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5449002019_c15cd9cc3a_b_editI have awoken to an America that I do not recognize.

The 2016 election shows that what I thought I knew about national politics is wrong and I feel humbled.

Nearly all of the expert analyses of the election turned out flawed including my own amateur efforts.

What is frustrating about the failure of professional and academic analyses of this election is that the methods used to project outcomes are the same methods used to explain the outcomes.

That makes it hard to trust any analysis as to why Trump and the GOP succeeded against expectations; it also makes it hard to trust analyses of what Trump is doing and where our country is going.

A source of error in the projections was that the pollsters and the media did not accurately represent the portion of the electorate who made the difference and that turns out to be half of the voters.

That omission is important to reflect upon because the nearly 60 million people who elected Donald Trump are misread by those of us who were caught unawares on election night.

Trump supporter and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel provides a clue about that misreading;

“I think one thing that should be distinguished here is that the media always is taking Trump literally. It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally. I think a lot of the voters who vote for Trump take Trump seriously, but not literally.” [1]

Thiel’s distinction makes all the difference in how we interpret one another across the political divide.

For instance, I suspect that many on the left suppose that Trump cannot practically deliver on promises that he made in the campaign and conclude that this inconsistency will disillusion his supporters and weaken his base.

That conclusion follows only if Trump supporters interpret his Duck-Rabbit_illusionpromises literally and I have come to believe that Trump voters construct his meaning not all literally, but symbolically.

If there are multiple ways to make alternate meanings out of the same words, we must strive to comprehend all of those meanings together.

Unless the people on the opposite sides of the political divide become visible and clear to one another the prospects for national unity will continue to dim.

In the political struggle that fractures America, most of us are boxing with shadows.

I do have one data point to rely on in my account of this election because in August I attended a Trump rally in Everett, WA.

I wanted to find out personally what attraction this unconventional candidate held for his followers.

I want to tell my progressive colleagues and readers that Tump supporters are not bad people; not deplorable.

I talked with a dozen rally attendees and observed hundreds and for the most part, I liked them as individuals.

The rally was thousands large and had a festive atmosphere with families, kids dancing and no physical violence that I witnessed.

The campaign rhetoric was jarring to my ear and I had difficulty referencing what people told me.

They all said that the economy is failing, the military is in decline, billionaires are incorruptible and that America’s core values have been undermined.

None of it looks that way to me, but I did not argue, I listened and listening may be the most important part of dialog.

In academia and on the left of center we have not been listening to half of the electorate and we paid the price for that insensibility on election night.

candle-335965_960_720Perceiving the need to listen to people whose ideas we reject lights a path to a way forward for those of us who value dialog and the exchange of ideas as a means of growth.

The opportunity is to step up to the challenge of creating conversations between people who are not hearing and seeing one another.

This conversation is possible because we all have so much in common.

This conversation is hard because we generally disbelieve what the other side sees as true.

This conversation is necessary because finding our common ground is the one hope that we have to transcend our growing national chasm of ideologies.

To Trump supporters reading this I want to say that those of us who emphasize justice, equity and individual rights are not bad or deplorable either.

We are operating with caricatures of one another, you and I, and it is to our mutual interest to understand how those false images come about and to what purpose.

You know as well as I that election victories are temporary and the political pendulum will swing back in time, so what matters to the good of our nation is how we manage the change together.

I genuinely want to understand what you think and what you trust and what kind of world you aspire to.

flag-american-heart_editWhen enough of us recognize the reflections of ourselves in the human beings on the other side, the bridge building will begin.

I pledge to work towards producing opportunities for political reconciliation and human communication across our community.

I hope that you, dear reader, will join that effort in your own way to make America work together again.

 

Sources
[1] Roller, E. Peter Thiel Wants You to Take Trump Seriously, but Not Too Seriously. November 1, 2016.
http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/01/opinion/campaign-stops/peter-thiel-wants-you-to-take-trump-seriously-but-not-too-seriously.html

Image Acknowledgements

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voteAdept politicians pay attention to voting bocs, which are aggregations of citizens who share interests that influence their voting.  Religion, ethnicity, and age are common issue clusters around which voting blocs form.

