Showing posts with label Culture and Identity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Culture and Identity. Show all posts

Review: Focus by Arthur Miller

Focus Focus by Arthur Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I came across this novel in a used bookstore and thought the premise sounded fascinating, especially since I've been a fan of Miller's dramatic works. The story follows Lawrence Newman after he awakes in the middle of the night to hearing a screaming woman being assaulted. But since the woman is a minority, he largely seems to pay it no mind. The bachelor enjoys a home in a white Christian neighborhood and works in New York City and is largely successful until his eyesight gets the best of him and he's forced to get glasses. His glasses, as he feared, make him appear more Jewish in the race-obsessed world of the World War II 1940s. What follows is Lawrence's demise as those around him increasingly suspect him to be a Jew and he becomes subjected to the same cruel realities that he perpetuated just months before.

Miller's tale is a classic tale of what it's like to live in another man's shoes but also well layered with reflection by Lawrence as he comes to weigh the meaning behind the white supremacist view and how easily it insinuates itself into the minds of the privileged. Originally published in 1945, there is so much about this book that resonates with the world today that it could have easily been written as today with only slight adjustments.

View all my reviews


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What Are You Going To Do Today, November 9th?

Good morning America!

It's Wednesday, November 9th and the cards have fallen where they have fallen and if you're like most of us, you have many different views on how and why they fell the way they did.  There are millions of ecstatic Americans that their candidate has been elected and yet, there are millions more who did not vote for this candidate and even part of the base of pro-voters did it reluctantly.  After a race that has been going on for years, we awake with a hangover and utter regret.  Our regret stems not just with the outcome of last night's dirty tussle of (ballot) sheets but from recognizing that this is what always happens.  We awake, we see the results, we feel dirty about the process, but we go on.  

Many of us voted; many of us didn't.  There's an assumption that at least if you vote, you have a right to complain, but those who refuse to participate in a process that feels problematic from the onset have right to not waste their effort endorsing a system that they believe generates false or manufactured hope.  Others voted for third party believing that by doing so, they supported change, and so they too have the right to complain about whoever was elected.  But here's my new standard and challenge for all who read this.  No one has a right to complain if all you have done is vote or not voted.  I'm going to go with Henry David Thoreau on this one and one of my favorite points that he makes:  


"I cast my vote, perchance, as I think right; but I am not vitally concerned that that right should prevail. I am willing to leave it to the majority. Its obligation, therefore, never exceeds that of expediency. Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men. When the majority shall at length vote for the abolition of slavery, it will be because they are indifferent to slavery, or because there is but little slavery left to be abolished by their vote. They will then be the only slaves. Only his vote can hasten the abolition of slavery who asserts his own freedom by his vote."

In my travels, discussions, and trips down the rabbit hole that is the internet, I have yet to find anyone who is anywhere near happy that this is how things have happened; to say the least, most of us are angered and disappointed by the whole process.  This is a theme repeated election after election, probably since time immemorial.  And it has to do with today, the day after the election.  The vast majority of us sit back and decide that "I've done my job; I voted."  But voting is literally the least thing you can do in a democratic republic such as ours.  As Thoreau points out, it's merely reaffirming the majority but not necessarily addressing what it is that got so many of us up in arms (sometimes, literally, in this election season).    

I know that many of us are just exhausted.  We've been assaulted with ads, news, faux-news, memes, misinformation, accusations, conspiracies, and just about everything in the 24+ month campaign season.  So many of us have been waiting for it to be over for months and have felt deep anxiety around so much of it.  We want to be free of it for now; to breathe, to relax, to just return to some level of normality.  But that won't happen.  The election cycle will continue to get longer; these theatrics will continue to get more ridiculous; the inability to find actual truth and quality news will continue to diminish.  This will continue and it will continue because today is November 9th and we are all deciding we can finally stop caring.  

So I implore all of us to not stop today.  To get up and find a course of action to take that will make us all better as nation.  

So what needs changing?  Lots--that's for sure.  I'm going to steer clear of what I generally think of the bigger issues that I see as that which needs addressing because they are larger issues that we are all likely to vehemently disagree (as the election bears out).  But I want to highlight or find some ways of improving what it is that we're doing when we participate in a democratic republic.  Maybe you have ideas or maybe you know things are wrong but are unsure of which issues resonate most with your or even where to start.  This collection of links provides some ideas about what to change and some even show you how or at least direct you towards resources to get you started. 


Some of my favorites from that list that I'm hoping to pursue in some way include:

