Sense and Nonsense

Sweden: A Completely Different Way

Posted on March 15, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 10.14.40 PMMonocle’s  Interview Series talks with five political “heavyweights” is killing it. Posted earlier an excerpt with Sebastian Pinera, President of Chile. Next in line was Fedrick Reinfeldt, Prime Minister of Sweden.

Mr. Reinfeldt is center-right, in Euro politico-speak, which means that he runs a tad more conservative than the mainstream. But as we are talking about Sweden, in the US he would be “a dangerous leftie who would struggle to become a congressman in California.” To hear a moderate conservative speak in the following terms gives a glimpse of not just alternative ways of conceiving society, but also the possibility that US is the one after all who doesn’t have it right. Not as much American exceptionalism as American extremism. This is not news, of course: we have been the “vulgar capitalists” for years now.

But enough of that. At the center of Mr. Reinfeldt’s politics is that inequalities translate into an un-free society.

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M:You’ve accepted large numbers of Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Why is it important? Is it a moral issue?
FR: A richer part of the world should take its responsibility for poorer parts of the world. It is a moral thing. If you have a history in which people actually left because they were poor, because they had no future and were able to find a new future in another country, we should also make this possible in our generation for people who find themselves in the same kind of distress.

But it’s also for demographical and economical reasons. Sweden has an ageing population – my experts tell me that half of the children born in Sweden today will live to be 100 years old. And still many people would like to stop working at 65. So how do you create a pension system, welfare system that is sustainable? Since we do not have enough children born in this country, the answer must be to stand open for migrants to come into our society. So it is also for good economical reasons that we should stand open.

M:There were riots in Stockholm in May. Did it surprise you?
FR: For a long time we’ve seen the tensions between some suburbs with a high degree of immigrants. It’s very important to seek them out, to punish those who use a lot of violence. But also to say that this is a challenge, to give them the knowledge, to give them the hope for the future that they can reintegrate into society and to believe that they can get a job.

M:How would you define your politics?
FR: For Sweden it’s a clear will among the people to have high tax-paid welfare ambitions. What we have done is combine that with becoming a competitive economy, with a ‘put work first’ principle. So the combination of higher growth, more job-creating policies, together with the ambition to have widespread tax-paid welfare solutions, is the way forward.

For me, it is very clear that we would never accept that a large portion of our population should not have access to hospital care. We don’t want big inequalities because we think that having an inclusive society is about giving resources and possibilities to everyone.

But I believe that is centre-right thinking, that’s the end [result] of believing in freedom. Freedom in itself is a value but it must also mean each individual has the ability to rise and find their way to freedom. And if you have too many inequalities you will find large parts of the population in fact do not have the chances like everyone else. —image

Cause Soon ‘Nuff We’ll Die

Posted on March 14, 2014

So much silly controversy around a viral video that blew up the Web this week and showed an in-studio first kiss of ten pairs of strangers. The three-and-a-half-minute video, shot in black and white, moved a lot of people: 51 million in less than five days. That’s a lot of love.

But a backlash ensued. Contrarians for the most part, they took issue with the fact that the video was done as an Ad for a clothing company (of four employees!), and that some of the strangers were musicians and models (friends of the four people!). This group seemed sincerely outraged at the overwhelming positive feeling spawned by a simple conceit. This reaction was sad, really; they seem so . . . unhappy.

For the rest of us–or me at least–the immediate intimacy wasn’t surprising. It did not flow from some innate exhibitionism of would-be musicians and models, as some claimed. It was quite obviously because they were human, and in being so, we long for touch and can get lost in a moment. You can see it in the way each pair circled each other just prior to their embrace. And you can even see it in the one couple that didn’t quite get there.  I imagine that this exact dance plays out with some great frequency each Thursday, Friday and Saturday night across the globe. I’ve had my share. Of both.

But here’s the thing for me. The best part of the video, was the song. Soon to become that song. The Times reports it sold 10,000 copies in two days. I’ve just had it in a loop on YouTube . . .

Sebastián Piñera: His Greatest Lesson and the Wealthy

Posted on March 14, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-03-14 at 10.14.40 PMOutgoing President of Chile is a smart guy.  He reminds us that even when right, we must still persuade.  And we might fail.  Don’t give up.

He also reaffirms the need for equal education and jobs to end extreme inequality.  Things we know but are vigorously opposed by too many in this nation.

Monocle:What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned as president?
Sebastián Piñera: You learn to be more humble, more patient. You realise that you cannot get everything done immediately. That you have to negotiate and compromise. Even if you’re right, you have to spend a lot of time convincing people, arguing and trying to create majority support for your measures. And that’s something you don’t do in the private sector.

M:What level of sacrifice do you think the wealthy can make in Chile?
SP: More than what we have today. I am convinced that the real cause of poverty and extreme inequality is basically two [things]: lack of quality of education for everybody and lack of opportunities for good employment for everybody. That is why we have put our main efforts in those two areas.

The poor have to do their part too and not only rely on government policies. On top of that, of course, the people who have had better opportunities in life have to be more generous in terms of sharing those opportunities with other people who don’t have the same opportunities.

M:What’s the biggest national risk in Chile today?
SP: We might lose our will. I worry that people might start thinking they have a right to everything and start asking the government for everything. Freedom comes with responsibilities. If you teach everyone that they deserve everything for free, we won’t make it.

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10 Things Happy People Don’t Care For | Alden Tan

Posted on March 12, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 9.53.52 PMIn my own personal journey of trying to be a better person, I realised that it was all about aiming to be happy. Nothing more, nothing less. When you’re happy, you’re effectively better in every aspect of your life.

The second realisation is that happiness comes from shedding the unnecessary in life, as in you need to stop caring about certain things.

The third realisation? A lot of these unnecessary things are painfully obvious. More often than not, it’s plain common sense.

Here’s 10 things happy people don’t care for.

1. AGE

Indeed, age is just a number. And happy people know this for sure.

They don’t let this ever-increasing number define who they are and what they do.  They just do whatever it is they want!

Life is short. Before you know it, age catches up. You might as well make full use of life before your body actually reflects your age.

On a more candid note, I know of friends who are happy because they date people younger than them. They actually found true love despite the age gap.

2. CARING ABOUT WHAT OTHERS THINK OR SAY

This is one of the biggest blocks to our happiness.

Happy people don’t care for that. They recognise that the words of others are never accurate and should never judge them for who they are and what they’re capable of.

Instead, they block it out. They don’t allow such false illusions to get in the way of what it is they want to do or how they feel. Only what they think of themselves matter.

3. JOBS

That’s not to say happy people are unemployed.

The key idea is: You’re not your job.

Sure, a job is important for stability survival in today’s society. But other than that, your job scope and status at work should be left at the office. If you don’t, it’s going to seep into your everyday life and you’d end up feeling tired, bored or stressed out.

What matters more is your talent, passion and outlook on life. Allowing your job to take over any of that would only mean you’re allowing a label to define who you are.

4. FEAR

Fear is not real. Happy people know that.

With that, they know that the nervousness and anxiety that supposedly comes with fear are not real. They block it out, get out of their comfort zone, feel a little crazy and just do what they want anyway.

There’s just no point holding back in life just because you feel a little scared.

5. THE NEGATIVE STATE OF THE WORLD

There’s a lot of disturbing stuff going on out there. War, protests, riots, animals going extinct or innocent people having bad things happen to them.

Happy people don’t deny any of these, but they do a good job in making sure it doesn’t affect how they feel.

The happiest people I know simply focus on trying to make the world a better place, one small step at a time. They may not be able to create a revolution overnight, but they know that by showing a little kindness and compassion to our fellow man, the world is that much more positive already.

Don’t let the negative in life get to you. It’s not your fault others have made it this way.

6. TOXIC PEOPLE

“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with”.

Brilliant quote.

Ever had to deal with an annoying friend or somebody who’s just really self-destructive?

Dump them. It’s time to create a positive environment for yourself.

Happy people gain happiness from the people they are with and not just from within. This is an amazing life hack that most people overlook. If you’re feeling unhappy, take a look around. Sometimes it’s the people that are just dragging you down.

7. THE PAST OR THE FUTURE

The past does not exist, neither does the future.

If you want to be happy, you’ve got to let go of the past and move on with life. Learn from it and grow from it, then make sure you don’t repeat the same mistakes.

As for the future, happy people pretty much let go of expectations. .

When you let go of the past and future, then you can truly enjoy the present.

8. EXPECTING ANYTHING IN RETURN

Start doing things for the sake of doing things. Help others for the sake of being compassionate. The true reward is knowing that you’ve added positivity in others.

Happy people let go of always wanting something in return. That’s how they never get disappointed.

9. COMPLAINING

Complaining is the result of an unhappy life. Sometimes things don’t go your way. You can’t escape that.

But complaining is useless. Happy people know that. They’re instead, grateful for what they have and then they try to find the solution with a positive mindset.

10. CONFORMING TO SOCIETY’S STANDARDS

Just like age, there’re a lot of labels out there that try to define who we are. Expectations are always thrown at us and it can be pretty overwhelming at times.

Happy people don’t care for any of that. They take time their time. They look within and do what they want in life.

This is how happiness is created: Not doing things you don’t care for.

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About the Author: Alden Tan //  www.alden-tan.com

Alden Tan is both a breakdancer and a writer. He keeps it real at his blog when it comes to personal development and motivation, meaning to say, he’s pretty straight forward and he cuts through the fluff. Check out his free book, 12 Things Happy People Don’t Give a  F**k About.

Sunday Review | The Compassion Gap

Posted on March 9, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 5.12.39 PMSOME readers collectively hissed after I wrote a week ago about the need for early-childhood interventions to broaden opportunity in America. I focused on a 3-year-old boy in West Virginia named Johnny Weethee whose hearing impairment had gone undetected, leading him to suffer speech and development problems that may dog him for the rest of his life.

A photo of Johnny and his mom, Truffles Weethee, accompanied the column and readers honed in on Truffles’ tattoos and weight.

“You show a photograph of a fat woman with tons of tattoos all over that she paid for,” one caller said. “And then we — boohoo — have to worry about the fact that her children aren’t cared for properly?”

On Twitter, Amy was more polite: “My heart breaks for Johnny. I have to wonder if the $$ mom spent on tattoos could have been put to better use.”

“This is typical of the left,” Pancho scolded on my Facebook page. “It’s not anyone’s fault. Responsibility is somebody else’s problem.”

To me, such outrage at a doting mom based on her appearance suggests the myopic tendency in our country to blame poverty on the poor, to confuse economic difficulties with moral failures, to muddle financial lapses with ethical ones.

