Hurrah and Hossanah and Allelujah!

Just before Thomas Hogge went into his hot tub where he prays and meditates on The Lord an uncertain object fell from sky right in front of his house and started a fire.

His neighbor caught a strange moving object on video before it landed near Thomas' house. Some residents reported that it looked like a meteorite.

On the video you can actually see that one chunk of it fell off, and you can see roughly that it landed about 200 meters away from Thomas' house. 

The fire and rescue came so fast and saved the house from being destroyed.

The fire chief said 
"We did look around to see if we could find anything. We obviously put a lot of water on the fire so if anything was there, it’s no longer thereIt will go down as undetermined in this case as I would need physical evidence to make a determination on (the) cause." 

For Thomas it was sign from God He is listening to my prayers to bring hope into this world.


The Evolutionary Case for Great Fiction

Might reading literature help with species survival? 
Picture this: it’s 45,000 years ago and a small Pleistocene clan is gathered by a campfire. The night is bone cold and black and someone—let’s call him Ernest—begins telling a story.
Lips waxy with boar grease, Ernest boasts of his morning hunt. He details the wind in the grass, the thick clouds overhead, the long plaintive wail of the boar as his spear swiftly entered its heart.
The clan is riveted. 
Among them sits a moody, brilliant devotee of campfire stories. Every now and then she pipes up to praise or decimate a tale. Tonight she says, “Excellent work. Unsurpassed.” Ernest breathes a sigh of relief.

Let’s call the girl Michiko.Now, through the forest and beyond the ridge sits another clan, hovering beside another fire. At the center of this group, John relates his recent close call with a water buffalo. His recollection fuzzy, the account falls flat. Still, clan members pat him on the back (“G’night Johnny boy!”) and think nothing of his lackluster tale until the next morning John’s brother is killed by the very same water buffalo.    

But let’s leave this clan behind.  They’re of scant concern because, in the end, they were dead by the Holocene.

The first band, however, thrived. Over thousands of generations, Ernest’s descendants, with the help of Michiko’s critically astute great-great-great-great-grandchildren, evolved, to not only relate but to invent great tales.

What, you ask, does the Pleistocene have to do with storytelling? More importantly, what was the Pleistocene?

Let’s crunch some numbers:  What we generally consider “ancient” time—Jesus of Nazareth and Julius Caesar time—was only about 100 generations ago. Throughout the 1.8 million-year cycle of Ice Ages called the Pleistocene, however, an estimated 85,000 generations of our ancestors lived, loved, lost, and, well, learned to tell tales. (Fossil evidence suggests that the vocal capacity for speech dates back over a million years, and it’s assumed that Cro-Magnons, who emerged 20,000 generations ago, used language of some sort.) These people were our deerskin-wearing, spear-wielding hominid protoselves. And their actions and preferences over thousands of generations, during dramatically unstable climates (a volatility conducive to evolutionary change) helped shape us. Because a variant that produces 1% more offspring than its alternative, it has been posited, can enter 99.9% of the population in just 4000 generations.

So the question is: Can storytelling increase offspring?

Charles Darwin proposed two theories of evolution: natural selection and sexual selection.  To affect species-wide change, a trait essentially has to help you live or get laid.

Let’s look first at survival: Among the many things that set humans apart from other animals is our capacity for counterfactual thinking. At its most basic level, this means we can hypothesize what might happen if we run out of milk; in its most elaborate form—we get War and Peace. Stories, then, are complex counterfactual explorations of possible outcomes: What would happen if I killed my landlady? What would happen if I had an affair with Count Vronsky? How do I avoid a water buffalo? According to Denis Dutton, these “low-cost, low-risk” surrogate experiences build up our knowledge stores and help us adapt to new situations. (“Mirror neuron” research indicates that our brains process lived and read experiences almost identically.)  A good “cautionary tale," for example, might help us avert disaster. Stories can also provide useful historical, scientific, cultural and geographical information. Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines illustrates this on two tiers: In armchair-travel fashion, the book acquaints readers with the Australian Outback, while simultaneously describing how Aboriginals sang stories walking at a specific pace so that geographical markers within the story would guide their journey.

