4 January 2015


0137 by Jeff Hess

I’ve been pondering calendars of late what with the Winter Solstice and the New Year just passing, and trying to arrive at some date for the beginning of each new year that makes sense. My first thoughts went to the Winter Solstice because that is the shortest day of the year and days getting longer seemed worth celebrating. That this is only true in the Northern Hemisphere, however, present a problem since the new year should have apply in some real, measurable and independently verifiable manner that holds no prejudice.

This morning my thoughts turned to the elliptical orbit of the Earth. This morning, at 0137 Eastern Standard Time (0637 UTC) we reached the closest point to the Sun (147.1 million kilometers) for 2015. We might reasonable use that date, but that would mean for the next six months we would be moving away from the Sun and psychologically I find that dissatisfying for much the same reason that we choose to celebrate the Winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere (our shortest day here) in anticipation of the longer days of Spring and Summer to come.

Choosing the date of the aphelion makes greater sense to me. This year that day falls on 4 July at 1541 EDT.

Then there is the matter of what year to mark as year one? There are any number of scientific events that might be considered globally significant but three seem to me to be the top contenders–the Trinity nuclear test (16 July 1945), the launching into Earth orbit and safe return of Yuri Gagarin (12 April 1961) and Neil Armstrong’s first step on the Moon (20 July 1969). Of the three, I like 1969 the best. Aphelion, my New Year’s Day, came on 5 July that year making that particular Saturday, Day One of Year One in one proposed calendar.

There are plenty of other considerations to make beginnings of weeks, beginning of months and the matter of a shifting, but astrologically marked, New Year’s Day, but I think those are minor compared to the selection of these two markers.

Other thoughts anyone?

3 January 2015


1830 by Jeff Hess

zits 110610
My guess? Somewhere greater than 50:1.

2 January 2015


0700 by Jeff Hess

Yet the reason I’ve started keeping a real, pen-and-paper commonplace book is that the social power of the web, awesome though it is, doesn’t confer the same benefits. There’s something important about exploring ideas privately as well as collectively. Indeed, there’s something about promiscuous online bookmarking and highlighting that seems antithetical to commonplacing. Because the real challenge of handling stray nuggets of information isn’t how to collect and organise them (there’s good software for this, such as DevonThink for Mac and PersonalBrain for Windows). Commonplacing is about internalising that information: engaging deeply, processing it so that it becomes part of you. Writing by hand seems to help; so does not instantly sharing everything. If the web is a wild, furiously creative ecosystem – a rainforest, say – the commonplace book is a private vegetable patch. Different things grow best in each.

Oliver Burkeman writing in This column will change your life: Make a book of your own for The Guardian.

1 January 2015


1600 by Jeff Hess

In one of the two, weekly newspapers that arrive in my mailbox each week, retired police officer Mark Petrus had this to say in a guest column.

It is difficult these days to open a newspaper, listen to the electronic media, or scan the Internet without encountering a story or commentary dealing with what some would call the rising tide of police aggressiveness in this country. The Ferguson fiasco, the Tamir Rice shooting in Cleveland, and the death of Eric Garner in New York City are currently the most prominent incidents bringing this issue to the forefront.

Is this, then, a real issue? Has something changed within our police departments? Are police officers today more aggressive than they were a generation ago? My answer to these questions would be yes, and I would like to offer a possible explanation for this change.

Petrus joined the police force of Wadsworth, Ohio, population 21,842, in 1987. He retired from the force in 2012.

In his view, Petrus sees a culture of aggression that has come to pervade police forces, like the one in Wadsworth, fostered by media fixation on violence since the events of 11 September 2001. These news reports paint a picture of unsafe streets and constant threats despite national crime statistics that indicate a steady decrease in violent crime since 1990.

Yes, I have that right, crime in the United States has been in a downward trend for the past 25 years.

You would never guess that truth if you were glued to broadcast news.

