Phony Driving Laws

Wifey and I are walking down the street enjoying crunchy snow and blue sky.  We feel so much better knowing that New York is snowed under for a change.  Why should it always be us?

As we approach the crosswalk we stop and look.  We’ve learned our lesson by watching other unsuspecting tourists get run over.

Yes!  Here comes a speedy car making the turn.  He doesn’t even see us.  No signal.  He’s going fast, and he’s even driving in the other lane for a while.  Are these all driving transgressions?

Under the old regime, back when people paid attention to reality, sure.  But what makes this all good is the fact that the young man is intently talking on his phone.

Yes, the black rectangle is glued to his head.  In the few seconds of sight I see him vocalizing loudly.  I see head wagging.  I see one hand on the wheel, and at least his eyes appear to be on the road.

Should I be angry?  No!  I realize the laws need to be changed.

If you’re on the phone, it’s the other cars and pedestrians that have to get out of the way.

Let’s say you’re at a 4 way stop and you pulled up first.  But a car pulls up to your left and you see they have a phone to their ear, who gets priority?  Why, he does of course!  He can’t see you, and he’s not going to wait.  Why should he?  He’s busy.

So it’s your job to wait and respect the call.  After all, communicating with our friends is one of the few pure joys left in our otherwise dull and boring lives.

Well, that and dodging those drivers who are out to kill us.

 

Yoga Deconstructed

I had the pleasure of meeting Alexandria Crow the other day and learning about her perspective on yoga.  It was fantastic.

She’s an ex-gymnast and a push-the-envelope kind of person.  She has intimate knowledge of what our bodies are capable of, and what they aren’t.

She knows better than most because she’s suffered.  She went too far.  You’d think that would be bad news.  But it isn’t.

For that’s how the best of the best learn, and we mere mortals must learn from their pain.

Ms. Crow is like a yoga test-pilot.  She took her body to places it shouldn’t go.

She’s learned about what’s out there, the demons who live beyond the envelope.  She lived through the experience, and she’s willing to teach us about it.  We should listen.

As soon as I figured that out, I was riveted.  She wasn’t just another bendy-body beauty, but someone who could give me a deeper insight into my yoga, and yoga in general.

I hadn’t planned on being so captivated.  I thought it would be a nice way to learn some sequencing tips from a seasoned professional.  The fact that she appeared to be twenty-something gave me doubts, but by the end of the session I realized she’d blown my mind.  And not just with respect to sequencing.

For some years I’ve been learning from many different experts, people who have taught, and thought, long and hard about yoga.  I’ve studied a bit of yoga history and about some of the great players in the field.

I’ve only passing interest in the current fads in today’s marketplace.  Mostly because they’re trendy and about establishing brand.  As a business person I can pick up and understand those aspects quickly.

No, the big insight came from combining what I learned from and about Ms Crow, with what I’ve learned from other great yogis I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

Ginny Nadler has taught me that the hips and deeper are the true center of any pose.  Some independent practitioners and a bit of anthropology agree with her.  Peter Starios taught me that even the innocence of balasana (child’s pose) could be the basis for a rock solid regime.  Yes, he taught me to sweat in child’s pose.  Reading Judith Lasater has taught me that deep and gentle and listening to your body is far more profitable than any standard set of pictures.

Yes there have been others, each of whom has their own particular “angle” on yoga.  But each and everyone had something else: they had broken free of the tyranny of perfect posture.

Ms. Crow calls them fancy poses.  BKS Iyengar made them famous in his book.  Only a professional contortionist can do all of them well.  But I don’t.  I can’t.  I own an old, stiff, anti-athletic body.

But what Sterios, Nadler, Crow and Lasater have done is deconstruct yoga down to its most essential elements – body positions.  And where those body parts should go is indicated by looking at your own body, inside your own body.  Not at someone else’s picture.  Not even the person next to you or at the front of the room.

We don’t have to strive for fancy pose number 9.  We do have to strive to put our hips, feet, and shoulders in the right place.

What makes any place right?  It’s all up to you.  Are you practicing for flexibility? Balance? Strength? Endurance? Coordination? Or something else?  Then that defines where your body goes, how you get there, how long you linger and how hard you push.

