The Super Bowl is Tomorrow. Who Knew?!

I am going to a party tomorrow and don’t want to appear more foolish or out of touch than usual. Apparently, the Super Bowl is tomorrow evening so that’s the theme of the party. I wondered why someone would schedule a party on a Sunday evening when people have to go to work the next day. Now I know.  Through some research, I have learned that the Steelers are playing the Cardinals. While the Steelers are still in Pittsburgh, it turns out that the Cardinals have moved from St Louis to Phoenix, who knew?!

This may surprise you, but it’s been a while since I’ve paid much attention to professional football. For example, I also learned during my research that Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris and Mean Joe Greene have all retired so I don’t really know any of the players for the Steelers.

Football means the smell of Ohio Valley autumn leaves to me so I just can’t root for the Cardinals – there aren’t any trees in Phoenix for Chrissake!! Besides, I grew up in the shadow of the Black & Gold. I always liked that guy that played with half his foot blown off in Viet Nam. What was his name? You gotta love a team that would give a fella like that a chance. Nice bunch of guys, don’t ya think?

So here’s where you Steelers Fans come in. What are FIVE things I should know about the Steelers in order to cover up my total ignorance of the NFL? Nothing too complicated that would be difficult to memorize, please.  It would also help to have two or three things to help me trash talk those good for nuthin’ city hoppin’ Cardinals but don’t worry if you can’t come up with anything or you’re just to polite to diss the competition.

Thanks for your help.

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Haiku 012809

Sunshine slicing through the clouds.
Ice on trees like prisms, splitting light into tiny colored sparkles.
Beauty.

Atlas Shrugged – revisited

I read Ayn Rand’s 1957 masterpiece, “Atlas Shrugged,” in high school. I remember the appeal of her story describing the power of an individual making the choice to act counter to the crowd and the system. It was a welcome message to me then and I have kept the yellowing paperback with me over the past thirty years. I now wonder if what I took from the book then was simply what I wanted – teenage validation of a naive self-image of independence and self-sufficiency.

As I worked yesterday with the radio playing in the other room, I heard the words, “Atlas Shrugged.” The words cut through the white noise of the news of failing economy, betrayed trust and political change like the sound of your own name overheard in a crowded room. I immediately stopped and turned my attention to the radio but the story was done. I don’t know the context but somehow I understood that the it’s time to reread the book. This time to discover the depth and power of Rand’s intended message and not to be satisfied with wading in the shallows.

I’ve just begun but have already found in the first few pages validation that this book promises to speak to our times. I reread these three paragraphs several times as the awareness of institutional and leadership betrayals of the past several months colored the white spaces between the words. I expect this book to be full of new insight and nuance written in a voice that we haven’t heard over the din of the crowd for a long, long time.

The great oak tree had stood on a hill over the Hudson, in a lonely spot on the Taggert estate. Eddie Willers, aged seven, liked to come and look at that tree. It had stood there for hundreds of years, and he thought it would always stand there. Its roots clutched the hill like a fist with fingers sunk deep into the soil, and he thought that if a giant were to seize it by the top, he would not be able to uproot it, but would swing the hill and whole of the earth with it, like a ball at the end of a string. He felt safe in the oak tree’s presence; it was a thing that nothing could change or threaten; it was his greatest symbol of strength.

One night, lightning struck the oak tree. Eddie saw it the next morning. It lay broken in half, and he looked into its trunk as into the mouth of a black tunnel. The trunk was only an empty shell; its heart had rotted away long ago; there was nothing inside – just a thin gray dust that was being dispersed by the whim of the faintest wind. The living power had gone, and the shape it left had not been able to stand without it.

Years later, he heard it said that children should be protected from shock, from their first knowledge of death, pain or fear. But these had never scarred him; his shock came when he stood very quietly, looking into the black hole of the trunk. It was an immense betrayal – the more terrible because he could not grasp what it was that had been betrayed. It was not himself, he knew, nor his trust; it was something else. He stood there for a while, making no sound, then he walked back to the house. He never spoke about it to anyone, then or since.

