Posted in Around Town, Issues

Getting Old(er)

“As we get older and more experienced, we overestimate the accuracy of our judgments, especially when the task is difficult and when we’re involved with something of great personal importance.”

Gladwell, Malcolm. “Cocksure: Banks, battles, and the psychology of overconfidence. The New Yorker 27 July 2009: 26.

Gladwell comes to this conclusion based (among other things) on the research of Ellen Langer, a psychologist who says, regarding competition, “…because ability makes a difference in competitions of skill, we make the mistake of thinking that it must also make a difference in competitions of pure chance.”  This results in overconfidence.

“In conflicts involving mutual assessment, an exaggerated assessment of the probability of winning increases the probability of winning,” Richard Wrangham, a biological anthropolgist at Harvard, writes.  “Selection therefore favors this form of overconfidence.”  Winners know how to bluff.  And who bluffs the best?  The person who, instead of pretending to be stronger than he is, actually believes himself to be stronger than he is.”

We’re good so far, right?  Here’s where the analogy to the Pasadena blogosphere breaks down.

“According to Wrangham, self-deception reduces the chances of “behavioral leakage”; that is, of “inadvertently revealing the truth through an inappropriate behavior.”

* * * * *

It seems like overconfidence is helpful…up to a point.  One needs overconfidence tempered with knowing what one’s limits are.  My dad has been a master of overconfidence his whole life.  In first grade he didn’t want to go back into the classroom after recess, so while marching in the line of children heading back inside, he didn’t make the left turn with the rest of the class but kept marching straight on in the direction of home.  As a 20-something, he convinced the Library of Congress that he had a reasonable knowledge of modern foreign languages and got a job filing foreign-language periodicals.  In truth, even though he had no mastery of any foreign language, it was easy enough to tell the French from the Dutch from the Swedish, etc., so he had no problem doing the job.  It was filing, for gawshsakes.  At least the task of deciphering one language from another added a bit of interest to the job.

Flush with confidence from a string of jobs (journalist-photographer in the Air Force, Evelyn Woods speed reading instructor, teacher at Massanutten Military Academy), he got a naval commission and was sent to Viet-Nam.  He went on to a civil service career in public relations, high school counseling, army recruiting — endeavours that require one to exude confidence.

Pop at Dodger Stadium

My dad and me at Dodger Stadium, 2008.

As a kid in western Pennsylvania, my dad moved a lot (Franklin, Guys Mills, Meadville, Zelienople…Okay, I’m not sure about Zelienople, but I threw it in because it’s such a great place name).  As an adult, my dad has moved a lot.  My dad has lived in Hollywood since 2002, which means he has not lately been moving a lot, and he is ready to move.  He has been applying for civil service jobs overseas, but with his hearing in bad shape and his memory getting worse, it is unlikely he could either be hired or handle a full-time job.

I recently had to talk him out of moving to Las Vegas, an idea prompted by tax problems with the State of California.  (He doesn’t understand, as a government retiree, why the government should take money out of his retirement.)  Able to minimize the wretched Vegas heat from the comfort of his top-floor Hollywood apartment, he was attracted by the lower cost of living.  He probably also wanted to continue his streak: “I’ve never lost in Vegas,” he avers.

Plans for Vegas have now been shelved, but my dad continues to exhibit, between episodes of JAG and Perry Mason, a desire to move.  At the same time, he does tell me about his failing memory.  “I have no secrets,” he’s always said.  He gets mad at me when I don’t respond to his e-mails, he’s crotchety when I call in lieu of e-mailing, and the other day he got mad at me for using the word “palindrome.”  Despite all this, my fingers are crossed that he will continue to have lucid moments of honesty when he tells me about his failing mental state.

Pop's Confidence

Confident in Covent Garden, London, 2008.

I’d love to hear about how it’s going with you and your aging parents.  Feel free to comment, or leave links in the comments.

Posted in Around Town, Issues, Not Your Momma's NW Pasadena, Pasadena

Fussing and Fighting, My Friend

This is the post you’ve been waiting for.

boxinggloveshanging

I have bad news. We are all racists.

