Is pumping iron really necessary?

New Scientist

In the 2007 update of its own recommendations on exercise, the American College of Sports Medicine added two episodes of strength training a week, consisting of about 10 repetitions of 10 strengthening exercises of all the major muscle groups.

This is part of a larger article: Let’s get physical: Nine facts about fitness

Get ready for China’s domination of science

New Scientist

Very quietly, China has become the world’s second-largest producer of scientific knowledge, surpassed only by the US, a status it has achieved at an awe-inspiring rate. If it continues on its current trajectory China will overtake the US before 2020 and the world will look very different as a result. The historical scientific dominance of North America and Europe will have to adjust to a new world order.

China’s student population has reportedly reached 25 million, up from just 5 million nine years ago. China now has 1700 higher education institutions, around 100 of which make up the “Project 211” group. These elite institutions train four-fifths of PhD students, two-thirds of graduate students and one-third of undergraduates. They are home to 96 per cent of the country’s key laboratories and consume 70 per cent of scientific research funding.

The implications for future industrial development are enormous, as China makes the transition from a manufacturing economy to a knowledge economy based on research coming out of its own institutions.

Technology is Our Enemy

I am reading Devices of the Soul again – and this time I am getting a lot more out of it. I can now understand it better – perhaps because I have become wiser, more skeptical, and more self-reliant – things I did not learn in Silicon Valley (the home of modern technology) in spite of my desperate struggles. I did finally conclude I had to get out – an obvious conclusion, since I was reduced to living on my credit card debt – and I did, once I had used it all up.

In all fairness, I must point out that this book was published by O’Reilly books, a Silicon Valley publisher of computer books – who also invented the term Internet 2.0 during one of their many high-tech conferences. This is one thing I miss down here: contact with sharp people – but I can still read their books and their blogs. They are aware of the silicon valley craziness, since they are part of it – and, of course, I am too. The Internet has become part of my personality, for better or worse.

Steve Talbot, the author, starts off with the Greeks – people I am poorly acquainted with, and don’t feel a kinship with either, since my classical education was almost non-existent. They were a strange people, far removed from our time. A people the Americans, in contrast with the British, have avoided knowing. This is a pity, because our culture started with them. If we cannot understand them, we cannot understand ourselves.

Allow me to quote from pages 14 and 15:

Technology is our hope if we can accept it as our enemy, but as our friend, it will destroy us.

Our primary task is to discover the potentials within ourselves that are not purely mechanical, not merely automatic, not reducible to computation. And the machine is a gift to us precisely because the peril in its siding with our one-sidedness forces us to strengthen the opposite side – at least it does if we recognize the peril and accept its challenge.

Of course its friendly approach threatens us, and of course it calls for a certain resistance on our part, since it expresses our dominant tendencies, our prevailing lameness or one-sidedness. The only way we can become entire, whole, and healthy is to struggle against whatever reinforces our existing imbalance.

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be much recognition of this yet. In fact, in many quarters there is nothing but an exhilarated embrace of one-sidedness. Where, for the Greeks, techne always had two complementary but never completely separable aspects – the increasingly self-aware inner originating, and the outer result – our technology has become only so much gadgetry…We have forgotten the crafty inner origin and essence of the techne that had served our ancestors so well… Odysseus was on his way to being a true contriver; we seem to be content with mere contrivances.

Where the individual’s consciousness of self once became more vivid through the experience of his own capacity to objectify his inner contrivances in the outer world, today the objects as such have engulfed us, threatening the originating self with oblivion.

That will be enough for now. I am having a hard time understanding this myself. And I have to go to the bank to get the money to get me through this month – using my ever-handy debit card – a technology I could not get along without.

All the Rest is Noise

I have too many books. I put two on them in the trash recently, and I should get rid of more the same way. I also have too many audible books – it keeps sending more more specials I cannot resist. Fortunately, getting rid of these is easy: just delete a computer file – and chalk it up to experience.

The audio sample of All the Rest is Noise made me buy it because I like classical music, but find the latest developments baffling. I assumed it would contain some of  the music described in the text. It doesn’t, and 24 hours of listening to musical history, excellent as it is, is too much.

Something Really Bad is Going On

I compare myself to a person living in the declining years of the Roman Empire – only I am living in the declining years of the American Empire – and probably in the declining years of the Modern Era. This is amazing – but even more amazing is that few are aware of it. Everyone has agreed not to notice what is going on – the usual behavior when something really bad happens. It’s too scary to notice.

