What We Honor is Who We Are

This week is Days of Remembrance. Remember? Perhaps not, if not, I’m about to remind you. You surely remember this: “We are known by the company we keep.” It’s the same with our culture. Our holidays, observances, all add up to identify our identity as a society, and the days we make special as individuals signal who we are as individuals. If you wish think about it this way; it’s about branding. Who and what we associate ourselves with personally and publicly matters. Take a holiday like Martin Luther King Day, mandated by Congress in 1983. Some Senators opposed it. It passed 338 to 90. It is still working to take hold. There are a number of reasons for this, some bearing on the face we put on as a nation. The Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust (DRVH) is an annual 8-day period designated by Congress for civic commemorations and special educational programs that help citizens remember and draw lessons from the Holocaust. The period begins on the Sunday before the Jewish observance of Yom HaShoah. It is still working to take hold. A Facebook post from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum about the observance includes a reference to #DOR2015. The last time I checked there were but five posts associated with this hashtag, three of those from USHMM. Today is the first day of DRVH. Hardly trending. I’ll state it again: who and what we associate ourselves with personally and publicly matters. As a reminder, here’s a list of events. Here’s one reminder of mine, from my first visit to USHMM. It’s the Identification Card I was given as I entered. It is card #6706. The name on the card is that of Max Krakauer, born April 1, 1901,  the same month the Days of Remembrance commemorate to the victims. At 41, Max died either in the forced-labor camp at Rejowiec or in an extermination camp in Poland. This, I will always remember. USHMM ID CARD croppedUSHMM ID CARD 2 cropped  Note: On April 15, the start of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, On Being will present my essay “The Poetry of Bearing Witness” and from my Holocaust poetry series: “Terezin: Trilogy Of Names” — please share to help keep truth and memory alive.

Update — My latest in the Holocaust poetry series, “Pictures Of The Lodz Ghetto” reading:

 

Pete Seeger: A Personal Reflection on the Life Lesson He Left Behind

this machine surrounds hate and  forces it to surrender

This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender [“Pete’s banjo head.” Photograph of Pete Seeger’s banjo by Tom Davis (tcd123usa), via Flickr, licensed under a Creative Commons License.]

On July 14, 2013 I went online to the Woody Gurthrie.org website. It was Woody’s birthday after all. I was stunned to see a note of condolence to Pete on the loss of his wife Toshi. She had passed away just days before. I immediately composed a sympathy letter and sent it and less than three months later I received the postcard from Pete thanking me for my thoughtfulness.

He never wrote a memoir or autobiography per se. He did allow Rob and Sam Rosenthal to go through the boxes he kept of his personal papers, letters, and such to publish in 2012 Pete Seeger in His Own Words* in which is a letter from around 1986 to Tim Morris in which he wrote “The mail comes in to our house literally by the bushel, and I hardly have time to read it, much less answer it coherently.” But he did, answered them all, all in due time, as he answered mine.

I mentioned in mine to him a part of the lyric from one of the songs on his last album “A More Perfect Union” it goes: “Deep love, like a bountiful river/Fills the soul, renews the heart.” He said in his reply that those weren’t his words but those written by friend and fellow performer on the album Lorre Wyatt. But if you go to Appleseed Recordings’ notes about the album it clearly states “14 songs newly co-written with Wyatt.” this is just another illustration of Pete practicing humility, of giving not taking credit. His whole life was dedicated to giving, to including, to uniting — binding together, not tearing asunder. In that same letter to Morris he wrote: “there will be no world at all unless we change the directions of our lives.” And, “Pick some little struggles . . . little victories give us the courage to keep on struggling to win some bigger victories later.”

His beloved Hudson River; his beloved America; his beloved folk music; the confluence of all of these reflect the life of a man, reflect his demonstration of how to live a life, a life admired by so many if only practiced by a very few. Still we can strive to do so – live a life worth living – if we listen to the lesson of Pete. In my letter to him I said: “Thank you for continuing to change the world, one person at a time” — and so he shall, through the legacy of his music, his words, and his shining example.