Are you warming up for intense forward folds?  Then back off on the updogs!  Need some spinal twists?  Don’t force yourself with external pressures like your arms, legs or ropes.  Let your twist come from inside yourself.  You won’t twist as far, but it’s a better workout, and you’re far less likely to hurt yourself.

Don’t hurt yourself!  It’s fine to feel discomfort that goes away within a day.  But pain lingers and annoys and reduces your quality of life.

I’m a firm believer in this part of the Marine creed: “pain is weakness leaving the body.”  For us civilians, it should read that “discomfort is weakness leaving the body.”

What all these insightful teachers are creating is a new yoga.  Each has taken their bodies to beyond its normal limit, and come back using the power of yoga.

Now they’re teaching us a new way, a more rational, even scientific approach to yoga.  It’s not a trend, yet.  It will never be a fad because it’s too deep.  Right now its leaders are smart, courageous, and working hard.

The results are well worth the effort.  I’m convinced that I’ve avoided hip and knee surgeries that my friends have already had.  My busted shoulder healed faster and better because of yoga.  And I’m certainly a more relaxed person than I would be otherwise.

Yoga means many things.  For me, it’s about harmony.  For Ms. Crow it boiled down to attention.  For our proto-indo european ancestors, it meant “to join.”.

My conclusion from all of these maverick yogis deconstructing today’s yoga is this: they are all closer to the true spirit of yoga’s greatest founders, T. Krishnamacharya.

Krishnamacharya didn’t believe in fancy poses or perfect positions or their names.  His student BKS made many of those up for business purposes.  Krishnamacharya never taught the same way twice, for every student was different.  And he was always learning.

For me, that’s harmony, that paying attention.  And that’s having the ability to join all the different parts of our bodies and lives together in one big practice.

Namaste.

 

Disclaimer: I’m an amateur yogi and only study this as a hobby.  Any mistakes are my own.  Let me know and I’ll fix them as soon as I’m able!

 

 

Alphabet 2.0

It’s time for a serious rant.

Not about anything “see-ree-us” but about something nearby all the time.

This item is impossible to run from, for it’s always within arm’s length.

Yes, there’s a major problem in our nation and it has nothing to do with war, spying, drugs, budgets, or greed, lust, lies, power, or pollution.

No, none of those.  It’s about our alphabet.

Some years ago I realized that a good operating system improves our ability to work.  Those who used linux or apple rapidly got up to speed and stayed that way.  Good work, people!

Those who went the way of windows spent far more time learning how to use it and also had more problems.  In the long run, both groups are about equal.  But why make life harder than it has to be?

The alphabet is an operating system for our brain.  We think in it, talk in it, and write down all our important thoughts.

It takes years for kids to learn it.  And even as adults, many still don’t get the idea of spelling.  My favorites are many, but some are: thorough, philosophy, and agile.  What are some of yours?

The list is almost endless.  So many funny words, not spelled the way they sound.  No, they get spelled the way someone else did it by mistake years earlier.

Need proof?  Look at any old writing that is 200 years old.  See how differently the words are spelt.  Grammar nightmare for young and old alike.

Where should I start improving the alphabet?  I’m going to begin at the beginning, to make this short.

Sure, I have issues with the idea of “Q” always being followed by a “U” – how useless is that?  Or the fun we have with “G” being hard and soft.  Is there a word where both “G” sounds appear?

No, I’m going to ignore those fun problems and start at the top with the biggest offender of them all, letter number three, the “see.”

What are it’s offenses?  Let me sum the ways.  First, students of English never know if it’s sounds like an “ess” or a “kay.”

In Latin they only used it for the “K” sound.  So the Roman Emperor Julius?  He was a Kaiser, like a King.  He was not a “see-zur” like the salad!

Then at times our perpetrator teams up with unknowing partners.  Paired with the “H” or the more popular “S” our perp alters the entire sound, leaving hate and mayhem in its wake.

No, Fair Reader, the time is now for removing the old letter from our operating system and re-purposing it as an entirely new sound.

Perhaps it’s willing to take up the mantle of “TH” so we don’t have to merge those two letters in order to make one sound.