A voting bloc that has been neglected in the 2016 Presidential campaign is dead people.

It is fair to say that the 2016 Presidential election is a grave decision for voters, but it is a quite different matter that dead people register to vote in significant numbers and many of them do vote.

It is true that electoral officials work to prevent dead people from voting because they have no voting rights; still many of them vote anyway.

Election officials attempt to limit dead people voting by comparing voter registration roles and voting records against the Death Master File maintained by the Social Security Administration.image-20150417-3241-dmi4mw_cropped

When dead people vote and are found out it is considered election fraud.

People who assist dead people with voting are charged with election fraud as was recently the case with an 88 year old Illinois woman, Audrey R. Cook.

Her husband of 66 years, Vic Cook, recently applied for absentee ballots to vote in the 2016 election but died before they could complete them together.

So Audrey went ahead and completed Vic’s for him and sent both ballots in.

Vic’s ballot was identified as a dead person voting and was nullified.

Audrey now faces potential election fraud charges.

375px-Dark_Rosaleen_Anarchy_1The case is complicated by the fact that both Vic and Audrey were Madison County election judges, as Audrey was when she filed the dead person vote.

I hope that the Illinois Attorney General will cut Audrey a break.

She is grieving a loss and to her Vic is not really gone, so it is comprehensible to me that she would assist him in casting his last vote, even from the grave.

Vic’s dead man vote will not count in the election, of course, but we should have compassion enough for people like Audrey who lose those they love to understand how they may continue to act as if they were among the living.


Conversations on topics such as in this post are common at Death Cafe Corvallis.  You are welcome to participate. Information at Death Cafe Corvallis.

 

Image Acknowledgements

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maxresdefaultIllness and pain are linked to death through our concept of the quality of life.

A new video, Life Asked Death: Palliative Care in Asia, examines the role of mortality in the qualitative value of life.

The raw reality of this story develops from the context of people seeking treatment for terminal illness in regions with few resources such as parts of Bangladesh, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.

This is not an easy video for some people to watch, even for the 26 minutes that it takes.

I suggest that you do so because the last half of the story focuses on the significance of knowledge in quality of life.

Through direct experience we find that one of the main sources of suffering for dying people is not knowing what is happening to them.About_Bangladesh_IMG_2268

Fear of the unknown – not understanding the path that one is on – creates mental anguish.

The truth about one’s condition and impending death turns out to be a source of strength for the people that we meet in this story.

What a remarkable fact that is, that consciousness of our deaths and the causes of our pain is actually a foundation for greater quality of life.

With consciousness comes choice and with choice comes the resolution of identity, even if we are about to lose ourselves in the mystery of death.

I am eager to know what you think of Life Asked Death: Palliative Care in Asia, and the concepts in it.

In good spirit,

Jon

tools_losStudents and instructors share the complex challenge of managing the elements of multiple courses simultaneously.

Solutions to that daunting task just became more reliable and perhaps easier with the Learn@OregonState ecosystem and website—http://learn.oregonstate.edu.

The power of this concept flows from the unification of OSU’s teaching and learning technologies to provide seamless access and dedicated support university wide.

This growing learning ecosystem currently consists of Canvas, Kaltura, Turning clickers, Turnitin and online content from publishers.

Three key attributes of tools in the Learn@OregonState ecosystem are:

1) They are available to every member of the OSU community via ONID authentication.

2) The applications are interoperable to multiply their power.

3) The tools are centrally supported for all users.

The result of this is organic management strategy is more than a set of technologies, it is a framework for managing technological change and bringing new tools into the system.

In order to understand the dynamics of OSU’s learning ecosystem I spoke with Lynn Greenough, Associate Director of Learning Platform Services.

