Back 2 School

I dropped out of college in the late 1960s. Dropped out three times, in fact. Looking back on it, this was a stupid move, but it was the Sixties, and I had other things on my mind.

I’d love to go back to college today. Not because I care much about having a degree, but because I would enjoy studying all sorts of fascinating subjects and being part of a community of bright, talented people. The difficulty is seeing how to get there from here.

Thirty years ago, California had a decent, low-cost public university system. Today, due to draconian budget-slashing (for which we can thank the Republican Party), the picture is decidedly more bleak. The good news is, when you’re over 60 you can attend a California State University (though not into UC) on a fee waiver program: You can be a full-time student for something like $4 per semester. But here’s the kicker: Under the fee waiver program, you can’t Read more

A Shortage of Dragons

2011 is my year for reading epic fantasy. I don’t finish all of the books I start, but I’m making an earnest effort not to rush to conclusions. When the first volume is 800 pages long and there are several more volumes after that, I figure I need to give the story at least 250 pages before I form a definite opinion.

I’m now 340 pages into A Game of Thrones, the first volume of George R. R. Martin’s mammoth epic, A Song of Ice and Fire. Only the first five volumes of this projected seven-volume series have been published, but those five books total around 4,000 pages. At some point I have to ask myself, “Is this good enough that I’m willing to wade through 4,000 pages … and then wait for the final volumes to appear?”

Maybe, maybe not.

Martin’s great strengths are plot and character. The plot of A Game of Thrones is intricate. Intrigue lurks around every corner as various forces and factions jostle and back-stab one another in the corridors of King Robert Baratheon’s great castle. The characters are passionate and memorable. Innocent children are put in grave peril. Every chapter brings a new revelation or a new complication. I can almost (almost) see him keeping up the pace for 4,000 pages.

The weakness of the story is that it’s not Read more

The Power of Positive Thinking

From time to time I get into a little wrangle on Facebook with a friend who has posted a message that’s intended to be positive, uplifting, and inspirational. This has led to bad feelings in the past … and today I did it again.

I have a naughty tendency to check in with reality. I engage my brain and actually analyze the things that people say. This gets me in trouble — primarily, it seems, with people who are eager feel a certain way and disinclined to engage in thought processes that might cause them to reconsider their feelings.

Today my friend said, “You know the Universe loves you and wants you to be happy. Your thoughts create your world.” She said, “I believe that if you’re not happy with the way something is that you can change it.” She said, “You get what you expect to get. There are plenty of people who have made a better life for themselves despite their circumstance. I believe in hope.”

Here’s what I believe. I believe that it’s both useful and important to encourage people to take action to improve their circumstances. I believe that there are often things people can do along those lines that they have not considered, or have rejected too quickly. I believe that having hope is quite generally useful. Hope will give you a morale boost that will get you into action, and hope can help your actions be more focused and effective.

But this is all quite different from saying, “You get what you expect to get.” To start with an extreme case, I think it is morally irresponsible in the highest degree to imply Read more