Or maybe, finally, we fulfill its destiny and free the poor partner “H.”  In this way a popular point of worship would be spelled “see-you-are-see.”  In a way, spelling it like this seems very zen-like.

There’s my rant.  Time to reinvent our alphabet and promote the third letter to a new position.  Are you with me?

PS. I’d love to hear some of the alphabet problems you’ve seen.  “See” you later!

 

Foretelling Stories

My friend appeared in a local production of the play Vanya and Sonia, playing the part of Cassandra.

Cassandra is a fortune-telling housekeeper.  And my friend was brilliant.  Easily the most interesting person on the stage, playing her part with gusto.  Multi-colored headbands, crazy eye shadow, striped socks and funny sneakers, wild skirts with funky shirts.  Throw in some interesting jewelry and hairpieces and you get the idea.  And those are only the trappings.

What she portrayed was a half-crazed, half-possessed, but wholly compassionate dervish who transitioned from quiet domestic servant into a tornado of words and action.  In some scenes she danced about, flailing her sticks and feathers and other voodoo goodies to exact revenge.  And throughout the play she warns everyone of the nefarious “hooty pie.”

Fortune telling, soothsaying, and astrological prediction have been around as long as we’ve had questions about the future.  Many of us pay good money to know what our horoscope says today.  It doesn’t matter if it’s almost always wrong, because, sometimes, it’s right.  Right?

Oh, so many fancy shmancy people think that gypsy palm readers and tea leaf readers are absolute charlatans.  These fancy people are so full of themselves because they read the business news and understand advanced mathematics.

I thought of these things as I watched my friend scream and chant across the stage and into our hearts, and then I realized something crazy.  What if I was an alien watching this play as my first exposure to humanity?  How would I know that my friend was not truly a clairvoyant?

I wouldn’t!  Unless of course you provided me with absolute proof.

Being an alien, I wouldn’t trust your words, or the words of your friends.  I’d prefer hard data.  In fact, I’d probably really want to see it for myself.

As I smiled to my alien self, I realized that there was another type of human I wouldn’t believe.

Economists.  Yes, modern economists.  If I was an alien, and you told me that economists were the only people on Earth who could foretell the future, I simply would not believe you.

Yes, you can find me millions of people who watch their newscasts, who pass laws based on their words, or even set policy based on their massive calculations.  But can you show me and my alien friends true results of their predictions?  Better yet, can I see those for myself?

Is there even a scorecard that shows, unequivocally, that what an economist predicts today comes true tomorrow?  Or next week?  Next month?  Even next year?

Somehow, I doubt it.  Somehow, I feel that there is a vastly overpaid economist predicting the future, and doing it in a way that is boring and tiresome.

Meanwhile, on the stage stands my friend.  She is vastly underpaid, far more entertaining, yet her predictions are equally as valid.

As an alien, I smile.  As a human, I sigh and shake my head.  Then I sit back and enjoy the rest of the play.  By the way, if you go see this play, I predict that you will like it, too!

 

 

Question Authority

I’m on a good sized airplane.  I’m comfortable, in my proper seat, and ready to fly.

So is the aircraft.  The pilots are almost through with their checklists, and the flight attendant is finishing up her required briefing to the passengers.

I look about, and the aircraft is only half full.  I have work to do, and it would be nice to spread out.

Since the attendant is still busy, I unbuckle and quickly switch seats.  In no time flat another attendant comes to hover above me.

We can’t have you changing seats sir.

Why?

I’m sorry, but I’ve been instructed by my superiors that no one can change their seats.  I’m sorry.

Alright.  I move back to my seat, and ponder.

Can’t move?  It’s not hard on the seats – they are designed for many butt touches.

It can’t be the airplane.  This one is large enough so that even an elephant could move around without bothering the pilots.

No, it can only be for the flight attendant’s convenience.  It makes it easier on them.  It’s for making their lives easier, not ours.  The more they can treat us like cattle, the better.

I realize that if the airline could figure out a way to put us to sleep and stack us up like firewood, they would.  No need for food, toilets, and more people on the plane.  Fewer attendants even.  Heck, they’re probably working on the idea even as I write.

