f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

August 12, 2008

texting, walking, crossing — and culling the herd

Filed under: q.s. quickies — David Giacalone @ 8:28 am

. . a friendly warning from Geekologie . .

bumping into you — a bit
of sarcasm in her voice

.. by dagosan

The Darwin Awards are famous for humorous anecdotes about people who help improve our species by “culling the herd” — “accidentally removing themselves from it!” The dangers of driving while texting are obvious and many of its practitioners are culling themselves — along with innocent victims — from our herd (often leaving a trail of heartache behind for loves ones). But, there has been a rash of stories lately about similar hazardous behavior known as “texting while walking” — and its deadly cousin, “texting while crossing” [the street].

“Not much of a problem,” you say?

Well, not according to the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP). An recent Injury Prevention message entitled “Text Messaging: Emergency Physicians Express Safety Concerns As Kids Go Back To School” urged “Plain old common sense” — don’t text while walking, driving, rollerblading. The ACEP advisory reported that:

“[T]he nation’s emergency physicians say they are seeing a dangerous trend that can go hand-in-hand with texting: a rise in injuries and deaths related to sending text messages at inappropriate times, such as while walking, driving, biking or rollerblading. . . .

CellphoneApe “People are texting and they trip and fall on their faces – usually people in their 20s. We see a lot of face, chin, mouth [and] eye injuries from falls.”

As a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter quipped over the weekend,”Think texting is tough on your thumbs? It could be a lot harder on your face.” (“A new hazard: texting while walking,” Aug. 9, 2008)

“Even worse . . . are the injuries that result from people texting and causing collisions with bikers, rollerbladers and others.”

Naturally, Old Fools are also at risk and at fault due to risky text-walking behavior:

“Dr. Paul Walsh, an emergency physician in Bakersfield, Calif., reported treating a man in his 50s who was talking on the phone to his wife. ‘He was distracted and was killed as he crossed the road’.”

Dr. Linda Lawrence, President of ACEP, advises the following common-sense safety measures, among others:

* Don’t text or use a cell phone while engaged in any physical activities that require sustained attention; such activities include walking, biking, boating, rollerblading or even intermittent-contact sports such as baseball, football or soccer. * Never text or use a hand-held cell phone while driving or motorcycling, and use caution even with headsets.

* Ignore the call or message if it might interfere with concentration during critical activities that require attention. Better yet, turn off the device beforehand . . .

* Be mindful of the distraction and corresponding reflex-response delay that texting can cause, and don’t text in any environments in which excessive inattention can cause safety concerns, such as while sitting alone at night, waiting for a bus, or in a crowded area, where one could easily become a victim of a personal theft.

.. devolution?

For more on the ACEP Texting-Walking Warning, see: “Texting hazardous while walking” (UPI, Aug. 9, 2008, where emergency physician

“I think they just get so focused on (texting) they don’t see a little bump or a trip or a stumble, and down they go. And they’re not in a position to brace themselves.”

And, listen to “Texting While Walking May Be Dangerous” (npr, All Things Considered, July 31, 2008; 4-minute audio clip)

Medical warnings are not, however, the whole story.
For example:

  • Padded Poles: Some street poles in London have been padded like soccer goals, to help prevent injuries to text-walkers. See a You Tube Video; and coverage at Geekologie (including a video clip of a non-observant tv reporter)

Legislative Solutions? To the dismay of the “this is a free country” crowd, law-makers in at least two states have proposed banning the use of Blackberries, ipods, cellphones, and similar devices while crossing the street. In the lengthy article “R U ambu-textrous?“(July 29, 2008) Chicago Tribune reporter Louis Carlozo tells about the rash of injuries and accidents involving texting walkers, as an introduction to discussing “a new bill that would ban using a wireless device while crossing streets.” The proposal — an Illinois General Assembly bill known as HB 4520 — is being considered by officials such as state Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White, and was introduced last January by Rep. Ken Dunkin (D- Chicago).

“This legislation is not laughable. On the surface it’s like, ‘Oh wow, what is this?’ But it’s becoming more and more of a common problem with people haplessly crossing an intersection and almost killing themselves.”

Hot Air has a FoxNews clip interview with Shepherd Smith berating Rep. Dunkin for his protectionist proposal.

The Tribune piece says that “Under the proposed law, Illinois residents would get slapped with a misdemeanor and a $25 fine if caught using a cell phone or other wireless device while traversing streets.” And, it advises, “Even as lawmakers take a closer look at the issue, texters might want to scrutinize their own abilities to divide their attention in so many directions.” Thus,

“The brain’s ability to take on several activities at once makes text-walking possible, researchers say, but it’s a delicate balancing act. All it takes is one unexpected disruption to turn a text-walk into a garble-stumble.”

  • Text-walking involves mastering two independent skills. With the walking part, balance and posture, as involuntary actions, are controlled by the cerebellum.
  • “The brain gets input from many areas: sight, listening, touch,” Wellisch said. “Your feet are sensing whether you are going up a or down a hill. As you go from a child to an adult, you integrate more functions into it.”
  • To stroll and string keystrokes, the brain creates feedback between the dorsolateral frontal cortex (concerned with planning, strategizing and sequencing) and the parietal lobe (which integrates sensory information).

watch step sign Not surprising: “Not that many people seem aware” of how complicated and delicate this process is. In response, new-student orientation at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign now include cautionary words from campus police about the perils of ped-texting, with the message “Walk defensively.”

