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BPI-MF-Logo Once upon a time there was a DKos account user named "Kula." Kula wrote witty, informed, insightful, wide-ranging reviews of overnight news events and random things that caught the eye of Kula. These diaries were called Morning Reaction[s].

Then, came NCrissieB, a witty, informed, insightful, and wide-ranging writer who kept the legacy of Kula alive by extending the series through Morning Feature[s] and the Blogistan Polytechnic Institute (click here for more details).

I make no claim to wit, insight, or a wide-range. Unless we count the one in my kitchen. It isn't very wide, but it's wider than some. I do, however, fancy me some information. And I've acquired a lot this week.

Please join me for the collection of things learned this past week, and more importantly, please add your own in the comments that follow...

...Busy Week
Lots of things happened this week that caught my attention, and at least one that I thought would catch my eye but didn't so much. How many of these crossed your radar this week? (Lots of links this week, some really, really good stuff and I didn't want to leave any of it out...enjoy perusing the originals, I sure did.)

T. Clementi
I have to start here, as this story/tragedy has dominated my thinking for much of the week. I just can't seem to shake it. I so want this to be a made-up story instead of a real one. I lived in a dorm for one year. Hated it. I was involved in some ugly conflicts, but nothing like what led to the senseless and tragic loss of life (detailed here).

In my teaching life I've worked with young people finding their own way through a misunderstood-by-others adolescence. I'm also currently involved in a consulting project, part of which is the construction of a curriculum for elementary and middle school students that deals directly with the social and emotional implications of using social networking websites, and the internet in general. It's a big topic, and there is great need.

There have been some excellent responses to that need in the past week, though. has not fully unveiled itself, but promises to be a lifesaver, in every sense of the word. From the blurb on the splash page:

I wish I could have talked to this kid for five minutes...I wish I could have told him that, however bad things were, however isolated and alone he was, it gets better. But gay adults aren't allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don't bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay—or from ever coming out—by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models.
Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don't have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids.

The website is a clearinghouse of videos from celebrities and regular non-famous folks offering video messages of hope and reassurance to others who might be in similar places as Mr. Clementi. The webasters are previewing every submitted video before featuring them, and currently there are some from Perez Hilton, Jewel, and the cast of Wicked, among others.

There have been other heartfelt and heartfull responses from Ellen Degeneres, Neil Patrick Harris, and others as well. I think this has hit me so hard, in part, because it reminds me of the discovery that my mother had breast cancer. Not in that breast cancer is in any way like anti-gay hate crimes/bullying, but in that there have been so many of both and that I have been so unaware of them. It's one thing to imagine a suicide resulting from alienation and abuse, but another to see one after another after another reported in nightly news broadcasts and print reports. Once I discovered my mother had breast cancer, I learned my aunt had as well. And several family friends. And relatives on my spouse's side.

I've been glad this week, as self-serving as it is, that I've never allowed anyone to say something like, "That's so gay," or "Don't be a fag" unchallenged in any classroom in which I have ever taught. I've never heard those words and not corrected the person who said them, right there, face-to-face. I wish someone had challenged Mr. Clementi's roommate and friend.

One Nation Working Together
With FIL and MIL in town helping us unpack and get our new apartment set up there hasn't been much time for Maddow, Olberman, or Stewart or Colbert for that matter. One thing FIL watched all weekend was the Ryder Cup, which went to a Monday tee-time for the first time ever, in over 80 years of Ryder Cups. Missed the day-of coverage of the rally 10-02 as a result, but didn't see as much in evening news, or even online, as I expected to. Any other observations on this? I've been out of the loop on this one, so I'm trying to not form opinions based on my own skewed access to the event and reporting of it. Even a Google search brings up more right-wing sites reporting how much messier it was than Glenn Beck's event before any hits to sources giving a real news account. Anyone have a more accurate assessment of its reception and impact than my limited consumption of news reporting it?

The Tight Collar
One thing I did work in more of this week, though, was magazine reading and podcast listening. Been riding the bus/subway more this past week, and learned a ton of really good stuff as a result.

