A couple of articles lately that really hit home. Brink's "How to mend a broken heart" is simply excellent. Turns out that drug addiction may actually be a byproduct of love's existing circuitry, that a broken heart can medically kill people with something that looks a lot like a heart attack, and that simple pain relievers like Tylenol can help dull the pain of a breakup. Plus, how can you not love "The Museum of Broken Relationships"?
"Olinka and Drazen are artists, and after some time passed [beyond their breakup], they did what artists often do: they put their feelings on display.... Their collection of breakup mementos was accepted into a local art festival. It was a smash hit. Soon they were putting up installations in Berlin, San Francisco, and Istanbul, showing the concept to the world. Everywhere they went, from Bloomington to Belgrade, people packed the halls and delivered their own relics of extinguished love: "The Silver Watch" with the pin pulled out at the moment he first said, "I love you." The wood-handled "Ex Axe" that a woman used to chop her cheating lover's furniture into tiny bits. Trinkets that had meaning to only two souls found resonance with a worldwide audience that seemed to recognize the same heartache all too well."
Another article talked about a more profound kind of heartbreak, and a very different problem of memory. The Washington Post's 2009 piece "Fatal Distraction" is about something that really can happen to any parent, though we really don't like to think about it:
"Two decades ago, [death by hyperthermia] was relatively rare. But in the early 1990s, car-safety experts declared that passenger-side front airbags could kill children, and they recommended that child seats be moved to the back of the car; then, for even more safety for the very young, that the baby seats be pivoted to face the rear. If few foresaw the tragic consequence of the lessened visibility of the child... well, who can blame them? What kind of person forgets a baby?"
Research suggests a very unsettling answer:
"Diamond is a professor of molecular physiology at the University of South Florida and a consultant to the veterans hospital in Tampa.... [he] is the memory expert with a lousy memory, the one who recently realized, while driving to the mall, that his infant granddaughter was asleep in the back of the car. He remembered only because his wife, sitting beside him, mentioned the baby. He understands what could have happened had he been alone with the child. Almost worse, he understands exactly why.
....Diamond says that in situations involving familiar, routine motor skills, the human animal presses the basal ganglia into service as a sort of auxiliary autopilot.... that's why you'll sometimes find yourself having driven from point A to point B without a clear recollection of the route you took, the turns you made or the scenery you saw.... "The quality of prior parental care seems to be irrelevant," he said. "The important factors that keep showing up involve a combination of stress, emotion, lack of sleep and change in routine, [emphasis mine] where the basal ganglia is trying to do what it's supposed to do, and the conscious mind is too weakened to resist. What happens is that the memory circuits in a vulnerable hippocampus literally get overwritten, like with a computer program. Unless the memory circuit is rebooted - such as if the child cries, or, you know, if the wife mentions the child in the back - it can entirely disappear."
With horrifying results, if the forgotten thing is your child's quiet presence in your now-parked car. Often made worse by prosecutors with too little sense, which is the secondary subject of the article.
"There may be no act of human failing that more fundamentally challenges our society's views about crime, punishment, justice and mercy. According to statistics compiled by a national childs' safety advocacy group, in about 40 percent of cases authorities examine the evidence, determine that the child's death was a terrible accident - a mistake of memory that delivers a lifelong sentence of guilt far greater than any a judge or jury could mete out - and file no charges. In the other 60 percent of the cases, parsing essentially identical facts and applying them to essentially identical laws, authorities decide that the negligence was so great and the injury so grievous that it must be called a felony, and it must be aggressively pursued."
There are times when it should be, if there is any suggestion that anything more than mere forgetting is at work, or if it fits a pattern of serious neglect. Otherwise, it just makes a bad situation worse, wasting money to achieve no deterrence. And really, no justice either.
There's a simple technology fix, mind you. Unfortunately, it can't get manufactured, because no manufacturer can afford to be sued if it fails. So babies will die after pulling all of their own hair out, and we can all thank the damn tort lawyers for one more thing.
