Friday, December 31, 2010

On the Last Day

It’s the last day of the year. Is it a time to reminisce? Or a time to look forward? Or neither? Or both? I think I’ll just let the thoughts flow through and see what comes out.

Looking back personally I’d give the year high marks. Except for the decline and death of my mother at the venerable age of 99 the year was blissfully free of unnecessary drama or trauma. Healthy. Happy. Filled with many blessings.

Not quite the same high marks for our dear country and the world around us.

Too many selfish, partisan divisions.

Too many people struggling to attain or maintain or retain a decent standard of living.

A gap too large between the well off and the poor.

Too many deaths and injuries and lack of progress in our unwinnable war in Afghanistan.

Too much misery because of ethnic and religious strife.

For Americans, a sense of disillusionment about what the future holds.

For Americans, a lack of trust in those who say they are our leaders.

For many white Americans, a growing fear that they are losing control. And they’re right.

For Americans, an uneasy sense that the Chinese and Indians are overtaking us. And we’re right.

So is everything negative? No.

The Giants won the World Series.

San Francisco is still the best city in the world to live in.

Some TV is still worth watching – like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Dexter, Boardwalk Empire, Justified, Charlie Rose, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and In Treatment.

Some movies are well worth watching – like Winter’s Bone, The White Ribbon, Army of Shadows, 2046, Waltz With Bashir, and The Window.

And what about 2011? Let’s just wait and see.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I prefer to make my charitable contributions at one time late in December. It gives me a chance to assess what I’ve done in the past and to look freshly at the organizations I’m most interested in supporting. Once in a while a special event or circumstance will come up during the year that gets my attention, but I turn down the frequent requests that come my way all the time, often from groups I already support. They’re an annoyance even if I favor the cause they’re promoting.

So the other day I sat down at the computer and made my decisions for 2010. These days it’s possible to make donations online using a credit card, a welcome change from the past that facilitates the process. My support went to:

American Himalayan Foundation


Asian Art Museum (San Francisco)

California Academy of Sciences (San Francisco)

Doctors Without Borders

Fine Arts Museums (San Francisco)

Freedom From Religion Foundation

Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

Himalayan Cataract Project

KCSM Jazz Radio

KQED Public Television

Pachamama Alliance

San Francisco Museum & Historical Society

San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

San Francisco Parks Trust

Search for Common Ground

Wikipedia Foundation

Yosemite Fund

I’m very happy with the choices I made. I invite you to check out the websites of these organizations to see for yourself what they’re all about.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Where Credit is Due

OK, Congress finally got it right. In the last week they’ve actually accomplished something. So in the interest of fair play they should be acknowledged for:

Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Passing the tax cut legislation.

Approving the new START treaty.

Modernizing food safety regulations.

Authorizing health benefits for 9/11 first responders.

I wouldn’t have bet all this could have been done. And I’m glad to have been wrong.

Merry Xmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Good News!

It’s Dec. 21, the Winter Solstice.

Shortest day of the year.

Beginning tomorrow, and every day for the next six months.

Every day gets longer.

Good News!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Misc. Observations

Thoughts in my head this morning:

I’m surprised that ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was repealed. These days – a rare example of progress.

I’m not surprised the Republicans are holding up ratification of the new arms control treaty with Russia – for no substantive reason. Just to prove they can stick a poker in Obama’s eye.

I have mixed feelings about the courts declaring part of the health reform package unconstitutional. There is something unsettling about the government having the power to force people to buy health insurance. Couldn’t they also force us to go to church? Or prohibit us from watching certain parts of the Internet? Or decide we should wear six-pointed yellow stars? On the other hand to legally drive we need a driver’s license. We aren’t free to ignore a call to jury duty. Every day we follow countless laws. So like I say – I have mixed feelings about the health reform ruling. Having said that, I suspect that the judicial motivation is less a matter of legal justification and more a way to circumvent a law that many don’t like.