These's two from 10 Ways to Improve American Electoral Process
“Establish an ad hoc committee to monitor the quality of public opinion polls taken and reported by newspapers, television stations and networks. This committee would have no sanctioning power over the media, but it would issue a report when it found poll results to be misinterpreted.” 
"Add a new line to the election ballot that says "Favors a New Election." If that option gets more votes than any candidate on the ballot, a new election with new candidates would be ordered."
This gem from the How do we imrpove the election process?
“Replace the debates with something less confrontational and more informative. For example, an interview conducted by an impartial interviewer who allows the candidate to give a complete answer but doesn't allow him/her to dodge the question.”
4 Simple Ways to Improve Voting had this great idea:
“Revamp voter registration. The system relies heavily on pen-and-paper forms, which lead to typos and errors in registration records. Adding more electronic options would help get more voters on the rolls and keep them there by increasing accuracy and efficiency.  For instance, online registration allows eligible citizens to register -- and to more easily check and update their records -- through a secure online portal. New York offers online registration to those with a Department of Motor Vehicles identification, but that should be expanded to include more eligible citizens. If voters can bank and shop online, it makes no sense that they cannot register to vote online, too.”
I also liked this idea from 10 ideas to improve voting, elections
“Open up voting: A few commenters complained about the party system, and one suggested allowing people to vote for more than one candidate.”
These are some of the ideas that I came across and it's a quick leap from there to finding out how to help those organizations that are involved in these efforts or to start your own organization to pursue this.  I'd love to hear from people in the comments about other ways to help or change the system.  I'm happy to do follow-up posts with additional concepts, ideas, and resources.  

If you need ways to get politically involved, there are a plenty of suggestions and methods for big and small actions.  You just need to be willing to start.  Here are two resources to help think about ways to get more politically involved (essentially a beginner's guide and a massive listing of ideas)


Today, November 9th is a start, not a finish for anyone who wants to change the system.  You can't start with the end result (the election), you start with what comes before. So you have 4 years to change it. You may be exhausted but if you want to actually change it, you need to keep going. If you want more out of this country, you gotta get out and do something, today.



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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Letter to the Editor: Waving the Confederate Flag

This piece I recently wrote got published in both the Salem Evening News and the Daily Item.  
Confederate Flag at 58 Bridge Street Salem Mass
Confederate Flag at 58 Bridge Street
Salem Mass
"To whomever at 58 Bridge St., Salem, proudly displays a Confederate flag in your first-floor window, I appreciate the U.S.’s right to freedom of expression that allows you to do so.
Though it’s unclear what you are expressing.

Are you are celebrating the Confederacy’s repression of freedom of expression for millions of U.S. citizens? Are you lamenting the lost art of slavery?

Are you demonstrating your faith toward people who killed U.S. soldiers to keep U.S. citizens enslaved?

Perhaps, you are embracing history (the history of people who wanted to keep humans enslaved for profit)? Might you be showing solidarity with Dylann Roof?

Or are you truly dismayed that TV Land has stopped airing the “Dukes of Hazzard”? It’s simply unclear."

To read the rest, check out the full piece at the Salem Evening News and the Daily Item


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By Any Other Nerd Blog by Lance Eaton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

How To Be a Good Friend on Social Media Part 2 (or 2)

So if the first part of this series was about things you can do, these recommendations can best be understood as caveats and considerations about how you use social media with friends.


Assume Everything You Say Is or Can Be Public

Public Domain Image - Source: https://openclipart.org/image/300px/svg_to_png/191202/public-domain-logo-slightly-nicer.png
There are a variety of safety settings on many social media platforms.  But just assume that it can all somehow, planned or unplanned, become made public.  Assume what you post to your wall, to other people's walls, and even in "private messages" is as likely to remain private as it is to end up on the cover of Time.  Just plan for that and post accordingly.  That means you probably don't want to bash your work, your friends, your enemies, your in-laws or any other person or persons that you're at odds with unless you're prepared for potential exposure and confrontation.  


Think Before Posting

This is of course connected with the previous post but it's worth repeating.  The average person that is one social media has between 100 and 200 connections on their network.  That's a lot of individuals to keep in mind when you are posting.  However, that means you should take a moment to think before posting.  It's easy to take a shot at a particular group of people, business, political viewpoint, etc.  We do it all the time, but it's worth taking a moment and asking yourself if there is a better way of presenting it or expressing your frustrations without targeting, generalizing, or misrepresenting a group of people.  


You May Know Your Friend, But You Don't Know Your Friend's Friends

People Network - Image Source: http://pixabay.com/p-63769/?no_redirect
This follows along the lines of the previous two but it's worth more directly thinking about.  You have a sense of who you are connected with but not necessarily who your friends are connected with.  When interacting with your friends via social media, remember that there is a chance their friends are likely to see the conversation (particularly if it occurs on your friend's wall instead of yours).  Recognize that they have a variety of different views that are as likely to be similar as they are different.  Be respectful as you engage with them as you don't fully know where they are coming from.  Have dialogue but avoid getting nasty with them no matter what happens.  Be civil and don't assume that whatever happens between the two of you will be considered "OK" by your mutual friend.  


Write Longer Posts in Outside of the Post Box

I can often get into debates with people online.  I rather enjoy this in terms of the different ideas and thoughts that are presented.  However, if I'm typing longer posts--ones that are more than 1-2 sentences, then I'm likely to move to a different platform than the textbox provided.  This helps with a few things.  It helps me see everything that I am writing, rather than having to scroll up and down the tiny box.  It also helps me spell and grammar check--after all, if I'm trying to make an important point and my spelling and grammar are all over the place, my thoughts will be taken less seriously by some.  Also, depending on the textbox's protocols, I don't want to hit "Enter" (which i'm trained to do automatically) to start a new paragraph and all of a sudden, find that it has been submitted.  Last, but not least, is that by writing it in another environment gives me pause.  There's one extra step I have to do before posting it and this is important.  It helps me think about if I really want to post it.  This has led me on a number of occasions to delete it instead and choose not to engage in the debate.  Altogether, it allows me to better and more respectfully engage in discussion with people on my social networks.  


