rambling ambitionramble

November 3, 2003

I've been navel-gazing lately, and I realized that one of my defining characteristics is "lack of big ambitions"--but figuring out the root of that, and what the implications are, has been a bit enlightening.

Spun one way, I think the "lack of ambition" comes from this tendency to not want to play when I think I'm unlikely to win (which isn't the same as its inverse) I don't even like setting goals unless I have a handle on what the risk factors are. This goes way back, come to think of it...I remember strongly objecting when my mom would suggest academic goals along the lines of "X number of A's, no more than Y B's". I'm much happier with an approach of putting in a good, honest effort and seeing where I end up. I have enough confidence in my abilities that I tend to assume I'll end up in a good position...and so far it seems to have worked out pretty well.

Another facet of this outlook, and I don't know if it's a cause or effect, is that I have an almost Zen-like (or maybe more properly "Taoist") materialistic acceptance of most situations I'm in. I sometimes attribute this to "moving around a lot when I was a kid", that I've learned to be content wherever I am...which isn't to say I can't judge my circumstances, or make adjustments and improvements, but I don't have aspirations to, say, a bigger house and a better car. I mean, I know I'd like to be wealthy, and achieve immortality through my work (or by not dying, like Woody Allen suggests,) but I think those are pretty long odds, and I don't want to get worked up worrying about them; I'd rather spend my time and energy and resources on the things I find important to me here and now: Mo, my websites, good books, programming, spending time with friends, playing games.

I dunno. Is everyone like that? How typical is this outlook?

On another, completely unrelated note: fractions. Lately I've been thinking how "1/2" doesn't sound like that much, exactly as much yes as no, but "2/3" sounds like a lot, a clear majority. But broken down into decimals, there's only a 16 or 17% difference between them, which sounds like practically nothing, statistical error almost. So something must be slightly broken in my intuition about fractions, or about decimals. Maybe 16.66666....% is more than I give it credit for. Maybe 2/3 isn't that much. I'm not sure.

Vietnam of the Moment
Number of U.S. troops who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq in the last two years : 354
Number who died in Vietnam in 1963 and 1964 : 324
--Harper's Index, October 2003. I remembered that little statistic this morning after reading a Salon piece on Oiling Up the Draft Machine (subscription or day pass required for the whole thing)--there aren't active draft plans yet, but they might be quietly gearing up so that it would be an easier thing to turn to if needed.

The funny thing is I've previously liked the idea of making young people do military service or volunteer work; though of course I formed that opinion in a different political environment, assuming it'd be more like Germany (where they have it but it would be political suicide to use it) and less like Russia (where they have, and used it, ala Afghanistan and Kashmir.) With these guys in office though...

Article of the Moment
Slate says Stop calling firefighters "heroes"--they're brave men with a dangerous job that helps our society...but it's a less dangerous job than many others (including pizza delivery) and the men (and women) aren't above emphasizing and getting perks from their heroic perception. (I know at WTC, there was some under-reported resentment at the treatment remains of fallen firefighters got, relative to other victims. And that's further complicated by the way a communication failure was responsible for a large number of the deaths.)