Sunday, May 10, 2009


relationships. there is an attraction to the sciences that stems from predictability. we talk about the "social sciences," which is fair enough, but the science in those fields is more statistical. and, truth be told, the reality in all our fields of study has turned out to be more about probability than certainty. Still, there's something about the ideal billiard balls of classical physics or the statics of structural design that is comforting. predictability. certainty.

then there are relationships. the inner dialogue we all experience. the fact that our own reactions to a given situation are not always easily understood, even by ourselves. in fact, the very question "why?" doesn't always even seem relevant. sometimes, things just "are."

It seems like some people are more "complex" than others. i recall a high school lit teacher stating "when you describe a character as 'complex' you are basically saying they are self-contradictory." sometimes i think that describes us all to some degree, but some quite a bit more than others. i think it stems mostly from the multiple different desires, which we hold as singuarities, but which, in the course of actual circumstance, end up at odds. if we could always have everything we want, there would be no complexity. if we each only wanted one thing, then the strongest would get it, and again there would be no complexity. but that is not the case. instead, we all want a very wide range of different things, and the nature of reality makes different combinations possible to get. to make it even more complex, there is a constant tug-of-war, a set of potential tradeoffs to give us a range of different combinations of some of our desires, each set coming with a different set of costs.

and most of these desires that fit into these complex internal emotional equations are not conciously held. often, when the turmoil rises within, we have a hard time placing why we feel so strongly about what has happened, or what we think may happen. communication is helpful in relationship, but only insofar as we actually understand what the issues are. communication of ignorance, or worse yet a misinterpretation is hardly helpful for the future.

Monday, May 4, 2009

the big sort

i always enjoy the time on a plane if i have a good book i'm really into. on the flight out this time, i finished "the big sort: why the clustering of like minded america is tearing us apart" by bill bishop. this is one of the most interesting and thought provoking books i've read in a while. (but then, sorry scott, i actually liked freakenomics)

i'm always limited by time in most everything i do, and these blog posts are certainly no exception. there's only enough time to tap out a smidge of what's running through your head about an idea, and then there's real life to take care of. the unexaminded life is not worth living, but examining life takes more time than living it, so the math really doesn't work out very well. we end up examining a sample of our lives, not the whole thing. we just differ person to person on our sampling rates. some of us reach some threshold to be considered "introspective"

he points out that americans, among "developed" nations, actually are somewhat above average in our desire to talk about politics, according to studies. we are quite reticent, however, to talk about our political views with people who disagree with us. we only want to talk politics with "us" rather than them.

this is reflective of everything, not just politics. we are a people who avoid not only conflict, but difference. there are, of course, prominent examples, like our very diverse workplaces, where economic incentive drives us to leave that behind, so if you wish to argue the point, you can find plenty of ammunition. but the statistics of how we vote, what we buy, where we go (or don't go) to church, and where we live, speak pretty loudly. you can argue some about the why, about the interpretation, but not the what.

it's actually very reminiscent of the reformation. there is a shift in identity from an inclusive ("catholic" pretty much means "universal"), to the particular. once the identity shifts, the "other" becomes the enemy.

i think that's why we are becoming increasingly polarized. we have, as a nation, ceased to identify first as americans, but rather have redefined real americans as people like us.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

triathalons and donald miller

this morning, as i lay in bed not sleeping, because there just aren't any comfortable positions, i was musing on the differences between sports. and specifically on triathalons, of course. sunday was the inaugeral new orleans ironman 70.3, which most of us know as a half-ironman. i think they changed it because half sounds wimpy. but 70.3 miles isn't wimpy. 70.3 miles takes a while in a car.

i still don't even have real clear thoughts on it. it strikes me though how social most of us are, how much of a difference crowd support makes, how strikingly individual the competition is, and yet, the people in it who are agressive are not competing against a clock, but against each other.

it's interesting. i signed up almost entirely for social reasons. a couple guys at work signed up, and i decided to join them, then somebodies wife joined, and a couple more from work. one dropped back out, and i can count on one hand the number of times i actually trained with any of them, but it made for a lot of good conversations, and was a shared experience in an odd way, a sort of adult parallel play. i spent countless hours alone on my bike or in a pool for social reasons.