In Chicago, the Lake Shore path is “ground zero” of the texting-while-walking problem, where distracted pedestrians can “pose as much of a threat as they themselves might be threatened.” People want to multi-task and disengage from the world, but they’re doing it in places where their own safety and that of others requires that they be connected to their surroundings “at all times, and respond to them immediately.”

The article goes on to say that the “Rules are evolving” about when and where it is appropriate to be texting — and exposing others to the risks caused by one’s multitasking juggling act.

For more, see “omg! A Ban on Using Cell Phones While Walking?” (Bob’s Government Info Weblog, July 31, 2008), and check out WNBC.com’s description, posted Feb. 6, 2007, of a similar proposal by a New York state senator from Brooklyn, Sen. Carl Kruger, which would “ban people from using an MP3 player, cell phone, Blackberry or any other electronic device while crossing the street in New York City and Buffalo.” Its online survey results are heavily against the proposal, but Nicole Lake of Jersey City told the reporter:

“It’s too dangerous. Drivers don’t pay attention and pedestrians don’t pay attention.”

Finally, NYT City Life columnist Verlyn Klinkenborg muses over the problem in “The Smart-Phone Attitude” (New York Times, August 10, 2008), noting that devices like the iPhone are “more computer than phone,” making their use while walking even more problematic than mere perambulatory phoning. He points out that “According to one estimate, there will be five billion people using mobile phones by 2011, which means that, for some part of each day, most of our species will be reduced to wandering aimlessly.” From his perch at an outdoor restaurant “in a neighborhood with high smart-phone density,” Klinkenborg saw this scene:

“Watching the passers-by holding their smart phones in front of them as they walked was like watching a parade of monks with heads bowed over their breviaries. As night settled in, I could see the glow of the screens shining upward on the faces of their owners, who were being guided down the street by peripheral vision and the feel of the sidewalk under their feet. It was like being in one of R. Crumb’s street scenes — everyone lost in a private thought bubble, everyone walking with a private posture.”

Long ago disabused of the vain notion that “talking on a cellphone had no effect on my walking pace or directional stability,” Klinkenborg counsels:

“And after switching to a smart phone, I had to switch to a new way of walking. . . . So when my pocket pulses, I duck into a doorway or line myself up behind a lamppost, out of the current like a trout behind a rock. I feel at times like a remote-controlled robot, but I honor the first law of New York: keep moving or get out of the way.”

If it didn’t put others at risk, Prof. Yabut and the rest of the f/k/a Gang would just let the ped-texters continue to bang their heads on light poles and their chins on sidewalks. However, in a society where a shocking percentage of people are oblivious or indifferent to the risks their multi-tasking is causing for others (can you say Driving While Phoning?), passing laws to curb these devices is definitely an attractive option.

wild berries –
one training wheel
lifts round the curve

.. by Carolyn Hall – Modern Haiku (First Prize, 2005 Spiess Memorial Contest)

after speaking importantly
she quickly resumes
sucking her thumb

…. by Tom Clausen from Homework

It’s a little too late for Blackberry Winter (the opposite of Indian Summer), but there was thumb-thing in the unusually chilly August air last night and this morning that makes me want to end this posting with more than a handful of thumb- and blackberry-oriented haiku (and senryu):

the ex-Colonel
thumbs along the seams
of his jeans
.. by w.f. owen – Haiku Notebook (2007)

blackberry pie
steaming on the window sill
blue morning moon

.. by Randy Brooks – School’s Out (Press Here, 1999)

blackberry picking–
three generations
in the graveyard

blackberry picking ~
a pricked finger runs
into the stain

Michaelmas Day
mist takes back the blackberries
nobody picked

boundary feud
i pick the blackberry
breaking a web

blackberryG … by Matt Morden – from Morden Haiku; except: “three generations” – the thin curve: rma 1999; Mayfly 26

overcast morning–
ripe blackberries
out of reach

.. by Alice Frampton – New Resonance 3: Emerging Voices

dried horseshoe prints
more frequent
by the blackberry bramble

… by Michael Dylan Welch – from Thornewood Poems

have you
finished this page yet,
fly on my thumb?

… by dagosan

August 11, 2008

Schenectady’s 9 Front St. stars on History Detectives tonight

Filed under: Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 12:59 pm

afterwords (10 P.M. update, Aug. 11): Episode 7 of Season 6 of History Detectives just ended. The tale was told with interesting background details about Schenectady’s past, and the tension preserved until the end. Here, from the transcript, are Elyse Luray’s conclusions in the Front St. Blockhouse story:

Elyse: I tell Sharon and Dan that the wood dating, the stone, and the dimensions of the house were all signs that their home had been an early fortification. But without the letter from the British Governor of New York, I would never have solved our riddle. Why did maps of the period show the blockhouse to be in a different location –six hundred feet from their home? It says that Governor Cornbury ordered the stockade along Washington to be moved closer to the river. So that explains it, the blockhouse on the 1756 map, was a new blockhouse. Dan and Sharon’s home on Front Street was most likely built in the early 1700’s following the massacre. But when the town grew and the stockade was expanded and moved closer to the river, that blockhouse was abandoned for other uses. So I’m happy to tell you that in my opinion, you really do have a blockhouse.

Sharon [Cole, co-owver]: I’m thrilled it’s a blockhouse. I am in shock. You know what makes it extra special at this point now is that, when you think about it, without 9 Front Street, the other houses probably wouldn’t even be here.

Stockadians — residents of the Stockade Historic District in Schenectady, New York — tend to think our tiny, lovely neighborhood of old buildings and narrow streets along the Mohawk River is pretty special. Tonight at 9 PM, people across the nation will learn about one rather unique structure in the Stockade, when 9 Front Street is featured in a segment of the PBS History Detectives Show. Here in the NY Capital Region, we’ll be watching on WMHT-17 (see its schedule to find encore presentations).

