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Friday, August 30, 2013

Don't Know Much -- The Dunning-Kruger Effect

Hang with me here. Those of you who have not yet read this information may find something simple and yet profound.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a psychological effect shown in an experiment by Justin Kruger and David Dunning at Cornell University and published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in December 1999.

The effect establishes that people don't realize their level of knowledge on a subject. OK, OK -- this sounds pretty ridiculous, but here are the findings.

People who know little about a subject think that they know more than they actually know. People who know a lot about a subject think that they know less than they do.

So, the more people know about a subject, the less they think they know about it. But the more they know about a subject, the better they know how well they know the subject.

Here is how the effect works in psychological terms:

The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias (a pattern of deviation in judgment in which people  create their own subjective social reality). In this bias, unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority (overestimating their positive qualities and abilities and underestimating their negative qualities), mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. 

This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes. Metacognition is defined as "knowing about knowing." J.H. Favell says, "I am engaging in metacognition if I notice that I am having more trouble learning A than B; [or] if it strikes me that I should double check C before accepting it as fact."

Metacognition distinguishes between Monitoring—making judgments about the strength of one's memories—and Control—using those judgments to guide behavior (in particular, to guide study choices)

Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding. David Dunning and Justin Kruger conclude, "the miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others."

(Kruger, Justin; David Dunning. "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments."
 Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77 (6): 1121–34. 1999)

Dunning and Kruger proposed that, for a given skill, incompetent people will:
  1. tend to overestimate their own level of skill;
  2. fail to recognize genuine skill in others;
  3. fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy;
  4. recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill, if they are exposed to training for that skill.
Dunning has since drawn an analogy ("the anosognosia -- deficit of self-awareness -- of everyday life") with a condition in which a person who suffers a physical disability because of brain injury seems unaware of or denies the existence of the disability, even for dramatic impairments such as blindness or paralysis.

(Dunning, David, “Self-Insight: Roadblocks and Detours on the Path to Knowing Thyself 
(Essays in Social Psychology),” Psychology Press: 2005, pp. 14–15.)

The Point of Dunning-Kruger

We are simply not very good at knowing what we don't know.

There are things we know we know about anything. There are things we know we don't know. And there are things that are unknown unknowns. We don't know that we don't know. If we have,
for lack of a better term, damage to our expertise or imperfection in our knowledge or skill, we’re left literally not knowing that we have that damage.
And so, we tend to gravitate to what we're competent at, and then we write off the rest of the world. This deficit of self-awareness is commonplace, and it's really self-inflicted brain injury that has enormous potential to hurt us and all those with whom we have interaction. Let me explain:

(1) Personal Dilemmas

We exist in a real state of dilemma after dilemma. We are forced to deal with situations and decisions that greatly effect our quality of life. Pressing, difficult problems require thorough understanding through personal research, evaluation, and communication.

For example, we are faced with questions like the following:

Should I find new friends?
Should I fall in love?
Should I pursue this course of study?
Should I take this job?
Should I get married?
Should I become a mother or a father?
Should I change careers?
Should I buy a home?
Should I get divorced?

After researching for every possible answer, spending countless sleepless nights fretting outcomes, and finally seeking the advice of a trusted professional, we still tend to find it difficult to decide what to do because we now realize we have lived a blinkered existence full of personal prejudice and weakly supported conceptions.

What do we do after weighing advice and options? We typically remain in a state of miserable indecision because now we know more about what we still don't know enough about. We understand our inadequacy to overcome our own stupidity, and this perceived incompetence creates even more burdensome pressure.

We just can't get over the fact that we believe that we are "different." We truly convince ourselves that others "can't help us." We view others and differing opinions as alien and threatening to our well being. Then, we resist insightful knowledge as "no help." Suddenly, our emotions explode and wisdom takes a holiday.

(2) Teaching Others

We face many obligations to provide useful, vital information we have acquired to other human beings. Unless we instruct our family and our loved ones about dangers in their environment and about their necessary social obligations, we risk losing them. Shirking these obligations not only endangers these people but also increases the risk of allowing them to interfere dangerously in the lives of others. 

Therefore, we teach what we believe we know. Yet, therein lies the problem of instruction. Dunning-Kruger comes into play in all education. We have proven ourselves to be grossly imperfect teachers, yet we often refuse to acknowledge our shortcomings. Again -- "We are simply not very good at knowing what we don't know." We pride ourselves on being "correct" to the point of becoming arrogant and egotistical. Need I ask you to consider your most vainglorious intelligent college professor as a model for this behavior?

Narcissistic or stupid, many of us pass on knowledge that is illogical and largely subjective. We hear or read an opinion so often that we unknowingly accept its reiteration as fact. Then, we recapitulate the information to many others who also see truth as more dependent upon repetition than personal investigation. "Smoke" is commonly believed to be "fire," and half-truths are often accepted as gospel.

Truly dangerous instruction involves imposed limitation. When we dismiss necessary inquiry and disallow further inquest, we poison minds. As we hear people profess "they know," we must always question their supreme knowledge in terms of motive and occasion. Why would a person limit investigation if not for power or personal gain? History is full of tyrants who understood ruling and controlling others demanded limiting what their subjects "knew" and "didn't know."

The worst teaching stifles creativity. Knowledge that creates limits "within the box" or "inside the textbook" kills human spirit. For this reason, we must always accept what we don't "know." When we accept a concept or theory, we merely serve to limit imagination. Consider that the B-52, the computer, or even something as elementary as the electric light bulb was a dream 150 years ago.

Leaving It At Jack Shit

Maybe I need to re-evaluate the simple logic of my least favorite popular saying: "You don't know jack shit." Maybe I haven't been smart enough to realize the worth of the quotation. I do understand that in British English (13th century) jack was a term to designate an average peasant at the bottom of the social pyramid. And, of course, in addition shit symbolizes material of no value. So, it seems jack shit is the lowest of the low when it comes to human comprehension.

