Sunday, June 29, 2008

The right brain is the right brain

Working in the field of education means frequently I have to learn stuff. Yeah, I know, bummer. This week I was given four books by my bosses which I’m supposed to read over the summer. I guess this means I won’t be reading that private eye thriller as I relax by the pool. Actually, relaxing by the pool is not something I do, which is of benefit to anyone else wishing to relax by the pool. Let’s just say I would never be mistaken for Orlando Bloom.
One book is titled “Building Leadership Capacity in Schools”. I am voting this one most likely to make we consider claiming temporary blindness. The best glimmer of hope is the author’s name: Linda Lambert. That is a classic comic book name. By day she is mild-mannered education expert, Linda Lambert, but at night she becomes Wonder Teacher Lady. Completely unafraid of story problems, able to divide fractions in her head, and armed with only two super sharp No. 2 pencils, she strikes fear into all ill-informed ignorance mongers. Maybe not.
The second one is “The Five Dysfunctions of Team”. At first I thought it was going to be about the Kansas City Royals post-1989, but I found out otherwise. This book presents itself as a leadership fable. The idea is a corporation (let’s say Exxon) is something like that dog carrying a bone who peers into a pond (the outer continental shelf) and sees what he believes to be another dog holding another bone (more oil). The dog is jealous so he jumps into the pond dropping his own bone. The dog is able to find more bones in the pond (offshore oil) but it makes no difference in the price of dog food for at least twelve years. I could be wrong.
The third book is “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell. It is a book about how the brain works particularly in regards to the snap decisions people make which are often more accurate than ones made with greater stress and strain. One corollary of Mr. Gladwell’s thesis is these accurate blink decisions are made by people with a large knowledge base in the matter at hand. Snap decisions by Dale Earnhart Jr. about how his engine are highly dependable, but asking him to invest your retirement fund may not be that bright. At the same time I’m not asking Alan Greenspan to diagnose my minivan’s odd noises.
The last book is “A Whole New Mind” by Daniel Pink. This is another book exploring brain science. Mr. Pink spends the first few chapters discussing the difference between the right and left hemispheres of the human brain. The right brain is more holistic and intuitive. It helps people read the context of their surroundings and the communication with others. He explains the skills surrounding inventiveness, empathy, creating narratives, and play come from the right hemisphere.
I get all the science. He then goes on to say all these skills are going to be highly valued in all professions. This is where I have to call baloney. I have very specific memory of the main stream media telling me back in 1982 that liberal arts degrees were going to be in high demand. Liberal arts degrees work the same skills that are right brain skills. Well, I got a liberal arts degree and then worked as an assistant manager at a book store and then as an assistant manager at a video store and then as an assistant manager at a book/video store. Can I sue Newsweek?
Now Mr. Pink is telling me all my right brain skills are in high demand as civilization evolves. People have all of the “got-to-haves” and most of the “want-to-haves” so now they will value things which give them more spiritual fulfillment. Doctors cannot just be good diagnosticians they must have empathy. Products cannot just fill their function they must do it while also giving the consumer an emotional charge. This explains why toothbrushes are redesigned every few months. We could brush our teeth with leaves on a stick. We just want something cooler. There are even racing stripes in some toothpastes.
One thing Mr. Pink pointed out that I grasped on to is the best leaders in organizations are funny. This was a study done by a Ph.D. guy from Harvard. Not some schmoe from some directional school in outer Slobovia. We’re talking Harvard here. Therefore, I will be sending a knee-slapping resume to Microsoft. I’m gonna get me some of that Bill Gates money before it runs out.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The red badge of activity