Here’s what the History Detectives website says about its Schenectady Blockhouse Story.


AIRED: Season 6, Episode 7
THE PLACE: Upstate New York


When a young couple in Schenectady, New York purchased their dream house in the town’s historic district, they believed their home was built for a middle class family in the late 19th century, like all other homes in their neighborhood.

But four mysterious stone walls visible in the attic have led them to believe otherwise. Did this house once guard against enemy attacks during the tense years of the French and Indian Wars – nearly 300 years ago?

History Detectives determines whether this unassuming structure may have helped ensure the survival of the town of Schenectady, a 17th- and 18th-century vanguard Dutch outpost, as it fought France and her Indian allies for control of the lucrative fur trade.

Click here a brief preview clip for this Episode. See our prior post from March, “History Detectives down the block” for more details and photos.

Because the f/k/a Gang lives half a block away and walks past 9 Front Street daily, and one of our favorite Stockade-stroll companions resides therein, you can bet we’ve got the show on our refrigerator’s To Do List for 9 PM tonight (and a timer set to remind us). Check back here tomorrow for an update on the findings of Elyse Luray and the HD crew.

For more about our Stockade neighborhood, see this prior post on pink flamingoes, and this one on cherry blossoms.

sunset stroll
my gaze returns
to her flower box

… by dagosan

August 9, 2008

can coffee cure cranky counselors?

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,q.s. quickies — David Giacalone @ 10:53 pm

A few days ago, we told you about cranky sleep–deprived lawyers. Because getting more sleep seems unrealistic for most of us, our search for solutions has focused on finding efficient, enjoyable, and easy ways to ingest copious amounts of caffeine. Naturally, a good cup of strong coffee comes to mind as the handiest method for overcoming the effects of too little sleep.

morning glories …
the bite & burn
of a double espresso

.. by ed markowski – Haiku Harvest (Fall/Winter 2005)

If you’re at all like the f/k/a Gang, coffee became an important part of your life right about the time you started your first real office job (for us, it was as a newbie lawyer) and discovered the joys of the bottomless free cup-a-joe in the snack room.

Monday again–
folks in the latte line
praise this morning’s moon

.. by Billie Wilson – Mariposa 11 (2004)

Of course, many Americans (such as Ms. Scheherazade at Stay of Execution) cringe at the suggestion of coffee as a cure for any ailment. They’ve been brain-washed into believing that there’s something unhealthy about drinking coffee, because all sorts of nannies in the health care sector have been trying over the past few decades to scare us away from coffee and caffeine with dire warnings of short- and long-term health risks.

Nonetheless, despite incessant nagging from close relatives and significant others (mostly of the female variety), most coffee drinkers have refused to give up imbibing their beloved, aromatic drink of choice.

Indeed, as we reported in “Your Coffee or Your Life?” (April 29, 2004), a survey several years ago found that coffee (not sex or chocolate) was mentioned by Senior Citizens most often as the item they would never give up just to stay youthful. Maybe age does bring wisdom.

the taste
of coffee –
the aftertaste

.. by dagosan [07-10-04]

It turns out that our stalwart fidelity to chronic coffee drinking (the real stuff, not that decaf impostor), has been vindicated. Over the past few years, there’s been a steady flow of research results to lighten the load and brighten the spirits of coffee lovers. See, e.g., our post “fill ‘er up” (Nov. 19, 2005), discussing the Harvard Gazette article “Coffee gets cleared of blood pressure risk; ” and the recent story in the Mainichi Daily News, “Caffeine enhances memory-forming brain cells, researchers find” (Aug. 6, 2008).

If your loved ones, or office mates, need more than your word (or even mine) that coffee is safe — and maybe even advantageous — for your health, the New York Times came to your assistance this week big-time, with the article “Sorting Out Coffee’s Contradictions” (by Jane E. Brody, Aug. 5, 2008). The Times notes that coffee is “America’s leading beverage and caffeine its most widely used drug,” and sees us as a “society determined to run hard on as little sleep as possible.” The article then sets up its central issue:

“But as with any product used to excess, consumers often wonder about the health consequences. And researchers readily oblige. Hardly a month goes by without a report that hails coffee, tea or caffeine as healthful or damns them as potential killers.

“Can all these often contradictory reports be right?”

Caffeine Myths Debunked: To counter “misguided information about caffeine and its most common source, coffee,” the NYT article presents the recent, comprehensive findings of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and those of other research reports follow. See “Caffeine: The Good, the Bad and the Maybe,” Nutrition Action Health Letter, March 2008, Center for Science in the Public Interest (PDF, 2350 Kb). Thus, on a page captioned, What You May Not Need to Worry About, the NAH Letter debunks myths related to coffee and caffeine and Heart Disease, Cancer, Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, Osteoporosis, Dehydration, PMS, Weight Loss, and Growth.

coffeeCupSN “Coffee accounts for close to 75% of the caffeine we consumer.”

The NAH Letter’s Caffeine article, as summarized in the New York Times, explains a number of things Caffeine May Be Good For — including Parkinson’s Disease, Gallstones, and Headaches. More important, for our sleep-deprived lawyers and colleagues (who are prone to be cranky and less productive), it describes caffeine’s beneficial effects on Mental Performance, Physical Performance and Mood. For example:

  • Mental Performance: Caffeine improves alertness and reaction time in people, whether they are habitual consumers of caffeine or not.

in a paper cup–
a long way from home

.. by Gary Hotham – breathmarks: haiku to read in the dark

In the sleep-deprived, “It improves almost everything you can measure,” says [Harris Lieberman, a U.S. Army Research psychologist]. “It makes you more alert, it seems like you can perform complex tasks better, and your memory is better.”

