Fasting – A Way to Recalibrate Your Center

[Note: This post was originally submitted to a minimalist oriented web site but apparently didn’t make the cut. So I’m posting it here.]

“The most important aspect of fasting is that you feel deep, undirected gratitude when you break the fast.” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb

A life in motion is a life less likely to collect things that imped that motion. This motion can be expressed in many ways – physical activity, a career in the military, an active social life, or a penchant for travel. A rolling stone gathers no moss, is the wisdom from the ages.

The sedentary life is more likely to gain weight without a conscious effort to counteract the effect of bodies at rest. That weight can take many forms – our physical person, gadgets, memories (good and bad), outdated routines, and less than helpful habits. Without any apparent effort, it seems the inanimate stuff of life gathers around us, collectively adding the the gravitational pull for more stuff.

My life has been more a reflection of the latter than the former, often not by choice. A wheelchair bound father, college, and my wife’s ten year battle with cancer required the skills of hunker-down-and-endure and few opportunities for exploring what’s over the horizon. This has left a trail of lessons about living light.

An early and powerful lesson happened while spending time in a Zen monastery. The structured day and simple rules were familiar. The practice of fasting, however, was new. The idea of deliberately abstaining from food was counter to my starving college student mindset. As hungry as I was, fasting revealed just how much junk I was actually eating. As meager as my income was, I vowed then to always find the healthiest food I could afford. That vow has remained unbroken for close to 40 years.

Soon after the time spent in and out of the Zen monastery I began to explore other ways to fast. Over the years several of these have become routine in my life. Some more frequent than others. At the root of each of these fasts is mindfulness and an exploration of intention.

Food

There are many fasting programs that involve food and drink and I won’t recommend any of them here. It is important to exercise care with fasts that involve your physical health. Find a qualified and trusted nutritionist or consult with your physician for what makes sense for you. Then begin small experiments that improve your awareness about your diet and physical health.

Spending

In my early twenties, I had amassed a significant credit card debt, at least in light of my paltry income at the time. I emerged from this debt by undergoing a series of spending fasts. The challenge was how long could I go without spending a single penny. This needed some simple rules. Recurrent living expenses like rent and electricity were excluded. Transportation to and from work was also allowed, but no special trips. It required careful planning so that I would have in stock what I needed for the duration of the fast. These would often last for an entire month with the longest stretch being 72 days. Spending fasts helped me understand the distinction between need and want and the insights gained from them have kept me debt free ever since.

Sound

The way I practice a sound fast isn’t to remove all sound, rather to remove the sounds born from the industrial and information revolutions. If you’ve ever had the experience of an area power outage it becomes apparent how much buzzing, beeping, and chirping fills the background of our lives. This is not without consequence as these signals were intentionally designed to snag our attention. So in addition to “unplugging,” find ways to power down. Then extend your sound fast by performing some task as silently as you can. Unloading the dishwasher is a particularly good challenge.

People

Deliberate seclusion offers an opportunity to evaluate relationships in your life. Have any of your friendships become what psychologists call “rusted?” Are the people at work adding more stress than the value you derive from working there? Does your neighborhood reflect the kind of person you wish to be? Is anyone in your life taking advantage of your time? Who is missing?

Information

Often referred to as “unplugging,” there is more to an information fast than avoiding the e-gadgets in our life. To be sure, turning off the flow of electronic sewage that is often peddled as “news and entertainment” is important and a key element of an information fast. But it gets really interesting when you deliberately move outside your own bubble of what is known. That is, abstain from relying on your own tried and true informational foundation. A good way to start is to list the things that make you fearful or angry. Then ask yourself “What do I need to know and understand so that I am no longer afraid or angry?” In my own life, being a clinically shy introvert and acutely afraid of the world, I began studying the martial art of Aikido. It appealed to my Zen background and it’s focus on defense was a big help. Even so, stepping onto the dojo mat for the first time required that I leave behind all the outdated information about my fears, who I was, and what I’m capable of achieving. I’m a third degree black belt and still learning, but no longer afraid to move about the world.

None of these fasting ideas were my own. I learned about them from others. And I’d like to learn from you. What other ways have you learned the lessons of “more is less” by deliberately taking the path of less?

“Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.”

So states Linus’s Law. Coined by Eric Raymond in his book “The Cathedral and the Bazaar:”

Given a large enough beta-tester and co-developer base, almost every problem will be characterized quickly and the fix obvious to someone.

Or, less formally, “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” I dub this: “Linus’s Law”.

My original formulation was that every problem “will be transparent to somebody”. Linus demurred that the person who understands and fixes the problem is not necessarily or even usually the person who first characterizes it. “Somebody finds the problem,” he says, “and somebody else understands it. And I’ll go on record as saying that finding it is the bigger challenge.” That correction is important; we’ll see how in the next section, when we examine the practice of debugging in more detail. But the key point is that both parts of the process (finding and fixing) tend to happen rapidly.

I’ve found this law often plays out in the social domain as well. Consider: Meet the Mild-Mannered Investment Adviser Who’s Humiliating the Administration Over Obamacare

Rich Weinstein is not a reporter. He does not have a blog. Until this week, the fortysomething’s five-year old Twitter account had a follower count in the low double digits.

“I’m an investment adviser,” Weinstein tells me from his home near Philadelphia. “I’m a nobody. I’m the guy who lives in his mom’s basement wearing a tinfoil hat.” (He’s joking about the mom and the tinfoil.)

He’s also behind a series of scoops that could convince the Supreme Court to dismantle part of the Affordable Care Act. Weinstein has absorbed hours upon hours of interviews with Jonathan Gruber, an MIT professor who advised the Massachusetts legislature when it created “Romneycare” and the Congress when it created “Obamacare.” Conservatives had been looking for ways to demonstrate that the wording of the ACA denied insurance subsidies to consumers in states that did not create their own health exchanges. Weinstein found a clip of Gruber suggesting that states that did not create health insurance exchanges risked giving up the ACA’s subsidies; it went straight into the King v. Burwell brief, and into a case that’s currently headed to the Supreme Court.

The benefit of having a transparent playing field, such as is offered by the Internet, is that there are more eyes scanning and shining light on very small yet very important events. Granted, this doesn’t always happen. This is a frequent mis-charaterization of Linus’s Law, even though Raymond clearly states things like “almost every problem” and that the process “tends” to happen quickly. So while the evidence for corruption may exist on the Internet (the “bug” in the system), this does not guarantee that things like Gruber’s statements will be uncovered quickly or that they will be uncovered at all. Rather, the probability they will be uncovered is significantly increased given the prevailing transparency. Perhaps more important is the notion that discoveries like this are possible whereas in a closed system where elites control the entire information stream discoveries like this are impossible. In a closed system, such discoveries and disclosures would require spies and whistle blowers – people willing to sacrifice much in the name of truth, honesty, and fairness.

Updates

2014.11.12 – And of course, there is a lot of noise generated by transparent systems that simply adds to the challenge.

Two giant planets may cruise unseen beyond Pluto

Well, this is going to play havoc with centuries of astrology. Turns out, the astrology houses have a trailer park section.

Just months after astronomers announced hints of a giant “Planet X” lurking beyond Pluto, a team in Spain says there may actually be two supersized planets hiding in the outer reaches of our solar system.

Luxury Handbags and Higher Education

How a Louis Vuitton bag can explain the higher education bubble

More than a century ago, the sociologist Thorstein Veblen coined the term “conspicuous consumption” to describe the practice of buying luxury goods in order to display social status. In its purest form, conspicuous consumption involves purchasing expensive goods precisely because they are expensive, which means that the true conspicuous consumer will have what economists call an inverted demand curve.

Following this line of thinking casts higher education as a status accessory. These days, that seems about right as the quest for higher education degrees seems to be following the same trajectory as the Dutch tulip craze.

“Coke Gets Inclusiveness, But Many Still Don’t,” Smug Briton Reports

Diversity Executive has a blog post titled “Coke Gets Inclusiveness, But Many Still Don’t,” tapped out by Englishman Stephen Frost. Google for the article. Feeding trolls is something I don’t do. As you’ll see, there’s another reason I’d rather not make finding Stephen’s article any easier.