Credit Audrey Hall/Show of Force

Truffles Weethee has her son, Johnny, 3, in a Save the Children reading program. When her photo appeared in a column a week ago, readers saw reasons to criticize her instead of seeing the caring mom that she is.

There is an income gap in America, but just as important is a compassion gap. Plenty of successful people see a picture of a needy child and their first impulse is not to help but to reproach.

To break cycles of poverty, we have the tools to improve high school graduation rates, reduce teen pregnancies and increase employment. What we lack is the will to do so.

There may be neurological biases at work. A professor at Princeton found that our brains sometimes process images of people who are poor or homeless as if they were not humans but things.

Likewise, psychology experiments suggest that affluence may erode compassion. When research subjects are asked to imagine great wealth, or just look at a computer screen saver with money, they become less inclined to share or help others. That may be why the poorest 20 percent of Americans give away a larger share of their incomes than the wealthiest 20 percent.

The generosity of the poor always impresses me. In West Virginia, I visited a trailer that housed eight people and sometimes many more. A woman in the home, Lynmarie Sargent, 30, was once homeless with a month-old baby, and that discomfort and humiliation seared her so that she lets other needy families camp out in her trailer and eat. Sometimes she houses as many as 17.

Sargent is an unemployed former addict with a criminal record, struggling to stay clean of drugs, get a job and be a good mom. She has plenty to learn from middle-class Americans about financial planning, but wealthy people have plenty to learn from her about compassion.

A Pew survey this year found that a majority of Republicans, and almost one-third of Democrats, believe that if a person is poor the main reason is “lack of effort on his or her part.”

It’s true, of course, that the poor are sometimes lazy and irresponsible. So are the rich, with less consequence.

Critics note that if a person manages to get through high school and avoid drugs, crime and parenting outside of marriage, it’s often possible to escape poverty. Fair enough. But if you’re one of the one-fifth of children in West Virginia born with drugs or alcohol in your system, if you ingest lead from peeling paint as a toddler, if your hearing or vision impairments aren’t detected, if you live in a home with no books in a gang-ridden neighborhood with terrible schools — in all these cases, you’re programmed for failure as surely as children of professionals are programed for success.

So when kids in poverty stumble, it’s not quite right to say that they “failed.” Often, they never had a chance.

Researchers also find that financial stress sometimes impairs cognitive function, leading to bad choices. Indian farmers, for example, test higher for I.Q. after a harvest when they are financially secure. Alleviate financial worry, and you can gain 13 points in measured I.Q.

The tattoos that readers saw on Truffles are mostly old ones, predating Johnny, and she is passionate about helping him. That’s why she enrolled him in a Save the Children program that provides books that she reads to him every day. In that trailer in Appalachia, I don’t see a fat woman with tattoos; I see a loving mom who encapsulates any parent’s dreams for a child.

Johnny shouldn’t be written off at the age of 3 because of the straw he drew in the lottery of birth. To spread opportunity, let’s start by pointing fewer fingers and offering more helping hands.

Sunday Review | Don’t Quote Me on This | MARIA KONNIKOVA

Posted on March 9, 2014

Facilitating an “Impulse to Shortcut Actual Thought”

In providing access to information and knowledge that would have required a potentially, and for many, likely, preclusive amount of time, research and reading, the Internet shortcut has had equally perverse consequences as well.  It facilitates natural tendencies towards intellectual laziness, where we co-opt and substitute others’ hard wrought conclusions for our own, without the benefits of the intellectual rigor, hypothesizing and failing, refinement and evolution from which those conclusions sprang.  While we are busy manipulating others’ validation , we are missing nuances they discovered from developing it on our own.  Eager to take bits and pieces of what others’ have said for our own purposes, we pay little, if any, attention to the greater, potentially contradictory, context of those convenient “truths.”

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Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 11.40.37 AM“I HATE quotation. Tell me what you know,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his journal one spring day in 1849. He was talking about a very specific tendency. When we’re faced with an issue that’s meant to be thought provoking (in this particular case, immortality), we reach for the easy way out. “I notice,” he writes, “that as soon as writers broach this question, they begin to quote.” Quotation becomes a way not to add depth to your thinking, but to avoid thinking in the first place.

Tamara Shopsin

Welcome to the world of the Internet. What would Emerson have made of it? Examined from one perspective, it’s a place that provides endless fodder for the type of anti-thought he despised. He would have shuddered to find himself quoted and requoted millions of times (make that millions plus one), often with little understanding of who he was or what he stood for. Decontextualized knowledge — snippets that stream past as links, tweets, posts, memes — dominates.

But ask just about anyone, however stern a critic of online culture she may be, if she’d like the Internet to disappear tomorrow, and she would laugh in your face. Because the Internet is also a place where all of Emerson’s work is available and searchable. If you choose to delve deeply, the steppingstone for thought and analysis is there for the taking. It’s the dream of the Alexandrian library realized, only this time it can’t be destroyed by fire.

Like pretty much every other 20-something, I’m online constantly, from the moment I wake up to bedtime. My iPhone sleeps by my bed. I Twitter and I Facebook — so much that I use both as verbs. I grew up with neither cellphone nor television, but I’ve come to rely on our ability to stay connected. I need the Internet for my work. I need it for my research. I need it, often, for my sanity.

With one important caveat. When I need to write or think, I shut the whole thing down. Otherwise, it’s too easy to get sucked into the very sort of vortex Emerson warned against, to drift from fragment to fragment without pausing to consider the whole that any of them imply. I become a link zombie, mindlessly hungry for more: The lure of quotation wears me down.

The problem is one of limited time and energy meeting limitless content: knowledge being elbowed out by sheer information, context be damned.

Take this example. I’m writing an article on individual rights in politics. Gamely, I Google freedom quotes, which leads me to this one: “Liberty is precious.” Perfect. But what if I then learn that the speaker is Lenin? And that he immediately followed those sweet words with “so precious that it must be rationed”?

As it happens, my televisionless childhood came courtesy of my Russian immigrant parents, who fled the Soviet Union to make sure I avoided just such truisms, which become chilling once you realize their context.

In art, decontextualization can give an object new meaning. Artists from René Magritte onward have used it to great effect. We see a decontextualized object “in a new light.” In writing, though, that new meaning can be troubling.

When we strip away context, we strip away everything that enables us to determine what something really means. Words themselves become decorative — evocative, perhaps, but denuded of their essence. To recapture comprehension, a more classic touch is needed, a detailed picture, with precise strokes and every element fully rendered. There’s a reason the Soviets loved slogans.

Before the advent of the Internet, I would have had to read Lenin’s writing, heard it discussed, or seen it in a collection of quotations to know to even look for that particular excerpt. And had I done so? I probably never would have come across it. The first known reference to the phrase was in 1936, in Sidney and Beatrice Webb’s “Soviet Communism.” Lenin may well have never even said it. Now, however, the quote is its own free-floating pearl of wisdom.

Neil Postman, the author of “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” called this phenomenon “telegraphic discourse.” After the telegraph emerged, “ ‘knowing’ the facts took on a new meaning,” he wrote, “for it did not imply that one understood implications, background, or connections. Telegraphic discourse permitted no time for historical perspectives and gave no priority to the qualitative.”

So this is not a new problem. It’s endemic instead to a certain approach: the laziness of not really knowing what you’re looking for but hoping to find something that fits, the intellectual equivalent of mindlessly yanking open the fridge. I’m not sure what I think about immortality, so I’ll borrow from someone who’s done the heavy lifting and hope I find a ready match.

The Internet itself is not the culprit. It doesn’t quote people on its own or force you to quote yourself. And yet online, the problem multiplies almost despite our best intentions. The Internet invites quotation. Even if you start with a specific, complete thought in mind, vowing to use the web as a resource rather than a crutch, you are often pulled into the game in spite of yourself.

The qualities that thrive online are the qualities of speed: being first and being quick. Want a post to be shared on Facebook? One study shows that the shorter you can make it, the better your chances of success. Consider the new trend of tl;dr (too long; didn’t read). The premium on brevity and immediacy is anathema to context, and perfect for cherry picking. Who shares nuance?

Emerson didn’t hate quotation, not really. What he hated was our impulse to shortcut actual thought. The Internet didn’t create that impulse, but it has made it far more tempting and easier to satisfy.

Emerson could have told us that, too. It was he who warned us, after all, that “he who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself.” Even in Emerson’s time, we were link zombies, wandering from morsel to morsel to see what we could glean. His solution? Carry your context with you; make sure that even as you flit from sight to sight then or site to site now, you do so thoughtfully, with your own “self-culture,” as Emerson called it, ever in mind. Only then can you be someone who “visits cities and men like a sovereign, and not like an interloper or a valet.”

Maria Konnikova is the author of “Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes.”

A Commercial We Hate to Love: Cadillac’s “In America, We Work Hard”

Posted on March 8, 2014

Cadillac’s electric hybrid commercial is incredibly effective.

It chills. Inspires. It’s arrogant. It is justified American smugness.

And it fills the quintessential longing: it tells us who we are. Americans are in constant, desperate need of reassuring and validation: our fundamental choices are right; our great sacrifices are justified; these make us better than everyone else. So, when we hear those choices asserted defiantly, without reservation or equivocation, by a quintessential American actor Neal McDonough, it’s enough to make you . . . proud. “We are Americans, dammit. And this makes us, not you, great.”

Even the cynical and critical amongst us must collect and marshal their thoughts in opposition against the sentiments so passionately evoked to recognize the essential message–the predominant focus on work and materials–may not be healthy much less ideal.  And to take it further, that the reality of the commercial (a $70-80k coupe) makes it inaccessible to the overwhelming majority of Americans.  The rest are numbed by the narcotic reinforcement of the American myth of hard work, wild success and the guaranteed connection between the two.

Yeah, I’m American dammit, regardless of everything else.

Transcript:

Why do we work so hard?  For what? For this (showing a large swimming pool in the back yard)?  For stuff?  Other countries, they work, they stroll home, the stop by the cafe, they take August off.  Off! Why aren’t you like that?  Why aren’t we like that?

Because we’re crazy, driven, hard-working believers, that’s why.  Those other countries think we’re nuts. Whatever.  Were the Wright Brothers insane? Bill Gates, Les Paul, Ali? Were we nuts when we pointed to the moon?  That’s right, we went up there and you know what we got? Bored. So we left. Got a car up there and we left the keys in it, do you know why? Because we’re the only ones going back up there, that’s why. 

But I digress. You work hard, you create your own luck, and you gotta believe anything is possible.  As for all the stuff. That’s the upside of only taking two weeks off in August.  N’est-ce pas?