Strategically Correct/Critique

So this one is one of the trickiest in the lot.  I'm going to recommend what is probably the most civil thing to do, but then I'm also going to talk about what I do and why.  The most civil thing to when you find something that someone has posted is wrong, has mistakes in it, or is personally offensive for some reason is to contact that person privately and respectfully explain your concerns.  You will need to recognize and accept that sharing your opinion won't necessarily change the post but you will have clearly acknowledged your concerns.  The goal is to inform and explain your position if you find it offensive or to clarify how or why the post might be inaccurate if there is misinformation on it.  

However, that's where I deviate from my advice.  My approach (and I have lost Facebook connections because of this mind you and am ok with that) is that I'm likely to speak up on a person's wall when I find something offensive or factually inaccurate.  I do this because I'm personally a firm believer of dialogue.  When I find something that is offensive or disagreeable, I move into the conversation, not by attacking the other person (usually) but by critically considering what has been posted and commenting as such.  It's something I do regularly.  


If You Have to Block, Then You Should Boot

Muting image - Source http://pixabay.com/p-98510/?no_redirect
This more firmly applies to connection-based (where both people agree to be connected) than follow-based social media (where agreement to follow is singularly made and not mutual).  I'm a firm believer that if you have to block someone's posts, then you should not be connected to them on social media.  My reasoning for this is that if you are connected to someone on a social network, you're making a public endorsement and that is a mutually beneficial statement.  Each person says, "I publicly recognize this person as friend-worthy."  In such instances, if you are choosing to block the person's posts while still being connected them, then you are still benefiting from the connection while silencing the person.  That feels problematic to me and disingenuous.  If you cannot tolerate what someone is saying or doing on their social media, then maybe, you shouldn't be connected to them.  At this point, someone will usually say, "yeah but I see this person regularly and it would be awkward if I de-friended the person."  Absolutely.  But that means it's time to have adult conversations about your friendship or their questionable social media posts.  


What is some advice you would offer for better social media exchanges with friends, families, and colleagues?




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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

How To Be a Good Friend on Social Media Part 1 (or 2)

Social media has changed some of the ways we interact with friends and family for good or for bad.  This new space of engagement changes much of how we interact and to what degree we see our friends' larger picture.  We no longer see friends in as limited lens as we might have before but have a larger context of other friends, acquaintances, and family.  Because of the nature of these environments, it's as likely for one person to having meaningful dialogue with their friend on social media as it is one of their friends' friend whom the person has never met.  It means many of us are trying to navigate unclear waters and I thought post might help people better understand how to renegotiate friendship online.  

They are a mixture of Do's and Don'ts to help navigate this tricky new space that many of us find ourselves in.  We're often good at figuring out what to do in the face-to-face environment, but online isn't always as clear as it would seem.  


Identify What Your Social Media Approach Is

This sounds weird, but it's a useful personal exercise and one that can help you decide what it is that you are using these platforms for.  I have my take on social media and place it here on my blog.  It identifies why I use social media and what I want to get out of it.  I hear a lot of people who get frustrated or unclear about the purpose of social media or don't really think about using social media.  Giving yourself some time to clearly identify what it is that you want to get out of social media can help you better decide how you want to interact on social media.  Are you using it solely for finding different information via your social networks or are you looking to use it as a way of interacting with friends when unable to meet face-to-face?  Do you want to engage in debate or just relax in this space?  Determining what you want to do helps you determine where to focus your attention.    

Congratulate in Public

Paper Note with "Good Job" on It:  Image Source: https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4038/4294686346_fa10e0e9c7_z.jpg?zz=1
Give friends credit!  Thank them for doing things for you or with you, on their achievements, and just for being awesome people.  You'd be surprised how a simple comment can light up a person's day and doing so on social media means it's public.  That can be a great way to provide a bit of cheer and excitement for someone since by thanking them, you're also bringing attention to them in both of your social networks.  Remember that this also extends to businesses, organizations, public figures, etc.  


Promote and Share Statuses and Links (Give Credit)

As you come across great content that you find through your networks be sure to give credit.  You may find a link on Twitter but repost it on Facebook.  If that is the case, be sure to tag or acknowledge who helped you find the source. Being acknowledged for contributions to our friends and connections experiences is in part a major piece of what drives social media--knowing that what we share, has an impact.  


Help Promote Social Media Efforts and Campaigns by Friends

"Always pay it forward and never forget to pay it back.  It's how you got here and it defines where you're going... @briansolis" Image Source: https://c2.staticflickr.com/8/7178/6904613521_cec81f5a96_z.jpg
I think this is an important and underused element of being a good friend on social media.  Many of us want to support and help people in our networks.  If we are taking the time to post some cause that a friend is pushing for, the hope is that our friends will if not directly contribute to it, then help out by sharing it onward.  When we advocate or promote on their behalf, we help them in ways that are still useful.  Many of us have hundreds (if not more) of people in our social network.  When we share someone else's post for support, aid, etc, we're leveraging our network to help spread their message and potentially expanding the reach exponentially..  That's valuable and powerful for helping out friends.  


