States’ Rights

Southeastern states had the highest number of preventable deaths for each of the five causes. The study authors suggest that states with higher rates can look to states with similar populations, but better outcomes, to see what they are doing differently to address leading causes of death.  source

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Vonnegut’s Genius Take

From a short book he wrote toward the end of his life, a series of mini interviews with famous and infamous people from the world beyond.  Afterlife Correspondent Vonnegut would enter the Pearly Gates for each interview, pursuant to the deal the atheist made with St. Peter to be allowed into heaven to conduct these short chats with historical figures for the benefit of those of us walking on the earth at that particular moment in time.  The proceeds from the sales of the book were donated to National Public Radio, or possibly to WNYC.

In his short intro Vonnegut describes the loneliness of modern life, a theme he often revisited.  He contrasted life in modern industrialized society to the vastly more social lives lived for millennia by groups of humans.  An Ibo baby in Africa is taken to meet her 400 aunts, uncles and cousins who take her in their arms by turn and coo at her and tell her how beautiful she is.  Wouldn’t you love to be that baby? asks Vonnegut.

The truly genius take is this, and I don’t have the text ( less than two sparsely type-set pages in total) in front of me so you’ll pardon (or not) a paraphrase.  

Freud didn’t know what women want, wrote Vonnegut, but Vonnegut does.  Women want to talk, to everyone, about everything.  What do men want?  Some pals and nobody to be mad at them.  The modern arrangement, a man and a woman pair off and live together, become the largest part of each other’s social universe.  

The woman gets somebody to talk to about everything all the time: but it’s a man.

The man gets a pal and somebody not to be mad at him: but it’s a woman.

Because a great Vonnegut insight should end with a profound, yet comic bow he adds:

Each one, unwittingly, has the same anguished complaint against the other: “you are not enough people!”.

As pithy a nutshell of something fundamental as any you’ll hear today, it seems to me.

Stats Corner

One thing I love about baseball is the stats.  You can look at a sheet of numbers next to a bunch of names, arranged as a box score, and quickly learn virtually everything about the game these people played.  Few stats are as straightforward as the numbers in a box score, though, of course, a blooper that falls in and rolls is indistinguishable from a shot that caroms off the wall at 120 mph.  “That will look like a line drive in the boxscore,” says the announcer of the dribbler that stops halfway to the hot corner as the runner reaches first and gets a perfectly valid base hit.  Most stats can be manipulated any number of ways, like words, moods, standardized test scores, economic numbers, people who want to please, fearful souls, etc.

WordPress offers stats, along with your free blahg.  Stats let you know how much traffic your site is getting, how well your little on-line journal is doing as far as readership.  You can see, for example, how many visitors you have on any given day, week, month, year.   You can see the numbers of likes, comments, views.  I look at these from time to time and nod, observing what an obscure little corner of cyberspace the gratuitousblahg occupies.   Rearranging the stats like the entrails a sooth sayer in the time of Caesar studied for omens of the future, I see this smiling augury.

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 3.41.27 AM

Not a bad trend, I think, coyly trimming off the tell-tale column to the right that shows the actual numbers.  But look at the trend, if you will; it is the trend I am getting at here with this chart.  I have reason to feel slightly encouraged by the steady uptick in annual visitors, do I not?  In ten years time, at the present rate of increase, I will have as many visitors in a year as the average porn site gets in a few hours.  Progress, by any measure, I’m sure we all agree.

Stirring the entrails with my stick to divine further trends I notice an odd contradiction in the stats.  Although I’ve stopped complaining about it, as much as I am able to, long time readers of these posts will know I’ve often sung sad songs about the difficulty of getting any feedback on anything.  The echoes from my adversarial childhood make me more susceptible than some to the sting of silence by way of response, though I think anyone  who expresses herself does so with some hope of a response.   (Note the sensitivity of my gender choice there, gentle reader.  I was encouraged to do this in law school, of all places.  Funny, I know.)

The most dependable form of response in real-time, something that, sadly, cannot be heard in cyberspace, is a laugh.  A laugh is also gratifying because it’s usually honest, spontaneous and an instant of blessed relief for everyone involved.   Not so with a response to other kinds of expression– they require both thought and action, even if each might take only a few seconds.    

Much non-response is simply the result of most people being too busy to read, hear or watch something they thought was pretty good and then take even more time to type “nice”.  “Nice” seems insufficient, so after a moment of searching in vain for a better four letter word they sensibly move on to the next thing.  

