» 2014 » October

Puzzles and mystery: How they differ

Sometimes the computational powers that be conspire to foil a post. That yet-to-be-posted item might have been trail inspirational: this one I found thought-inspiring. 

From a medical blogger flying under a banner headline: Embrace the Mystery

This distinction between puzzles and mysteries is described in a powerful new book by Ian Leslie: Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It As Leslie tells it, puzzles and mysteries have radically different characteristics. Puzzles are orderly and have definite answers; once we’ve solved a puzzle, we’ve reached the end of our inquiry and our curiosity. Mysteries, on the other hand, offer many possibilities for exploration and experience. They offer something richer and far more relevant to the messy reality of actually living in the world. Mysteries can’t be answered definitively; they keep us poised in ambiguity and force us to create our way forward. Mysteries offer us multiple paths to success.

Whole mini-essay makes one think about our scientific approach to medical research. Worth a look

Full Story »

Students vs. obesity in Santa Paula CA

Let me belatedly post the main story I have been at work on for the last six months or so, as part of a Reporting on Health fellowship, about obesity — and those battling it — in Santa Paula. 

Turns out, appropriately, it's students and young adults who have taken up the fight. Not to mention of course doctors, educators, health care agencies, and countless others I didn't have a chance to quote. 

I confess to liking my lede, for rhetorical reasons:

Americans today are an exceptional people: We are the heaviest in the world. Now the federal government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that as we supersize ourselves we are skyrocketing our risk of developing diabetes.

Especially at risk are children in Ventura County.


For more, please see Mission Healthy.

People — including the funders, who want it numerically — ask for some measure of impact. Wonder if I've heard much of a reaction. Well, a number of friends have told me that they thought it was good, they liked it, even that it actually had something of a happy ending, but that's all I've heard.

Well, that's enough. "Respect of my peers," as they say in sports. 

Note: a smart and faithful reader writes in to remind me that my math skills have gone to hell in the last forty years. So I'm going to keep my "metric" simple: compliments must outweigh reasonable complaints about errors re: any given story by 10-to-1 for it to be any good. This means — practically speaking — a story can't be good unless it is essentially error-less. 

That's a high standard, and that's why editors and time are required for good journalism. 

(Er, not that anybody asked…) 

Full Story » Comment (1)

Eliza Gilkyson: I’m so worried about everything

Eliza Gilkyson is a folk singer, an unexpectedly good guitar player, and a wit. For years she's been writing about nuclear war, environmental and economic collapse, and has had the nerve to issue whole records on these themes (notably the excellent song "The Party's Over"). 

But she also writes songs about herself, of course, and on her latest tour she's been in an unexpectedly sunny mood, kidding herself with the tagline:

I'm so worried about everything

Here she is singing the song ("Eliza Jane") earlier this year at a house concert. It's great to see an artist you love find a way to accept herself, doubts and fears and all. It's often said environmentalists have no sense of humor, but in my experience — reading Muir and Abbey and Thoreau — it's just not true. Not at all. 

Add Eliza Jane Gilkyson to the list.

Full Story »

What if we honored solitude as we honor group thinking?

Apologize for not catching up to all that is going on with climate environmental news. Yes, even bloggers — perhaps especially bloggers — can suffer from environmental overwhelm. 

In response, perhaps, have been reading into solitude lately, notably an appropriately thoughtful book called The Republic of Noise, an award-winning book from 2012, that looks at solitude and how it is being eroded by society today. The writer, Diana Senechal, is a teacher, and takes issue with her profession's incessant focus on group activities and thought. 

To put it plainly: as long as schools emphasize working in groups, getting along with group members, completing tasks together, and networking online, students will not learn to put forth ideas as ideas; they will not learn to stand apart from the group, either in public or in private. Relationships and products will take priority over clear and independent thought. 

But she also has a sense of humor, and include what I thought was a pretty funny description of what might happen if education did honor solitude the way it honors group activities. To wit:

…there is the danger that solitude might become a fad: that schools might embrace some sort of solutide movement and mention solitude at every turn. This could be worse than a neglect…schools would start having "solitude time," but it would be prescribed solitude: students would have to write in journals and perhaps even "share their solitudes" with the class afterward. There would be a forced sanctity to it: "Shh! The children are in solitude!" There would be solitude charts on the wall. Professional development sessions on "strategies" for "managing solitude" would be conducted. Administrators would go on "solitude appreciation retreats" where they would discuss solitude in small groups and give each other a "Woot!" at the end. 

Well, okay, yes, that wouldn't be good, would it? Perhaps those of us who really like solitude should appreciate how society doesn't, and accept our semi-outcast status in good grace. 


The Republic of Noise

Full Story »