Greenough managed the transition from Blackboard to Canvas in 2015 and works for Academic Technology in Information Services.

She made clear that supporting student success is her top priority; “Without students there is no Learn@OregonState. We know the world they are preparing for requires ever-changing skills, and our goal is to ensure that OSU’s learning environment supports their academic goals.”

Greenough perceives success with technology for both students and instructors as being a function of quality; “not only knowing how to use the tools, but how to use them well.”

That is why the dedicated support aspect of Learn@OregonState is significant to instructors and students alike.

You may be aware of the applications that make up this learning ecosystem and it is important that you know how they fit together and where to go to improve your uses of them.

Canvas is a learning management system (LMS) that provides course-level tools for students and instructors including a class list, grade book, assignment uploads, online grading, online tests, communication tools, an tools-canvas-group-imageassignment calendar and numerous ways to share course content.

Students value having a single place to get key information for all of their courses, so I urge instructors to at least publish their syllabi in the appropriate Canvas courses.

OSU’s front-line Canvas expert is Tasha Biesinger who helps the teaching and learning community make the most of those capabilities – contact Tasha at –canvas@oregonstate.edu.

Kaltura is a media management system where instructors and students can upload video and audio into a streaming format for online viewing and listening, similar to YouTube.

kaltura-group-imageKaltura provides more access controls than YouTube making it the appropriate option for identifiable student media.

A great use of Kaltura is to use the Screen Capture tools to quickly create tutorials and commentaries.

Embedded video quizzes integrated with the Canvas grade book are a recent innovation in Kaltura.

Raul Burriel is the key support agent for Kaltura at OSU; get help and comment on Kaltura at – kaltura@oregonstate.edu.

Clickers are a means by which many instructors structure and credit in-class participation.tools-clickers-group-image

The Turning bundle, which students purchase at the Beaver Store, includes a remote device for participating in class and a four-year ResponseWare license allowing iPhone, Android and laptop to operate as the student remote.

Instructors interested in using clickers will receive equipment and quality training from Nargas Oskui – clickers@oregonstate.edu.

Before this website launched Fall 2016 the support resources for these tools were in several places; now they are collected in a single site, are presented with consistent style, and are kept up-to-date by the people who know the tools inside and out.

A critical feature of the new system is how change is managed. Greenough explains;

“We have an established process for reviewing and evaluating requests, which is posted on our web site: We look at the impact that a proposed addition will have on students and instructors, and also validate that new applications meet our standards for accessibility, data security and technical interoperability.”

All OSU members are positively encouraged to be active agents in of the growth of our learning ecosystem by sharing feedback and requests for new elements.

Lois Brooks, Vice Provost of Information Services, succinctly sums up the core principle of the instructional technology support strategy;

“We have had two major innovations in the last year; Learn@OregonState is our virtual ecosystem and the Learning Innovation Center is a state-of-the-art physical facility that allows active and engaged learning. What we are working to accomplish is excellent educational opportunities for our students whether they are in a physical or virtual space.”

Learn@OregonState is a contemporary sophisticated foundation for succeeding at the information side of teaching and learning at OSU.

nc bc cc 10%Our national election occurs on Tuesday November 8 and I urge you to vote however your heart and mind lead you, but I also want to tell you who will be our next President and one significant reason why I believe that candidate will succeed.

The important point I want to demonstrate is far beyond a single election because the matter at issue is the future of American democracy.

In 2008 the Obama campaign produced an unprecedented combination of data analysis, social media and campaign outreach to win the Presidency.

The data analysis aspect used new techniques in what is commonly known as data-mining or big data analytics.

Both Democrats and Republicans have long kept databases of voters; you and I and every other eligible voter in the US is in these data-sets.

What Obama’s campaign innovated was a 100 item index that pulls from public and for-sale data sources such that every voter is categorized by education level, home ownership and value, permits and licenses, magazine subscriptions, charitable contributions and much more.General_election_polls_2016_Clinton_v_Trump

The campaign also buys data from companies such as Facebook to track which ads you click on and who your friends are.