So, perhaps it is wiser to consider my level of knowledge at this point in time closer to below understanding jack shit than to perceiving the meaning of life on the planet. And you believe you are faced with a dilemma? 13th century or 21st century, I think what we "know" is all relative and pretty inaccurate. And, that's a fact, Jack.

Go Figure...

Jimmy Carter, one of our most intelligent presidents and "victim" of knowing, 
with IQ of 175.

Ronald Reagan, less intelligent yet inspiring and effective by "not knowing," 
with reported IQ of 105.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Portsmouth Schools Get an "F." Who's to Blame?

"Portsmouth City Schools Superintendent Scott Dutey said his district had two years to get ready for the new state report card format, but still had difficulty keeping up with the state’s constantly changing system.

"One month before the cards were released last week, the state was reporting 12 of 24 indicators met by the school last school year, but with just weeks left until the cards were released, the state changed it all twice. The district was reduced to only 10 of 24, and their grade dropped to an F. The district also earned a C for performance index (72.9 percent), and an C for Value-Added.

"Dutey said it’s frustrating because the district has improved, but the changes in the new state report card made it difficult for schools all over Ohio to keep up.

“'I’ve been having these conversations with our district personnel, and our board members, and our community folks at our ed forums we have quarterly. We’ve known for two years this was coming. Changes were coming. The new report card was coming. None of that should have caught us off guard,” Dutey said. 

“'Even though we knew these changes were coming, they’ve changed the way AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) calculations are done. They created a whole new formula again. They’ve changed the graduation requirements, creating the four- and five-year cohorts. That wasn’t supposed to take place last year. That was supposed to be phased in. They went ahead and included it now. Those kind of things are frustrating.'”

 (Ryan Ottney, "Portsmouth School Struggles with Changing Standards," 
Portsmouth Daily Times, August 29 2013)

This report illustrates the merry-go-round of senseless Ohio public school "reform." Students are hounded by classroom teachers who are hounded by school administrators who are hounded by local boards of education who are hounded by the Ohio Department of Education who all answer to the public that cares little about the entire process except raising their school's "unacceptable" failing report card.

And, in the meantime, the beat goes on. Teaching continues, and children advance in their class rankings until graduation. How can this be? I mean, this is like a major automobile manufacturer continuing production of a car with evident recall dangers, isn't it? The product is evidently defective yet certified to roll on the highway.

Here is the problem. Forever defects have been correctly identified and properly scored with a failing grade, but never has the school, the state, or the public been willing to rebuild the "failing part." A grade of "F" indicates "failure." It is a symbol (a mark on paper) that represents unacceptable performance. Failure begs for self-acceptance, commitment to change, remediation, and considerable hard work.

First of all, society views failure as an end. It is not. Failure is actually a realization that an acceptable measure of learning has not been accomplished at this point. Although blame is commonly held to be a reaction to failure, blame does nothing to improve the product. So, let's look at a kid who fails a subject, his teacher, and the reality of the defect. 

1. The Student

With variables like environment, native intelligence, peer pressure, family structure, financial resources, and mental stability making up the product, grounds for potential failure are rich. Public education attempts to institute a program of consistent, marked improvement in every single student -- in reality, an impossible task.

No one is excluded from the system because of their lack of ability or social problems -- teachers must deal with every conceivable personality while charging through objectives in a ever-more-difficult curriculum that offers less and less time for actual instruction. The system is designed with good intentions, but quality control is often lacking. Some students will be failures and labeled as such for all to see.

Is a failure lazy, inattentive, immature, unprepared, bored, or just plain indifferent? The teacher likely knows the answer as to why a failure doesn't make the grade; however, fixing that part so that a failure can return to a challenging curriculum may prove next to impossible. Most teachers are subject matter specialists who must remain on task to complete class and grade-level objectives. They lack time, skill, and patience to be sociologists, counselors, or psychologists.

I have found that an overwhelming number of parents refuse to believe that their child is responsible for a failure. Parents will often appeal to the administration and the school board in attempts to uncover a scapegoat for their child's lack of success. Even great teachers must withstand continual accusations of blame for failures. 

In truth, seldom do parents of a failing student track their child's class progress, communicate with teachers until grades are issued, or offer aid to induce solutions. These parents usually have vendettas and personal "beefs" with the school, so they find fault that satisfies their personal perception, pass their suspicions onto their failing child, and thus reinforce the attitude that the school has caused little Johnny or Mary to fail.

2. The Teacher

Faced with a number of critical personal evaluations as well as state "report cards," teachers now live in fear. They are afraid of letting down their students, their school, their community, and themselves. Faced with endless assessments, teachers lose opportunities to enrich their classes. Curricula have become so performance-objective oriented that personality and creativity have been stifled in favor of lockstep, bland, "scratch-the-surface" and "cover your ass" methodology. 

Teachers feel like failures in this educational system that cares more about numbers and accountability than about mental health and human development. More ... more ... more content is not necessarily quality education. Problem solving and critical thinking require time for rumination, digestion, and practice. Teachers unfortunately do not have the luxury of creating in-depth units of study. They are too hurried and worried about evaluations and clerical duties.

In addition, teachers are continually at odds with administration because of a school's substandard performance indicators. They often fight like hyenas and lions -- arch enemies -- instead of smoothing out differences in theory and practice. Charged with keeping a good "public face" and appeasing board politics, administrators are not reluctant to "pass the buck" of failure to classroom teachers. Maintaining good sports coaches and attractive facilities may be higher on the list of personal administrative concerns than taking the ball to insure high academics.

In any school the range of teachers and their effective performance runs from poor to good. Although districts sometimes remove poor teachers from the classroom, many times they are merely shifted to positions where they have less student contact but more control over curriculum through increased administrative duties. 

In addition, no great incentive for becoming an excellent classroom teacher exists. A great teacher with the same degrees and experience as a lousy teacher receives no more pay. And, because the great teacher is so competent, he is usually saddled with more students, additional classes, and added extracurricular academic duties. An exceptional teacher's only hope for recompense is to leave the classroom, the center of his prowess, and become an overpaid office administrator, a position for which he is usually not sufficiently trained. This places the burden of discovering individuals with poor managerial capabilities after they are promoted.