The other thing that was interesting about this cheap device, developed by some NASA scientists after a local tragedy, was the poor test-marketing results. Seems that very few people thought it could happen to them.
But it could. There are things like broken loves, that you want to forget, but can't. And there are things you must remember - but can't guarantee you will. The universe is an amazing place. Just not always a friendly one.
Absent technology, my recommendation? Make the autopilot work for you instead. Every time you get out of the car, even if your child isn't in it, open the door and physically feel the child's seat. Do it without fail enough times, and it becomes an autopilot sequence of its own, associated with the presence of that booster seat. Once the seat disappears, it will eventually extinguish, though you might feel kind of foolish for a while.
Then again, consider the possible alternative.
Caroline Glick's "Caution: Storm Approaching" looks at the economic convulsions that underpin the Arab world's current political convulsions. Her conclusion is that those convulsions are about the get worse before they get better. It doesn't help that the same hate-spawning, dysfunctional political systems are big contributors to the Arabs' lack of economic progress as well. Nor does it help that key economies around the world cannot pretend away problems forever, but appear to be trying. The reckoning always comes, and the fallout from each side is about to affect the other.
Of course, replacing current governance in Arab/Islamic countries with an even more hate-filled and more dysfunctional system of Islamic theocracy - all that does is double down on human disaster and misery. It remains to be seen which way things tip. Revolution =/= progress; they are linked but ultimately separate variables.
On which topic, Brett Stephens had a useful reminder the other day, about courage...
"The Face of Pakistan's Courage" is about Shehrbano Taseer, the daughter of Punjab's governor. He's the man who was assassinated for suggesting the repeal of Pakistan's infamous blasphemy laws, whose legal and socio-cultural framework effectively sanctions torture and death for non-Muslims on a whim. I wish that was an exaggeration, but the evidence suggests otherwise: Asia Bibi currently sits on death row in Pakistan for nothing more than being a Christian, courtesy of the whim of a spiteful local villager. She isn't the first. She won't be the last.
Shehrbano Taseer is staying in Pakistan, and will continue fighting for her father's vision of the country. As Stephens correctly notes:
"Nearly a decade after 9/11, the West's exhaustion with the war on terror - at least in its more grandly conceived, nation-building and culture-shifting versions - can be traced to episodes like the Taseer killing and the underlying, politically incorrect question they prompt: What is it with these people? It's not an entirely unfair question.... [At the same time, people like Ms. Taseer, and the protesters in Syria] are exercising the virtue of courage as Aristotle would have understood it. And they are a rebuke to cultural pessimists in the West who often feel vindicated by the perfidies of the Muslim world but could stand, on occasion, to be humbled by examples of its courage."
The nature of Islam ensures that we'll be asking "What is it with these people?" for some time. The cultural disconnect is profound, and no, everyone does not want to be like us. Glick's realism - the genuine kind, not the school of foreign policy thought that calls itself realist because we wouldn't notice otherwise - is a necessary component. The very first thing is to look at what we see, and then not lie to ourselves. To date, it seems we've done little except lie to ourselves. That has to end.
While we keep that in mind, we must remember that Shehrbano Taseer is also real. As are the people Michael Totten talks to and writes about, here and elsewhere. There is a human element in all of this, and it's important to see it. That, too, is part of looking at reality and not lying to ourselves. People like Ms. Taseer matter in both a moral and political sense, and are worth our support.
Even if our realism doesn't think they're going to win in the near term, and urges us to prepare accordingly.
Back in 2004, I wrote "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Mubarak?." It was about 2 things, and one of them was acceptance of reality's limits on our options. Within which, I believe American could have done some good in shaping what would eventually come. It ended as follows:
"The bottom line is simple: Egypt has to change. We have to promote effective pathways to liberty, using pressure and/or confrontation on our own timetable, all the while strengthening the real champions of liberty and weakening the poseurs and the malevolent.
