Life Changlingly Good TED Radio Hour: “The Source of Creativity”

Basic summary: “everyone is and can be creative: you just have to be fearless about failing, and practice a bunch.”

Led to this understanding by my art-teacher mother, since early childhood I’ve been saying something pretty similar.

Creativity is wonderful, amazing, useful, freeing, and fun… but it’s not rare.  Being creative is a skill, available to everyone.  It doesn’t have to be “Art” (note the capital A) nor innovation.  It doesn’t have to be shared.  It doesn’t have to be serious, deep, fun, frivolous, important, or anything.  Mostly, being creative is about allowing yourself to do something or think something or be something… Letting a wild idea flourish for a second and seeing what comes out of it.

The rest of Art and creativity and innovation is really about “skill” – developing ability and familiarity and a mental library of techniques through repetition and practice.  That may sound like work (or worse yet, homework), and it certainly is… but it can be fun and fulfilling, productive work.  You just have to have the freedom to fail horribly, and make monumental mistakes along the way.  You have to be free to, and willing to, take risks.

Creativity, in the end, is the willingness to take a risk – coupled with the techniques and ability to take “good” risks and make something “good” out of them.

Recently read an excellent article on walmart’s perception as evil.

An excellent article on Walmart being evil or not – a fairly objective seeming overview of the major points of discussion for the different camps on Walmart.

That’s a good thing, right? If a company achieves its lower prices by finding better and smarter ways of doing things, then yes, everybody wins. But if it cuts costs by cutting pay and benefits–or by sending production to China–then not everybody wins. And here’s where the story of Good Wal-Mart starts to falter. Just as its Everyday Low Prices benefit shoppers who’ve never come near a Wal-Mart, there are mounting signs that its Everyday Low Pay (Wal-Mart’s full-time hourly employees average $9.76 an hour) is hurting some workers who have never worked there. For example, unionized supermarkets in California–faced with studies showing a 13% to 16% drop in grocery prices after Wal-Mart enters a market–have been trying to slash labor costs to compete, triggering a protracted strike. The $15 billion in goods that Wal-Mart and its suppliers imported from China in 2003, meanwhile, accounted for nearly 11% of the U.S. total–contributing, some economists argue, to further erosion of U.S. wages.

Where you stand on Wal-Mart, then, seems to depend on where you sit. If you’re a consumer, Wal-Mart is good for you. If you’re a wage earner, there’s a good chance it’s bad. If you’re a Wal-Mart shareholder, you want the company to grow. If you’re a citizen, you probably don’t want it growing in your backyard. So, which one are you?

This American Life, for the win – re: talking to our kids as much as possible

364: Going Big

All of TAL is always great, moving, funny, and every other positive adjective I could think of (yes, I’m a fanboy)… but the first act in this show is about baby education and it’s importance…

Paul Tough reports on the Harlem Children’s Zone, and its CEO and president, Geoffrey Canada. Among the project’s many facets is Baby College, an 8-week program where young parents and parents-to-be learn how to help their children get the education they need to be successful. Tough’s just-published book about Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem’s Children Zone is called Whatever It Takes. You can see a slideshow of more photographs from the project here. (30 and 1⁄2 minutes)

It’s worth listening to, but basically, one of the points I was struck by (@~11min) was that one of the main factors in the difference between successfully bright children and those who aren’t. The difference is that successful children heard more words… in the study cited, the “kids who made it” heard 20 million more words in the first 3 years and thus developed a bigger vocabulary early on, and could more easily handle the other basic building blocks of learning. If those building blocks are missing, they are hard to get later. (@~14min). Also “children of professionals” tended to hear 500,000 words of encouragement and only 80,000 words of discouragement, whereas “children of poverty” typically heard the opposite; 80,000 encouragement and 200,000 words of discouragement. (@~17min)

I’m sure all of us parents are doing great on this front, and in fact some of us have talked about this exact topic… but I was struck by the profundity of the topic and am myself encouraged to talk to poppy more, just doing idle tasks and whatnot. 

“now we are sweeping the floor.  now you are eating something random off the floor.  now we are looking out the window.  now we are listening to NPR.”

A great article on Jan Arnow’s work in Rwanda

Rwandans look to Louisville for interfaith model

The Rwandans invited the center’s executive director, Jan Arnow, to visit their country, where in May, she conducted workshops and discussions with a group that included various faiths, from Muslims to Catholics to Quakers to Pentecostals.

During that visit, she said, group members told her, “We want to do what your organization does” — leading to establishment of the center’s first branch outside Kentucky.

“They recognized that what they needed to do was create an interfaith organization under the umbrella of which they could do this work,” Arnow said, adding the Rwandan group will be run entirely by people in that nation but is using the Louisville branch as a model.


Courtesy of Jan Arnow Workshop participants in Rwanda worked on a team-building exercise intended to help teach them conflict resolution.

