It has been almost a month since I wrote a post but I’ve been saving up so I’ve got lots to write about. *smile* 

I have been doing 1.5 hrs of yin yoga now for over 1.5 yrs and this last month I realized one benefit. The damage I did to my Achilles tendon while in D&E has fully healed because of the regular, gentle stretching I’ve been doing to it. I added a kneeling toe stretch to my yoga flow partly to work out my Achilles tendon and partly to avoid plantar fasciitis and it seems to have helped on both counts. I can’t even tell if it was my left or right tendon that I injured. *cheer*

In the past month web finally received the phone tablets which in theory allows us to make calls from or cells rather than the noisy dayroom. I say in theory because in practice they haven’t installed wi-fi routers with stong enough signal to penetrate the cinderblock and rebar walls. If I sit on my bunk to make a call the connection is unstable at best and drops randomly during the calls. I have discovered that if I sit just inside my cell door and put the tablet on top of this inch wide ledge over the lock mechanism then I can get good enough signal to make a call but I have to be careful that Jeff, my cellie, doesn’t come barging in and hit me with the door. Even though I’m in my cell rather than the dayroom the mic in the ear bud cord picks up a lot of the noise so those I call have complained about the background noise. We were just given better ear buds and that seems to have improved the audio quality for those I call. Slowly the phone call situation is improving but the biggest difference is that I now get up to 1 hr a day of call time (as we don’t all have to wait to use to dayroom phones). I very rarely use the full hour but it now means that a conversation with someone can end naturally rather than being rushed and cut off mid-thought. Plus, McK has me calling him daily just to say hi. Overall, the new phone tablets are a huge improvement. *smile*

Before we got the new ear buds with the better mic I was considering requesting a move out of F gallery because it is the noisiest gallery in housing unit 1. While I was at the Defy class I asked a guy who had been on all the galleries (John or Chino, even though he’s Vietnamese Ha!) which was the quietest gallery to live on. One of the guys from F gallery that is also in Defy, Danny, was sitting next to Chino when I asked so he overheard. Now, Danny and I get along great. I’ve taught him some origami patterns that he’s made for his son and he’s one of the guys who would make sure that anyone who hit me paid for it. So he was very disappointed that I was thinking of moving to another gallery and he even semi-jokingly wouldn’t talk to me for a while. His reaction seemed a bit extreme to me at first but he made a comment about me leaving like everyone else, and I know that he grew up without his dad which leads me to the conclusion that he sort of sees me as a father figure and was feeling abandoned again. He didn’t see, and refused to hear, that I was only considering it because I wanted better communication with my friends and family and I thought he was over-reacting. It just goes to show you may not always understand how people feel and what they think so you need to be careful of others’ feelings and thoughts…especially in here.

At the final Toastmasters meeting last month we handed out our first quarterly newsletter, which was only a month late. *chuckle* Even though we weren’t allowed to use the computer lab to produce the newsletter it turned out really well mostly due to the typing skills of McKensey. He managed to manually format layout the columns even on a typewriter. He showed very impressive skill. We wrote all the articles but I was particularly impressed with the energy of our Member Spotlight column which was written by Alan. Within minutes of my arrival here at TSCI’s HU1 F Gallery Alan came up to me and said if I was I cop I had to roll it up. He is a bigger, younger guy who grew up being a bully and he had continued that role in prison. However, he had a health scare that made him rethink his life-style choices (drug use, gang involvement and bullying) and he has started to try to change. He’s now one of the more enthusiastically engaged Toastmasters members so I asked him to write a piece about why he joined TM. He was proud to be asked and invested the article with his characteristic appeal. I think it may reach other guys in here that wouldn’t normally think of joining TM. In addition to encouraging him I was hoping an article from him might appeal to others who hadn’t considered joining. A 2-for-1. *smile*

Alan is also in the Defy class though he has sort of stopped participating, not because of the content but because he’s paroling before graduation. Unfortunately, that sort of indicates that he may not be as transformed as he would like to be otherwise he would be trying to take as much advantage of the class as possible before he paroles. Oh well. We are now into the more serious business planning in Defy. We’re calculating COGS (Cost Of Goods Sold), figuring our contribution margin, etc. I’m liking the more technical exercises but they still throw in random self-betterment chapters like Making Good Appologies. *sigh* I did kind of enjoy the exercise in the last book where we had to write our own eulogy, assuming we had lived to at least 75 and had succeeded in our major life goals. Some guys were superstitious and wouldn’t write their own eulogy for fear of tempting fate I guess…even though it presumed you lived to at least 75 and were a success. I enjoyed it, though I did overlook my (by then) decades of practicing taiji. I was focused on writing for a Defy audience I guess.