It's a tall order. It won't always be satisfying. And it may take time. Fortunately, time is an option we can afford in Egypt. The only thing we can't afford, is failure."
Time was an option we could afford in Egypt. But here's the thing... eventually, it runs out. And like all seemingly stable systems with major foundational cracks (vid. also, and still, global financial system, and debt supportability above key levels like 90% of GDP), it may not take a very big shock to set the endgame in motion.
We're in motion, now, in Egypt. And if America faced limits before, those limits are sharper. The Muslim Brotherhood is still the evil organization it has always been, complete with Nazi origins, and retaining its jihadist core. But Mubarak is toast, and America must now make clear choices... if its President can manage that.
I have nothing to add to Ralph Peters' current advice. I hope my country takes it.
On the 11th hour, of the 11th day, of the 11th month, in 1918, the guns ceased. During Remembrance Day, the British Commonwealth countries remember those who came before, and those who came after, and all who have given in their nation's service. John McCrae's poem "In Flanders Fields" is a common accompaniment at ceremonies, where the wearing of poppies is customary (on the left lapel, or as close to the heart as possible), and organizations like the Royal British Legion, Royal Canadian Legion, et. al. are supported.
There's one more kind of remembrance I'd like to point out, and ask you to consider on this day. It's a remembrance of the Bloodlands...
Anne Appelbaum explains in "The Worst of the Madness":
"Murder became ordinary during wartime, wrote Milosz.... young boys from law-abiding, middle-class families became hardened criminals, thugs for whom "the killing of a man presents no great moral problem." Theft became ordinary too, as did falsehood and fabrication. People learned to sleep through sounds that would once have roused the whole neighborhood: the rattle of machine-gun fire, the cries of men in agony, the cursing of the policeman dragging the neighbors away.
For all of these reasons, Milosz explained, "the man of the East cannot take Americans [or other Westerners] seriously." Because they hadn't undergone such experiences, they couldn't seem to fathom what they meant, and couldn't seem to imagine how they had happened either. "Their resultant lack of imagination," he concluded, "is appalling."1
But Milosz's bitter analysis did not go far enough. Almost sixty years after the poet wrote those words, it is no longer enough to say that we Westerners lack imagination. Timothy Snyder, a Yale historian whose past work has ranged from Habsburg Vienna to Stalinist Kiev, takes the point one step further. In Bloodlands, a brave and original history of mass killing in the twentieth century, he argues that we still lack any real knowledge of what happened in the eastern half of Europe in the twentieth century. And he is right.... Snyder's ambition is to persuade the West - and the rest of the world - to see the war in a broader perspective.... The title of this book, Bloodlands, is not a metaphor. Snyder's "bloodlands," which others have called "borderlands," run from Poznan in the West to Smolensk in the East, encompassing modern Poland, the Baltic states, Ukraine, Belarus, and the edge of western Russia (see map on page 10). This is the region that experienced not one but two - and sometimes three - wartime occupations. This is also the region that suffered the most casualties and endured the worst physical destruction."
All that, and north to Finland, too. The Bloodlands are where the great wars started, and in those wars their name was earned. They are what so many fought for, and failed to fight for, and beyond the effect of those choices on us, lies their own story. Of war, and soldiers. Heroes, and villains. And remembrance.
Their stories, too, must be part of our remembrance. Lest we forget.
UPDATE: See also Canada's National Post today, as Father De Souza makes a similar point in "Karol Wojtyla's War."
The Competitive Enterprise Institute plans to recognize "Human Achievement Hour" between 8:30pm and 9:30pm on March 27, 2010 to coincide with Earth Hour, a period of time during which governments, individuals, and corporations have agreed to dim or shut off lights in an effort to draw attention to climate change.
So instead, leave your lights on between 8:30-9:30pm. I think it's a great idea. Not just as a celebration of the human achievement and technological progress that has given us lives without parallel in human history, though it is that. Those space shots of North vs. South Korea say it all.
But it's also something that every single environmentalist out there ought to celebrate, as an environmentalist.