  • [Note bene] Mood: “It’s no coincidence that people offer guests a cup of coffee.

“After consuming anywhere from 20 mg. to 200 mg. of caffeine, ‘people report increased well-being, happiness, energy, alertness, and sociability,” says caffeine expert Roland Griffiths of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

  • Physical Performance: Caffeine helps the body burn fat instead of carbohydrate, and it blunts the perception of pain. Both can boost endurance.

But Note: Caffeine reverses some of the psychological effects of alcohol, but not the physical ones — possibly making inebriated persons even more dangerous to themselves and others, because they think they’re okay.

After years of my primary care doctor telling me that coffee did not count toward my daily water-intake goal, because it is a diuretic, I was pleased to see in the NYT that:

“Hydration. It was long thought that caffeinated beverages were diuretics, but studies reviewed last year found that people who consumed drinks with up to 550 milligrams of caffeine produced no more urine than when drinking fluids free of caffeine. Above 575 milligrams, the drug was a diuretic.

“So even a Starbucks grande, with 330 milligrams of caffeine, will not send you to a bathroom any sooner than if you drank 16 ounces of pure water. Drinks containing usual doses of caffeine are hydrating and, like water, contribute to the body’s daily water needs.”

In addition, those of us with heart-related health anxieties over drinking coffee, can relax according to the Times:

“Contrary to common belief,” concluded cardiologists at the University of California, San Francisco, there is “little evidence that coffee and/or caffeine in typical dosages increases the risk” of heart attack, sudden death or abnormal heart rhythms.

Let me (well, let Ms. Brody of the NYT) summarize for those who have a cranky lawyer or other sleep–deprived curmudgeon in your household or office:

Health Benefits: Probably the most important effects of caffeine are its ability to enhance mood and mental and physical performance. . . . Millions of sleep-deprived Americans depend on caffeine to help them make it through their day and drive safely. The drug improves alertness and reaction time. In the sleep-deprived, it improves memory and the ability to perform complex tasks.

So, don’t lose any sleep over drinking too much coffee during the day (yes, it will keep you up if ingested close to your bedtime). Better living through chemistry was never so tasty or economical than when reaching for a good cup of coffee.

Disclaimer: No amount of coffee or caffeine can help the congenitally grumpy (and you know who you are).

By the Way: Our favorite way to brew up a cup of coffee is using a (manual, non-electric) one-serving Melitta-style drip cone. If you don’t have one, check out Ready Set Joe. As they say at the One Cup Coffee Lovers Weblog, “Good results always seemingly follow if you’re patient, pour your hot water slowly, and then kick back and relax with the coffee.” So, listen up, all you young wastrels still buying $3 lattes, instead of making a much cheaper cup yourself at home or at your desk. And See “Javanomics 101: Today’s Coffee is Tomorrow’s Debt” (WashPost, June 18, 2005), and our blurb discussing the article.

coffee shop . . .
the only empty seat
still warm

… by Randy Brooks – from School’s Out (Press Here, 1999)

Day’s end–
sink faucet dripping
on the coffee dregs

… by Rebecca Lilly, from A New Resonance 2 (2001); orig. pub. Modern Haiku

last night’s bitterness
he adds twice the sugar
to his coffee

fierce wind
street sweeper has
another coffee

… by George Swede – from Almost Unseen (Brooks Books, 2000)

Sunday morning
ants on the rim of my
coffee cup

… by Carolyn Hall – The Heron’s Nest (II:1, Jan. 2000)

farewell dinner–
more hot coffee poured
into what’s left

… by Gary Hotham – Missed Appointment (Lilliput Review, Modest Proposal Chapbooks)

coffee berries
the conversation turns
to another ill friend

.. by Paul m. – called home (Red Moon Press 2006)

talking divorce
he pours his coffee
then mine

…….. by Roberta Beary – The Unworn Necklace (2007)

coffee brewing —
the moon and Orion
light the way

… by Billie Wilson from Haiku Harvest (Spring 2001)

a man in cowboy boots
asks for latte

.. by Yu Chang – Upstate Dim Sum (2004/II)

instant coffee
a stirring of leaves
in the courtyard

.. by Andrew Riutta

mom’s genes:
coffee-talk about

empty coffee pot
gotta go
gotta go

used book –
someone else’s
coffee stain

July heatwave –
the hardhats grieve
over lukewarm coffee

……………………. by dagosan

August 8, 2008

eight haiku to celebrate 08-08-08

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu — David Giacalone @ 8:38 am

As you surely have already learned, the number 8 is lucky in many nations of East Asia. That’s apparently because the Chinese character for the number 8 is 八, or bā, which sounds like the word for prosperity (发, or fā). Naturally, the date 08/08/08 is considered lucky by a factor of three, which is why the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony began this morning, 08/08/08, at exactly 08:08 AM.

In addition to celebrating Triple-8 Day by re-posting Jim Kacian’s Haiku Primer (see our posting immediately below), the f/k/a Gang thought we’d reprise haiku and senryu that have appeared at this weblog containing the word eight. Much to our surprise, there have been exactly eight of them. Talk about auspicious!

Without further ado, and hoping they bring you and yours all kinds of prosperity and good fortune, here they are:

harvest moon–
the peddler selling
eight cent sake

seven tumble down
eight rise up…
maiden flowers

for eight pennies
the whole family celebrates…
summer ice!