We are wrapping up the 3rd book, out of 4, in Defy so there’s a bit of a break in the work. I’ve been taking advantage of the time to catch up on my stack of magazines that have been piling up. The one that absolutely required my immediate attention was June’s issue of Reason, a Libertarian magazine. Colin’s parents had offered to give me a subscription so I accepted their generous offer figuring it might balance out with the New Yorker subscription that my mom sends me. *chuckle* Well, June’s issue of Reason is labeled “burn after reading” because much of the content is definitely unconventional. The editor’s opening article explains how they have had multiple fights with several state correctional systems because they’ve been banned but not here in NE at least. But this issue might have made them think twice. One article is an actual recipe for prison hooch. Mind you, anyone making that in here already knows what to use but that would definitely raise the hackles of many censors. They also had an article on how to raise shrooms (the hallucinogenic kind) from ordering the spores legally online to (illegally) growing them. And being Libertarians there was also an article on how to build your own gun without a serial number from parts ordered online (perfectly legal, but not for a felon). They mentioned some other publications that were highly controversial with corrections systems like Prison Legal News and Don Diva, “the Wall Street Journal of gangsta lore.” I might just have to look into a subscription to one or both of those. *devilish grin*

On the TV front, most of the shows I was watching have ended their season, like Atlanta and Legion. However, 2 shows just started that I wanted to check out: Pose and Dietland. I knew McK would be watching Pose because it’s about the drag/trans/gay scene in NYC in the mid 80s. It’s kind of a prequel to Ru Pauls Dragshow I guess. LOL! I watch the premier last Sunday and it was everything I expected. Very gay, draggy and catty but I knew the outcome of the episode almost before it started. It’s a peek into an American subculture, so that makes it interesting, but it’s not all that well acted or written. Dietland, on the other hand, is not predictable at all and it is exceedingly well written and acted. How to summarize it? I like to think of it as Fight Club for feminists. Hahaha! I will keep watching both. Pose can only improve and I hope Dietland doesn’t disappoint.

Over all I think this is a pretty weak post but here’s the deep thought for this entry: Which is more important as human beings, our individuality or our collectivity? This dialectic has been smoldering in the back of my brain for months, surfacing whenever I get a new issue of Reason or watch a PBS show about human advances. Actually, the issue goes back to Obama’s comment that “you didn’t build that” and my reading Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead by Ayn Rand while in San Quentin. What degree of merit are we owed for our accomplishments? Rand, Reason, and a fundamental premise of Western society state that we must respect individuality and individual accomplishment. The US doesn’t have the collective culture of Japan or China where the individual should acquiesce to the group’s desires and needs. We sing the praises of great individuals and their accomplishments from the arts (Michael Angelo, Mozart, Shakespeare, etc) to science (Tesla, Einstein, Hawking) to philosophy (Socrates, Confucius, Mills) to business (Rockefeller, Jobs, Buffet). We admire them and acknowledge their contributions to humanities progress. They are examples of what we each could be and could achieve and the very act of society admiring them motivates others to strive harder. That is the foundation of Western individualism, respect for individuals’ accomplishments will encourage other individuals to accomplish great things. Reward success and more people will try to succeed.

However, this view can blind us to or cause us to out-right ignore our reliance on the collective. Not one great individual in history would have ever succeeded at what he or she did without building on all the advances humanity had made collectively. For example, none of the previous epitomies of human accomplishment would have been possible if humanity as a whole had not moved from individual hunter/gatherers to collective farming. Without someone else to grow, harvest and prepare his food Socrates would not have been able to lay he foundations of Western Philosophy and Science. That’s not even mentioning those whose ideas he immediately built on, without which he likely wouldn’t have been able to be such a great thinker. Obama said “you didn’t build that” and by that he meant the infrastructure that every business relies on, the roads, electrical grid, communications network, security (police and fire departments), etc. But the reliance on “others” is even greater than just shared (and usually governmentally provided) infrastructure. Every “success” builds on previous lesser advances that others made. Every “success” could only spend their time being a success because they weren’t having to hunt and gather food for their sustenance. The only reason that humanity is as advanced as we are today is because we cooperate. Cities are the hubs of innovation and business because proximity increases the easy of cooperation. Collective effort can accomplish things that no individual, no matter how gifted, could ever achieve. If it weren’t for the specialization of effort that humans do (someone farms, someone else transports goods, and another person prepares the food for example) then modern society wouldn’t even be possible, and no artist, scientist, philosopher or businessman would be able to practice their trade let along excel at it.

In the big picture I think it is absolutely clear that humanity’s collective accomplishments easily outweigh individuals’ contributions. Unfortunately, we don’t even recognize the collective achievements of humanity. They are like background noise that is tuned out. No matter how skilled a musician is they can’t perform a symphony alone.