*Quoted from with permission from Paradigm Publishers

Pete’s banjo drawing from postcard, enlarged

Pete’s banjo drawing from postcard, enlarged

Big Brother is here, it’s the bots

June 25 would have been the 110th birthday of George Orwell. I was reminded of this by the article in Popsci which features some pretty odd photos, here’s an example:

Surveillance camera donning hat in celebration of Orwell birthday

Surveillance camera donning hat in celebration of Orwell birthday

So they say one picture is worth a thousand words; in this case that’s not the case. Facebook, Google, et.al. are taking your words (and pictures too), thousands, millions of them and crunching them into big data piles that then get analyzed and simonized and turned into the real truth about you, which then gets turned into “gold” for the data miners who make sure the information gets into the right hands.  How important is all of this in the world of goods and services? Very important. McKinsey&Company, one of the “mining companies” that stands to gain by all of this makes it abundantly clear how critical the data is to our future as a society in the “picture” they paint in their post:

Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity

They’re not kidding around. The larger question is whether all of this manipulation and usage of personal information is innocuous, beneficent, or malevolent?  It is not yet clear what the big picture will be.

Howard R. Debs, The Blogger returns!

carlsandburg156024

I’m actually an optimist, but I’m heading the same way Sandburg did.

I’m back, occasionally.

Yes, for those who have missed me during my ramblings, for those who have yearned for more erudition about the things that matter most, I am back to post! Hey, that rhymes. Which is appropriate, since one of the many errands that took me away from this mission to explicate on the verities and related matters, was my penchant for  creative writing and determination to hit the literary trail. As The Little Einsteins say at the end of an episode, “Mission completion!” (yes I actually watch and enjoy The Little Einsteins); the mount of literary publication has been reached and you can go to a separate page on this site to see a selected list of publications graced or soon to be so with my presence. But enough about me.

This site was and is devoted to advancing the art and science of communications.  Now, in posts to come, I intend to expand on the subject matter to be covered, using this bedrock principle as a measure for all that appears here: if it can contribute to better more effective communication, private or public, it shall be admissible.

So thanks for allowing me back into your virtual hearth and home, I will try to make my stay pleasurable and productive. Stay tuned.

Is handwriting doomed?

To borrow from and revise Shakespeare (quite audacious of me ), I come not to bury handwriting nor to praise it.  Much has already been written – or should I say put in print – by technocrats signaling the assumed demise of handwriting, particularly cursive writing, and with no regrets mentioned. Just another pre-computer age relic, so be it. But before we bid adieu to the power of the pen, axiomatically being replaced by the power of the keyboard, let’s reflect on writing by hand.

At the conclusion of Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 the anti-intellectual hedonistic society that bans and burns books has all but collapsed and it is given to the “book-keepers” to start anew; in cases like this, those who possess fundamental skills are called upon;  survivors who are aware of how to apply rudimentary means to solve essential needs.

I remember an experience with a long-ago acquaintance who had a passion for sailing. He built a beautiful sailboat by himself and after it had proven seaworthy, he invited me to go sailing with him. One of the many fascinating features on the boat was that he had opted for a tiller rather than a steering wheel. When I questioned him as to why he had chosen to use the more labor intensive older means of maneuvering the vessel, he was quite clear: for him, the tiller was more responsive, more reliable, and simpler and therefore less prone to mechanical trouble. In fact much later I learned that emergency tillers are quite often used at least as a backup in case the steering wheel on a vessel fails to operate.

There is a story, a folktale of sorts.  It tells of a particular community that had invoked an involved ritual since time immemorial to protect its village. The knowledge of this was taught from generation to generation and thereby kept intact. But little by little as time went by, succeeding generations were less and less rigorous about learning the intricacies of the ritual, and subsequently forgot and left out steps one by one until all they could remember was the very basic incantation they had been taught, but  when this  itself was uttered,  amazingly it brought about the desired result.

GFDL or CC-BY-SA*

I reference these anecdotes here as they relate to handwriting. It may very well be a fundamental skill,  and a survival skill. It may also be a mind enhancing skill. Vanderbilt University education professor Steve Graham maintains that handwriting is a necessary building block: a number of studies show that quality of handwriting can affect everything from students’ grades to the complexity of expressed thought.

Keeping things in perspective, communication technology has certainly evolved; from Oral Culture, to Manuscript Culture, to Print Culture, to the present Electronic/Digital Culture. There are some who project a future, enabled by technology, in which a neo-oral culture will emerge. I have mentioned this in a previous post. As each successive innovation arrives it tends to impact but not necessarily displace previous means – back in 1955 a Saturday Evening Post article bemoaned the sure to come end of handwriting due to: “an increasing reliance on telephone, typewriter, dictating machines and electronic brains”.

