Measuring Civilization: Wheels on Meals

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Are you civilized?  Is your neighbor?  How about your President?

Trick question.

As far as I can tell, we don’t have a measure of “how” civilized we are.  Sure, an economist will point to GDP, a geographer could point to population, and a librarian could point to how many reference works exist.

But HOW civilized are we?

One measure put forward many years ago has to do with eating.

I love eating.  And I love studying behavior.  Let’s put the two together.

If I took your civilization and withheld the food supply so it was, say, 25% of normal, what would happen?

Would many people starve quietly, still obeying the rules of decency and law so that civilization continued peacefully?

Or would there be some sort of breakdown in the rules?  Would people become more like wild animals, stealing, robbing, murdering, even cannibalizing?

Let’s bring some rigor to the process.

Take any group of people, say the group you’re stuck in a meeting with today, and make them supreme.  By that I mean, make everyone else in the world go away.  They have the whole Earth to call their own.

How long can this group survive using the rules of society they grew up with?  Will they thrive and grow into a new society?  Or will they end up at each other’s throats?  Or, my favorite, will they run away from each other, dying alone?

Make the group your whole nation.  Or the whole Earth.  You choose the group.

Then restrict their food.  Give them only so many calories every quarter day.

Here’s where the fun starts.

I know that when I get hungry, I attack.  I attack the fridge.  MUST EAT screams my stomach.  The rest of the body follows.  When my stomach is full I go back to being all nice and civilized.

How many quarter days would I allow civilization to survive?  Maybe two.

How about you?

 

Forgotten Warriors

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Living things behave, because life encompasses everything we do.

A forgotten war hero of WWII

From hugging a newborn to burying Dad.  There’s no good reason to pretend economic behavior is different from psychological behavior.  Not one.  Life isn’t about religion, it’s not about being political.  All these categories are made up so it’s easier for us to apply for grants.

One way to illustrate this is to draw connections between things that seem so different that any similarities must be the work of a crazy man.

Did someone call for a crazy man?  That’s me.

Consider two warriors, different, but similar.

Warrior One.  This is the name of a yoga asana, and my exhibit number one.  The greatest evangelist of yoga in the 20th century was Tirumalai Krishnamacharya.  He spawned a bunch of other yogis, including one who should be more famous, Indra Devi.

The problem with TK is that he wasn’t good at tooting his own horn.  Another problem was that his famous students were better at marketing.  As a result, their names are well-known and TK is forgotten.  That’s too bad.  He made more sense than any of his students.

Warrior Two, also a known asana, and exhibit two.  But in this case, the exhibit has nothing to do with yoga.  Bear with me.  Or more accurately, HellCat with me.  This was an aircraft that fought most of the air battles in the Pacific.  It was produced in the greatest numbers, brought down the most enemy aircraft, and saved the most pilots.  It was an incredible warrior.

Chances are you never heard of the HellCat.  And that’s because newer, prettier aircraft came along and took the final bows.  No one stood up to help us remember the aircraft, the pilots, and even the workers (many of whom were women) who built the HellCat.  It is a forgotten warrior.

Here’s the connection.  Very different disciplines; yoga is selfish, designed to free us from our perception of bodily weakness and develop strength, while the other belongs to the discipline of war.  The first gave us a teacher of great teachers, the other gave us a machine that defended us from those who wanted to impose their will upon ours.

Both worked hard, tirelessly, without concern for their own celebrity or accumulation of wealth.  TK didn’t do it himself, and he wouldn’t let those around him do any marketing either.  The HellCat, as a machine, didn’t have a choice, but the legions of people surrounding it did.  And they chose to let the HellCat have its day, and later, its rest.

As a student of behavior, I’m not arguing that these warriors were good or bad, or even that their impacts were good or bad.  That’s ancient history.

As a student of behavior, what I argue is that we don’t let them be forgotten.

For what they have given us is priceless.

 

Non-Urban Design

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There’s this kind-of discipline that exists at the intersection of architecture, geography, economics, politics, and civil engineering.  I know almost nothing about it, so that qualifies me to sound off.

This discipline is another aspect of behavior.  The better their theories about behavior in general, and specifically regarding living conditions, the better their work.

So here’s a fun project for our unsung planners.  Consider this scenario.  You have a planet, much like Earth, and a good distribution of resources.  Nothing is infinite, but let’s not go too crazy.  Speaking of crazy, let’s limit the area to 100,000 square kilometers.

What’s the smallest city-size you can make for a city-state containing 10 million people?

What’s a city?  Let’s say it’s a concentration of people more than 1,000 per square kilometer, OR the same area containing two or more buildings taller than three stories.