In 1980, national statistics showed 729.6 violent crimes (murder, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assaults) per 100,000 inhabitants. In 2012 that number had dropped to 386.9, a decrease of approximately 47 percent; nearly 50 percent less violent crime and the drop has nothing to do with hyper-aggressive, militarized police forces.

Petrus continues:

In the first fifteen years of my service my fellow officers and I went about our duties with what I would term a defensive mindset. That is, we approached our encounters with potentially violent people with the understanding that we could only use some measure of force if force was directed against us or against an innocent party. The fist or the baton or the firearm could only be employed if the suspect initiated the aggressive action.

During the last ten years of his service, Petrus writes:

[P]olice training began to adapt to the new [post-2001] environment. Police training videos, books, seminars, and schools/academies began to move toward more of a strike first mentality.

In the small town of Wadsworth, that training manifested in part, in the form of:

[T]he installation of a relatively young and inexperienced officer as the firearms and tactics instructor. Imbued with the new philosophy of aggressiveness by various police schools and seminars, this officer was given free rein by the department administration to impose his aggressive style on all members of the department. Our training thus became increasingly military-like in both tone and structure: The streets were full of the enemy, out to kill us; not full of our fellow citizens who deserved the benefit of the doubt in the vast majority of our encounters. When veteran officers such as myself cautioned that aggressiveness must be balanced with common sense and humanity, we were called old-fashioned and not in step with the times. Needless to say, those new officers who were subjected to this instructor’s philosophy with no room for argument had to embrace the philosophy or suffer the wrath of the department administration. Thus, a philosophy of strike first and aggressiveness wins became the dominant mindset of the department.

I have family in law enforcement, now long since retired, and they, as well as the police officers I have known during my lifetime, were honest men guided by an ideal of service and a concern for the community they served in.

When we give assault rifles, body armor, grenades and tanks to the men and women tasked with keeping the places where we live safe, we cannot be shocked when they use that military gear in ways that horrify us and grossly offend our senses of decency and humanity.

When honorable men like Petrus tell us that we ought to be concerned, we ignore his warning at a risk of great peril.

1 January 2015


0600 by Jeff Hess

writing on the wal 150101
As we count our blessings on this first day of the year 2015, remember that much of what we earnestly wish to hold tight to—our homes, our jobs, all that we hold dear—we have because union men and women suffered, fought and died for the rights of all.

31 December 2014


1159 by Jeff Hess

With gracious thanks to Florence Reece and Peter Seeger

Nearly five months have passed since Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown and while the vital conversation in our nation surrounding the events of 9 August continues, I have decided to no longer keep this internal thread stuck to the top of Have Coffee Will Write. I have every intention of continuing to write about the murder of Michael Brown and Tamir Rice and Eric Garner and the devastatingly long list of people murdered because of the color of their skin (look for a piece about police violence tomorrow), but I need to come at this topic in a different way.

This internal thread concerning events in and about Ferguson, Missouri, is stuck to the top of the blog, newer, less vital, posts appear below.

Meanwhile, comments on PZ Myers’ Good Morning, America hit 2,394 and PZ has opened a second comment thread: Later this morning in America

Grand juries were designed to be a check on prosecutors and law enforcement. Instead, they’ve become a corrupt shield to protect those with power and another sword to strike down those without. And it’s now all too obviously past time the system was overhauled to fix that.

Before Wednesday’s shameful decision by a New York grand jury to refuse to indict the police officer who choked to death an unarmed and unresisting Eric Garner, one statistic made clear just how much our justice system has failed:

Charles Clymer (@cmclymer) November 25, 2014 Grand juries not resulting in indictments: Police Officers: 80 of 81 Civilians: 11 of 162,000 #Ferguson http://t.co/rmHtPlNlun

If you are an ordinary citizen being investigated for a crime by an American grand jury, there is a 99.993% chance you’ll be indicted. Yet if you’re a police officer, that chance falls to effectively nil.

While the Michael Brown tragedy in Ferguson elevated the harsh reality of grand juries to the global stage, no case has driven it home more than Garner’s. A victim who was unarmed and did not resist. A forbidden chokehold according to NYPD rules. Ruled a homicide by the medical examiner who performed the autopsy. And it was all caught on crystal-clear video.