To be sure handwriting was not always egalitarian. In ancient cultures scribes, persons educated in the art of writing, were an elite group. During medieval times, this exclusive competency became much the province of cloistered monks, whose painstaking copying of manuscripts is typically regarded as saving, along with the work of less heralded Jewish and Islamic scholars of the period,  a legacy of knowledge through the dark ages. In colonial times in America, there was a clear distinction between acquisition of skill in reading versus writing; the former, fairly universal, while writing on the other hand was generally reserved for males in the professions and the merchant class. By the eighteenth century, writing had become a usual skill of the well-bred, both men and women. Eventually, teaching penmanship passed from writing masters to public schools. The Spencerian method, first introduced in the 1840’s, and later superseded by the simpler, less elegant Palmer method in the early 1900’s became de rigueur as a part of everyone’s elementary education. Everyone developed a distinct if not perfect handwriting in the process.

Indeed, handwriting is very personal. This is something to recommend it. Historians can pour over a rough draft of a handwritten document, replete with strikeouts and word revisions, and garner much of value through such analysis. The personal touch of a handwritten note has a value as well, to the recipient.

When all is said and done, any advance assumes a cumulative aspect, not a zero sum approach. In origin, the word advance in fact comes from the idea of being in front (of ); implying something is backing up whatever is in front – in the case of tools of communication, handwriting is the ultimate backup.

Two good books on the subject of handwriting are Handwriting in America: A Cultural History by Professor Tamara Plakins Thornton and the recent Script and Scribble: The Rise and Fall of Handwriting by Kitty Burns Florey.

*Vintage Esterbrook Pen Co. Ad, copyright (c) 2009, Communicators & Communications. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.3 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation;
with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.
A copy of the license is included in the section entitled “GNU
Free Documentation License”
.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/10/30/is-handwriting-doomed/

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Town hall protesters communicate effectively, not?

It is time to examine – in a dispassionate and calm manner – the effectiveness of the communications strategy enlisted by those protesting at  town hall meetings being held around the country, in particular those protesters  raising their voices – quite literally – when the ideas being proposed by the Obama administration and in Congress related to the issue of health care reform are the focus of attention.

With the Congress summer recess,  legislators are heading back to home territory and to their constituents, employing the opportunity to try to connect with those who put them in office through, among other means, a communications vehicle that has been used for some time albeit with much sparser audiences than during this “summer of discontent”, the so-called “town hall” format; a forum in which, ideally, the elected official speaks to the issues and garners feedback in the form of questions and comments from those “regular folks” who attend. The idea theoretically is to provide give and take between voters and the politicians who represent them; the town hall concept is intended to provide a sounding board to take the measure of those at the local level.

Well, this summer the “measure” seems like it should be taken with a decibel meter! Relatively large groups of people are fomenting considerable discord  seeming to treat these occasions much like a sporting event and as a stage upon which to showcase their approach to disagreement, and it is their modus operandi that is our interest here.

Dr. P.M. Forni is an award winning professor at John Hopkins University,  founder of the Civility Initiative, and author of Choosing Civility: The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct. His work has been featured in The New York Times, the Washington Post, the London Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes Magazine, and he has appeared on national media including National Public Radio (NPR) and The Oprah Show.  

What has been taking place is available to be seen on YouTube videos and cable and network TV. Suffice it to say that the protesters have just about smashed the tablets of Dr. Forni’s “Twenty Five Rules” including especially Rule 10 – Respect Others’ Opinions; Rule 13 – Keep It Down (and Rediscover Silence); Rule 14 – Respect Other People’s Time; Rule 15 – Respect Other People’s Space; Rule 23 – Give Constructive Criticism. To find out more about “Choosing Civility” go to:
http://krieger.jhu.edu/civility/choosingcivility.html

John Stuart Mill, the 19th century philosopher and political theorist, author of On Liberty, and influential advocate of freedom of speech, is quoted in Forni’s Choosing Civility: “If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” But it seems apparent a main thrust of the protesters’ efforts is in fact to “silence” the speaker.

We will resist the temptation to address whether these protesters are coming together in an organized or spontaneous fashion, whether truly grassroots or “astoturf”, non-local “mercenaries”, sponsored by major interests – stakeholders in the outcome of the health care reform debate – or whether one believes the rabble have been roused by the likes of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, et.al.  and on the “other side”  whether Dems. have brought in “union goons” to intimidate the protesters. You can see from the terminology alone, the temperature is definitely rising .

