Contentedness

As regular readers will know I read and think (and subsequently write) a great deal about happiness. Quite often I’ve discussed the word happiness with people and tend to agree that the word itself stands in the way of our experience of it. Happiness has become synonymous with big white weddings, having beautiful perfect babies, going on marvelous vacations with your larger-than-life family. Which then leads to people saying that they don’t need happiness, they’ll just settle back and accept some sort of equilibrium and satisfaction with being un-unhappy…

However, I maintain that the above mentioned Big Occasions are not what constitutes happiness and want to reclaim the word. What I really mean with the word is more the contentedness from the title, but there are two downsides to that word. One is the word in itself – it’s a dreadful word, just look at it! The other is that if you say you’re content you’re almost also saying that you are happy where you are and don’t want to change anything.

That’s not how I see happiness. I consider myself an above-average happy person. It’s not that I’m ♫ Always Looking at the Bright Side of Life ♫ and turning the blind eye to the darker side, but I do try to because I find many people’s dwelling on even minor miseries really irksome and I don’t want to moan whinge moan like they do. If you follow me on Twitter you’ll know that I do whinge occasionally, but I try to keep it at a minimum and also try to be constructive about it. Our family’s life situation at present is cr*p with too many uncertainties for anybody’s liking. What I’m trying to do is to find the balance between realizing the seriousness of the situation and dealing with it accordingly and sitting back and feeling sorry for myself. I certainly allow myself to feel self pity over finding myself in this situation, but on the other hand, I like to think back and see how often something surprisingly good has come of situations not unlike this one. I believe in luck, but I also believe that you – to a large extent – can create your own luck by “paving the way for it”, so to speak.

Watch me, on my knees, removing all the weeds and obstacles on luck’s path!

Yesterday I watched a new speech on TED. It’s with Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, the “behavioural economist” about the substantial difference between the “remembering self” and the “experiencing self”. It goes a long way to describe how we perceive our past and why we often make such bad decisions based on that. I’m glad I saw it before the major decisions awaiting us ahead!

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JK Rowling and Failure in the same sentence

Of the many, many brilliant speeches I’ve seen/listened to on TED, this is the one that has touched me the most. JK Rowling, I bow to your wisdom! This speech is perfect in an oratorical sense, I’m sure Cicero is nodding approvingly from the podium in the sky. It is wise, it is funny, it is profound, it is sweet and it is poignant. Although a big fan of the Harry Potter books, not only as entertainment for children but as literature in their own right, I had no idea that their author was such a warm and compassionate person.

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

Please take time out to listen to this speech. And please, when you’ve heard the first 5-10 minutes, don’t think you’ve heard it all, because you HAVEN’T! If she has touched the hearts of just 5-10 of the privileged young Harvard graduates she was speaking to, then a lot of good will come of it!

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Censorship not needed

when millions of people willingly watch this brainwashing TV-station every day (it’s a mash-up obviously)?

Watch the whole video, then sit back in your chair a minute and try and recall what the Republicans have called Ms. Clinton, Ms. Pelosi or Ms. Sotomayor. If you don’t recall, google it. Or use my new pet search engine Spezify. I was directed to the video from here – a link I found on Twitter, posted by @sharonKONE.

That censorship luckily becomes more and more difficult for the horrible regimes around the world is shown by this excellent article in the Washington Post.

For all the people out there who struggle to hear our voices and who struggle to make their own voices heard over the clatter of the propaganda machines and the short, short memory of the Western press, we really owe them to qualify the news we read/watch/hear and check our sources. We’re the ones who can!

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Wonders of the world

It will never cease to amaze me how many fantastic people have spoken at the TED conferences over the years. I’ve seen quite a lot of them, but they keep releasing more and there keep coming new fantastic, eye-opening ones. Like this one about classical music. How is your relationship with classical music? Are you indifferent or do you hate it? I’ll ask you, since you’ve already done me the favour of visiting my blog, to also indulge me and see this video. It is 20 minutes long. If you’re touched by it, like I was, let me know. If you’re not, explain why, but please let me know that too!

The speaker is conductor and motivational speaker Benjamin Zander:

I don’t have much to add today, it’s just one of those days when I prefer to let others do the talking. I’ve posted this on my blog before, but it’s my all time favourite TED talk, so here it comes again. If you haven’t heard it before and if you found the above one inspiring, you’ll adore this one. It gives you faith in humanity. Something that’s much needed.