You can also check out Jan’s Rwanda Diary (blog)

Hubble Ultra Deep Field – a sense of proportion

As Douglas Adams put, humans really can’t deal with having a sense of proportion.  We aren’t capable.  But we can stretch for it…

(I can touch my toes, but I can’t bend further over… but I should try to)

Take 5 minutes and read this fantastic piece on an image from Hubble Ultra Deep Field.  It’s a great reminder of what we know about space and a few tools to help you start to realize that you can’t ever come close to grasping a true sense of proportion.

In many ways, I find this liberating and beautiful.  We are an infinitesimal part of something much, much bigger. Now, with pictures…

Hubble Ultra Deep Field - a sense of proportion

Here’s a way of looking at it: there are enough stars in the universe that if everybody on Earth were charged with naming his or her share, we’d each get to name a trillion and a half of them. Even that number is still impossibly hard to comprehend – if you named a star every time your heart beat for your whole life, you’d have to live about 375 lifetimes to name your share.

What the Ultra Deep Field image ultimately offers is a singular glimpse at ourselves. Like Copernicus’s On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, it resets our understanding of who and what we are.

911 +6 years – i’ve done nothing

Well… it’s been a day – just like any other day.  I wore black… biked to work… worked… biked home and walked in the park with Anita and Nova.  A beautiful day.  Nothing in my day to tie this date with six years ago… I was looking for it to come up.

Perhaps if I watched television more, or talked to strangers more…  perhaps if I got out of my daily life and tried to make a change in the world which reflected my beliefs (such as they are)…  perhaps if I didn’t live so comfortably I’d work to fix what seems obviously wrong with the world.

Unfortunately, that does seem to be what it comes down to.  I value my ability to provide for my family above most other things.  An argument could be made that activism which resulted in an improvement in the world would be a better service to one’s family… but I’m not that optimistic.  I believe change can happen – must happen – and if a critical mass of people lean in a direction, the country will follow… but I don’t know how much I can contribute…   cop-out.

Since I can not seem to improve the world beyond my normal daily routine… I can not proselytize that anyone else should.

Don’t worry, I’ve got punishment enough; knowing that the current American Government is corrupt and criminal, but not doing anything about it.  End in sight?  Probably not.


Letter to the editor: Republicans need to step out from behind their false mask of security

Five years after 9/11, the Bush administration has failed to keep us safe. In fact, we are less safe.

The war in Iraq has diverted attention from protecting America from terrorism. In fact, this past week 9/11 commissioners said Iraq is distracting from security at home.

The war in Iraq has inflamed the whole Middle East and is helping Al Qaeda attract new recruits. Osama Bin Laden is still on the loose. The US has attracted more ill will in the past 6 years than we have in a long while.

Katrina showed all of us that the Republicans aren’t able to protect America at home. We weren’t prepared despite warnings and we haven’t really recovered. Distracted?

The Republican Congress hasn’t followed through on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.

In light of these observations, Republican political attacks during last week’s terror threat are outrageous. Continuing to pretend that republicans are the only ones who will protect America go against the facts we have seen over the last few years.

Furthermore, as much as Bush would hate to admit it, any president is left with the military of the previous administration. He fought his war with Clinton’s well prepared army and will leave the next administration with a much weaker military and enormous debt.

Safer? I don’t think so.

-Alan Blount-

sent to: The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and The Columbus Dispatch

on: 911 Loose Change 2nd Edition with extra footage

Text of an email I spammed to just about everyone I have an address for:

I’m sorry to have sent what could be considered propaganda to you. I believe it’s well put together and raises very important questions, furthermore validating those questions and invalidating many official responses with evidence. Because of this, and because it’s so easy to send around (just a link to a video) I have decided to send it to just about everyone in my address book. I’m sorry if you would prefer not to receive this email from me, but I still encourage you to try watching the video and listening to the arguments in it. (note: if you are on dial up, you might want to download it overnight and watch it the next day)

I suggest you watch this video, documenting some of the obvious inconsistencies with the official story of what happened on 911… it’s an hour and 20 minutes, and I think it’s brilliant.

You can download it or stream it… and if you want me to, I can burn it to CD and send it to you…

The video quality is good, considering, but there are times when it’s difficult to read text…

And, of course – like all things… one can ask themselves significant questions about it’s facts and authenticity. but, if you take the most cynical view of this information and the most trusting view of the story we have been fed about the events of 911 and the actions of our government – you must still conclude that there are some impossible contradictions which can not be explained away, and some obvious invalidities in the official accounts… and that’s only if you dis-believe all data in this documentary and simply look the actual pictures and videos presented.

It’s horrible information, and leads to horrible conclusions (or at least suspicions), but you MUST attempt to participate in your world. This is a part of it – a big part that will either make it to the future history books or be redacted from them…. Truth may be an impossibility, but we should demand some truth. We should not allow these lies….

Start fighting for actual freedom by spreading this information, by asking questions, and by demanding change.

thank you,

— alan — [ ]

{ UPDATE: note – read the comments for more informaiton including discussion regarding the accuracy and validity of many of the details in this documentary. }