Quick question - before the incandescent bulb, what did people use for lighting? Because it was quite widespread, even on public streets. The answer is...
They used a LOT of whale oil. Illumination in lamps and candles was its #1 use. And we all know where it came from, and how.
Every environmentalist in existence should give daily thanks, on their knees, for the incandescent bulb. And instead of (or in addition to) turning lights off for Earth Day, turn them on for an hour to celebrate the achievement of their invention. They can be LED lights, or incandescent, or anything else.
Anything but whale oil, which was replaced by the very light bulbs and electricity that envirohadis so often despise.
Generally, yes. That's the conclusion of recent research, including this gem:
"And those that were mandatory or discussed lawsuits - the vast majority of the programs the researchers examined - slightly reduced the number of women and minorities in management. Required training and legalistic training both make people resentful, the authors suggest, and likely to rebel against what they've heard."
Amazing! It turns out that putting people through "training" modeled on political indoctrination programs in dictatorships is productivity-draining make-work for a subset of the political class. Fortunately, it impairs its own stated objectives, thus creating more "demand" for the political class' "work."
Yeah, never saw that one coming, either.
On a more basically human level, it's amazing that some 4th grader hadn't pointed the problem out yet. Of course, they'd have to be asked... but people with a graduate humanities degree need the help. Perhaps they could be sent to mandatory courses on "4th grader training," explaining the benefits of testing one's thinking to survive the questions of an 8 year old...
On the other hand, this program may hold some good lessons for California in a few years.
Liberty Mutual (yes, the insurance company) says:
"In 2006, Liberty Mutual created a TV commercial about people doing things for strangers. The response was overwhelming. We received thousands of positive emails and letters from people all over the country commenting on the ads.
We thought, if one TV spot can get people thinking and talking about responsibility, imagine what could happen if we went a step further? So we created a series of short films, and this website, as an exploration of what it means to do the right thing."
Hence "The Responsibility Project."
I love it! Well done, down to earth examples designed to spark comment and thought, and the concept itself is sorely needed in today's culture. Kudos, too, to NBC, for partnering up with them.
From Russell Kirk's 1981 essay "The Moral Imagination."
"Every major form of literary art has taken for its deeper themes the norms of human nature. What Eliot calls "the permanent things" - the norms, the standards - have been the concern of the poet ever since the time of Job, or ever since Homer: "the blind man who sees," sang of the wars of the gods with men. Until very recent years, men took it for granted that literature exists to form the normative consciousness - that is, to teach human beings their true nature, their dignity, and their place in the scheme of things. Such was the endeavor of Sophocles and Aristophanes, of Thucydides and Tacitus, of Plato and Cicero, of Hesiod and Vergil, of Dante and Shakespeare, of Dryden and Pope.
The very phrase "humane letters" implies that great literature is meant to teach us what it is to be fully human...."
"Now I do not mean that the great writer incessantly utters homilies. With Ben Jonson, he may "scourge the naked follies of the time," but he does not often murmur, "Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever." Rather, the man of letters teaches the norms of our existence through allegory, analogy, and holding up the mirror to nature. The writer may, like William Faulkner, write much more of what is evil than of what is good; and yet, exhibiting the depravity of human nature, he establishes in his reader's mind the awareness that there exist enduring standards from which we fall away; and that fallen human nature is an ugly sight.
Or the writer may deal, as did J. P. Marquand, chiefly with the triviality and emptiness of a society that has forgotten standards. Often, in his appeal of a conscience to a conscience, he may row with muffled oars; sometimes he may be aware only dimly of his normative function. The better the artist, one almost may say, the more subtle the preacher. Imaginative persuasion, not blunt exhortation, commonly is the method of the literary champion of norms..."
Read in full, and discuss.
A TheStreet.com article that would make worthwhile reading for many a corporate executive, complete with examples.
Short version? Take first-person ownership, be timely, make concrete amends. Seems simple - so why is it so difficult?