Teachers commonly know this  as the old "Peter Principle" made popular in the 1969 book of the same title by Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull. The  proposition that states that the members of an organization where promotion is based on achievement, success, and merit will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability. The "Peter Principle" states that "employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence."

The most depressing news is that most teachers these days actually hate their jobs. Not because of low pay, not because of waning discipline, not because of lack of materials, but, instead, because of State-mandated busy work, distrust of officials, and lack of time to develop effective strategies for classroom teaching. 

Anyone who has taught realizes that trial and error, re-evaluation, varied range of methodology, and freedom to extend personal approach are crucial in the classroom. And, anyone who has taught realizes that success and failure are constant companions. All human products possesses different ideas and opinions about any concept deemed necessary for their understanding. The riddle of how best to reach the most human beings with the greatest degree of success is difficult to answer. Classroom teachers do not need meaningless chore after chore and senseless report after report to dominate their days. In contrast, they need to learn through experience to master the art of teaching.

The child failed. The teacher failed. The administration failed. The school district failed. The State failed. The parents failed. 

Blame it on someone. Blame it on something. The rules aren't fair. The "playing field" changed. The educators aren't doing their jobs. The kids don't care.

Get more money. Get more materials. Get better facilities. Get more teachers and get more administrators. Get answers to the standardized tests.

Devise new objectives. Devise new programs. Devise better methods of accountability. Devise teacher training and student peer groups.

All of this has already happened.

For Christ's sake, this educational merry-go-round is in perpetual motion, and nobody seems able to jump off, distance themselves from the whirling machine, and objectively look at it from a new perspective. The business of education must accept some failure. It cannot create a perfect solution to its many problems. The question is "How much failure is understandable and acceptable?"

Here is a new idea: instead of pointing fingers, freaking out about marks on a report card, and adding every new proposed solution imaginable, public education should just chill and take giant steps backward. I believe schools should be more like schools used to be -- not institutions responsible for every need and whim of learning, but people-accountable places where kids can slowly mature and digest a limited amount of essential information necessary for advancement into adulthood.

Make grade schools, middle schools, and grade schools LESS accountable to scores on paper and reports on the desks of administrators and MORE accountable to producing good, teacher-initiated lessons. DON'T make high schools more like junior colleges, but DO make them enjoyable providers of reasonable grade-level expectations. Let students pass and fail as they strive to mature in a world gone largely bananas. Bring back innocence and rack up kids' mistakes and failures as part of life.

And, if education refuses to "back up," then, for God's sake, they must discover the all-important answers to the questions that allow schools to score an "A" on their State report cards. Someone, please write a book or two detailing how in the hell to deliver the goods. Something tells me there would still be plenty of failures even if schools gave students the answers.

Portsmouth City School District

Indicators Met
Indicators Met measures how many students have passed the state tests at a minimum level, called proficient, or higher. Test results are reported for each student in a grade and subject. At least 75 percent of students must pass to get credit for the indicator. Starting in the 2013-14 school year, a district or school needs to have 80 percent of their students pass at a minimum level or higher in order to “meet” an indicator.

10 out of  24
87.5 of a possible 120.0
Indicators Met %
A =
90.0 - 100.0%
B =
80.0 - 89.9%
C =
70.0 - 79.9%
D =
50.0 - 69.9%
F =
0.0 - 49.9%
A =
90.0 - 100.0%
B =
80.0 - 89.9%
C =
70.0 - 79.9%
D =
50.0 - 69.9%
F =
0.0 - 49.9%

3rd GradeMathematics73.0%
4th GradeMathematics65.4%
5th GradeMathematics42.5%
6th GradeMathematics59.6%
7th GradeMathematics56.4%
8th GradeMathematics62.2%
OGT, 10th GradersMathematics75.2%
Social Studies80.2%
OGT, 11th GradersMathematics92.0%
Social Studies82.7%


Monday, August 26, 2013

Miley and Butt Ugly Twerking

I believe we have surpassed a point in time where nothing anatomically suggestive in popular dance can more more sensual, sexual, or disgustingly provocative. Do what you will with slinky hips, jiggling boobs, undulating asses, slip-sliding vaginas, and pushy penises -- baby, it's all been done.

The public is no longer shocked with entertainers using their body parts to imitate every gyration of the old "in and out."  We have progressed through dance moves that were suggestive, nasty, bawdy, vulgar, hard-core, and obscene. Monumental proportions of nude and near-nude body-quaking T&A have desensitized the masses to all lascivious moves. Now that the carnal shock value has gone, any  display of fake fornication now just looks immature, imitative, and stupid.

So, what is this "twerking" business? I understand that twerking is a dance move that involves a person shaking the hips in an up-and-down bouncing motion, causing the dancer to shake, "wobble" and "jiggle." In popular lingo, to twerk means to "dance in a sexually suggestive fashion by twisting the hips." Twerking is recognized as “the rhythmic gyrating of the lower fleshy extremities” or a fancy word for "booty-poppin'.”

Origins of the word are of uncertain origin, but possibilities include:
  1. a contraction of "footwork," or
  2. a combination of "twist" and "jerk." 
Twerking took a sudden spike in popularity though the dance style featured prominently in hip-hop music videos — like the one for Juvenile’s 1999 single “Back That Thang Up."

Hannah Montana or Twerky Cyrus?

This discussion of lewd dancing and twerking leads to 20 year-old Miley Cyrus' performance at the Video Music Awards on August 25. There, she took the stage wearing a silver-sequin leotard with an image of a bear sticking his tongue out. While singing her hit song "We Can't Stop," the pop star twerked, slapped another woman's curvy butt, wagged her tongue out to the cameras, and uncomfortably paraded around a bunch of dancers in teddy bear costumes.

In the song, Miley sings, "So la da di da di/We like to party/Dancing with Molly." When it first came out, the song was under fire for its drug references, including "Molly," which is MDMA or Ecstasy.