This is from an article exploring the physical and cognitive origins/nature of choking under pressure. If you miss that crucial 2-foot putt when more than 2 people are watching, or you suffer from heavy test anxiety, this may be a helpful article for you to read. In any case, the big take away, in far more simple language than the topic deserves, is that years of practice prepares the body to perform a physical act like playing piano or hitting a baseball without having to think about it. As soon as the process is made conscious, and your attention is called to processing the movement as you perform it, performance is more likely to decrease. But, choking can also be cognitive. A batter steps out of the box to check the count, the score, the signal from the dugout. Any deviation from that routine can cause a "cognichoke," or decrease in performance due to a failure of working memory to process expected inputs.

All this, and more, including real scientific research, is compiled ina new book just out 2 weeks ago that I've already ordered from Amazon, "Choke: What the secrets of the brain tell you about getting it right when you have to." There's a great chapter on "identity threat" which used to be known as "stereotype threat." Turns out that every person, through virtue of our being social animals, sees himself or herself as members of different groups. If, before a performance, you can be made to associate your group membership with decreased performance, you'll be more likely to choke, or perform below your average ability for that task. The opposite is true to, so, for an Asian-American girl taking a science test, she may well do better on that test if she thinks about being Asian (activating and "Asians are smart" identity/stereotype) rather than if she thinks about being a girl (girls are bad at math and science stereotype). I'm not saying any stereotype is a good thing, but the research is incredibly consistent in showing that these effects in both directions are real and significant. If you have questions or want to know more, though, I recommend the book or this podcast (as an appetizer).

The Jen Ratio
Also reading a book this week, Dacher Keltner's Born to Be Good, an exploration of the positive emotions from a Darwinian + Confucianist point of view. Keltner did post-doc work with Paul Ekman, the scientist of facial expression and emotion whose work was the inspiration for one of my favorite tv shows, Lie To Me.

Keltner says this of the Jen Ratio:

A person of jen, Confucius observes, “wishing to establish his own character, also establishes the character of others,” and “brings the good things of others to completion and does not bring the bad things of others to completion.”

The Jen Ratio is the number you get when you divide the number of good things/events/results in others you help bring to fruition divided by the number of incidents of negative emotion brought to fruition (getting angry at another driver for some perceived error or irregularity). He recommends applying it to conversations, presidential speeches, the lifelong relationships between siblings, etc...and argues that positive emotions like empathy, trust, and compassion are Darwinian objects of evolutionary benefit even more so than the negative ones like hate, jealousy, and fear. But, if my reading of Darwin is correct, those emotions are also selected for and play a role in our continuing adaptation and evolution, and therefore genetic "success." So, as much as I'm all for the power of positive emotions, I wonder what role the negative ones play other than being the denominator of a somewhat simplistic (it appears to me) mathematical reduction of lived emotional experience.

But, it is a great read, and highly recommended if you're into the intersection of East and West, or the study of emotions.

Zappos Corporate Culture
Podcast, this time. From the NPR show Marketplace. The show runs a separate podcast series of interviews with CEO's about the current economic climate, core elements of the CEO's company's success, business strategy, state of the industry, etc... This one just really had me riveted straight through.

I admit I knew almost nothing about Zappos before this interview. Something about shoes, not that interested.

Here's some of what I learned about Zappos, and Tony Hsieh, it's founder and CEO:

RYSSDAL: So we just took this tour of which we are apparently one of dozens of groups who come through here during the week, what is it about this place that people want to come see how it is you guys do what you do?

HSIEH: For us our number one priority as a company is company culture, and our whole belief is that if we get the culture right then most of the other stuff like delivering great customer service or building a long-term enduring brand will just happen naturally on its own.

Sounds incredibly pie-in-the-sky the-glass-is-3/4-full idealistic mumbo-jumbo, doesn't it? More...

We wanted to come up with committable core values and by committable, meaning we are willing to hire or fire people based on them, independent of their job performance. And when you use that criteria, it's a pretty hard list to come up with. It took us a year to come up with it, and it wasn't just a group of senior executives that were spending a long weekend at an off-site coming up with something that sounded good. It was something that we really wanted to be able to walk the walk and be willing to hire and fire people based on it.

RYSSDAL: So how did you come up with those? Did you solicit from the group?

HSIEH: Yes, so I sent an e-mail out to the entire company asking people what our values should be and got a whole bunch of different responses and we went back and forth for about a year and eventually came up with our list of ten core values.

