Thursday, November 05, 2009

Where your thinking happens 

Ben Casnocha gets this exactly right:
Even if you had "thinking time" on your calendar, what would you do during that time? Sit in a chair, stare straight ahead, and ponder the world?

...Driving is the most popular activity of this sort. Driving requires some level of attention, but you have plenty of cycles to think about other stuff, especially if you're driving a familiar route. "When Joan Didion moved from California to New York, Didion realized that she had done much of her thinking and mental writing during the long drives endogenous to the Californian lifestyle," Steve Dodson notes. I'm the same. I can't tell you how many emails and plans and conclusions I've come to while driving on the 101 or 280 freeways.

Reading is another activity that can be specifically scheduled and invites the kind of reflection and catch-up thinking that we need.
My calendar each morning -- never carried one before I was chair, now can't imagine how I lived without it -- begins with a coffee period, in which I talk to friends and colleagues here on campus or off, and a "correspondence" half-hour in which mostly I read. Somewhere in there I drive to campus. That period often finds me with headphones listening to Hewitt, Miller, Prager, or some Bloomberg. (That's pretty much all that's on my iPod Touch; EconTalk is an appointment I have to do sitting still.) And I do find that period some of my most productive of the day. I COULD teach early morning classes, but then I'd have to find some other way to schedule things that are conducive to thinking.

And that's the point -- thinking happens between the words of a book or paper you read, or while you sit in traffic, or ... ? Just as a good strategy in games or sports is to put yourself in a place where luck really helps you, a good strategy in business or academia is to put yourself in a place where the thought that pops in your head can be mulled over, chewed and digested. It's probably why a stick of dynamite (or an infestation of bad administrators) wouldn't get me out of academics.

Where does your thinking happen? What times of day? I'd love to hear this in comments.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A president is not a member of my family 

I expect Russ Roberts to make a comment like this, since I found this link off his Twitter stream, but I'm going to venture a comment first. David Harsanyi notices the sharp increase in regulation under the Obama Administration (which is saying a fair deal, because President Bush was not exactly reticent in regulation himself). Bill O'Reilly had a segment last night in which both he and a liberal talk show host agreed that there is regulatory overreach.

Russ will, no doubt, bring up the two worlds, the micro-cosmos and the macro-cosmos, that Hayek said we live in simultaneously. See Steven Horwitz, for example. In my home I do try to control everything. Last night our very old cat, who is dying of kidney failure, appeared to my wife to be dead. She woke me, I checked: not dead yet, fooled her. (Insert Python joke here.) Now awake, I lay in bed, and every sound in my house is subject to my inspection. Where's Pepper (the cat) going? My daughter is coughing, should I get her something? That doesnI believe myself in control of every act in that house. The order of my home is intentional, it is the subject of my imagination, my design, and I believe it's in my control (as long as my wife agrees :)

But the world outside is not. It continues to function without my design and control. To borrow the quote of Hayek that begins Horwitz's article:
Moreover, the structures of the extended order are made up not only of individuals but also of many, often overlapping, sub-orders within which old instinctual responses, such as solidarity and altruism, continue to retain some importance by assisting voluntary collaboration, even though they are incapable, by themselves, of creating a basis for the more extended order. Part of our present difficulty is that we must constantly adjust our lives, our thoughts and our emotions, in order to live simultaneously within different kinds of orders according to different rules. If we were to apply the unmodified, uncurbed, rules of the micro-cosmos (i.e., of the small band or troop, or of, say, our families) to the macro-cosmos (our wider civilisation), as our instincts and sentimental yearnings often make us wish to do, we would destroy it. Yet if we were always to apply the rules of the extended order to our more intimate groupings, we would crush them. So we must learn to live in two sorts of worlds at once.
Remember when we thought of the liberals as the Mommy Party? The Mommy Party can be seen that tries to apply the microcosmos to the macro-environment. As I heard Dennis Miller say on his radio program yesterday (or maybe it was his guest), the Republican Party is the one that wants to regulate your bedroom and the Democratic Party wants the rest of the house. Maybe so.

"Our world is interconnected": it's a phrase we often hear and it sometimes is used as a reason for us to "work together". But that's not the extended order Hayek defines. It's the world of the famous I, Pencil story; it's the world that appreciates the division of labor being limited by the extent of the market, as Adam Smith observed. Read that link and you'll see that those who became more advanced had the ability to deal with others they did not know thanks to geographical advantages (particularly by being on or near waterways.) They were interconnected only in certain areas, and not others.