When Cyrus reached the end of her song, the singer stripped down to a flesh-toned latex bra and matching underwear and began to perform "Blurred Lines" alongside Robin Thicke, stroking Thicke's crotch with an over-sized foam finger of a "We're No. 1" hand and simulating other outrageous sex acts.

The Parents Television Council issued a statement blasting MTV for "marketing sexually charged messages to young children using former child stars." The statement follows:

"'This much is absolutely clear: MTV marketed adults-only material to children while falsely manipulating the content rating to make parents think the content was safe for their children,' the PTC said today (August 26) in a press statement. 'MTV continues to sexually exploit young women by promoting acts that incorporate twerking in a nude-colored bikini. How is this image of former child star Miley Cyrus appropriate for 14-year-olds?'"

So Unappealing

Miley, please, just stop. This ignorant dance performance is nothing but ugly -- "butt ugly." If you want to dance, fine. Be sexual, sensual, suggestive but not ridiculous and crude. After all, making fun of love is a risky proposition anyway, and making a mockery of sex makes you look weird and immature.

I was very disturbed because you did not display anything even remotely artistic in your silly performance. Of course, that is, unless you call another crotch grab, booty pop, or doggy stance artistic. Sex may sell but public porn is degrading -- degrading to me, you, and others expecting some talent to surface.

I guess you can tell that I am not a fan of twerk. When I see a woman thrust herself "against," "onto," and damn near "within" a man, I think "whorish," not "flirtatious." I love to see a beautiful woman dance suggestively with sensual and sexy moves, but watching an attractive lady being bonked with her clothes on is repulsive. 

Watch the performance yourself and judge:

Miley and Her Twerk 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Your Truth or Mine?

"Truth is, after all, a moving target.
Hairs to split,
And pieces that don't fit.
How can anybody be enlightened?
Truth is after all so poorly lit."

~Neil Peart, "Turn the Page"

The most difficult tasks a person faces is to first discover and then abide by his perception of truth. Just acquiring the necessary experience and knowledge to identify this equivocal quality requires untold years of living. Anyone dealing with reality and facts soon realizes inconsistencies in verity, and he finds the fabrics of absolutes and perfect ideals proposed by human minds riddled with niches of doubt and gashes of inaccuracies.

Humans employ language and word symbols as a means to convey to one another a determination and criterion of truth. Truth is basically a tool of discourse used to express agreement, to stress claims, or to form certain types of general assumptions. Philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas taught that people used this subjective communication to build judgments that are said to be true when they conform to the "external reality." This correspondence theory practically operates on the assumption that truth is a matter of accurately copying an "objective reality"  and then representing it in thoughts, words and other symbols

However, understanding truth is problematic for many reasons. For example, words of correspondence often fail to accurately capture their full meaning. In addition, some words add additional parameters to any predicate of absolute truth. Other "human" issues thwart the analysis of truth: interpersonal power struggles, community interactions, and personal biases. And, many people often merely refuse to take time to examine truth objectively with any logic, preferring to remain gullible and open to believing anything with a hint of factuality. 

A person seeking truth should beware of  many illusions associated with fidelity and constancy. After all, simple familiarity often breeds liking. As a person is exposed to one message again and again, he becomes so familiar with it that he deems his understanding "truthful." Psychologists call this "cognitive fluency." Why does this repetition work to produce truth? Humans are programmed to accept the "easy." Familiar things require less effort to process and that feeling of ease unconsciously signals truth to the human brain.

Every politician and advertiser knows there is not much difference between actual truth and the illusion of truth. Since illusions are often easier to produce, why bother with the truth?
The exact opposite is also true. If something is hard to comprehend, then people tend to believe it less. Naturally, this is very bad news for people trying to persuade others of complicated ideas in what is a very complicated world.

Studies have even tested how many times a message should be repeated for maximum effect. These suggest that people have the maximum confidence in an idea after it has been repeated between 3 and 5 times (Brinol et al., 2008). After that, repetition ceases to have the same effect and may even reverse

The same psychology is at work again: to the human mind there is little difference between appearances and truth. What appears to be true might as well actually be true, because people tend to process the illusion as though it were the truth.

(Jeremy Dean, "The Illusion of Truth, PsyBlog, December 8 2010)

Time Saving Truth From Falsehood and Envy

 The Nature of Truth: A Personal Perception

Humans seeking certainty, especially the naive, prefer to believe that truth is strong, ordained, simplistic and ideal. Yet, as people mature and find their "black and white" existences and strong belief systems filled with cloudy shades of "grey," they question credence as it pertains to reality and the essential foundations of veracity. They inevitably find constitutions and declarations open to interpretations; they discern myriad facts as half-truths and slanted opinions; and they realize trusted confidants betray pledges of honesty.

At this point in their lives, as they struggle with the absurdity of molding a practical model of genuineness for real-world application, some give up in their quest for truth  And, who can blame these noble seekers of truth for becoming pessimistic unbelievers? Yet, settling to live in what is perceived as a disgraceful sham is unproductive, offering little hope of finding personal satisfaction and joy.

So, as a determined person is nothing but a unique human construct who must find purpose in interacting with a society full of other unique human constructs, he eventually discovers that he must trust that his good and honest intentions have helped formed an acceptable, livable perception of an imperfect, impaired truth. This perception allows him to inhabit a planet fraught with people and things he simply cannot understand -- beings and actualities he considers dishonest and deceitful. And, as he lives amid a confusing menagerie of family, friends, and strangers, he believes his truth is essential to his own sanity and imperfect existence.

The truth a person perceives and accepts is neither good nor bad. This truth is neither right nor wrong. This truth is merely relative to the believer and eternally hopeful in its existence. It is a living thing that changes as a human adapts to his ever-changing position in the food chain. This truth involves sacrifices and inconsistencies that gnaw at the gut. It involves triumphs and failures that test the heart. And, above all, this truth constantly tests the vital understandings of the brain.

