Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Overheard in Boston

During my most recent walkabout day in Boston I heard the following:

1. At Back Bay station I needed to break a $20 bill. I asked a man if he could change it because I had to put some money on the "Charlie Card." He said he couldn't. Then he said he would give me a few dollars if I needed them. I didn't. I should have given him the 20 and said "good for you - we need more of that!"

2. Walking by the doorman at the Copley - biting cold wind, I mean biting cold: I don't break my stride: Me: "Turn the heat up will ya?" Doorman: (Not missing a beat and his face had to be suffering more than mine because he's there for hours) "I tried but it's broken."

3. Some young woman on her cell phone - (Said in a complaining way and probably talking about her boyfriend or her boss) "Nothing is simple!" I wonder what the philosophers would say about that.

4. Later in the day overheard outside South Station: Two men walking at 5 P.M.: "Put all the terrorists on the green line at rush hour - that'll break them."

You gotta love it.

By the way, during the day I walked into the Boston Public Library, partly to really take a look at it and partly to get out of the cold. If you like libraries, you will love this one. Near the 'Pru.

I need to get a good digital camera. I came across some statues in downtown Boston - corner of Washington and School - where there were two breathtaking statues in bronze of a family during and after the time of the Irish Famine.

Start your victory garden, kitchen garden, backyard garden, whatever you want to call it, but start it. And diversify. I'll put something more up about those statues and the famine on St. Patrick's Day.

Additional learning of the day: Being outside for a day in the bitter cold is not easy. By the end of the day, my body and mind were shutting down. My mind was in slow motion. Being able to think and be mentally alive is important for me. To have that slow down is not fun. There may be another factor at play there also. It's around being in unstructured time. I usually do ok with that, but it's usually for a shorter period of time. We are so accustomed to doing, that chillin' can really throw us off our game.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

I've Noticed A Lot Of People Spacing Out

Some interesting developments along the path of "I will rush no more." Well, three in particular.

The first is that when you go through the mental and physical aspects of withdrawal from the rushing lifestyle, you notice how easy it is to be pulled back into it. Society has it down pat how to pull you back in, often without you being aware of it till you're back smack in the middle of the old routines again. But when you get better at recognizing it, you can let it go again, over and over, till it gets easy.

The second is how you have to be attentive to not getting depressed or disconnected. All of the cues you have been accustomed to and which give you indications of being on track are being released. That will leave you somewhat adrift and that feels like depression and sadness. Remembering what your "compass bearings" are and what is of value to you will help to get you back on a track which is valuable and meaningful to you.

Working through #1 is actually fun because it feels so healthy and righteous. It carries you along with its own momentum and that helps you to come ever so much more into your present moment(s).

#2 is a definite problem and remembering why you started on this path is particularly valuable.

And the third thing I am noticing is how much and how often others seem to be "spacing out." The real revelation was, however, the other side of the equation, namely, how much I depart from the present situation.

I've known it all along but since I've been practising "go slow, mon" I notice it a lot more. In poker they talk about "the tell." It's the cue which a person gives off when they are nervous or trying to bluff you. The "tell" with spacing out is really obvious with some but with others it's more subtle.

The obvious "tell" is when someone simply looks off into space, often with eyes wide open and the gaze is fixed, and often unblinking. In that situation, if you are paying attention, you don't need to hear the "Elvis has left the building" announcement on the speaker system.

The spacing out does not have to last all that long. It can be an act of graciousness on your part to let the person "go elsewhere" for awhile. Or you could say "I was just wondering where you went just then." If you get a look of bewilderment or a startle from the person, it's a pretty good indication that they were simply not conscious at all of where they went. (There's a lot more there to talk about, but I am working on keeping my posts briefer.)

Sometimes the drifting is for the purpose of accessing information internally. It can then be brought back into the conversation to enliven it. Sometimes it serves the purpose of simply taking "a breather." Some people are so intense or work situations are so demanding that we are expected to rivet our attention all the time on the topic at hand. That's ok for short periods of time, but, frankly, is a lousy idea for sustained periods. And by that I mean not just in an individual conversation, but for what seems like years or decades. You think I'm kidding? I'm not.