If Eric Garner’s killer can’t be indicted, what cop possibly could?

Trevor Timm writing in If Eric Garner’s killer can’t be indicted, what cop possibly could? It’s time to fix grand juries for The Guardian.


Some witnesses who appeared before the grand jury investigating the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown were “clearly not telling the truth,” according to the St Louis county prosecutor, Robert McCulloch.

In his first public interview since announcing the grand jury’s decision not to indict officer Darren Wilson, McCulloch told local radio station KTRS Continue Reading »

31 December 2014


1030 by Jeff Hess

burkeman 141231

30 December 2014


1100 by Jeff Hess

We’re accustomed to thinking of bodily movements as following from mental processes: of the body, in other words, as the marionette of the brain. Embodied cognition implies the situation may be more complex. Which raises a cheering possibility, given how much easier it usually is to control our body’s movements than our mental lives: might some everyday mental challenges have simple physical fixes? Recent research suggests several strategies:

  1. For added willpower, grip tightly. Like holding your bladder, firming your muscles seems to help you “firm [your] willpower… grasp long-range thoughts and, consequently, engage more effectively in self-control”. In one study, researchers administered questionnaires to customers in a snack bar, instructing them to grip the pen in different ways; those with a tighter grip subsequently made healthier food choices.
  2. For perseverance, fold your arms. Subjects in one set of experiments worked twice as long at anagrams—and did better—when induced to cross their arms. The researchers concluded the arm-folding itself was generating the desire to keep going.
  3. For recollection, adopt an earlier posture. Memory retrieval is easier if you do it in the same posture as when you formed the memory—though this has been shown to work only for things that happened to you: it’s not necessarily a great exam-revision strategy.
  4. For creativity, create physical dissonance. Adopting a facial expression or physical posture that contradicts how you’re feeling seems to trigger “lateral” thinking. Feeling calm? Act hyper. Feeling hyper? Act calm. Feeling happy? Act downhearted. Feeling sad? Grin. Feel like all this will make you look like an idiot at the next office brainstorming meeting? Yeah. Sorry about that.

Oliver Burkeman writing in This column will change your life: Let’s get physical for The Guardian.

Only two days away from 2015 and at a time when many are engaged in the making of resolutions, I found the matter of added willpower, No. 1 above, interesting enough to plow through a 20-page paper from which I gleaned the following notes:

The basic idea underlying these emerging findings on embodied cognition is that memories are composed of experiences that are multimodal and spread throughout the body, not amodal semantic nodes stored purely in the mind. p. 3

In sum, motor actions accompanying performance on a task can facilitate performance on the task and can influence thoughts, feelings, and inference-making processes via self-perception. p. 3

To summarize, experiment 2 demonstrated that although participants across conditions found immersing their right hands in the ice bucket to be quite painful, those who were simultaneously firming muscles in their left hands (vs. not firming muscles) were able to summon more willpower and, as a consequence, keep their right hands in the ice bucket longer. p. 9

Experiment 3 thus confirms our hypothesis that muscle firming helps summon willpower. By contracting their muscles, participants who valued becoming healthy in the long term—and only those participants—were able to consume more of a nasty tonic that presumably would fulfill a goal of becoming healthy. The generation of willpower thoughts mediated this effect. Furthermore, muscle firming does not generally cue long-term goals; rather, once those goals are accessible and people presumably consciously wish to recruit willpower to achieve those goals, muscle firming augments willpower and enables self-control. p. 11

Past research suggests that willpower is a limited resource and that once people expend it, they will become depleted and have a difficult time summoning it for future use (Baumeister et al. 2008; Muraven et al. 1998). p.13

However, because willpower is a limited resource (Baumeister et al. 2008), expending it prior to the selfcontrol task will deplete an individual’s willpower and lead to poorer performance. Indeed, existing research shows that depletion is most likely to occur when participants infer that they already finished exerting self-control prior to the task, rather than when they see it as an ongoing task requiring self-control. p. 13

