Saturday, March 18, 2017

Amazing and Unhappy

The people I listen to on the radio and the people I read are talking about it.  A class I took last year examined it in depth.  I see it everyday in my elevator, on the street, at the theater.  It is our attachment to our electronic devices.

Two quotes stopped me in my tracks.  One was from the comedian Louis C.K. in an article by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker:

Everything is amazing and nobody is happy.  Each citizen carries on her person a computer more powerful than any available to a billionaire two decades ago, and many are using their devices to express their unbridled rage at the society that put them in our pockets.

The other quote came up in a discussion between Terry Gross and Adam Alter about his book "Irresistible.  The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked."  His research shows that addiction to video gaming and electronic devices has the same effect on us as does heroin.  In commenting on this he says:

"These people have less of an attention span than that of a goldfish."

Gopnik's essay examines the crushing re-examination of liberalism and capitalism.  Alter's book lays it out pretty clearly in his title.

Two authors. Two Adams. Is the "original" Adam trying to tell us something?

Friday, March 17, 2017

Deep Purple

My team, Northwestern, made it into the NCAA tournament for the first time ever.  And, they won their first game by two points.  The other team made a mistake in the final seconds while the Wildcats kept their poise.  The stands were a sea of purple, dotted with the many famous alums from TV and radio.  Now they face one of the powerhouse teams.  We have until Saturday.  And then . . .?

At a moment like this it's easy to understand why the dark side of the NCAA is so hard to address.  Who wants to think about the moveable money and the exploitation when it just feels so good to win.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Another March Madness

Orr Academy, a high school on Chicago's west side, won the Illinois State High School Basketball Championship last night.  I watched because I had become captivated by Rick Telander's five part series in the Sun Times.  Rick, the long time sportswriter, spent time with the boys and their coach Lou Adams.  The series was titled:  A Season Under the Gun.  Everyone in Chicago knows what that means.

As I was cheering, I thought: "My best hope for these champs is that this isn't the best moment in their lives.  That they will have a good life to grow into.  Of course you know what's behind that thought: "I hope they don't get shot like so many of their friends and family members."

March Madness indeed.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Creatures From the Past

My friend Sue takes a pill when she wakes up in the middle of the night.  I listen to the radio.  I used to like Art Bell and his gaggle of conspiracy people, cranks, and survivalists.  Reputable scientists like Michio Kaku would come on too.  Those were the best nights.

Now I listen to BBC News.  When they are not covering all the wars and other misery, they have fascinating programs about how creative we can be.  Last night I learned about "genetic rescue" and "back-breeding" as ways of fighting the extinction of so many species.  Turning around the Darwinian clock can also be used to restore lost forests.

Yesterday my friend Myles sent me one of those cute internet posts about nostalgia.  Scientists are using our healthier "good old days" to -- maybe -- save our future.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

An Illusion?

One of my favorite contemporary philosophers is Daniel Dennett.  (He looks the part, doesn't he?)  He tackles the problem of illusion this way:  We experience a world full of other people, plants, animals, home runs, problems, opportunities and mistakes.  To scientists, the world is made up of molecules, atoms, electrons, gravity, and all that Steven Hawking stuff.  Dennett seems fully aware that most of us will say: "Okay. So what?" and move on with our day.

So, for us complex creatures, he introduces the idea of competency without comprehension.  This was the genius of Steve Jobs, et al.  Make it easy to use and carry around, and the mind-numbing complexity of the systems behind it all are of no concern.  Thus, illusion keeps it going.

What about our subjective inner lives?  Are we ready to see them as illusions? Are we ready to succumb to the furniture vs. the molecules?

I agree this is eye-rolling stuff, but these are the kinds of questions we will have to deal with politically now that the robots are among us, taking over our work,  and maybe being in the process of developing minds of their own.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Singing the Illinois Blues

No, I'm not talking about the sorry state of the Bulls and the Bears.  Their ownership deserves our contempt.  It's just so sad to be a fan.  I'm talking about other "ownership" deserving of our contempt -- the politicians.

It was good "pol-watching" at Gibson's a few weeks ago.  George Ryan looked fit and happy.  I guess a few years out of jail gets your bounce back.  The Illinois Blues goes like this:  first we vote for them, then we hate them, then we jail them.  And they just keep their big fat pensions through it all.

Jesse Jackson stopped by to schmooze with George.  Everyone's a pal at Gibson's.  And, we're around to pick up the check.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Who will Survive?

One of my favorite experiences was when Bill, Natalie and I went from Melbourne to Phillip Island.  The lure was the arrival every evening at sunset of hundreds of penguins.  They would emerge from the ocean, cross the beach and climb the slopes to their natural nesting place.

The Australia tourism people -- always in good taste --had erected stands where we could watch the penguin parade but not interfere.  We were instructed politely to maintain quiet and no cameras.  It was magical.

The recent article in The New Yorker about the survivalist billionaires reminded me of my "back to nature" moment.  Despairing of our institutions, or maybe fearing a revolt, they are "getting away from it all" by burrowing down in bunkers in Kansas.  Or, buying up property in remote New Zealand at such a rapid pace that the natives are feeling invaded by nervous Yanks.

I don't know if there are penguins in New Zealand.  But I'm sure there are other sea creatures who eye the shore.  Maybe they see the panicky humans searching for a nesting place. Making sure "I've got mine."  Maybe they just turn around and return to the sea.