I know, I know. You don’t want to be a racist (I don’t either). You think it is despicable to demean the humanity of another person, or to think of an entire group of people as inferior. Or perhaps you are a member of a group that has been victimized by another group, and you carry hate inside you, even though you don’t want to. Continue reading “Fussing and Fighting, My Friend”

Posted in Issues

You Do Not Have…

…because you do not ask.

Well, I’m here to ask. I’m asking you to make a small any size financial donation to help my friend A.

I will accept a yes or a no.

Here’s why you might want to say yes: You will be directly assisting a strong, hard-working woman with her goal of keeping her children occupied this summer. She’s got them signed up to go to El Centro de Accion Social’s Summer School in the Park program.

It costs $100 per kid, and she’s got 3 kids who are the right age for the program (the youngest is too young, and believe me, that bugs her).  So the goal is to raise $300 by July 4. Continue reading “You Do Not Have…”

Posted in Issues

The Doctor is Out

My friend A is in the hospital. She had major surgery (hysterectomy) last September, and since then she has faithfully obeyed her physician’s instructions and kept all her follow-up appointments.

But something wasn’t right, and A knew it. She told the doc she was having pain. She was sent to another office for tests but when she got there she was told, “We don’t do that kind of test here.” (I’m leaving out some stuff here because I’m not clear on the complete sequence of events.) Finally A’s physician recommended that she go to the ED (emergency department—the current parlance is that the ER is now called ED). Continue reading “The Doctor is Out”

Posted in Current Events, Issues

Secret Fear

I have been an environmentalist for a long time. I say that most advisedly, since I own an internal combustion automobile, and I live in the US of A, and at least twice this year I have left the grocery store with the kind of bag that is generally banned in places like Europe and San Francisco.

My secret fear is that the current problem with the economy is that the the jig is up. By that I mean that we have tapped out the environment, and the economy will never fully recover.

Consider:

1. There is a direct, if intricate, relationship between the environment and the ability of businesses to make money.

2. The environment has its own regenerative capacity, but aggressive human activity has pushed it over the line (earth = pair of old knees).

3. Scientists predict environmental changes, but cannot agree on them. Freeman Dyson not withstanding, it is clear that the climate is changing more rapidly than it has in the past. I’ve recommended that you go to Montana before (before it’s too late, that is)—in one of the earliest posts on this blather. Some photos by The Scout here.

Change is constant. Dealing with change is difficult. Some things change for the better, some for the worse. Sometimes we think something is changing for the worse, but it actually changing for the better.

If the current economic slowdown catastrophe results in our treating the environment like our pas-de-deux partner rather than our ho, that’s a change for the better.

The economy, the environment – such gigantic problems. No wonder infotainment is a growth industry. If you are going to face the news of the day, wouldn’t you rather have Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s writers have a go at it first and drag it through their humor mill?

I want to do the things I can do to be a responsible consumer, to be at least a fair-to-middling environmentalist. Is it really going to make a difference if I take the bus once or twice a week? Give up my car completely? Is it going to make any difference whether I recycle the church bulletins or not?

I want and need to believe that even small things will make a difference. I don’t want to be holier-than-thou about them. I need encouragement to do those things that seem infinitesimal in the broader context, because if I continue to do them consistently and repeatedly, it will make a (teeny-tiny) difference. And if you do some of the three R’s too, our cumulative effort will make a (slightly less small) difference. We need more emphasis on reduce and reuse. Perhaps all these things will work together to give the earth longevity (3 R’s for earth = knee reconstruction surgery?).

How can we use the current economic crisis to build the future economy on a model that sustains the earth’s resources? Do humans even have the capacity to do this?

In the meantime, I’ll be the one who carries a glass container for her restaurant leftovers. Something is better than nothing. The acknowledged illusion of control appeals to me more than the despair that comes from resigning myself to being a pawn of forces beyond my control. Call it my one last middle class luxury.