Cafe 42 Blog

Learning How to Learn

My daughter is studying for her SAT—her college admissions test. I never took the SAT because I got a D in Algebra in high school, twice. I took the class again, to advance to geometry, but got the same grade, forced to take it from the same teacher that didn’t explain anything the first time. No, it isn’t “just the way it is,” Mr. Mulvaney. Even algebra has a reason for why it works the way it does.

I didn’t take the SAT because I was afraid I’d fail it with no math background. In fact, every time I even thought of math, I felt anxious. I was a failure, stupid if I didn’t get it, as most of my classmates seemed to. I couldn’t apply to a California university, or any four year college worth attending without taking the SAT. Instead, I attended Jr College for two years before transferring over to CSUN. I studiously avoided math classes, as they were not required after high school.

Fast forward 5 years, and I want to apply to graduate school to study Education. Not only will I have to take GRE, which will have math, but before that, to apply to the best colleges, I have to have teaching experience, in a real classroom, which will require I pass the CBEST, which has math. Panic. How was I supposed to pass any standardized test when I never passed algebra, and never advanced to higher levels of math that was sure to be on these tests?

Enter my friend, Bert. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll teach you algebra, and geometry, and any other basic math you need. You’ll pass the tests.”

He had to be kidding. “I failed algebra twice! I’ll never be able to learn all the math I need to pass these tests.”

“Don’t be absurd. You are one of the smartest people I know. Of course you can learn math.”

The familiar terror was choking. Did he not hear me. I FAILED IT TWICE, and never advanced. I’m just not a math person. “I suck at math!”

“Not likely,” he said with confidence. “More likely, you got turned off of it by some careless teacher, and the gates in your brain shut down. All you need to do is get out of your own way. Open your brain back up, so you can learn what you need to know.”

“I’m an artist, a qualitative person, not quantitative. I hate math.” I was trying not to kill his delusion that I was smart.

“But you need to know it to pass these tests, to do what you want with your life. You have some worthy goals. Make them happen. I’ll help you.”

I didn’t want his help. I didn’t want to learn math, or, more likely not learn math, prove to him, and myself, how stupid I really was. He was being so kind it was impossible to keep defending myself. But I still did not believe him. I knew I wasn’t smart enough for advanced math.

“Here’s the deal,” he said, when I didn’t jump at his offer. “Remember the show Get Smart?”

Ok…“Yeah.”

“Remember the opening? Max enters that hallway with the thick metal doors that slide open one by one as he approaches them. And each slams shut behind him as he walks down the hall?

“Yeah.”

“Well, that’s what your brain is doing when you think of math. The doors, or gates to learning are shutting down in your head. You are so freaked out because some lazy teacher made you feel stupid, and you bought it, hook, line and sinker. Stop it! You’ll make a great teacher, or professor, or whatever you want to do with education. Learn math, and move forward.”

“You make it sound simple.”

“But it is. You just have to open the gates in your brain that make it possible to learn, well, anything.” He smiled. I did too, couldn’t help it. With his words, he’d just introduced hope.

We were sitting at Jerry’s Deli, in L.A., at the time. Bert takes the pen the waiter left to sign for our bill, and an unused napkin, and writes out a quadratic equation. I frowned, felt anxious. Here we go. Now he’ll see how stupid I really am.

“I can see by your face, you’re already freaking out.” He laughed. I scoffed. “This is good!” He was clearly excited. I felt pissed off, embarrassed. “Let’s explore that feeling. Talk to me about it, what does it feel like?”

“I feel scared, and stupid.”

“That’s your first two gates. Big, thick, metal doors shutting you out of learning. So, let’s start with feeling stupid, because that’s likely why you’re feeling scared, that I’ll see you, or you’ll see yourself, as stupid.”

“OK…”

“Do you think you’re stupid?”

“With math!”

“Our brains don’t work that way. You can’t just be stupid in one area. Either you have a functioning brain, or you don’t. Most of us have functioning brains. Are you telling me you don’t believe you do?”

I thought about that. Of course I have a functioning brain. I graduated college. I got good grades, even in high school, except for math. “I have an OK brain, I guess.”