But there's also the more problematic "spacing out" where the person is (like) splitting their consciousness between the situation in front of them, e.g., a conversation, and making reference to another scene in their mind. When that scene is being gazed at fixedly and if it has material in it which is disturbing, and the disturbing material is stirring up fearful responses in the body, then, well, that's a pretty good recipe for suffering.

If you're interested, look at the way in which your "spacing out" happens. Are you aware of what you are looking at in your mind? Are you aware of how it is impacting your body? Is it pleasant or unpleasant?

Remember it's not a good idea, in my opinion, to try and stop or block all of these departures. (It would be a whole other discussion to talk about how children are being constantly nudged to "pay attention.") But if you find, for example, that the content of your musings are causing you suffering, then you may want to either look at them directly to find out the messages are contained there, or, to withdraw your energy (attention) to them and come back into a more neutral present in your surroundings.

Happy voyaging.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A little Technorati drum roll please...

Hey, I just noticed that I have a technorati PageRank of 3/ 'bout that!

My guess is that if I could figure out how to put some other text in the template HTML section, that it would go up even further, but it's pretty far down on my list of priorities and values (but if someone knows how to do that, and is so inclined, I won't turn away a brief tutoring lesson.)

On an even nicer scale, maybe an 8/10, I'm playing hooky today. To all you young 'uns out there in cyberworld, "hooky" is a term that used to be invoked in the ancient (to you) days when someone was surreptiously taking a day off from school, or later, work. There's nothing subtle about my intent today.

When the local weather stations started hyping a major storm headed our way, I said to myself: "self, this is a splendid opportunity to pretend it's a precautionary and considerate plan to others to cancel all my appointments for today." I knew it was brazenly deceitful but what's the use of a term ("playing hooky") if you can't keep breathing new life into it from time to time.

Anyway, who do you put more trust in, the local weather person or a certain other knucklehead who is currently hyping some energetic term called "the surge?"

Finally for those wordsmiths out there, I did a google search for "playing hooky" and found this on

No one is quite sure about the origin of the phrase "playing hooky." We consulted the top three online word sleuths and found a number of intriguing explanations.
The Phrase Finder offers a few possible origins, including "to hook it" or "to escape or make off." To "hook something" is also an old slang term for stealing, as in "stealing a day off."
The Word Detective dates the first printed use of the phrase to 1848 and relates it to the 19th-century phrase "hooky-crooky," which means "dishonest or underhanded." The parent of this phrase is "by hook or by crook," meaning "by any means necessary."
Word Origins suggests that the phrase comes from hoekje, the Dutch name for hide and seek.
The phrase seems to be waning in popularity with the younger folks these days. Most kids simply refer to skipping school as "cutting." But regardless of what it's called, the time-honored practice of playing hooky seems here to stay.

Addendum: I am feeling that when I refer to a certain someone who lives near the Potomac River in disparaging terms that I am becoming part of the problem rather than part of the solution. If I can play with venting my emotions and criticism, I am re-inventing the same old polarity which is keeping so much of the gridlocked system in power. Truth is the casualty, but only always, in that approach.

Monica in a post on 2/15/06 partly addressed that issue when she talks about how she prefers to write her own letters to people in power directly rather than using a preformatted form letter. That way she has a better chance of expressing her ideas and beliefs and reduces the risk of just being lumped in with all of the others who are of a similar mind.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Epidemic Spread - Who / How

This is obviously a very big and important question. In my previous post I mentioned how in an area (e.g., earth) where everyone is susceptible to a new "nasty," and it is being spread from human to human, that isolation and containment procedures are one way to slow down that transmission process and, hopefully, slow down the process.

So many questions with this. But two very practical questions are: by whom is it being spread (e.g., at what stage of infection) and what is the actual mechanism of transmission. If it is spread human to human, then who is more responsible for the spreading - which age group is more susceptible, e.g., children or adults.

With respect to the first question, I came across an interesting site (google search = pandemic isolation) where there is some evidence that it's a little of both but in significantly different ways. It turns out that school age children may spread it to more people in a geographic area (neighborhoods) but adults are more responsible for spreading it to potentially vastly larger numbers through going to work and thus exposing others at work to it, and those workers then go back into their various neighborhoods.