This blog is committed to discussion and analysis of what constitutes effective communication. I have in previous posts addressed a number of the principal considerations in this regard, and I particularly draw attention in this instance to the post “President Obama’s scorecard as communicator-in-chief”:

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/04/08/president-obamas-scorecard-as-communicator-in-chief/, not because it refers to President Obama at that early time in his administration when his communication team was attempting  to kick start renewed confidence by the general public in our faltering economy, but because the post gives some basis for assessing  the effectiveness of  communication efforts in general. I wrote: “How do you determine whether you’re communicating effectively? By evaluating results. You set objectives…for your effort…and then you use some appropriate means to measure effect.” Sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? Let’s see if we can apply this standard to the protesters at the  town hall meetings.

Of course all this has to remain speculative, but if you are trying to demonstrate anger for a proposition, it probably makes sense to find a video camera and a microphone and start shouting “I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!” (famous line delivered by Peter Finch as the ex-TV anchor Howard Beale in the 1976 movie “Network” ).

So, while it may not be according to Hoyle, or in this case Forni, the point of all of this may just be making an impression, but with whom? John Q. Public?, the rank and file of the Republican Party?

This gets us to the matter, also previously broached on this blog, of “truthiness”; I referenced the book True Enough by Farhad Manjoo in a previous post https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/03/16/a-jurassic-park-kind-of-world/ ; there I quoted from the Publishers Weekly review of the book that Manjoo analyzes, “…the status of truth in the digital age, critiquing a Rashomon-like world in which competing versions of truth vie for our attention.”

So do the tactics employed by the town hall protesters have traction? It depends on who you ask and poll.  For now though, without any doubt,  they are generating less light than heat!

Addendum: In response to a particular comment received related to this post, I want to state that any appearance of prejudice – positive or negative – for any group in this present health care debate is unintended. The health care issue gravitates around larger issues – one in particular being the perspective  different people have of the very nature of our society. My only bias is in favor of effective communication.

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/08/11/town-hall-protesters-communicate-effectively-not/

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Internet addiction, seriously

Recently I came across a Time magazine article about patients at a Chinese Internet Addiction Center that started me doing some serious research on the existence of this condition, debated as to whether it is to be considered a bona fide psychological disorder, and also the implications of a totalitarian society like China declaring it as such. I conjure up images of A Clockwork Orange and  Nineteen Eighty-Four.

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1880659,00.html

There is certainly a legitimate concern it seems to me about “overuse” and “abuse” – cybersex in particular comes to mind, but should it be included in the next (2012) edition of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)?

Apparently the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Psychiatric Association have had some ambivalence about labeling this as an actual clinical disorder as well.

The Wikipedia article on Internet addiction, which provides a pretty fair overview (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_addiction) points out that while “a person could have a pathological relationship with… specific aspects of the Internet…that does not make the Internet medium itself…addictive.”

On the other hand many consider this definitely a matter to be reckoned with, for example the Texas State University Counseling Center devotes a full section of its web site to the issue: http://www.counseling.txstate.edu/resources/shoverview/bro/interadd.html

Dr. Kimberly B. Young of St. Bonaventure University in her article “Treatment Outcomes with Internet Addicts” published in a journal I wager few outside the “tech-way” have heard of, CyberPsychology & Behavior, (2007, Vol. 10, No. 5; pp. 671-679) writes, “Technology is changing the nature of problems people are having as well as how we treat them.” Dr. Young, a psychologist,  has published numerous works relating to this, including her, some might say, groundbreaking book, Caught in the Net: How to Recognize Internet addiction and A Winning Strategy for Recovery. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (1998). She is also the executive director of the Center for Online and Internet Addiction.

The idea of Internet addiction started out as somewhat of a joke. In 1995, Dr. Ivan Goldberg, a New York psychiatrist, coined the term Internet addiction disorder (IAD) in jest. Some still treat the matter lightly, perhaps feeling uncomfortable in their own enthusiastic, dare we say, time consuming utilization; W. M. Auckerman, the Editor of Computing Japan magazine advocates reciting the following “prayer” if concerned about being overtaken by the malady:

Almighty Webmaster:
Grant me the serenity to know when to log off,
The courage to know when to check email,
And the wisdom to stay away from chat rooms.

To the patients at the Chinese Internet Addiction Center in Beijing whose strict disiplinary schedule during their obligatory three month stay includes rising at 6:30 a.m. to a regimen of military drills, therapy sessions, and reading, and of course no access to cell phones or computers, this is no laughing matter!

https://communicatorsandcommunications.com/2009/08/08/internet-addiction-seriously/

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