To me, a vision of truth as bright as the sun or as dark as the night is problematic. The humans I find "truthful" never stop learning to handle themselves and their imperfections. They do so in so many different ways. I find the most precious and beautiful occasionally washing their "dirty hands" with true regret.

Their common denominator is the ability to perceive the unique human gift in their honest approach to life. They have "learned" the parameters of their own veritable souls, and they have devised methods to walk in truth that allow them personal freedom within the binds and restraints of society. In hopes of better times, they continue to seek greater truths and adapt them to their unfinished lives.

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple."

                    --Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

Friday, August 16, 2013

Mental Hurts Behind Fragile Veneers

Physical hurts are usually evident -- cuts, bruises, discomfort. All of these are pronounced signs that someone is in pain. Caregivers immediately respond to these injuries and help others through the mending process.

On the other hand, mental hurts are often masked by those who suffer. People ache inside, but often they do not want to reveal their problems because doing so is often perceived as a sign of weakness or instability. A person with psychological pain runs the risk of being judged insane and basically unfit to lead a normal existence.

Mental hurts run the gamut of minor to severe injuries. As simple as a headache or as complex as clinical depression, mental hurts affect everyone. Some are easily treatable and temporary. Others involve chronic, life-long pain. Those who suffer from the worst mental hurts often do not understand how to deal with their suffering until they experience a major complication that requires professional treatment.

Seeking treatment for severe mental hurts involves a deep stigma in itself, and once the illness is diagnosed, the patient undergoes rigorous treatment. This treatment usually involves a regimen of ongoing aid -- therapy and medication. Mental illness is treatable, not curable.

People with severe mental hurts must adjust their lives just as anyone with a chronic physical hurt must. Remodeling behaviors is a difficult process for these people. And again, problems arise because the sufferer feels obligated to veil discomfort or risk certain sanctions of a disapproving community. Injured, wounded brains are not accepted by the "normal" but instead judged to be incompetent and "touched" by varying degrees of madness.

Learning to be a "good" mental patient involves building a veneer of normality. But that overlay can crack under pressures. When this happens, the mental hurts of a patient explode, and the public again affirms their view of the "crazy" incompetence of a patient's character. As the splinters of hurt cannot be contained, the patient feels a rush of emotion that involves rage, jealousy, frustration, negativity, and shame. Damage control can never appease the normal folk, nor should it. The people involved live in two separate but intertwined worlds.

Those with mental hurts have a very important purpose. They serve as a measure for those who keep a degree of sanity as their trusted friend. The "sane" can readily view unacceptable standards of  existence and, thus, practice their beliefs and actions within a range of widely accepted normality. The scapegoats of "crazies" become convenient offerings for the wrongs and evils inherent in the world.

A brush with a hurt of an injured mind is a sign of irreparable infirmity to most. To many, it is purely wicked and stems straight from the heart of darkness. These pure souls believe only the devil could demonize a normal human and inflict mental deficiencies. They believe all mental hurts can be cured by becoming "right with God." To them, refusal to accept denominational doctrine spells damnation for those who suffer illness of the brain. To hell with the damnable refuse.

In short, those with mental hurts learn to understand the value of keeping within themselves. As unfortunate situations occur and their hurts become obvious to the world, friends accept that a once-trusted human has gone "mental." Now that person has to be tolerated and not fully trusted. So, the hurting individual responds by making emotional changes, many of which are not "normal" to others.

Those with mental hurts develop hardened emotions and practice unconventional strategies to deal with their deformities. Despite their efforts, shame is their constant companion. Although most don't want to "bleed" in public, they occasionally "hemorrhage" uncontrollably at the worst possible times, causing chaos and pain for others. They soon realize their insides should remain obscured. But, their occasional lack of control is inevitable, sure to cause shame again.

In the long run, those who are mentally hurt feel little or no joy. Others constantly try to offer means of change for their deadened emotions; however, very often the mentally hurt just can't seem to remain uplifted without being sedated and acting artificial -- the "goofy and the Prozac happy zombies." Most realize they would rather suffer with mild medication and the foils of living as one on an uneven keel.

Old age causes cataracts to develop in the distinct perception of those who suffer severe mental hurt. Loss of memory and confusion contribute to inconsistent control. As loneliness and isolation become deeper, mental hurts take on new roles for the aged. Older people become convinced that certain "things" have contributed to their infirmity. They place blame of any perceived villain of the past, and they rage against fate itself.

If a mental hurt is a progressive illness, the only savior for the sufferer is a steadfast friend. Mistakes, problems, fuck ups, and a progressive downhill slide are going to occur. The saving grace for the mentally hurt is obscurity. The pains become livable when minimized with the association of a trusted few. Thank God some can understand the hurt are just suffering human beings who need love. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Making Big Bread: Gluten Madness Tied to Sticky Dough?

Beware the gluten! Damn the gluten! Stop the gluten before it is too late!

It's hidden in our pizza, pasta, bread, wraps, rolls, soups, ice cream, salad dressings, beer, natural flavorings, and processed foods. An estimated 95% of the types of prepared foods on the grocery shelves contain some form of gluten. And, although gluten is a staple of the American diet, it can cause serious health complications. Gluten can kill us!

And, Jesus, help us! A staggering estimated 99 percent of people who have a problem with eating gluten don't even know it. In a meteoric rise to infamy, the villain gluten has become public food enemy #1. What is left to eat? Should I burn my microwave and turn to tofu?

Gluten -- What the Hell Is It?

Gluten! Gluten! Gluten! Gluten-free advocates and health food advertisers warn us to restrict our diet immediately and never let this poison touch our healthy lips again. I mean the word even sounds deadly -- pronounced "glue ton," the ponderous connotation conjures images of a slimy, inescapable monstrous glob. It scares the shit out of us, and most of us don't even know that it is.

So, what exactly is this deadly substance we are unknowingly ingesting? Gluten is a gluey protein substance found in wheat or related grains and many other foods that we eat. It has been identified as the "stuff" that causes dough to be sticky. Unidentified starch, binders and fillers in medications or vitamins can even be unsuspected sources of gluten.