Why Creative Geniuses Often Keep a Messy Desk | lifehacker

Posted on March 8, 2014

Why Creative Geniuses Often Keep a Messy Desk

Why Creative Geniuses Often Keep a Messy Desk

Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, and Mark Twain. What is one thing these three visionaries have in common? They all had very messy workspaces.

This post originally appeared on the Busy Building Things Blog.

These three game-changers were never ones to follow the crowd. We can see this by how unconventionally disorganized their desks are. There was a method to this madness: under the mass of papers, magazines, and various objects, there is a sense of organization only the creator can operate through.

Here are some other creative powerhouses that have messy desks:

Why Creative Geniuses Often Keep a Messy Desk

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook hard at work on product. (Image via Tiphereth.)

Why Creative Geniuses Often Keep a Messy Desk

Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, with everything ranging from books on culture to cowboy hats. (Image via Complex.)

Why Creative Geniuses Often Keep a Messy Desk

Max Levchin, co-founder and former CTO of PayPal. (Image via Complex.)

Other notable creatives with astonishingly messy desks include programmer and codebreaker Alan Turing, discoverer of penicillin Alexander Fleming, as well as painter Francis Bacon.

Environments have historically played a major factor in how creative our minds are. For example, when he was trying to create the first polio vaccine, medical researcher and virologist Jonas Salk went to the monastery at the Basilica of Assisi in Umbria, Italy and explained in his later days that this environment change helped contribute to the discovery. It doesn’t necessarily take such a massive change to prompt creativity; rather, the key to a more creative state of mind can be found right at our desks.

Recently, a study conducted by the University of Minnesota found that people with a messy desk were more prone to creativity and risk taking, while people at cleaner desks tended to follow strict rules and were less likely to try new things or take risks. Dr. Vohs and her co-authors conclude in the study, “Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights.”

Calibrating Creativity and Efficiency

Rather than leaving a desk in a state of constant messiness, it can be helpful to modify the environment as it suits our needs. Think of messiness and cleanliness as a spectrum that also has a corresponding creativity setting.

The study in the University of Minnesota featured an experiment where respondents with clean desks chose apples over candy bars, and selected more established solutions over new ones. When you’re generating ideas and concepts, it could help to have a messier desk. However, when you’re trying to be productive, getting a specific task accomplished, or simply need to execute on a creative concept, cleaning your desk can “trade in” your creativity for efficiency.

In case you are trying to be more creative, here are some ideas: instead of throwing out those magazines right after you’re done with them, leave them hanging around your desk. Don’t shelf those books yet. Keep anything that could potentially inspire you (including art prints). “There are two types of messy environments,” Vohs said in an interview with NY Daily News. “One is unkempt and one is dirty. I don’t think these results suggest leaving around banana peels and dirty dishes for a week.”

Social Perceptions

This creativity comes with a social cost: as staffing firm Adecco discovered, the majority of our colleagues and peers judge us based on how clean (or dirty) our desks are. Should your desk be left in a perpetually messy state, “They think that you must be a slob in your real life,” says Adecco’s VP of Recruiting Jennie Dede in an interview with Forbes.2

While remaining hygienic would minimize the possibility of this scenario, here’s another reason not to leave your desk in a constant mess. Adjust it along the spectrum between the ends of creativity and efficiency. Be aware of the impression you may be giving to colleagues, but don’t be afraid to explain your reasons for an intentionally messy desk—you’ve got anecdotal and empirical evidence right here.

Closing Thoughts

Starting at very early ages, we have been trained to clean up our toys and make our beds. But perhaps our mothers had it wrong. As you can see from the examples above, messy environments can enhance our creativity by letting our lives get a little messy.

18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently | Carolyn Gregoire

Posted on March 8, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-03-08 at 11.52.43 AM“It’s actually hard for creative people to know themselves because the creative self is more complex than the non-creative self,” Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at New York University who has spent years researching creativity, told The Huffington Post. “The things that stand out the most are the paradoxes of the creative self … Imaginative people have messier minds.”

While there’s no “typical” creative type, there are some tell-tale characteristics and behaviors of highly creative people.

Here are 18 things they do differently.

They daydream.

Although daydreaming may seem mindless, a 2012 study suggested it could actually involve a highly engaged brain state — daydreaming can lead to sudden connections and insights because it’s related to our ability to recall information in the face of distractions. Neuroscientists have also found that daydreaming involves the same brain processes associated with imagination and creativity.

They observe everything.

The world is a creative person’s oyster — they see possibilities everywhere and are constantly taking in information that becomes fodder for creative expression. As Henry James is widely quoted, a writer is someone on whom “nothing is lost.”

The writer Joan Didion kept a notebook with her at all times, and said that she wrote down observations about people and events as, ultimately, a way to better understand the complexities and contradictions of her own mind:

“However dutifully we record what we see around us, the common denominator of all we see is always, transparently, shamelessly, the implacable ‘I,'” Didion wrote in her essay On Keeping A Notebook. “We are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its marker.”

They work the hours that work for them.

Many great artists have said that they do their best work either very early in the morning or late at night. Vladimir Nabokov started writing immediately after he woke up at 6 or 7 a.m., and Frank Lloyd Wright made a practice of waking up at 3 or 4 a.m. and working for several hours before heading back to bed. No matter when it is, individuals with high creative output will often figure out what time it is that their minds start firing up, and structure their days accordingly.

They take time for solitude.

“In order to be open to creativity, one must have the capacity for constructive use of solitude. One must overcome the fear of being alone,” wrote the American existential psychologist Rollo May.

“You need to get in touch with that inner monologue to be able to express it,” he says. “It’s hard to find that inner creative voice if you’re … not getting in touch with yourself and reflecting on yourself.”

They turn life’s obstacles around.

“A lot of people are able to use that as the fuel they need to come up with a different perspective on reality,” says Kaufman. “What’s happened is that their view of the world as a safe place, or as a certain type of place, has been shattered at some point in their life, causing them to go on the periphery and see things in a new, fresh light, and that’s very conducive to creativity.”

They seek out new experiences.

“Openness to experience is consistently the strongest predictor of creative achievement. This consists of lots of different facets, but they’re all related to each other: Intellectual curiosity, thrill seeking, openness to your emotions, openness to fantasy. The thing that brings them all together is a drive for cognitive and behavioral exploration of the world, your inner world and your outer world.”

They “fail up.”

Resilience is practically a prerequisite for creative success, says Kaufman. Doing creative work is often described as a process of failing repeatedly until you find something that sticks, and creatives — at least the successful ones — learn not to take failure so personally.

“Creatives fail and the really good ones fail often,” Forbes contributor Steven Kotler wrote in a piece on Einstein’s creative genius.

They ask the big questions.

Creative people are insatiably curious — they generally opt to live the examined life, and even as they get older, maintain a sense of curiosity about life. Whether through intense conversation or solitary mind-wandering, creatives look at the world around them and want to know why, and how, it is the way it is.

They people-watch.

Observant by nature and curious about the lives of others, creative types often love to people-watch — and they may generate some of their best ideas from it.

“[Marcel] Proust spent almost his whole life people-watching, and he wrote down his observations, and it eventually came out in his books,” says Kaufman. “For a lot of writers, people-watching is very important … They’re keen observers of human nature.”

They take risks.

Part of doing creative work is taking risks, and many creative types thrive off of taking risks in various aspects of their lives.

“There is a deep and meaningful connection between risk taking and creativity and it’s one that’s often overlooked,” contributor Steven Kotler wrote in Forbes. “Creativity is the act of making something from nothing. It requires making public those bets first placed by imagination. This is not a job for the timid. Time wasted, reputation tarnished, money not well spent — these are all by-products of creativity gone awry.”

They view all of life as an opportunity for self-expression.

Nietzsche believed that one’s life and the world should be viewed as a work of art. Creative types may be more likely to see the world this way, and to constantly seek opportunities for self-expression in everyday life.

“Creative expression is self-expression,” says Kaufman. “Creativity is nothing more than an individual expression of your needs, desires and uniqueness.”

They follow their true passions.

Creative people tend to be intrinsically motivated — meaning that they’re motivated to act from some internal desire, rather than a desire for external reward or recognition. Psychologists have shown that creative people are energized by challenging activities, a sign of intrinsic motivation, and the research suggests that simply thinking of intrinsic reasons to perform an activity may be enough to boost creativity.

“Eminent creators choose and become passionately involved in challenging, risky problems that provide a powerful sense of power from the ability to use their talents,” write M.A. Collins and T.M. Amabile in The Handbook of Creativity.

They get out of their own heads.

Kaufman argues that another purpose of daydreaming is to help us to get out of our own limited perspective and explore other ways of thinking, which can be an important asset to creative work.

“Daydreaming has evolved to allow us to let go of the present,” says Kaufman. “The same brain network associated with daydreaming is the brain network associated with theory of mind — I like calling it the ‘imagination brain network’ — it allows you to imagine your future self, but it also allows you to imagine what someone else is thinking.”

They lose track of the time.

Creative types may find that when they’re writing, dancing, painting or expressing themselves in another way, they get “in the zone,” or what’s known as a flow state, which can help them to create at their highest level. Flow is a mental state when an individual transcends conscious thought to reach a heightened state of effortless concentration and calmness. When someone is in this state, they’re practically immune to any internal or external pressures and distractions that could hinder their performance.

They surround themselves with beauty.

Creatives tend to have excellent taste, and as a result, they enjoy being surrounded by beauty.

They connect the dots.

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

They constantly shake things up.

Diversity of experience, more than anything else, is critical to creativity, says Kaufman. Creatives like to shake things up, experience new things, and avoid anything that makes life more monotonous or mundane.

“Creative people have more diversity of experiences, and habit is the killer of diversity of experience,” says Kaufman.

They make time for mindfulness.

Creative types understand the value of a clear and focused mind — because their work depends on it. Many artists, entrepreneurs, writers and other creative workers, such as David Lynch, have turned to meditation as a tool for tapping into their most creative state of mind.

Carolyn Gregoire

Putin Will Ultimately Lose — Unless We Prevent Him

Posted on March 5, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-03-05 at 10.05.02 PMJust as we’ve turned the coverage of politics into sports, we’re doing the same with geopolitics. There is much nonsense being written about how Vladimir Putin showed how he is “tougher” than Barack Obama and how Obama now needs to demonstrate his manhood. This is how great powers get drawn into the politics of small tribes and end up in great wars that end badly for everyone. We vastly exaggerate Putin’s strength — so does he — and we vastly underestimate our own strength, and ability to weaken him through nonmilitary means.

