So Clever

One of the more ambiguous words I like is cleverness. It can be used as a compliment or as a subtle put-down. It can be a tool or a weapon.

You might think of a new kitchen gadget that efficiently performs several useful functions without being too complicated and it really saves time and effort. There might be another kitchen gadget that does cooking tasks very well, but takes longer to disassemble, clean, and reassemble than it takes a cook to perform the task the conventional way. I would describe the first gadget as clever in the positive sense. Then I would say the advertising pitch for the second object was clever in a negative way.

The modern type of cleverness is the ability to create a solution to a problem that people didn’t realize they had.

I prefer the satisfaction of being able to use the word clever in its older, positive sense. That is cleverness that is brilliant and utilizes quick, sharp intelligence. For instance, a stage magician, through the use of everyday items as props in a simple presentation that astounds the audience, is a positively clever performer.

Another form of positive cleverness is revealed in the ability of a great author to keep the reader entranced through every plot twist of a story and provide us with a stunning, surprise ending. When we have finished reading the story, we are left feeling delighted and satisfied.

What brought the topic of cleverness to mind was an Internet meme printed on a pale blue background. It was a quote from Plato. “Ignorance of all things is an evil neither terrible nor excessive, nor yet the greatest of all; but great cleverness and much learning, if they be accompanied by a bad training, are a much greater misfortune.”

The immediate takeaway that came to mind was cleverness in a social context. Combine the ignorance and naiveté of the “general” public with the cleverness of a leader who was nurtured on bad training and we have the recipe for disaster. This formula has been tried and tested many times throughout history into the present day.

Thus the ability of our social institutions to be powerful is largely based on manipulating the fear of the public by the cleverness of a few. This is the main reason why tyrants oppress the intelligentsia and education in favor of indoctrination and propaganda. The clever simplicity of dogma is what makes it so very palatable to us.

An effective way to survive and thrive, while living under a clever tyrannical regime, is to exercise more cleverness. We can take a page from the history of the French Resistance’s clever fighting against Nazism during the Second World War. To survive, the Resistance had to play a better game than Hitler’s minions did.

In the end, it is not superficial cleverness that wins the day. It is when we employ our hard-earned wisdom that we truly flourish.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes Hermann Hesse’s thought. “Writing is good, thinking is better. Cleverness is good, patience is better.”

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Thinking About Dreams

If you ask a friend what comes to mind when he hears the word “dream”,  you may get a definition of the word, or he might tell you about the latest dream he dreamt, or he might share a special goal he has.

A dream can be that series of images, colors, and emotions you have when you are sleeping. It could be the imaginary life of a little girl who dreams that she is really a princess in a far off land.

Dream might be an adjective used to describe an ideal object that may or may not be attainable, such as my neighbor’s dream home or that the Ferrari F40 is my dream car.

A dream can be a strong altruistic vision of an ideal future for humanity. One might think of the famous dream of Martin Luther King, Junior.

If you press your friend to describe the dream he has for himself or the future he envisions for the world, he may reveal a sacred place he holds close to his heart.

Sometimes the entire world finds out about the dream as it unfolds before them. Think of Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon, the young man who revealed his lifelong dream of becoming a champion athlete and his dream of becoming a role model for young people struggling with their identities. Another part of Rippon’s spirit was revealed when he claimed the title of “America’s Sweetheart”.

We have a fuzzy idea about something called the American Dream where folks get married, have a few children, live in a tidy suburban house, own a couple of cars, and do work they enjoy in order to pay for it all.

The United States was built by immigrants who dreamed of leaving their impoverished existence and starting anew in North America. My own ancestors came from Sweden and Germany. They settled in the heartland planting crops, making do with odd jobs, and educating themselves to fulfill new dreams they imagined once they became settled into the land. They wanted a better world for themselves, their children, and their grandchildren.

There are people who enable other people’s dreams. I’m thinking about the public school teacher who nudges, pushes, and leads her pupils to learn and become the best adults they can be. Teachers seem annoying when we’re kids, but the best teachers are the ones we love because they see our special dreams.

