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Compliments

Part I:

Yesterday the new guy, our supervisor and I took a trip down to the Cincinnati office for a high-powered meet and greet to talk about upcoming projects and coordinate work load.  While exiting the conference room at the conclusion of the first meeting, I saw an older woman that I had never met pop out of her office and scan the group.  Then she called out my name.  I raised my hand and stepped forward, affecting a sheepish demeanor.

"That's me. What did I do now?"

She walked up to me in front of everyone and said, "I just wanted to thank you.  Last week I sent you an email asking for some project info for a proposal and you got back to me right away - which no one ever does - and you gave me exactly what I needed. It made my day easier; so thanks!" She then took my hand and began shaking it.

I suddenly remembered - in her capacity as a marketer (people who typcially supply only inconvenient and sudden intrusions to my workday routine), she had sent me a characteristically unheralded and demanding email asking what I did on a certain project ten years ago (When I almost helped cure cancer: http://meistergedanken.livejournal.com/44125.html). Fortunately, since it was a major job that ended badly, thereby making a lasting impression, I was able to recall it rather well and responded promptly and concisely (more because I wanted to get it out of the way more than anything, but I didn't mention that!).

I was kind of touched, to be honest, and I told her that's the nicest thing a colleague had said to me in the last month.  It was gratifying to have my efforts recognized in such an unstructured and unexpected way.  And now I think much more postively of her, which leads me to believe that many managers begin to forget (if they ever knew) that positive feedback can be a valuable tool for leadership.  Naturally, at just that moment my boss had chosen to go to the restroom and he completely missed that validating exchange.  Still, that was very gracious of her.

Part II:
Over the weekend I got around to switching out an old, dilapidated shower head with a new one I got the Wife for Christmas. Once I opened the box, I laid out the varous parts and got some tools. Then I unfolded the instructions and began reading.  The Wife happened to be walking through the bedroom at that moment, and she stopped and said, "You know, one of the things I like about you is that you take the time to actually read the directions before you start something.  Most men just don't do that - but you do.  I love that."

I replied that, as an engineer, I appreciate how much effort went into the design of any given product, and that since I am not arrogant, I realize that the people who wrote the instructions know a hell of a lot more about their product than I do, so it would behoove me to take into account what they have to say. I'm not sure if that qualifies as a "humble-brag" or not. I guess I still sometimes feel compelled to explain my behavior because I have always had a perpetual, if intermittent quest to be understood, particularly by people I care about.

Anyway, it was a moment I appreciated.  Of course, like all plumbing-related tasks it took three times longer than it should have, and after completing that and redoing the caulk around the kitchen sink I had exactly half an hour of satisfaction before something else went wrong with the house - because the next time it was used, the garage door somehow got jammed and is currently askew and hanging precariously with a couple rollers off the track.  And now we can't park in the garage so of course we had a freezing rain last night which totally encased our cars in ice.  But let's not dwell on that.

What I would rather ponder on is the positive effect of compliments.  I know it's no accident that both of them were offered by women - I don't think it's controversial to state that women dole out far more compliments than men.  Too many, in some cases, where praise is given for trivial actions or is an outright fabrication (especially in regards to another woman's appearance!).  But by the same token it would probably be a good thing for men to give out more praise and more frequently recognize people for the good things that they do.  I'm sure I have been remiss in that regard.  It's not a "New Year's Resolution", but I have decided that I am going to try to remedy that.

Annoying Adage

Facebook is "great" for mindlessly sharing pithy little slogans.  Intended to be inspirational or cautionary, they often break down under closer inspection, as my scrutiny reveals faulty premises, mistaken assumptions and ugly attitudes.

Today I read this in my feed: "If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life."

I am aware of the sentiment it is attempting to convey, that you should "follow your passion" and then you'll just be so damn happy that every day will be an effortless breeze chock full of fulfillment and happiness, or something to that effect.  But I find it objectionable, because i
ts underlying premise is that anything you enjoy can't be work, because by definition it is play.

That's absurd.  There's a lot of activities - many strenuous, that while being performed (or by viewing the productive result afterwards) can be found enjoyable.