He laughed. “So, there goes your first gate. Poof! It’s gone. It was bullshit anyway. Good riddance. Every time you think of math, or we work on equations, notice how you feel. Pay attention to how your brain is operating. Examine the messaging it’s feeding you, and the bullshit it’s telling you. Qualitatively break it down to check if it’s right. Every time your brain says, “I can’t do this. I’m not smart enough,” call BULLSHIT. YES, I AM SMART ENOUGH! Then go back to the problem, and work at figuring it out.” He took a sip of his tea, and smiled at me. “Work at it long enough, and hard enough, and you will.”

The gates in my brain…I could literally feel them all of a sudden. Bert was right. Every time I even thought of math the gates in my brain shut down. And not only with math. Every single time I found it hard to learn something, anything, I now could see it was me, getting in my own way, allowing my brain to convince me of bullshit. All I had to do was examine my own feeling more carefully, embrace the ones that supported my success, and reject those that didn’t.

I learned algebra and geometry in a three week refresher course offered through the CBEST testing program. I passed the test, and subsequently my GRE, and though I never followed through with my graduate degree in education, as my career, and having kids became my priority, I now teach at some of the top universities on the planet.

I now know, with enough hard work, I can learn, well, anything.

Thanks, B, for giving me the gift of learning how to learn!

An Atheist on Morality

Einstein did not believe in God, as many [mistakenly] claim.

Albert Einstein said, “My position concerning God is that of an agnostic.” He clarified with, “I am convinced that the primary importance of moral principles for the betterment and ennoblement of life does not need the idea of a law-giver, especially a law-giver who works on the basis of reward and punishment.”

Atheist don’t believe in God, either. Not any god/s. Ever. Unlike Agnostics, open to the possibility of a ‘higher power,’ or ‘collective, sentient being,’ Einstein believed in neither.* Agnostic is more politically correct, less threatening, especially during his time, born a Jew, and existing on federal funding.

As an Atheist, I do not recognize the Old/New Testament and related works illuminating the adventures, restrictions, reprimands or absolution of a divine being as anything more than fiction—parables by some wise, some ignorant, partisan scribes with an agenda to dominate and regulate human behavior. (The introduction of organized religion being necessary when Human was still running around in small, warring tribes is arguable.)

So, when I need money, why don’t I go rob a pedestrian. Or shoplift?

When I’m attracted to my neighbors husband, why don’t I just hit on him, get intimate if he’s into it?

When I get pissed at the driver on their cellphone that just cut me off, why don’t I shoot her?

Snatch & Run, even drive-by’s these days, and the odds of getting caught for either crime is somewhat nominal if I’m discreet. Fear of being busted, going to jail is not the main motivation that prevents me from committing these, and ‘lesser’ crimes like lying, cheating and others most would agree, religious or not, are moral infractions.

If I believe I answer to no higher power, where do I get my morality, much of which is similar (often seemingly the same) to that of Judeo/Christian doctrine?

Einstein said, “We have to content ourselves with our imperfect knowledge and understanding and treat values and moral obligations as a purely human problem—the most important of all human problems.”

Believer or not, what is your ‘Moral Obligation?’

Mine, as an Atheist and Human, is to support our continued evolution. It is my Moral Obligation to nurture reproduction—to extend the magnificent, wondrous, glorious feelings of being alive to someone else, as it has been gifted to me.

I am born owing Humanity that existed before me, and this planet that supports us. We all are. My moral conscience asserts we all must work at insuring life continues long after our own time, and that humans evolve to our spectacular potential of creativity, ingenuity, kindness, and learn to fully embrace our amazing capacity to love.

Notable Facts:
Murder rates are actually lower in more secular nations and higher in more religious
nations where belief in God is deep and widespread (Jensen 2006; Paul 2005; Fajnzylber et al. 2002; Fox and Levin 2000).

Within America, the states with the highest murder rates tend to be highly religious, such as Louisiana and Alabama, but the states with the lowest murder rates tend to be among the least religious in the country, such as Vermont and Oregon (Ellison et al. 2003; Death Penalty Information Center, 2008).

Rates of most violent crimes tend to be lower in the less religious states and higher in the most religious states (United States Census Bureau, 2006).