Sometimes I visit cemeteries, not out of morbid curiosity, but to ponder history. There are monuments inscribed with the names of the founding families of the city. The names of some of the streets were once their names. There are monuments that declare the deceased were war veterans. They fought for the dream of their beloved country. They also had more personal dreams they sacrificed for–what were those dreams?

As I stroll through the acres of tombstones I wonder how these people lived their daily lives. What did they hope to accomplish? Did they attain any of their dreams, or were their dreams buried along with them? What sorts of hardships killed their dreams or motivated some of those people to try harder?

While driving home, I notice the sub-developments of houses and wonder about the people living there. Are they living their dreams or are they sleepwalking through life? Are they fulfilling their dreams or are they living in a nightmare?

All of us have dreams. As we shape and alter our dreams, they have the power to shape and alter us.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes what science fiction writer Ray Bradbury had to say about dreams. “Stuff your eyes with wonder. Live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.”

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The Day Of Awesomeness

Even though I think the word awesome has been used so much that it has lost much of its original meaning, there are times when it is somewhat appropriate to use a form of it. Today is one of those times because today is the International Day of Awesomeness.

This is the day when we can put humility somewhat on hold as long as we don’t cross into the realm of delusions of grandeur. We’re allowed to remember ways we have been and continue to be awesome human beings. It does a person’s self-esteem good to realistically list what we do exceptionally well.

What is even more effective is when we remember what our friends and loved ones do that makes them awesome. It’s OK to be a mutual admiration society for the day.

What makes your significant other so positively attractive to you? How about your family? What about your best pal? Today is a good time to remind them why they’re so awesome. These people must be awesome because you choose to think of them as more than mere acquaintances.

You might remind friends on social media about their attributes or send them an email. Better yet, tell them face to face, because that is the most awesome way to compliment them. Make sure the praise is authentic and not mere brown-nosing nor with the intent of receiving compliments in return.

So, why is March 10th the International Day of Awesomeness? It was selected because this is Chuck Norris’ birthday. His fans consider Norris as the epitome of awesomeness. A web app developer and his coworkers came up with the idea as a company inside joke. They let their commemoration out to the world at large, and voile’, a new holiday was born.

What makes today’s bluejayblog post awesome is that it’s short.

Be awesome and stay awesome.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes a reminder from jazz musician Charles Mingus. “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

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Souvenirs With Handles …Floral Friday

People throughout time have gone places and carried things back home with them. I imagine that the earliest humans traveled primarily to find food. Later, organized bands of explorers and conquerors engaged in trade and conquest and brought home treasure and spices. Today we go places and bring back souvenirs. This practice is fun and allows us to remember vacations and business trips.

The trouble with most souvenirs is that we get tired of them and they eventually become clutter unless they are part of a serious collection. Although souvenirs are not high art, they do have a particular charm.

The Japan coffee mug is unsuitable for the microwave due to the gold painted rim decoration so I don’t drink from it. It’s too nice to just stash away, so why not use it to contain flowers? In this case, delicate blossoms reflect traditional Japanese culture.

The Burlington Railroad hot water pot is not a normal souvenir. It’s an item sold after the rail company discontinued much of its passenger service in favor of mainly freight. The fine quality piece was manufactured by Hall China Company for the railway. A simple tri-color theme works well in the cobalt blue container.

Whenever I’ve visited the city by the Bay, I’ve snagged a little something. In fact, most of my souvenir collection used to be made up of trinkets from San Francisco. After awhile, they too, became clutter and I had to downsize. There are still several pieces remaining, though. The car mug is the perfect size to hold a rainbow variety of flowers for the kitchen.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes a line from columnist and jeweler Sheherazade Goldsmith. “Conservation is key to preserving many of the world’s natural beauty spots, so do your best to help by keeping to designated footpaths and being a discerning souvenir collector.”