Work doesn't necessarily have to be unpleasant.   Simply put, it does not equate with drudgery.  Work does require effort, however - which I suppose is anathema to the inherently lazy.  And if you go further and employ the strict definition of "work" as set forth in the study of Physics, it is the force needed to move an object over a given distance.  So something - in this case movement or displacement - must result in order for "work" to be achieved.  To me that means the notion of "utility" is part-and-parcel of the conceptual understanding of what work is.  If work is performed, something is definitely accomplished.  That's not the case with "play".

More than anything this slogan reveals a typically American attitude toward work, that it is at best a necessary evil to which one should devote as little of one's life as possible.  And if it can be delegated, shirked or otherwise avoided (while still earning a living), then so much the better. Maybe it's the German in me, but I think that entire attitude belongs to the mindset of a loser, or someone who coasts through Life doing the bare minimum to get by, and thus only achieves the minimum.

Look, no one wants to expend energy to no purpose, but anything of worth in this life does not come without work. So I prefer to view it as an opportuntiy to show my mettle and demonstrate - if only to myself - my merit.


Domestic Holiday Scene

The cats are so eagerly looking forward to the new year that they are straining to see if it is coming down the street.


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December Sunset & Christmas Memories

The view leaving the office as the sun goes down. Such a panorama invariably elicits a sense of wonder and loneliness simultaneuously in me. Still not sure why.

So many Christmas childhood memories coming unbidden to me lately; I feel like Scrooge when the Ghost of Christmas Past takes him back to his youth. Don't know why this year I feel extra-steeped in nostalgia.  Is this a natural consequence of getting older, or in reality the result of not making enough happy new holiday memories the last several years so that subconsciously I feel compelled to dredge up old ones?

So many little vignettes coming in quick succession that taken together create a mosiac of what made the holiday season special for the young me...

Opening the little glitter-bespeckled cardboard doors each day on the Advent calendar.

Perusing the sample binder of all the elaborate Christmas cards offered by American Greetings given to us by a great aunt who worked there.

Mom opening the greeting cards sent by friends and relatives and placing them all along the fireplace mantel in the family room.

My parents reading to us a from a rather worse for wear 1940's copy of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas".

Watching "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and all the other childrens' Christmas specials on TV, back before everything was recorded, on DVD or "DVRed".

Dad driving us around the neighborhood in the evening to look at the various Christmas lighting displays.

Being entrusted with an actual lit candle during the Christmas Eve church service, the swelling chorus of "Silent Night" from the congregation causing a curious ache in my chest, a yearning for the true peace that the prospect of a Redeemer promises.

The epic marathon games of "Monopoly" that were waged with my brothers for DAYS over Christmas Break.

Mom's baking and cooking, and her singing to herself in the kitchen as she went about her preparations.

Squeezing myself beneath the Christmas tree and peering upward into the lit branches, imagining myself in this secret holiday world away from the hustle and bustle.

Hope everyone reading this has a great holiday. We all are in need of some Christmas Cheer, I'll wager.

Holiday Preps

The marathon continues.

After much wheedling on the Wife's part, I broke down and on the Sunday after Thanksgiving purchased a real Christmas tree this year, which I've never had as an adult.  I didn't realize that I had to "re-cut" the bottom, because sap gums up the bottom of the trunk after the initial cut, preventing it from sucking up the water we poured into the new base I also bought.  So for 5 days the tree basically recieved no water until I rectified this omission!  Oh well, live and learn.  The tree is only 6 feet tall, but I got the biggest base I could (which can accommodate a 10 foot tree) because of our fear that our one cat, who is a climber, would tip the tree over, which would effectively banish the Yuletide spirit.  Too bad it took one week to put up the lights, and two weeks to get around to hanging ornaments, which I did by myself while the Wife was getting dialysis and a visiting friend watched over her.  It's absurd how accomplishing these small tasks now feels like major achievements.

I mailed out all the Christmas cards Monday, and last night I managed to get all my holiday shopping done as well, so as far as the holidays go I am on schedule (work on the other hand, is another matter).  Still have to mail a gift and do wrapping, though, and hand-deliver a few greeting cards (which I prefer to do closer to the actual hoiday).  One thing at a time.