The definition of gluten sounds harmless enough -- more like the description of the affable Pillsbury Dough Boy than the menacing Blob. Yet with some startling findings, the medical community warns us that we should be changing our diets.

The Beast of Celiac

A recent large study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people with diagnosed, undiagnosed, and "latent" celiac disease or gluten sensitivity had a higher risk of death, mostly from heart disease and cancer. In addition, the research confirms that people who don't have full blown celiac disease are still at risk.

(Mark Hyman, MD. "Gluten: What You Don't Know Might Kill You."  
The Blog. January 2 2010)

What is celiac disease, the harshest end of the gluten-as-allergen end of the spectrum? The Mayo Clinic tells us that it is an immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Gluten triggers an immune response in the small intestine of those who suffer from celiac disease. Over time, this reaction produces inflammation that damages the small intestine's lining and prevents absorption of some nutrients (malabsorption).

This intestinal damage can cause weight loss, bloating and sometimes diarrhea. Eventually, the brain, nervous system, bones, liver and other organs can be deprived of vital nourishment.

In children, malabsorption can affect growth and development. The intestinal irritation can cause stomach pain, especially after eating.

Celiac disease affects a scant 1% of the population -- one in 100 people, or three million Americans, most of who don't know they have it. There's no cure for celiac disease — but following a strict gluten-free diet can help manage symptoms and promote intestinal healing.

The good news is that gluten sensitivity is 100 percent curable.

But, it's not just a few who suffer from gluten sensitivity, but millions, especially those who are chronically ill. Alessio Fasano, M.D., director of the Center for Celiac Research at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, estimates some 6% of Americans have some degree of sensitivity to gluten.

Other estimates say that milder forms of gluten sensitivity may affect up to one-third of the American population. It is estimated that only one percent of those with the problem were actually diagnosed. That means 99 percent are walking around suffering without knowing it.

That is very bad news for our healthy pocketbooks. Undiagnosed gluten problems cost the American healthcare system tons of money. Dr. Peter Green, Professor of Clinical Medicine for the College of Physicians and Surgeons at Columbia University studied all 10 million subscribers to CIGNA and found those who were correctly diagnosed with celiac disease used fewer medical services and reduced their healthcare costs by more than 30 percent.

(Mark Hyman, MD. "Gluten: What You Don't Know Might Kill You."  
The Blog. January 2 2010)

Gluten-free Explosion - Fashion or Need?

More and more groceries and health food stores stock gluten-free products. Good news for people with celiac disease, but most of the people who reach for gluten-free products don’t have celiac disease and or even a sensitivity to wheat.

Peter H.R. Green, MD, director of the Celiac Disease Center at Columbia University, told WebMD. “The market for gluten-free products is exploding. Why exactly we don’t know. Many people may just perceive that a gluten-free diet is healthier.”

In fact, it isn’t. For people with celiac disease, a gluten-free diet is essential. But for others, “unless people are very careful, a gluten-free diet can lack vitamins, minerals, and fiber,” says Green.

(Peter Jaret, reviewed By Louise Chang, MD, "The Truth About Gluten,"  
WebMD, October 9 2011)

According to marketing firm NPD’s Dieting Monitor, nearly a quarter of American adults are working towards reducing or cutting gluten from their diets. The gluten-free diet has become a sign of enlightened eating, an intellectual diet supported by a slew of studies and a passionate cadre of celebrity supporters.

Gluten-free is the rage:

* Jenny McCarthy professes gluten contributed to her son’s autism.  

* The View’s Elisabeth Hasselbeck says it caused her years of chronic pain and subsequently penned a cookbook. 

* Gwyneth Paltrow credits gluten-free eating for her lithe limbs and preternaturally taut stomach. 

* Tennis star Novak Djokovic sings the praises of his new gluten-free lifestyle, and all but gave the diet credit for his astounding domination of tennis top seed Rafael Nadal.

Despite the reality of need, the frenzy of demand drives the money market. keeps adding hundreds of new gluten-related titles, including several children’s books to help youngsters ease into the lifestyle.

According to CNBC and EuroMonitor International 2011 gluten-free sales hit $1.31 billion in the United States and $2.67 billion worldwide. Sales have more than doubled since 2005. Gluten-free Foods and Beverages in the U.S. projects that U.S. sales of gluten-free foods and beverages will exceed $5 billion by 2015.

So, Should We All Cut Gluten?

Can doctors misdiagnose gluten sensitivity? Has a scare caused people to be labeled with problems they don't have? Could the gluten-free lifestyle diet even mask serious anorexia?

Julie Dorfman, director of Nutrition at Philadelphia’s Renfrew Center, the country’s first residential facility for the treatment of women with eating disorders, says, “With the eating disordered population, I’d say that 110% of them are using intolerances or food ‘problems’ as a means to avoid eating these foods in a socially acceptable way. Gluten just happens to be the fad right now.”

Stacey Rosenfeld, Ph.D.,a psychologist who specializes in eating disorders is in the camp of those who believe that using medical or pseudo-medical reasons for restrictive diets is often a cover-up for disordered eating. “Nobody wants to be called out on an eating disorder or obsessive eating,” she says, “so anything they can do to hide it, they will.”

"Rosenfeld and Dorfman agree that setting rules around foods can start a vicious cycle in people prone to eating disorders, or those looking to lose an extreme amount of weight. The gluten-free lifestyle, while life-saving for the minority of Americans who suffer real consequences from grains, can be a slippery slope—or simply a means of denial—for some. According to Dorfman, the mentality is 'restrict, restrict, restrict.' She says, 'You set a rule that you’re not going to eat dairy, maybe, and the amount of food you can eat becomes limited. Then maybe you’re a vegan.  And now you can be gluten intolerant.'

"What’s left to eat?

"Next to nothing. And for some, that may be exactly the point."