The even bigger issue was with the spreading that comes from transportation arrangements. It's one thing if you travel within the state for business, it's totally another thing if you fly, for example, on a business trip from San Francisco, to Toronto, To Boston, To Atlanta. It's easy to get that picture.

I remember a year or so ago when the SARS issue was prominent and how I was aware of a few people in my office building who had traveled to Hong Kong, Taiwan, China on a recent business trip. I didn't do anything different then, well maybe I didn't use the exit on their side of the building as often, but it got me thinking.

n.b. edited 5/31/08 for grammar and clarity.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Do You Think It's A Good Idea To Anticipate Difficulty? - Pandemic Concerns

If you were presented with information which indicates that you / we are headed for difficult times, how would you deal with it? Would you change the station in your mind and move on to something else? Would you take it as a cue to "let the good times roll" and let what will happen happen? Would you "run for the hills?" Would you freeze in place?

How would you react if you saw the following statement? "The avian flu bears the potential for societal disruption of unprecedented proportion."

Or: "Some will say this discussion of the Avian Flu is an overreaction. Some may say 'did we cry wolf?' The reality is that if the H5N1 virus does not trigger pandemic flu, there will be another virus that will."

Or: "Susceptibility to the pandemic influenza virus will be universal."

Or: "The clinical disease attack rate will be 30% in the overall population during the pandemic. Illness will be highest among school-aged children (about 40%) and decline with age. Among working adults, an average of 20% will become ill during a community outbreak."

Or: "Key disease containment strategies include: isolation, quarantine, social distancing, closing places of assembly (e.g., voluntary or mandatory closure of public places including churches, schools, theaters and restaurants,) "snow days / weeks" or furloughing non-essential workers, and changes in movement patterns."

Or, how about this one: "We don't know the timing of the next pandemic, how severe it will be. We don't know what drugs will work. We don't have a vaccine. Yet we are telling everyone to prepare for a pandemic. It's tricky...This is scary and we don't know...That's the message."

What would you say if I said these things? Would you say that I was trying to scare people? Or that I was "stirring the pot" unnecessarily and irresponsibly? This goes back to the questions at the top of this posting - how do you react to hearing difficult information?

Well the fact is that I didn't make any of it up. It can all be found in two publications from the government. The first is from the Department of Homeland Security, dated 9/19/06, and the other just came out from the Centers for Disease Control, dated 2/1/07. The first is a guide for managing critical infrastructure and key resources in the country in times of a pandemic, and the other is a "community strategy for pandemic influenza mitigation."

Having a snow day or two sounds just fine doesn't it? Oh, but wait a minute, if this system were to be inaugurated, and your family is one of the ones which is isolated or placed in quarantine, then the kids won't be playing outside, most people won't be going to work outside the home, sending out for pizza will be a questionable option, and ice cream will run out fast.

Then you say to yourself: "well a few days will be manageable." Yes it would be, but what if the two days becomes two weeks...or longer? Now that starts to get your attention, doesn't it? At this point you're probably thinking this is just way too exaggerated.

You have to ask yourself what would trigger this, and why would "they" do something as radical as this? Actually that's where it really starts to get interesting. The reason for the isolation and containment strategies is to curtail the spread of an epidemic for which there are no known vaccines and no currently known medications to halt its spread.

Ok, let's stop right here. This is a speed bump, so slow down!

I'm going to continue with some other facts and thoughts and will not get into really nasty stuff, but, well, if you tend to let your imagination run away you may want to just slow down. Remember, we are talking about thinking about something that could happen and how to use that thinking to our advantage. (The experts, I believe, are saying that it will happen but the always present and complicating issue is that no one knows when it will happen - but they sure seem to be trying to get our attention.)

Ok, this is where we have some good news and bad news. The good news is that if a pandemic were to happen, and if these isolation procedures were initiated and followed (with appropriate community support in place for the myriad of complications which one would anticipate) then the death rate would be substantially reduced. However, (big sigh), and this is why these isolation practices are already in place as a plan, the trigger point which will be used to activate them, is called a category 2 (of 5) and that is established when there are 90,000 deaths from the pandemic (in a relatively short period of time.) Maybe to put this is a bit of perspective, do you remember a few months ago when the E-coli event took place. Do I have it correct, it was in the neighborhood of 10-20 deaths?