We got a good three inches of snow yesterday (didn't pretty much everyone?), and I shoveled the driveway when I got home from work.  All the neighborhood men had the same idea (better to shovel when the snow is fresh and the temp is 33 degrees, rather than in the teens/single digits, like it will be the next two days!), and briefly chatted with two of my nieghbors, which is rare.  Everything now looks postcard perfect, and that serene sense of expectancy, which swells continuously until its logical culmination on Christmas Eve, was only spoiled by an incessantly barking dog that sounded like it was strangling itself.  But let's not dwell on that; it's an imprefect world and there is always a fly in the ointment.

Now bear with me a little bit and endure this backstory, and I will give you a treat...

The gift I have to mail is for a good friend of mine I grew up with and who used to be my roomate for 4 years when I first moved to Columbus and he was pursuing his doctorate at OSU.  He is the only friend I still exchange gifts with (which is fine with me), but we are often still on the same wavelength so choosing the right present isn't that difficult.  Now, as he gets my humor and shares my yearning for more mystery in this tragically mundane world, I decided that the gift should be accompanied by a short "explanatory" missive, done in my customary "fast" daily calligraphy (and on rather shitty paper to boot, to be honest).   It's not necessary to know what the gift is to marvel at the ingenuity of my latest creative nugget, where I ape the literary mannerisms of the Victorian gentleman of yore - something I do whenever the opportunity presents itself!

Anyway, here is the note, which is merely my latest attempt to inject a little more excitement into what is otherwise generally the tapestry of drudgery we call Life:


P.S. - bonus points to readers who can spot the Conan the Barbarian reference.

Oh Bloody Hell

Just found out that Greg Lake died yesterday, after losing his battle with cancer.  Some may recall I also noted the passing of his bandmate Keith Emerson earlier this year: http://meistergedanken.livejournal.com/2016/03/12/

When he was in his prime his voice impressed me with its strength, clarity and considerable range.  He was a damned fine bass player as well.

Seems fitting to put a link here to his hit solo single "I Believe in Father Christmas":

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXCEdrnaFlY

Been a really bad year for losing musicians: David Bowie, Prince, Glenn Frey and 2/3rds of ELP.   I know what boxed set I'll be dusting off when I get home today...

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We Could Have Used Some Extreme Vetting

As a matter of policy I deliberately eschew blogging about current events and politics, but the occasional exception must be made when either include a deeply personal component. In the last 24 hours the news has been full of reports concerning the [latest] terrorist attack on American soil, which just happened to occur at Ohio State University, which is literally down the street from where I currently reside.

For those not in the know, and for the record, the attack was apparently carried out by a lone wolf, who rammed his car into a crowd of people who just happened to be exiting a building due to a fire alarm (caused by either a gas leak or suspicion of a gas leak).  After jumping the curb and coming to a stop, one of the dazed – and naïve - onlookers approached and actually asked the driver if he was OK.  Whereupon the driver exited the vehicle, produced a large butcher knife, and promptly began stabbing anyone within reach.  Within a couple minutes a nearby campus police officer appeared, confronted the attacker and then fatally shot him when he refused to divest himself of the knife.  Eleven people had to be hospitalized.

As usual, information was initially sparse, and slowly trickled in over the course of the day.  That didn’t stop Senator and would-be Vice President Tim Kaine from using it as a knee-jerk excuse to advocate for more gun control, as he tweeted: “Deeply saddened by the senseless act of gun violence at Ohio State this morning.  Praying for the injured and the entire Buckeye community.”  Actually, Tim – the gun violence was the sensible part – it stopped the guy with the knife!  What a douche.

The attacker turned out to be an 18 year old man, and was initially described as such.  I noted without surprise but with disgust that CNN left out the pertinent details as long as they possibly could, long after other news outlets.  His name was Abdul Razak Ali Artan.  He was a Muslim – specifically a Somali Muslim, and not a citizen, but a refugee who had originally left Somalia in 2007 for Pakistan and then somehow got permission to come to the U.S. in 2014.  Looks like we could have used some of Trump’s “extreme vetting” back then, huh?

I’m going to give fair warning now: I’m a bit touchy about this, probably because I had been on campus a mere two days before the attack to attend the Ohio State-Michigan football game.  In fact, I had walked right by where it happened.  In fact, the Watts Building (from where the victims had just emerged)
, which houses Material Science, had been where one of my best friends – who was with me at the time because it was he who procured the tickets to the game – had gotten his doctorate, and in fact he had just been in that building two weeks prior!  So, that would be the personal component.