And out on the course it was the same way. i went in not sure i could do it, and that plauged me the entire way. i was pushing to finish, not to beat a specific person. i wasn't competing against anyone but myself, and that really hurt me, actually, even though it sounds nice. the wind was awful during the bike, and you've already been going for an hour before you ever get there, and for me it was just the numbers on my bike computer, pain, and the internal dialogue of "you just have to keep this up for ... three more hours, and then you can change to runnning...." not very encouraging. as i listen post race to the people who enjoyed it the most, i hear things like, "yeah, when i came out of transition, soandso yelled from the tent that my friend was only 2 minutes ahead, and then on the turn around on the run i could see him coming back, so i knew i was less than a minute behind, and he saw me coming. then when i was a hundred yards back he was shaking his head, because he knew i was going to take him..." these guys are friends, they train together all the time, and this sort of interaction is what makes a 6 to 8 hour individual event social like a tennis match. somebody wins, but even the loser enjoys the match, and both get pushed to their max by the competition. who really gets the same effort into their serve when they are practicing by themselves.

i'm not sure why don miller comes to mind except that i feel almost like i can hear him narrating as this intensely physical event gets turned into a people watching excercise. i sit here with my skin peeling off my shoulders (i reapplied 'sweatproof' spf 50 at least 3 times, and still got fried... you can only ask so much of a sunscreen, it was like putting it on in a shower i was sweating so much), the wetsuit rubbed the skin off the back of my neck, and of course i'm really pretty sore, but all in all i feel good from it. i don't feel like i damaged myself by this, like i wondered after running the great wall marathon. that was hard, this was difficult. this was a psychological battle as much as anything, that was simply strenuous. With the constant stream of obstacles, though, it kept the mind focussed on the task at hand.

in the bike segment, you have an interesting view of your competitors, and if you are as slow as me, a good 4 hours to contemplate them. you know everyones age and gender because it's written on their calf in permanent marker, and you get a nice view of the back of their legs. i learned definitively that there are a lot of 40+ year old women out there with significant cellulite, who can bring it on a bike! my hat is off you, wherever you are.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

parenting -- a reprise

an interesting evening. we spent the entire evening at the mardi gras parades yelling for beads and zebra stuffed spears. the baby isn't feeling too well, and she didn't seem to enjoy herself
( marked understatement). the older two loved every minute, and our son proclaimed "i wish this parade would go on forever!" his little sister wore out during the third parade and rolled up inside somebody's jacket and sacked out. there were all the typical humorous parenting stories and moments.

and on the way home i got a call from a good friend, and it turned into a parenting conversation. it's interesting, parenting styles converge as the number of kids increases. look at the parents you know with only one child. a vast array of parenting styles. but in families with 10 or 12 children, it's a different story. there's pretty close to only one way to have a functional family of 12 kids.

everyone's transition to where they need to adopt such methods changes. for some it's two kids, for other it's 7, but i think everyone has a limit where essentially they switch from "working harder" to "working smarter."

at first he seemed angry at what i suggested, as if i were saying his kids were out-of-hand, or maybe that he wasn't helping his wife enough. rather, i just felt that as a father of 4, i had a perspective to offer to a family that just rapidly went from one child to three. i was simply trying to point out that methods that worked well for a single child might be toxic to a family if you try to triple the output in parenting energy. it also centered around the conceptual difference between discipline and training.

ah, well, late now. more another time perhaps.

Monday, February 16, 2009

artist night

tonight is the second time the musicians have gathered at the richter house. it's pretty interesting to listen in as they process through each other's poetry, listen to mp3's of speakers talking about the creative process, and jam together. we had a good meal together, and a rousing discussion of economics, the collapse of currencies, and the possibility of returning to a gold standard currency, before moving on to more creative times.

division of labor, in a sense. let those who are good at something and passionate about have at it. it's the basic idea behind capitalism, right. and yet, i think one of the healthiest places to be is an amatuer artist. i wonder sometimes if at the same time we've gained some amazing work by the rise of the international superstar professional entertainers, we haven't also lost most of the community beauty of folk art, the art of real people with normal families and regular jobs.

i have a painting by my grandmother in my office. i think it's beautiful. she was a farm-wife, and mother of 6. mostly i remember her after her stroke, hemiplegic and aphasic. i was still pretty young. it means a lot to me that there on the farm, in the quiet hours, she made beauty. quietly and alone, she painted. that is precious.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

art and psychological research

it's been a while now, but recent musings have brought it back to mind. we went on a trip last year to visit good friends of ours. he's a pilot, and had changed jobs and moved from atlanta to new york, so we were looking forward to catching up with them while we were in n.y. for other reasons. she is a choreographer.

she had just finished a choreography workshop with someone who is apparently very respected in that field, and fortunately the name meant nothing to me and was promptly forgotten, because now i can safely talk about the ideas without attaching them to anyone specific. i'm certainly not interested in a big argument about art.

