverty; but it might be another business if we began to discuss independent and dignified poverty. We all disapprove of prostitution; but we do not all approve of purity. The only way to discuss the social evil is to get at once to the social ideal. We can all see the national madness but what is national sanity? I have called this book “What is Wrong with the World?” and the upshot of the title can be easily and clearly stated. What is wrong is that we do not ask what is right.” — G.K. Chesterton, What is Wrong with the World?

 More than a hundred years ago Chesterton identified indeed what is wrong with the world, and continues to be wrong.

The problem is that even if we got so far as to have that discussion today, morality and rationality would be crushed by a reality show emotionalism. Narcissists parading as thought leaders would spin the narrative using cognitive bias and lethal marketing tricks. The fact is that humans have always been story-tellers not truth-seekers. We run on confirmation bias, not rationality. “Seek and ye shall find”: not the truth, but support for whatever position it is most convenient, personally consistent and thus emotionally comfortable.

And so to another mass shooting.

“Guns don’t kill, people do.”

Seriously?? I thought guns were made to kill people.

Suppose a criminal is cornered by the police. In that situation he has a knife in his pocket. What does he do? Probably surrender when surrounded by armed police.

In another situation he has an automatic weapon in his hand. Will that influence his decision? It almost certainly would. The notion that the availability of a gun doesn’t influence people’s decisions borders on the insane.

“Sugar doesn’t give people diabetes, people do.”

“Drugs don’t make people addicted, people do.”

“Money doesn’t run the country, politicians do.”

These tenets assume that people act completely on their own, independent and devoid of any influences like environment, availability and culture. But then why do the gun lobby, pharma and food industry spend billions of dollars a year to convince you to buy their products and support their positions? After all, if people are completely independent actors, the ad spending is surely  a complete waste of money?

And politicians act totally independently, irrespective, for example, of any funds and favors they have been given by outside groups?

It might be convenient to say that people have responsibility for their actions, as indeed we do, but it is an example of simplistic, binary brain thinking to assume that means that there are no other significant influences on their behavior.

I am not against the second amendment. I have no political affiliation. For one thing, the notion of a two party system is a function of a limiting binary brain that can only see two simplistic and polarized sides of a complex, multi-faceted issue. Moreover, political identification means that every issue is seen through the lens of party politics.

As Chesterton says, what’s wrong is that we do not ask what is right.

Why Didn’t Gladiators Take a Knee?

Of all the “sports” stars of any era, the group that probably had the most reason to protest the national anthem were the gladiators. Thrown to wild animals with a high risk of death just to entertain the affluent Romans was a tough ask, especially as some of them weren’t even Romans. Few, if any, had any sort of civil rights, and had some had been captured in battle. There were other reasons for them to protest. First, they were almost always scheduled against the Lions. For goodness sake you’d think the Emperor could have persuaded the Packers or the Bears to come once in a while. The fact is that most fights were between gladiators.

Of course, the Gladiators didn’t have much say in the matter but, in a move that anticipated the 2017 Steelers, they were not just left in the locker room while the anthem played, they were actually tied up so they couldn’t cause a nuisance. Just ask Russell Crowe. Well, that is a slight misrepresentation.

Gladiators could be men captured in battle, criminals, or slaves seeking freedom. Those with the worst criminal record or social black marks were given the toughest fights where survival was improbable. Sometimes, two hated criminals would fight against each other. Many men actually volunteered to gladiate in an attempt to win their freedom. Some of them died trying to make a living. There were even female gladiators.

If you tend to think critically of life in ancient eras you might be surprised to know that apart from technology there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between life then and now.

Although initially introduced to mark the death of the loved one of an affluent person or a politico, the popularity of the gladiator fights grew rapidly. The whole gladiator system ultimately was designed to benefit the affluent and the politicians, who staged grand gladiatorial events to hype their popularity and curry favors, especially around election time. Gladiators were big business.