Instead, the world is full of frantic activity, which accomplishes nothing. Where is this frantic activity going on?  At work – where everyone is working their butts off, going from one crisis to another, going from one failed company to another, with long periods of unemployment in between. Running on treadmills with blinders on. But no one is saying “Something is really crazy here.” When there clearly is.

We are incapable of standing back, analyzing the situation, getting in control of it, and then fixing it. We cannot be good to ourselves – that is what is boils down to. There seems to be a black cloud over us, saying “You must destroy yourself!”

We have a mis-placed sense of values. We should be concentrating on our ourselves, and our well-being – but instead we are involved in some great struggle, which is much more important than anything we could be involved in for ourselves. It demands everything from us, and gives us nothing in return.

This is not so unusual, actually. We have always been passionate creatures, willing to give our lives for the strangest things. But we have always been keenly aware of what these passions were: if we fell in love, for example, we knew who we fell in love with. However, in our present situation, we have no such awareness. We have been overwhelmed and taken over without our even knowing it – by a force we know nothing about. What is this force?

Frankly, I do not know. It seems to be a mass insanity – and insanity always deprives its victim of its consciousness. But some of the symptoms are clear: people have lost their self-awareness; they have become powerless, and business has become all-powerful. And business includes almost everything: the military, the media, and the schools – on a global scale. Note that I have omitted the government, because it doesn’t really matter anymore. Another force has taken over.

The Chayote

The Chayote is one of the favorite vegetables of Costa Rica. Large farms of them exist: suspended wire netting where the vines grow, and the gourds can hang below them. It is a type of squash about twice a big as your fist. It is usually prepared as a picadillo, cut up in little cubes. I have a recipe given to me by the cook at the former vegetarian restaurant in Orosi. (He died, and I now live in his house.) It contains diced Achiote, almost any kind of green leafy stuff I can buy at the farmer’s market at nearby Paraiso, chili dulce (like a Bell Pepper), onions, garlic, a can of sweet corn, and grated cheese – and maybe a tiny bit of hot peppers too. You bake the whole thing. Yum!

I noticed at a family restaurant in La Alegria that they were boiling their Achiotes before using them. So I tried doing the same thing – which makes them much easier to peel and dice. I also noticed they have a fine flavor all by themselves. No wonder they are so popular – and they are entirely healthy – something not always true with Latino cuisine – although roasted corn on the cob, or boiled corn in the husk, are also popular. I just through them in the microwave.

Their sweet corn is a big disappointment. They seem to like the tough stuff, and don’t want to switch to the sweet, soft stuff that I love.

The Organization Man

I first read this in 1956, when I was still in college; it made a strong impression on me then; and as I re-read it now, it still does. I marvel how little it has impressed others – but that is the way of all flesh: to be blissfully unaware. I quote the first paragraph in its entirety:

This book is about the organization man. If the term in vague, it is because I can think of no other way to describe the people I am talking about. They are not the workers, nor are they the white-collar people, in the usual clerk sense of the world. These people work only for The Organization. The ones I am talking about belong to it as well. They are the ones of our middle class who have left home, spiritually as well as physically, to take the vows of organizational life, and it is they who are the mind and soul of our great self-perpetuating institutions.

Only a few are top managers or ever will be. In a system that makes such hazy terminology as “junior executive” psychologically necessary, they are of the staff as much as the line, and most are destined to live poised in a middle area that still awaits a satisfactory euphemism. But they are dominant members of our society nonetheless. They have not joined together into a recognizable elite – our country does not stand still long enough for that – but it is from their ranks that are coming most of the first and second echelons of our leadership, and it is their values which will set the American temper.

The world has come a long way since 1956, and this change has occurred so gradually most have not been aware of it – but anyone who has been aware, if only slightly,  has to acknowledge that it has happened – if only to say “So what?”

A whole new array of upper-level positions have appeared: CEO, CFO, CTO, etc., and the more ambitious aim for these slots – despite the inadequacy of their titles – they simply invent variations of these roles, depending on the local situation. For example, some people specialize in the firing of burned-out senior executives. And all kinds of specialists in different relationships exist: public relations, investor relations, marketing (customer relationships), and human resources (employee relationships).

The Organization has become the happy hunting ground, where people can bag big game.