I am still here

I have been having a rather rough time lately. I write from my heart and my heart has been broken.

Today, 16 August 2014, is the fourth anniversary of my first my first date with Lieve. It was the evening, and remainder of the date, that changed my life. I was struggling for meaning, and I found someone who believed in me. We connected on every level.

In a few weeks she leaves for Belgium. We had planned to go together, but she changed her mind and decided to “take a break,” so I will be staying behind, wondering how long her break will be. I remain hopeful, but there is reason to believe she will not be coming back, at least not to be husband and wife.

I’ve been to seek counseling, have seen psychologists and psychiatrists, have started taking anti-depressants again and stopped crying. Better living through chemistry.

I’ll be writing again, maybe once a week at first to share my insights and experiences. I’ve started a real job, working for Amazon, it’s rather interesting if not terribly challenging. I’ll have a roommate, a Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology from Iran, which promises to produce some interesting conversations, and maybe some new recipes.

So just taking the moment, an anniversary of when I started living again, to let you all know I’m still alive and will be around more.

Oh, and I saw Sharon again…

And I cut my hair.

Hurt

I like this video for a number of reasons. It’s hard not to be a fan of a family member, and one tied so close by genetics creates a special bond. When I watched this video for the first time, after getting over the shock of Johnny covering a Nine Inch Nails track, I was taken by the resemblance to my father. Over the years people have commented that he looks like Johnny, but I would always have a classic image of each of them in my mind and didn’t see the resemblance. The video, containing images through the years, was like paging through a family album, and I watched my father age before my eyes.

Then there’s the lyrics. I had a friend once who identified me through the last line of the first stanza. It’s true, “But I remember everything”. Johnny’s delivery of that line illustrates the pain of remembrance, There is so much I wish I could forget. Not just the horrible things, but also some of the happy things that are now out of sync with reality. The joy and love of someone you cared for who later betrayed you is better forgotten, it just makes the betrayal sting more.

At this point in my life, I feel a great deal of hurt. I have given everything, all of myself in every measure. There is nothing left but the pain. My friends have died or moved on , my children have discarded me, the love of my life has died, and the person I placed my trust and love into has decided there is nothing she needs from me anymore. I was feeling I couldn’t fix anything after Emma died, and then I found this unhappy person and thought I might be able to fix her, But there is nothing that I can do other than leave.

I feel that nothing I have done has made a difference. That’s just depression, I know the changes I have made, the lives that I have touched, even the growth within myself. None of that means anything to me right now, there is one thing that makes living bearable, and that has been taken away. If I had lost Emma twenty years ago, maybe I would believe that I could start over one more time. Instead I can just be thankful for these last four years and the good times within them, bonus years I didn’t really deserve.

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that’s real
The needle tears a hole
The old familiar sting
Try to kill it all away
But I remember everything

[Chorus:]
What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

I wear this crown of thorns
Upon my liar’s chair
Full of broken thoughts
I cannot repair
Beneath the stains of time
The feelings disappear
You are someone else
I am still right here

[Chorus:]
What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know goes away
In the end
And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt

If I could start again
A million miles away
I would keep myself
I would find a way

In my entire life, I have been in love twice, and I know that I have been loved at least once. That’s enough. So that’s it. Last post, thanks for reading.

Football

10462508_654585021292121_6882629728458175698_n

 

It’s football time again. No not that pointy ended American football, the round type we call soccer and the entire rest of the world calls football, because the primary way of interacting with the ball is with your foot. Being one of those guys who usually identifies sports by the equipment, the difference between Football and  Voetbal seemed obvious to me.

Voetbal hasn’t caught on much in America. We call it Soccer, and while we do have a league of teams that draw more fans than the entire populations of other World Cup nations, it suffers from being associated with political correctness. Soccer was popular with the political correctness movement in the 90s, because games often ended in a draw, and “everybody won.” Not enough people were good at the game, so there was the equality of mediocrity. Individual merit won out in the end, “winning” could not lose its appeal in a nation built on competition.

American football is a brutal sport, analogous to war. Each play has a defined beginning and ending, every movement designed to move the ball from one end of the field in a straight line to the other end. This might explain why America has done so poorly in wars during the last half of the twentieth century. The path to victory is rarely a straight line.

American football is the source of injuries on a routine basis, but studies are indicating that head butting a soccer ball does as much damage as head butting another player. Both teams have eleven players, but the dimensions of a soccer field are more flexible than an American football field, FIFA rules allow a length between 90 and 120 meters (100 to 130 yards) and a width of 45 to 90 meters (50 to 100 yards). Were it me, I would train on a larger field to improve endurance. Just sayin, England

Fans (derived from the word “fanatic”) are probably similar everywhere, my limited experience with fans of American football turned my lack of interest in the game even more sour. There is a rivalry between Philadelphia (The Eagles) and Dallas (The Cowboys), but my disinterest in the sport prevented me from noticing when I first moved to Philadelphia. Over the years I picked up on it, another Philly thing, hatred taking the place of jealousy over the Cowboys’ winning record. One afternoon my companions’ son was watching a football game (I was cooking) and I heard him cheering. I asked if the Eagles had scored, and he said no, a player for the Cowboys had broken his leg. The Eagles were not even playing the Cowboys, he had seen the news on the ticker across the bottom of the screen, and it evoked more joy than his own team scoring a goal. I can not fathom that level of being a fan.