A typical fight would last between 10 and 15 minutes, about as much actual playing time as there is an NFL game. There could be many fights at the same event, making it a fun day out for spectators who sometimes determined the outcome by their vocal support for one or other of the fighters. Sometimes the ref decided. There was no instant replay. Many losers were spared the death penalty and lived to fight for years.

However, despite the violence and death, there was a reverence for the spectacle amongst spectators and gladiators alike. Those who were about to lose, often laid down their weapons in a humble acceptance of their fate. Even those who died, were respected for their bravery. So, perhaps, if given a chance, the gladiators wouldn’t have protested. Not only would they have paid for such a protest dearly, some of the better ones would have lost their sponsorship, which could be significant. And many knew that being a gladiator gave them a chance to rise above their oppressed status.

A Hurricane, a Dog, and the Secret of Wisdom

There were many sad photos last week at the height of Hurricane Harvey’s Texas destruction. One, particularly, stood out for me. It was a photo of a German Shepherd, all alone, tied to a pole, in the midst of rising waters.

The social media response to the photo was damning. Many people condemned the owners for leaving a dog in such a vulnerable position. Several suggested eternal damnation for the people who abandoned this animal. Many people posted that they couldn’t comprehend leaving their animals at all, let alone left so vulnerably. The invective and hate were running full throttle. And there’s the problem with human beings.

The photo definitely evoked emotions, and people ran with the thoughts those emotions evoked without seemingly any attempt to consider the universe of possibilities. They accepted their first — and only — perception and the emotion that the photo elicited. Here are several thoughts that would have been useful.

I wonder whether that is a staged photo?

Is this dog lost or was it abandoned?

Perhaps the owners left it there briefly to rescue their other dogs and the cat?

Perhaps the owners are out of shot, hailing a rescue boat?

Etc., etc.

Moreover, even if the dog had been abandoned, what were the circumstances?

Perhaps the owner was searching for his lost children? Or searching for his/her parents, spouse and other three animals?

It is also likely that whomever this dog belonged to, was in a severe state of stress, possibly having seen their home, lifestyle and future totally destroyed. I have had to evacuate from oncoming hurricanes. I have always taken my pets and couldn’t imagine leaving them behind, and many don’t evacuate for precisely that reason. Last year, Hurricane Matthew actually hit my community but despite a lot of damage, it was nothing like Harvey. However, let’s cut some slack to people whose lives has just been brutally turned upside down and truly are in survival mode. This doesn’t condone cruelty and the abandonment of animals, but neither should it justify the cruelty and abandonment of people.

The point is that the hurricane that is in this picture, isn’t a tropical cyclone, it is the seemingly increasing human incapacity to think beyond what is at the surface, what I call “iceberg thinking.” At a time in our evolution, when people have mastered the art of emotional manipulation (see Advertizing), we need our capacity to be discerning more than ever. We need to realize that the default setting of the brain is indeed a quick, impulsive, emotional response, which drives the narrative. But we have to move on from there, because that is the road not just to fake news, but hate and the end of objectivity, intelligence and wisdom.

Three of the hardest words to utter are simple: “I don’t know.” I have seen thousands of affirmations designed to improve self-confidence and remove fear but for me, before all that, we should start with this one.

“I really don’t know what is going on. I can imagine dozens of scenarios, but without more information I don’t know. And when I don’t know, I am in no position to judge.”

That is the thought process of the wise person.

PS: When I saw this photo, Leaha Mattinson and I had just finished recording a Master Your Life episode on the Secret of Wisdom, which begins airing tomorrow, Tuesday September 5th at noon ET on VoiceAmerica radio.

https://www.voiceamerica.com/episode/102147/they-secret-of-wisdom

NASA Intercepts Alien Messages about Human Behavior During the Eclipse

 

 

According to unofficial sources, one of the most spectacular aspects of the recent eclipse might have been the fact that aliens from another planet observed how humans responded to the rare event. Yesterday, unofficial sources revealed they had intercepted a message that appeared to come from a distant galaxy. The deciphered text reads as follows:

“The earth people had their passing event — they call it an “eclipse” — a few days ago and observations revealed something interesting about the inhabitants of planet 234987246546b (i.e. earth).