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Happiness again

Today’s TED talk is about happiness. It’s with Nancy Etcoff, an evolutionary psychologist. It’s 20 minutes.

She has some interesting points, e.g. that a successful marriage has a 5:1 rate. Of what, you might ask. For every one harsh and unpleasant thing one spouse says to the other, five niceties are needed to make up for it. So in a successful marriage then, we say five nice things to our spouse for each not-so-nice. Good thing to remember!

She mentions words that describe different kinds of happiness and gives us something to think about. Namely that some languages have happiness-words that other languages totally lack!

  • Fiero – pride in an achievement
  • Schadenfreude – taking pleasure in other people’s misery
  • Naches – pride and joy in one’s children

And she muses over the fact that no language she knows of has a word to describe one’s happiness for another person’s happiness.

Finally, she quotes Epictetus:

First say to yourself what you would be. Then do what you have to do.

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Religious zeal – or what's worse

Politics:

An interview with Hanif Kureishi about what has happened to the world since the fatwa against Salman Rushdie‘s The Satanic Verses. It’s very interesting and deserves to be read by anyone who takes an interest in these matters. Here’s a quote:

The Rushdie affair, Kureishi believes, transformed not just his own work, but also “the very notion of writing.” The fatwa “created a climate of terror and fear. Writers had to think about what they were writing in a way they never had to before. Free speech became an issue as it had not been before. Liberals had to take a stand, to defend an ideology they had not really had to think about before.” How have they borne up to the task? “The attacks on Rushdie showed that words can be dangerous. They also showed why critical thought is more important than ever, why blasphemy and immorality and insult need protection. But most people, most writers, want to keep their heads down, live a quiet life. They don’t want a bomb in the letterbox. They have succumbed to the fear.”

They also touch on the Danish cartoon controversy. I thought then and I still think that it was perfectly all right to publish those drawings, if they had been in some sort of context. The most controversial one, the one with the mullah with the bomb in the turban would probably had gone by quite unnoticed had it accompanied an article about one of those insane Islamic fanatics who we always see on videos thundering about the imminent demise of the Western World. But the context of the drawings, if anyone should have forgotten, was a purposeful attempt to insult Muslims. Plain and simple. Nothing else. And I find that despicable.

I’ve read several of Kureishi’s books and of course also seen the lovely My Beautiful Launderette, but bow my head and admit that I’ve never gotten around to read the Satanic Verses or any of Rushdie’s other books. I don’t like Rushdie much and, although I’m always preaching to others about not letting the artist overshadow the work, I guess that’s what’s influenced me so I haven’t read any of his books. I even have one or two on the shelf… It was the clever twitterer @howardsends who alerted me to the interview.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Here’s a video from a congressional hearing on climate change. You will have to see it to believe that so much nonsense can come out of the mouth of a grown up and totally sane looking suit-clad congressman. (notice how the girl behind him tries not to smile). Pointer (again) from Andrew Sullivan at the Atlantic.

Here’s a good, reflective piece from Time Magazine about the Earth Hour.

IQ:

Thorough and well written review of important book about IQ as being hereditary or environmental. As with almost everything else, it’s not either or, it’s AND. Of course intelligence can be cultivated. And of course black people don’t have lower IQs than whites because of their race. And of course women don’t have lower IQs than men. As with any other gift you inherit from your ancestors you can either do something with it or not!

Tech:

If the management on NYT and International Herald Tribune are this dumb, there’s very little hope for the world!

Food:

How to use chopsticks. Instructional video. 90 secs. It works. Found on this interesting looking blog via Sheamus who never fails to twitter about interesting stuff.

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Undo – it's doable now!

Politics:

Were you in favour of the war in Iraq? Check Bush’s “entry” speech here. Andrew Sullivan is embarrassed that he fell for it. I would be too! I’m proud that my sister and I actually took part in an anti-war demonstration – none of us being people normally given to demonstrations.

Bush has no regrets, apparently. Bush’s legal councel John Yoo, who wrote the infamous memo that “allowed” torture, isn’t either. Read about it here.

Obama made an appearance on the Jay Leno show. That’s a first. He managed to make a blunder and had to apologize profusely. Why is it that nobody seems to be able to take an innocent joke for what it is?

Writing/blogging:

An interesting post about why we (yeah, well, some of us) so urgently feel the need to share our thoughts with others.

Web:

Microsoft tries to explain what their new privacy settings are for. It’s close to funny.

Kottke.org has this interesting story about how much revenue the “was this review helpful to you” question on Amazon generates.