I'm fine when my wife tells me I'm being silly thinking Cheerios will reduce my cholesterol and that she will no longer buy them when shopping for groceries, putting Special K in the cupboard instead because it's good for me. I'm unhappy because I like Cheerios, but I recognize that my wife has made a commitment to me and me to her, and that we make investments in our home and family because of that commitment. In Ephesians 5:28-29 the apostle Paul wrote "He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it."

But at no point does that extend to the state. And it is from this that our distrust of government instruction of the right cereals or drains, etc. A president is not a member of my family, no matter who the president is.

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Thursday, May 21, 2009

Concerning absolutely nothing 

Mrs. S is an avid reader of obituaries, and one thing that will always stand out is the appearance of someone dying who was more than 100 years old. Two days ago, three tributes -- the newspapers now sell you space for your full obit; all they list is a when and where if you don't pay -- appeared for three women all of this county who were 103, 106 and 108. These were women who had memories of both World Wars, who lived through the Depression as full adults, etc. You wondered how the world seemed different to them.

The oldest of the three had this written about her:
She was very appreciative of every kindness shown to her. She included everyone�s needs in her prayers daily. None of her visitors could ever leave Knute Nelson Home without receiving Hortulana�s special blessing, � May St. Christopher go with you and may your Holy Guardian Angel watch over you wherever you go�.

Hortulana passed away on May 18, 2009 at the age of 108. She had been living at Knute Nelson Memorial Home since 1996, where she had been receiving excellent care.
And I thought, 1996? This woman was 95 when she went into the nursing home. And then lived thirteen years more. An angel must have watched over them.

Many of us are going to live longer now. I'm blessed with good genes, as three of my grandparents lived into their 90s and my parents are still in good health (though my dad eschews green bananas.) Life extension technologies get better and better. I don't think we'll be as curious about a 108-year-old woman who seemed to enjoy life as a housewife and partner to her husband as we are now. Is that a good or bad thing?


Friday, April 10, 2009


We're going to replay last week's Final Word tomorrow to permit me Easter weekend with the family up here (with some time taken to finish my taxes and a conference paper) and so that the crew can get home to their families a little sooner. With such a small number in our house we don't usually prepare the Armenian Easter eggs, but I'm lobbying to take them to Easter dinner with friends and to make them with onion peels. (The latter would be a first for me.)

Happy Passover to our Jewish readers, and Happy Easter to our Christian ones. See you Monday.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

Not just a scholar 

The story is here.
The St. Cloud Christian School�s seventh- and eighth-grade math league team was crowned as West Central Division Champions for the third year in a row.
Littlest appears with her favorite politician.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Happy day, sad day 

It is weird to walk around this office seeing everyone in shirt and tie and suitcoats or dresses. Sadly, it's because a member of our departmental family died earlier this week, and her service was today. You learn a great deal about colleagues you have had for twenty years from such an experience; you find out how your little band of merry economists have spread through a city. You also learn how some people live lives around you that you never knew, connections you didn't expect, stories you wish you had heard from the person who you now can only memorialize. You wish it happened some other way.

Got back to the office 90 minutes ago, and just delivered is my copy of the book. Indeed, a few copies. I'm going to celebrate it by getting out of the suit, putting on a sweatshirt, and watching basketball here on campus. Many toasts will come when I get to a conference in January with my co-editor and a few of the authors. I wish I had gotten the book two weeks ago, it would have been a bigger party. But I'm tossing the champagne in the garage -- in winter, your garage is your auxiliary refrigerator (sometimes your freezer!) -- and hoisting two tonight: One for a job well done, and the other for a life well done.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Never grew up 

John Christie writes about that uncle who makes Thanksgiving (and other holidays) fun.

There are ways, though, to be graduated to the adults' table ahead of schedule. One of them is to lead your younger cousins at the kids' table in a show of bad manners, including roll-tossing, ginger ale snorting and a burping contest (judged by loudness and length).�

The following Thanksgiving will find you at the big table, the cousins cowed back into good behavior.

At the adults' table, you'll find out what sparkling cider tastes like out of a crystal goblet, that the silverware is actual silver and that you'll get your hand slapped if you hold your knife in your fist.

But, if you are lucky, you will have a bachelor uncle at the table, the colorful sheep in the family of whom his older sisters say, "He's never grown up."

You know the type. He shows up late, smoking a cigar, perhaps with an overdressed date on his arm one year and another year with two buddies from the Elks Club who had no place else to go.

