So, I’ve not posted anything in just about a year, and really, what am I going to say…it is just plain weak sauce.  Part of it is that  (and here I won’t lie) finding content to post about, even just once a week, was more challenging than I thought.  So time has gone by and my blog has languished in the void of dead and out of date content.  At first is was just slightly embarrassing, but by the time I got to month four or seven, it began bordering on the line of just plain silly.

So I need to find a way to write more often, and I need to have a way to have content regardless of if I can’t think of something I consider interesting.  So that means I need to have a fallback, and since the only thing I know really well is me, I guess that means that is what I’m going to have to write about.

So in the time since my last post, there has been positive movement  on most aspects of my life.  I was dating a wonderful lady when I was posting regularly last year, and we are still together.   That’s a nice change from bouncing around the dating scene .

I was a contract worker at a law firm for a long time, and I’ve finally gotten put on full-time, which means after years of simply spending a little bit of extra money on my food at Whole Pay-Check, I have health care.  It’s almost odd not having to worry about when the axe is going to fall.

On the not so rosy front, I applied to several law schools, and was rejected from them all.  That’s a bitter pill to swallow, and it makes you wonder if you are just dumb.  I’m not, and I know that, but it was frustrating; however, that experience finally gave me enough perspective to really come up with my own personal motto: I’ve been knocked down, but I never stayed down.

I think part of the learning I’ve done in the last year is figuring out that last year was harder than it needed to be, as I did not have a schedule.  I’ve since, in an effort to lose a bit of weight, bought a bicycle in order to commute to work that way.  Because it is kicking my butt, riding is, by default putting me on more of a schedule.  Now, I’m tired at ten or eleven at night, whereas before I would be up till three at night.  Ah, sleep is a good thing!

And so I sit in a coffee shop on a Sunday afternoon, having already put about 20 miles on the bicycle today.  The radio is pumping out jazz tunes, and my fingers are moving over the keyboard in an attempt to restart this blog of mine.  Not a new endeavor, but nevertheless, an endeavor made new by the act of beginning again. So here is to a more tempered approach and to finding a way to learn from failure. If in the past you read this, as have left, my apologies; I hope you give me a second chance.  If not, well I understand, and wish you the best.  To anyone new that stumbles upon these musings of mine. Welcome!  And now…to begin again.

I spend a lot of time in coffee shops. This is mainly due to the fact that I am, as they say, “between work.” Thus I’m continually looking for employment, but writing cover letters, resumes, and the perpetual trolling of job boards can become quite tedious. So I do what many people do when bored: I surf the web. Normally this just involves reading a few news stories, and maybe clicking over to www.illwillpress.com to watch the ranting of Foamy the Squirrel. But on one of these brakes I recently came across an article in the Smithsonian Magazine about Henrietta Lacks. Then I found another article about her in The New York Times.

I had never heard of her before, and to be honest, outside of medical researchers, most of the general population has not either. But despite the fact that Henrietta fell into one of history’s cracks, her impact on the human race is on the same order of magnitude as the invention of the Internet. In a nutshell, she was a poor, black, tobacco farmer, who in 1951 had a culture of her cells taken without her knowledge. She died of cervical cancer, but her cells live on down to this day. They are responsible for assisting in finding the cure for polio; they were the first human culture shot into space, so that we could understand the effects of zero gravity on the human body; and Henrietta’s cells have been used in just about ever major medical study since they were taken from her body more than a half century ago.

I love stories like these, even though they do have their dark side. For example, according to the articles Mrs. Lacks’s family is still impoverished and can’t afford health care. This is both heartbreaking and unfair and should not be forgotten. Further, as previously mentioned, the doctor that took the sample, did not tell Henrietta what he was doing, which raises several ethical questions. But Henrietta’s story also begs the question, does anybody every really know the impact that they will have in the world?

Conversely, sometimes people get remembered for the wrong thing. Robert McNamara was never really all that popular in Washington DC, and is remembered mostly for his role as Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam Conflict. But did you know that he was also the person who put seatbelts in cars? Not by himself of course, but he had a major role in pressing Ford to place them into cars. It is a cheap solution to keeping people safe in an auto wreck which has probably saved more lives than were lost in the entire Vietnam Conflict, but nobody connects the name McNamara to automotive safety.