In addition to travelogues, stories also offer nuanced thought maps. An imaginative foray into another person’s mind can foster both empathy and self-awareness. This heightened emotional intelligence might, in turn, prove useful when forming friendships, sniffing out duplicity, or partaking in the elaborate psychological dance of courtship ... which brings us back to the second Darwinian evolutionary imperative: Getting laid.

In terms of sexual advantages, a tale well told can undoubtedly up the storyteller’s charm factor.  Tales aren’t bland renderings of narrative events; they are, at their best, colorful, brilliant, and poetically polished.   They get gussied up.  And when storytellers use ornament and plumage to draw attention to their tales they inevitably draw eyes themselves.  (Think: author photos, author profiles, literary performances, awards – or, 45,000 years ago, the rapt gaze of the Pleistocene clan.) Literary peacockery benefits the audience as well. When we read books, we enhance our vocabulary. We glean information about particle physics or virtual reality or Australian Aborigines that make us better conversationalists. We hone our metaphors, refine our wit.  From the elaborate plumage of the story the reader, too, makes off with a few feathers. 

But if storytelling gives us an evolutionary edge, does the quality of the story matter? Is there a greater value, so to speak, in one form of storytelling over another? With visual art, the commodification is clear: Inheriting a Matisse gives you a financial leg up over someone inheriting a comic cat poster.  Setting aside the rare book business, though, books are not objects. They are experiences.

Does having one experience have more value than another?

If it increases your offspring by only 1%—yes.

The soaring popularity of romance novels, spy thrillers, apocalyptic zombie tales, and murder mysteries reflect, in many ways, our Pleistocene narrative appetites; their subjects are sex and survival. But to help you actually have sex and survive, it makes sense that only the the best-written and well-rendered tales would help ensure a long line of descendants.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s American Time Use Survey, the average American spends almost 20% of his or her waking life watching television.  Add to that movies, gaming, books and magazines (reading alone consumed less than 3% of the waking hours of those surveyed), and you can postulate that almost a quarter of our waking lives are spent in imagined worlds.

Evolutionarily, that number is off the charts.  Thanks to Gutenberg and the inventions of film and television, we immerse ourselves in more narratives than our ancestors could have imagined, which means we’re cutting back, along the way, on real-life experience.

This means our choice of which stories to consume is more crucial than ever. They need to be as useful as lived experience, or more so, or we’re putting ourselves at a disadvantage.

Back in the Pleistocene, you might not have had an Ernest in your clan. You might have been at the mercy of whatever dull tale John would tell, or the improbable yarn your sister Kayla would spin.  Today we can pick up the books of the most dazzling, intelligent storytellers in the world.  From all time.  We can tune into the primetime masterpieces of the Golden Age of television. And if we can soak up their wisdom, and make ourselves a little bit smarter, we might just all make it to the next Ice Age.

Reposted from The Atlantic

Reading in Restraint: The Last Chained Libraries


In the Middle Ages, books were incredibly scarce, and although many wanted to share knowledge with the masses, they didn’t quite trust the public. So the chained library was born, and while most of these restrained reading collections have vanished, a rare few still exist, looking much as they did centuries ago.

Why you should work 4 hours a day, according to science


Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When you examine the lives of history's most creative figures, you are immediately confronted with a paradox: They organized their lives around their work, but not their days.

Figures as different as Charles Dickens, Henri Poincaré, and Ingmar Bergman, working in disparate fields in different times, all shared a passion for their work, a terrific ambition to succeed, and an almost superhuman capacity to focus. Yet when you look closely at their daily lives, they only spent a few hours a day doing what we would recognize as their most important work. The rest of the time, they were hiking mountains, taking naps, going on walks with friends, or just sitting and thinking.

How did they manage to be so accomplished? If some of history's greatest figures didn't put in immensely long hours, maybe the key to unlocking the secret of their creativity lies in understanding not just how they labored but how they rested.

After his morning walk and breakfast, Charles Darwin was in his study by 8 a.m. and worked a steady hour and a half. At 9:30 he would read the morning mail and write letters. At 10:30, Darwin returned to more serious work, sometimes moving to his aviary or greenhouse to conduct experiments. By noon, he would declare, "I've done a good day's work," and set out on a long walk. When he returned after an hour or more, Darwin had lunch and answered more letters. At 3 p.m. he would retire for a nap; an hour later he would arise, take another walk, then return to his study until 5:30, when he would join his wife and family for dinner.