The top fifty safest cities in the world, nearly all are in relatively non-religious countries, and of the eight cities within the United States that make the safest-city list, nearly all are located in the least religious regions of the country (Mercer Survey, 2008).

 

* “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.” —Albert E.

The Butterfly Effect

The other day a friend emailed me freaking out that she’d entered the stairwell at her job with a well-known start-up and saw the married CEO of her company sucking face with an employee. She has a right to be upset. The CEO is putting the company, its pre-IPO stock value, and its almost 300 employees at risk by displaying his extra-marital affair publicly. His sloppy behavior can not only get him fired, but eventually lead to the demise of the company with scandalous press chasing away customers and business associations alike. And, of course, there are his two kids and a wife at home who will suffer, possibly lifetime scars from his selfish indiscretions.

When a butterfly flaps it wings in Central Park, it does NOT cause a typhoon in India. But the Butterfly Effect is very real, and very personal, for all of us.

Monica Lewinsky sucked Pres. Clinton’s cock, getting George W. Bush elected, which lead to the 2008 financial meltdown with the Republican’s anti-regulation policies, and left not only millions of people without any retirement, but my father without enough money to care for himself, compelling us to use our little savings to help him. This investment into my father’s care comes out of our kids college funds, and will most likely effect them down the line.

We all engage in this effect one way or another. When my DH and I fight, I’m more apt to yell at our kids, causing them to snipe at each other. Continual fighting over time may result in fierce sibling rivalry, and instead of self-confident, productive people, they grow up isolating and angry, learn to self-protect and become CEOs and Presidents who seek physical contact over emotional intimacy to combat their gnawing loneliness.

The Butterfly Effect is an unalterable phenomenon of the human condition, but that doesn’t mean we must be doomed by it. Our ability to perceive the future, and then adapt our behavior in response is uniquely human, dramatically separating us from every other life form on this planet, and one of our greatest strengths.

Had President Clinton been thinking with his brain instead of his little head, or Ms. Lewinsky had stopped to consider the possible ramifications of Pres. Clinton’s solicitation, perhaps either would have made a better choice. Why do I sight Monica? Those who cheat are culpable for their actions, but those who are party to cheating are equally culpable.

The Butterfly Effect is neutral, and can generate productive outcomes by simply starting from a positive position. Awareness that no man, or woman, is an island is the key to directing the Butterfly Effect to consistently positive outcomes.

Every day we touch the lives of many others, whether we’re at home, on the internet, at work, or shopping at Target. We effect those around us, our environment locally, even globally with our consumption of resources. Choosing a Prius over an SUV, and the appropriate sexual partners; helping someone in need, not just during the holidays but any day improves all our lives collectively. Be acutely aware of your connection to others, and the cascading Butterfly Effect, and it may just be the lives you touch in your home town today will indeed lead to the cure for cancer from someone on the other side of the world tomorrow.

PAY ATTENTION!

Regardless that these are babies, child or adults feel connected, safe, when the people in our lives SHOW they care about us, what we want, how we feel, and why. Shutting down, shutting those we ostensibly care about out, to self-protect, is destructive in the extreme.

From the clip:

“When she’s grounded, is comfortable in her world, she can explore, meet other people, try new things, as she’s got that safe base she can rely on.”

In other words, communication builds trust, and trust is the foundation of love.

What is EVIL?

What is EVIL?

It is not murder. It is not lying, cheating, stealing, or breaking any of the 10 Commandments, or Hitler, or Donald Trump. It is NOT a state of being. EVIL is an ACTION, or lack thereof.

True EVIL is indifference.

We are ALL indifferent at times. Every time you pick up your cellphone behind the wheel, you are demonstrating you don’t care about anyone else but yourself. You are 26 times more likely to injure or murder others looking at your mobile while driving. You are actively participating in EVIL, as you are indifferent to anyone but your own desires.

Hitler was indifferent to the horror, the suffering, the murder of 6 million Jews that he initiated. So was every commander who followed his orders, and every German who turned a blind eye to protect themselves, and let it happen.

We are on par with Hitler every time we text while driving.

Church, even Christ won’t save us from our sins of indifference.

The effects of indifference reverberate. You cause an accident while texting, and hurt my kid, and I no longer care about you, your kids, your life. In fact, I hate you. I want to see you harmed!