Religion and Self-Control

I read an interesting blog post today by NY Times Science writer, John Tierney, on the topic of religion and self-control. I submitted a comment to the piece and have copied the essence of Tierney’s blog and my comment here. While I stand by what I say below, I have to admit to the irony of this blog. I should have been working on the more pressing items on my “To Do” list. So much for self-control.

You can find a link to Tierney’s blog, TierneyLab, under  “Blogs I Like” on the right.

Religion and Self-Control

Is self-discipline one reason that religious people tend to live longer? Do religious belief and piety promote self-control? You can find one answer in my Findings column. It discusses research from two psychologists at the University of Miami, Michael McCullough and Brian Willoughby, who have surveyed eight decades of scientific literature (pdf) to see if people who are more religious tend to have stronger self-control.

1. Are there any specific religious or spiritual activities that you have found to help build your self-control, or your child’s self-control?
2. Religious activities can also be exhausting, and presumably they could they could wear down someone’s self-control. Has this ever happened to you or your child?
3. If you’re not religious, what do you think of Dr. McCullough’s advice that it might be possible to build self-control by tying your New Year’s resolutions to sacred (but non-religious) values like self-reliance or concern for all of humanity?

My response:

I believe that this phenomenon of ‘religious’ people demonstrating more self-control is probably true but not due to the ‘religion’ that one learns at church, temple or mosque but due to the ‘ethics’ and ‘values’ discussions and education that occurs there. As the author, Karen Armstrong, documented in her book, ‘The Great Transformation,’ most cultures and faiths have independently developed some interpretation of what’s known to Christians as the Golden Rule as a positive way to live our lives on earth, irregardless of what some god may have in store for us later.

The notion that we should treat others as we wish to be treated requires an examination not only of others’ behaviors and actions but of our own. Once we begin to be aware of (and are then self-critical of) our own behaviors, we are more likely to avoid doing things that others might find reason to criticise – we exhibit self control. In doing this, we enable others to treat us favorably.

My own experience is that most people tire quickly of sermons and lessons (and water cooler talk) that focus too heavily on spirituality and theology. Zealotry, like a good martini, has a time and place but a little bit goes a long way. We would rather be taught how to make our faith relevant to our day-to-day lives. Personally, the sermons that don’t put me to sleep or to checking my blackberry are usually those that offer practical advice on how to live happily and productively among others. I suspect that anyone who regularly subjects themselves to a dose of practical ethical reminders is more prone to self-examination and to therefore improve their self-control in many aspects of their lives. And this, I believe, will lead to improved quality in one’s life.

As the Theory of Relativity is foundational to modern science, the Golden Rule is to life. We don’t fully understand the scope of either which is why inquiry and faith (in science and humanity) are so important. We do know through our own experiences however, that things get more difficult when we act as though these fundamental principles don’t exist.

Thank you for posing these important questions.

— John Fonner

Humility vs. Humiliation

The NY Times article in the following link is an sober acknowledgement of the addictive thrill of power. As Dr. Friedman points out, the extrodinary financial success that the ‘Masters of the Universe’ enjoyed over the past decade was to many, their sole measure of success. To see yourself go from ‘winner’ to ‘loser’ in the span of a few months must surely be  humiliating.  

I suggest that humility is best experienced in a slow steady drip over a life time rather than in fire hose portions all at once.  Had Dr. Friedman’s patients appreciated that their success was due, at least in part, to good fortune and the hard work of others perhaps their self-confidence wouldn’t be so battered today. Had they taken time to notice others not so fortunate, they might have realized that they should have considered themselves ‘blessed’ instead of ‘best.’