On this schedule he wrote 19 books, including technical volumes on climbing plants, barnacles, and other subjects; the controversial Descent of Man; and The Origin of Species, probably the single most famous book in the history of science.

But at the same time, his days don't seem very busy to us. If he had been a university professor today, he would have been denied tenure. If he'd been working in a company, he would have been fired within a week.

It's not that Darwin was careless or lacked ambition. He was intensely conscious of time and, despite being a gentleman of means, felt that he had none to waste.
But he managed something that seems increasingly alien today. His life was full and memorable, his work was prodigious, and yet his days were filled with downtime.

Darwin is not the only famous scientist who combined a lifelong dedication to science with apparently short working hours. We can see similar patterns in many others' careers, and it's worth starting with the lives of scientists for several reasons. Science is a competitive, all-consuming enterprise. Scientists' accomplishments — the number of articles and books they write, the awards they win, the rate at which their works are cited — are well-documented and easy to measure and compare. As a result, their legacies are often easier to determine than those of business leaders or other famous figures.

One example is Poincaré, the French mathematician whose public eminence and accomplishments placed him on a level similar to Darwin's. Poincaré's 30 books and 500 papers spanned number theory, topology, astronomy and celestial mechanics, theoretical and applied physics, and philosophy; he was involved in efforts to standardize time zones, supervised railway development in northern France, and was a professor at the Sorbonne.

Poincaré wasn't just famous among his fellow scientists: In 1895 he was, along with the novelist Émile Zola, sculptors Auguste Rodin and Jules Dalou, and composer Camille Saint-Saëns, the subject of a study by French psychiatrist Édouard Toulouse on the psychology of genius. Toulouse noted that Poincaré kept very regular hours. He did his hardest thinking between 10 a.m. and noon, and again between 5 and 7 in the afternoon. The 19th century's most towering mathematical genius worked just enough to get his mind around a problem — about four hours a day.

We see the same pattern among other noted mathematicians. G.H. Hardy, one of Britain's leading mathematicians in the first half of the 20th century, would start his day with a leisurely breakfast and close reading of the cricket scores, then from 9 to 1 would be immersed in mathematics. After lunch he would be out again, walking and playing tennis. "Four hours' creative work a day is about the limit for a mathematician," he told his friend and fellow Oxford professor C.P. Snow. Hardy's longtime collaborator John Edensor Littlewood believed that the "close concentration" required to do serious work meant that a mathematician could work "four hours a day or at most five, with breaks about every hour (for walks perhaps)."

A survey of scientists' working lives conducted in the early 1950s yielded results in a similar range. Illinois Institute of Technology psychology professors Raymond Van Zelst and Willard Kerr surveyed their colleagues about their work habits and schedules, then graphed the number of hours spent in the office against the number of articles they produced. You might expect that the result would be a straight line showing that the more hours scientists worked, the more articles they published. But it wasn't.

The data revealed an M-shaped curve. The curve rose steeply at first and peaked at between 10 to 20 hours per week. The curve then turned downward. Scientists who spent 25 hours in the workplace were no more productive than those who spent five. Scientists working 35 hours a week were half as productive as their 20-hours-a-week colleagues.

From there, the curve rose again, but more modestly. Researchers who buckled down and spent 50 hours per week in the lab were able to pull themselves out of the 35-hour valley: They became as productive as colleagues who spent five hours a week in the lab. Van Zelst and Kerr speculated that this 50-hour bump was concentrated in "physical research," and that most of those 10-hour days were spent tending machines and occasionally taking measurements.
After that, it was all downhill: The 60-plus-hour-a-week researchers were the least productive of all.

Karl Anders Ericsson, Ralf Krampe, and Clemens Tesch-Römer saw a similar pattern in a study of violin students at a conservatory in Berlin in the 1980s. Ericsson, Krampe, and Tesch-Römer were interested in what sets outstanding students apart from merely good ones. After interviewing music students and their teachers and having students keep track of their time, they found that several things separated the best students from the rest.

First, the great students didn't just practice more than the average, they practiced more deliberately. During deliberate practice, Ericsson explained, you're "engaging with full concentration in a special activity to improve [your] performance." You're not just doing reps, lobbing balls, or playing scales.