More importantly, you and I live in this world, in this society, and are customers of that airline.  To the degree that we don’t question their authority in order that we can have better lives is our fault.  To the degree that we don’t insist on questioning their authority so that our children can have better lives is a sin.

I looked in that attendant’s eyes and said “sorry to have upset you.”

But in my heart, if it had been something important that I was fighting for, I wouldn’t have stopped.  The future is worth it.

 

Crowd Compression

Studying behavior never stops.  And it comes in all forms, from complex societies gasping for breath, to the simple, linear, line.

Yes, there is behavior in the simple line.

You say “What?  How can there be behavior in a line?”

Of course there is line drawing.  Drawing and art are behaviors, but not necessarily simple.

There is line dancing.  But that’s another form of expression along with a good dose of socializing thrown in.  No, not the simplest form of behavior.  There’s something simpler still!

As simple as a line in mathematics?  Perhaps not.  Let’s face it.  The one dimensional construct is as simple as it gets.  Unless you like Norton Juster’s book.

No, the line I’m referring to is the one you might be standing in even as you read this.  The line at the bank, or the line of cars getting on the highway.  Or the line heading to the ticket window for off-track-betting.  Those lines.

As a young student, I learned the art of line-manship.  I like to think it was one of my minors.  I learned to dodge, weave, thread, and yes, even cut into lines.  Most importantly, I learned how to avoid them altogether.

However, it was a recent line experience that reminded me that there’s some insight into human nature buried within every line.  Here’s how.

I was recently in a line catching a flight from Japan to Korea.  Expectant travelers filled the corridor, shuffling and fidgeting about.  The longer we waited, the greater the fidgeting.

Suddenly a surge.  Was the head of the line finally moving forward, onto the flight?

No, none of the people at the very front were moving.  Someone behind them decided to take a small step forward, compressing the space between himself and the next person more than before.  The person behind him did the same thing, and so on.

By the time the new compressed line reached my place, it was a good two or three steps!

We weren’t moving, but we were given the impression of moving.  Our personal space had been three hands in front and back, and now it was only two hands.  Not comfortable for me.

Does this new personal space distance help any of us get on board the flight any faster?  No.  Does the few steps some of us were able to take let off enough steam so that we can patiently wait another fifteen minutes?  Maybe.

What’s important about this line is that everyone waited about fifteen minutes before they decided they’d waited long enough.  Their personal space had been worth three hands before they waited.  After fifteen minutes it was only worth two hands.

Why does any of this matter?  Because every culture, every age, and every venue has a different exhibition of these characteristics.

A Korean crowd compresses more and faster than a Japanese crowd.  The Chinese crowd compresses more and faster than the Korean.

When a Western culture compresses there is likely to be conflict.  In Eastern cultures, conflict is rare.

Compression at sporting events, and large musical rock concerts generally see the most compression.  Classical and operatic events see the least.

Why it matters is it allows us a little window into the heart of the culture, and ourselves.  it may also teach us how to deal with lines during emergencies so that people don’t get crushed to death.

Finally, perhaps we will all learn enough about lines so that no one has to stand in one any more.

I wonder how long I’ll have to wait in line to see that happen?

 

Body Swap

Are you ready to swap bodies?  For fun?  For profit?

Wait, there’s more!

We’ll swap bodies AND do some time travel at the same time.

But first, let’s set the scene.

In my favorite hardware store the other day.  Stu, one of the owners, was having a semi-political discussion with Pete, a customer.  Stu is incorrigible, irascible, and constantly wearing a snarly face; and that’s on his good days.  Pete is a tall, barrel chested, clean shaven, square jawed, silver-crew cut of a man.  Pete was bemoaning the current state of the economy, government, especially complaining about our “imperial president.”

In his own diplomatic fashion, Stu said “All I know is that we didn’t have to start working 7 days a week until the first year of this President’s term.”

Right there, in that instant, time stopped and I froze the scene.  My time travel body swap was ready.

Our 20 trillion dollar economy is so large that no one president can impact it very much in one year, let alone two or three.  Whatever pain the owner was feeling came from the previous president.  And that even assumes the president truly has much influence over the economy anyway.