If you have heard or read any tech news today, you already know this, but here goes anyway. A Godsend to every Gmail user. Now you can un-send your messages – as long as you’re quick!

Health:

Why am I not surprised? (Why alcohol makes you feel good).

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Completely unrelated…

As a comment to yesterday’s post about the web’s damaging influence on innocent young children, check this little (1.6 min) speech by Don Tapscott, which is in fact a well disguised and well executed advert for his latest book. I guarantee it’ll make you smile.

On a completely different subject – or subjects – is a post on theTimes’ Alpha Mummy blog. It’s about how the death of David Cameron‘s son touches us all, no matter how we might feel about him. And about how well he and his family have handled the publicity around their private lives. It’s also – and subtly related – about the survivors of the US Airways flight emergency landing on the Hudson. How some passengers are now suing the airline while others are just immensely grateful to be alive – realising that a flock of birds is “the Black Swan” – the highly improbable and should not lead to blame. Not a long post, very much worth reading.

I wish you a merry Friday afternoon & evening. Let’s go out and do some good!

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More, yes MORE about youngsters and social networking

I’ve written a lot about this lately and now it’s a major media storm here. If you haven’t read my last entry on the subject, this one probably won’t make much sense, unless you instead read this excellent post from a blog I didn’t know existed, but am more than glad that I’ve now found. It’s called Bad Science and that’s just what it’s about. Much needed!

In the post you can see a video clip from BBC’s Newsnight from last night, where Ben Goldacre, who writes Bad Science discusses with a psychologist who claims that social networking makes you physically ill… It’s here:

On his blog he also points to this article about a scientific study from the University of Southern California and the University of California at Berkeley, which claims that social networking in fact empowers the young. The full study is here.

I warmly recommend reading the whole article in the Washington Times (not long), as it has some good down-to-earth tips about how to go about helping your child using social networking in a healthy and responsible way.

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Sunshine promotes optimism

Here, where I am, the sun peaks out now and then and there’s that smell, you know, of earth outside. And I found a few snowdrops, just outside our front door!

Snowdrops in January.
Snowdrops in January.

In Davos the sun has also been out and one of my favourite BBC reporters, their financial guy Robert Peston has interviewed Richard Branson. Branson is virtually brimming with optimism! I couldn’t embed this video, but just click here.The clip is 5 minutes long.

This article (also BBC) describes one of the “secret” meetings in Davos, where some of the economists who’ve been predicting this crisis for quite a while were gathered. The interesting bit of course was to hear if they had any predictions as to the length and gravity of the crisis. Nothing super-soothing, but they did agree that the crisis will not deepen into a depression like the one in the 30ties with unemployment rates around 25%. They attribute this to the governmental packages, which I wrote about yesterday.

These economists (Crunch Cassandras, as the BBC so charmingly has named them) who turned out to have well functioning crystal balls are quite interesting. One of them has written a book, which I’ve had on my Amazon wishlist for quite a while. Now I’ve moved it up in the world – into my shopping basket… Nassim Taleb is his name, the book is called The Black Swan. His homepage is highly unusual and well worth a visit.

Nouriel Roubini, an economics professor at New York University, has been preaching gloom for years and has suffered ridicule among his peers. One might say that this year’s Davos is his vindication. The last of the three is a controversial historian, Niall Ferguson. I don’t quite know what to make of him…

Well, enough economy, cake baking next. It’s Friday is it not?

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If it looks like a bank and quacks like a bank…

we’ve got to capitalize it as a bank,” Lord Turner said.

This is MY money...
This is MY money...

It’s a quote from this article on CNBC, which briefly explains the ideas behind the bank rescue packages both here in the UK and in the US. The heart of the matter is the so-called Bad Bank (just Google it if you want to have it explained). I kind’a like that term ;-)

Here’s a few video-clips from Davos, the World Economic Forum. One of them is with Rupert Murdoch, who not surprisingly is against the rescue package. I don’t know if he explains the alternatives later on in his speech (apart from a quick little war (another one?) to get the wheels spinning), but I’m still looking through blog-posts, news articles, video clips etc. to find a viable alternative.

Here’s a syndication of comments to the package, divided into YES, it will work & NO, it won’t work. I’ve read through the first four of the Nos, but apart from BIGGER TAX CUTS, there are no alternative solutions in sight. Am I looking in the wrong places? Please direct me to somewhere, where I can read in clear an understandable language, what would be a good and viable alternative to the stimulus packages, which are now under way on both sides of the Atlantic.