Tag With Relevance

Whether tagging in these environments be sure to tag people that are relevant to content of the post.  To follow up on the previous recommendation (Congratulate in Public), when talking about companies, organizations, etc., be sure to tag them as well.  I do my best to include tags when trying to say something good or even critical (more about that below) of a public entity.  Regardless, don't tag unless there's clear reason for it.  Also, be aware as best as possible of your friends and family members' preferences for tagging.  Don't tag people who don't want to be tagged.


Like Statuses That Are Meant to Be Liked 


Dislike Button - Image Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/21/Not_facebook_dislike_thumbs_down.png
Or as I like to put it, "Don't like RIP statuses."  It's clear that some statuses are meant to indicate positive messages.  "I got a great new job!!!".  Perfect--like that a bajillion times.  But more vague messages, you'll want to stay clear from liking.  "I lost my job, today."  Use your words for these types of status.  "I'm sorry to here."  "Can I help?".  Liking such statuses can be confusing for the person who posted and it's even unclear to the people doing the liking.  Because usually the words used for positive credit are words or icons representing liking, hearting, or favoriting, to like questionable updates sends a mix message even though you are sometimes just trying to show support.  


This is the first half.  The second half will be posted next week.  What is some of the advice you offer for better social media exchanges with friends?




Did you enjoy this read? Let me know your thoughts down below or feel free to browse around and check out some of my other posts!. You might also want to keep up to date with my blog by signing up for them via email.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Giving Thanks and Being Fabulous

I wouldn't say that I'm in the habit of giving thanks on this blog, but I do often try to acknowledge thanks where appropriate.  Last year, around Thanksgiving, I wrote a post on giving thanks and since then, I've written two other public thank you notes.  One was a letter to the editor and the  other was a dedication on this blog of people who have been so helpful in getting me to finish my first marathon.

Those who know me, know that I am generally a positive person with a very sunny disposition.  I am rarely in a bad mood and if I do find myself in a darker mood without an extremely good reason, I can pretty quickly transcend it.  But what does the sunny disposition have to do with being thankful?  The sunny disposition comes from being thankful on a very deep level.

Whenever people ask the obligatory question, "How are you?"  I often answer with a "Fantastic!" or "Fabulous!"  That isn't just the automatic response that we all have to the question that nearly everyone asks but no one actually thinks about or even considers before answering and asking in return.  (How many times have you witnessed this circulate conversation?  Person 1:  "Hi, how are you?"  Person 2: "I'm fine.  How are you?"  Person 1:  "I'm good.  How are you?").  When I say "fabulous," I genuinely feel it and I feel it because I am thankful.

Thankful For Everything

Image:  Thank you.  Image Source: http://farm1.staticflickr.com/2/2086641_23234fb0f8_o.jpg
So what am I so thankful about that I can so easily and so often answer the question with such exuberance?  The basic answer is EVERYTHING.  But clearly, that needs some unpacking.  If we look at the world, it is an extremely random and chaotic place.  Never mind, that over 7 billion individual human agents are interacting among one another with exponential random results.  There are myriads more germs and other micro-organisms also travelling from human to human, animal to human, etc.  That is coupled with living on giant (and no so giant) land masses that float on plates that regularly knock into one another.  And I won't even mention weather and climate (except that I just did).  Then we throw into the mix all the ways in which modern society has created further hazards for humankind such as war, environmental degradation, and unexpected negative byproducts of "human progress" (e.g. the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant and Great Pacific garbage patch).  None of this even touches upon the fact that we're essentially on a giant spaceship with a limited shield hurtling itself through space in a giant circle around a massive heating station always subject to whatever objects are hurtling through space in our direction.  All of this is to say, existence is extremely unstable.

Now, that seems to paint an awfully dark picture.  One would think amidst all this chaos, there is little to be so thankful for, but I would argue that this is a misapplication of the frame.  People view the myopic picture above and say, how can there be anything to be fabulous about?  I would flip that question and say, despite the reality of the things mentioned above, we are still a world full of people wherein the vast majority do the right thing more often than not. That is to say that things go right far more often than they go wrong.

The challenge is in recognizing all of the things that go right.

Here's a good example.  You are reading this post right now and if you've made it this far in the post, that probably means you're somewhat interested and are being provided with something that's engaging.  But can you name the millions of things that had to go right in order for this asynchronous exchange to happen?  Let's look at just 3 elements within this communication: me, you, and the blog.