The known and the unknown. We crowd around one another on this rock flying though space, and most of the time, we barely feel that we are keeping up with our own lives. I worry about finding work, which is something I have in common with millions of people throughout the country and the world. Others worry about even more basic needs, like the roof over their head, or rebuilding after the earth literally tears their world apart. But as we move through our day, it must be conceded that most people truly are unaware of their individual impact on the world at large.

Enter Farris Bueller and his immortal wisdom: “Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” These two sentences not only sum up this post neatly, but they also reflect the way people move through the world: with eyes squarely fixed on a point just about two feet in front of our toes. The occasional break is helpful, because while you are “goofing off,” who knows what you will find? A thrilling story about the first use of human cells in medical research. New facts about someone or thing you felt you already had the goods on. Or if you are in a coffee shop, you might just wind up talking to the person next to you and making a new friend. In fact that happened to me last week. And while I need a new job, I also always need good friends. Making a new friend is truly good work for a day and a lifetime, and there is no telling what it will create. What paths will open up? From that one event something wonderful and lost to the cracks of history may just come about. Even more fun to think about, is that one day in the future one or both of us may be read about as someone else hunts for a job and just needs to look around.

Watchful EyeAt the moment I’m reading, SuperFreakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner.  It’s a fun book if you like random facts and learning about why people actually do things (at least according to the principles of economics). It is an easy read, and I recommend it.  And it was while reading a chapter entitled “Unbelievable Stories about Apathy and Altruism” that I came across this tidbit:

At the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in England, a psychology professor named Melissa Bateson surreptitiously ran an experiment in her own department’s break room.  Customarily, faculty members paid for coffee and other drinks by dropping money into an “honesty box.”  Each week Bateson posted a new price list.  The prices never changed, but the small photograph atop the list did.  On odd weeks, there was a picture of flowers; on even weeks, a picture of human eyes.  When the eyes were watching, Bateson’s colleagues left nearly three times as much money in the honesty box.  So the next time you laugh when a bird is frightened off by a silly scarecrow, remember that scarecrows work on human beings too.

After reading this I almost immediately thought of the call for openness in government and all the endless lip service to bipartisan efforts to improve the way Washington does business.

Not to be overly cynical, but I don’t think those divides are going away anytime soon, so what if, as a stopgap measure, we just painted eyes on the inside of the capital?  You could put them on the roof, inside of drawers, on desks, over doors, and even in all the offices.  Maybe then those in power would always have the feeling that someone was watching them and unconsciously strive to do better.

Another benefit to this idea is that it will put people to work.  It will take a lot of artists to make that many eyes, and then you need to transport the finished products to DC or arrange to allow people to work on site with the supplies they need. Those kinds of logistics will require a fair amount of administrative and budgetary oversight.  Also because these are historical buildings, you must have people there to inspect all the work and materials to insure that the eyes do not damage other artwork of historical and cultural value; then you will have to have professionals come and remove the eyes from time to time, because it won’t do to just have them always in the same spot.  They have to move so lawmakers can’t quite remember which eyes are fake and which are real.  Think of the paranoia that would cause them, and how that could fuel productivity!

There are other physiological implications and locations to consider as well.  For example, in the Treasury offices you could make all the eyes angry and look like they are boring holes into the very floor of the building.  That way the people handling our money will know just what we think of the job they have been doing.  The same goes at the White House.  Only there you can install disbelieving and disenchanted eyes of children who have just found out that there really is not a Santa Clause.  The guilt of shattered hopes and dreams could then haunt those who work there and encourage them to do a better job, if for no other reason than who wants to look at those accusatory stares all day, every day.

However, the opposite approach can also work.  Lets say there is a department, in this case we will say the Department of Transportation, and lets also say that they find a way to not only improve the existing Interstate highway system, but they do so without coast overruns and long delays (this is just a hypothetical after all).  Then you could paint bright, happy eyes that have that approving come-hither-you-sexy-efficient-and-wholly-unexpected-mac-daddy look in the eye.  This would not only improve the workers self-confidence, but might have a spillover effect on other departments that want to get more pleasant eyes in their building.

But then one thinks, why should it stop with just eyes…the well-placed ear could also do wonders; although, there are no studies that I’ve found where the only encouragement to be more honest is a painted ear, but it could be yet another way to employee people. And who knows what a study devoted to the that phenomenon could yield: it may even recommend that the best way to get people act as they are supposed to is to have other people there checking up on them.  Wait…someone pass the paint. We are going to need to make a whole lot of eyes!