It’s ridiculous that the 49’ers, with a 5-9 record and two to play have a chance to be in the playoffs. That is truly catering to the lowest common denominator.

Jon Stewart did a good thing when he devoted his entire show to the issue of the Senate so far refusing to fund health benefits for 9/11 first responders. His outrage, backed up by testimony from four first responders who are dying, was powerful. And I hope useful.

Last week Juventus beat Lazio with an amazing last second goal. Yes! Yesterday, Chievo salvaged a 1-1 tie with Juventus by scoring a last second goal. Bummer!

When I began reading Frank Rich yesterday I was upset that he was raking the No Labels group over the coals for being like a ‘hold hands and sing Kumbaya’ bunch who lack the guts to take a stand. By the time I was finished with his piece I agreed with him. What we need is not compromisers but strong leaders, partisan or not, who have the guts to take a stand.


I watched a NOVA show on how Gothic cathedrals are built. Finally I know what a flying buttress is.

I watched the next to the last episode of this season’s Dexter (recorded earlier and saved on my DVR) and was disappointed. Too much contrivance and predictability. However, I still like the show.

And finally I watched “The Mid-August Lunch,” a very wonderful Italian film about – people.

Friday, December 17, 2010

I Don't Have the Answers

It’s easy to criticize. If you’ve read many of these posts you know that I do my fair share. I can argue that a rant or a vent is therapeutic. At least I may feel better after getting it off my chest. (Digression: I’m fascinated by where words or phrases come from. Get it off my chest, for example. At some point, probably a long time ago, somebody said it and it stuck. And so we continue to say it. But, as I said, I digress.)

So I express myself. Trouble is, that doesn’t make any difference. It doesn’t solve the problem. And since I don’t have any responsibility for the solution I don’t need to have answer. I can bitch and moan and let it go at that, until my next excuse for bitching and moaning comes up. Here then are some of the issues about which I have an opinion and am dissatisfied with how they are being handled, but for which I don’t have an answer:

Afghanistan – given where we are today, what’s really the best path to pursue? No matter which way we turn, every initiative looks hopeless. Getting out is the best thing to do. But simply declaring victory (or failure) isn’t going to happen, so what do we do?

Failing economies in Europe – this is a return to the domino theory used to justify fighting in Vietnam. Lose to the Commies in one place and other losses will follow. So first it’s Greece (I guess you could say Iceland), then it’s Ireland. Waiting in the wings are Portugal, Spain, Italy, and probably more. What’s the best thing to do? I dunno.

A failing economy at home – beyond the partisan bullshit that gets in the way of serious discussion, how do we get out of the cesspool into which we’ve fallen? I don’t have the answer.

Saving the environment – the way forward is clearer on this one, but how to get countries around the planet to agree to put mutual interest above self interest is not so clear.

Slowing down or stopping the decline of the United States of America – that we have lost our moral authority and are in the process of losing our economic preeminence doesn’t bother me very much. Throughout history (and probably during pre-history) there has been an inevitable rise and fall of all great powers. It’s part of the human condition. Being on top breeds hubris, arrogance, what these days is called American exceptionalism. God gave us the right to rule. It is our destiny. We deserve it. What crap! There is no answer for this one. It’s in our DNA.

American leaders working together for the common good – looks hopeless. What will it take to bridge the chasm between the Maxine Water Democrats, the Pelosi Democrats, the Obama Democrats, the Mitch McConnell Republicans, the Ron and Rand Paul Republicans, the Palin Republicans, and the rest? Maybe a revolution by people in the middle who want only to live their lives in peace with a reasonable quality of life, the non-ideologues, will do it. But I don’t see that happening. Looks like we’ll see a continuation of demonization and the pursuit of selfish pursuits.