In order for me to write this singular blog post, here is just a sample of the things that needed to go right:
  1. To be taught to read and write at a high school level or higher.
  2. To have access to enough food to keep me alive these past 34 years.
  3. To have access to enough shelter to not only keep me alive but to protect my body and mind.
  4. To have developed the self-awareness to be thankful in the ways that I am in order to write this post.
  5. To have access to electricity.
  6. To have access to a "computer" (in quotations because with mobile devices, the definition of this is changing).
  7. To have access to the Internet.
  8. To have access to a publishing web tool (Blogger).
  9. To have access to social media or other avenues for readers to find this blog.
In order for you to read this singular post, here is a just a sample of things that needed to go right for you:
  1. To be taught to read at a level of high school level or higher.
  2. To have access to enough food to keep you alive long enough to read this post.
  3. To have access to enough shelter to not only keep you alive but to keep your mind functioning well enough to read this.
  4. To have access to electricity.
  5. To have access to a "computer" (in quotations because with mobile devices, the definition of this is changing).
  6. To have access to the Internet.
  7. To have access to a publishing web tool (Blogger).
  8. To have access to social media or other avenues for readers to find this blog.
In order for both of us to be here on this blog (at different moments), here is just a sample of things that needed to go right:
  1. Written communication had to be created.
  2. Telecommunications had to be created.
  3. The internet had to be created.
  4. The Internet infrastructure had to be vastly developed which includes many many mainframes and connections.
  5. Computers had increase in productivity while decreasing significantly in cost.
  6. More interactive tools (Web 2.0) had to make interacting on the Internet more feasible (to the point of almost free).
  7. Blogger had to be created.
  8. Blogger had to be bought by Google.
  9. Google had to keep Blogger alive.
  10. Blogger had to maintain and hold onto all of the blog posts of all of its customers.  
That may not seem that much, but again, each item listed could be further broken down to highlight all of the things that had to go right.  For instance, consider all the things that could have interfered with either of us becoming literate?  That was rooted in millions of direct actions (our family, friends, and surrounding people affecting us from the womb to the present) and indirect actions (cultural decisions such as public education, what to do with children, etc).  When you try to tally it all up, you will come up with an almost infinite list of things that went right in order for just you and me to interact on this blog.

And that's the piece that many of us don't see.  We are more aware of bad things happening because of their rarity in our lives.  The fact is, that if you are waking up in a bed, are fairly certain where your next meals are coming from, and capable of reading this blog, you are far ahead of the game.  Your life in totality is good.  That's not to say that bad things won't happen and that real serious bad things shouldn't be acknowledged.  But to only acknowledge the bad and never take time to recognize all of the things that went right, is to wrongly stack the deck.

Something as simply as arriving to work carries with it a range of things to be thankful for.  First is that you arrived safely.  Consider all the things that could have gone wrong from slipping on ice on the walkway to your car malfunctioning to being hit by other drives to being mugged or suffering an illness on the way to work.  But no--you arrived safely and soundly.  There is the fact that you are employed and have a means of income.  That someone values you enough to pay you to do something.  (I recognize this is a harder nut to swallow but given competition for jobs and resources--there are after all amply people qualified to do any job that you are doing--regardless of whether you dislike your job or believe you are underpaid, you are being trusted and paid for services you are providing; not everyone is so lucky).

I do my best to stack the deck rightly so and acknowledge as much of the good in my life as possible but also recognizing that I'm probably only seeing a fraction of it all.  In that, I mean I recognize that for everyone 1 thing I can tangible recognize as going well for me, there are probably at least 5 things that went well that I didn't know about directly.  In truth, it is impossible for us to be fully aware of all the things that go right in a given moment, hour, day, etc.  There are just too many different things to account for.  Look at driving:  Each car is composed of hundreds of moving and interacting parts that allow you to drive.  Multiply this by the amount of cars on the road.  Throw in the road infrastructure (roads, signage, lights, guard rails, etc) and random pedestrians, cyclists, animals, etc.  It's nearly impossible to comprehend all the things going right and that's just driving.  What about when we sit in our homes or work-spaces?  But all of it goes well 99.999% of the time.  Yes, that's a statistic that I just made up but I wonder if it's not far off the mark when we consider all the factors surrounding us that could do us harm.

Which brings me back to why I feel fabulous so often.  There's much to be feel fabulous about.  So many things in our lives, goes extremely right and for me to be anything less than fabulous undervalues all those things that goes right and I don't want to do that.  Because in valuing all those things that go right--in being thankful to those myriad positives, it makes the negatives much less potent.

However, in the last few months, I been trying to take that thankfulness to a new level.  First, my partner and I introduced a new idea into our relationship.  Before bedtime each night, we share about what we're grateful about.   It's big and small things.  Sometimes, there are clearly important things to be grateful for.  Yet other things regularly make the nightly list (my kitties and partner being regularly acknowledgments). People who say their prayers at night are not new to this idea but one does not need to be religious to be thankful for the many good and great things that we have to be thankful.

But again, I find myself wanting to take this idea of thankfulness one step further.  In August, I had the pleasure of hearing Carrie Stack, from the Say Yes Institute speak at an event at North Shore Community College.  One thing she emphasized that has stuck with me is to reach out and to say thanks to people for the things they do and be willing to go the extra step to make that thanks public.  That is, make you publicly acknowledge when someone has done you a good service and especially, if it relates to someone else's work--be sure to not only let that person know but their employers.  As Stack emphasized in her presentation, giving such public thanks goes far for you, for the person you are thanking and equally important, for others who may be present.  We have plenty of examples of people griping and complaining, but maybe what we need is more examples of people saying thank you to people.

So what are you thankful for?

ADDENDUM

About 2 hours after finishing the post, this TED Talk showed up on my newsfeed and I feel in many ways, it sums up my experience.