Every time indifference is demonstrated it generates more EVIL.

Indifference lets corporations like PG&E murder 8 people in San Bruno when the utility diverted the money needed to fix the pipes into bonuses for top paid execs. When COMCAST demands full payment for delivering half the service, they are practicing EVIL. So are the customer service representatives working for them, who claim they’re ‘just doing their job, as they are told to,’ like Nazi Germany, where neighbors became indifferent—didn’t really care what happened to the Jewish kid that their kid used to play soccer with.

Every time we don’t stand up to indifference, we are participating in EVIL.

Indifference is like a genetic disease, handed down through the generations.

Parents who don’t give a shit about their kids, raise kids who don’t give a shit about anyone (even themselves).

Educators who care more about their pensions, putting in 2/3rds of a workday, and working only half the year, teaches indifference to everyone but themselves.

Students (without wealth) who are indifferent to learning, don’t study, don’t do the work, choose YouTube or gaming over doing academics, become front line canon fodder in the military as the only paying job they can get, or end up criminals, or homeless.

Drivers, indifferent to everyone else while they fulfill their desire to upload a Snap, murder close to 4,000, and injure up to 500,000, one half a MILLION people, kids, dogs…etc., a YEAR. Think you know how to drive and text at the same time? Your indifference is supporting your ignorance, which is only surpassed by your arrogance.

EVERY DAY, half or more drivers I see are chatting or texting away, and I fight the urge to ram my car into them. If they stop where I do, like the store, and I pass them in the aisle, I want to spit in their face, for no other reason than to get them to PAY ATTENTION TO SOMEONE OTHER THAN THEMSELVES.

When a COMCAST customer service rep tells me to get another modem, knowing it won’t make my internet connection any better because they know, and COMCAST knows, they don’t have the bandwidth to support the neighborhood’s wireless devices, I become irate, rude, indifferent to their plight, as they are to mine.

Every time we encounter indifference, we become more indifferent.

Stand at the Pearly Gates, and the first question St Peter is likely to ask is were you GOOD or EVIL in your lifetime. Lie, and go to hell. Say you’re GOOD, and believe it? If you spent more of your life addressing and responding to your own needs and desires than anyone else, count on going to hell.

Assuming, like me, you are a non-believer, why worry about anyone else if the only reward is in this life? Take as much as you can get, seems to be the attitude of so many these days, religious or not.

While self-interest is the foundation of our nature, indifference is not. It is taught, shown, modeled by all of us, at times. We begin life as solipsists, then grow to narcissists through our teens and early 20s. Maturity means we’ve expanded our awareness beyond just ourselves, and often put our own desires aside to actively care for others.

Indifference, to justify doing whatever you want (from lying for COMCAST, to driving a fuel-guzzling SUV, to texting behind the wheel of it) chips away at our humanity with every slight. This toxicity of EVIL ultimately endangers every living thing on this planet. Demonstrate you don’t care about me, and I won’t care about you. We self-protect, which ultimately serves no one, not even ourselves.

CARE BEYOND YOURSELF, and SHOW IT, and we not only insure our survival, we give our childrens’ children, and way beyond them, a chance to experience living, and the opportunity to thrive.

Why DACA Must Stay

Had some yard work done that required cutting concrete. My gardener gave me a quote of $150 to do the job. I accepted his bid as fair and equitable, assuming the job would likely take less than 20 minutes, and we agreed on last Sunday for him to do the work.

He arrived promptly 8:30 Sunday morning and began cutting our concrete patio. He used a small electric saw with a 4” blade, which I thought odd, since the last guy I’d seen cut concrete had a major power saw that had to be held with both hands and came with a water supply to keep the blade cool.

Gardener struggled to cut a mere 20” of concrete for over 5 hours. He left once, to buy new blades for his little saw. He did not take a lunch break. In fact, he took no breaks at all.

Ninty-four degrees at mid-day when I brought him some ice water. Sweat dripped down his face and cut brown lines in the concrete chalk covering his skin. He gave me a crooked-tooth grin of thanks, took a long drink then wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “Caliente!” (Hot!)