Bringing back the America I knew as a child and young man, one in which we were proud to be the children of immigrants, one in which we really were the beacon of liberty for people around the world, one in which we stood for what is best and what is possible – seems like an impossible dream. Most Americans alive today never lived in that kind of country. What a shame.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Care/Don't Care

The daily avalanche of news requires choosing what to care about and what to ignore. On the I CARE side today:

Blasts kill Americans and others in Afghanistan and Iraq

More details on the tax bill

Ron Paul’s continuing political incorrectness

Credit cards are again making offers to consumers who can’t afford it

Complaints by Democrats about Obama’s policies

Ross Douthat’s comments on Tom Coburn

Football results in England, Italy and Spain

The Amir Khan/Marcos Maidana fight

Inmates in Georgia using cellphones to organize a strike

On the I DON’T CARE side:

More Christians leaving Iraq

Homelessness in L.A.

A revival in Jewish rituals for the dead

Ethnic tensions in Russia

Rahm Emanuel is or isn’t a Chicago resident

Opposition protests in Egypt

Urban planning in Saudi Arabia

Where to hold the 2012 Democratic Convention

What happens to Republican National Chairman Michael Steele

Paul Krugman’s ongoing rant about U.S. economic policies

Details about NFL games or where/if the Vikings/Giants game is played

If you’re looking for consistency in my choices – good luck. I see idiosyncrasies, my mood at the moment and an interest in unlikely topics all at work.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Message #9 - Trust Yourself!

This is one in a series of messages:

Think of a time when you had a nagging thought, an intuition:

“I wonder if I left the oven on.”

“I have a feeling I should call my mother.”

“There’s something I’m forgetting and I should remember what it is.”

Do you act on your intuitions? Probably not often – or not often enough.

Later, there will be times you wish you had listened, that you had acted on what the little voice in your head said to you and not dismissed your thoughts as unimportant.

Don’t downplay your intuition. Pay attention to your intuition. Trust yourself!

Intuition means different things to different people. The most common meaning is that intuition is the ability to sense or know without reasoning. That can take you down a path relating intuition to divine or prophetic power. I don’t want to go down that path.

If you study philosophy you will encounter a philosophical method in which intuition plays a major role. I don’t want to go down that path either.

And if you study psychology you’ll learn that intuition is a kind of knowledge or understanding that is not dependent on previous experience.

Intuition is a major element in a Myers-Briggs personality assessment analysis. It places intuition opposite “sensing” as an information-gathering tool. People who prefer sensing trust information that is tangible and concrete and distrust hunches that seem to come out of nowhere.

People who prefer intuition trust information that is more abstract or theoretical. They tend to trust flashes of insight that seem to bubble up from the unconscious.

I say “no” to the psychology path as well. Why? Because life is not ‘either-or.’ If I trust my intuition that doesn’t mean that I distrust all other ways of perceiving or knowing. It’s not THE answer. It is, rather, another resource I can use as I live my life. I say you should neither sneer at nor mindlessly adore what is available to support you.

Following your intuition is not only about preventing bad things from happening. There are other less obvious benefits.

A common complaint I hear is that you can’t get something done because you don’t have enough time or you are too tired or you’re just plain overloaded with too many things to do. Yet, you allow your time and energy to be eroded with unnecessary distractions when you don’t follow your intuition. And you don’t even realize it.

Here’s what happens. You have a thought about something, which is your intuition at work. You dismiss your thought. “Maybe I should check on that, but I just don’t have enough time.” Well and good – so far. And that would be the end of the story if it disappeared forever and was never seen again.

But that isn’t the end of the story. Every one of those ‘not important enough to do anything about’ items hangs around in your subconscious. Each is an energy suck. You have a finite reservoir of energy available and you are allowing it to be drained unnecessarily. Worse, you don’t get any payoff.

What if you hadn’t rejected your intuition, but had taken the time to put whatever the issue was to rest? True, you would have used some energy up front, but it would be far less than you use by turning it into an incomplete item that hangs around.