Stephen has built a strawman from the tweets sent in flight during an airing of Coke’s Super Bowl advertisement. (So, maybe that’s a tweetman he’s built himself there.) From his sampling of the twitter-blather, Stephen has concluded in the comfort of his own mind several important “facts” about Americans. First up:

[A]n alarmingly high proportion of Americans do not know their national anthem.

Hmmmmm. I haven’t the time or interest to tune into past twit-storms and Stephen doesn’t offer up his data set for critique. So I’ll have to make some assumptions.

Doubtful all 315 million Americans contributed to Stephen’s tweetman. And arguable, the population of those likely to tweet while drunk on beer or high on carbohydrates during a national sporting event are probably not a representative slice of America. What do you suppose that “alarming proportion” actually was?

Stephen stretches his tweetman to untenable proportions by comparing England’s experience with it’s recent hosting of the internationally attended multi-sport Olympics with the uniquely American national football championship. Frankly, its at this point in his article that Stephen’s condescending smugness truly elicits nausea. (In case you are having trouble, it’s the paragraph that begins with “In England, home of the English language…”)

No doubt Stephen smugly popped off to fetch a really hot and fresh cup of tea after leveling America with a devastating blow by calling out a technical flaw amongst the tweeties in his data set. Alas, America the Beautiful is not the national anthem. Stephen, in his infinite benevolence, corrects the tweeties in that:

“The Star-Spangled Banner” is the national anthem. “America the Beautiful” is just a beautiful song.

Oh, but it isn’t “just a beautiful song,” Stephen. It’s an American patriotic song. Not only that, there is a long history of attempts to make it the national anthem. Here in America, it’s also known as America’s unofficial national anthem. This is particularity true amongst sensitive types such as yourself, Stephen, who are uncomfortable with the war theme running through the official national anthem. But I wouldn’t expect Stephen to be very well acquainted with or interested in American history. Ever since that whole 1776 thing, why bother, right?

The next important “fact” Stephen has concluded in the comfort of his own mind:

The second revelation for me was people saying they would never buy Coke products again. Really?

“Really?” Are you twelve? But I’ve interrupted Stephen. He continues:

Another statement from the unhappy tweeters was that they would all switch to Pepsi.

Again, I’ll cite the glaring lack of size of Stephens data set. Gauging the character of an entire nation’s aptitude for inclusiveness and diversity from a twitter-stormlet about a soft drink ad during a sports event is a darn good definition of “shallow.”

Fundamentally, Stephen doesn’t get “Freedom of Speech” or he’d understand the many ways Americans have the right to express that freedom, right or wrong, like voting with their feet. Nonetheless, if Stephen’s data set were capable of expanding beyond it’s diminutive size, he would find that in America, not only do we have a well developed aptitude for inclusiveness and diversity (dude, it’s what built this country), we have a well developed tolerance for diversity of ideas and the expression of those ideas. England, not so much.

The faux olive branches offered by Stephen to his sad tweetman later in his article do nothing to convince me that his intentions are anything but thuggish.

The backlash is sad, real, and demonstrates that there is work still to do to make everyone feel included. Note to diversity supporters: Whatever you think of the backlash, these folks need to be included too. (emphasis added)

“Need” to be included? Who’s “need” is that? And if they don’t want to be included in your global version of a drum circle? But here’s the twit that breaks the back of Stephen’s tweetman:

I am now steeling myself for a negative reaction from some fellow English-speaking Americans who don’t want me to sing their national anthem in my accent either. So I won’t. I guess I’ll just sing a beautiful song instead.

Sadly, Stephen has convinced himself that the drunken Super Bowl tweets = 315 million Americans. Facts prove otherwise. Stephen posted his article on February 6, 2014:

Coke Gets Inclusiveness, But Many Still Don’t _ Diversity Executive Blog_2014-02-12_16-28-09

I found it on February 13, 2014. Here’s the onslaught for which Stephen has steeled himself:

Coke Gets Inclusiveness, But Many Still Don’t _ Diversity Executive Blog_2014-02-12_16-29-09

If you find Stephen’s article, and decide to test his steel, be sure to ask his permission first. It’s the English way, doncha know.