But as people, as humans, we’re not geared that way.  We like to look at our local gods, whether they are good or evil, and blame them.  Whether Obama likes it or not, most people deify him – and not always in a good way.  Ultra conservatives give him credit for destroying our future, our way of life, and the Constitution.  Pretty good for a guy who’s limited to running the executive branch and vetoing the occasional bill.

As a nation, as intelligent adults, we should be smarter than to deify anyone.  We should know by now that the economy is large and complex.  That policies put in place 5 years, 10 year, even 50 years earlier could be impacting us today.  We shouldn’t be measuring our pleasure and our pain by the year of someone’s reign.

Yet here was an American, doing just that.

Body swap:  Stu becomes Japanese.

Did you know the Japanese still have an emperor?  In fact, they claim they’ve had a continuous line of emperors since 700 years before the common era (BCE).

But what’s even more fun is that we can stick Stu into a Japanese body, and get him to say the exact same thing.  Because many Japanese measure life events in terms of their current emperor’s reign.

Stu could say something like “Business was terrible in the first year of the Chrysanthemum Throne (1989).”  Or, “The first decade of the Chrysanthemum Emperor was all recession.”

Many Japanese remember their birthdays or anniversaries based on the emperor’s reign.  How quaint.  Are they also blaming the emperor for what is good or bad?  Perhaps.  But the very fact that they mark time based on a celebrity instead of a more objective system says something in itself.

Time swap:  Stu becomes Egyptian

In that next moment, I can take Stu and put him into the desert sun of the upper Nile.  Pharaoh Sesostris III has undertaking great tasks to unite many separate states into a greater Egyptian empire.  It’s 2,000 years BCE.  The pyramids aren’t quite yet built, but paper and mathematics are well on their way.  Meanwhile, most of humanity is still running around in skins.

And what do we find Stu the farmer doing back in the days of Sesostris?  According to written records, we know that his harvest, his battles, and his marriages and births are all being recorded based on the year of Sesostris’s reign.  In year one I got married.  In year two we gave birth to a son.  In year three the harvest was good, and so on.

Time swap, body swap: Returning to the present.

So, I smiled at Stu and Pete.  I may not agree with their politics, but in that instant I was able to watch Stu become a modern Japanese, and then an ancient Egyptian.  As far as I can tell, he’s none the wiser.

 

But is humanity?

 

 

President Trump

What goes through your mind when you hear these words?

President Donald Trump.

My brainy and / or more liberal friends shudder.  Then they gag.  Then laugh, hug each other, cry, and finally acknowledge that it could happen.

Quite a few other people are counting on it.  In fact, they plan to vote for him.

And why not?  Who’s to say he won’t make a great president?

The sad news is that our country doesn’t have any standards for what make a president good or bad.  Popularity got George Washington in for two terms and he’s voted our best president ever.  But the second-most successful president was also one of the least popular; Abraham Lincoln.

So Trump may become president, and he may be a great one.  At least, by his standards.

We have a pretty crazy country going on here.  It’s run by millionaires for one thing.  And those millionaires take lots of advice from very rich friends who make lots of money off the rest of us.

Anyone can be president in the USA.  Of course, certain conditions apply.

So, my advice to all of you who may be feeling a political chill, is to put on a sweater and deal with it.

Should you still be afraid?  Sure.  But not because Trump got in.  He’s just the symptom.

The reason someone like Trump gets elected (or any other idiot you’d like to nominate) is because not enough of us ordinary people care.

The reason Trump may be president is because there are too many special interests who are allowed to spend as much money as they want.

The reason our government feels like it’s going to hell in a handbasket is because it mirrors exactly what is happening in our society as a whole.  Yes, our poor government is also a symptom of our disease, not a cause.  What is that cause?

We’re getting older.  We’re getting poorer.  We’re getting dumber.

Perhaps worst of all, we are all of us getting tired of fighting the tide.  We don’t want to stand up in public and debate the issues.  We don’t want to demand better performance out of our candidates, out of our government, and out of our journalists.

I’m also getting older.  And poorer.  But I’m fighting the dumber.  And I haven’t given up fighting, not yet.

This is my weapon; the pen, and education.

So, to all of you who also haven’t given up as yet, get up and get out there.  Fight!

If you don’t, you’ll have to live with the alternative.