You continuously make decisions. Many are instantaneous and require little thinking. You want to cross the street. You look and see there are no cars coming. You cross. Or you see a car coming and you wait. You need to return a call. Should you do it now or later? It’s not likely you’ll waste a lot of time making the decision. Your day is filled with this kind of stuff.

Then there are major decisions you need to make. Should we move in together? Should I buy that car? I’ve got two good job offers. Which one should I take? These you’ll think about for a while, and appropriately so.

Should intuition play a role as you make these decisions? Yes! Your intuition is part of who you are. If you trust yourself you’ll factor intuition into the equation. It’s not the only thing you should consider, but it is a mistake for you to ignore it.

Evaluate the facts first. If you’re comparing two job offers the facts relate to salary, benefits, specific responsibilities you’ll have, the history of the company, travel requirements, and more. Then, once you’re clear on the facts pay attention to what your gut tells you, what your intuition is saying.

How do you feel about the person you’ll report to? Is there anything about her that you feel will cause problems? What’s the overall environment like? Do people seem happy to be there? How do you assess the kind of relationships they have with each other? Is some aspect of the offer seducing you or do you really see yourself enjoying the work and the people?

If the facts and your intuition are aligned, go for it. If in doubt, don’t.

As a management consultant I often led or facilitated meetings structured to deal with a problem or issue the organization was facing. My intuition was an active partner during these sessions.

A discussion would be underway. Everything seemed to be logical and moving forward. On the surface I saw no reason for concern. Yet, I had a nagging sense that something was missing or something wasn’t being said. We weren’t getting at something, and I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. My intuition had kicked in.

I was tempted to keep the meeting moving along and not address what was bothering me. If we were on a roll it would be risky to stop or reverse the group’s momentum, especially if my concern was not an obvious one. I would seem to want to call time out for an inquiry rather than to make a specific point.

But I trusted myself. I trusted my intuition. I was willing to risk making a mistake (finding that my concern didn’t lead anywhere) rather than miss the opportunity to deepen the group’s understanding of a dynamic that might be at play.

So I would raise the question, not knowing what was wrong or even that anything was wrong, and we would discuss it. I needed the courage to dive in without knowing exactly where I was going, but almost always my intervention proved to be useful. Rarely did my intuition let me down.

When you have a chance, try it. Trust Yourself!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Where's the Silver Lining?

The old song says to look for the silver lining. So today I looked.

In California, 37% of black high school students drop out.

The U.S. has given up trying to convince the Israelis to approve a temporary settlement freeze.

Obama has bent over again (backward or forward?) to let the Republicans have their way.

Most Americans are pessimistic about the future.

Elizabeth Edwards dies after a miserable last few years.

Bombs blow up innocent people in Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan – a daily occurrence.

Wikileaks supporters are hacked by Wikileaks haters who are then hacked by Wikileaks supporters.

English accuse FIFA of corruption. FIFA says the English are bad losers.

How are we doing? Wrapped in the silver lining yet?

Most Americans think China is the economic power of the future.

Want proof? Shanghai students recently scored highest in the world.

U.S. students ranked 23rd or 24th in most subjects.

Every week a new European country acknowledges that its economy is in the toilet.

They’re rioting in Egypt over rigged elections.

They’re rioting in the Ivory Coast over rigged elections.

After elections in Haiti, chaos reigns.

Election fraud in Afghanistan is so yesterday’s news.

That’s enough silver lining for now. Don’t want you to overdose on it.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

In Case You Missed It

Scientists are now saying they’ve been underestimating the number of stars in the universe. Seriously underestimating them – like there are three times more than we thought.

Seems that we weren’t counting all the red dwarfs. They are dim stars that we can’t see and we were basing their number on how many of them there are in our galaxy. You might ask how we can make an estimate if we can’t see them. Good question.

Anyway, the experts are now saying there are 3 septillion stars. That’s 3 followed by 23 zeroes. Give or take a zero or two I guess.

I thought you’d wanna know.