Five studies provide remarkable evidence that simply firming one’s muscles can firm one’s resolve and facilitate selfcontrol. p. 14

The current research is important because it suggests a powerful way to firm willpower: a person can simply firm her muscles. Put simply, steely muscles can lead to a steely resolve. [Emphasis mine, JH] p. 14

Importantly, online willpower thoughts [thoughts generated during the experiment, JH] that participants generated while engaging in the self-control task mediated increased self-control (experiments 2 and 3), which suggests that self-control depends on the actual willpower people summoned when engaged in self-control and that muscle firming augments willpower. p. 14

Also important is that these effects arose mostly when people cared about self-regulation; firming their muscles did not increase self-control among people who were unwilling to exert willpower or did not have long-term goals in mind. p. 16

As an aside, I found the writers’ constant use of the phrases current research and past research to be really, really annoying. I get their point—current research is their research while past research is what they drew upon from other studies—but my annoyance continues unabated. Life goes on.

21 December 2014


0700 by Jeff Hess

The Sun will come up here in Cleveland today at 0750. Yes, tomorrow will have more daylight than today (by a whole second, 9 hours and 11 seconds vs. 9 hours and 10 seconds), but earlier risers like myself don’t get the benefit of a longer day until 18 January when the Sun rises at 0749.

Why? The BBC explains

16 December 2014


0543 by Jeff Hess

I tear up every time I listen to the glorious 9th…

15 December 2014


1600 by Jeff Hess

roldo halle building 141215

I assume the cheering over the sale of Halle Building will be another example of the shifting of tax burden from the wealthy to the diminishing number of Cleveland homeowners. How many left now?

But who is keeping count. Indeed, who even cares?

Progress is what those who make up the news say it is.

For the former Halle’s department store is the second time around the money merry-go-round. It’s such a party.

“The conversion, which is not expected to begin until at least 2018, would be similar to several other office-to-residential projects in downtown Cleveland catering to a steady influx of young professionals seeking an urban lifestyle,” crowed the eager though clueless editorialists of the newspaper.

The Plain Dealer (or whatever it calls itself today) reported that the building was purchased by K&D Group from Forest City Enterprises.

The building is expected to be converted from offices to some 240 apartments, which will likely be tax abated, so Cleveland homeowners will silently and graciously pick up the slack.

Isn’t that the way it works? Somebody has to pay the heavy tab of City Council and Mayor Jackson’s people. Well? Step up.

Forest City when it bought the building had a deal with the city in which the Council was told that Halle’s would produce a profit for the city.

Honestly, we’ll make money, Voinovich’s people said. I guess he forgot to say which people. Continue Reading »

13 December 2014


0530 by Jeff Hess

non-fiction reading list

9 December 2014


0700 by Jeff Hess

I believe* in a purely material universe that conforms to naturalistic laws and principles.

I believe that the life we have is the only one we will have, that the mind and consciousness are inseparable from the brain, that we cease to exist in any conscious form when we die, and that it is therefore incumbent on us to enable each person to live their one life to the fullest.

I believe in the power of science and reason and rationality to further deepen our understanding of everything around us and to eventually overcome superstition and erase the petty divisions sown by religion, race, ethnicity, and nationality.

I am in awe of the beauty, vastness, and complexity of nature and the universe, and the fact that all arose purely by the working of natural laws.

I believe in the power of ideals such as peace and justice and shared humanity to inspire us to create a free and just world.

I believe in kindness, love, and the human spirit and their ability to overcome challenges and adversity and to create a better world.

I believe in the necessity for credible and objective evidence to sustain any belief and thus deny, because of the absence of such evidence, the existence of each and every aspect of the supernatural.

I refuse to bow, prostrate myself, or otherwise cower before the deities of any religion.

I am neither tempted by the fiction of heaven nor fearful of the fiction of hell.

I choose to live the dignified and exhilarating life of a freethinker, able to go wherever knowledge and curiosity takes me, without fear of contradicting any dogma.