Let’s start with Putin. Any man who actually believes, as Putin has said, that the breakup of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century is caught up in a dangerous fantasy that can’t end well for him or his people. The Soviet Union died because Communism could not provide rising standards of living, and its collapse actually unleashed boundless human energy all across Eastern Europe and Russia. A wise Putin would have redesigned Russia so its vast human talent could take advantage of all that energy. He would be fighting today to get Russia into the European Union, not to keep Ukraine out. But that is not who Putin is and never will be. He is guilty of the soft bigotry of low expectations toward his people and prefers to turn Russia into a mafia-run petro-state — all the better to steal from.

So Putin is now fighting human nature among his own young people and his neighbors — who both want more E.U. and less Putinism. To put it in market terms, Putin is long oil and short history. He has made himself steadily richer and Russia steadily more reliant on natural resources rather than its human ones. History will not be kind to him — especially if energy prices ever collapse.

So spare me the Putin-body-slammed-Obama prattle. This isn’t All-Star Wrestling. The fact that Putin has seized Crimea, a Russian-speaking zone of Ukraine, once part of Russia, where many of the citizens prefer to be part of Russia and where Russia has a major naval base, is not like taking Poland. I support economic and diplomatic sanctions to punish Russia for its violation of international norms and making clear that harsher sanctions, even military aid for Kiev, would ensue should Putin try to bite off more of Ukraine. But we need to remember that that little corner of the world is always going to mean more, much more, to Putin than to us, and we should refrain from making threats on which we’re not going to deliver.

What disturbs me about Crimea is the larger trend it fits into, that Putinism used to just be a threat to Russia but is now becoming a threat to global stability. I opposed expanding NATO toward Russia after the Cold War, when Russia was at its most democratic and least threatening. It remains one of the dumbest things we’ve ever done and, of course, laid the groundwork for Putin’s rise.

For a long time, Putin has exploited the humiliation and anti-Western attitudes NATO expansion triggered to gain popularity, but this seems to have become so fundamental to his domestic politics that it has locked him into a zero-sum relationship with the West that makes it hard to see how we collaborate with him in more serious trouble spots, like Syria or Iran. President Bashar al-Assad of Syria is engaged in monstrous, genocidal behavior that also threatens the stability of the Middle East. But Putin stands by him. At least half the people of Ukraine long to be part of Europe, but he treated that understandable desire as a NATO plot and quickly resorted to force.

I don’t want to go to war with Putin, but it is time we expose his real weakness and our real strength. That, though, requires a long-term strategy — not just fulminating on “Meet the Press.” It requires going after the twin pillars of his regime: oil and gas. Just as the oil glut of the 1980s, partly engineered by the Saudis, brought down global oil prices to a level that helped collapse Soviet Communism, we could do the same today to Putinism by putting the right long-term policies in place. That is by investing in the facilities to liquefy and export our natural gas bounty (provided it is extracted at the highest environmental standards) and making Europe, which gets 30 percent of its gas from Russia, more dependent on us instead. I’d also raise our gasoline tax, put in place a carbon tax and a national renewable energy portfolio standard — all of which would also help lower the global oil price (and make us stronger, with cleaner air, less oil dependence and more innovation).

You want to frighten Putin? Just announce those steps. But you know the story, the tough guys in Washington who want to take on Putin would rather ask 1 percent of Americans — the military and their families — to make the ultimate sacrifice than have all of us make a small sacrifice in the form of tiny energy price increases. Those tough guys who thump their chests in Congress but run for the hills if you ask them to vote for a 10-cent increase in the gasoline tax that would actually boost our leverage, they’ll never rise to this challenge. We’ll do anything to expose Putin’s weakness; anything that isn’t hard. And you wonder why Putin holds us in contempt?

Brace Yourself for Maureen Dowd

Posted on March 2, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-03-02 at 2.10.06 PMSometimes Maureen Dowd can be just mean. And so flawed, sometimes even more so than the people she criticizes. This was the case in her most recent take down of Hillary Rodham Clinton. To be clear, I too am critical of HRC, and I believe Ms. Dowd is an invaluable voice of bringing such criticisms to the fore, although maybe in a different way than she thinks: it serves to keep Ms. Clinton honest, and more in line with what I perceive are her fundamental principles.

Picking and choosing as she will (which is usually an ominous sign and a method lending itself to a self-serving and imbalanced narrative), Ms. Dowd highlights what seems to me to be some pretty fundamental and essential, if not unfortunate, features of current political life: 1) politicians must be constantly aware of and vigilant regarding their public image, 2) everything politicians do, publicly and privately, goes into the determination of their image, and 3) this reality causes their consultants and staff to micromanage public and private details at a painful, seemingly laughable (but only if not cognizant of how this really, really does matter) level.

Still, Ms. Dowd mocks HRC & Co. for stuff like actually paying attention to the potential messages flowing from her twentieth wedding anniversary  and calculating the best way to deal with President Clinton’s shortcomings. For the latter, Dowd parades out Monica Lewinsky again. Here is when it gets humorous because Dowd actually criticizes the assessment that a woman who kept kept and herself parades out a semen stained dress (I mean, truly, how does that realistically manage to happen) is not, as described by many, including HRC, a bit of an ego- or “erotomaniac,” “nutty and slutty.” And, yes, it is not a stretch that the former President tried to distance himself from her as quickly as possible once this became clear.

Still, not unexpectedly, Ms. Dowd reaches her intended destination:

It’s hard to understand why so many calculations are needed to seem “real,” just as it’s hard to understand how Hillary veers from feminist positions to un-feminist ones.

Ms. Dowd should know, for chrissakes, that being real doesn’t always faithfully translate in the press. Such is the incessant, near vapid picking over of everything done by HRC and others, and the constant warping, decontextualizing, manipulation and morphing by the pundits, operatives, opponents, and opportunists, not to mention the press, some of whom misrepresent and mislead to reinforce their political message. To not be obsessively aware, to not attempt to minimize and neutralize the entrenched critics, would not only be foolish but political suicide. Lawyers call it malpractice. Yes, the Clinton’s have been around for awhile and it is likely because they get this and do this better than anyone else. Certainly Ms. Dowd must get this too, right?

The real question is, towards what aims? For the rest of us occupying the same political sphere as I think Ms. Dowd does, those aims are true.

And for the record, the “issue about her that is so troubling and hard to fathom,” namely, as Ms. Dowd describes it, being both tireless and talented public servant and tired yet insecure and defensive is because (insert drum roll here), Ms. Rodham Clinton is, well, kinda human. She is not perfect. None of us are. God knows, none of our politicians nor our press are; and neither are you. But Secretary Clinton’s talents offset her weaknesses absolutely and relatively, meaning, her balance is better than most. And I, for one, am glad that her handlers are there to help her get it right. Or at least better.

©Copyright TW Matters™ 2014

NYT SundayReview | What You Learn in Your 40s | Pamela Druckerman

Posted on March 1, 2014

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PARIS — IF all goes according to plan, I’ll turn 44 soon after this column appears. So far in my adult life, I’ve never managed to grasp a decade’s main point until long after it was over. It turns out that I wasn’t supposed to spend my 20s frantically looking for a husband; I should have been building my career and enjoying my last gasp of freedom. I then spent my 30s ruminating on grievances accumulated in my 20s.

This time around, I’d like to save time by figuring out the decade while I’m still in it. Entering middle age in Paris — the world’s epicenter of existentialism — isn’t terribly helpful. With their signature blend of subtlety and pessimism, the French carve up midlife into the “crisis of the 40s,” the “crisis of the 50s” and the “noonday demon” (described by one French writer as “when a man in his 50s falls in love with the babysitter”).

The modern 40s are so busy it’s hard to assess them. Researchers describe the new “rush hour of life,” when career and child-rearing peaks collide. Today’s 40ish professionals are the DITT generation: double income, toddler twins.

The existing literature treats the 40s as transitional. Victor Hugo supposedly called 40 “the old age of youth.” In Paris, it’s when waiters start calling you “Madame” without an ironic wink. The conventional wisdom is that you’re still reasonably young, but that everything is declining: health, fertility, the certainty that you will one day read “Hamlet” and know how to cook leeks. Among my peers there’s a now-or-never mood: We still have time for a second act, but we’d better get moving on it.

I think the biggest transition of the 40s is realizing that we’ve actually, improbably, managed to learn and grow a bit. In another 10 years, our 40-something revelations will no doubt seem naïve (“Ants can see molecules!” a man told me in college).

But for now, to cement our small gains, here are some things we know today that we didn’t know a decade ago:

If you worry less about what people think of you, you can pick up an astonishing amount of information about them. You no longer leave conversations wondering what just happened. Other people’s minds and motives are finally revealed.

People are constantly trying to shape how you view them. In certain extreme cases, they seem to be transmitting a personal motto, such as “I have a relaxed parenting style!”; “I earn in the low six figures!”; “I’m authentic and don’t try to project an image!”

•Eight hours of continuous, unmedicated sleep is one of life’s great pleasures. Actually, scratch “unmedicated.”

•There are no grown-ups. We suspect this when we are younger, but can confirm it only once we are the ones writing books and attending parent-teacher conferences. Everyone is winging it, some just do it more confidently.

•There are no soul mates. Not in the traditional sense, at least. In my 20s someone told me that each person has not one but 30 soul mates walking the earth. (“Yes,” said a colleague, when I informed him of this, “and I’m trying to sleep with all of them.”) In fact, “soul mate” isn’t a pre-existing condition. It’s an earned title. They’re made over time.

•You will miss out on some near soul mates. This goes for friendships, too. There will be unforgettable people with whom you have shared an excellent evening or a few days. Now they live in Hong Kong, and you will never see them again. That’s just how life is.

•Emotional scenes are tiring and pointless. At a wedding many years ago, an older British gentleman who found me sulking in a corner helpfully explained that I was having a G.E.S. — a Ghastly Emotional Scene. In your 40s, these no longer seem necessary. For starters, you’re not invited to weddings anymore. And you and your partner know your ritual arguments so well, you can have them in a tenth of the time.

•Forgive your exes, even the awful ones. They were just winging it, too.

•When you meet someone extremely charming, be cautious instead of dazzled. By your 40s, you’ve gotten better at spotting narcissists before they ruin your life. You know that “nice” isn’t a sufficient quality for friendship, but it’s a necessary one.

•People’s youthful quirks can harden into adult pathologies. What’s adorable at 20 can be worrisome at 30 and dangerous at 40. Also, at 40, you see the outlines of what your peers will look like when they’re 70.