Some people are going to take the “it’s not terrorism - it’s mental illness” route.  BULLSHIT.  Especially when he posted stuff like this on FB just before the attack: “I can’t take it anymore. America! Stop interfering with other countries, especially the Muslim Ummah.  We are not weak. We are not weak, remember that….If you want us Muslims to stop carrying lone wolf attacks, then make peace. We will not let you sleep unless you give peace to Muslims.”  http://abcnews.go.com/US/osu-attack-suspect-identified-abdul-razak-ali-artan/story?id=43827435 Well I guess he showed us, didn’t he?

Other people are going to take the “but it’s only one guy.  There’s thousands of Muslims – and many Somalis in Columbus, and they haven’t done anything like that!”  Except…just this year, on February 4th, to be exact, there was ANOTHER attack in Columbus, by a Somali Muslim, with a machete (these Africans really like their edged weapons, don’t they?).  30 year old Mohammed Barry carried out his attack in a local restaurant, presumably after he discovered that the restaurant owner was from Israel.  He also was killed by police, but not before sending four to the hospital and injuring a married couple so badly that they had to have limbs amputated. http://freedomdaily.com/flashback-somali-man-attacked-people-with-machete-in-ohio-in-february/ Of course this nugget has remained completely unmentioned by the media at large.  I remembered it, so I did a search and discovered this on an obscure website that probably will be marked by Facebook as “fake news” so it will be scrubbed from the newsfeed.

What’s worse is that Artan was interviewed by the Lantern, the OSU student paper, at the start of the semester where he had the audacity to say HE was worried that he would be viewed with distrust because he was Muslim: “I was kind of scared with everything going on in the media. I'm a Muslim, it's not what media portrays me to be," he told the newspaper. "If people look at me, a Muslim praying, I don't know what they're going to think, what's going to happen.”   http://www.foxnews.com/us/2016/11/28/somali-student-behind-car-knife-attack-at-ohio-state-university-that-injured-11.html We now KNOW what was going to happen, and yeah, it pretty much confirmed our justified biases!

Since 9/11 almost 100,000 Somalis have been settled in the US, with 38,000 alone in Central Ohio.  They have brought violence and dyscivic behavior to Columbus and Minneapolis, where they ruined the Mall of America. Now we have 100,000 Syrians, too. I swear, when are people going to wake up?  Smell the damn coffee!  Why are we doing this to ourselves?    How much longer are we going to let these outrages be perpetrated against our communities?  Islam is not compatible with the West. It is a regressive ideology that gives losers moral cover to undertake deadly attacks against innocent people and non-combatants.  I suppose that is the lesson: there are no more non-combatants.  We must be on our guard; this is an existential struggle between rival civilizations.  We must acknowledge that, and start acting appropriately.

I have been trying to tell people how the election would shake out for over a year. No one listened to me; in fact, many simply became agitated in response, so I gave up about three months ago. I'm not surprised by this outcome whatsoever. I'm even collecting on an election wager today, made back in May by a coworker who repeatedly insisted that Clinton would win - even though he was a Trump supporter himself(!). When I tried to explain why I thought he was mistaken he pressed me to bet on it. So, now I'm $50 richer.

You bought the Narrative. You swallowed it hook, line and sinker. But don't feel too bad - there are tens of millions of people just like you - on both sides actually, who also believed what the media told them. Except here's the deal: the vast majority of the Big Journalism establishment, the pundits, the talking heads, the people writing the columns and editorials, the pollsters - that jackass Nate Silver who leftists insisted was some sort of genius, - they were all utterly wrong and had no f**king clue what they were talking about. Either that or they DID know and they lied to us in the cynical assumption they could manipulate public opinion to manufacture the consensus they desired. Either way they should be purged from their profession, exiled to obscurity - no more appearances on camera, no more speaking fees or book deals, no more bylines in the newspaper. There should be consequences for such monumental incompetence. If I showed such appalling misunderstanding in my job people would DIE.

FFS, "Newsweek", that moldering, zombified corpse of the legacy media, issued a magazine BEFORE the election with Hillary Clinton and the title "Madame President" on the cover; they were so sure of themselves. Such a 'Dewey Defeats Truman' moment should not be possible in today's modern age. Yet there it is.