The Democrat campaign knows more about you than you know about yourself in the sense that you may forget some of the details while their database, called “Catalyst,” does not.

The campaign technicians render all this data into a 1-5 scale that assigns probabilities to 2 behaviors for every voter: whether they will vote and who they will vote for.

What the campaign does with those ratings is the key to their electoral strategy because those individual profiles based in huge correlations of personal data are used to produce campaign tactics aimed specifically at you and voters like you; this tactic is called micro-targeting.

One way that micro-targeting is used was revealed when the Obama campaign recruited 2 million volunteers through Facebook and then provided each of them with instructions for door-to-door visits with specific individuals based on their ratings in Catalyst.

Another use of micro-targeting is to assign campaign ads to individual social media users. The political ads that you see on social media may well have been crafted uniquely for you, at least if they are from the Democrat campaigns.

Moreover the reactions of micro-targeted individuals are gathered and fed back to the database creating a dynamic loop that is capable of measuring large group responses based on tracking behaviors of individuals within the group.

After the 2008 election victory Obama directed the data analysts on his campaign to develop ways to use that technology for conducting White House policy efforts and called the resulting system “Legacy.”51i-UovOAYL._SY346_

This ultra-sophisticated use of data analysis to conduct a political campaign is studied in a fascinating book, Hacking the Electorate: How Campaigns Perceive Voters by Yale political scientist Eitan D. Hersh.

In addition to describing how political data-analysis and micro-targeting work, Hersh postulates that the sources of public data that campaigns draw from are likely to skew the data-set to preference some voter characteristics over others; for instance consider the data sources in which individuals are classified by race.

Why does any of this matter to you?

It matters because human beings have a peculiar relationship with our own thoughts in two ways.

The first is that it is hard for us to distinguish between our subjective feeling of certainty and the objective degree to which a claim about the world is certain.

For example, in this column I am claiming to know who will win the 2016 election.

In fact I cannot know that for certain because all sorts of events could occur to prevent that from happening, so I am really asserting a probability of an outcome based upon assumptions about the conditions.

LW268-MC-Escher-Hand-with-Reflecting-Sphere-1935Still, in my gut I feel totally certain about it despite being a skeptic about most things, and cannot convince my subjective sense to entertain more doubt.

The second peculiarity of human thought is while you and I know what we think and believe, we typically do not know where those thoughts and beliefs came from.

Try it yourself; consider some of the ideas (thoughts and beliefs) that you feel strongly about. Where did you get those ideas? Were you born with them? Were they taught to you? Did you inherit them? Did you discover them or make them up yourself?

If you are like most of us, then even the thoughts that you feel most certain about do not provide you with signs of their origins.

I am confident that you have reasons in favor of those ideas, but are those reasons actually the causes from which you formed the belief in the first place or are they premises that you developed to justify a belief that you already held?

Attend closely and I think that you will find that it is not easy to be sure about the workings of your own mind.

Why does this matter? Because there are interest groups who work hard to put ideas into your mind and once an idea is in your mind it is likely that you will experience it as certain and true, largely because it presents itself as your own idea.

To put it as clearly as I may: if I can get an idea into your mind and also get you to view it as your own idea, then I have succeeded at manipulating your mind.6914441342_605f947885_z

The manipulation of beliefs – the deliberate changing of people’s minds – is an ancient practice that we find today in advertisers, propagandists, magicians, preachers and teachers.

This mental manipulation is what the data-driven campaign is designed to do.

To be fair, politicians have sought to understand the public mind and put ideas into the minds of the people since at least ancient Greece.

Data-driven campaigning is not new, although the technological sophistication produces an unprecedented level of control over messaging.

That brings me to my prediction that Clinton will be elected President by a wide margin with the Democrats taking the Senate and making gains in the House.