—Mano Singham

Truly one of Cleveland’s treasures.

8 December 2014


2100 by Jeff Hess

frank jackson 130311

It’s difficult, if not impossible; to believe that Safety Director Michael McGrath would declare that he won’t resign without Mayor Frank Jackson’s assent.

It’s Jackson sticking his finger into the eye of Atty. Gen. Eric Holder and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Just as he did to Ohio Atty. Gen. Mike DeWine and DeWine’s report on the 137-bullet assassination of two blacks after a car chase. DeWine’s report declared the Cleveland Police Dept. and its actions were a “systemic failure” of the police force, just as the Justice Department characterized it. Jackson essentially told DeWine, screw you.

Jackson simply will not admit mistakes.

After that systemic failure Jackson promoted McGrath from police chief to safety director.

Take that, said Jackson, to his critics.

The Mayor takes orders from no one.

Indeed, the more orders, pleas, protests will simply strength his belief that he’s right. The rest are wrong.

He’ll go it alone.

That’s the Jackson I’d watch at City Council Committee hearings. If he wasn’t a member of the committee, unlike most others who entered the room and Continue Reading »

8 December 2014


0800 by Jeff Hess

About two years ago I began regularly reading The Guardian and leaving comments on the occasional story. In June of last year I was made a comment on a Steve Bell cartoon. (I don’t recall the exact comment, but I believe I made some reference to the image on the wall behind President Obama, and I may have compared that image to an elephants tail.)

One of The Guardian’s moderators took offense and put my future comments on moderation.

On 25 June I wrote:

Good evening all,

I posted a comment this afternoon asking if anyone could identify the image behind President Obama’s right shoulder in the Steve Bell political cartoon.

Shortly thereafter the comment was taken down and the notice that my comments were on pre-moderation was posted.

I’ve looked at the community guidelines and can’t discern what my violation might have been.

Whom should I contact to work this out?

Do all you can to make today a good day,

Jeff Hess

The next day a community moderator replied:

Hi Jeff,

You are currently being premoderated for blog spam. We do not allow users to advertise their own blogs in comments, including signatures and other links at the end of posts.

If you continue posting without adding blog links at the end of your posts, and abide by our other community standards, premoderation will be lifted.



And I responded:

Good evening Jonathan,

Thanks for clearing this up. I’ve made the suggested change by linking my blog to my username.

Were both links in my post (the signature line and the closeup of the interesting bit of the editorial cartoon a problem or was it simply the signature line?

Do all you can to make today a good day,

Jeff Hess

Jonathan came back once more:

The separate link you posted was fine and I have unremoved that comment.



On 1 July this anonymous response dropped into my inbox:


Thank you for your mail. Your account was placed in premoderation due to repeated spam-like posts:

7. We will remove any posts that are obviously commercial or otherwise spam-like. Our aim is that this site should provide a space for people to interact with our content and each other, and we actively discourage commercial entities passing themselves off as individuals, in order to post advertising material or links. This may also apply to people or organisations who frequently post propaganda or external links without adding substantively to the quality of the discussion on the Guardian website.

Premoderation is a temporary measure and is lifted once a pattern of posting within the community standards is re-established.

Many thanks

Cif Moderation team

This morning I left a comment on Oliver Burkeman’s most recent post and noticed that nearly 18 months later I’m still in pre-moderation limbo, so I wrote another email:

Good morning,

In 2012 my comments on The Guardian were placed on pre-moderation due to, I believe, the use of a hot-link in my signature line.

Since pre-moderation is a temporary measure applied by moderators to a very small handful of people based entirely on patterns of actual behaviour, and should result relatively quickly in either their posting ability being suspended completely if no improvement is shown, or the filter being removed, and more than two years have passed, I am curious as to when this temporary measure might be resolved.



This time I heard from Matt:


Thanks for your email.

Premoderation status is usually lifted when a moderator is satisfied the account has returned to a pattern of commenting that consistently fits with our community standards.