my wife being a singer/songwriter, i end up in a lot of discussions about art, and some pretty well developed opinions. ironically, not being an artist, i have zero credibility about it. what was interesting in this trip was that her workshop leader crossed over into other areas in which i do have a fair degree of credibility and knowledge.

it was a hard workshop for our friend, because she has a more traditional approach to her choreography. she has an idea or mood, or .... whatever choreographers start with, and she wants to communicate it to her audience, and she wants to see that they "got" it. of course, if it were something you could just say, you would, but just as there are multiple verbal languages, some things can be "said" with dance that simply can't be said in another way, they don't translate.

he was arguing against that, holding that art wasn't about trying to get a message across, but about giving input, and then seeing what the audience did with it, where they went, what meanin they added to it. to his credit, he routinely went out and discussed his works with his audiences after performances to understand their interpretations. but i would argue that he is actually doing psychological research. that's just like the ink-blot tests. meaningless input that the patient/subject/audience applies an interpretive scheme to and injects meaning into is simply the essence of psychological research. i would strongly contend that art, from the same root as artifice or artisan is the skill of communication, which implies content. the methods he espouses are useful for determining success, but he is simply an artistic researcher with nothing to say. he may be the best in the world at that, but i wouldn't even consider it art, or would argue he lucked into creating some of it through an imperfect understanding of himself.

beauty for beauty's sake

this one's a follow up on my conversation with rory, so brother, i'm actively inviting comment.

i've been musing more and more about our conversation on "art for art's sake," and while i was initially rather surprised at the vehemence which my brother opposed the idea of art for art's sake, given the amount of time he invests in what i would call exactly that, i think that i begin to see the difference in meaning, and i am retreating to a defense of "beauty for beauty's sake."

what i am essentially espousing is that god pushes back the darkness and the ugliness of a fallen world, a stained and broken world, and gives us an echo of what was intended and what will one day be again, and that we see that echo in loving relationships and the beauty of the natural world. i believe that one sense in which we are created in the image of god is that we, too, create aesthetically, and that this is a fundamental act of war against chaos and pain and darkness and falsehood. in a very real way, the answer for the "why" of creating beauty in all it's forms is simply "because it wasn't there," and that's enough.

i think that much of the confusion comes in over what art is anyway. if the definition of art is vague, then a phrase such as "art for art's sake" is simply doomed.

that's a topic for another entry though. much of what passes for art today is actually psychological research, which i find quite humorous. I actually value both, but i wish we could keep them straight.

Friday, February 13, 2009

as best as i can remember

rich mullins' "the world as best as i can remember it" albums, which i enjoyed, struck me as pretty odd when i first heard them. not just the title, but many of the songs. but i've found that as i've gotten older, i have more appreciation of the sentiments.

our understanding of our world and even of ourselves is embedded in a narrative of memory that is far from perfect, and highly interpretive. (surely anyone who's married can appreciate this.)

having kept a journal more or less consistently for the past 10 years, i've come to appreciate that my real-time documentation of events doesn't always look exactly like my recollections of my own life. the point at which certain ideas began to tumble around in my head, or when my fondness for a particular place began to wane, and all sorts of personal changes, didn't really happen when and how i remember them, exactly. when i go back and look at the record, they are out of sequence, or different in intensity, or actually happened at slightly different times. it's quite revealing, actually. what's more odd, you would expect that big life changing events would be more clearly remembered. they are in fact more clearly remembered, but apparently not any more accurately.

i think this is one of the reasons we need others to speak into our interpretations, and i think that's why most things that are worth writing about are occasioned by conversations with others. really we rarely come up with any good insight, even about ourselves, on our own. it's the interaction with friends and family that produces most of what is best in us.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

what a great morning!

What a perfect morning! wake up crazy early, read a little nietzche, do some stretching, get some work done, hours to get the day started, and very few of my coworkers answering their email right now... and i've still got my half hour of economics lectures to look forward to on the drive in to meet a very interesting group of people.

really, i find i'm in agreement with solomon. you really can't get much better than a satisfying, enjoyed marriage to a wonderful person, and work to do each day that you are deeply interested in. if you've got other good family and friends thrown into the mix, you are the richest person on earth.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

wild at heart

this one goes out to rory, who doesn't like the book because he felt like the first chapter implied that all men like to hunt elk.

speaking as one who loves to hike in the mountains, but has never once felt the slightest urge to shoot just about anything, i said i felt like that entirely missed the point of the entire book. that's just how it surfaced for the author.