People are constantly pointing to different happenings, crying out they are signs of the end of the world. The rise in the psychopharmaceuticalization of the general public could be one sign. Spell check just created the longest red line I have ever seen, but I copied the word directly from so I think it is a correct. For those of you who share the opinion of spell check that this is an unfamiliar word it refers to prescriptions which are given to people with psychological issues like depression and anxiety. I don’t think the huge proliferation of these drugs shows the world is going to pot. It just means the world will continue marching towards the precipice in a much calmer manner.
A different, and much less discussed, sign of the changing world was pointed out to me by my wife. This sign is not a marker of anything as apocalyptic as the fall of civilization and the rise of anarchy. It does, however, point out that things really aren’t as they used to be and maybe not even as they ought to be. The most insidious thing about this sign is it effects the most susceptible of the population, our children. “What is this sign?” you ask. Well, I’ll tell you. It is the lack of skinned knees.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not wishing pain and bloodshed on the youth of America. It just seems to me that skinned knees can easily be pointed to as indicators of good things. Kids with skinned knees are active children, children who spend time outdoors, children unafraid of rough and tumble behaviors. Kids with skinned knees are living their own lives.
Think about it. It is very difficult to get a skinned knee while shooting dozens of virtual-guns at hundreds of virtual-people, and ripping virtual-spleens from virtual-enemies in virtual-worlds of virtual-conflict. Oh, sure, there is virtual-blood galore for little Malcolm as he sits on his genuine-sofa, manipulating his genuine-controller, as he eats genuine-junk food, creating a genuine-backside large enough to blot out the genuine-sun because he hasn’t worked any genuine-muscles beyond his genuine-thumbs for a genuine-damn-long-time.
In addition kids do not get skinned knees as they sit at the computer surfing the internet, downloading video, illegally sharing music, e-mailing friends, instant messaging predators and generally watching their lives flicker by at 128 kilobits a second.
Another thing to ponder is, when was the last time you saw an ad for Bactine? Remember that spray bottle which was kept handy for those little scrapes and scratches you would get as you went about your daily life. A life which included running, riding your bike (sometimes using a discarded plank and a big rock to construct a ramp with the stability of the Zimbabwean economy), playing football in a vacant lot with stickers and big brothers who thought they were Dick Butkus, and occasionally chasing a friend with the intensity of a lioness looking for dinner for no other reason than you are “it”. The sedentary lifestyle of today’s youth doesn’t require a mixture of Benzalkonium chloride (antiseptic) and lidocaine (anesthetic) for the times when you have all the sata menu items in your bios enabled yet you still cannot get your drive recognized. (I understood none of that. I lifted it from a computer troubleshooting website.)
The dearth of skinned knees is also a sign fewer children are willing to take even minimal risks. I am willing to bet this trend can be attributed to something which started out as reasonable and then just got out of hand. The “world” started pushing safety. I agree we should look out for our children. I make my kids wear a helmet when they ride their bikes. I purchased the knee, elbow, wrist, and self-esteem pads when I got my kids roller blades. I believe in safety.
I fear we had to spin such horrible stories to convince our kids to wear all the protective gear (because it is true you cannot help but look like a Class A Geek wearing it) we created an aversion to taking risks. My wife is excellent at pulling out a “I knew a kid who got all his toes cut off while riding a bike barefoot” story whenever needed.
The concern is the American public may have done too good a job cautioning all of American kiddom about the bad things which can happen if they are not careful. This doesn’t just make them wear proper gear when they ride their bikes. It causes them to look at their bicycle as an imminent danger to be avoided like anthrax powder or Barry Manilow CDs.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Some choices are easier than others

Well, it appears what started with over a dozen choices has now been whittled down to two. The final decision has not been made, but there will be hours of discussion, arguments may get heated, and families will be divided. I am of course referring to: Will “Kung Fu Panda” or “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan” earn more money at the box office?
In lesser news it seems we have gotten the two major party candidates set for the 2008 presidential election. The Democrats have been metaphorically bludgeoning each other in a battle like something Tina Turner would have presided over in Mad Max 3. The Republican race was decided so much earlier many people can’t even name three of the former candidates. (Hmmm, let me think…there was Rudy Giuliani…annnd, uh…the guy with the hair, oh, Romney, something, uh, Glove? No that’s not right, uh Mitten, Mitten Romney…and the guy from the Law and Order television show, hmm, Sam Waterston, yeah, that’s him. He played Abraham Lincoln once. He might be good. Wasn’t it Lincoln who said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time and all the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people into thinking an actor can be president more than once.”)
Unless something unforeseen by any political pundit happens, and it is hard to believe anything can be unforeseen by people who never stop foreseeing, we are left with Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain. What strikes me is the historic aspect. For the first time we can select a person of color or a person almost completely devoid of it. I know it is common nowadays to demand that the machinations of government should be more transparent, but I do not think they meant the guy in charge should be see through. I’m sorry, even dyed in the wool Republicans have to admit John McCain looks like he was constructed out of paste.
I am not really a political humorist (which the previous paragraphs may prove). The chief reason is I’m not angry enough. Oh, there are people in power who do things which really toss my salad, but it is hard to point to any one group as the right group. So often in elections I do not see any candidate who embodies the beliefs, wants, and dreams I harbor in my heart of hearts. Therefore, I am forced to vote for the candidate who seems least likely to come to my house, take money from my wallet, sell my pets for medical experimentation, and set fire to my baseball cap collection. To tell the truth that was really why I didn’t feel comfortable with Dukakis, I feared for my hats.
Settling for the lesser of evils as the criteria for selecting the leader of the free world seems far from optimal. The way the parties revel in pointing out every personal foible or past faux pas makes it impossible to not think of the people running for office as losers of epic proportion or simply evil incarnate. For example, if I ran for office someone would point out the previous sentence contained a split infinitive so what’s to stop me from irresponsibly splitting the atom and erasing life as we know it. The continuous nitpicking by the press, the opposition, and roving bands of school nurses who are trained to pick actual nits would show anyone in a horrible light.
I think the President of the United States should not be perfect. Have you ever met someone who seemed truly perfect? Admit it. You wanted to slug that person right in the chops. It would make world diplomacy even more difficult if every NATO leader was not listening to what the President of the United States was saying but rather imagining him wearing a silly hat and dancing the Merengue because they really hate him.
This peculiar desire the campaigns have to paint their guy as a “Regular Joe” bothers me. I don’t need my president to be able to fix the timing chain on a ’89 Ford Festiva. I need him to fix health care. I don’t need him to know the difference between a Willowleaf and an Indiana spinner fishing lure. I need him to know the difference between progressive and regressive taxes. I don’t need him to know all the words to Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee”. I need him to know all the words to the Constitution and I do mean all the words.