Yes, my conditions are a bit arbitrary, but it’s a start.  With today’s technologies, why do we even need cities?  Let the planners chew on this.  And who knows?  They might come up with some pretty cool ideas that we can use to eventually get rid of cities entirely.

Now THAT’S planning.

 

Teaching Till the End

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There’s this tombstone in Boston that simply kills.  It’s the total bomb, the end all of ends.

This guy was some kind of merchant, but that’s not the point.

The point is the poem.  The poem makes a point that is so true.

Dad reminded me of this, because Dad is dying.

Sure, we’re all dying, only he’s probably going to do it before most of us.  He’s 88.  He has prostate cancer that has spread everywhere.  He’s got a heart condition.  Kidney issues.  His back bones are dissolving.  Something about the pancreas, blood circulation, and a few other things.

He’s got about 80% of his marbles, which is probably more than most people have in their youth.  He’s also got lots of staying power.  The guy’s an inspiration.  But here’s where my T-shirt and the poem come in.

You see, Dad’s stubborn and doesn’t believe in learning what he doesn’t want to.  Like death.  He doesn’t want to admit it’s coming.  But it is.  Always has.

I was with him when he finally got the idea.  He was lying in the emergency room, bending the gurney rails with his bare hands because the pain was so great.  It was before they brought the dilaudid.  He finally thought this was the end.  And he was scared.

In that fright, he talked and thought and spoke in ways he never had before.  It was what I now call the “normal” Dad.  It was wonderful in a way, because we were saying goodbye.

Except he hung in there, fought back, looked Death full in the face and punched him in the groin.  That’s spunk.

That was months ago.  Dad’s doing relatively well.  And the lessons learned?  They seem to be forgotten.  But that’s the funny thing about Death.  He’s going to come back.

Here’s the poem, slightly rewritten to modern parlance.  It’s from the King’s Chapel Crypt and Burial Ground in Boston, Massachusetts.

  • Death is the good man’s friend,
  • And the day of his death Is better than the day of his birth,
  • Was death denied, even fools would wish to die,
  • The hope of death softens our cares, And heightens every bliss,
  • Then rest in peace, for we shall live again.

 

Pride and Prejudice: No Means No

Great Novel, Great Novelist

I certainly never thought I’d be talking about #MeToo in the context of Jane Austen, yet here it is.

It started with an attractive French cloth featuring a folk song about the wonders of local liquors and love.  It begins with a young man enticing a young woman with small vials of different spirits.  It ends in a haystack.  I thought he might have been trapped.  My wife suggested date rape.

And that got me thinking about the whole “no means no” subject.  After all, quite a few guys go through adolescence being told that “no means yes.”  And that’s where Mr. Collins comes in.

He is adamant that, according to popular lore, a young lady will say no but really mean yes.  In the context of P&P, we know he’s referring to matrimony.  But in the context of Jane Austen, she likely knew that she was referring to almost anything young women do in the context of men.

Exactly where did Mr. Collins learn this wisdom of femininity?  Probably on the street corner with his other guy buddies boasting of their prowess.  Jane doesn’t tell us, it’s not relevant to the story and it doesn’t make it any funnier.  How could it get funnier?

Here’s Elizabeth doing her best to get rid of this oaf, and he refuses to take “no” for an answer.  She asks him for respect, for dignity, for some recognition that she has a head on her shoulders and can think for herself.  He still doesn’t quite get it.

And I’m willing to bet that Jane was familiar with the condition.  There’s a darn good chance that she had her own “no means no” moment, and she took it to heart.  The fact that she could weave it into one of the best novels of all time is to our advantage.  I’m just glad I finally figured it out.

 

Dividing Flirt from Felon

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I was in a meeting the other day where two friendly members made a professional date.  Alan then made comments to Barb that made me uncomfortable.  Barb laughed them off, so I’m not sure if she felt the same way.  To make sure, I’m going to ask her the next time we meet.  If she was uncomfortable, then I’m going to ask permission to talk to Alan.

It got me thinking about more important things.  Those things have to do with biology.  Our very genes want us to make more of ourselves.  Our genes also encourage us to have a partner.  These are not necessarily the same thing, but they can be.

More importantly, the urge to reproduce is very ancient.  That “phenotype” is one of the very first to be programmed into sexual animals.  After all, if an animal didn’t have the urge to reproduce, their species wouldn’t be around very long.

The other phenotype is wanting to have a partner.  That’s fairly unique among animals, but not unique to humans.  Plenty of other organisms like to have long-term mates.  It makes sense.  They get to know you, you know them, you help each other out.

Alan and Barb also have these urges.  Barb is young so that both urges are probably strong, despite her having a boyfriend.  Alan is older and married, so his urge *should be* less.