Good news - if initiated, the numbers change dramatically. Bad news - if not initiated, very messy.

Now we start to get down to it. If you "buy" the necessity for the government to publish these documents (remember the second one was just published 2 days ago) then how do you want to proceed? If your behavioral style is to slip into deny mode, is that how you want to process this information? Do you want to defer to the experts and wait for them to solve the problem; is that what you want to do here? Do you want to accelerate living and having fun as if there is no tomorrow, is that what you want to do? Do you want to get into a bunker mentality and start hoarding food, or moving as far away from population centers as possible?

As they say, it's a free country. No one is going to try to get you to do something in the direction of planning. But this may be one of those places where you may want to think about some more proactive approaches.

If you choose a proactive process, what would that start to look like? I'll offer a few thoughts.

To make the thoughts real (would it be appropriate to say more real since we are still talking hypothetically?) consider this: Under this scenario, whole communities will be hunkered down. In the script mentioned, up to two weeks was one of the benchmarks - but that was for the beginnings of a category 2 out of a possible 5. The clear statement is that it could be more than that.

Let's for now just keep the two week mark for our discussion.

  • I should think there will be considerably more room in the cupboards by that time. So food will be one issue.
  • Another issue will be that the intent of the isolation procedures is to slow down the spread of the virus. And by extension what they are saying is that they are trying to lower the death rate. But, if I understand this correctly, the number of people who will be suffering from the flu will be much, much greater than that. That's a lot of people sick with the flu. Do you remember the last time you were feeling really lousy with the flu, one with diarrhea and vomiting? Nasty wasn't it. So that will be a second class of issues to get our attention in terms of preparation.
  • The third big issue that comes to my mind is the issues coming from social isolation and increased social proximity. What if you don't see your friends at work? What if you have to be with the people you live with all the time? How many high energy children do you have?

If you wish to, if you consider it important, then start to give some thought to this. In my next post I'll list some of my ideas on preparation and this will also take the next step in my previous posting about dealing with issues of psychological shock.

Addendum A: I'd like to add a word or two about fear and anxiety. Consider this: when we are kids we experience fear as a normal part of the world. We know that we don't control all that much and that uncertainty is simply a major part of the way that it is. We don't think that through as a child, but that's how I look at it.

As we get older, we start to anticipate events and outcomes based on past events and this is where, we could say, anxiety starts to come on the scene. Then we start to develop schemas and plans and tactics to control outcomes and events in order to feel the world is safer. To a large extent this is very helpful. However, when we unknowingly or unthinkingly presume that we are actually in control and that uncertainty has been removed, then when something with shock potential happens, we are overwhelmed and potentially immobilized.

At that point we experience a "double whammy." First we are shocked that this could happen. Then we are left with additional fear because all of our plans and presumed clever "supremacy" "don't amount to much more than nothin.' "

Does this mean that we shouldn't plan? To my way of experiencing, absolutely not! We have always been swimming in a world of uncertainty, it's just that we often try to pretend that it's more certain than not. Also, when it comes to taking steps based on anticipated "big things" it's best to stay focused on learning as much as we can and then taking small and simple steps and notice where they lead. I will rush no more - even in these massively uncertain times. Finally, with acceptance of uncertainty comes the potential bonus of unexpected potentialities.

Addendum B: I find the timing of the release of the "community strategy for pandemic influenza mitigation" curious. I notice that the report was released two days before my local newspapers carried a report of how the H5N1 virus was found on a farm run by Europe's biggest turkey producer in Great Britain. The report said that 2,500 birds were confirmed infected and died. As a precaution an additional 159,000 were destroyed. The newspaper report was dated 2/3/07 but the turkey deaths started on 2/1/07. Coincidence or not?

Addendum C: I have some additional thoughts on practical ways to boost your immune system and also whether radical isolation is the way to go for individuals, but more on all of these things in later postings.