i work with some great guys, and somehow, they convinced me to register for the new orleans ironman. anyone reading this who knows me knows how ridiculous that is. i didn't even own a road bike! still, i'd gained weight since we moved here, and i've always needed a goal to motivate any sort of training, so i went for it.

i normally have an appointment every tuesday morning, but the other party cancelled it last night, so i thought it was a perfect chance to get in a long ride. i suppose i should have seen things coming with the string of issues at the start. someone in the house had borrowed my helmet and put it in the wrong place, the tire was flat, the pump wasnt working right, etc. finally i got on the road. i had a problem with my shoes about mile 5, and foolishly reaching down to fix it instead of stopping, i veered a bit, caught a ridge at the edge of the bike trail, and wiped out at a good clip. ouch. covered with mud and road rash, bleeding from about 5 places, i check myself over and confirm it's nothing serious. a minor price to pay for the amusement of hundreds of passing motorists. so i take a good long drink and get back on. a bit painful, resting the abrased elbow in the aerobars, but not too bad.

until mile 13, when my back tire goes completely flat. this is my first tire issue, remember i just bought the bike! so i start working on it, and just before i run out of co2 i actually get it patched, back together and filled. took a LONG time. but i bent the brake in the process, and now the back wheel wont turn. finally, i bend the brake back out of the way. it doesn't work, but the wheel turns.

and then the icy cold downpour began and the wind picked up.

i just laughed and looked to heaven. i think god likes to wrestle a bit, and that's where the title reference comes from. i have to disagree with you rory, at least for most of us. i think there's an exhultation in the struggle, the stinging freezing rain. i think it's like wrestling your dad -- you know he'll win, but you want to give it a strong show. i know nature can best me, but i'm most alive in the struggle, testing my limits against the elements. i may do some of my most important work in flourescent lit offices, but i'm not really alive there. i'm alive in the struggle, both in the OR, and on a mountainside in the driving rain.

ahhh. little people are home, speaking of aliveness and meaning.

Monday, February 9, 2009

art for art's sake

during the weekend i had several conversations with my brother in law about the role of art in a christian's life. well, maybe about it's place, rather than it's role. he's a musician, so i was somewhat surprised by his rather vehement protest of "art for art's sake"

tonight i sit and listen to my wife play one of her songs for a group of new artist-friends, and i see that it brings out all that is best in her.

flowers are useless. would you want to live in a world without them? useless beauty. look at the world god made, the aesthetic extravagance, the excess.

the sara groves song "why it matters" touches on this. "like a statue in the park of this war-torn town, and it's protest of the darkness, and this chaos all around. with it's beauty, how it matters, how it matters."

i'm just not sure how art works outside the christian worldview, but then, that's why i'm a christian, right? the conceptions of meaning, purpose, and beauty are all radically different from another religious/epistemological vantage point.

"and god saw that it was very good" ... couldn't that have been translated "that it was beautiful"?

a weekend with family

well, i admit i'd rather trailed off on entries. i had the distinct impression that no one read any of these posts, and since i've had a long term conviction that the world at large is distinctly disinterested in my opinion, i rather passively decided to go back to my previous habits of keeping my thoughts to myself. I've been a long-time journaller, since the end of medical school, and i can always give up the granting of public access to those thoughts again, very easily.

and then, this past weekend, we had the joy of a visit from my sister and brother in law. really great folks on a lot of levels. and they were asking questions from that last entry on the commercialism and how they'd trailed off on checking since it'd been so long.

I'm distracted by the bagpipes playing in the park. sorry if i lose my train of thought. i love this city.

so, through that conversation, and many others through the weekend, i started to feel like it might be worth tapping some thoughts into the public sector again. i suppose it is unlikely to do any harm making them accessable. if no one ever reads them, it's just like my journal, with less carbon footprint.

our greatest discussions in our family of late have been about schooling for the kiddos. patenting simply must be the hardest of human occupations. at a moral level, the sense of responsibility is staggering. and yet, over all of human history, the entire bell curve of humanity has been pulling it off. it's not like there's an iq test you have to pass before you can procreate.

so there's always a bit of discussion surrounding our (current) decision to home school. My wife was trained as a music teacher, so it's not as if we're opposed to formal education. we haven't lived in louisiana long, and there's been an enormous amount of change for these little people in the past couple years. they were home schooled in macon, and they were briefly in school when we first moved here.

why the belief that school is better? it's not a very efficient system for the child's time. they don't generally like it. i'm not sure that they usually are such a good influence on each other. what's the plus?

Ah, well, i've barely scratched the surface and i'm out of time for tonight. many more nights to come.