Month: April 2010

danger + opportunity ≠ crisis

We’ve all heard the New Age-y proverb about the Chinese word for “crisis” being a combination of the characters for “danger” and “opportunity.” (I just ran across the canard in the 2001 CLCV Scorecard [good luck finding it online; it seems to be long gone] and my skepticism was immediately piqued.)

According to a Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, it’s pretty much bullshit.

On his web page entitled “danger + opportunity ≠ crisis,” Professor Victor H. Mair writes:

The explication of the Chinese word for crisis as made up of two components signifying danger and opportunity is due partly to wishful thinking, but mainly to a fundamental misunderstanding about how terms are formed in Mandarin and other Sinitic languages. For example, one of the most popular websites centered on this mistaken notion about the Chinese word for crisis explains: “The top part of the Chinese Ideogram for ‘Crisis’ is the symbol for ‘Danger’: The bottom symbol represents ‘Opportunity’.”

He goes on to explain the three fatal errors in this misconception:

a little of column A, a little of column B

Either a brilliant destiny awaits California, or one the most sordid and degraded.

Governor Peter Burnett, first governor of California, 1849 inaugural address.

To sleep, perchance to repair my circadian rhythms

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said (or thought to myself) “I swear I have a 25-hour internal clock” or “My internal clock is just behind everyone else’s.”

So of course when I saw a New York Times blog entry called “Sleeping (or Not) by the Wrong Clock,” I was compelled to read it.

It was written by Michael Terman, a professor of clinical psychology who directs the Center for Light Treatment and Biological Rhythms at Columbia University Medical Center, where they seem to be doing some pretty great research. I guess light therapy isn’t exactly a new idea, but they seem to be gradually refining their knowledge, the way scientists do.

The thing that was news to me is that one’s circadian rhythms aren’t necessarily permanent — the skillful and individualized application of light therapy can change them. I don’t know if I’m going to try that, but it’s interesting to know I could.

My little commute

On my way to work, I saw a school crossing guard jaywalking.

I also almost got run over crossing the street, but that’s pretty typical. Drivers disrespect my rights as a pedestrian at least three times a week, maybe more.

I’m extra-careful, of course. For example, I always make sure to look behind me when crossing the street to make sure no cars behind me are about to turn right.

In almost 6 years of walking down 13th, 14th, and/or 17th from Madison Street to Broadway, twice a day (after rush hour both ways), I’ve observed that many drivers in downtown Oakland:

  • appear to be in a big hurry
  • often drive too fast, especially on the wide, straight one-way streets
  • don’t really care about (or know?) pedestrian rights
  • more specifically, frequently turn into crosswalks without checking if someone is crossing the street, focusing instead on whether any cars are coming (which is of course the wrong order of precedence)

This is not everyone, of course, and I’m sure it’s not unique to Oakland — in fact, just now, a nice guy in a minivan stopped to acknowledge that what the other driver did was “radical” (his word). Of course, Oakland is tougher than Berkeley; when I first moved here and lived in Berkeley for 10 months, my timing was really thrown off by how frequently people would stop their cars short if they saw you even think about crossing the street. People just don’t do that in the Midwest. (And they don’t do it predictably in Oakland.)

My way of crossing the street in Minneapolis, Madison, and Milwaukee was essentially Frogger-like: wait until there’s an opening and cross behind a passing car — with the assumption that cars would maintain a constant speed, regardless of the presence of pedestrians. Because in those places, that’s what they did. Here, I’ve actually sometimes pretended not to intend to cross the street, if I want a car to keep moving. Yes, I don’t trust drivers, any of them, at least while I’m a pedestrian. (When I’m getting a ride from them, I trust them implicitly.) I’d rather be on the safe side.

Who knew a twice-daily seven-block walk could be so eventful, or bring up so many silly observations?

My favorite spam username yet


*A failed attempt someone made to register for a site I administer, in order to spam it

Oberammergau or bust

Oberammergau 1992 While spring cleaning these last couple weekends, I ran across the brief journal I kept during my high school trip to Germany. On that four-week trip I had quite a number of experiences, some of which helped shape my life even to this day. For example, in Munich, I drank significant quantities of alcohol for the first time, and the following day I celebrated my birthday at what was left of the Dachau concentration camp.