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There is a short truism by the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer that those of us who are middle aged or older relate to. “Just remember, once you’re over the hill, you begin to pick up speed.” We understand that a moving object behaves in this manner and so does our personal mental perception of time.

Speed is a fascinatingly fluid topic to ponder. We humans think of speed as the rate at which objects cover distances. Fast-moving objects cover greater distances in a certain amount of time than do slow-moving objects in the same amount of time.

The concept of speed is so common we usually take it for granted unless or until the state police pulls you over for operating your motor vehicle at a rate of speed that exceeds the posted legal limit. One might complain that he has sufficient driving skills to safely guide the car down the road at a faster rate than “average” drivers. I’m sure police officers hear that line from drivers quite frequently.

The truth is, that we are actually poor judges of speed. The truth of this can be seen whenever highways become covered with glare ice. One will notice stranded vehicles that lost grip with the surface in ditches and farm fields. Whatever or whoever the drivers were rushing to meet will have to wait.

Speed is beneficial in certain ways. A surgeon performs her operation to decrease the amount of time the patient requires to heal. This lessens the amount and extent of physical suffering. Likewise, when we take over-the-counter analgesics, we intend to speedily rid ourselves of headaches.

The flexibility of the perception of the speed of time is testable. An experiment I like to perform involves the treadmill. If you want time to slow down, walk or trot on a treadmill for a long, specified time, perhaps 15-minutes. Those 15-minutes may seem like the longest 15-minutes of your day.

In our society, we like to receive our news quickly. The late, great Edward R. Murrow had something insightful to say about this. “The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue.” Murrow would surely be astonished with social media and also alarmed by it. One of the worst practices people have is to hastily share information that they have not taken the time to verify its truthfulness. Once the inaccurate information has been shared with the world, it’s nearly impossible to refute it.

Whenever we travel speedily, we eventually or suddenly need to slow down and stop. The faster we go, the longer it takes to halt. Think of a huge, speeding ocean liner, perhaps the Titanic. The captain orders “full stop” or “reverse engines” but the ship doesn’t slow down nor change direction immediately. The liner keeps moving swiftly because of its great momentum. The same principle is true when we drive a motor vehicle. Attempting to stop very quickly or steer too sharply away from an obstacle can have dire consequences.

Have you noticed a similar effect with your emotions? The pain of disappointment and heartache arrives instantly. Our careful analysis and arrival at the truth happens as slowly as an express ocean liner coming to a full stop.

Yes, speed has a great many benefits in our lives, but speed is best when moderated by slowness. We may like to drive fast, and surf the Web with lightning speed, but consumption of food should not be so fast. The slow-food movement is a beautiful thing. More people are taking time to be mindful in the preparation of meals and more of us are lingering over this carefully prepared food.

What I’m getting at is that we have a great many things in modern life that go very fast and we try to make them go even faster. I sometimes wonder why this is. Why must we have such blistering speed and what effect does this have on the human animal? We have a long ways to go to understand the full consequences of our obsession with speed.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes a statement by linguist Noam Chomsky. “The major advances in speed of communication and ability to interact took place more than a century ago. The shift from sailing ships to telegraph was far more radical than that from telephone to email.”

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Cold Cereal Memories

One of the earliest childhood memories that I have is of eating breakfast in the family’s tall-ceilinged kitchen. When I was five-years-old my favorite cereal was Sugar Jets. In my opinion, Sugar Jets was and still should be the benchmark against which all sugary cereals should be judged. There’s only one major problem with this, Sugar Jets was discontinued sometime in the early 1970s. The only Sugar Jets worth the effort were the old school tiny spheres, not the later version, shaped like airplanes and rockets.

While I’m thinking about cereals that gave me childhood sugar buzzes, I can’t leave out Rice Krinkles. The people at Post chose a politically incorrect mascot named “So-Hi”, a little Chinese boy, as the cereal’s mascot. Rice Krinkles were pure junk food decadence. If a kid had eaten an entire box of the stuff, he’d be hungry an hour later. I never did this, but that’s what Rice Krinkles seemed like to me.

