The fatal flaw of the “it gets better” campaign finally came alive to me. Now, before you criticize, I understand that bullying of any sort is terrible and that a positive message is good.

It never gets any better for butter.

But here’s the catch. Why do we ask people to wait and be patient for things to get better? Isn’t that the mental trap we all inhabit anyway? If only this thing I am hoping for came to pass, then my life would be perfect. It can be any number of things that are easy to imagine–a new car, a new  job, a new spouse, a new school.

The process devalues the present moment and forestalls the possibilities of being whole now, not in some distant future. No wonder it caught on so quickly.

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Grey, cloudy skies and bitter cold temperatures suck the life from people, students included. We should hibernate in the winter–or fly south–and go to school in the summer.

It is a vise-like feeling that is not altogether unpleasant. That’s why it is so hard to shake.

Another aphorism about youth and technology: If you truly believe all information is at your fingertips, you are less likely to really dig for it–or learn how to dig for it.

I can’t believe this became news to me only this morning: Obama is a heretic. His alleged sin? Failure to believe in American exceptionalism.

The irony, already pointed out, is that he is no such thing. He just expresses his beliefs differently. Pity.

Dude, where's my country?

What this country needs is someone to point out the absurdity of the belief. Hello! People in every country believe their homeland has some special quality or mission.

For us, it happens to be our political system, which is increasingly indistinct from our economic system. Other countries are proud of their social safety nets, their excellent taste in wine, their clean, roomy prison systems, etc. No one is sitting around thinking, “Why can’t we merge our garden-variety nation with our cooler, more exceptional neighbor to the north/south/east/west?”

It takes courage to see the world as it is, not the way we imagine it to be. But it’s not the kind of courage we expect from a politician, liberal or conservative. But why shouldn’t we?

 

 

A lot, and we might go blind. So with that out of the way, I hope you enjoyed President Obama’s State of the Union speech.

Rock, paper...shredder!!!

What I love best are the critics who blast it as just words. Um, it was a speech. Of course it was just words. Did you expect Obama to pick up a hammer and start building that wall we want erected along the Mexican border? Or did you expect him to whip out some federal grant checks and run them through a shredder? “This is how serious I am about cutting spending!!!!”

His speech is just words. The response is just words. And all those people pointing out that Michelle Bachmann wasn’t looking at the camera? Words. What can we say? We’re in love with them.

 

The news cycle has mostly moved on from discussing alleged links between violent political rhetoric and the Tucson, Ariz. shooting. And the spectacle of our legislators sitting boy, girl, boy, girl, er, D, R, D, R, will further move us beyond it.

Nonetheless, let’s postulate this as  one of the reasons we react so strongly to the alleged links: If media and messages can make someone do that, what other, smaller things can they make us do? In other words, the discussion beckons us to question the source(s) of our own thoughts and desires, and that’s not something we really want to dwell on. And if we do dwell, we don’t want to stay too long or venture beyond the poles of conventional wisdom.

A clever invention, but it doesn't light up all by itself.

How much of us is really us, and how much comes from outside, whether it’s all those Smurf cartoons we watched as children or that odd tension we recall from our childhood homes?

There’s no easy answer, so it’s inevitable that our national attention will move on to something else. Human motivation is just too complicated. But you don’t have to be crazy to acknowledge that we hear other people’s voices coming from our own mouths sometimes–namely, the voices of our parents. But if we are honest, we can likely name other voices as well.

 

 

My goal today is to get better at sitting and typing even if I have nothing to say, hence the title of this post. Really, things could go either way. I could produce a placebo, or I could plumb some unknown depth.

The wrench is both a help and a hindrance to thieves.

Then I began looking for pictures, and wrenches seemed to predominate. So, they call the work plumbing, yet it involves a lot of wrenching. That seems fitting, somehow. But it doesn’t offer me any place to go. So, I will move to another interesting chapter in Tales of a Pathfinder, the 1920 memoir of highway pathfinder A.L. Westgard.

In this particular chapter, Westgard spills a great deal of ink describing the many languages he encounters in hamlets and towns across America. Here is his take on a Norwegian man, living in western Illinois, who spoke no English:

The wonder of it was that he had lived right on that land for forty-two years. As the country was settled almost exclusively by his countrymen, he had never learned English, though he had been a productive citizen for a generation and voted regularly at every election.

Westgard, an immigrant himself, was undoubtedly a sympathetic audience not given to flights of outrage over someone voting yet not being able to speak English. Ironically, however, Westgard’s work as a highway pathfinder helped connect those pockets of people speaking Norwegian, German, Italian and Spanish–no doubt ratcheting up pressure for everyone to learn English.

 

 

 

It’s another new era in Pennsylvania, another attempt to get it right. Welcome, Tom Corbett. It’s your state now. But all this talk of making PA more business-friendly has me a little bit concerned.

Never shake a baby's hand.

Oh, I understand that businesses need to make money and that they don’t like taxes any more than the rest of us. But we’ve been going in this direction a long time, and I’m not sure it has brought us much in the way of general prosperity.

What your promises are likely to mean is that people will have to sacrifice, people who already are suffering, so that people who have a lot can keep more of it. Yes, it sounds like class warfare…didn’t they earn it after all, and shouldn’t they be allowed to keep it (ah, the presumption–that government is the one “allowing” us to enjoy the fruits of our labor).

It’s easy to pump up the rhetoric. But in the end, it’s just sad. I predict that the libertarian right will be disappointed in the end results of the Corbett administration, but barring some greater economic catastrophe, they will remain convinced that the state just wasn’t friendly enough.

Technological innovation leads to greater efficiency: a simple maxim that seems to carry the force of law. But you don’t have to scratch deep to find other effects of innovation.

Hoping to stave off riots, Pennsylvania officials separated the red and white wines.

You can read books to discern those effects, including Nicholas Carr’s The Big Switch or David Noble’s Forces of Production.

No time to read? Stroll into a Pennsylvania supermarket and gawk at a wine kiosk (left), a frightening cross between a vending machine, an ATM and a prison, brought to us by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

Anyone care to argue that this technology is the most efficient way to sell wine? The machine obviously serves other purposes, mostly having to do with control–and they haven’ t even been very good at that.

In this case, technology’s other purposes are obvious. Other cases are less obvious, which allows me to circle back to highways, my original inspiration for blogging this year. Highways are synonymous with freedom. But why?