Imagine if a school principal did that? Or a president? Or a pastor of a church?
And, this is the part that really spoke to me in terms of applying these ideas to the midterm elections and beyond. Just replace the word "business" with the word "politics" or even "government":

The one that's most relevant to business is about embracing and driving change. And there are so many examples of companies that have been around for a long time and then the world changes around them and they don't adapt to that because they've gotten used to how they've always done business and then eventually they become irrelevant, and so there's a quote by Darwin that says something along the lines of it's not the strongest or most intelligent of species that survives, it's the one that is most adaptable to change, and I think the same is true for business.

Which political party keeps offering more of the same? More of the way things were done in the past? Which refuses to consider new and innovative solutions to common problems and instead keeps hitting the same nail on the head every election, never bothering to notice that what they need is a screwdriver? Hmmm...

That entire interview was fascinating, and the transcript is here. Tony Hsieh also recently released a book with a more detailed discussion of his ideas titled "Delivering Happiness."

Bob Dylan at The White House
While the week's chatter has been about Rahm The-Future-Mayor-Of-Chicago E., I found this account of Bob Dylan at the White House, from a certain front-row center audience member to be far more interesting this week:

He didn't rehearse beforehand and didn't want a photo with the president. He just came in, played "The Times They Are A-Changin'," walked up to Obama in the first row, "shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then leaves." And "that's how you want Bob Dylan, right?" says Obama. "You don't want him to be all cheesin' and grinnin' with you. You want him to be a little skeptical about the whole enterprise."

Rightward Celebrities
This list of conservative tv and movie stars didn't include many surprises, but Adam Sandler? Really? Sammy Hagar?is

And...James Earl Jones? Darth Vader is a Republican! (I always suspected it.) And that guy who decried colorizing old black and white movies because it ruins the legacy of the original film is bringing his trilogies back in 3-D!

But, Pete Seeger Still Splits Logs
Pete Seeger recently turned 91, and in this Q&A he says he stills chops the wood that warms his home (built with his own hands some decades ago) in the stove installed for that purpose. I count Pete among the most fascinating people of the 20th century, and now the 21st. He attributes his longevity to eating lots of greens and little salt or sugar. I just changed my diet.


  1. Well, in addition to the items above: "Let Me In," the film-lit vampire movie I so wanted to do well this past weekend, seriously underperformed. Maybe it will have a robust DVD afterlife as well.
  1. "The Social Network" also underperformed projections, so I don't feel so bad about the vampire movie after all.
  1. An amazing article about small Italian villages with very modern wind turbines that provide $$ for local services by selling juice back to the grid. I wish we did more of this here.
  1. Tony Hsieh, the multi-millionaire CEO of that huge online shoe store? Said in that interview he only owns one pair of dress shoes.
  1. I could go on about "Waiting for Superman," but have any other MFers (Morning Feature readers, that is) seen it?
  1. I'm finding myself drawn increasingly to "organization porn" websites like unclutterer and lifehacker lately. I think it's something to do with living out of boxes after a big move and pining for some sort of nifty looking office space where everything has a convenient and accessible home. I'm working on mine, but it seems slow going when these websites have such pretty and perfect pictures!
  1. "39 percent of children ages 9 to 17 said the information they found online was “always correct.” always correct
  1. Gargling with salt water does relieve sore throat symptoms, though it does not cure the common cold.
  1. This may just be me, but since Lil. C' discovered that kissing Aurora (Sleeping Beauty) wakes her up, as it does Snow White, she's had me kiss her on the lips while pretending to be asleep. Then we reverse roles. I understood it to be simple imaginative play and role-play, perfectly normal developmentally. The kissing on the lips part never occurred to me as anything strange. Then, I read this.
  1. Tilt-shift photography. Real places, real people, real photographs. They just look unreal.
  1. One of my favorite cartoonists, award winner Jen Sorensen...


  1. Someone might have told Charles Blow at the NYT about Fred. Seems so, from this article, at least.
  1. I read somewhere this week that Fox News now employs every major conservative 2012 presidential candidate except for Mitt Romney. Is this true? I can't remember the source, and I didn't bookmark it for later reference for some reason. This disturbs me if true. More than Fox usually does, at least.

What Did You Learn This Week?


Originally posted to Caractacus on Tue Oct 05, 2010 at 05:01 AM PDT.

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