Deliberate practice is focused, structured, and offers clear goals and feedback; it requires paying attention to what you're doing and observing how you can improve.

Second, you need a reason to keep at it, day after day. Deliberate practice isn't a lot of fun, and it's not immediately profitable. It means being in the pool before sunrise, working on your swing or stride when you could be hanging out with friends, spending hours perfecting details that only a few other people will ever notice. There's little that's inherently or immediately pleasurable in deliberate practice, so you need a strong sense that these long hours will pay off, and that you're not just improving your career prospects but also crafting a professional and personal identity. You don't just do it for the fat stacks.

Ericsson's study is a foundation for Malcolm Gladwell's argument (laid out most fully in his book Outliers) that 10,000 hours of practice are necessary to become world-class in anything, and that everyone from chess legend Bobby Fischer to Microsoft founder Bill Gates to the Beatles put in their 10,000 hours before anyone heard of them. For coaches, music teachers, and ambitious parents, the number promises a golden road to the NFL or Juilliard or MIT: Just start them young, keep them busy, and don't let them give up.

But there was something else that Ericsson and his colleagues noted in their study, something that almost everyone has overlooked. "Deliberate practice," they observed, "is an effortful activity that can be sustained only for a limited time each day." Practice too little and you never become world-class. Practice too much, though, and you increase the odds of being struck down by injury, draining yourself mentally, or burning out.

How do students marked for greatness make the most of limited practice time? The rhythm of their practice follows a distinctive pattern. They put in more hours per week, but they don't do it by making each practice longer. Instead, they have more frequent, shorter sessions, each lasting about 80 to 90 minutes, with half-hour breaks in between.

Add these several practices up, and what do you get? About four hours a day. About the same amount of time Darwin spent every day doing his hardest work and Hardy and Littlewood spent doing math.

This upper limit, Ericsson concluded, is defined "not by available time, but by available [mental and physical] resources for effortful practice." The students weren't just practicing four hours and calling it a day; lectures, rehearsals, homework, and other things kept them busy the rest of the day. In interviews, the students said "it was primarily their ability to sustain the concentration necessary for deliberate practice that limited their hours of practice." This is why it takes a decade to get Gladwell's 10,000 hours: If you can only sustain that level of concentrated practice for four hours a day, that works out to 20 hours a week (assuming weekends off), or 1,000 hours a year (assuming a two-week vacation).
Ericsson and his colleagues observed another thing, in addition to practicing more, that separated the great students at the Berlin conservatory from the good, something that has been almost completely ignored since: how they rested.
The top performers actually slept about an hour a day more than the average performers. They didn't sleep late. They got more sleep because they napped during the day. Of course there was lots of variability, but the best students generally followed a pattern of practicing hardest and longest in the morning, taking a nap in the afternoon, and then having a second practice in the late afternoon or evening.

For all the attention the Berlin conservatory study has received, this part of the top students' experiences — their sleep patterns, their attention to leisure, their cultivation of deliberate rest as a necessary complement of demanding, deliberate practice — goes unmentioned. In Outliers, Gladwell focuses on the number of hours exceptional performers practice and says nothing about the fact that those students also slept an hour more, on average, than their less accomplished peers, or that they took naps and long breaks.

This is not to say that Gladwell misread Ericsson's study; he just glossed over that part. And he has lots of company. Everybody speed-reads through the discussion of sleep and leisure and argues about the 10,000 hours.

This illustrates a blind spot that scientists, scholars, and almost all of us share: a tendency to fixate on focused work, to assume that the road to greater creativity is paved by life hacks, propped up by eccentric habits, or smoothed by Adderall or LSD. Those who research world-class performance look only at what students do in the gym or practice room. Everybody concentrates on the most obvious, measurable forms of work and tries to make those more productive. They don't ask whether there are other ways to improve performance and your life.
This is how we've come to believe that world-class performance comes after 10,000 hours of practice. But that's wrong. It comes after 10,000 hours of deliberate practice, 12,500 hours of deliberate rest, and 30,000 hours of sleep.

Adapted excerpt from Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. Copyright © 2016. Available from Basic Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Un-Civil War between Our Two Americas by Kenneth Atchity


Walls we don’t see are often stronger than walls we see. Election after election, the blue-red map clearly shows these United States of America are united by fable only, and in nearly every other way really are two Americas.