(Meghan Casserly, "What We're (Not) Eating: A Potential Danger Of Gluten-Free," 
Forbes, May 23 2011)

Some Advice For the Gluten-Free

It’s worthwhile to consider whether or not following such a program poses any health dangers. Fortunately, there is little evidence that following a gluten free diet poses any serious long-term health risks. But, there are a few things you should watch out for, and some of these things are true of any diet you could try. Following are things you should watch out for on a gluten free diet:

1. Lowered Bacteria Production in the Gut

According to one study published in the British Journal of Health, a group of people who did not have Celiac disease were placed on a gluten free diet. At the end of the trial period, the amount of good bacteria had been significantly reduced, as had other markers that indicate good immune health.

2. Constipation

Substitute grains, especially rice, are not as high in fiber as wheat products. If you switch to substitute grains but neglect to increase your fruit and veggie consumption, you could suffer from constipation. 


3. Boredom and Complacency

The number one risk of a gluten free diet is growing too complacent or bored with your eating plan. If you need to break out of a rut, go online and find new products and recipes to temp your palate. Join a GF group and swap stories. If you get complacent or bored, it’s easy to backslide and begin eating a lot of gluten-containing products, thinking it will never hurt to try a little.

4. Overindulging with Too Many Gluten Free treats

Gluten free does not automatically mean healthy. So you cannot justify eating a tray of GF brownies by thinking that it’s good for you. If you overindulge on GF sweets, you are doing as much harm to your health as you would with their gluten-containing counterparts. A treat every now and then is great and will keep you happy with the program. But, don’t think that you can eat as much of every GF product as you want–you still need to be careful.

5. Nutritional Deficiency
“And any time you eliminate whole categories of food you’ve been used to eating, you run the risk of nutritional deficiencies,” said Green. A 2005 report from the American Dietetic Association warned that gluten-free products tend to be low in a wide range of important nutrients, including B vitamins, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and fiber.


6. Expense

Choosing gluten-free foods has another drawback. Most gluten-free alternatives, such as pasta and bread, are significantly more expensive than their conventional counterparts. A 2007 survey conducted by Green and his colleagues found that gluten-free pastas and breads were twice the price of conventional products, for instance.

The bottom line: If you think you may have a problem with gluten, get tested.

Monday, August 12, 2013

I Have Become ...

We all become. I have become ...
Despite my plans and dreams of becoming ... , I am now ...

I am not quite sure how I got here. At age 18 and age 21 and age 30, I had much more ambition, yet I lost these grandiose schemes in favor of living with a gentler "flow." In truth, the stream of my life has been full of surprises and unexpected turns. At times, it seems nothing went as planned and fate became my unwelcome Master. In short, "things didn't turn out" quite the way I planned. And, fighting the inevitable currents became wasted time, so I naturally succumbed to becoming ...

I believe you understand what I mean. I think you, too, have become ...
Despite your plans and dreams of becoming ... , you are now ...

You don't believe me? Look back at your old understandings and perfect life philosophies. Have they changed? Would you say you sacrificed a great deal of the program and the sparkling fantasy as reality became more and more prevalent in your life? Your Disney dreams died, and you were full of remorse until acceptance took hold. You likely found out that the knight in shining armor, the beautiful princess, the good life, and the golden years were just hollow metaphors. Then, you too started to become ...

Now, before you are convinced that I'm just a heartless pessimist, take a look in the mirror. See if your image resembles mine. I believe you will see a realist, not a hardhearted defeatist. Who is judging the motives, anyhow? You have simply become ... The lines, wrinkles, scars, and grey hair in the reflection you see identify you as a survivor, not a comic book hero, god, or goddess.

Then, take a moment to look inside and examine your character. Why blame any poor development on genetics, the environment, or some tragic event in your life? If you believe you settled for second best or if you think you got some "raw deal," just be assured no one else is buying into that blame. Time continues to add or subtract to perceptions of your self worth, and, believe me, not one other person is "keeping score" of your becoming ... Brother and sister, you got it on your own.

Damn me if you like. And, kids, don't stop dreaming of becoming ...
Just don't fret when conscious decisions and consequence make you ...

I believe the importance of life is not the destination, but the journey. The route to journey's end is not one single step but a series of smaller steps that will eventually lead to ....  Yes, the period (.) at the end of your ... (life)

You can stop at any point along the way and rest, take shelter, or establish a permanent residence. Even though this place may not seem to be your Shangri-La, you can accept it or pause and make more plans to further your journey. So, the rest of the journey is up to you. Many opportunities exist in all stops, or you can travel on. Many options exist for those with vital energy and unfulfilled wanderlust -- just remember, moving forward requires additional, extensive resources.

When you begin to accept you have found something in your journey that is not exactly perfect, but close enough to make you content, you become ...  So by chance, or good fortune, you settle not for your far-flung dream but for a more realistic and attainable place, one that doesn't make you deliriously happy but certainly makes you more content.

Becoming ... is more about acceptance and grace than about achieving lofty heights. Your God-given purpose is realization of your good contributions to others. Each of us was born with the express purpose of extending love in our own, unique manner. We live well if our journey of love leads to ...

In closing, I believe that everyone wants "first prize." In the real world, this drive is natural and important to sustain competition. You must understand that achievement is relative not only in your struggles with others, but also in your struggles with yourself. You should teach this to your materialistic sons and daughters -- happiness is less dependent upon position and money than upon finding love.

I'm sure being number one is extremely gratifying. But, on the other hand, being 335th might be the best for becoming ... The obligation is clear: You must extend your talents to be the best. The personal journey is much more cloudy: You must live happily and honestly while finding yourself in a myriad of confusion.

I have become ...
I am no longer seeking to become ...

I just hope I can maintain ... until ....

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Were You Unconscious Of the Best Days in Your Life?

I see so many great posts of vacations and outings in Facebook bearing the "having the time of my life" description. So many of these purported "best days" are specially planned times when friends and family relax and enjoy themselves in beautiful environments doing what people of all ages do best -- having fun together. Pleasant times are welcome relief in a stressful world, but are these really the "best days" of our lives in terms of quality?

I guess that depends upon the individual; however, I am certain many of us experience our "best days" without much fanfare, and, to be truthful, no real comprehension of just how "good" the days were at the time they occur. In other words, we live many life-defining times without the slightest conscious determination of their great importance in our lives. The realization of their importance comes with perspective, some of which may come years or even decades after these encounters.

I am speaking of the times we look back upon and realize they contained moments that structured and altered our lives in the most meaningful manner. We all have such experiences that strike the core of our understanding and leave us with new perspectives and new challenges. And, isn't it amazing how the simplest word, deed, or action can strike us with enough force to shake our minds and our souls? These things often define our being.

Not all of my best days felt pleasant at the time. Many even hurt me with the sting of raw reality, yet even the nasty marks from those times turned into momentous scars of my greatest victories. I contend the best days of my life were not celebratory and fun, but are fateful encounters with the "right thing" at the "right time."

I sincerely believe my best days occurred when others initiated the interventions. On rare occasions, the others involved structured their actions although most often spontaneity birthed the blessings. I would like to think I had some control over their circumstances, yet, in most cases, that would be inaccurate. Serendipity struck deep chords in my perception of the meaning of life.


Serendipity means a "happy accident" or "pleasant surprise"; a fortunate mistake. Specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it. The word has been voted one of the ten English words hardest to translate.

The first noted use of "serendipity" in the English language was by Harace Walpole (1717–1797). In a letter to Horace Mann (dated 28 January 1754) he said he formed it from the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip,  whose heroes "were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of." The name stems from Serendip, an old name for Sri Lanka  (aka Ceylon), from Arabic Sarandib, which was adopted from Sanskrit Simhaladvipa which means "dwelling-place-of-lions island."

Newton's discovery of the law of gravitation was a result of serendipity. The accidental fall of the apple made him discover the law of gravitation. Such discoveries, merely by accident and not as a result of serious study are the results of serendipity.

It seems nature, fate, the Man Upstairs, and acquaintances combined to create the serendipity that accounted for my best days. My fortunes literally "turned on a dime" in such times. Pardon the cliched pun.

So, despite the importance of serendipity, we can do nothing to increase the chances of having such encounters. Or can we? Social psychologists who have studied why some people are “luckier” than others have discovered that it is possible to cultivate thoughts, connections and behaviors that help increase, or at least allow one to take advantage of serendipitous occurrences.

Colleen Seifert, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, has introduced a concept she calls "predictive encoding" that describes the first step toward preparing for serendipity when it arises.

Seifert knows that research has shown that most people aren’t very good at remembering information or intentions when they need them most. He suggests that by imagining scenarios where intentions and desires might be fulfilled, the mind is encoded for immediately recognizing opportunities that will assist in reaching those goals. Thus, when opportunity does knock, the chances of successfully realizing and taking advantage of the situation are significantly increased.

Here are some ways to increase the opportunity for serendipity: 

* Stepping Outside the Routine Increases Odds for Lucky Encounters

An active and varied lifestyle with new situations and people is a sure way to increase the odds that more chance encounters that could turn into opportunity will occur.

* Managing Stress Improves Ability to See Seredipitous Occurences

Richard Wiseman, a professor at the University of Hertfordshire in England, after a decade of studying luck, insists that only 10 percent of life is truly random and the rest is defined by thinking.
Anxiety, stress and preoccupation, he believes, cause people to miss even the most obvious opportunities. A laid-back attitude that frees one to observe and act on circumstances is essential to increasing serendipity.

* Making and Maintaining Connections Encourages Opportunities

Creating a strong network of friendships and acquaintances helps promote opportunity, and paying attention to each interaction may pave the way for future encounters and occurrences.
Are some people just luckier than others or can we influence our own destiny in a few simple steps?

* Luck is a State of Mind that Can Be Cultivated

According to Seifert and Wiseman, luck and serendipity are just states of mind. Lucky people not only prepare themselves for chance opportunities by imagining what it will look like when they get what they want, they actively create situations and cultivate relationships that allow them to see and act when opportunity presents itself.

(Karen Lawrence, "Serendipity and Luck," Suite 101, March 25 2013)

Things I Will Always Remember 

Receiving the stern work lessons with equal doses of exceptional kindness while working as a teenager at Lake Margaret.

Getting timely hits in the State Baseball Tournament as a high school freshman who eventually played in the Ohio State finals.

Having a football coach tell me I was the best receiver he had ever coached.

Being a student and having a high school principal who knew tough love and great empathy.

Having a poem published in the Cincinnati Enquirer as a sophomore in high school.

Getting my first French kiss from an experienced cheerleader who told me I should open my mouth.

Playing guitar in my local high school's rock band.

Declining to leave home to play music in Newark and instead enrolling as a college freshman at Ohio University.

Deciding not to play football in college after talking with my uncle who had played at Auburn.

Being too inexperienced and shy about females to pursue girls I wanted to date.

Experiencing Nixon instilling the program of Vietnamization just as I was drafted into the U.S. Army.

Having a language arts college professor challenge me and doubt my verbal abilities.

Getting a grade of "F" on a college paper for the first time.

Finishing Graduate School with a 4.0 average.

Being told by a professor at Ohio Wesleyan that I have exceptional writing skills.

Telling the truth at a job interview for the West End Tutoring Service directorship that also allowed me to work with dedicated teen tutors. 

Receiving instruction from a police detective informing me, "You cannot control any other person's actions."

Hearing Nicky Cruz state his mother told him as a child she "wished he had never been born."

Writing a letter to request parole for a friend who was in prison.

Fumbling night moves with those who I didn't even know well.

Accepting a blind date.

Building up the courage to fast dance with a date.

Taking an offer of a summer job for Youth Conservation Corp and directing two YCC camps.

Being told by a high school student that I had made a difference in his life.

Rejecting an opportunity for an affair after I was married.

Having clinical depression nearly destroy my life and alter my career.

Taking my first walk into a psychiatrist's office.