Wednesday, February 24, 2010

dissonance

Quite unexpectedly, I've found I have mixed feelings about the warming weather. On the one hand, warmer weather means a beginning of oh-so-much-goodness. On the other hand, warmer weather means that the sodas I put on my office window sill just don't get quite as cool as I'd like them.

Oh yeah, and we ran out of heating oil yesterday. I suppose that's an on-the-one-hand reason to rejoice in the changing weather.

...

As a side note, no heating oil (the truck won't come for a couple of days) means heating the house with solar (unshaded windows), fireplace (that keeps one room warm, at least), and space heater. And I'm wearing a sweater today. I think it's kind of fun, frankly. (For a little while.)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

a tangential thought

In response to my last post, Micah asks if intelligence doesn't come at the cost of happiness.

It's probably a worthwhile question, but I think maybe a distracting one.

One way of answering is to say that I believe the most human of activities is to create. That is, when engaging in creative activity I believe we are most living up to our human potential, fulfilling our "transcendent destiny," as Emerson might say. I don't think there's any question that with increased intelligence comes increased capacity for creative thought and, therefore, creative action. So I guess I'm saying that the more intelligent (can, not necessarily do) experience humanity more deeply. (I hope that's not a controversial thought. I don't think it should be.)

With more intelligence also comes more ability to understand the consequences of our choices. And, I think, with greater intelligence comes (though perhaps not naturally) the capacity for a greater understanding of others' lives, and therefore their difficulties, pain, and sorrow. With both comes increased capacity for frustration, disappointment, pain, etc.

So I think it's a bit of a red herring to focus on happiness. Is a dog happy? Maybe. But a dog's ability to create, make choices, and express empathy (though sometimes they are magically wonderful at the latter) is limited.

I guess what I'm saying here (skipping a few steps of the argument for brevity's sake) is that I think with greater intelligence comes the capacity for greater, more fulfilling, and especially more textured happiness, but also greater sorrow. And it's been my experience that you really can't know one without the other.

Friday, February 19, 2010

in defense of youth

Is there anything more tiresome and trite than the old decrying the young? Is there? Nothing presently comes to mind.

Get the Old Folks (I'm painting with a broad brush here, so if you're reading you probably just got wet) a'talking about the Young Folks and it won't be long before the tell tale sign of a sigh, a slight shake of the head, and then something like, "The young people of today, they just don't ____." It's always a negative comment. Things were always better. That previous generation, it was always more moral, mature, hard-working, attentive, courteous, respectful, or whatever other would-be positive trait comes to mind.

Guess what, Old Folks, when you were Young Folks, your Old Folks said the same of you, so damn your hypocritical egocentricism. Even Aristotle (I can't remember the passage, so I won't even try), in his day, decried what he saw as a slow generational decay.

The temptation to engage in generational bitchery is strong. I suffer from it myself. Exhibit One are the neighbor kids. Three of them. High school students. From two different families. The only time I see the one outside is when I hang at the bus stop with my daughter. The only time I've seen the other two, who apparently drive to school, is when they were harangued by their mother to help with the snow shoveling. They don't play outside. No throwing the rock around on the street. No garage/driveway fiddling with...whatever. They don't even *gasp* ride their bikes. (They may not even have bikes!)

In the face of that, the temptation to compare their behavior to mine at their age, and unfavorably, is strong. Very strong. But to do so would be foolish. Asinine. I'm not an old man, but I can already see that the world is theirs, not mine, despite the difference in our values. Hopefully I can remain just relevant enough for them to allow me a productive place.

It's the time I spend with the energetic young that's taught me the irrelevance of age, which is not to say that age is irrelevant, but that one grows irrelevant with age. And then there are the facts. James Flynn has shown, as have others, the increase in average general intelligence (g) over time. In fact, it appears that if we were to denormalize (unnormalize?) the results from decades of IQ testing that the Old Folks in the 1930s would score around 20 points lower than the Young Folks of today on an equivalent IQ test. That means that half our parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents (the Young Folks of the 1930s) were borderline mentally retarded by today's standards. Wow.

The Flynn Effect is well documented and, for that matter, not really hot-off-the-presses news either. But it points to the deep absurdity (and, as it turns out, irony) of the Old Folks belittling the Young Folks and their ways. We are growing smarter. Why? Well, there are many possible explanations, but the most convincing to me is that the world is becoming an ever more complex place. There are more demands on our time, our professions are more intellectually demanding, and our senses are subject to farm more sophisticated stimuli through our varied and modern forms of A/V media and what have you. As such, we've had to become more proficient in abstract thought (as opposed to concrete thought), and that is the stuff of which intellegence is made (or at least what we measure when we measure intelligence).