.. by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

for a second time
eight candles
on mother’s birthday cake

……………. by Hilary Tann – Upstate Dim Sum

bottom of the 8th
eight determined drunks
get the wave going . . .

… by Tom Clausen – Baseball Haiku (2007)

autumn rain
a hopscotch loses
its eight

……by Roberta Beary (3rd place tie, Moonset Haiku Contest, Ed. 4:1)

soap stings my eyes —
an eight-year-old’s face
flashes in the mirror

.. by dagosan [Aug. 28, 2004]

crossing the grasslands
eight hundred miles
of burma shave signs

.. by Ed Markowski

bonus written this morning:

with his 8-year-old
steppin’ light on old toes

.. by dagosan (Aug. 8, 2008, for James and Arthur Giacalone)

it’s back! Jim Kacian’s Haiku Primer

Filed under: haijin-haikai news — David Giacalone @ 8:08 am

First Thoughts – Jim Kacian’s Haiku Primer announcer

What’s 84 pages long, with over 31,000 words, from one of the leading names in the world of English-language haiku? Hint: It’s informative and inspired, and was previewed in monthly installments here at f/k/a from December 2003 through January 2005. That’s right, it’s “First Thoughts — A Haiku Primer,” by Jim Kacian – award-winning haiku poet, editor, educator and publisher, as well as f/k/a‘s very first Honored Guest Poet and emissary to the haijin community.

— And it’s now back at f/k/a and available again for free 24/7! —


August 7, 2008

welcoming Frogpond‘s online sampler

Filed under: haijin-haikai news — David Giacalone @ 4:16 pm

On August 6, 2008, this notice was posted on the What’s New page of the Haiku Society of America website:

HSA launched the online Frogpond journal sampler that will feature some of the best work from each issue of Frogpond. It is located at: http://www.hsa-haiku.org/frogpond/index.html. 08-06-08

Frankly, we’re thrilled (although Prof. Yabut adds, “It’s about time!”). Jim Kacian, its former editor, has correctly called Frogpond “one of the two most important haiku magazines, along with Modern Haiku, of haiku outside Japan in the world.” Although all three issues are available each year in hard copy as part of HSA’s modest annual membership dues (or separately), having a nice selection of Frogpond‘s content available regularly online is a treat for the haiku-loving public.

Frogpond‘s first online sampler covers the latest issue, Vol. 31.2 (Spring/Summer 2008). There are eight haiku and eight senryu presented from Vol. 31.2, along with two haibun and a rengay, a book review (of Marian Olson’s Desert Hours), and more. The poem chosen as the best unpublished work from the prior issue will also be included online.

Of course, f/k/a will continue to post works by our Honored Guests that appear in Frogpond. On July 1st, we presented 8 haiku from Vol. 31.2, and on July 2, we gave you six senryu, two haibun, and a rengay collaborative poem.

Welcome to the internet, Frogpond! Now, please make our cranky editor happy and try to filter out all those pesky psyku.

in praise of boredom

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,q.s. quickies — David Giacalone @ 9:49 am

. . It’s summer time and parents around the globe keep hearing the same refrain: “I’m bored!” Cranky Prof. Yabut‘s usual reply is “Only boring people get bored,” but he really means “Only boring people stay bored.” If you’d like to have a more constructive response the next time your kids, co-workers, or students complain about being bored, just point them to Tuesday’s New York Times article “You’re Checked Out, but Your Brain Is Tuned In” (New York Times, by Benedict Carey, August 5, 2008). It tells of new conclusions that boredom should be

recognized as a legitimate human emotion that can be central to learning and creativity.”

The article makes several additional un-boring points:

  • Boredom as Spam Filter: When we feel bored, our brain has concluded “there is nothing new or useful it can learn from an environment, a person, an event, a paragraph.” But, “boredom is more than a mere flagging of interest or a precursor to mischief. Some experts say that people tune things out for good reasons, and that over time boredom becomes a tool for sorting information — an increasingly sensitive spam filter.”
  • Often Productive and Creative: “In various fields including neuroscience and education, research suggests that falling into a numbed trance allows the brain to recast the outside world in ways that can be productive and creative at least as often as they are disruptive.”
  • The 95% Solution: As a constant reaction to one’s environment, boredom seems related to depression, but:

“Boredom as a temporary state . . . is far from a passive neural shrug. Using brain-imaging technology, neuroscientists have found that the brain is highly active when disengaged, consuming only about 5 percent less energy in its resting ‘default state’ than when involved in routine tasks. . .”

Somehow, that slight reduction in brain activity “can make a big difference in terms of time perception. The seconds usually seem to pass more slowly.” Of course, those slower moments don’t produce a meditative calm or bliss. Instead, “They are frustrated, restless moments . . . that demands relief — if not from a catnap or a conversation, then from some mental game.”

A sigh from her
then one from me —
two pages turn

.. by George SwedeFrogpond XX/2

Sad to say, the Times article doesn’t help us figure out how to scratch that boredom itch. We get only a professorial dodge from Dr. Teresa Belton, co-author of the featured study: “When the external and internal conditions are right, boredom offers a person the opportunity for a constructive response.”

NOELs: nod-off episodes per lecture . . pointer dude neg . .

Speaking of professors, the classroom experience — from grammar to graduate school — has certainly been the inspiration for a large share of our species’ boredom moments. According to the NYT piece, a Canadian study of doctors attending lectures on dementia “found that in an hour-long lecture attended by about 100 doctors, an average of 16 audience members nodded off. ” The results are, to be honest, rather boring — not exactly a break-through in understanding the dynamics of tuning out:

“The investigators analyzed the presentations themselves and found that a monotonous tone was most strongly associated with ‘nod-off episodes per lecture (NOELs),’ followed by the sight of a tweed jacket on the lecturer.”