This means that each wants to be alluring to the other.  Yes, both already have others in their lives, but that doesn’t mean their basic urges turn off.  So we end up with this:

  1. We want to be alluring.
  2. When we’re talking with someone we like, we let them know by flirting.
  3. If, and this is huge:
    1. Both people want the same thing (each other) then they are going to keep flirting, and talk, and touch, and before you know it they become intimate.
    2. Both people DON’T want intimacy, this is what happens.
      1. At a certain point, one person’s flirting becomes another person’s harassment.
      2. If the person who is harassing doesn’t stop, the harassment is assault.

And there’s the rub.  Both people want to be liked.  Both people want to enjoy each other’s company.  But to the extent we must encourage allurement and flirting (in any form), then we must also encourage learning when to stop.

That’s part of what #MeToo is all about.

Societies that don’t want to deal with all of this tend to suppress their women in burlap and burkhas.  Even in the most modern societies, you can find women who are being bundled up.

Is it bad?  Is it good?

Neither.  It only is.  But the conversation is important.

So, as Jane Austen’s Elizabeth says to her Aunt Gardiner: “Where does discretion end and avarice begin?”

 

Pride and Prejudice: Copycat

Great Novel, Great Novelist

Every now and then I feel a pang of guilt because I’m studying P&P so closely in order to improve my own story.

It’s not like I’m stealing anything from Jane.  Hardly.  A lot of times I’m paying homage to her genius.

Why should I feel guilty?

Because it’s the first time I’m doing this.

The greatest artists always copied great art before them.  When they became great, they usually start copying themselves.  Check out Rodin, one of the greatest sculptors of all time.  His early works and his later works are very much derived from each other.

We watched a silly monster movie the other night.  It featured “marines” fighting “artificially intelligent robots” that had broken their programming.  I put all those things in quotes because those characters didn’t act anything like what the words are saying.  They were simply misleading labels to substitute for “teenagers” and “magic monsters.”

How many movies are there where some unknown monster preys upon unsuspecting souls?  Even Stanley Kubrick, the greatest of the great directors, made a monster movie using basically the same formula.

So, copycat?  Heck yes.  In fact, I urge all of us to go out and copy something.

Only, please make it something good.  Copying something poor is only going to give me a headache.  And that’s something you don’t want to copy.

 

 

 

Itch Pitch

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As far as my exhaustive internet research can discern, there is no complete theory as to why we scratch an itch.  (This article explains how the mouse body generates an ITCH.)

Now, before you go all mosquito and feathers on me, consider this.

The most common scratch is when there’s nothing there!  We watch men do this during baseball all the time.  In all fairness, that’s not scratching, that’s adjusting.

Check out the deer in the image.  He’s scratching an itch.  Could it be a mosquito, a tick, a teeny-tiny rifle?  Maybe he was trying to answer his phone.

We’ve recently learned about the microbiome.  Are you eating?  Maybe stop for a moment and consider this.  You have more than one mouth.  In fact, you are feeding about ten TRILLION mouths.  Yes, they are really tiny mouths.  Many of them are plants or viruses, but you get the picture.

You are filled with about a trillion of your own, personal cells.  Then there’s a whole lot of other cells that live on and in you.  That’s your microbiome.  And we’re learning more about it all the time.  For fun, I’m going to call the microbiome that lives ON your skin, skin+ instead.

Your skin is totally covered with skin+.  The skin+ on your elbow is different than the skin+ behind your ear, or your belly button.  My belly button is filled with lint, but that’s another story.

Consider this.  When you itch, there’s a skin+ war going on.  Your skin loves to live with one kind of mix, but perhaps there’s another variety that’s butting in.  Who knows, maybe the elbow skin+ is trying to move to your ear.  Whatever the reason, by scratching when “nothing” is there, you’re helping mixup the skin+ from one area to another.

So, if you’re scratching your head now, think about your skin+.

If you’re itching a scratch, try scratching your head first, and then scratch your skin+.

Or take a soothing bath.

Happy Scratching!

 

Jeweler Screws

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As a student of behavior, it’s great to make sweeping generalizations inspiring others.

On the other hand, it’s impossible to ignore details that muddy up one’s life.

This is one of those diddly details.  I’m trying to make the best of it, and use it as a lesson for staying on track and being a good STUDENT of behavior, instead of a VICTIM.

For our 25th anniversary, and for Valentines, and for her 50th birthday, and for recognizing neutron stars, I wanted to do something very special for my wife in solid gold.  That’s total gold.  24 carat.  No extra ingredients.

Jewelers don’t like pure gold because it’s very soft.  But I wanted pure gold in a very special shape.  Not only because it was a special occasion with special math involved (halves and all that), but also because physicists and chemists had figured out where gold comes from.

