Jul 30, 2011

A week later

Yesterday all flags were flown at half-mast in Norway, in honor of all those who lost their lives Friday July 22 2011. I offer my own condolences to all those who have lost loved ones, and to Norway itself.

It's been an intense week. I have learned that those of us who actually turned off the TV and distracted ourselves with something totally different did the right thing.

It has been non-stop in the media and now I find myself praying that my daily newspaper will have a normal cover tomorrow. For the seventh day running I have been treated to a single photograph with one large title covering the whole front below the masthead, all related to the horrible, unbelievable events of July 22. I’m looking forward to some photo and blurb above the fold, the usual sidebar and something below the fold including the ads, which I never read.

Norway's holding up pretty good. People are always better than their reputation: Humanity tends toward good, not bad, though it sometimes takes a crisis to bring out the best in us. Norway rose to the occasion, in unison, focused on joining hands and hearts. I am proud of this nation for doing that.

It still hurts. Thinking back while I write this still produces tears.

I’ve read that it's OK for those of us who have no personal stake in the terror event to take it personally because it is a national event that effects everyone. It is a nationwide shock and we all have our individual response to it and our way of handling our reaction.

For myself, alone at home in the midst of vacation time, Facebook with my friends and groups there to share, comfort and inspire, has been a good place to go in lieu of getting a real hug. There have also been memorial services, memorial marches, and thousands and thousands of flowers and candles left all over Norway. I am looking forward to going back to work on Monday, not to commiserate—there will be that—but for the distraction work gives.

Some people have gotten furious. Some have felt despair. Some, especially teens, are afraid it will happen again. My own reaction is sadness—and then I try to remember that the only way forward is through forgiveness.

I was listening to Sting's "Fragile" on the radio Thursday. For the first time in my 50 years, I have finally understand exactly what he means when he sings about how fragile we are. (It’s become the anthem for Norway’s day of terror.)

We are fragile. The human body is so vulnerable to violence. Death comes so easily. The human mind that conceived of killing innocent youths is also fragile. And for weeks and months and even years to come, our own hearts will be fragile, every time we think of the loved ones that are gone forever, every time we think of the Friday in July when our entire nation lost its innocence, every time we think of the murderer and are reminded that there are no monsters; there is just people.

We have no way to stop this. We have no guarantees that tomorrow will be just as harmless as today. But we have hope and courage, and I am so happy to hear that the Labor Party Youth organization will continue, that its remaining members are inspired to preserve democracy, and are not disheartened.

As for what will happen next in Norway, some citizens are already demanding that the police be given the right to detain anyone who may be seen as a threat. I pray that we don't go down that road. It hasn't served the US post 9/11. Norway is so proud that it has an open, democratic society and I think we should keep it that way. The killer was paranoid; we shouldn’t be.

I mentioned forgiveness above. Lately I've been reading a lot about forgiveness. Forgiveness is not about absolution. It is not even about closure. Forgiveness is about starting the process that will eventually heal all of our minds so that thoughts of hatred, fear, rage, or bitterness no longer cloud our thinking or color our attitudes. Forgiveness helps us put the past in the past, and not let it keep hurting us in the present.

Most importantly—and uncomfortably—forgiveness is about seeing how the other person's wrong could have been your wrong. We all carry seeds of hatred, of anger, of resentment. Claiming we would never kill someone, anyway, ignores the fact that we nevertheless allow ourselves to have such feelings. We like to find fault with others—whether it is a family member, a co-worker or a politician. We like to bad-mouth them and we are pleased when they fail or make a mistake, because it "verifies" our own "good judgment".

Forgiveness is a way of not letting negative feelings fester. It is also not about forgetting. I said it starts the process of healing. Forgiveness does so by allowing yourself to consider the innocence of the other person, by remembering the other is as human as you, and by exploring what good can exist in the situation. Most importantly, forgiveness is to keep yourself from letting the bad take root in your own heart. You may have to forgive over and over and over, but that's OK. That's normal and that’s why it’s a process, not an end-point.

Many years ago I read the following targeted at bosses: Try to catch your employees in the act of doing something right.

I suggest that we do that outside the workplace: Catch our fellow humans doing something right. Focus on finding the good in people. This past week in Norway has proven that it is very easy to do.

Footnote: Wikipedia's entry on our worst day since WWII

Jul 22, 2011

10 years ago - and now

Ten years ago I got to see the Manhattan skyline for myself. This photo was taken with not so good camera 10 years ago this month. Two months later, the two characteristic towers of the World Trade Center were gone.