I nodded agreement and pointed to his little saw. Pequeño (Small), I said, closing the gap between thumb and forefinger. Why so small? Harder to cut the concrete. I spoke in English, as my Spanish sucks, but he got it.

He laughed. You’re right. Yes! Si! Demasiado pequeño (too small). Herramienta incorrecta (wrong tool). He picked up his tiny cutter. Muy caro! Expensive! $100 for herramienta. $35 for blades. Ay, yi yi!

I’m paying him $150 for the job. He’d just spent over that buying equipment to do the work. I was mind boggled. I assumed he had all he needed to do the job when he gave me his bid. He went back to work and I went inside and got the receipt from the equipment rental place I’d visited the previous week. Only $24.99 to rent a jigsaw for 24 hours! At the time I rented the jigsaw, I inquired about renting a concrete cutter. $59.00 for 24 hours. Why hadn’t my gardener just rented the right equipment? He could have got the job done in half an hour and actually made money.

I took the receipt outside and showed it him. Do you know of this place? Just down the road?

He took the receipt and studied the logo at the top of the paper. His expression brightened. Si! Yes! Alquiler de equipos Rentals. Rents. Yes?

Yes! Concrete saw is $59.00 bucks for the day. Taken you 30 minutes to do the job. Why didn’t you rent a saw? Using hand signals and body gestures I somehow communicated.

Ah. No. No rent. Can’t. No license. No seguro (insurance). Not legal here.

Four years running our gardener’s been coming and he is the best gardener I’ve ever had. More than a gardener, he fixes our watering system, landscapes, trims trees, sets fences. He comes every Tuesday around 9:00am, rain or shine, and is on time, every time. He always smiles and waves when we cross paths. He is a stellar model of a dedicated hard worker for our children, and the community at large.

Yet, he can not get a Green Card.

His company won’t sponsor him. He has no legal relatives here. He is not a refugee. Even if he could get one, the process of applying and then waiting for the Card takes years. My gardener needs, and in fact, has work now. He can’t wait years to get U.S. approval to work for a living.

Why doesn’t he leave his job for Americans and just go back to Mexico?

I had three other bids on the concrete work I needed. A neighborhood contractor quoted me $1,600 to do the job. A mason didn’t want the job because it was 20 miles from his location and not worth the trip. A local handyman quoted $800, but couldn’t start the job for over two months, and required half upfront to hold my time slot. All were licensed, bonded, U.S. citizens.

Until our conversation last Sunday, I had no idea my gardener was here illegally, and driving without a license. The man is probably in his early 30s. He’ll die young from hard labor, lack of medical care, working with poor or improper equipment, like breathing toxic concrete dust without a mask, carcinogenic construction materials, garden poisons. If he is graced with children, and I hope he is, and will pass on his excellent work ethic to them, he still will not be granted U.S. citizenship, and is at risk of deportation. Like many illegals lately, he could end up having to take his American children back to live in the Mexico he left for a ‘better life.’

Sunday alone, our gardener put over $150 into the U.S. economy, counting just his little saw and multiple blades. He will buy his food here, pay for his housing here, his utilities, his fuel costs. He lives here, and contributes to our economy with every dollar he spends. He probably pays taxes, as do many illegals working for large corporations. My gardener is an employee of a huge gardening and landscaping company.

Next time you bite into that peach, remember it only costs 39 cents because illegals planting and picking the fruit are cheap labor. (Your iPhone5 is made in China for the same reason, yet Apple is rewarded with tax breaks instead of being kicked out of the country.) Billions in tax dollars and consumer spending in the U.S. by illegals annually, yet they get none of the protections of our citizens. No medicare. No social security or unemployment benefits. No welfare or government handouts. Illegals are invisible here.

I am privileged by birthright for the lifestyle we live, and can provide for our kids. I haven’t a clue, and never want one, how it feels to be so far from home, without ‘inalienable rights.’ But I know one thing for sure—our gardener deserves the ‘better life’ he sought when moving here, the one [ostensibly] available to most citizens who work hard to prosper.

Educated, but Uninformed

I’m educated, but uniformed,” Sheryl said deadpan. “And I want to stay uniformed.”

I laughed.

Laughing is good,” she said.

But I was laughing at her, and not with happiness, but skin-crawling disgust.