When you’re moping around the house and are overwhelmed by the tedium of life, you need to learn to direct your energy into constructive, creative activities — or, to discover the intrinsic meaning of common-place moments. And, if you’re having a serious attack of ennui while part of a captive audience (as in school, church or court, or at a conference or theater), you need to learn techniques for either 1) staying tuned in (in case there’s a test or Judgment later) or 2) appearing engaged and actively listening (out of respect for the speaker or the authority figure who made you attend).

For instance, how do you control the drool-while-napping-reflex or wipe that daydream smile off your face? And, just how much caffeine is needed to overcome a particular professor’s pedantic droning? If all those studies on boredom contain answers, I hope the New York Times will do some follow-up and let us know. Meanwhile, I’m hoping our regular audience — comprised mostly of experienced ex-law students (who somehow survived three very tedious years) and accomplished haiku poets (who live to turn the mundane into insightful moments) will leave helpful suggestions in our Comment box.

By the way, I just learned that the word “ennui” came from a Latin phrase meaning “I hate or dislike,” and which the French turned into a verb meaning “to annoy, bore.” Since those Frenchmen really hate being bored, they’ve probably developed the best antidotes to ennui. French lawyers and haijin are, therefore, particularly urged to add Comments below.

. . . . For relief from boredom now or at a future date, you can always head over to the websites of “Mad” Kane. In a pinch, there’s also the Bored At Work Forum – and its store.

If it’s Opera that puts you to sleep or causes you audience agita, the f/k/a Gang suggests you study Mad Kane’s “Guide for the Opera Impaired,” which just won Recovering Lawyer Kane the First Prize in the 2008 Robert Benchley Society Award for Humor Contest.

If like me, you’re already bored with this topic (and your Mama isn’t around to tell you to go outside to play), might I suggest a few topical haiku or senryu?

dozing off–
the soft drone
of mosquito flutter

.. by jim kacian – Chincoteague (Red Moon Press, 2000)

The old wind chimes
in the basement for winter
tinkle from my sigh

as the professor speaks
only his bald spot
is illuminated

.. by George Swede
“the old wind chimes” – The Heron’s Nest
“as the professor speaks” – Almost Unseen

traffic jam
a plastic dog
keeps on nodding

………Yu Chang – Upstate Dim Sum (2002/I)

between layers the stone mason’s nap

.. by w.f. owen – Haiku Notebook (Lulu Press, 2007)

tired of feeding
on the horse
the horsefly naps

misty day–
no doubt Heaven’s saints
bored stiff

under dewy umbrella-hat
nodding off…
the dog barks!

napping, hearing
the rice-planting song

……. by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David L. Lanoue
commentary on “misty day”

four glazed eyes —
their first and last

… by dagosan

p.s.  The bored young lady at the head of this posting is my lovely niece Lissa (in a photo taken quite a few years ago).  She turned eleven on August 3rd, and her proud uncle wishes her a wonderful new year.

August 5, 2008

who’s cranky? another reason for law firm nap rooms

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu,lawyer news or ethics,q.s. quickies — David Giacalone @ 2:20 pm

napHammock A year ago, we argued that law firms have an ethical obligation to provide nap rooms for their aging members. A new survey done in the UK gives us a stellar “quality of life” or “professional civility” reason for more lawyer nap rooms. You see, a poor night’s sleep makes most people rather grumpy the next day at work. “Study highlights bad sleepers” (The Press Association, Aug. 3, 2008). And, a group of lawyers in their 50’s are apparently the most sleep deprived segment of British Society (via: Carolyn Elefant at Legal Blog Watch, Aug. 4, 2008). The f/k/a Gang believes that there’s nothing like a good nap to calm an old grump. (Note, however, that some people get even grumpier when a nap is interrupted.)

up all night
the Senior Partner forgets
his manners

.. by dagosan

Two Ends of the Bar: A Bloomberg article yesterday gives more detail. “Lawyers in Their 50s Are U.K.’s Most Sleep Deprived” (Bloomberg, Aug. 4, 2008):

“London lawyers aged 55 are the most sleep-deprived workers in the U.K. mainly due to stress, according to a study of 2,000 adults in a variety of jobs.

“Lawyers said they average about four hours sleep a night and admit they can be bad tempered and emotional leading to underperformance at work, according to an Aug. 1 study by GfK AG’s U.K researchers.”

Why are lawyers sleeping so poorly?

“Fifty-seven percent of lawyers cited work stress as the reason they toss and turn, 45 percent blamed discomfort with their bed, 41 percent said family problems were the root cause, and 40 percent blamed noise. Twenty-seven percent cited health worries and 25 percent blamed money worries for sleeplessness.”

Ironically, the best sleepers also had bar-related jobs:

“Among the other workers surveyed, 20-year-old single, female bar employees from central England were the U.K.’s best sleepers, averaging 10 hours a night.”

Clearly, middle-aged lawyers need more nap rooms — or, as Ed might say over at Blawg Review, perhaps they need to meet more twenty-something barmaids. [For more on the benefits of naps, see our post from May 2, 2008, “naptime: forwards and backwards.”]