It is not necessarily linked to time, but more likely the number of comments posted – users vary in how much and often they use the site, so I hope you can understand this. I hope you can continue to use the site and that your account will return to normal status soon.

Best regards,

Community Moderator

8 December 2014


0700 by Jeff Hess

While Ohio Republicans think people have a right to know the names of doctors who perform abortions, they don’t want to extend the same transparency to the those who carry out state-sanctioned killings in our names.

State Rep. Jim Buchy (R-84) writes: Some pieces of legislation can bring out strong opinions on both sides, not so much because of what is actually contained in the legislation, but simply because of its general subject matter. Such might be the case, I believe, for the Ohio House passage of a bill addressing lethal injection here in Ohio.

Whereas the attention given to House Bill 663 understandably revolved around capital punishment, in actuality the bill itself was much more narrowly focused to protecting the confidentiality of the persons who participate in the process of execution by lethal injection.

I, for one, think knowing who is killing in my name is a plus.

8 December 2014


0600 by Jeff Hess

dr pepper time

It’s always nice to encounter scientific backing for advice you’ve been dispensing to your friends for years, whether or not they ever actually asked for it – so I was pleased to learn of a new study lending support to the notion that if you check email less frequently, you’ll be less stressed.

As Jesse Singal explains at Science of Us, researchers at the University of British Columbia instructed two groups of people to treat their email in radically different ways. One was told to keep their email program closed, with notifications off, checking messages only three times a day. The other did what too many of us do instead: kept their notifications switched on, and checked email ceaselessly through the day. The occasional checkers felt less stressed – while the frequent checkers didn’t even have the compensation of feeling any more productive.

This might seem obvious: do a stressful thing less frequently, and you’ll be less stressed. (“Doctor, it hurts when I do that!” “Well don’t do that, then.”) But as the study’s co-author Kostatin Kushlev points out, it’s a bit more intriguing than that: resisting temptations, like checking email, is itself generally an unpleasant and effortful experience. So why did engaging in that activity made people feel better than just checking messages when they came in?

One likely answer is that it reduced the high cognitive costs of task-switching: jumping between different kinds of tasks consumes energy and time, so “batching” is just a more efficient use of your limited capacities. Another is that feelings of autonomy make us happier. When you check email at fixed times, you’re taking control of when it enters your mental world; check it whenever a new message comes in, and essentially email’s controlling you.

Oliver Burkeman writing in Sit back, relax and ignore your email inbox. Nobody expects you to read it all for The Guardian.

My email checks come at 0400, 1200 and 1800…

8 December 2014


0530 by Jeff Hess

8 December 2014


0500 by Jeff Hess

Jess Zimmerman: Hi, Rebecca! First of all, thanks for talking this out with me, and I hope I don’t come off like a jackass. The internet exerts a powerful jackass ray, and lord knows so does talking about race, and we are essentially crossing the streams here. Anyway, after the Ferguson grand jury verdict came down, I tried to spend the night just RTing black folks on Twitter. I felt pretty OK about this approach—borderline smug, to be honest, especially when I saw other white people being like “I’m just going to amplify black voices and not tweet” and I got to pat myself on the back for not announcing it. But I also saw people saying that white privilege means you have an obligation to speak up. I’m not sure how to figure out which is a better approach.

Rebecca Carroll: Whatever your actions as a white person in the current racial climate—a climate that is quickly escalating to a place of irreparable disrepair in terms of productive communication—there still exists a level of comfort, of self-satisfaction, of: I can afford to be smug because my life doesn’t depend on it. It leaves me with the same reaction I have when grown white people tell me they’re taking “baby steps” towards racial awareness.

That’s cool, you go ahead and take your baby steps—take your time. I’ll just keep hoping I don’t get dead. Great then! If you’re a baby, take those steps. If you’re a grown, adult white human living in America right now and you’re not there yet, take bigger steps.

Dear white people: your discomfort is progress. Keep talking about Ferguson—and beyond

8 December 2014


0330 by Jeff Hess

Oliver Burkeman adds

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