That may not seem like a bold prediction to you because it has become common wisdom on the eve of the election, but I am basing my view on the uses by the Clinton campaign of whatever the Catalyst data-base has become.

One point to draw from this observation is that a candidate’s campaign foreshadows what their administration will be like.

Clinton’s campaign, like the Obama campaigns, are highly organized, disciplined and data-driven.

I view organization and discipline as positive attributes of an executive administration and they stand in stark contrast to the Trump campaign which spent more money on “Make America Great Again” hats than on data analysis.

However you evaluate these facts the reality of contemporary political dynamics calls for rigorous critical thinking about the messages that you receive and believe, if you care about your individual freedom as a thinker.

The future of the American political system is all about data and the more that you know about those processes, the better equipped you will be as a citizen and voter.

 

Image Acknowledgements

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/75279887@N05/6914441342

Images are found via CC Search for Creative Commons licensed content.

Image result for democrat republican politicsI think it a fair observation that most Americans are not pleased with the 2016 Presidential contest, but it is also fair to challenge ourselves to describe what we would prefer.

What do you hope for the American political process to be?

The answer to that question lies in your presuppositions about human nature and the purpose of government.

Philosopher John Locke (1632–1704) produced an influential account of theImage result for locke concept of government and the basis of its validity in his “Second Treatise on Government.”

A key idea in that work is the assertion that the purpose of government is to protect the rights of life, liberty, and property of its citizens and to pursue the public good.

If this idea sounds familiar, then you may be thinking of the authors of the American Constitution and Declaration of Independence who closely followed Locke’s political philosophy.

So how does a government determine which actions will best protect the rights of its citizens?

Some people think that government should be minimal, allowing economic powers such as corporations to manage society.

Other people think that government should advance the pubic good even if that requires overriding the natural rights of some citizens.

A third view is promoted by an OSU graduate student, Sami Al-AbdRabbuh (Industrial Engineering) who is also is a candidate in the 2016 election for the Oregon State House of Representatives for District 16 – Corvallis and Philomath.

He argues that science should be the basis of governance; “Science is the act of learning in a way that is more impactful than just trial and error or following the trends of the polls. Public policy that’s informed by trial and error and perceptions isn’t going to do so much good.”

Al-AbdRabbuh believes that our current political system promotes decisions produced by emotion-laden perceptions generated by stories that competing politicians sell to the voters solely for the purpose of getting elected.

A rational society, he maintains, would develop public policy from rigorous data gained from the real-life experiences of the people in it.

His idea proposes that we use scientific method to determine and weigh the interests of individuals and produce analyses that distribute the promotion of those interests fairly across the population.

Al-AbdRabbuh champions science as a model for government because science is a successful means of neutralizing our social/cognitive biases which make it appear as if the experiences that individuals have in common are instead issues of opposition.

This is a good point that you can see played out in the current election.

If you systematically study individual people from different cultures you find that there is a significant commonalities among people regarding basic needs and values.

Given this evidence some people immediately focus on the fact that the cultures are different and so assume that the needs and values of individuals from them are also different.

When someone’s social/cognitive bias selects out the differences only, there is little hope for them to perceive the factual commonalities.

Al-AbdRabbuh believes that scientific method allows us to minimize these biases and bring the authentic lives of many different people into productive co-operation.

It is true that science is one of our most powerful problem-solving methodologies.
                       
It is also true that many people do not trust science and I agree that there are reasons to be suspicious of it.

Science does not have a built-in moral guide which is how we end up with social problems that are the products of science such as nuclear weapons and global pollution.

Now we face potential dilemmas with scientific advances in artificial intelligence and genetic engineering.

If government is required to regulate the excesses of science, how can science be trusted to guide public policy?

The answer to this concern is that the “science” at issue here is not an institution or interest group, but rather a form of thinking, the scientific method.Image result for scientific method

Scientific method is logical reasoning based in measurable evidence and testable claims.

The criterion of testability is essential to this concept of science because the method involves testing a claim against the ways in which it may turn out to be false.