I’ll finish by noting that the inspiration for “America the Beautiful,” the song written by Katharine Lee Bates, was right here in the very heart of the Rocky Mountains. Which is also where I’m writing this article. In America, home of the iPhone and hundreds of thousands of other inventions making life more comfortable for the world. We’re also home of the improved English language. America was built on inclusion and diversity. England is just a late-coming pretender about to sink under it’s state run multicultural experiment. Sod off, Stephen. You have more to learn and less to teach. Until then, you’re just another smug elitist intent on belittling others while hiding behind the non-invisibility cloak of inclusion-and-diversity-expert.

Updates

2014.03.07

A month post post and the “negative reaction from some fellow English-speaking Americans” Stephen was steeling himself for looks to be a no-show. Such is the nature of tweetmen.

Old Romance: Horse Carriage Rides. New Romance: Electric Vehicles

NYC’s new mayor to replace Central Park horse carriages with EVs

Because romantic horse drawn open air carriage rides through Central Park are EXACTLY what has kept me from visiting New York City. The prospect of enjoying the city from the cramped confines of an EV that smells vaguely like vomit certainly changes the incentive!

There’s a poll with the article. Here’s where the tally stood after I voted “NO”:

image

Update: 2014.01.06

The plot thickens: De Blasio’s Horse-Drawn Carriage Ban: Is It Really About Campaign Cash?

Fighting Stupid With Stupid Only Leads To More Stupid

Kansas University professor David Guth tweets:

The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you.

Stupid.

The Kansas Board of Regents unanimously votes to revoke academic freedom and basic right to freedom of speech.

Stupid2.

This is a self-serving reaction, not a response.

More here, here, and here:

Guth issued a statement Thursday evening apologizing for his tweet that “caused a great deal of pain for many people.”

“Some interpreted my tweet differently than it was intended,” Guth wrote. “I don’t want anyone’s children hurt. The fact my words were misconstrued is my fault.”

Guth said that he was a professional communicator but didn’t do a good job of explaining his position.

It’s 140 characters, genius professional communicator. The other 5,000 characters of “intent” were left in your head and sent across the tubes as blanks begging to be filled in. Lesson: Positions cannot be “explained” via Twitter.

“22 Crazy Perks You Should Ask Your Boss For”

So reads the title of an article penned by Ilya Pozin.

What struck me was the number of “perks” that were designed to make the work place more like the home place, that is, things not traditionally thought of as being at work – three meals a day, pets, sleeping/napping, massage and other personal care things. The message seems to be: “Stay at work and keep working. Don’t bother with any kind of personal/private life. Remove the ‘distractions’ that keep you from work. Work. Work. Work.”

Bad enough contemporary society squeezes out the very idea of a Third Place. Seems the push is to consolidate the First and Second into one amorphous Blob Place.

Back to Important Things

Now that the government is open again for business, HealthCare.gov is performing as expected, and the NSA has managed to reduce the Bacon Number from six to two, we can once again focus our attention on the important things in life. I speak, of course, of fluffy bunnies.

The most fluffy bunny in the world.

The most fluffy bunny in the world.

More at The Most Fluffy Bunny in the World web site.

Experts in a Time of Unreason – Update

In a previous post, Experts in a Time of Unreason, I made reference to a case involving six scientists and a government official convicted of manslaughter for the failure to predict the 2009 earthquake that killed more than 300 people and leveled the city of L’Aquila. A year later, one of the convicted scientists, Enzo Boschi, former president of Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, is speaking out.

Perhaps more troubling, the prosecution also misrepresented a 1995 study by Boschi and others in which they noted that a handful of powerful earthquakes recorded in Abruzzo in the 17th and 18th centuries did not prove that the risk of future temblors in that area was high. Boschi argues that the prosecutor “completely distorted” that study’s purpose and conclusions. “The public prosecutor’s superficial interpretation of scientific results to bolster his argument sets a grave precedent for not only seismology but many other disciplines as well.” The 1995 study was not meant to be the final word on Abruzzo’s vulnerability to strong earthquakes but rather a present a point for further scientific discourse.

Bureaucrats, unaccountable prosecutors, and petty people with delusions of standing; they will likely be the death of us.