Rejiggering the Electoral College won’t alleviate the situation because (a) the Electors actually serve an important purpose, as long as the country is configured the way it currently is; and (b) neither Party can achieve the reconfiguration: the Party in power will not allow it, and the opposing Party won’t have the votes to make it happen. Anyway it won’t solve the deep schizophrenia manifest in the concept of a single America, one perhaps so endemic that the founding fathers were also struggling with it.

Conservative America

Today the walls are pretty well-defined. “Conservative America” is by far the bulk of the American land mass. It extends from Florida north to North Carolina and west to the border of California (with the quirky up jutting of New Mexico and Colorado). It includes the entire South and Midwest, and Alaska.

Conservative America is the land of apple pie, of lawn and porch flags, picnics in the park, Christian churches disseminating not only platitudes but also attitudes that hold society together focused firmly on the past and therefore worshiping old-fashioned conservative values, homogeneity —and fierce nostalgia for the way things were and are supposed to remain. Hospitality yes, tolerance not so much. Feminism is viewed with alarm, and the “right to life” outweighs a woman’s right to choose and control her body and her future. Though diversity has made fiscal inroads in nearly every state of Conservative America, it has not found a permanent place in the minds and hearts of the folks, mostly white, in control. Conservative America is the birthplace and habitat of the Tea Party and of the right to bear arms at all times.

I was born in one Conservative American state, Louisiana, and raised through high school in another, Missouri. The population of the thirty states that comprise Conservative America is around 100,000,000, or 1/3 of the whole. Conservative America, because it occupies more States, has more Electors.

Progressive America

Since I drove away to college at Georgetown in D.C. at the age of seventeen I’ve lived in Progressive America ever since: Connecticut, California, and New York. Progressive America occupies the entire Pacific coast from California, with Hawaii by extension—to Washington, and the blue islands of Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico surrounded by the red sea; on the northern border, Illinois and Minnesota; and, on the Atlantic, north from Virginia to Maine and west through Pennsylvania. You might argue that Progressive American is synonymous with urban America, and Conservative America with rural America. But it’s not quite that simple.

If Conservative America is the land of hard-headed practicality, Progressive America welcomes dreamers, many of them immigrants from Conservative America, and many of whose dreams seem to come true—and shape the world’s future. It’s La La Land vs. Hell or High Water.

Progressive America salutes the American flag and truly loves the idea of America; but it can also applaud turning that flag into panties, bras, and protest banners. The Progressive idea of America embraces the future, which it honors with hope and belief in the genius of the individual; diversity. It’s the land of civil rights most widely defined; of gun control; of visionary education, its leading universities including UCLA, Berkeley, and Stanford, Northwestern not to mention Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Princeton; and of people who worry about global warming and try to do something about it.

Progressive America isn’t afraid of the word socialism because it’s understood to mean people showing their gratitude for abundance and their respect for others by making sure all citizens have an acceptable and meaningful life. While Conservative America fears immigration as a threat to its conservatism, Progressive America embraces immigrants as the defining reality of its concept of America, “land of immigrants.” The statue of liberty guards its coast and its citizens still adhere to Emma Lazarus’ verse:

…From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Roughly two-thirds of the United States’ population, around 200 million people, live within Progressive America—2/3 of the whole.

The Dangers of Division

In each America live citizens whose hearts yearn, secretly or not, for the other America. Their exile is allowed, if they can bear it. If they can’t, they’re still free to cross from one America to the other.

Loquacious citizens of both Americas have hearts and minds that feel and think their views are superior to those of the other America. But most would agree there’s room on the continent for both Americas. Each is free to visit the other, as though we were the American Common Market.

Should we formalize the reality we all recognize and restructure things a bit so that Californians and New Yorkers, the leading states of Progressive America, can elect their own President to push their liberal, even socialist, agendas? Elections held in Conservative America would allow their President to maintain the conservative standard. Between the two Americas, trade would be arranged to advance the fraternal needs of both citizenries. Respect and civility would grow from the integrity of each America, to replace the hatred now streaming between them because of the deeply-held and media-reinforced belief on both parts that the “other America” is either evil or insane—or both. We could talk to each other instead of imitating the shouting mode of

I, for one, love both Americas, and would hate to lose either, or see violence between them extend from words to bullets.