•More about you is universal than not universal. My unscientific assessment is that we are 95 percent cohort, 5 percent unique. Knowing this is a bit of a disappointment, and a bit of a relief.

•But you find your tribe. Jerry Seinfeld said in an interview last year that his favorite part of the Emmy Awards was when the comedy writers went onstage to collect their prize. “You see these gnome-like cretins, just kind of all misshapen. And I go, ‘This is me. This is who I am. That’s my group.’ ” By your 40s, you don’t want to be with the cool people; you want to be with your people.

•Just say “no.” Never suggest lunch with people you don’t want to have lunch with. They will be much less disappointed than you think.

•You don’t have to decide whether God exists. Maybe he does and maybe he doesn’t. But when you’re already worrying that the National Security Agency is reading your emails (and as a foreigner in France, that you’re constantly breaking unspoken cultural rules), it’s better not to know whether yet another entity is watching you.

Finally, a few more tips gleaned from four decades of experience:

•Do not buy those too-small jeans, on the expectation that you will soon lose weight.

If you are invited to lunch with someone who works in the fashion industry, do not wear your most “fashionable” outfit. Wear black.

•If you like the outfit on the mannequin, buy exactly what’s on the mannequin. Do not try to recreate the same look by yourself.

•It’s O.K. if you don’t like jazz.

•When you’re wondering whether she’s his daughter or his girlfriend, she’s his girlfriend.

•When you’re unsure if it’s a woman or a man, it’s a woman.

Pamela Druckerman is the author of “Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting,” and a contributing opinion writer.

Song of the Year (2013): San Fermin’s Sonsick

Posted on February 17, 2014

It is difficult to reproduce Sonsick live. Listening to the several live, YouTubed versions of the song, I’d say the band is batting about three or four out of five, but probably closer to three. Then there was the essentially disastrous outing of the song during the unplugged NPR Tiny Desk Concert. This might have been enough to break some bands, at least caused many to take a pass.

Not to suggest that the formal recording itself was doctored in anyway. Rae Cassidy can simply blow. But the extraordinary, magnificent extreme she can reach is just hard to do, particularly when accompanied by the sometimes screechy sometimes pitchy falsettos of her bandmates. (On an aside, I do hope she is taking good care of that marvelous voice because the demands of that song strikes me as something that can be damaging.)

When I see her walk up to the microphone each time on YouTube (and during my own live concert experience), I get the feeling that she is a bundle of nerves, not knowing what will come out but quite aware of our overbuilt expectations for the song.

Sonsick is marvelous in its obscure lyrics, which I still refuse to look up and clarify, thus maintaining maximum space for individual interpretation. We each can make of it what we want. And since, at its core, it is an anthem, we’ve been able to roar along with the band as we project our feelings of grief, happiness, loneliness, and joy.

Far more than anything I’ve heard this past year, Sonsick is 2013’s Song of the Year.

©Copyright TW Matters™ 2014

Such a Muppet: Good Luck JF

Posted on February 9, 2014

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It’s hard to view Friday night’s Late Night With Jimmy Fallon as a true farewell, since all Fallon is doing is getting the ultimate promotion to The Tonight Show. And he’s taking everybody with him.

And yet it is an ending. It’s an ending to a five-year tenure that started in the shadow of a lot of skeptics () and a lot of criticism. What I said then was that LNJF‘s success or failure would be determined by whether his show had “a distinct point of view.”

It’s funny now — those words surprised even me when I reread them, because I had forgotten over the course of five years that I didn’t know in 2009 that Jimmy Fallon even had an animating principle, let alone know that it would turn out to be joy, which is the animating principle of entirely too little of popular culture. In fact, the show turned out to be, much of the time, all point of view. Less plugging, more beer pong. Less anecdote-sharing, more getting Tom Cruise to break eggs on his head. It’s 12:30 in the morning, this show always seemed to be saying. You can learn stuff tomorrow. Everybody here likes each other.

So while Fallon isn’t leaving, exactly, this will be a new phase, in which he will be compared to Leno, and Carson, and Jack Paar, and his ratings will be examined in a way they haven’t ever been before, and Leno will probably pop up somewhere else doing somewhere else and kidding on the square about how unfair it is that he got “fired.” And the show’s ability to live in a bubble where all it had to be was animated by unceasing happiness will be imperiled for a while by a kind of scrutiny that the 12:30 a.m. slot just doesn’t invite.

He staged his goodbye as a performance of “The Weight” with The Muppets, which continues perhaps the best LNJF tradition of all: that of making really good, really strange choices that somehow, in retrospect, are perfect. We could have sat around trading ideas, the rest of us who don’t live in that bubble, for a year, and we’d never have come up with “he should sing ‘The Weight’ with The Muppets.” But now that I’ve seen it, I can’t possibly imagine it being anything else.

Because Jimmy Fallon lives on joy, and joy is not solitary. It’s why he’s not at his strongest in plain monologue delivery, and it’s why every single good bit he has is fundamentally a collaboration. Even something like “Thank You Notes,” which seems to be just him reading cards, has morphed into a silly little dance he does with the keyboard player.

Fallon needs other people — that’s why it makes all the sense in the world that he closed this chapter in a sea of Muppets, sitting at a drum set in the back. And the balance between sincerity and goofery, which is the balance that his show has mastered almost from day one, is perfectly encapsulated in the fact that on the one hand, this is sort of warm and sweet, and on the other hand, Animal keeps popping out yelling “AAAAAND!” and Beaker sings harmony.

As I’ve said a bunch of times, the precise quality that could make Fallon irritating on Saturday Night Live — the inability not to laugh during sketches — was a glimpse at why his late-night show has been so utterly delightful. He gets so jazzed about things, and he’s so energized by the presence of other humans, that he has the poker face of a five-year-old. He laughs, and somebody else laughs, and then everybody laughs more. It’s not everybody’s thing, but boy, it’s been mine.

Phil

Posted on February 5, 2014

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Paola Kudacki for TIME

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“So it’s in that spirit that I’d like to say this: Phil Hoffman, this kind, decent, magnificent, thunderous actor, who was never outwardly “right” for any role but who completely dominated the real estate upon which every one of his characters walked, did not die from an overdose of heroin — he died from heroin. We should stop implying that if he’d just taken the proper amount then everything would have been fine.

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Paola Kudacki for TIME

He didn’t die because he was partying too hard or because he was depressed — he died because he was an addict on a day of the week with a y in it. He’ll have his well-earned legacy — his Willy Loman that belongs on the same shelf with Lee J. Cobb’s and Dustin Hoffman’s, his Jamie Tyrone, his Truman Capote and his Academy Award. Let’s add to that 10 people who were about to die who won’t now.

Café Girl: The Tutor

Posted on February 2, 2014

She was tutoring some sort of science, maybe med school. In a near-empty La Pain Quotidien on a Saturday evening, I was in my normal spot at the center, farm table.  She sat right in front of me. There’s a rule I came up with over the years. If someone sits next to you, talk to them.

She was soon joined by the student who, more classic in her beauty, could not touch her. Elegant, sophisticated yet simple, could not take your eyes off of her. That is a Café Girl.

I think our eyes met a good twelve times.

And then . . . she left.

The Young White Faces of Slavery

Posted on February 1, 2014

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Library of Congress

“Rebecca, Charley & Rosa, slave children from New Orleans.” Charles Paxson, photographer, N.Y. Albumen print on carte de visite, c. 1864.

Library of Congress

“Isaac & Rosa, slave children from New Orleans.” M.H. Kimball, photographer. Albumen print on carte de visite, c. 1863.

Library of Congress

“Oh! How I Love the Old Flag!, Rebecca, a slave girl from New Orleans.” Charles Paxson, photographer, N.Y. Albumen print on carte de visite, c. 1864.