“As the planet cooled and darkened, insects were heard to chirp, animals made sounds and the earth people looked up at the sky. But then something strange happened.

“As soon as the white orb reappeared, the earth people scattered. They moved hurriedly and sought the shelter of their wheeled metal protectors.This running behavior seems odd and there have been several explanations for this behavior.

“Professor Vader of the Alpha Centuri School for Earth People Studies, who has researched earth people for the past two hundred years, has offered several explanations for this odd behavior.

“One theory is that they were scared of the returning light and rushed for protection. Another theory is that the returning light somehow stimulated their muscles and they felt compelled to run around, ” said Professor Vader. “Their brains are very odd and easily influenced. They can be impulsive and my best bet is that they were running away. They didn’t just run and seek the protection of their metal protectors, they actually fled the scene very quickly. Moreover, this was a scene that was observed almost everywhere the Passing occurred.

“This is an exciting discovery and we have tentatively  named the new behavior, Light Avoidance Under Geological Hiatus Syndrome or LAUGHS for short.”

(End intercepted message)

Officials at NASA are not offering any comments at this time.

“More research is needed,” said an executive director of the agency.

Disclaimer: This story could not be independently verified so readers should take it with a small dose of sodium chloride.

The Neuro Eclipse: Why are they getting more common?

Horrific acts of terror. People yelling hateful slogans against hate. Slavery on the rise in supposedly sophisticated countries. “Leaders” around the world involved in almost psychopathic acts and threats. Surely, Man was meant to get more sophisticated over time and not head the wrong way down the evolutionary trail. Mankind has turned into Man-not-so-kind. What the heck has happened?

NEURO-ECLIPSE: WHEN THE LIMBIC SYSTEM COMPLETELY BLOCKS OUT THE FRONTAL LOBE

If Man has reverted to his primitive fight/flight instincts, it’s because they exist and are primal. Survival is the brain’s first priority, and, as a result, we have an effective system designed to ring the alarm bells when something is threatening (emotions) and dictate our thoughts and behavior so we can respond to the threats.

The feature that supposedly separates the men (and women) from the other animals on the planet is that Man has developed the ability to “think.” Theoretically, Man has the ability to consciously evaluate threats and emotions and plan accordingly. Man has the ability to consider and control feelings rather than simply be driven by them. Much of this activity is derived in, or runs through, the frontal lobes.

Interestingly, the frontal lobes are the last major part of the brain to develop, suggesting that a level of maturity is necessary for them to develop a thought-driven, emotion-controlling influence. It is estimated that the frontal lobes aren’t fully developed until the mid twenties. However, perhaps it isn’t age that is important in their formation, perhaps it’s experience?

The frontal areas of the brain are in many ways about self-control: the ability to resist the pull of the emotional limbic system. And it’s reasonable to assume that experiences that develop self-discipline and control are key to effective higher consciousness and frontal lobe activity not the mere passage of time. Without the development of self-discipline, those frontal areas of the brain will be weaker and incapable of resisting the primal influence of the limbic system.

So perhaps the rise of the neuro-eclipse has to do with a culture that has become more permissive, more entitled, and more narcissistic.

“I mean how dare you teach my child self-discipline!!! Let him be himself!!”

If you take that approach, your child may well be himself but that is likely to be a self that is out of control, driven by emotion and at risk for constant neuro-eclipses.

Walt Mischel’s research from the 1970s showed that children who showed self-discipline subsequently did much better in life than those who didn’t. You don’t have to be a neuroscientist to figure out why. Adrian Raine’s neurocriminology research shows that many offenders have impaired frontal lobe function leading to out of control, impulsive behaviors with little thought of consequences, or much else.

It’s not just that stressful emotions can overwhelm thought processes. Our thought processes are largely driven by emotions, so you need the ability to manage those feelings if you are going to act appropriately and even give yourself a chance at productive thinking. Otherwise you might find yourself marching in places like Charlottesville, or driving vans into pedestrians in Europe. Or simply failing at being a responsible human being.