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Of Bunnies and Logos: The Playboy Icon

My Informational Design and Visual Literacy course provided me with a challenge this week to explore and discuss a company's logo.  Basically, to break it down and explore how it captures the company's message and purpose.  After aimlessly googling company logos trying to find inspiration, I randomly thought of the Playboy logo and what follows is what I wrote.  I should warn you that several people who read an excerpt on Facebook said they wouldn't be able to look at the logo the same again.  So enjoy!
Image: Playboy Bunny.  Image Source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/thumb/a/a8/PlayboyLogo.svg/500px-PlayboyLogo.svg.png

There's lot to cover with this logo and the more I think about it, the more ingenious I find Playboy to be with their logo.  This logo conveys much without actually saying anything formal and much of what it suggests is more risque without having to be blatantly raunchy--something that Playboy aspires to over other entities like Hustler and the like.  Playboy is a multimedia empire that largely caters to men’s sexual interests. What started initially as a magazine has evolved into books, television, film, websites, events, and facilities (e.g. The Playboy Mansion). The key style that Playboy has employed for decades has been sex through the prism of sophistication; the equivalent contrast of an escort versus as street-level prostitute. Playboy is the escort, purportedly offering class and sophistication with its sexual steam.   Though the extremely sexually-conservative folk would see all elements of sexual capitalism vanquished, sexual moderates and liberals tend to view Playboy with much more acceptance or amusement (except when of course, one delves into the niche of feminism that claims that all pornography is exploitative of women and detrimental; I do not agree with this branch of thinking, though I can understand how one gets there).   While celebrities, politicians, and other high-profile people seek to avoid being “caught” with lower echelons of sexual capitalism, many regularly interact with Playboy and are comfortable with this association. As one of the best-paying magazines in the country, many popular and skillful writers have at some point published in Playboy magazine (those famous “articles” that no one reads).


Researching the logo can be a little tricky.  After all, each search is prefaced with "playboy" and that invites all things sex related--which only speaks to the prevalence and success of the company and its aforementioned logo.  However, it did yield some interesting sites such as this Tumblr site that presents cartoons from Playboy magazines throughout the years.  


The famous bunny logo balances the prestige and sophistication that Playboy as an organization has attempted to uphold while in subtle and sophisticated ways, communicates that sex is still the subject on hand.  For those that don't know, the Playboy bunny originated in an cartoon in an early issue of Playboy magazine by Art Paul.  It evolved into what has become the icon of Playboy fairly shortly after that.  



Time to explore the logo.  First, there is the singular contrast of black and white. This makes the logo bold and stick out; grabbing the viewer’s attention. Also the mixture of black and white could also be read through a moral lens in that despite the questionable elements of sexual capitalism (represented by the color black—a color traditionally meant to indicate the negative), there is purity mixed with impurity.  The black and white contrast also connects to the bow-tie and more strongly elicits the bow-tie's metaphor as a stand in for a full blown tuxedo.

The rabbit head silhouette is continually referred to as the Playboy “bunny.” This is a curious but impressive feat by Playboy because it plays out several themes simultaneously and across the sexual divide that’s worth acknowledging.  These ideas could be mutually exclusive if one thinks about it too much, but funny enough, no one ever does.  The bunny is used in many ways and thus the icon can be embraced by many.

  1. The icon “bunny” appears to be male (indicated by the tux—more about that later).
  2. The tux also invokes a sense of class and wealth.
  3. The “bunny” is a rabbit; well known for its proclivity for sex.  
  4. With these three consideration, the bunny embraces the "playboy" who is wealthy and looking to sexually score.
  5. Yet, a bunny is typically a young rabbit; as in, a newly born rabbit, not yet capable of reproducing.
  6. “Bunny” is the term referred to the women that work at the Playboy clubs and the term many refer to when talking about women who work for Playboy in some form of exhibition. 
  7. Taking three, five, and six, here again, we have an interesting presentation of women:  sexy but non-procreating exhibitionists.
  8. What about the bunny presented in side-profile. The bunny doesn't look forward which might be a direct invitation.  Instead, it looks to something the viewer can't see. Therefore, the viewer must ask what the bunny is looking at and must become the bunny to see what the bunny sees.
  9. But given that the only action permitted to the bunny is to look, we also discover the centerpiece of the Playboy industry.  The visual.  Looking at "bunnies".  It promises us nothing more.   Laura Mulvey would be proud.
Image:  Word cloud of this blogpost

So why is the tux important? Firstly, it indicates class and sophistication, a key element of Playboy. It also indicates that the icon we are looking at is a male (e.g. a sophisticated man).  Some would argue this is questionable, but given the bunny's origin as a male "playboy", it seems rather moot.   Since the icon is abstract (yet clearly male), it does encourage the viewer to project himself into the role of that bunny who is presented as looking (leftward). Thus, the image tells the male viewer that he too can see what this icon sees (an abundance of women in various states of undress). This idea of abstraction comes from Scott McCloud who discusses that abstraction enhances one’s tendency project himself or herself into the abstract. That is, the more abstract (to a certain point) a drawing is, the easier it is for people to picture themselves therein.

Of course, there are more sexual hints within this logo still. The bunny ears spread out in a way that they could simultaneously be considered phallic (from a state of flaccidness to an erect state) and yonic (the two ears forming the “V” of a woman’s legs as well as the “V” of the pubic mound). The curvature of the bunny in contrast to the straight-lines of the tuxedo tie also hints at a contrast between the constraint of the male viewer and the sexual abundance of the women within the Playboy establishment. And of course, the bunny’s face with its particular curve simulates a curvaceous buttocks or even a breast (supposing the bunny’s “eye” to be the nipple).

All in all, this logo does a fantastic job at capturing the tantalizing and complex sexual dynamic that Playboy represents.  The question of whether it is intentional or not (much like when the student says, "but did the Shakespeare mean all that stuff") isn't relevant.  The fact that it can be all found there makes think about the direct and indirect ways information is communicated.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words--and I blew past that a few paragraphs ago.  




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Letter to the Editor: Don’t blame it all on the cellphone

Here's another letter to the editor published.  It's on texting while driving.  It's not my first one critiquing the discussion the texting while driving.  There was this first one published last year and this other one I had published a few months ago.

Letter to the Editor at Salem News:

"Two letters begged readers to take the pledge not to text while driving. They tell us things like, 'There is nothing more tragic than a death caused by texting while driving.' Really? We can’t imagine bigger tragedies? Let’s use those smartphones (while parked, of course) to find innumerable daily events that are indeed 'more tragic.'"

For reference to the two letters, I'm referring to, check out this link and this link.

For my full letter to the editor, click on through here.



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Misadventures in Social Media: What's It All About?

This series of blog posts will focus on social media and my experiences, thoughts, challenges, and of course, mistakes in social media.  It stems in part from trying to be reflective about what I do in the digital world just as much as I try to be reflective about what I do in the physical world.  It also resonates with my Social Media Approach page in getting me to have more conversations about what it is we do when we step into the world of bits and bytes.

It's not entirely new for me to talk about social media and it's role in our lives.  I have talked about inherently sexist messages in Facebook memes, engaged educators and students about their educational usage of social media, issues with social media and higher educationreflected on how social media has made me a more sensitive person, its role in tragic events, poorly executed memes (by me, no less) and many other similar posts.  But this series of posts provide some insight (for myself as much as others) about social media, its challenges, and its benefits.  Ultimately, I hope that my reflecting on the process helps me better a communicator in general and also in social media, which is a tricky and new-found territory that many of us are trying to navigate successfully or otherwise.

Though some are apt to disregard or be wary of social media, I do think it is a powerful and compelling tool for human connection.  I'm less inclined to buy into the often disparate views of a Nicholas Carr or Sheryl Turkle (a summation of her book can be found in her TED Talk) or more to recognize that social media's benefits outweigh its limiting consequences.  Too often, I see people contending that social media is a threat or a sign of decline and see the direct parallels (and false arguments) that have been made with the internet in general, video games, horror films, horror comics, the dance hall, the printed word, and the written word; thousands of years of technological progress and enhanced human communication and we still get weak in the knees.

Social media does change the ways we interact, the customs we've come to expect (keeping in mind, they are just customs--representations of civilization--not civilization itself), and most importantly, for the individual, the power he or she wields to control her or her environment.  It's this last one that vexes people the most.  Nothing seems to enrage people (often in the name of "decency"--to which they often exhibit their own lack thereof by talking about said people behind their backs in often judgmental and insulting tones) more than the insolent person using his or her digital device to engage with conversations and meaning-making beyond the immediate physical place.  Yes, people use their social media networks and often accompanying devices to check out of the immediate physical and social space and check into a digital space with peers or even strangers.  Many dislike this; they find it disrespectful; and they see it that "kids today are...."  But how is this different from checking out from a social space by choosing to engage with other people's fictional friends (in the form of say reading a book while in that same space) or withdrawing into one's own world (by daydreaming in one's head or through physical exultation such as doodling)?

So that's my angle--to recognize the value of and development of social media.  But in doing so, I also want to acknowledge the mistakes, mishaps, and opportunities to learn and understand more about social media in this newly emergent landscape of communication.  I'm also likely to discuss different social media events, books, and talks/podcasts that catch my attention on the subject matter. So wish me luck with it and I hope to hear about your own adventures (perchance a guest blogpost!).



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Travel On: Wherein Lance Goes to Europe for 3 Weeks

So for those that don't know, from May 10 to May 30, I will be off to Europe for three weeks.  For two weeks, I will be staying in Zwolle, Netherlands with a good friend and colleague.  From there, I will be visiting Berlin for about 2 days, Paris for 3 days, and London for 2 days.  I am (obviously) pretty excited about the trip and thought I would capture my travels through a mixture of blogging and video blogging.  However, while I'll update here to let people know when I've updated my journal and my video travelogue, the content itself will not likely be stowed here.  So below you can see my first update.  And you can keep up with my exploits by subscribe to My Channel.



You can check out regularly updated travel journal below or click there to access it.  I will be updating this blog with reminders of when I've updated the other resources.





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Bending & Folding Time and Space In a Non-Physics Sort of Way Part 2

So in my last post, I explored some ways to save time that address the daily routines of life.  In this post, I'm going to look at other facets of life where I have re-oriented time to work for me.

I've talked about them before, but it needs to be reiterated.  Audiobooks are singularly an excellent means of reclaiming time.  This works on two levels.  The first is clearly that one is getting to read books, he or she wouldn't have otherwise been able to while engaged in sometime (e.g. chores).  Second, it exposes one to a potential wealth of knowledge that a person can use to inform one's life.  Many of the changes I have made to save time have been gleaned from the learning I experienced while listening to audiobooks and doing other things (commuting, chores, running errands).  While it can take some time to figure out what kind of listener you are (that is what genres, types of narrators, and what environments work best for you), it can open up much more opportunity to learn and explore things while otherwise engaged.