On top of the fast pace of modern life, it also doesn’t even occur to most people that a person who spends time creating something would be gratified by the encouragement, even as they applaud even a mediocre live performance (writing isn’t a performance, read it publicly, then we’ll clap) and most people remember to compliment the chef at dinner when a new dish is served (hey, nobody asked you to serve me this crap, bub).   Social behaviors change when people are anonymous, which is whey they created the “like” button, although the chart for gratuitousblahg likes is too ambiguous a little mountain range to be of any use to us here.

There is pleasure and satisfaction to be had from doing a thing as well as you can.  These excellent things are not to be sneezed at.   Recognition that the thing is well-done, interesting, has provoked a thought or feeling, welcome as the validation might be, well… no one can hear you shake your head in cyberspace   Anyway,  have a look and quick ponder at the next telltale graph, comments on the blahg since its ‘launch’ in August of 2012.   And, please, no comments, this one’s on me.

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 3.40.52 AM

Storytelling

“I am feeling more and more like a melancholy ghost,” he said to nobody.  The dust looked at him apathetically.   “Of course,” he thought, drawing in a deep, dusty breath.

We humans are moved by stories.  That’s why gossip is sometimes hard to resist.  He did what?  She thought… what the hell WAS she thinking?  Fucking humans… can you believe?   And if it is hard enough to believe, but still possible to understand as unmistakably true… or even mistakably true, damn, you got the kernel of a good story there, son.

A lawyer successfully making her case tells a story the jury believes is more true than the other story.   A huckster selling you a rock you can keep for a pet, triggers that childish belief in magic, begins the story in your head — what if a rock actually needs love and care as much as we do? Some ingenious fucker sold millions of rocks to Americans as pets by planting that story.   Hey, nobody said we’re a nation of geniuses, but we got good hearts. 

I have a story to tell, but not here.  My story must go into a slideshow I have to get back to work on.   It’s the story of young children that society is in the inexorable process of preparing for lives of tragic outcomes, getting a chance to flourish, create and shine.  It’s a funny story, and an unlikely one, and tricky as hell to tell with the right tone.  I need people to buy the idea, and give me money to fund it.

I note in passing, in outgassing, (and since I’ve already noted it and only have to cut and paste it)  the difference between the story I need to tell and the stories we are happy to slurp down during our leisure.

The difference between giving attention to a sales pitch and a TV series is that the TV series, if it’s good, hooks you on a story that pulls you in.  A good sales pitch must do the same, but I can’t remember the last time one did that for me.  
 
I recently saw 16 episodes of an engaging TV series called Rectify.  An innocent guy spends 20 years on death row for the murder of his high school girlfriend before his determined little sister gets him out on a DNA mismatch.   We see him in solitary, flashes of his nightmare life there, his one friend in life– the condemned guy in the cell next door, a repentant and sweet guy who shot into a car as a gang initiation and killed a 3 year-old girl….they become best friends talking through the grate, as the psychopath in the other cell tries to break the sensitive protagonist’s spirit.  As I set out the bones of it I’m already feeling it’s a compelling story. 
 
And it gets much more so when he gets out, and is a mess, and the small Georgia town is divided between those who embrace him as an innocent, blessedly exonerated man and those who don’t believe in the technicality of DNA and see him as a confessed and duly convicted rapist and murderer (we know he isn’t either of those, and so our horror at injustice is engaged) and, in any case, a weird and clearly disturbed guy they want to beat the crap out of, as several in masks finally do when he goes to visit the grave of his murdered girlfriend.  
 
After the brutal, possibly deadly beating in the cemetery, the brother of the murdered girl removes his mask and makes sure the protagonist sees his face through bloody eyes before he passes out.  Then the brother pisses on his broken body.  When the protagonist finally gets out of the coma, and the hospital, he declines to press charges when the corrupt but conscience stricken sheriff runs down and arrests the ringleader.  “It wasn’t him,” he says, looking stoically at a photo the sheriff, who knows it was, holds out to him.  The sheriff leaves in disgust.  Everyone in town is confused, and it is another proof that there’s something seriously wrong with the guy.  Some of us can’t help watching this kind of story.
 
A sales pitch, on the other hand, tells a calculated story that cheerfully invites the potential buyer to envision the wonderful things the product will deliver to them.  How will this product make my shit life feel marginally better?  Unlike with a story containing enough human complexity to hook us with its narrative mysteries, and we are ready and happy to be hooked, if the hook is there, we are on guard against a sales pitch, which must also disarm us.  
 