Charlie Gard, the Binary Brain, and the Assumptions of Medicine

The dramatic case of the British baby, Charlie Gard, diagnosed with a “terminal illness,” illustrates the challenges we all face in our perceptions, thoughts, and even the use of our language, let alone our moral decisions. In a legal battle, doctors at Great Ormond Street Hospital argue that Charlie will die because of his condition and are urging the court to euthanize the baby. His parents, Chris Gard and Connie Yates, have raised money in hope of bringing their son to the US for an experimental treatment. Donald Trump even welcomed them, offering an opportunity in the U.S. to get the medical assistance that could help.

Charlie’s brain has apparently been compromised by his condition, but in a completely different way, all of us are compromised in our thinking.

Recent work in how we think shows that the brain inevitably reduces complexity to simple binary alternatives. It is very hard, if not impossible, for us to hold all the complex variables of a real life problem in mind, even if we knew them all, which we certainly don’t. A metaphor I use in my upcoming book I Think Therefore I Am Wrong is that we can cope with watching a football (or any other sporting event) that has two teams playing against each other. But life doesn’t really fit that comfortable binary perception. To get to grips with reality would be like watching ten teams playing against each other simultaneously and realizing that there were at least another ten teams on the field that we couldn’t even see. That seems to be beyond our current mental capacities, so we settle for a reduced, binary simplicity.

One problem with the binary brain is that it treats facts as if they were 100% certainties when for the most part they are probabilities. So, we tell people that they have a “terminal illness” which implies it is inevitably going to kill them, when in fact, we are talking about probabilities. And the words we use absolutely influence the way we perceive and interpret the information we are given. Words resonate in different parts of the brain and influence our emotions and thinking, as any good public speaker will tell you. And when “the facts” are delivered by experts, they become even more “true,” simply because of the implied authority of the speaker.

Moreover, the medical probabilities that are presented by doctors are not based on today’s data; they are based on yesterday’s data because it takes a while for the data and the assumptions about it to penetrate professional consciousness and practice. And given the rapid pace of change, the probabilities are ever changing. Who knows what treatments might be available in 2, 5, or even 10 years from now? In medicine, today’s wisdom can be tomorrow’s malpractice.

I have been fortunate enough to see several people defy the probabilities of today’s medical diagnoses. In my book Inspired to Lose, there is the story of a woman, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, whose faith and resilience defied the odds and she has gone on to run marathons in every state and Canadian province. A neighbor of mine refused to accept the medical view that some discomfort she was experiencing was 99% benign, sought out the most sophisticated testing, and found that she had the beginnings of pancreatic cancer. She has been in remission for five years.

The soon-to-be-released In God’s Waiting Room, written with Barbara Morello-O’Donnell, recounts her miraculous recovery from the H1N1 virus, in which she emerged from a coma, not with a failing heart that needed transplanting as had been diagnosed from sophisticated medical imaging, but the heart of a 20 year-old, as was predicted in one of her amazing coma dreams.

Man has achieved some amazing things but it is easy to overestimate our capabilities and forget that the brain, while incredible, is still very limited. Just because science is based on data, doesn’t make it immune from these natural human limitations. We need to realize that even in science, we know very little and what we “know” now will inevitably change, probably sooner rather later.

With these limitations in mind, it is surely unethical to prevent the exploration of all treatment possibilities for anyone, especially a baby. No one is certain of the course of Charlie’s condition. While it is often fatal in infants, some have apparently lived into childhood and beyond. Of course, other variables, such as pain, need to be considered but are just one part of the complex matrix of an unseen reality.

The fact is that humility has not been a hallmark of the human race. An expert is someone who knows more than the average person, but they don’t know everything, or all the possibilities. It’s time for more humility and the recognition of our limitations. Wisdom comes from knowing what you don’t know.

Homo needs to get more sapiens.

And Charlie Gard needs to be given every chance at life.