By the way: The same research group offered another reason why so many Baby Boomers might be cranky these days (beyond wrinkles, arthritis, memory lapses, etc.): “Generation 50+ feels undervalued by the world of business and politics” (GfK, June 20, 2008)

empty cookie tin –
the hermit heads
back to bed

… by dagosan

a screensaver glows
through a dark window

… by jim kacian – World Haiku Assn.

p.s. I was wondering why the study got so many responses indicating that an uncomfortable bed was the source of sleeping problems — until I saw who sponsored the survey: bed maker Silentnight Holdings Plc. For example, in addition to the 45% of lawyers citing discomfort in bed, the results showed that:

“Just under half of people in East Anglia (43%), 40% of those in the south-west of England and 40% of those in Scotland said that not being able to get comfortable affected their sleeping patterns.”

afterwords (Aug. 7, 2008): Scott Greenfield adds trial tactics to the reasons for respecting the human need to nap in the afternoon, while confessing to engaging often in afternoon naps, despite not having yet entered his golden years.

update (Aug. 9, 2008): See our post “can coffee cure cranky counselors?

on the face
that last night called me names
morning sunbeam

. . . . George Swede from Almost Unseen

a noon nap
on a good day…
first rainbow

his quick nap
is just pretend…
hermit crab

restless sleep–
tea cakes in the hut
for Ninth Month moon

…………. by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

a robin sings
all night long

napperPark … by Matt Morden – Morden Haiku (April 24, 2007)

sleepless . . .
the baby’s age
in days

.. by John Stevenson – Some of the Silence (Red Moon Press,1999)

sleepless night
snow to rain
by the sound of it

… by Tom Painting – The Heron’s Nest (March 2005)

too tired
to untangle
christmas lights

…………….. by Roberta Beary

sleepless night
she won’t stop
leaving me alone

3 am nature call–
the nagging drip
of icicles

twin beds arrive
she says
it’s ’cause I snore

…… by dagosan

scolding the cricket
in my sleep…
thatched hut
………. by Kobayashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

August 3, 2008

a few friends play kukai

Filed under: Haiku or Senryu — David Giacalone @ 11:19 am

.. Every month, HaikuWorld hosts The Shiki Monthly Kukai — a peer reviewed poetry contest open to everyone (full details here). The Shiki folks pick two topics each month and “An anonymous list [of the sumbitted poems] is then distributed to all participating poets and they are invited to vote.” The results are then tallied and posted at the Shiki Kukai website, which has more than a decade of prior kukai topics and results in its archives.

Each month, several of f/k/a’s haiku friends participate in the Shiki Kukai. Here are topics and resulting poems by a few of our Honored Guest Poet friends, from the past few months. As you’ll see, even poems that weren’t top three monthly winners are worth sharing:

Shiki Kukai: Current Results; July 2008: Kigo Theme: Firefly; Free Format Theme: Documents

first firefly
the electrician shuts
his toolbox

… by ed markowski – Shiki Kukai (2nd Place, Kigo; July 2008)

on the fridge
the to do list
you left me

… . by Roberta Beary – Shiki Kukai (2nd Place, Free Format, July 2008)

my attention span

……. by tom painting – Shiki Kukai (July 2008)

will writing . . .
a lawn mower
strikes a rock

…… by Alice Frampton – Shiki Kukai (July 2008)

out of work
the framed diplomas
collecting dust

…… by ed markowski – Shiki Kukai (July 2008)

Shiki KukaiJune 2008: Kigo Theme: Sand; Free Format Theme: Secrets

play therapy
the jump rope
in knots

…. by tom painting – Shiki Kukai (1st Place, Free Format Theme, June 2008)

Shiki KukaiMay 2008: Kigo Theme: lilies; Free Format Theme: Musical Instruments

the scent of lily
outlasts the day
….. by tom painting – Shiki Kukai (May 2008)

into the lily sunlight
out of the lily an ant

…… by w. f. owen – Shiki Kukai (May 2008)

calla lilies —
a young bride changes
out of her dress

…………. by DeVar Dahl – Shiki Kukai (May 2008)

Shiki Kukai: April 2008: Kigo Theme: Herb; Free Format Theme: Rust

exploring a new trail wild mint at the end

… by w. f. owen – Shiki Kukai (April 2008)

wild mint
a real estate agent praises
the shopping

…. by ed markowski – Shiki Kukai (April 2008)

fresh mint
at midnight —
first trimester

…. by Roberta Beary – Shiki Kukai (April 2008)

self sown
dill escapes
his ex-wife’s garden

…. by tom painting – – Shiki Kukai (April 2008)

where the barn’s tin roof
rusted through

… by ed markowski – Shiki Kukai (3rd Place, April 2008)

nursing home visit —
same rust stain
in the sink

…. by Roberta Beary – Shiki Kukai (April 2008)

the neighbors
still don’t speak
rust on the chain

… by DeVar Dahl – Shiki Kukai (April 2008)

deep rust
on the letter opener
hunter’s moon

… by Alice Frampton – Shiki Kukai (April 2008)

p.s.  It’s not exactly a contest, but Blawg Review #171, hosted by The IP ADR Blog and presented by Victoria Pynchon, does revolve around “aha moments” and creative sparks, as it catalogs the best posting over the past week at law(yer)-related weblogs.

August 1, 2008

living legend law blogging (and the cult of Gerry Spence)

Filed under: q.s. quickies — David Giacalone @ 5:13 pm

[The orig. image in the masthead of Gerry Spence’s Blog is twice as big as the above version; photo taken by Leroy J. DuBré at the Trial Lawyers College in Dubois, WY.]