37 Life Lessons in 37 Years | Dawn Gluskin

Posted on January 28, 2014

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  1. Happiness comes from within. We spend way too much of our lives looking for outside validation and approval that eludes us. Turns out, it’s been an inside job all along. Go inward.
  2. Be grateful for everything. The good, the bad, the ugly. Our entire life is a precious gift. The pleasure, the pain — it’s all part of our path.
  3. Subtle shifts in perception will transform your entire life. When feeling fearful, angry, hurt, simply choose to see a situation differently.
  4. In being true to yourself, you can’t possibly make everybody else happy. Still, it’s better to risk being disliked for living your truth than to be loved for what you are pretending to be.
  5. The world is our mirror. What we love in others is a reflection of what we love about ourselves. What upsets us about others is a strong indication of what we need to look at more closely within ourselves.
  6. Everybody comes into our life for a reason. It is up to us to be open to the lesson they are meant to teach. The more someone rubs us the wrong way, the greater the lesson. Take notes.
  7. Trust. In troubled times, just know that the Universe has your back and everything is going to be alright. If you’re not there yet, trust in hindsight you will understand. Your higher good is being supported, always.
  8. Never take things personally. What others do is a reflection of what’s going on in their own life and probably has little or nothing to do with you.
  9. A walk in nature cures a lot. Taking in some fresh air and the beautiful landscape of this earth is amazingly head-clearing, grounding, and mood-lifting. Bonus: You can learn a whole lot about life in your observation of the awesomeness which is nature.
  10. Hurt people hurt people. Love them anyway. Although, it’s totally okay to love them from a distance.
  11. You have to feel it to heal it. Bring your fears and weaknesses front and center and shine a blazing spotlight on them because the only way out is through. The hurt of facing the truth is SO worth it in the long run, I swear.
  12. Perfectionism is an illusion. A painful one at that. Ease up. Strive for excellence, sure, but allow yourself room to make mistakes and permission to be happy regardless of outcome.
  13. Take the blinders off. Don’t become so laser-focused on your own goals and desires that you miss out on the beauty in life and the people around you. The world is stunningly beautiful when you walk around with eyes wide open.
  14. Celebrate the journey. It’s not all about the destination. Savor all of your successes, even the small ones.
  15. Forgiveness is not so much about the other person. It’s about you and for you so that you can gain the peace and freedom you deserve. Forgive quickly and often.
  16. We are all incredibly intuitive. When we learn to become still and listen, we can tap into some pretty amazing primal wisdom. Listen to the quiet whisper of your heart. It knows the way.
  17. Let your soul shine! Be authentic. There is nobody else on this earth just like you. Step into your truth wholeheartedly and live and breathe your purpose.
  18. We are powerful creators. Seriously, bad-asses. With intention, focus, and persistence — anything is possible. Know this.
  19. I am full of light. You are full of light. We are all full of light. Some cast shadows on their own brightness. Be a beacon of light to others and show them the way.
  20. Don’t take life too seriously! Nobody gets out alive anyway. Smile. Be goofy. Take chances. Have fun.
  21. Surround yourself with people who love and support you. And, love and support them right back! Life is too short for anything less.
  22. Learn the delicate dance. Have big beautiful dreams and vision. Chase them with much passion. But, also hold on to them all ever so lightly. Be flexible and willing to flow as life comes at you.
  23. Giving is the secret to receiving. Share your wisdom, your love, your talents. Share freely and be amazed at how much beauty in life flows back to you.
  24. On that note, be careful not to give too much. If you empty out your own cup completely, you will have nothing left to give. Balance is key.
  25. Say “YES!” to everything that lights you up. Say “no”, unapologetically, to anything that doesn’t excite you or you don’t have the bandwidth for. Time is one of our most precious resources that we can never get back. Manage it wisely.
  26. Sometimes we outgrow friendships. It doesn’t mean they’re bad or you’re bad. It just means you’re on different paths. Hold them in your heart, but when they start to hurt or hold you back, it’s time to give space or let go.
  27. Fear is often a very good indicator of what we really want and need in our life. Let it be your compass and enjoy the exciting adventure it leads you on.
  28. Overcoming your fears is one of the most empowering things you can ever do for yourself. You’ll prove to yourself you can truly accomplish anything! Major self-confidence booster.
  29. Our bodies are our vehicle to our dreams. Treat them with love and fuel them with the best health to feel vibrant and energized. But, never obsess over image. Looks are subjective and will fade in time, anyway. Feeling good, healthy, and comfortable in our own skin is what matters most.
  30. Let those that you love know it often and enthusiastically. You can never say it or show it too much. Your time, total presence, love, and genuine concern for their wellness is the greatest gift of all.
  31. The present moment is where it’s at. It’s the only one promised to any of us. Learn from your past & enjoy the beautiful memories, but don’t cling or let them haunt you. And, dream big and be excited about the future, but don’t become obsessed. Love this moment, always.
  32. Life is full of highs and lows. We need them both to grow to our fullest potential. Just hang on tight and enjoy the ride.
  33. We are all connected as one human family. Nobody is better or worse than anyone else — just at different stages of our journeys and dealing with life the best way we know how. Recognize that the other person is you.
  34. Practice daily gratitude for all the blessings in your life, large and small. Not only is this a high vibe practice that feels amazing, in practicing regularly you are creating space for even more abundance — of joy, love, health, and prosperity.
  35. We are not the center of the universe, although our ego can make us feel that way at times. Step outside of that way of thinking and see the world and other people’s perspective in a whole new beautiful light.
  36. The world needs more love, light, and laughter. Go be love.
  37. You are the guru. For much of our lives, we have been told what do, how to think, what looks good, what “success” is. You don’t have to buy into any of it. Feel free to peel back the layers. Think for yourself. Break the mold. When you stop doing what everybody else wants you to do and start following your own intuition, you will be ridiculously happy.

The Way Out: The New Gladiators

Posted on February 3, 2013

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By BRYAN MEALER

Published: February 2, 2013

WHEN the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers take the field during the Super Bowl today, the teams will have five players who come from a small, conflicted region in the northern Everglades known as Muck City. The dark, silty soil surrounding the Florida towns of Belle Glade and Pahokee, some 45 miles west of Palm Beach, creates a fertile region for agriculture.

Many of the black residents of the area were drawn there by the opportunity to work in the vegetable fields that surrounded the towns. The migrant workers, who by and large settled in run-down boardinghouses, began participating in two extraordinary football programs. The public high schools in Belle Glade and Pahokee, located eight miles apart, have sent at least 60 players to the National Football League, including the five who will suit up today: for Baltimore, Anquan Boldin, Deonte Thompson, Damien Berry and Pernell McPhee; for San Francisco, Ray McDonald.

But even more extraordinary is the world that produced these players. Official unemployment in Belle Glade hovers around 16 percent, although the town’s mayor believes it’s closer to 40 percent. In the Glades, the “official” jobless rate has always been a joke because so few people are even on the books. Many of the agricultural jobs disappeared as vegetable production turned into sugar growing, now largely mechanized.

In 2010, the Palm Beach County sheriff’s office estimated that half of the young men in Belle Glade between the ages of 18 and 25 had felony convictions. The town’s migrant quarter resembles something on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, or Kampala in Uganda. Some families have recently resorted to catching rainwater to survive because their utilities have been cut off for nonpayment.

In the ’80s, when the towns began exporting receivers and running backs to elite college programs far and wide, the region was notorious for having a very high AIDS rate. Drugs and shootings are inescapable.

In 2008, Norman Griffith, the captain of the Pahokee Blue Devils, was killed in a robbery after a game. In 2000, a linebacker for the Glades Central Raiders, Jyron Seider, was gunned down after a dice game.

In Muck City, the well-worn line that “football is like religion” doesn’t even begin to convey its importance. Football is salvation itself, a fleeting window of escape from a place where prison or early death are real and likely outcomes.

Mark Ovaska’s photographs focus on social issues.  Bryan Mealer’s latest book is “Muck City: Winning and Losing in Football’s Forgotten Town.”

Zwelethu Mthethwa’s ‘Brave Ones’

Posted on January 30, 2013

“Marc Jacobs, eat your heart out. The young Zulu men pictured in new photographs by the South African portraitist Zwelethu Mthethwa are all wearing kilts of the sort that Jacobs favors — except theirs are solid black or pink-and-white gingham and they’re not just making a fashion statement. These men are dressed for church.

“The kilts, combined with white, fringed-hem blouses, long emerald-green ribbon ties, soccer-player knee-highs, steel-tipped boots and fluffy pompom headbands, are customary male drag for the monthlong ceremonial retreats that the Nazareth Baptist Church, or Shembe, stages twice a year near Durban, Mthethwa’s hometown.

“’I was intrigued by the androgynous element,’ he said the other day, during the installation of “Zwelethu Mthethwa: New Works,” his show at the Jack Shainman Gallery in New York. “Zulu culture is all about being macho, and I like the way they flip that.”

“Mthethwa, 52, now lives in Cape Town but was on a research trip to Durban when he discovered the sect. After winning the trust of some of its younger members, aged 6 to 20-something, he photographed them outside their encampment and called them “Brave Ones,” because, he said, “They dare to be different.”

“The photographs introduce fashion-conscious New Yorkers to a realm of peacock manhood that repudiates the past while also embracing it. The kilts, for example, recall 19th-century Scottish immigrants to South Africa, while the pith helmets on some of the men, along with the uniform soccer socks, are a nod to former British rulers. Only now these accouterments signal an independent, and frugal, identity that each can call his own.

“’Everything is about money,’ Mthethwa said, adding that the church is very rich as well as controlling. It sells devotees everything — not just the men’s ceremonial clothes but their hair combs, necklaces and the Vaseline they use as skin cream. Still, it’s not just their style that fascinates. It’s the riveting way each confronts the camera.

“Mthethwa exhibited his own courage when he became the first black man to enroll in a white college during apartheid. Black schools, he said, didn’t offer the photography courses he craved after growing up watching spaghetti westerns and samurai films every Saturday — movies, he added, that were all about dressing up and role playing.