Colliding neutron stars.  Cool, huh?  So all the gold on Earth started out as space dust spewed out from a couple of neutron stars that couldn’t keep their hands off each other.

Now, four years ago when I did this, it was only a partial theory than generally accepted physics, because there was no evidence.  Then, only last year, we got evidence.  Three huge telescopes that are set up to measure gravity waves recorded the collision of two neutron stars.  Bang.  Gold!  And a whole lot of other heavy elements.

Back to me and the jeweler.  I asked them to make this.  They were local, they were nice, and they did it.  Cost a lot.  My bride was very happy.  She always is.  Heck I could have made it out of steel and she would have been just as happy.

Fast forward four years.  The jeweler has moved.  My wife is taking out the jewelry, and guess what?  It’s tarnished.  What?  She tries to remove the tarnish, and it doesn’t come off.

Gold doesn’t tarnish.  I’m feeling, angry, anguished, cheated, vengeful, disappointed, angry again, depressed, and trapped.  Angry with them, angry with myself.  How could I have allowed this to happen?

I’ll go to another jeweler and get it checked.  I’ll go to a lawyer and see what my options are.  But my guess is that the money is gone, along with my friendly jeweler.

What’s the lesson?  I’ll let you help me figure it out.  The bigger point is that I can’t let it get to me.  My wife is still happy, she always will be.  The money is still gone, and it’s unlikely to come back.

At least this life’s lesson, this life event, can live on the internets so that others may be able to learn from it before it happens to them.

Learning.  That’s what being a student is all about.  I just wish it didn’t have to be so darn expensive.

Or painful.

 

School Bus Moon Bus

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Mom: Ohnny, you’re going even if you turn blue.

Kid: Don’t want to.  What good is a stupid park?

... school bus.

Mom: You’ll learn something you can’t learn here.  See cool things like animals you’ve only seen in pictures.

Kid: But’s it’s going to take days and days and days.  I’m going to die!

Mom: It takes three days each way, and your Rangers will keep you very busy.  And you have to exercise along the way.

Kid: I know I know, I don’t wanna go!

Mom packed up her 9 year old with required gear, some mom-required gear, and then extra for good luck.  All the kids were loaded onto the school bus, strapped in extra tightly, kissed again, and sent off.  The parents breathed a sigh of relief, most of them looking forward to a few weeks of quiet.

The kids split in smaller groups, each guided by their accompanying Rangers.  By way of deserts, jungles, rivers, mountains and cliffs each one got to see a bit of unadulterated Nature, the landscapes of their distant ancestors.

Ohnny wasn’t the best behaved little boy, and during 4th day, a special transport showed up.

Ohnny the Kid: Grandma!

Grandma: Hello spitfire.  I hear you’ve been causing trouble for your teacher.

Kid: Not really.  Maybe a little.  I’m sorry.

Grandma: You’re going to be extra sorry now.  (To the Ranger:) I’ll take him, young man.  And he’ll be returned in pieces if he doesn’t shape up, understand Ohnny?

Ranger and Kid: Yes, Ma’am.

Ranger:  I’m glad you’re here.  He’s a good boy, just, animated.

Grandma: Out of control?  Sounds like his father.  A lot like his grandpa, too, now that I think about it.  That old fart, he just missed his 102nd birthday.

Ranger: I’m sorry.  You must miss him so.

Grandma: I don’t miss the old coot.  He missed his birthday because he’s on Mars helping with the Terran-dome exhibit.  He’s a lichen specialist and that stupid mold is giving them problems.  He’s going to live till he’s 150, unless I kill him first.

Ranger: You must be quite the experts to be full-time Terrans.

Grandma: We know our stuff.  Someone has to repair this place, considering the damage done by our ancestors.  A few more centuries and it will be back to where it was during the Egyptians.

Ranger: You get a whole planet to yourself, one big park.  You’re lucky.

Grandma: Lucky?  This is hard, full-time work.  And I don’t need a snot-nosed kid diddling with my agenda, Ohnny!  Get back here!

Grandma continued: You’ve got the work, turning the whole moon into one huge city.  That can’t be fun, living with all those people breathing down your neck.  That’s another reason we opted to stay here.

Ranger: It’s not so bad.  All the trappings of civilization that used to be in the big cities, like New York or Paris, you can only find those on Luna, and soon on Mars.  Someday it’ll be completely covered, we’re up to over 15 billion already.

Grandma: Good luck to you.  Okay, as promised, he’ll be back by sundown.  And if he so much as breathes funny, let me know and he answers to me.  Got it?

Ranger: Yes Ma’am.

Kid: Yes Grandma Ma’am!

She laughed and walked away, Ohnny holding her hand tightly.