How the Modern World Made Cowards of Us All

BACK in the late 1980s, Dana Carvey of “Saturday Night Live” used to do a funny impression of President George H. W. Bush, in which the character would justify his own supposed timidity by muttering “wouldn’t be prudent” to himself about every small risk. The impression neatly captured the contemporary notion of prudence: faintheartedness, caution and a general bias against action.

So perhaps it seems odd that this is my advice for young people heading out of school and into the world: Be prudent.

Yes, it sounds boring, but it may turn out to be a more radical suggestion than most graduates hear.

I thought prudence was not my cup of tea. When I quit college to go on the road as a musician, I was being imprudent. When I quit music to go back to school in my 30s, it was imprudent. When I left a tenured professorship for an unsecure job? You guessed it — imprudent.

Then I had an epiphany. When I finally read the German philosopher Josef Pieper’s “The Four Cardinal Virtues,” which had sat unread on my shelf for years, I was shocked to learn that I didn’t hate prudence; what I hated was its current — and incorrect — definition.

The connotation of prudence as caution, or aversion to risk, is a modern invention. “Prudence” comes from the Latin “prudentia,” meaning sagacity or expertise. The earliest English uses from the 14th century had little to do with fearfulness or habitual reluctance. Rather, it signified righteous decision making that is rooted in acuity and practical wisdom.

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Mr. Pieper argued that we have bastardized this classical concept. We have refashioned prudence into an excuse for cowardice, hiding behind the language of virtue to avoid what he calls “the embarrassing situation of having to be brave.” The correct definition, Mr. Pieper argued, is the willingness to do the right thing, even if that involves fear and risk.

In other words, to be rash is only one breach of true prudence. It is also a breach to be timid. So which offense is more common today?

A new study by the University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt helps answer this question. He started with the premise that people who agonize over important choices may systematically make wrong decisions, defaulting to either “yes” or “no” with too much regularity. To investigate, Mr. Levitt found several thousand people in the throes of a difficult decision, weighing choices like job offers and marriage proposals, who volunteered to let him make the decision for them — with the flip of a coin.

Heads meant to decide in the affirmative; tails meant to decline. (Let it sink in that thousands of people agreed to have their most important decisions made by a stranger — worse, an economist — flipping a coin.) When given heads, Mr. Levitt found people were much more likely to take the decision affirmatively than they would be if left to their devices, so the experiment was effective.


Plywood: The underrated material that shaped our modern world

From its humble beginnings, plywood has risen to become one of the design world's favorite materials. Patkau Architects used it to create these Winnipeg ice skating shelters in 2012.

London (CNN)Christopher Wilk, curator of a new exhibition dedicated to the eclectic history of plywood at the London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, is singing the material’s praises.

“It really is strong and stable,” he says, stood under a plywood airplane that hangs from the ceiling.
He layers thin cross-grained veneers of wood with the palm of his hands: “Each layer of the sandwich is in a perpendicular direction. Wood splits along the grain. This can’t split.”
From curvy chairs to Victorian sideboards, and prewar planes to prefab houses, there seems to be no limit to plywood’s versatility, flexibility and strength. This exhibition, “Plywood: Material of the Modern World,” aims to bring the underrated material to prominence once and for all — and reverse some institutionalized snobbery at the same time.
Recycling never looked so good: Luxury-quality materials made from waste

Recycling never looked so good: Luxury-quality materials made from waste
While the plywood technique goes back millennia (fragments of layered board have been found in Egyptian tombs) it was the Victorians who shaped our perceptions of the material today. Mass manufacturing and new production techniques in the mid-19th century meant plywood was ubiquitous, especially in furniture manufacturing. But with plywood’s popularity came, as you would expect of the class-obsessed Victorians, a snooty disregard for it.
Read: Why wooden skyscrapers are springing up across the world
“Because it became cheaper to make because of the rotary veneer cutter — a lathe that essentially peels away timber in rings — it started to be used on cheap furniture,” says Wilk. “(The wood) would peel off and therefore got a bad reputation.”
Soon the term “veneer” became a condescending buzzword in parts of society far beyond furniture. Charles Dickens called the nouveau riche social climbers in his final novel, “Our Mutual Friend,” Mr. and Mrs. Veneering; and, according to Wilk, the most-used phrase in The Times in the 19th century was the “veneer of civilization.”
“I soon realized this is a rich story of cultural prejudice,” the curator says of his research.
"Plywood: Material of the Modern World" at London's Victoria and Albert Museum