How To Measure An Athlete: Understanding Linmetrics

Posted on August 28, 2012

With eighteen seconds remaining in the 1982 NCAA Basketball Championship game, a scrawny freshman received the ball right of the free throw line and rose straight into the air.  The rest we know as remarkable history.  Michael Jordan would leave North Carolina his senior year (after playing on the 1984 Olympic Team) and become the best basketball player ever.  He won six NBA championships and made one of the most profound, seminal sports commercials of all time in which he recounted the number of last shots he had taken—26—and missed.  It was a quintessential statement not only about sports but life:  “I have failed over and over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.”  Though you may remember success, essential to it has been repeated, potentially debilitating failure that would reduce others to putty.Lin 0212
Tempted as we might be to romanticize Jordan’s iconic winning shot as leading to everything else—as did Jordan’s influential father but not Jordan himself—we would be better off contemplating that much hard work preceded and followed that singular moment.  Many have taken and made the last shot of a big game not to become great players.  Many have also left college early to mediocre professional careers.  As important as that shot may have been for us, and even him, Michael Jordan was already on the extraordinary path that we eventually discovered him on, and only extraordinary determination kept him there.
The most interesting thing I personally remember Jordan saying—I have never felt much affinity towards him—was that there were many players in the league that had as much skill.  The difference was mental:  “Talent wins games but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” Jordan was renowned for a dogged work ethic during practice and the offseason and outspoken leadership on the court.  He insisted upon inserting a “For the Love of the Game Clause” into his first professional contract allowing him to play basketball during the summer which at the time was prohibited by union rules.  Jordan said that he could never have lived that way.  He would later say that preseason was a waste of time because he arrived ready to play.
There have been many distractions since Jeremy Lin skyrocketed to prominence.
For those who do not know the basic story, Lin was an unrecruited high school star who lead his undersized Palo Alto team to the state championship and went on to star at Harvard.  He was undrafted out of college, cut by his two previous NBA teams, and was squandering at the end of the Knick bench until injury and desperation forced that woeful team to use him.  Lin immediately caught fire scoring over 20 points a game for the first six games of a seven-game win streak, while amassing a franchise leading number of assists.  Since Lin’s emergence, the Knicks have won 10 and lost 4.  Integral to the Lin narrative is that he is Asian-American, the second to play in the NBA, the first being in the 1950s.
For its part, the press has charged unabashedly into rote mythmaking.  The nonstop, over-the-top coverage that accompanies the emergence of a potential anointed one would lead you to believe that Jeremy Lin fell out of the sky.  And that his apparent differences explain his success and might instigate a breach from the current standard of selfish play and immodest personas.  For sure, Lin perfectly fits the mold of a consensus sports hero:  articulate and thoughtful, humble and gracious, religious, good-enough looking.  He is the proverbial outsider with good values; a marketable divergence from the dreg of the league’s perceived physical and cultural monotony.  The problem with mythmaking, however, is that reality is often an inconvenience that must be jettisoned or ignored.
Truth is, a number of people have been writing about Lin for some time.  A couple years ago, web blogger Jay Caspian Kang smartly wrote, “Lin’s story has already been taken over by writers, bloggers and fans who feel the need to distort, tweak and primp him up into a perfect metaphor.”  Presciently describing the current spectacle, Kang added, “Through no fault of his own, Lin stands at a bombed-out intersection of expected narratives, bodies, perceived genes, the Church, the vocabulary of destinations and YouTube.”  For some time, Lin has embodied the pent-up frustrations and hopes of those resisting the demeaning narratives of others.
More debilitating than inspiring or celebratory, the media’s standard mythologizing is often near folly.  We cannot, it seems, take extraordinary achievement for what it is but must distort and mythologize it in an attempt to hype it.  To make us cheer or cry.  We turn everything into a movie.  In this, we belittle our own humanity, our own real and ordinary struggles, which cannot compete with testosterone fantasy.  It is enough that our movies fail us this way; we would hope for more from those charged with reporting facts.
The media frenzy has brought expected backlash.  A sports blog writer has been fired and an on-air personality suspended for characterizing recent Lin missteps as “A Chink in the Armor.”  There is a compelling counternarrative there about whether a gracious and charitable twenty-something Latino kid would be sufficiently familiar with the fading slur in the first place much less would intentionally use one if he were.  Indeed, the idiom’s use by the suspended older on-air personality, whose wife is Asian, would seem to indicate a significant obscurity or at least a growing irrelevance.  Given that being an Asian-American is such an integral part of Lin’s narrative, and given the exceptionally sincere chagrin and remorse shown by otherwise pretty good people at a mainstream sports outlet (ESPN is not The National Review and neither individual is Rush Limbaugh), a knowing use of a blatantly racist epithet seems dubious.Lin 2 0212
Some have also questioned whether Lin would have received the same press if he were African-American.  Well, no.  And there is nothing surprising or wrong in this.  Lin carries the understandable glee and hopes of not only his own community but all those who cheer for someone unlikely and seemingly so improbable—the underdog.  Spike Lee’s trademark, awkwardly oversized t-shirts visible from his prominent sideline seat at recent Knick and All-Star games feature wonderfully imaginative Lin imagery.  The collective reaction to Lin is not dissimilar to having a black golfer suddenly dominate the sport.  Or a black president.  Indeed, the circumstances giving rise to the obsession with Lin only confirm the cultural and institutional dominance of basketball’s most numerous group.
To be fair, some in the press have raised the truly interesting question posed by Lin’s success:  how do we assess and value talent?
Many have been quick to suggest that Lin’s race accounted for him being overlooked.  (Maybe the obsession with Lin’s race explains the reaction to the Armor comments.)  After Lin propelled the Knicks into their first win against the Lakers since 2007, Kobe Bryant said plainly, “Players don’t usually come out of nowhere.  If you can go back and take a look, his skill level was probably there from the beginning.  But no one ever noticed.”  But Lin was far from overlooked.  Several teams, including the Lakers, reported that Lin was on their radar screens.  The Lakers, for one, were outmaneuvered twice—first by Golden State, then by Dallas—attempting to sign Lin.
While the “overlooked because of this race” narrative does not hold up, we are still left with both Golden State and Dallas’ seemingly inexplicable decision to cut Lin.  Remarkably articulate Kobe again frames the issue well (you have to understand that Bryant is being prompted into these timely sound bites by the mythologizing press):  “The biggest thing to me is how everybody missed it.  They all would be fired if I was owning a team.  I hear this stuff, ‘It came out of nowhere.’  I think it’s a load of [garbage]. You can’t play that well and just come out of nowhere. There has to be something there and everybody missed it.  So heads would roll.”
The reason Lin was cut and the cause of his recent emergence may be rather simple, although belying the narrative of exclusion and ignorance.  All-Star Steve Nash (Canadian Nash is also a media darling), to whom Lin is usually compared, matter-of-factly provides the obvious explanation:  “I don’t think anyone saw it.  He’s improved a lot.  Last year I thought he had potential to be a good player but was still learning, still developing.  He’s improved his skills as a good playmaker on pick-and-rolls and getting to the foul line, finishing, finding openings for shots but also making his teammates better.  He’s a good fit, but he could be a good fit whoever needs him.’’
Yep, Lin may just have gotten a whole lot better and found the right team, according to one of the most thoughtful, premier point guards in the league.  Bill Holden, who recruited Lin to Harvard, would agree.  Holden believes that Lin’s work ethic transformed the 155 lbs and 6’1” high school toothpick into his current 205 lbs and 6’3” power and explosiveness.  Holden also believes that Lin actually benefited from not being recruited by the top basketball programs but instead going to Harvard where he got much more playing time and was able to excel in the less powerful Ivy League:  “If he goes to Stanford then it could have been just like it was at the beginning of his NBA career.  He may have never gotten off the bench and never been able to develop as a player.”
Holden also reflects on the “very team oriented” Lin’s natural talent:  “The thing that really drew me to Jeremy is that he just had some natural basketball instincts that you can’t coach.  He just has a good way to read the game, a good vision of the game, a good understanding of the game . .  .  . he had an ability to get to the basket, to get into the lane and score.  That’s something that he would always be able to do.”
So, Holden identifies the same indicia of long-term and broader success described by Jordan:  work ethic, basketball intelligence and sacrifice for the team.
Coincidentally, the recent Academy Awards ceremony has returned attention to Moneyball, which depicted the revolution in baseball’s analysis and assessment of talent and success.  Before the 2002 Oakland Athletics, teams relied on statistics that focused on individual achievement such as batting average and runs batted in.  Trying to compete with teams having three times its payroll, the A’s looked for alternative ways to identify talent that were overlooked by other teams.  Instead of statistics stressing the individual, the A’s focused on statistics that more directly correlated to team wins, such as on-base and slugging percentage.  As a result, the relatively impoverished A’s were able to identify overlooked and undervalued players and successfully compete with teams such as the Yankees.  Now several teams use the Oakland approach.
Sabermetrics—the specialized analysis of baseball largely through statistics that measure in-game activity—has its expected corollary in basketball.  Basketball’s in-game statistics include Successful Possession Rate, Turnover-Adjusted Points per Shot, and Turnovers per Touch.  The upshot of this analysis when applied to Lin is that while his recent performance shows some relation to the NBA’s storied point guards, it also shows some significant, umm, holes.  Lin does not rate as highly as those other point guards but may end up being very good.  That is to say, never say never.
So either basketball’s Sabermetricians have some more work to do or Lin will likely disappoint.  Only time will tell.  Knicks’ veteran center Tyson Chandler, however, knows now:  “He’s not a fluke.  You can tell when a guy isn’t really that skilled but is just having a good stretch.  This guy is skilled.  He’s fast.  He gives the defense a problem, and he’s really crafty at the rim.”
It seems likely that better Sabermetrics will be developed to assess talent and predict team success.  With our increasing over-analysis and micro-specialization has grown the pursuit of the minutiae.  Ripe for pursuit would be off-court indicators such as work ethic.  Maybe the Sabermetricians will eventually figure out how to accurately measure off-the-clock practice time or the amount of basketball film watched per week, the challenge, of course, being relying on something other than self-reporting.  (Perennial all-star Ray Allen famously gets to the gym 3.5 hours prior to game time.)  Or maybe the Sabermetricians will develop a test to measure basketball intelligence (notice how Tiger Woods can tell you every golf hole he has played and many of his idol Jack Nicholas), or develop better Sabermetrics to measure contribution to the team.
But it is as likely that there will remain crucial characteristics that will remain immeasurable.  Michael Jordan’s ability to miss 26 last shots and still remain the indomitable Michael Jordan is not measurable.  Many players who take the last shot—because in their minds that is what great players do—seem selfish and do not have the same quality of success.  Measuring heart and a positive belief system, whether that belief is in the player himself or something greater, does not seem possible.  Holden, Lin’s high school recruiter, understands such intangibles:  “As a recruiter, I learned a long time ago that you can’t measure what’s in a guy’s head; you can’t measure what’s in a guy’s heart; and you can’t measure what’s below his belt.  And that was the unique thing about Jeremy:  He just measures off the charts in all three categories.  He gets into that [big game] environment and he can just compete.  He did in high school, he’s done it in college and now he’s proving he can do it in the NBA.”
Chemistry also seems immeasurable and unpredictable:  the reality that a lesser player (Derek Fisher) can add more value than a more skilled one (Carmelo Anthony), whose presence may even disrupt a team.  Chemistry, like sacrifice to the team, is more important to team success than individual talent.  Dwayne Wade and LeBron James could cancel one another out; success has only been possible when one defers to the other or both defer to the team.  Like marriage, successful and sustainable unions are not guaranteed by the presence of accomplished individuals alone.  There is much more, it is relatively minor, and it is not measurable: communication, unequivocal support, positivity, loyalty, trust.
For Nash, again, the entire Lin phenomenon is not overly complicated:  “It’s a perfect storm.  He’s a guy who is in some ways a late bloomer and an overachiever, and you can tell that he’s worked extremely hard and he’s also smart so he’s learned how to be effective. Then maybe the biggest part of the story is he joined a struggling Knicks team in the media capital of the world, so it’s just an awesome confluence of things and it’s been exciting to watch.”
We may look to a host of numbers, and combinations of numbers, and theories, to confirm the presence of talent and to predict success.  In the end, however, the true measure of an athlete, like the true measure of a life, is the immeasurable heart.Lin 3 0212

©Copyright TW Matters™ 2012 (except photos)

Urging a New Revolution

Posted on August 25, 2012

You could not be faulted reaching the conclusion that William Broad is trying to sell books.  Just before publication of his The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards, Broad unleashed a controversial article on the injuries suffered by yoga students which he soon followed with a provocative expose on the long history of sexual improprieties involving those at the sacred summit of yogadom.  Published in the pages of Broad’s longtime employer, The New York Times, these articles have shaken yoga’s foundation.  Some 737 people left comments on his first article before the NYT closed the spigot.  They did not allow comments on the second.

To his critics, the confluence of timing, subject matter and venue makes Broad the most self-serving, superficial, evil yogi on the planet.  Broad’s sensationalism does not help.  In “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body,” Broad features Glenn Black, a big-time yoga instructor, who makes brazen pronouncements such as “the vast majority of people,” including fervent instructors, should give up yoga, and that yoga should not be used for general classes, which, if followed, would stunt, if not reverse, the rapid rise of yoga.  In “Yoga and Sex Scandals: No Surprise Here”, Broad himself draws the over-the-top, problematic conclusions by tracing the roots of yoga’s many sexual scandals to the very nature of yoga, which, he shows, increases libido and sexual performance.  Yogis everywhere are understandably outraged.

No one can fault Broad for trying to sell copies of his book, particularly if relevant and first-rate.  Unfortunately, his articles are not written with the balance and caution shown in his book where he provides a methodical examination of the historical development of yoga, its substantial risks, and its proven and disproven benefits.  The articles fail to set his readers at ease as does his book which makes clear his fundamental support of yoga.  The articles give us only criticism and their somewhat outlandish statements, which have lead to unnecessary controversy and distraction.  This is a shame because the essential points Broad makes are important.  He is on a sincere, personal mission to change the way we think about and interact with yoga.  Broad seeks to disabuse us of any naïve trust placed in yoga and its instructors.