Coordinating Tasks

Many people make their "to-do" lists before leaving the house.  A key to any to-do list is to rank them according to distance.  If I'm going out on 4-5 errands, I spend the extra two minutes figuring out which one is closest to each next task so that I spend the least amount of time driving/walking/bicycling.  Without a doubt, I can save a half hour or more in strategically moving from place to place.

Synergy

However, it's more than that.  Aggressively integrating audiobooks into my life also represents one of the core features I've worked hard to instill in my life.  Synergy.  When I was in undergrad at Salem State, the history department chair was Dr. Dane Morrison.  I had known this word before him but would always associate this word with him after college.  Over the course of several years, I witnessed him give this speech to incoming history majors about making their life synergistic.  I had heard this before from my father--though he never used that word.  But ultimately, both him and Dr. Morrison advocated for finding ways to make life overlap.  This was a lesson I took to heart and still look to do today at ever vantage point.  Audiobooks best represent my attempt to apply continued learning and experience even when doing things that don't necessarily demand serious cognitive demand.  It's a means of reclaiming time.

Synergy for me has meant blending interests in ways that maximize outcomes and frees up other time.  A good example of this was when I was a lifeguard.  For my high school senior year and all through college, I was a lifeguard.  But I worked largely at pools that were 5 feet deep in the deep end that either were adults only (health clubs) or required adults to be present with each child (apartment complexes).  There were a great many hours when the pool was either unoccupied or minimally occupied.  This afforded me lots of hours to do reading, writing, and homework.  Even if I worked thirty hours a week, at least half of it was free time in which I got my school work finished.  This meant  with my free time, I didn't have to worry about my homework or getting caught up.  I was often ahead.  This followed suit in grad school where I began working overnight at residential programs.  I was being paid to stay up all night and to check on the residents regularly.  One way to keep me engaged or busy through the night was to always have homework to do for grad school--which there always was--and to get grading done for the classes I taught.  Again, while working overnights messed with my schedule, I also had more free time to readjust because my "work time" also coupled as my school time.
"Time is an illusion; lunchtime, doubly so."  Douglas Adams.
Choosing Time
My friends knock me for being notoriously early, especially if it requires commuting to places that are far away or require driving during busy traffic.  There's been a handful of conferences south of Boston (I live North of Boston) that I have attended in the last year.  Each would start around 8am or 9am.  This pretty much meant that I would get caught in slow moving, almost torturous (were it not for audiobooks in the car) stop-and-go traffic.  This sounds supremely wasteful of my time.  Instead, I usually opt to get up and out of the house by 5:30AM.  This puts me well on the other side of Boston before the first hint of traffic.  I may arrive early but this gives me the opportunity to find a coffee shop and do some work or read.  I sometimes even just go for a walk and enjoy the morning.  I'm able to relax, knowing I've made it to my destination and can reclaim time that I would have otherwise spent in driving.  That's the bigger lesson here is to look for opportunities wherein you can do the same thing in less time.          

Coupled with this is to always make sure wherever you go, you something to occupy free time.  I'm rarely without a book  or something to read (especially now with a smartphone and the Amazon Kindle app).  I usually have pen and pad (or just a note-taking app).  That is, I always prepared to entertain myself if there is foreseen (sitting in the doctor's office) or unforeseen gaps in the regularly scheduled program.

Time vs. Cost
For about a year and a half, I paid for cleaning services (from a great company, Green Clean Salem) in my apartment.  I did this because time was at a premium and it was cheaper for me to purchase these services than it would have been to do the cleaning myself.  Weighing time and cost isn't just about considering what you should pay someone to do something--it's about realizing how much time it would take you to do the same thing and the cost to you weighed against the cost and speed with which a professional could do the same thing.  In this instance, I chose the professional.

Time and cost are a tricky formula that often become an ongoing assessment.  I look at the different services I pay for (and those that I do myself) and am regularly asking "do I pay for that or do I do that?"  A good example is my usage of Netflix.  I've gone from high usage with three or more discs to only one disc--I supplement this with use of my library, requesting films from my Netflix DVD list (the ones you can't watch instantly).  Doing so has reduced my spending on Netflix and helped support my library system.  Equally useful is that I work next to my school's library, so the time is largely just the time it takes to request the DVD.

Saying Yes, Saying No
Time is the ultimate commodity that we trade.  That "time" comes in different forms--being physically present (say for a hug) or emotional present (to listen to someone--online, on the phone, or face to face) or doing something (for ourselves or others).  The biggest way to save time and give yourself more of it is to genuinely reflect about what you enjoy and what you don't, what you need to do and what you don't.  Don't waste time agreeing to things you don't want or need to do.  Learn to know yourself well enough to do those things that are of reasonable importance to you and shed the rest.  I'm not a sports fan and thus, do much to avoid going to sporting events, watching sports on TV, and engaging in sports talk with friends and colleagues.  Sure, it puts me out of conversations at times, but on the whole, it has given me more time to do the things I really enjoy...like write on this blog.



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