Compare this to the major campaign claims in our national election; “We stand stronger together” and “I will make America great again.”

These are not testable claims; it is not clear what would count as measurable evidence for or against them.

In contrast to emotional story telling which is designed to persuade the electorate, Al-AbdRabbuh argues that we need governance based on reasoned analysis of evidence that comes from listening to the needs and values of individuals.Image result for platonic forms 

Such government would be based in a science of human relations.

In the 3rd century BCE Plato argued that our leaders should be philosophers and by that he meant they should be well practiced at logical and analytical thinking, which today is largely the domain of the sciences.

Al-AbdRabbuh points out that governance by scientific thinkers “is not an outrageous idea. Thomas Jefferson was an inventor and German leader Angela Merkle is quantum chemist.”

You may assess Al-AbdRabbuh’s platform and qualifications on their own merits at http://sami2016.com.

So far as I can tell he is the only candidate in the current election who is talking about the form of thinking that should guide public policy and for that reason he is worth listening to.

Image Acknowledgements

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storytellingA recurring topic at Death Café Corvallis is the legacy.  This may be material inheritance such as money and property, it may be creative inheritance such as a beautiful garden, it may be moral inheritance such as the impact of one’s actions in the world, and it may be communicative inheritance such as the story of your life.

Some people bequeath the story of their lives to their successors by writing memoirs or an autobiography.  Not all of us have time or skill to write a book, but we all have the resources to write our own story.  Writing your story has powerful benefits for your loved ones when you are gone and for your self while you are present.

A valuable guide to writing your story in preparation for your death is Having the Last Say by Alan Gelb.  He provides a practical workflow for developing a single story that conveys meaning from your life.  Gelb describes his process in an interview with thanatologist Gail Rubin – The Consequences of Death.

An interesting element of Gelb’s book is the set of questions that he poses throughout in order to prompt reflection and creativity. Questions such as;

When has my mind and body ever felt in perfect harmony?

If I had to relive moments in my life, which one’s would they be?

If I had to imagine a place in the world that puts me at total peace, what is that place?

Just having these questions is valuable to anyone who thinks about death. They are certainly provocative of personal creativity for addressing a topic that some findmel_blanc_gravestone_505x278 daunting – the story of your own life.

Notably, Gelb emphasizes that the project of value in writing your story is not in order to create a summary or evaluation of your life.  Quite simply you are telling a story about your experience that has significance for you.  That is enough to convey rich meaning for others.  I propose that Gelb’s idea is worth an effort for everyone. Consider the following propositions (mine):

Proposition: we cannot understand what death is unless we understand what life is. 

Corollary: in order to effectively conceptualize our own death, we must accurately conceptualize our own life.

The beauty of Gelb’s approach is that any part of our life experience that has significance for us is sufficient for that conceptualization, in part anyway.

At the least your story will provide content for your survivors as they find need to speak about you and think about you.  At best you may find personal growth through meaning making about that most rare and precious topic – you.

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Image Acknowledgements

CC Search – https://creativecommons.org/

Philippe de Champaigne, Still Life With SkullThat there is a relation between thinking about death and happiness is undeniable because some thoughts about death make almost all of us unhappy.  Thinking about the deaths of those we love – both retrospective and prospective – leaves normal people with sadness.  Experiencing the death of a loved one is an unhappy time.  Contemplating the unjust and preventable deaths in the world is enough to evoke melancholy in even the most stoic of us.  Contemplating our own immanent death is a mixed emotional situation at best (unless one strongly wishes to die, but that is a different issue).  So, what sense is there in which thinking about death could be construed as a method of increasing happiness?

Karen Wyatt draws from Tibetan and Taoist traditions in a recent article; “How Thoughts of Death Can Be A Key to Happiness.”  She considers specific techniques used in mystical practices that may both lessen the impact of our anxiety about death and even raise our spirits in conceiving of death altogether.