A totally different exercise in story-telling and the reason watching five hours of an enthralling drama, if you have the time, is never a chore, and watching a sales pitch of any duration is something you are programmed to mute and go take a mental piss during.  There is great art involved in crafting a winning sales pitch, as in telling an engaging story of any kind, and there are similarities in both kinds of storytelling, but differences too.   If you get paid to make commercial pitches, well, at least you get paid.  If you do them on spec, well, hopefully you enjoy a good challenge and love the work itself, eh pardner?

Heh.  I’m sorry, what were you saying, Dusty, old boy?

Creativity revisited

Why this obsession with creativity?  I do not sell mine, after all, why is creativity so important to me?

Never mind.  Not interesting right now.  I want to present John Cleese’s excellent observations about the necessary elements for creativity as concisely as possible.  I need it in a tiny nutshell, to add to a pitch to help me sell my program, which provides exactly those conditions to theoretical elementary school kids.

The great John Cleese describes five essential conditions for creativity:  place, start time, ending time, confidence and humor.   

For young children, who are naturally creative when given the slightest chance to be, we’ve reduced the formula to this:

Have fun and help each other.

You can’t have fun if people are bothering you.  Don’t bother anyone.  If you can’t help, don’t hurt.

When it’s time to be quiet for a minute or two, be quiet.

Place for creativity: how about a room filled with art materials and a camera stand to shoot frames? With a recorder to make soundtracks and a computer to assemble the animations.

Time:  ideally about two hours.   This allows for set-up and clean-up and leaves 90 minutes or so for time concerns to disappear.  The kids now have all the time in the world for leisurely play, letting things develop in their time, being comfortable with not much happening sometimes.  

Asked what she liked best about the workshop, the Idea Girl said “it gives you plenty of time.”    

Confidence is necessary, because if you think you can’t dance, or sing, or draw, or animate, you probably won’t be able to.  

What gives a person confidence?  Someone smiling and giving a thumbs up when the idea is presented.  

What takes away confidence?  Critical comments, ridicule, skepticism, indifference to your best efforts. 

The last part, humor, happens naturally in a room where children are playing, relaxed, involved, having fun, trying out the craziest ideas they can think of, not worried about anyone bothering them.  

It’s not unusual to hear participants laughing at the end of a session.

cold breeze in Cyberia

Facebook, which we’re told is indispensable for any business or would-be business, allowed me to quickly set up a page for my would-be business.  I had a kid managing it for a while, then it went fallow for a year or so.  I was able to update it when I wanted, but didn’t do it often.  If I’d managed to whip up excitement among 10,000 followers it would have been much easier to raise money through crowdfunding, but I had a few dozen and the effort of raising its facebook profile felt mostly wasted while I needed to work on so many other things.

I got a notice from Facebook a few months back informing me I wouldn’t be able to manage or administer the page I’d put up unless I signed up for a personal page.  I did this with reluctance and had “friend requests” from a few dozen people, some I’d known decades back.  

A friend request, it strikes me now, is such a poignant thing to call this transaction.   “Will you be my friend?”  cue visual of adorable little bear, bashful and wearing some kind of cute hate.  

Since I’ve set up my personal page I’ve been unable to post on my own business page, despite having done what facebook’s instructions had told me to.  “You do not have permission to do this,” it tells me.  Or, it lets me post something as a visitor, with my own first and last name visible. 

Taking a break from other things, I had an idea for a work around.  Create a new email address “loves to draw” or “dances with voles” and make that person an administrator.   Then “animation rules” could post to the page, instead of me personally, with my birthday 58 years ago also displayed.  It took only a few moments to find the “settings” tab referred to below and I set off to follow these seemingly simple instructions:

How do I give someone a role on my Page?

You’ll need to be an admin to give someone a role on your Page. If you’re an admin:

  1. Click Settings at the top of your Page.
  2. Click Page Roles in the left column.
  3. If the person is your Facebook friend, begin typing their name and select them from the list that appears. If the person isn’t your Facebook friend, type their email address.
  4. Click Admin to select a role from the dropdown menu.
  5. Click Save and enter your password to confirm.

Page Roles never came up on that settings page.  The left column, yes.  The next step I needed to follow?  No.   Must mean I am not an admin.    

Sekhnet, who has never been on facebook, suggested I call someone at facebook for help.   A friend who is active on facebook laughed, as I would too, if I were not busy gathering my coat around my neck as the cool breeze from the Cyberian tundra whips in.