Christopher Pyle will never run for high office because he could not resist punching Bill O’Reilly in the face and yelling “There was no spin on that either.” You may contact Chris at

Friday, June 06, 2008

As if I didn't have enough to do

A few months ago a friend showed me a book entitled “1,001 Books You Must Read Before You Die”. When the creators of the book include the words “must” and “die” there is a certain terminal urgency to the whole thing. So I felt compelled to explore my deficiencies.
The average life expectancy of a man today is around 75, leaving me 30 years to accomplish the task. It would be a bit less daunting if I had gotten a better start. I am going to optimistically give myself about 25 books accomplished from the list, leaving 976 to go.
I’ll have to read 32.5 books a year. That means 2.7 books a month, which means .68 books per week or .097 books per day. Now .097 books a day is fine if I am reading anything featuring talking pigs or such phrases as “the rugged stranger flexed his giant biceps to the ripping point to pull his sweating steed to a stop, just in time to see the raven haired beauty disappear through the convent doorway”. Those books aren’t included.
I started looking over the list, which is arranged chronologically from ancient to recent. The first book listed is “Aesop’s Fables”. Dude, I am on a roll. The second book listed is “Metamorphoses” by Ovid. Screeching halt to the roll takes place. I have heard of it and I probably read bits of it in college but I can’t count it. The third book is “Chaireas and Kallirhoe”…uncle.
One thing I’ve learned is it is not very likely you will run into someone who has actually read many of these books (unless you talk to my mother), so I have gotten good at faking it. I worked at bookstores during my lack of career days. (That is what happens when you have a degree in film studies from the University of Kansas.) I found if I read the blurbs on the back of the book I could actually carry on a short-lived yet intelligent sounding conversation about it.
Since the people in the immediate vicinity hadn’t even read the 257 words on the back cover I was seven or eight pithy comments ahead. I could spout at least one main character name, one plot point and, stealing from the Washington Post book reviewer quote, I could make a value statement pertaining to the author’s status as a giant amongst pre-World War Two existentialist thinkers. Top that! Just because I do not know anything else about the book or even what a pre-World War Two existentialist thinker is, I can then steer the conversation to “How ‘bout that Celtics game last night?” They’ll think I am both a well-read sophisticate (“He used the word ‘existentialist’ in a sentence”) and a man of the common folk (“He used the word ‘game’ in a sentence”).
Looking over the list showed me authors of the 1700s didn’t feel the need to be very creative with titles. Examples are “Robinson Crusoe”, “Joseph Andrews”, “Candide” (read it in high school and remember bits, so I counted it) and “The Monk” (long before anyone heard of OCD or private detectives).
The books on the top of my list as I attack this quest come from this time. The first one sounds like a cartoon from the late sixties: “Roderick Random”. Roderick is able to win because while the bad guys are trying to figure out why he went from reciting the lyrics to Roger Miller’s “You Can’t Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd” to describing the mating rituals of the Philippine Red-vented Cockatoo (which would cause any self-respecting person to shake his head hard enough to create that noise Daffy Duck always made when he had to force his head back into the shape of duck’s head instead of the shape of a frying pan it had turned into when smashed over the head with one) he swoops in and saves the day.
The book which sounds the most intriguing to me has to be Denis Diderot’s “Jacques the Fatalist”. He has to be the literary father of Eeyore.
“Hey, Jacques, did you hear that a guy in England discovered a new planet and named it Uranus,” says a friend of Jacques’s, and it is not easy to be a friend of Jacques’s.
“Swell, not only will its name be a constant source of giggling in third grade science classes, but it will probably spin off of its axis and hurtle into Earth destroying life as we know it,” responds Jacques.
“Yeah…, sooo, how ‘bout that Celtics game last night?”

Christopher Pyle likes to read but has no desire to wade through “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists” by Robert Tressel. I did not make that up. It’s on the list.