Broad’s primary point is that a significant and growing number of people have been seriously injured practicing yoga.  For the most part, they believe yoga to be purely and exclusively beneficial and had no idea of the risk.  This use to be Broad.  When he severely reinjured a back condition that had previously benefited from yoga, he writes, out “went my belief, naïve in retrospect, that yoga was a source only of healing and never harm.”

Several factors have caused a rising number injuries in yoga.  Licensing standards and testing are insufficient.  As the popularity of yoga has grown, so has an increasingly unqualified teaching corps.  Their only requirement is a mere 200 hours of prior instruction which would qualify many casual first year yoga students as instructors.  To this add that yoga’s grand masters not only failed to warn of the risk of injury (“real yoga is a safe as mother’s milk”) but promoted practices (e.g. shoulder stands) that can result in serious injuries.  Contrary to common perception, many yoga practices have not been tested over the centuries, and to the extent that some have been around that long, they are rooted in physical habits (e.g. squatting) much different than today’s lifestyles.  To this mix, we can add the ego of instructors, who ignorantly and selfishly push students beyond safe limits, and of students, who uncritically go along or push ahead, spurred by misplaced passion or competitiveness.

Broad also shows that physical injury is not the only risk possible from an uncritical trust in yoga masters.  Transferring belief in the purity of yoga to its rock star leaders has gotten a lot of people, well, screwed.  Yoga’s gods are not necessarily sincere and ethical.  They can abuse power too.  The current scandal involving John Friend, founder of popular Anusara yoga, is only the latest in a shameful and largely secret history of sexual and mental abuse practiced by yoga’s elite.

The upshot of Broad’s tour de force is that yoga instructors should undergo more stringent licensing and training.  Unlike other group exercise classes, Yoga’s twists, contortions and balancing create more risk.  And, for their part, those practicing yoga must do a better job of vetting their yoga studios and instructors, and must be on guard against being asked to do the unreasonable and unsafe.  Or to drop their tights.  Students can rely neither on a historical validation of yoga nor the knowledge, experience and benevolence of instructors to keep them safe.

Two general reactions to Broad’s articles have emerged.  The more visceral reaction comes from those physically and spiritually healed by yoga who are beside themselves with what they construe as an attack on the benefits of yoga.  They are concerned that people will be frightened away from exploring yoga.  Those criticizing Broad’s history of yoga’s sexual transgressions correctly point out that the leaders of many movements—and some religious institutions, I might add—have similarly abused their followers.  While sincere, these reactions generally miss the mark.  Broad means only to warn those who might have unreasonable and dangerous expectations about the unqualified benevolence of yoga and its instructors.

A more interesting reaction to Broad’s articles is from those attempting to advance their mission to take back yoga from its recent iteration.  This group decries the current “yoga” which has evolved away from its true roots of which the physical part of yoga (ashana) is only one branch of seven.  This corruption of yoga, they argue, has lead to all sorts of distortions, of which injury, competiveness and gross commercialization are only the most visible.  This criticism highlights a basic confusion at the heart of every argument concerning yoga today.  When we talk about yoga, we are not necessarily talking about the same thing.  There is not one yoga; there are at least two.

A more traditional yoga—Iyengar, for example—emphasizes form and gives meticulous attention to getting this right.  Time is spent in a pose, and getting into and out of a pose.  Teachers explain the position of the arms, hips, shoulders, knees, and they are there to lend a hand to help suggest where these should be.  Blocks, blankets and straps aid students in getting it right, and classes are slow and deliberate with fewer poses held for longer intervals.  Instructors are grounded and sober, and they stop students if they should not be doing something.  Traditional yoga focuses on breathing and meditative techniques—among the other branches of yoga—to varying degrees.  Students leave traditional classes a little sore sometimes but never exhausted.

Excel Yoga Dance & Fitness, Bronx, New York

Charles @ Excel Yoga Dance & Fitness

Then there is sports yoga.  Yoga’s most recent trend—Power Yoga, Yogahop and the like—involves rapid movements from one pose to another at an exhilarating pace.  Compared to traditional yoga’s slow marathon, sports yoga is a fifty yard dash—done twice consecutively.  Students are asked to do things in these classes that not even generally fit people can do, no yoga aids are relied upon, and no concern is given as to whether a student can or should be doing it.  Students are on their own.  Students leave these classes exhausted, even if exhilarated, and there can be little surprise that injuries will occur.  It is difficult to conceive of this exercise form in the same vein as traditional yoga; it is more of a sport rooted in selected yoga posses which for convenience and marketing purposes is categorized with the culturally-familiar “yoga.”

Yoga purists understandably reject this evolution of yoga from its original seven branches to today’s sports yoga and its yoga competitions, for them, the height of absurdity.  But rejection is not realistic.  Any transplanted institution—from pizza to churches—will be transformed by the surrounding culture, and yoga is no exception.  Indeed, as Broad points out, yoga has been in a constant state of evolution from its beginning as a sexual carnival act.  The reality is that a significant number of those now doing yoga do so only because it comes in the form of sports yoga (or a hybrid of both sports and traditional yoga), and this largely explains yoga’s rapid growth.  Nothing is going to change this evolution of yoga nor deter opportunists who have popped up to cater to it for profit.  Like it or not, yoga competitions are here to stay as are related efforts to make yoga an Olympic sport.

What can be done, though, is to make sure that there are no dangerous illusions or misunderstandings, and that there are appropriate standards.  Broad is speaking primarily to those who knowingly or unknowingly get caught up in sports yoga while still somehow maintaining that they are doing traditional yoga.  Without a full appreciation of the risks involved, and sufficient personal care, serious injury awaits.  To a lesser extent, Broad is also speaking to traditional yogis too.  They are as impacted by instructors without sufficient skill, training, or empathy, and by the ego.

©Copyright TW Matters™ 2012 (photo is Charles @ Excel Yoga Dance & Fitness)

Vanity

Posted on August 25, 2012

High-res version

This image evokes the hard work we put in when no one is around to be successful. It is working in solitude.  But this photograph of TW was well controversial at the time it was published just weeks after his November 2009 life crash. Taken some time before by Annie Leibovitz, the photo screamed convict, thug and a host of negative stereotypes to some. To be sure, Vanity Fair capitalized on the moment’s notoriety to run some archived photos that had just not seemed to work before but suddenly did. Still, the point was valid: there is a lot that goes on with us all in solitude that contribute, for the good or bad, to our success.  As far as this affirming some’s negative stereotypes, for most, that perspective is an unwinnable struggle that we must not allow to stifle and suffocate.

Rory in Scarlet

Posted on August 25, 2012

rory-1200Two iconic moments emerged from this year’s PGA Championship, neither of which really received much attention, but each offering two different glimpses of the future.

First, Rory showed up Sunday in the brightest of reds. Not the muted burgundy or maroon typically favored by Tiger. Rory was in wild scarlet. When asked about the choice in shirt color after he crushed the field, Rory explained that his mischievously prescient sponsor (Oakley) scripted the red shirt earlier in the week. But make no mistake, Rory embraced it. He said he would not have worn the color if paired with Tiger, and I believe him. But it is hard to believe that Rory would have still gone through with it if he also weren’t leading the tournament. That would have looked silly. No, this was a Statement. Rory was going to bring home his second major wearing the color Tiger has owned for a generation of Sundays. Fuck Tiger. That time is over. This is my time. There is no way around this message, just like there is no way around the power of the statement, each made emphatic by the margin of the victory.

I would have missed the second moment if not for a fellow TW follower. He sent over a video showing that when pressed to hoist the trophy in the standard victorious pose of the champion, Rory had all sorts of problems simply lifting the damned thing up and then over his head. It was nearly comical. He used his knee, contorted, made up his face, and strained.  I would bet he grunted. All the while dressed in scarlet.

The perfectness of the metaphor is similarly unavoidable. To be sure, Rory won major number two in convincing fashion. But is he really up to the red shirt? After his victory, the sports media again took up the chants of heir apparent; the mantle has passed; the real threat to Tiger’s push for the record. Padraig Harrington again gloated. But just weeks ago the media were writing about his slump, missed cuts and off year since winning his first major.

Heir apparent? I don’t think so. We’ll need a few more wins before we can think that. Up to the red shirt? Hardly. But maybe Rory would have started a trend where those ahead on Sunday endeavor to wear the color. Good luck with that extra pressure. Those are some enormous shoes to fill. Just hope they can lift the trophy.

Does Tiger Own Sunday Red?

No and yes.McIlroy_Woods_PGA_split_610

I would be the first person to tell you that I never would have gone along with it. I would never have stayed away from a particular color solely because someone else favored it. I wear red now and shoot, well, high. That professional golfers would have done it in mass has always baffled me. Weren’t they committing the ultimate sin in sport? To concede power in any way to another athlete? To give a competitor—especially one so dominant and intimidating—any sort of psychological advantage? “Eye of the Tiger” (laugh) and all that. (Ever note how Sprinters treat one another at the start of the race? Total defiance and bravado.) Nope, I wouldn’t have done it. It’s like conceding even before you step on the course. It’s giving yourself another psychological hurdle to overcome.  There’s Tiger, the scrambler with razor sharp focus and incredible game, in his winning, charmed fucking red shirt. Wasn’t this homage to Tiger one of the biggest mistakes of all time? Part of the perfect storm that gave us Tiger? And it’s not like the other golfer’s even like Tiger which might have explained the unprecedented deference. And you know, like Sprinters, Tiger never would have done it for anyone else.

But honor him they have. And there has been something noble and honorable and golf-like about the entire thing.  And now some 14 majors and 74 PGA victories later, he has earned the respect and, yes, deference. Even if you don’t like him. Or you hope that one day far in the future you might be better.

©Copyright TW Matters™ 2012 (except photos)

Everything Tiger

Posted on August 25, 2012

Tiger Woods, if anything, is quintessentially American, and like all elemental things, his experience tells us much more than we know, or may want to know, or concede about the whole. When he crashed and burned a couple of Novembers ago, the world seemed to crash with him. Certainly we learned more about the man than we knew (although some of us did suspect), but it told us much more about us. How do we create, think about and nurture our heroes and icons and greatness. “I am Tiger Woods” repeated person after person in a momentous commercial from a couple of years ago. We will never see that commercial again, however, we suspect that its claim still remains true.

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