In effect, the six death thought techniques that Wyatt summarizes include:

    • Ritualize
    • Relax
    • Enjoy
    • Improve
    • Broaden
    • Record

The techniques are practical and easy to employ.  If one has strong negative feelings about death, then more therapeutic and perhaps guided approaches may be appropriate.  Still, we can all gain value from these practices.

I’ll add a seventh technique to Wyatt’s list;

  • Dialog

Finding open and intelligent people who will listen and discuss your ideas about death is a powerful way to address the emotional impacts of those ideas.

Death Café Corvallis is all about open dialog about death.  I find the participation in conversational liberty to be a strengthening and spirit lifting activity in its own right.  When related to to concepts of death, the impact is often pronounced.  You are invited to Death Café Corvallis gatherings and to join the Facebook Group in order to get event announcements and online dialog.

Karen M. Wyatt, M.D. is the Author of “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying” and “The Tao of Death.”

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Image Acknowledgements

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https://www.pinterest.com/pin/354517801894454820/

death_cafe_corvalis_jon_dorbolo_88x31generalTake one of the best silent films ever made – add a custom contemporary soundtrack played live by professional symphony musicians – stage the showing of the film and the musicians in the location where it was produced on the evening of the 90th anniversary of it’s debut – and you get a once-in-a-lifetime event of rare quality.

Saturday August 13, 2016 was the 90th year since the debut of Buster Keaton’s The General in 1926.  The Hollywood Theater of Portland Oregon teamed with the Cottage Grove Historical Society for the showing which launched a tour of showings with the live soundtrack.

Aoife Rose and I toted lawn chairs to join a few hundred film enthusiasts in the Cottage Grove Bohemia park to watch and listen as the magic unfolded in the sultry summer night.  I met people from Los Angeles and New York who travelled to Cottage Grove for this event.  They certainly got their worth out of theiraageneral1a adventure.

The General is a story based on a historical event known as The Great Locomotive Chase which occurred when Union spies stole a train from the Confederate army in Georgia to ride North sabotaging bridges, telegraph wires, and infrastructure in their path.  Drama ensued as the Confederate army pursued the Union spies for 87 miles.

Buster Keaton wrote and directed The General (1926) as a retelling of that railroad battle, with himself as the main character who haplessly becomes ensnared in the struggle and must call on all his courage and loyalty to save the day.

Much of the film was shot in Cottage Grove Oregon – especially the climactic train and bridge collapse.  The town of Cottage Grove is proud of it’s film heritage with includes Stand By Me, Animal House, and Emperor of the North.

While not received well in Keaton’s day, The General has become recognized as one of the best silent films and has been heralded by film critic Roger Ebert as Keaton.-The-General.-Bridge-2one of top 10 movies ever made and ranked 18th on the American Film Institute’s 100 Best American Movies.

The charm of The General for contemporary audiences is in how effectively the silent film may be in telling a story.  Many movies with multi-million dollar budgets and astonishing visual effects don’t come close to the direct emotional impact that comes from Keaton’s masterpiece.

Even more affective was viewing The General accompanied by an original soundtrack played live by the composer and ensemble.  Mark Orton’s composition is uniquely charming from any musical standard.  The music is great and is well worth listening to a la carte.  When paired with the film action, the musical art is enthralling.

Orton emphasized the challenges in composing and performing in synch with a film.  A solo performer on piano or organ can improvise with the film to Buster_Keaton_The_General-train-e1412290735360accentuate moments.  The ensemble, by contrast, must stay in synch and so the score and performance has to be precise so as not to be discontinuous with the visuals.  To my ear and eye every moment was optimal.

You will likely have to wait until the centennial of The General in 2026 to catch the next film-live-soundtrack-outdoor showing.  I advise that it is worth doing and I plan to be there.

Until then, purchase a DVD of The General with Orton’s soundtrack from the Cottage Grove Historical Society.  When it comes to film/art, it does not get better than this.

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