On July 4, 1992, I wrote:

The next day [June 28] was my birthday. We went to Dachau. Dachau: the first Nazi concentration camp of WWII. A great birthday tourist attraction. Actually it was an amazing experience that affected me profoundly.

Sadly, I never expanded on that, because it was in a catch-up entry six days after the fact. Alas, I used the next 50 words to detail what I drank that night and the names of the Americans with whom we partied in Munich; considering I was a newly minted 17-year-old, that fact is not terribly surprising, though somewhat disappointing. (I had spent half of the previous couple weeks’ entries agonizing over my attraction to the girl whose family was hosting me. I think I was mad at myself for having such normal priorities.)

Later in the same entry, I ran across something interesting I had almost completely forgotten about:

In Oberammergau I went inside the Passionspielhaus (the Passion Play Theatre). It was amazing. In 2000 I will come back to see the Passion Play. (Done every 10 years.)

Ah, yes… the Oberammergau Passion Play. Every ten years, literally half of the population of the village of Oberammergau performs in a play about the life of Jesus that runs all summer. Since 1634, after the village survived the plague, the play has had 41 seasons.


Ben Sheets’ good luck charm?

Ben Sheets in 2001 and 2010 If I were superstitious, I’d think I was good luck for Ben Sheets — at least when he’s new to a Major League Baseball franchise.

I attended his first win in an Oakland A’s uniform tonight — a relatively tidy 6-2 defeat of the sad, sad Baltimore Orioles.

What I had completely forgotten until now was that, just less than 9 years ago, I was at the game in which he got his first win as a Milwaukee Brewer (and, incidentally, in his major league career).

The A’s and the Brewers are the only major league teams for whom Sheets has played. A bit of a strange coincidence, nothing more. Something to remark upon that still seems just shy of remarkable.

Geoff Jenkins also hit three home runs in that game in Milwaukee on April 28, 2001, which also marked the first time I went to Miller Park (in its inaugural season). I still have the cap I bought that day. It’s pretty nasty by now, though.

“How to Recycle Anything”

Courtesy of Real Simple.

Nothing profound, just a good link to have handy, especially at spring cleaning time.

I think I’m going to start posting more frequent links and shorter entries (you know, like a blog).

Compare and contrast…

“Though, in reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error, I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors.”

– George Washington, 1796

“I wish you’d have given me this written question ahead of time so I could plan for it. I’m sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with answer, but it hadn’t yet…. I don’t want to sound like I have made no mistakes. I’m confident I have. I just haven’t — you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I’m not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one.”

– George W. Bush, 2004

The similarities and differences between the two quotations are striking, especially considering the more than 200 years between them.

I just read Washington’s Farewell Address from 1796, and it’s a little fatuous of me to say that I found it pretty amazing. He was truly wise, and I wish that we would have listened to him more.

I’m reading it because I’m in the process of writing a blog entry (or at least was — the draft is gone since I foolishly updated Firefox without saving the draft in Drupal) encouraging members of the Green Party to stop railing against CLCV for leaving their gubernatorial candidate off our “GreenGov2010” site (to help the next governor become a better governor in protecting the environment than the one we have now). So far we have only posted info about the major candidates — the ones with any viability to win, the ones we all know about — though we will post all the candidates after the California Secretary of State’s office releases the certified list of candidates on April 1st.

I couldn’t remember which of our founding fathers had warned against the evils of political parties. A quick search revealed that at minimum George Washington had done so. In his eloquent (and verbose) farewell address, written and delivered at a time in which people wrote and orated amazingly complex sentences, he announced his decision not to seek a third term and warned against several things, including entanglements with permanent foreign alliances, government without religion and morality, and, yes, the establishment of political parties on geographical or other bases.

It’s amazing, and sad, how the near-total domination of parties in our political system have given rise to many of our first president’s fears. Read his speech (because I just don’t have time to list them at the moment… though I plan to).

The point is, for some reason Greens are pissed off at CLCV for leaving their candidate off the site, but it’s not our fault that the Greens have zero chance to win. It’s a classic case of looking everywhere except yourself for the source of your problems.

Luckily, WordPress is smarter than Drupal in the sense that it auto-saves what you write when you create a page or a post, so at least this blog entry is still around. I also really, really needed to not have that silly German U.S. Census ad up at the top of the homepage anymore.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén