03.25.19 | Collapse of Trust

Psychologists sometime speak of the false self. Now apply the term in the most literal sense to the unfolding world of the elite college selection process -- from the extremes of the reported world of photoshopped faux athletes and bribed entrance exam proctors to the more mundane examples of the oft-cited ghostwritten essays, fudged transcripts and tightly focused preparation courses. The notion that certain applicant "positioning" may be quite legal (e.g. one's check-the-box performance for years and years in advance as if to edit oneself into some sort of standout doppelgänger) does not change the fact of the underlying motivation is essentially one of creating an inauthentic self.

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03.18.19 | Political Correctness

It's hard to know if we're being played. We are confronted with anecdotal evidence of free-speech suppression on the campuses e.g. feminist critic Christina Hoff Sommers dissed at Lewis & Clark Law School; Jordan Peterson, the self-described free speech warrior, shouted down at McMaster University. Such events certainly make for compelling coverage by the mouth-frothing, feed-me, feed-me, 24-7 omnivore television news network…

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03.11.19 | The Socialist Seduction

It's not like we've ever shied away from taking a hard look at capitalism. An earlier Member Monday discussion centered around a synopsis of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, the unapologetic embrace of the free market (see Capitalism: MM 05/22/17). There was much "energy" about the real-world implications of her credo (Objectivism), especially given today's reality of resource constraints, global interdependence, deepening income disparity, regulatory capture, and a distorted monetary system…

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03.04.19 | The State vs. Socrates

Would you choose to die for the sake of principle? If so, what principle(s)?

We will wipe the figurative dust off a few old Greek marble statues and resurrect a discussion some 2,500 years ago, this time through modern eyes. Socrates back then was facing the death penalty. The facts of the case would evoke an eye-roll, even laughter, today (and perhaps back then). The charge: studying things in the sky and below the earth, corrupting the youth through inappropriate questions, and believing in unauthorized gods. Jury: about five hundred random, "non-expert" citizens. Sentence: death by mandated suicide. Rationale: hard to tell. Possible exacerbating circumstances: Athens' recent stinging loss to Sparta; the accuser's (Meletus) demagoguery, and maybe a touch of chutzpah (not a Greek word).

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02.25.19 | Artificial Intelligence

The debate in Paris in 1975 resonates even today in the world of machine learning. The topic: the nature of human cognition. Noam Chomsky, the noted linguist and intellectual, held that babies are born with in-built rules and instincts that help them develop the knowledge needed to navigate the world; Jean Piaget, the Swiss psychologist, argued rather that babies are effectively blank slates that acquire knowledge on-the-fly from their world experiences.

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02.11.19 | Sharing V-Day Sentiments

One version has it that Valentine's Day originated in the Middle Ages to commemorate the warbling of songbirds as they finally emerge from the dead of winter to start looking for a mate (another version marks the beheading of a holy priest ordered by Claudius II in 278 A.D. after performing marriage ceremonies for otherwise-eligible army conscripts ). In any event, the mating dance for us creatures with a neocortex involves a little more than just warbling.

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02.04.2019 | Full Faith and Credit

Start with the dollar bill in your wallet. Actually, this piece of paper is labeled a Federal Reserve Note. A note suggests it's a debt instrument i.e. that someone owes you something. What does this even mean? There's no real obligor, no claim against some balance sheet or, in fact, a claim to any real asset at all. The "legal tender" language thus suggests its worth is presumed without regard to something tangible. That legally imposed (fiat) presumption is supported by an intangible called full faith and credit.  All one can do with this irredeemable piece of paper is trust the next guy will value it the same way. 

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01.28.19 | Reefer Madness

If there were ever a film to cure any nostalgic pangs for the good old days this would be it. Originally titled "Tell Your Children," this church-financed American propaganda piece made in 1936 revolved around melodramatic events that ensue when high school students are lured by pushers to try marijuana -- hit-and-run accidents, manslaughter, suicide, attempted rape, hallucinations, and descent into madness. This would-be morality tale smoldered in the shadow of the 40s and early 50s (at one time panned as one of the worst films ever made) until it was rediscovered and relabeled Reefer Madness to wonderful satirical effect. Watch the trailer . . . . and be thankful you now live in such an enlightened world Reefer Madness ORIGINAL TRAILER - 1936 (Not the full film)…

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01.14.19 | Standardized Testing Revisited

It's the major rite of passage, perhaps second only to one's trip through the birth canal. Most of us sat for the SAT. Break the seal with your No. 2 pencil . . . . and go! The ensuing four hours could determine one's future. A few achieved the holy grail of 1600 (or equivalent) -- name in the local paper, acceptance into the scholastic pinnacle assured. For others, the results could relegate the test-taker to the backwaters of academia, maybe to life itself.

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01.07.19 | All In Our Lifetime

It's probably the best one-line take on the subject of history: History is just one damn thing after another. Yet, as we once discussed (MM 3/20/17), these damn things are said to occur in patterns. Our book subject back then -- The Fourth Turning -- stands for the proposition that history, far from being a collection of random events, moves in predictable cycles. Each grand cycle, a so-called saeculum spanning the length of a long human life of roughly eighty years, contains four generational "turnings" that arrive in a fixed pattern as life phases intersect with events and react to the generation which spawned it. Five hundred years of Anglo-American history demonstrate how history creates generations just as generations create history.

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12.17.18 | Flawed? Us? Me?

Judge not. Seek first to understand. We humans are flawed. What makes us that way is the subject of our focus article (link: The Worst Of Human Nature), a very readable digest of the extensive research into that which makes us . . . . what, exactly?

Three philosophical views have prevailed historically on the subject of man and child development: the Original Sin (children born bad, necessitating societal constraints for proper development); Tabula Rasa (John Locke, children a blank slate); Innate Goodness (Jean-Jacques Rousseau, children born pure and should thus be left alone to grow naturally without societal contamination).

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12.10.18 | Spirit in the Sky

The prospect of death invites a peek into the world of metaphysics. Member Monday (12/10/18) is dedicated to the two Highland community members we recently lost. Actually, it is dedicated to each and every one of us -- to us, simply different cars on the same train. May we endeavor to share our respective views on the nature of the soul, spirit, and the other immeasurables even if in doing so it feels like both an accommodation to the necessity of language and proof of its inadequacy.

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12.03.18 | The Psychology of Money

Smart Steve: 2008 investment portfolio so defensively oriented that it totally avoided that year's market crash; stupid Steve: maintained said portfolio and thereby totally missed the entire three-times equity gain during the ensuing ten years. The story of man and money, and the degree to which intellect intersects with emotion, is the subject of The Psychology of Money. The report describes the twenty flaws, biases, and causes of bad behavior when people deal with money. You will wince or smile knowingly.

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11.26.18 | Capitalism, Meaning of Life

Thought experiment: "What's striking about capitalism is that we're all trying to escape it because it makes us so miserable, mean, and foolish . . . we all want the freedom to live lives with meaning, purpose, and fulfillment -- instead of being crushed with anxiety, bruised by competitiveness, and suffused with fear . . . . so here is the real question, if these are the things we're really after, why don't we just give them to one another?"

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11.19.18 | Intergenerational Embrace

One personal life regret was my failure to pay closer attention at the family holiday dinner table sixty years ago. What I would give today for the opportunity to ask my maternal grandfather -- just one more time (promise, I'll pay attention!) -- about his life, his background, the stories of his Austro-Hungarian birthplace, his Parisian dress designer father, 1901 emigration to America, dealing with all the hardships. And the same goes with other relatives -- all of whom, at the time, seemed to fit into one category i.e. old.

Threshold question: whence comes a generation? Take the so-called Greatest Generation -- born 1910-1924, coming of age amidst the crushing jaws of the Depression, only to emerge from the dust to plant the flag at Iwo Jima -- and one wonders whether such greatness is somehow innate or is forged by circumstances. Imagine that the same gene pool had instead been born in the 1946-1964 era only then to act out in the same overprivileged, Spock-coddled, pretentious, self-important way (as some would have it) of the baby boomer generation.

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11.12.18 | The Truth of the Matter, Media and Its Source​

We are honored to have Sue Cross as a guest speaker for our Monday Member lunch. Sue is the Executive Director and CEO of Institute for Nonprofit News (INN), and directs its work to advance non-profit, public service newsrooms that inform communities across the U.S. with fact-based, non-partisan, accountability journalism. You can read more about Sue HERE.

Since Sue was in town for one day only, Steve Smith has graciously agreed to give this Monday’s podium to Sue so we can all learn more about the state of our free press from her.

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11.05.18 | The Immigration Challenge

It's the very picture of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. That Central American caravan, making its way toward the promised land more than a thousand miles to the north, overwhelmed the tiny bridge which served as the border control between Guatemala and Mexico as if it were a mere speed bump.

Now zoom in. That's no caravan. That's more like an exodus -- simply thousands of individual souls just like the Joad family and the other Oakies who swarmed west trying to escape the Great Depression dust-bowl of the 30s. In fact, the Oakies had it relatively easy i.e. at least they weren't the victims of criminal gang activity and the language of their destination was their own. One can only imagine how bad conditions must be such that the hardship, uncertainty, and the misery that powered this irresistible force make the journey look better by comparison.

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10.29.18 | It's About Time

The world did not, in fact, come to an end on December 21, 2012. The Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, which tracks various Mayan cycles, simply hit the equivalent of six straight zeros on the odometer and started over. It was largely the westerners' interpretation of all this through the lens of a linear time mindset that drove them into the bunkers.

That's what can happen with seemingly mutually-incomprehensible traditions. Our Member Monday (10/29/18) article (About time: why western philosophy can only teach us so much ) is about one philosopher's quest to better understand the human condition, not through the comfort of his own thirty-year study of western philosophy but through the philosophical renderings of others, most of which originated more or less contemporaneously with his own ancient Greek-based field of study.

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10.22.18 | You're Only Old Once

A farmer got so old that he couldn't work the fields anymore. So he would spend the day just sitting on the porch. His son, still working the farm, would look up from time to time and see his father sitting there. "He's of no use any more," the son thought to himself, "he doesn't do anything!" One day the son got so frustrated by this, that he built a wooden coffin, dragged it over to the porch, and told his father to get in. Without saying anything, the father climbed inside.

After closing the lid, the son dragged the coffin to the edge of the farm where there was a high cliff. As he approached the drop, he heard a light tapping on the lid from inside the coffin. He opened it up. Still lying there peacefully, the father looked up at his son. "I know you are going to throw me over the cliff, but before you do, may I suggest something?" "What is it?" replied the son. "Throw me over the cliff, if you like," said the father, "but save this good wooden coffin. Your children might need to use it."

Wooden Coffin (Zen Buddhist story)

One reacts with a mixture of bemusement, disbelief, and righteous indignation upon receiving this missive from the universe via the postal service: your personal 50th birthday invitation to join AARP. Congratulations, you have just graduated from the old age of youth to the youth of old age.

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10.15.18 | The Midlife Unraveling

The Midlife Unraveling | Brené Brown. Whether you smile knowingly or wince, you will relate. In fact, in the unlikely event you are unable to catch a glimpse of what she's talking about in you, your partner, your parents, your children, or a good friend, consider yourself my guest for lunch. Here in her own words:

"To call what happens at mid-life a ‘crisis’ is bullshit. A crisis is an intense, short-lived, acute, easily identifiable and defining event that can be controlled and managed. Mid-life is not a crisis. Mid-life is an unraveling. The mid-life unraveling is a series of painful nudges strung together by low-grade anxiety and depression, quiet desperation, and an insidious loss of control. It’s enough to make you crazy, but seldom enough for people on the outside to validate the struggle or offer you help and respite. It’s the dangerous kind of suffering — the kind that allows you to pretend that everything is OK” 

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