October Update

Bought a standard poodle puppy.  Bringing him home October 5, so October will be full of housebreaking, and FUN.




Two Halves Make a (Complex) Whole

In my last post I mentioned that Jonah Leherer’s new book, Imagine, had brought up the teamwork between our left and right brain hemispheres.          

        In biology, we learn most when something is missing.  If all parts of a brain are participating, it’s hard to tell what each part does.  But if some parts aren’t working, we notice the problems.  We can assume the damaged or missing parts are connected to the problems.  So brain researchers frequently recruit volunteers with brain damage.

         When people have lost some right brain function, some strange things happen.  Asked to draw a house, such a person may draw scattered details: a disoriented roof, individual bricks, a window sill.  But these details are scattered and don’t make a real “picture.” 

         On the other hand, people with left brain damage may draw the shape of a whole house, minus its details.

         People with right brain damage often don’t get jokes, or don’t comprehend metaphors.  People with left brain damage may lose names, or words, or the ability to speak.

         Clearly, we need both hemispheres to function fully in a number of ways.  The cooperation of both halves has a lot to do with what adds zest to life! 


Two People in One

Heard an interview with Jonah Lehrer on his new book, Imagine.  It's about how creativity arises from our brains.

         The discussion veered to the two brain hemispheres and whether indeed the right hemisphere is the creative side, the left, the down-to-earth side.

         Lehrer said that we misunderstand the separation of the two hemispheres.  We need both in order to think well.  The left side is good at details.  The right side good at seeing the big picture.

         It’s as if there were two people up there in my head, talking with each other.  Suppose I’m driving to visit a friend somewhere I’ve never been in my home town of Chicago:  My left brain pays attention to the streets I must travel, which way to turn when I reach one of them, the number I’m looking for on the target street.  My right brain holds the big picture of Chicago: which neighborhoods I’m traversing, whether I am near or far from the Lake, whether the neighborhood I have arrived at is attractive.  For instance do the restaurants look interesting?  Or are the buildings architecturally harmonious?  Or is my friend lucky to live here, or unfortunate to live here?

         In fact, the two brain halves need each other to have a complete experience, to tell the story of the experience, to store it away for later reference.  What a wonder!

         And how do we know this?  Some answers next time… 


Couponing, Some Women's Cup of Tea

My last two posts were about “The Purpose of Spectacular Wealth, According to a Spectacularly Wealthy Guy,” in the May 2 “money issue” of The New York Times Magazine.

         A fascinating article in the same issue was "Honey, I Got a Year's Worth of Tuna Fish: Coupon Clipping as the Key to Economic Rebirth.”  For me, this article illustrates absolutely how the more things change, the more they stay the same.  Decades ago, couponing became a very big deal in women's magazines.  This was before the internet, but couponing went viral nonetheless.

         In those days, we were really struggling financially.  We had two kids, and we always ran out of money before the end of the month.  So I read the articles about “extreme couponing.”  Just reading them exhausted me.  I simply couldn’t comprehend how women were saving hundreds of dollars with coupons.  None of the grocery stores I went to in the center of Chicago ever had double coupon days.  And the store brands I bought routinely cost less than any national brand even with coupons.  So I abandoned the idea out of hand.

         The May 2, 2012 article mentions all the same tricks of combing through newspaper supplements for coupons, filing them, then combining deals at stores with the coupons you keep on file.

         In this case, the people who are really benefiting are two women who developed couponing into an internet business called Fabulessly Frugal, and their followers.

         Couponing doesn’t just sound exhausting, for me it is exhausting. 

         But I recall the old saying: "Find what you love to do, and you'll never work a day in your life."  The two women in the NYT article seem to get a tremendous amount of personal satisfaction from having put together a successful business and from helping other women feed their families through tough times. 


You Can Fool Some of the People

Last Thursday I posted a blog on "Are the Rich Worth a Damn?"  I don’t know how many of you followed up on the link.  If you did. I hope you read the comments after the article.  They were excellent, and a heartening look at the ability of readers to think intelligently and in detail about Conard’s idea.  Here are some of my favorites:

How can business flourish lacking a middle class with purchasing power used to mystify me too, until I remembered that it's a global economy now. Henry Ford was smart enough to realize that if he paid his own workers adequately, they could afford to buy his cars. But now with a rising middle class in the hugely populous Asian countries, the American middle class is expendable. Titans can make huge profits without our 99%.

Mr. Conrad's…derision of the rest of us…shows his tunnel vision.….An example that argues against his viewpoint is actually the computer industry he falsely uses to prove his point. Where would the computer industry be without the scientists who studied silicon, without any expectation of renumeration and merely to satisfy their intellectual curiousity? A second good example was the extraordinary productivity of the old Bell labs (and some current think tanks) where scientists were hired simply to pursue ideas wherever they lead without the pressure of producing a product. Those scientists are not required to compete. Sorry, his argument is based on a false assumption that competition is everything and flawed from the start.

The reporter did not go far enough to explore the ramifications of Conard's argument... which is that people's lives are better just because they can buy a Big Mac, and it doesn't matter if they can afford to raise a child, get him/her educated, and get him/her a doctor if they get sick. Conard and Romney's argument seems to be "Let them eat Big Macs and then they will be happy." But there is no concern from this guy for the heartbreak of struggling to raise a child when you have to work two jobs to support them and you can't afford to keep them away from gangs by getting them into sports or other activities that will keep them out of trouble.

Conard concedes that the banks made some mistakes, but the important thing now, he says, is to provide them even stronger government support. He advocates creating a new government program that guarantees to bail out the banks if they ever face another run." Of everything Conard says, this shows his thinking most clearly. Government interference in the market is bad, unless it is bailing out the banks.


Absolute Wealth...

I kept, and just got around to reading “The Purpose of Spectacular Wealth, According to a Spectacularly Wealthy Guy,” subtitled "Are the Rich Worth a Damn?"  This article was in the May 1 New York Times Magzaine: the “money issue.”

         The spectacularly wealthy guy is Edward Conard: “His wealth is most likely in the hundreds of millions; he lives in an Upper East Side town house just off Fifth Avenue; and he is one of the largest donors to his old boss and friend, Mitt Romney.”

         Conard’s argument is that we are all much richer because of innovations financed by super wealthy investors trying to make even more money.  The trickle-down benefits are cheap, accessible food, wonderfully useful internet, delightful entertainment, etc, etc.

         This argument is similar to the one in favor of supporting all kinds of scientific research even if no “desired” end is in sight, because we cannot predict what wonderfully useful discoveries might result.  For instance, NASA's space exploration has resulted in beneficial technologies in health science, transportation, agriculture, just to name a few.  Or the Human Genome Project has resulted in vastly expanded understanding of how genes and epigenetic molecules work, leading to amazing therapeutic techniques spawning futuristic medicines to fight off viruses and anti-biotic-resistant bacteria and scourges like AIDS.

         But there are problems with spectacular wealth that are dissimilar from those in scientific research.  These have to do with frightening political power and influence that are the exact opposite of universally beneficial.  Science has its power plays, but they’re nothing like banks gambling with our money, or the super-rich running our elections.

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