If I had taken my own advice, I would have stayed away from Scott Greenfield’s weblog Simple Justice and ended this week of blogging with something quick and easy. Instead, I was seduced by Scott’s posting, “Message or Messenger?” (July 29, 2008), where he points his finger at a recent post by Living Legend Lawyer, and newbie blawger-star, Gerry Spence.

The piece at Gerry Spence’s Blog is titled “Defrauding our nation’s lawyers.” It starts, “Most trial lawyers have been defrauded of their education,” and decries the inadequate preparation received in law school, and the deadening mindset it instills in law students. Spence offers numerous metaphors turns-of-phrase, including his lawyering-as-story-telling theme, and opines:

“One need not write poetry or paint pictures to be a successful human being. But some intimacy with the arts and the language and its use and with right brain functions of feeling and creativity are essential to the development of the whole person. Little wonder that lawyers, disabled by all of the stifling, mostly useless mental exercises they have suffered, have trouble relating to jurors much less to the rest of mankind.”

Scott read that post and the host of comments it inspired at the two-week-old Spence weblog, and (be)moans:

Had any other blawger written this post, it would have, at best, been ignored and, at worst, ripped to shreds for its shocking superficiality and lack of substance. Instead, it was worthy of note by Bob Ambrogi.

Am I the only one to think this?

Has the blawgosphere become more enamored with the messenger than the message?

Oh, the mischief Scott has spawned over here at f/k/a and at Simply Senryu, another one of my haikai weblogs.

MockingbirdPeck Before yesterday, I had only spent a few minutes at the Gerry Spence Blog, and only skimmed the postings, while pretty much ignoring the Comment sections. Having been brought up on images of country lawyers like Abraham Lincoln, Matlock, and Atticus Finch, I was a bit surprised that the man who insists “I am truly a country lawyer,” has enshrined such an enormous glamor shot of himself in the masthead of his weblog (which Simple Justice noted might “signify that special sort of vanity that leads to effective satire”), took himself so seriously in his very first blog post, and did so much boasting on his About page. Spence says his goal is “Putting power back into the hands of the people” but, from where I sit, his weblog seems to get its energy from that inexhaustible lawyer resource, Wind Power.

So, Scott’s question (echoed by Ken Lammers, who called the Spence weblog “strange . . . in a self-promoting, cult-creepy way”) — about whether Spence’s lop-sided messages would be so well-received by the legal community if served up by a less-legendary messenger — did resonate with this old advocate for the Little Guy (who so often preaches until blue in the face, without attracting followers or groupies). I was, therefore, all set to think hard about that question, and the initial post’s topic of legal education — until Prof. Yabut tapped my soldier and gleefully reminded me of my frequent vows over the past few months to be less negative and judgmental here at f/k/a (and in my life in general).

NoYabutsSN The validity of Yabut’s point was undeniable, as was the realization that avoiding conclusions about Gerry Spence would save me a whole lot of work today. Thus, I’m only going to make two points about the issues raised by Scott Greenfield:

  • Cult Followers? Lawyers are no less likely to fawn over celebrities and authority figures than other human beings. Indeed, given our frequent posture as supplicants when performing many of our professional duties (as in the classroom and courtroom), we might be slightly more prone to cozy up to those who appear powerful than the person on the street.
  • Law School Blues? I’ve long believed (1) that there is no need for the third year of law school — especially if spent in the classroom rather than an internship; and (2) that most brand new lawyers are virtually clueless about how to actually practice any branch of the law. In addition — as discussed at length in our post “more lawyers should think like lawyers” — law school must help the lawyer to recognize when factors other than the applicable law or precedent (e.g., equities, history, economics, social or political policy, etc.) need to be considered in deciding upon a course of action, giving advice to a client, or addressing a court, legislature or regulator.
    • As Prof. Peter Teachout has said: “So the problem [with legal thinking and law school] in the final analysis is not losing one’s poetic capacity, but finding ways to make connections between what one knows specially as a lawyer and everything else that one knows.” [And, see our post “yes, lawyers and haiku.”]

[blowing my own horn, circa 1954]

Freed from the yoke of judgmentalism, the f/k/a Gang figured “If you can’t beat-’em-up, join ’em.” Indeed, Gerry Spence’s monumental masthead got us thinking: Maybe we should start playing legal legend, too (or just look like one at our weblog). So, I rifled through my old family photo albums in search of an image that would give f/k/a some cult-like panache.

And, I came up with a Street Fighter-Against-the-Man glam shot from my days as a young lawyer (taken Labor Day, 1980, during my first and only visit to Brooklyn, NY.). Whaddaya think? Let us know whether you think f/k/a should adopt this new “Urban Lawyer Legend” masthead. [Of course, it’s not going to happen so long as my fuddy-duddy alter egos have veto power.]

– our hypothetical Spencerian Glam Masthead for f/k/aorig. color version; photo taken by Arthur J. Giacalone, Esq. (1980) –

Meanwhile, inspired by Mr. Spence, I just incorporated a b&w version of the glam shot into the masthead of my weblog Simply Senryu, where you will find haiku-like poems that focus on human nature. As befits the humble spirit of the haijin (haiku writer), it is a wee bit less monumental than Mr. Spence’s masthead — but, hopefully captures nonetheless the aura of personality-cum-legend to complement my blogging.

It’s way past my nap time, so I’ll just leave you with a few poems from Master Issa:

the great lord
forced off his horse…
cherry blossoms

at my humble hut
he begs for a present
a baby sparrow

lording over
the scattering blossoms…
a frog

he war lord
has pull.
chrysanthemum contest

. . . by Kobyashi Issa, translated by David G. Lanoue

first date –
her eyes linger
on the rusted fender

…………….. by dagosan

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