An accountant for over 30 years, at one time running her own firm, Sheryl has an MBA from Wharton, which informed her about the world of finance. Unfortunately, Sheryl’s thirst for knowledge ended as soon as she passed her CPA exam.

To fill the schisms in her understanding of our world beyond her accounting job, she forms her opinions based on interactions with the few family members and neighbors remaining in her tiny, financially depressed Colorado town. They were, and still are angry they lost their coal mining jobs the town of Delta, CO was built on. They blame democrats for closing down their coal mines, though their mines have been closing since the 1990s, with natural gas, as well as renewable energy sources of wind and solar, slowly replacing dirty coal.

Obama killed this town,” she assured me on the phone last week. “Closing all the mines for no good reason.”

Well, global warming is a pretty good reason to get rid of coal,” I offered. “Don’t ya think?”

It sure isn’t doing this town any good,” her retort.

Yeah, well, it’ll do the planet some good, and the rest of humanity, as without clean air, we all die, even the good folks left in Delta.”

Dead silence on the other end of the line. I waited some time for her to say something, but she didn’t.

Sher, you do know that burning coal pollutes the air with toxic chemistry like lead, mercury, and other heavy metals, right?”

All I know is Delta was once vibrant, and now it’s like a ghost town. And that didn’t need to happen.”

You’re right. It didn’t. Had the town acted, invited other industries to set up shop, or the miners had gone back to school to retrain for thinking jobs, instead of manual labor that a robot can do better…” I let my voice trail off, as I knew I’d lost her.

Anyway,” she finally offered. “I find talking about stuff like this tedious. It’s so depressing. Friends and family I know have lost their jobs, their homes, which destroyed their marriages, like my sister and her ex-husband.”

Sheryl’s sister married the high school quarterback the day they both graduated because she was pregnant with his baby. He was injured his first year with the Colorado State Rams, quit college shortly thereafter, and has lived on welfare since. He was never a coal miner.

But you know that burning more coal to generate electricity is bad for the planet, and every living thing on it, right?”

I don’t know anything but what I see. And the air around where I live looks just fine to me.”

Be that as it may, the world doesn’t begin and end in Delta, Colorado, Sher,” I reminded her. “Dirty air travels around the planet. Come on, girl, you are highly educated. You know this.

I’m educated, but uniformed,” she said. “And I prefer to stay uninformed.

I laughed. Hearing someone tout their ignorance was shocking.

Laughing is good,” she sighed, with my heavy sigh. “Like I said, talking about all this drama, or reading about it, or even watching the news, is just so tedious.”

I didn’t try to engage her further. I made some excuse about having to go somewhere and hung up, but I still can not get her words out of my head. She proudly proclaimed she’s “uninformed,” and chooses to stay this way.

Sheryl’s brother committed suicide at 45 years old. Why? Her family has no idea. They didn’t, and don’t deal in weighty, “tedious” subjects. Ever. It was so much easier to ignore his depression, keep the conversations light. Makes everyone less uptight.

Sheryl is a Republican. Choosing to remain ignorant to the rise in global temperatures most every scientist in the world now acknowledges is real, she voted for Trump and his band of merry rich men who promised to bring the coal industry back to Delta, CO. This has yet to happen.

Ignorance isn’t bliss. It didn’t help Sheryl’s brother, or her mother who still grieves the loss of her son, or the unemployed coal miners get their jobs back. Ignoring “tedious” issues didn’t serve Sheryl either. Ignorance is corrosive, lazy, self-interested—sticking your head in the sand, or more precisely, up your own ass to live carefree, thoughtlessly, binge watching TV. Choosing to remain “uninformed,” avoiding ‘weighty’ issues to ‘lighter,’ trite exchanges about the latest celebrity gossip, or [scripted] realty TV, serves nobody.

If the human race, and every living thing on this planet is to survive the technology people create, each of us must invest the time and the energy it takes to become “informed” about important local and global issues, as they arise. All of us must work to defeat ignorance, by seeking knowledge from those who share our perspectives, and those who don’t. When we learn to really listen to each other, seek to understand, with empathy, not judgment, exchange informed opinions, and engage in the art of compromise…humanity will thrive. ; }