He is to the adults' table as you were to the kids' table. He doesn't mush up dinner rolls and try to "make two" with a hook shot into Aunt Mary's water glass, but he cracks ribald jokes, rags on his brother-in-law's comb-over and challenges you to an eating contest.

"I'm on my third helping, kid, and I ain't even started yet," he declares as you try to force down one more forkful of mashed potatoes.
You have an image of Uncke Buck, but John is actually speaking of Uncle Licky, whose gift of old comics I've written about here before. John and Gary were my two older cousins to whom I looked up. I always thought Gary threw the rolls, but John did inspire some great Thanksgiving burping contests.

And Uncle Licky? Never married, never left home, and only grew up later. When he was given a short prognosis for Lou Gehrig's he decided if he walked five miles a day it wouldn't catch him. And it didn't for several years. A joy of life and a will to live, in equal measure. I remember the overdressed date (referred to simply as "the Queen" by one and all, with Licky rolling his eyes), the stories of taking the bus to the dog tracks (Seabrook, Wonderland, Hinsdale, he hit 'em all), and some guys with Greek-sounding names he saw at the Elk or some greasy spoon on Central Ave. We kids loved the drive to Dover for Nana's food and Uncle Licky's entertainment.

We've finished two days of visiting friends and family this Thanksgiving, and I hope you had a fine holiday too, and that you got to see your favorite bachelor uncle. I'll be on the Patriot tomorrow without Michael; we'll do some different things than our usual fare unless some major stupidity in the recount happens. See you then.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Real Female Star 

There are people who make an impact on the world. They can be soldiers freeing a country from a tyrannical ruler, an individual saving a life after an accident, an author who writes in a manner that causes people to think, (versus emotionally react), a teacher or parent or relative who positively influences a youth's life.

Then there are the athletes. Many are glory hounds after fame, prestige and money but there are others who truly love their sport and through their talent live life to its fullest. One such athlete was Agata Mroz, a world class volleyball player from Poland, profiled in this link from National Review. She stood over six foot and had the ability to block like very few. She led the Polish national volleyball team to European championships in 2003 and 2005 and continued in international competition for a few more years.

Unfortunately in 1999, when she was 17, she developed MDS, a collection of disorders that prevent the bone marrow from producing enough blood cells. Her MDS progressed to leukemia over the years but she always kept her zest for life.

In June of 2007, she married and despite the risk, decided to try to get pregnant. Why? She said in a February news interview, �I felt happy that I would know what it is to be a mother and that I would give my husband something good of myself.�

Her daughter was born prematurely but is now healthy. In the meantime, Agata's condition worsened. She delayed a needed bone marrow transplant because she feared it might impact her then unborn child. Seven weeks after the birth of her daughter, Lilliana, Agata underwent bone marrow transplant surgery, she didn't make it. At her funeral Mass, the bishop paid high tribute to Agata when he said her life was a witness of �love of life, motherhood, the desire to give life and the heroic love of an unborn child."

Agata Mroz learned the lessons of sports and applied them in life. Accustomed to giving all she had on the court, Agata indeed gave the best of herself to her husband and every last ounce of herself to her daughter. She learned and believed it was more important for her to bring a new life into the world than to extend her own.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

Supporting one blogger 

Surgery does weird things to you; you become emotional at unexpected moments; bursts of energy are wills o the wisp; many visitors come that you cannot really respond to as you want to. So anyway, to second Janet below, yes, thanks for everything, from readers I did not know I had until this week. I own my intestines again. I'm still at the hospital and will now go take a walk, which is how I get better. A few steps at a time. But I expect to go home over the weekend. Extra sutures and drains were removed about two hours ago, I'm a bit sore from that but this will pass in a few hours, I'm confident. Next week being finals week, I have some room to coast for a bit.

An orderly just asked if I wanted water with ice. In any normal circumstance I would have said thanks but that I'd get it myself. Try to be very polite, but self-reliant. One lesson I learned this week is how to accept kindness with gratitude, without feelings of obligation or shame. Not sure I knew this before. I haven't given up individualism by any stretch, but our humanity needs an opportunity to express its care for other individuals, and to know that to give people that opportunity to do it, person-to-person, is part of what makes us feel our own.

I apologize to not linking back to posts from Michael, Gary, Leo, Ed, Andy and others. I cannot get through the BlogNetNews reader for Minnesota, not enough energy. But I deeply appreciate every one. I have never felt so supported.

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