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/16/health/views/16mind.html

LinkedIn, FaceBook and the Blog

I received an email today from a former colleague who had noticed my use of LinkedIn and this blog. Cindy is the marketing manager of a regional engineering firm and asked for my thoughts about these tools for promoting her firm.  After writing the following response, I thought I would add it as a post because it explains what I’m trying to do here.  Maybe I’m just lazy but I prefer to think of it as “content recycling.”

Cindy,
When I started using LinkedIn, I wasn’t sure what the value was but was intrigued and kept at it. During my current job search, I’ve had several HR people tell me that they use it aggressively to identify and screen candidates for positions that they are trying to fill or recruit. I think it is especially important as a validation tool for professionals who describe themselves as “well-networked.” Several people have noticed & commented on how many people I’m connected to and what kinds of professions my connections are (ie economic development, real estate, consultants, etc). I also got an emotional boost a few weeks ago when I asked several people to write recommendations for me – many did and seeing their comments made me feel great. One prospective employer mentioned that he saw little need to ask for additional references from me so I know that recommendations get noticed. I don’t believe LinkedIn is a silver bullet and constant pursuit of more & more connections just for the sake of driving up the number would be a time-waster, but I think it has an important role in managing your own career. I think it could also be valuable as a tool for a company like yours trying to raise the exposure of their business development and thought leaders.
 
I am just getting started with my blog. A web-saavy friend recommended WordPress as a good on-line hosting service but there are several others. WordPress has lots of templates to choose from and the tools have been pretty intuitive to learn and use. If you have some engineers that are interested in blogging to promote your company, you might consider having them experiment with something free like WordPress or Blogger. Choose a template that is compatible with your website so you can link & promote their blogs in a way that is consistent with your branding.  If it’s a hit, then consider spending the money to host the blogs on your own IT so you can more fully integrate them into your website. This way you can see who is really committed (and not just a ‘tech-talker’) and experiment without spending any cash. Again, I’m just getting started so I probably sound like I know more than I really do.
 
You didn’t mention FaceBook, but I have been using it for a while and really like it although it really has high time-wasting potential.  I have started thinking of LinkedIn, FaceBook and my blog as three parts of the whole John Fonner “brand.” (I hate using that word – it sounds so trendy & pretentious to me – but I haven’t found a better one yet.) LI and FB are where I interact with my professional and personal networks, respectively, or where people can ‘discover’ me. My blog is the place where I more fully develop and share ideas and can get feedback from people in either network that are interested in the same things. I’m trying to link the three together in a way that is natural and appropriate without seeming too self-promoting. I’m having fun and like the intellectual challenge of all this. I’m not too worried about making mistakes but am simply trying to do things consciously with a plan in mind.
Good luck & have fun as you wade in!

Shame, hypocricy and humility & The Big Three

dogbert-hypocrite-022509I’m no apologist for the US auto industry, I switched to owning Toyota cars years ago for better quality and value.  I’m a loyal customer and it will be very hard for the Big Three to win me back.

However, the idea of shaming the CEOs of GM, Ford and Chrysler into driving to DC instead of flying in corporate planes is the grand height of hypocrisy in my view.  I suspect that every one of politicians and talking heads that are criticizing these CEOs have flown on corporate jets to speeches, conferences and plant tours several times in their careers to advance their own interests. And how many fighter jets get scrambled every time the President takes a helicopter to Andrews Air Force Base no more than 25 miles from the White House. Honestly, that practice is at least as much a demonstration of power as it is about security. Let’s all show some humility for a change.

There is plenty of blame to go around for the mess we’re in. We’re all culpable; government, corporations and consumers (the real Big Three) have all have made stupid decisions over the past decades following the ‘Madness of Crowds’ in our sense of entitlement and greed.  This is no time for rightous grandstanding or political posturing.  It’s time to fix stuff and get our priorities right.

If our so-called ‘leaders’ want my respect, then they need to take my grandfather’s advice before they start pointing out others’ flaws and failures, “When you point your finger at someone, remember that there are three more pointing back at you!”