Here’s the British Conservative Party’s idea of an economic rescue package. Tax breaks seem to be the answer here as well!

Here, in the Financial Times, Martin Wolf explains why the packages should be bigger and how a lot of other measures must also be taken into use, if the US is to overcome its financial woes. The article is quite a mouthful – i stumbled over the word deleverage several times…

If you hear speeches from Davos, you’ll also hear “the Swedish model” mentioned. It is explained here and here, where Tyler Cowen raises doubts as to whether it could work in the US and also whether it’s as good as they say.

Here’s cable news directly from Davos, if you want to delve into the speeches. And as you could expect, the New York Times Davos blog is excellent. That’s also where I found a reference to this clip. I think it more or less speaks for itself…

(It’s Michael Dell who asks the question)

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All is said

so I’ve surfed around for some less serious titbits to add colour to this day of promise.

If you haven’t read any comments, I suggest you pop by The Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post (this one is good), Huffington Post and dont’ forget the always thorough Andrew Sullivan on The Atlantic (comments from right), (comments from left). Oh, and Whitehouse.gov has got a very new look and feel. On Kottke.org I read that all third-party content is licensed under Creative Commons. Is that cool or what?

Back to the less serious. You did wonder who designed Michelle Obama’s dress, didn’t you? And have an opinion? Well, you’re not alone. Read about the designer and what hundreds of NYT readers thought here.

The Inauguration lunch is also described in detail. It’s modelled over one of Lincoln’s lunches.

An anthropologist muses over Obama’s changed way of speaking. I’ve noticed a change, but am not exactly a linguist, so hadn’t caught exactly what kind of change it was.

Here’s Hollywood Obama gossip on a Washington Post level. It’s Dana Milbank writing – he’s not just any old gossip columnist. (Note that you may have to sign in to Washington Post to read this – but it’s free).

And here’s what we’re now rid of. I know you’ve probably already seen this. But funny it is!

The ObamaNene poster was created here. Go get your own!

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Tools for a better understanding of conflicts

I’m trying my hand with some new podcasts now that I’m exercising three times a week. You can hear a lot of podcasts in 4-5 hours! One I listened to today was BBC’s technology podcast called Digital Planet. It was surprisingly good and this episode focused almost exclusively on the Gaza conflict. Some of these wonderful Open Source people have developed a debate wiki called DebateGraph, which encompasses all the stand points and all the arguments in the Gaza conflict and shows them in a graphic way. I’ve been trying to embed it here on my blog, but I just can’t get WordPress to do it. What kind of media is a wiki exactly, anyway? But click here and have a good look at it. The British newspaper The Independent has been more successful than me, it’s embedded on their website and they are presently using it to show “What Obama should do next”. Really marvellous tool!

Digital Planet also mentioned another tool called Ushahidi, originally developed for the conflict in the Democratic Replublic of Congo, which monitors all sources to find out the correct number of casualties. This one is adopted by Al-Jazeera.

A couple of other news tit-bits from around the world: Obama has, in yet another show of supreme insight in how the media works, released a letter he’s written to his two little girls here only a few days away from his inauguration. Read it in its entirety here. There’s also an interesting letter going in the other direction, namely the star of the blogosphere Arianna Huffington‘s letter titled “Moving forward doesn’t mean you can’t look back”. It’s about America not closing its eyes to the crimes committed by the Bush/Cheney administration. She quotes George W.

As for the economy, Bush insisted, “I inherited a recession, I am ending on a recession. In the meantime, there were 52 months of uninterrupted growth.” Which is kind of like saying the flight of the Hindenburg was fabulous up until the landing.

Which reminded me that I still haven’t seen Bush’ farewell address. It’s a must-see, I think. With remarks like that!

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That yellow feeling

Oh, why am I not the kind of person who gets invited to this? My favourite economist will be speaking there – along with several other people, who’s writings I’m following. I’d much rather be at TED than at the Oscars, the Cannes Film Festival or any other gathering of personas. Envy, I think this yellow feeling is called.

Picture borrowed from Leonard on Flickr
Picture borrowed from Leonard on Flickr - http://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/

Before I retire to bed to read another TED speaker, namely Malcolm Gladwell (oh, did I mention him before?) I’ll just share this fun idea with you. On Boing Boing I read that January 27th will be a special day for all bloggers: We must shed our normal blogging style and come up with something really Alice in Wonderland-ish. The day is called Rabbit Hole Day. Read all about it!

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