One cereal I wish would come back is Team Flakes. The tag-line was “Four Grains in Every Flake”. The combination of rice, wheat, corn, and oats made for a very crisp flake. The cereal had just a touch of sweetness that enhanced the grainy flavor. It was dad’s guilty breakfast pleasure. One morning I accidentally stumbled across his hidden private box at the back of the cupboard. After that morning, mom had to buy two boxes each time she grocery shopped–one for dad and one for the rest of us.

Another non-sugar encrusted brand I miss is OK cereal. This short-lived brand was sold as Kellogg’s answer to General Mills’ Cheerios. OK cereal was discontinued in the early 1960s to my utter disappointment. The little Os and Ks had a better flavor than Cheerios that I still crave.

One of the best cereals is still widely available. Full-size biscuits of Shredded Wheat cannot be beat. They have a much nuttier flavor than the much smaller mini-wheats. I’m not really sure why there is a difference in flavor between the two varieties. Perhaps the looseness of the “weave” of the larger biscuit allows more of the strands to be toasted.

The subject of cold cereals is fun to explore simply because of the immense variety of brands and marketing ploys. The next time you visit the supermarket, carefully ponder the cereal aisle and amaze yourself.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes librarian/writer M.J. McGuire. “I was a lazy reader as a kid. One nutrition label on a box of Cap’n Crunch and I’d have to take a nap.”

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I don’t remember the exact reason Jorge changed the topic of our discussion from pleasantries to languishing and wasting away. He just suddenly began talking about the fate of the countless people existing in refugee prison camps in underdeveloped nations.

We see heart-wrenching photographs and videos of weary people crowded together in filthy living conditions begging for morsels of food. The images are broadcast in order to trigger our sympathy so as to encourage contributions to particular charities.

What about these millions of people? Not only are refugee prisons a waste of human potential–they are sources of needless, great suffering en masse. In most cases, the refugees cannot return to their former homes and they are restricted from integrating into the culture of where they had imagined to be a haven.

Jorge also mentioned that similar tragic consequences happen in prisoner of war camps. He pointed out the victims of Nazi and fascist Japanese regimes during the Second World War in particular. Their treatment of POWs is infamous in its inhumanity and brutality. It’s difficult to imagine anything worse than languishing away in a concentration camp or a Japanese prison/work camp.

We might see documentaries or read accounts of the inmates who endured such treatment. Doing so, we feel compassion and empathy for them. However, we can never truly know what it was like to exist in such situations.

The problem of people languishing in jails and prisons is a controversial problem in the United States today. One may well argue that those who commit very serious crimes deserve every minute of their sentences. On the other hand, are those who must spend several years behind bars for committing petty crimes.

In many cases, the prisoners receive little or no rehabilitation education. Many do not have access to outside information in the first place. All that is left for these prisoners is violence among themselves or just staring blankly at the bars of their cells. This is especially poignant in the case of inmates who were convicted of crimes they did not do or people who were framed by the actual miscreants.

I brought up the problem of elderly people who live in nursing homes. Certainly, most nursing homes are pleasant places for our aging relatives to live out the rest of their lives. There are other homes that are quite unpleasant. They serve as warehouses for legions of senior citizens. Jorge said that he hopes nobody ever sends him to a nursing home when he gets older. I agreed with him.

So what was the point of the conversation? It wasn’t a brainstorming session. It was merely a conversation that evolved from small-talk over coffee. The fact that millions of people have and will continue to languish away in situations out of their control is ever-present.

Both Jorge and I visit our aging relatives who live in nursing homes. We both contribute to charities as much as we can. But we are just average, everyday people who have many priorities and activities that keep us very busy. All either of us can do is to think and talk about the problems. We don’t want to ignore these situations that seem as inevitable as death and taxes. Sometimes all we can do is write about them.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe. “Languishing love cannot bear the glad dance.”

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