The word plywood was first used around 1906 and, as the 20th century came to life, perceptions of the material slowly changed. A growing number of manufacturers began to rethink the possibilities of this light, inexpensive and easily moldable material, especially in aviation.
Geoffrey de Havilland created the Mosquito plane out of plywood in the early 1940s. It was one of the fastest, highest-flying aircrafts in the Second World War.
“It was a fraction of the weight of the Lancaster bomber and was faster than a Spitfire,” says Wilk.
Transportation has done well out of plywood ever since: everything from canoes to racing cars to surfboards to skateboards.
World's top designers reinvent the classic park bench

World’s top designers reinvent the classic park bench
Plywood’s ability to be shaped obligingly is also what enticed modern furniture designers, including Marcel Breuer, Robin Day, Sori Yanagi and Charles and Ray Eames, to experiment so enthusiastically with it in the inter- and postwar periods.
Read: Inside the V&A museum’s stunning $70M revamp
While plywood became successful in the furniture industry because of its superficial nature, its unique structural qualities now mean it is most popular in the construction industry. Mid-rises everywhere from Vancouver and London use cross-laminated timber instead of steel for support, and the number of both floors and buildings the material supports is growing as technology develops.
Despite this, some of those latent Victorian concerns remain.
I was walking past a furniture shop one day and there was a sign saying, ‘100% solid, 0% veneer!'” says Wilk. “I thought, wow, it’s still going on today!”
“Plywood: Material of the Modern World” is on at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London from July 15 to Nov. 12, 2017.

Will law should be brought into ‘modern world’

A will document

The law around wills should be updated and brought into the “modern world”, the Law Commission for England and Wales has said.

The current rules were “unclear” and could be putting people off from making a will, it added.

It is considering whether texts, emails and other electronic communications should be recognised as a valid will in exceptional circumstances.

The commission has launched a consultation on the proposals.


Currently, for a will to be legally valid it must be voluntarily written by someone who is 18 or over and of sound mind and be signed in front of two witnesses who are also both over 18 and must also both sign the will in your presence.

But the commission wants to change the existing formality rules where the will-maker has made clear their intentions in another form.

It gives the example where a car crash victim has not made a formal will but has expressed their intentions in electronic or other messages, such as a text or email.

The family could then apply to a court to have those communications recognised as a formal will.

These messages could only then be recognised as a will if a judge approved.

What happens if there is no will?

  • If someone dies without a will, rules dictate how their money, property or possessions should be allocated, and potentially not in the way the deceased would have wished
  • Unmarried partners and partners who have not registered a civil partnership cannot inherit from each other unless there is a will
  • If there are no surviving relatives who can inherit under the rules of intestacy, the estate passes to the Crown
  • Specific rules can vary across the United Kingdom

Source: Citizens Advice

The Law Commission acknowledged the proposals on electronic communications could cause family arguments or worse.

It said the plans could provide a “treasure trove for dissatisfied relatives” and lead to a “variety of avenues by which probate could become both expensive and contentious”.

But it said on balance it believed they should be recognised by the courts, noting that 40% of people currently die without making a will.

Law Commissioner, Professor Nick Hopkins, said making a will should be “straightforward” but the law was “unclear and outdated”.

“Even when it’s obvious what someone wanted, if they haven’t followed the strict rules, courts can’t act on it.

“And conditions which affect decision-making – like dementia – aren’t properly accounted for in the law.

“That’s not right and we want an overhaul to bring the law into the modern world.

“Our provisional proposals will not only clarify things legally, but will also help to give greater effect to people’s last wishes.”



Decline of honesty in modern world

Story image for Modern from Press TV

It is said that honesty is the best policy. Sadly, People nowadays have become less honest with each other than in the past, which makes living these days harder.

Our serious problem today is not simply that many people routinely tell lies. It’s just that people have departed from the truth for one reason or another.
In this Episode of Press Plus, we will be focusing mainly on the decline of honesty in modern world.