I bring this up now because, right now, as I type, rescue workers are still searching through the office buildings belonging to the Norwegian parliament, looking for more explosives, as well as injured or killed. The main theory is that a car bomb went off around 3:30 pm today in downtown Oslo and blasted out windows in a 1 kilometer radius. The pictures of twisted metal window frames many floors up on a run-of-the-mill office building coupled with the knowledge that this is taking place in quiet, out-of-the-way Oslo is both unbelievable and upsetting.

I hate that this is happening here. I hate that this is happening again.

Bizarrely, someone dressed as police are shooting at a summer camp for Labor party youth while the bomb search goes on. A talking head on the news has just informed me that this is typical of Al- oh, fuck them. They don't get their name mentioned.

The truth is, we don't yet know yet who will claim responsibility for this, or why. A common denominator is the Labor Party, and although I don't much care for our prime minister, who is Labor, I do not envy him this nightmare one bit. It may not even be directly political; another theory harkens back to the debacle around Danish and Norwegian papers publishing cartoons bashing Moha--, naw, won't mention him, either. Let the search engines find somebody else's site.

The only bright spot in this is that it is vacation time in Norway, and most offices were empty.

My heart isn't pounding as hard now, as I get ready to publish. I know that the most important thing to do is to not hate, not feed into whatever in our minds and societies has let something like this happen in the first place.

My sympathies to everyone in Oslo.

Footnote: Wikipedia's entry on our worst day since WWII

Jul 1, 2011

Paper or pixel? Book readers want to know

I have a bookmark that reads, "You are never lonely with a book." Books have been my allies for as long as I can remember. Getting immersed in a story that takes double-digit chapters to resolve or following someone's theory or life over hundreds of pages adds a break from life like nothing else. And unlike other pauses in life, what you read in a book can stay with you for years, and maybe even change your life.

Alice has written about the paper-based book and has linked to an article whose author feels that a Kindle would be as distracting as his computer apparently is.

First of all, anybody who wants to have a good read will shut their computer off. You are not a Real Reader if you can’t figure out how to hide away (i.e. have an arsenal of sneaky tricks and good excuses) from things and tasks and people and clocks so you can Read!

Secondly, when I’m reading something that really interests me, I lose all sense of time and place, anyway. (Which is absolutely wonderful!)

So, what about printed versus digital? Paper versus pixel?

Both, I say. It depends on the technology and your own preferences.

I was off on a quest a couple of months ago and didn’t want to wait for shipping for a relevant book, so I downloaded the Kindle software from Amazon (it’s free) and bought the Kindle version of my desired book and have read a couple of books now on my iPod Touch. Not a bad experience. I liked the software but eventually missed having a bigger screen, something more page-sized, something that was closer to how the author/publisher wanted the book presented.

I have just held my new Kindle in my hands. It is just as advertised: Thin, light, gray, and very, very easy to read. In fact, it reminds me of the monochrome LED screens of the handheld devices of the 90’s. It’s plain, the display has no color or shades of gray, and the interface is so old-school that menu items are highlighted with underscores. I have fiddled a bit with it, read the getting-started articles, and was basically done with the “novelty” after 10 minutes. As others have noted, there is no sense of reading from a screen; it really does feel like reading from paper.

Surprisingly, the Kindle is not giving me a sense of moving forward, of entering a more advanced or complicated technological era. Rather, it is giving me a sense of simplicity and nostalgia. It’s taking me back to when most things were printed, photocopies were only in black and white, computer screens were monochrome, and computers themselves were limited in what they could do because they ran only one program.

The Kindle focuses on letting the reader read. The wireless connection is for synchronizing between devices and buying more books. Other than that, you can turn off the wi-fi and just do what you usually do: Page back and forth, bookmark a page, highlight a passage, jot down a note in the margin, look up a word you don’t know (without having to keep a separate dictionary with you).

My new toy is charging (update: It charged in 90 minutes, not the 3 hours suggested) and will be used tonight for reading in bed. I’ll find out if the hype about the electronic ink is really All That.

I agree that technology shouldn't intrude on reading, but technology per se is not a deterrent to reading. People have different needs and technology has made it possible to meet more needs. Some folks don't read; they listen to audiobooks. Some need large-print books. I have had my reading enjoyment spoiled by lousy typography in a printed book. A digital reader can let me adjust type-size, and it can read out loud to me. It saves space in my shelves so I can actually own more books. I'd say there's room for both paper and digital; the most important thing is to Read.

PS: Something else has just happily occurred to me: I have a friend overseas who also has a Kindle. We can actually borrow books from each other! Wirelessly! How cool is that?