An example from the Wikipedia entry. A kid today, when asked what a dog and a rabbit have in common, might answer that they are both mammals, an abstract representation of their relationship. A kid one hundred years ago might have answered that rabbits are caught with dogs, a concrete representation of their relationship.

So there's nothing biological, per se, or even evolutionary, in the sense of natural selection, to explain the difference. The Old Folks started with more or less the same raw gray matter as did the Young Folks, with a few allowances for advances in nutrition and general medical health. The difference, it would seem, is the world in which we live. Simply put, the Young Folks live in a world that makes smarter human beings than did the Old Folks. And that means it's a world they are uniquely equipped to navigate. Old Folks, you're on the Autobahn with a horse and buggy. Pray you don't get hit.

So eat it, gramps. The damn rascals loitering around the Sheets with the funny colored hair, the low-slung pants, who play video games all day and all night, and seem to have every damn piece of available flesh pierced...they are your superior in ways they aren't even aware. It is their world. They need you only to the extent to which you control resources they desire. Money. Power. Prestige.

And, as it turns out, those have been Old Folks' only weapons against the tide of modernity for millennia. Used, history shows us, with more or less effectiveness from one era to another.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

mercy

Behold. A hard man:


I mean, really. Is there a more hard-core sport than cycling? Misery, misery, misery, and then TRIUMPH! Oh... The glory of this sport. But it is not for the pansy-arsed faint of heart.

It's as Jon and I were discussing on our four hours riding through the occasionally snow-covered roads of rural Cumberland County in temperatures that never rose above the 20s, the only two to complete the long-publicized tree and farm race: Cycling requires physical toughness, sure. But it's the mental fortitude, the disposition to sacrifice and suffer that makes a dude (a gender neutral term) on a bike a cyclist.

What a sweet picture. Greipel, you're my new hero. Best of luck to you in the classics.

...

And then there's the poor dude who just didn't quite have enough gas:


For Footon - Servetto's David Vitoria, however, the finish came 200m too late. The exhausted Swiss rider was swept up by the peloton at the foot of the steep finishing pitch after spending 195 kilometres off the front.

"It’s a pity, because the stage was extremely hard due to the weather, and I bonked in the last three or four kilometres," said Vitoria. "I knew that the final slope was really steep, but [I] got on it with no energy.

"I did what I could, and that's how cycling works: sometimes it makes you happy with less effort, and today, when I did so much work, I was given no prize.


Yup. I hear ya, dude. I hear ya.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

snow day, cont.

To me, the photo in the last post was interesting--artsy and aesthetically poignant--and stood alone on its merits. But y'all apparently didn't like it. (Ok, only two people said something, but both comments were negative--Stephanie said it made her eyes hurt, Eric accused me of deception. Pshaw.) So, for those of you that prefer a crisp and pancake ugly view of reality, I provide the following (first series courtesy of Valerie, the later set courtesy of iPhone):


(Since I know someone will wonder, the girl in the first photo is not one of my kids, but I'd take her, if she were available. Speaking of my kids, however, I love that this sort of thing--packing up skis on back for a bike ride on roads of questionable condition--doesn't phase my girls in the least. Audrey saw me with my bike and asked me if I was going for a ride. I said yes. Marian saw me with skis and asked me if I was going skiing. I said yes. It wasn't until I had it all together that they figured it out. They looked on in polite interest. They found what I was doing unusual, but not in an unexpected way. In their world, this is what men do. If in nothing else, in this I have succeeded as a father.)

I was hopeful that I might locate a slope suitable for making a few turns, but I didn't. Well, I skinned up a few likely suspects, but the woods debris (e.g. stumps, fallen logs, underbrush) was too often just under the surface...I figured it'd be like winning the lottery if I came away without a broken leg, and I didn't want to press my luck. Especially skiing alone. So I didn't really get to make any turns at all.

All the same, it was a delightful afternoon. There is a magic serenity to the snow-covered woods that is unduplicated in all of nature--it gives me such saudades of the West. And when making fresh tracks, there's the undeniable reality that you are all alone. Very, very alone. Which, if you allow it, can be an immensely satisfying spiritual experience.

But then again, I wasn't really alone. There were critters about. I saw deer tracks, bunny tracks, and the furrowed tracks of two other animals that could have been fox (or bobcat) and coyote, but might have been something else about that size. So I wasn't really alone after all.

I look forward to another excursion after this next snowfall. I could live on a pair of skis.