At a very minimum, the world of journalism should engage in some serious soul-searching. Some self-reflection is called for. I don't know if the ones who populate that world are even capable of it. I suspect the sad thing is that the media is going to ask the same people that got everything completely wrong what they think happens now. They should all be fired en masse. (Hey look, Michael Moore and I agree on something!)

Maybe it's because of my near obsession with discovering the Truth - so that I may achieve understanding as a path to Wisdom - that whenever I interface with or am exposed to the Media, I first invariably ask myself if the intent of the content is to persuade or to inform. Usually it is the former, which makes it immediately suspect. And because I have always been wary of even my own desires, I attempt to remain alert to the possibility that I am believing something because I WANT to believe it, rather than because it reflects Reality. I have noted that I seem to be rather unique in this regard, which rather than making me feel special demoralizes me.

Addendum:  Look, here's a sterling example of "the Narrative" inaction: http://www.unz.com/.../at-nyt-talented-reporters.../ Best line: "We were occasionally asked to map a narrative for our various beats a year in advance, square the plan with editors, then generate stories that fit the pre-designated line. Reality usually had a way of intervening."

Some Drive-By Reasoning

A LJ friend recently posted concerning a discussion with a grad student colleague about ethics, namely where does ethics come from? As merzb elaborated, "Someone said that they were in a debate where this Christian physicist said that ethics came from nature. R--- said that's a load of bollocks and that ethics does not come from nature, because in nature we see all this abberant behaviour which we would deem as unethical, that ethics comes from history and society."

This seriously got me to thinking, which almost seems like a luxury to me these days.  Here was my commentary, which I thought worthy of preservation:

I shall adjudicate this.

Conceptually, ethics straddles the line between etiquette and justice.  Personally I have been more concerned with the manifestation of justice, in particular the transition that modern societies make between an honor-based justice system and a justice system based on the uniform application of a set of laws.  But I digress...

Firstly, your colleague is engaging in a logical fallacy here: he refutes nothing by saying “there’s all sorts of fucked up shit in Nature”, i.e., “Nature exhibits some bad things, thus everything Nature offers is bad – and so something good like ethics could not have arisen from Nature.”  Some weak sauce, there (I trust that is obvious, assuming his position was properly characterized).

Your friend is in error.  Ethics has been around as long as Man has been around – even longer.  While many predators are solitary (and hence have no need for ethics), humans, along with their primate forebears are, literally, social animals.  This premise forms the basis of the logical progression of human relations: from family to clan, clan to tribe, tribe to nation, and so on.  Anyone who studies primates is well aware that ethics, or a code of conduct, exists in the animal kingdom.  The principles may be simple, but important: do not be violent unless you yourself are willing to risk violence upon yourself, don’t take things that don’t belong to you (or are being used/consumed by another in the group), look after not only your own young, but the young of others in the group, reciprocal grooming, even adhering to the (often rigidly imposed ) socio-sexual hierarchy that governs mating behavior is an indication of ethics, that is to say, an agreed-upon system of regulating behavior between members of the group that is understood by all group members.  This remains the case even if we are merely discussing a bunch of gorillas squatting in the jungle, a herd of elephants sidling up to a watering hole in the Serengeti or a pack of wolves in the Russian taiga.  Seen through this filter of understanding, it is difficult to dispute that ethics does indeed arise from Nature, and is not merely an artificial construct fashioned by men later.  In fact, those who oppose this view can reasonably be accused of confusing cause and effect:  civilized man was not the creator of ethics; ethics actually permitted – and was indispensable for - the creation of civilized man. Taking a step backwards, ethics might be seen as a form of social capital, a technology if you will, that confers an evolutionary advantage to those who practiced it.  Those who didn’t failed the rigors of Natural Selection.

In conclusion: ethics does originate from Nature.  The existence of ethics was a prerequisite FOR the formation of society, and by extension history.

Random Thought

It occurred to me this morning that the fact that there is not only sugar free pumpkin spice flavored creamer but also pumpkin spice breakfast cereal and tortilla chips readily available definitively and conclusively proves Leibniz's theodicy, and that this is the best of all possible worlds.