 

Fired Up

Anyone have a boss?  At work.  Not at home, and siblings don’t count.

I mean, do you have a person at work who decides how much to pay you and whether or not you still have a job?  That’s your boss.

Maybe YOU’RE the boss.  How many people report to you?  How many people report to them?  Do you have the authority to hire and fire all those positions?

Maybe you don’t, and you dream about the power.  Like King Midas dreamt about being able to turn anything into gold.  Be careful about what you wish for.

I have this “power.”  It’s not fun.  I get to go to work and be friendly with everyone.  I get to see everyone on their best behavior.

Then I hear stories.  So and so did this, or said that.  Always behind “so and so’s” back.  Ah, the drama.  Do you like drama?

I can’t stand drama.  I don’t need to watch it on TV.  I live it every day.

Let’s make this easy on both of us.  “So and so” is officially “Sue.”

So I eventually meet with Sue and what do I do?  I’m friendly and business-like at the same time.  And watching.  And wondering.  Am I going to have to fire Sue?

Meanwhile Sue is telling me about her problems, her sick parents, her troublesome kids.  I’m sympathetic.  And I’m still thinking to myself, will I have to fire you?

Finally, something happens that everyone sees, no one can ignore.  I’m going to have to call Sue into my office and find out what’s going on.

I want to ask her: “Do you want this job? Do you need this job? What are you thinking?”  But I can’t do that, either.  It’s not professional, and it leads her to the “right” answers.  No, I have to find out what’s going on inside her head, and hold her to her job description.

The problem is that the job description for managers is a lot fuzzier than for others.  So I have to hold Sue’s feet to a fuzzy fire.

I have to think about this every time I meet with my coworkers.  It makes for a very full day.  One of these days I’ll find a job without drama.  Chances are there won’t be any people involved.

 

 

Yoga in Space

I love things that go fast.  Cars.  Jets.  Spaceships.

Nothing goes as fast as a spacecraft heading out to the stars.  There’s something that excites my soul when I look up into the night sky and think that someday, our children may live among the stars.

There’s a problem with that.  In fact, there’s lots of problems, most of which have to do with our attitude.  But there’s one problem in particular that has lots of medical types worried.

People don’t do well living in space.  Who knew?

That’s the point.  No one could know.  No one has ever tried living in space before.  Everyone who goes up is doing an experiment on their own body.  The people who live up there for months at a time are at the most extreme.

When doctors examine these “long-timers” they find that they have lost bone and muscle.  They go soft.

So far the solution has been bicycles and other aerobic type equipment.  In the movies you see big circular rooms where people run in artificial gravity.  The problem with all of these solutions is that they require fancy equipment that weighs a lot.  The biggest problem is that none of those conventional exercises can address everything our bodies need: strength, stretching, flexibility, coordination, balance, control, all tied to our breath.

The only exercise that tackles all of these components is yoga.  And here’s the surprise.  You don’t need gravity to yoga!

I’ve been thinking about this a long time.  Yes, my head is constantly in the clouds, but that’s how I deal with all the troubles we get into down here in the dirt.  So every time I do a down dog, I’m thinking about how I’d do the same thing in zero gee.  And I’ve finally got it licked.

Believe it or not, we take gravity for granted.  You can’t do that if you live in space.  We need it to keep our bodies healthy.  And yoga can help.  The trick is to realize that yoga is really about the balance of forces.  And space travel is all about understanding the balance of force.

Like our mat, or the blocks, or blanket, or even a mirror, gravity is another tool we take into our yoga practice.

If you are a true yoga minimalist who doesn’t believe in tools, good luck!  Your body is a tool.  The ground is a tool.  And gravity is a tool.  You need all of these.

In space, we’ll have a set of tools unique to practicing yoga in zero gee.  And those tools will keep our future space travelers healthy and balanced for the many adventures yet to come.  Those tools won’t take up much room, or much weight.  Yoga can even be done at any time, not just during an authorized exercise break.

Yes, the next time you watch a space travel show, think about how they will stay healthy.  They probably won’t be running in circles or riding a stationary bike.  My guess is that they’ll be doing a half-moon, as they travel to the moon.

Yoga.  Not just for earthlings.