Emma, having been born in Philadelphia, was a natural fan of the Eagles, but on the odd instances we watched a Cowboys game that did not include the Eagles, she would cheer the Cowboys. Most of our friends knew our origins, and also knew my lack of interest in sports, but on the days the Eagles played the Cowboys they acknowledged the difficulties (which did not exist) in our household.

A survey by the New York Times showed an interesting aspect of football fans. Of the nineteen countries surveyed, sixteen (84%) thought Brazil would win. Americans thought America would win, displaying not only American nationalism, but also a lack of understanding of the game and our place in it. We also display our level of self loathing, as America is the team most Americans will be rooting against (actually a very tight race there, with only 5% against America being the highest total of nineteen possibilities).

All of these issues culminate this afternoon, as Belgium and America face each other in the World Cup. With sixteen teams left, it was a surprise America could make it this far, and a twist of fate they would be playing against Lieve’s home country. Not that either of us are vested in football (futbal, voetbal, soccer…), but we will likely go out and watch the game. Americans are not terribly interested (and will lose all interest if the American team loses), so there is a good chance we won’t be the only ones cheering the Belgian team.

Our biggest challenge is finding a bar that will have the game on with a good selection of Belgian beers…

Zot! made in Brugge, displayed as a Belgian flag

Zot! made in Brugge, displayed as a Belgian flag

 

Not One More

This one is a little tough to write. I’ve given a great amount of thought to whether or not I should even publish these thoughts, as of late I have seen such polarized thinking I have considered giving up any hopes of changing minds altogether.

You are doubtless aware of the killings in Isla Vista, a student community of Santa Barbara California. An incredibly disturbed young man stabbed his two roommates and a visitor to death,  then he drove to a sorority house (which refused to allow him entry) where a few women who had refused his advances lived. Stopped by a locked door, he shot three women across the street, killing two. He then drove to a convenience store, firing multiple rounds inside the store, striking one man multiple times lethally. Sheriffs showed up at the store and the young man fled before they could determine he was the actor. He drove about on the wrong side of the road, running down bicyclists and pedestrians,  firing at and missing at least three people before encountering a sheriff with whom he exchanged fire. He then ran down a bicyclist, and fired into a crowd injuring three people. He shot one more person before a group of sheriffs caught up with him. They fired several shots into his vehicle as he sped off. He struck one more bicyclist before crashing into some parked vehicles. When the sheriffs removed him from his car he was dead of an apparent self inflicted wound.

That is what happened. Six dead, thirteen injured. Half of the dead killed by stab wounds, some of the injured assaulted with a motor vehicle. Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown summed it up at a news conference hours after the incident “I think the problem with an incident like this is it is obviously the work of a madman.”

Comments from those who knew the killer ranged from “It wasn’t a surprise, I wish I could have done something to stop it,” to “There was nothing I could have done, he was a troubled kid.” His parents were devastated, joining with the families of the victims in their grief. While they had been quite aware of his issues, they were unaware of the depth of his illness. Authorities had seen “warning signs,” but he failed to meet the criteria for involuntary institutionalization.

Why do I speak of this subject on a Sunday?

You are likely aware of the story of Cain and Abel, children of Adam and Eve. A jealous Cain kills Abel, and when asked where Abel was by God in Genesis 4:9 Cain replies “I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?

Cain was punished, exiled to the land of Nod, but he was not killed, in fact God protected him saying in Genesis 4:15  “Therefore whosoever slayeth Cain, vengeance shall be taken on him sevenfold.” Cain went on with his wife and procreated, founding the village of Enoch.

We are our brother’s keeper. It is natural for a parent to fail to see the sociopath child, I suspect every heinous villain in history has had his mother say “boys will be boys” about aggressive behavior. The rest of us do not have the excuse of parental ignorance. There is something we can do, and saying “I wish I could have done something” is perhaps the most pathetic of all statements. This young man was not an insane Norse warrior killing everything in his path. He was stopped by a locked door. He ran from confrontation. All that was required, all that was ever required, was for someone to stand up to him.

One victim’s father has made an effort to assign blame and responsibility. I understand his grief, and make allowances for his judgement. Elliot Rodger was a severely disturbed young man, multiple psychiatrists have stated so, everyone who had contact with him, even his parents, concur. The NRA and/or “greedy politicians” were not responsible for this young man’s actions, they did not place the knives, guns, and car keys in his hands. Sending postcards saying “Not One More” has not stopped the several hundred homicides that have taken place in the intervening month. Expecting “someone else” to solve the problem will only result in more victims.

“There was nothing I could’ve done,” the neighbor said. “Maybe I could’ve postponed it, but he was a troubled kid.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf
I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpufI think the problem with an incident like this is it is obviously the work of a madman.”
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf

Jesus repeatedly told us to love one another. He did not say “hope things work out” or “wish for the best” or “wait for someone to do something.” He called us to action, the simplest action, the easiest action. Love. Love can be defined in many ways, but what is more simple than helping the injured soul? Action for young Elliot would have prevented his suffering, the suffering of his victims, and the suffering of his victims’ families. It was obviously not an easy choice, his parents could not bring themselves to it, the authorities required a more clear and present danger, but everyone knew he needed help. No one felt they were his keeper. For some reason it is more appealing to chase the evil giants than to deal with issues on a personal level. One approach works, the other never will.

Elliot Rodger was our brother. George Chen, Cheng Yuan “James” Hong, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, and Weihan “David” Wang, were our brothers, Katherine Breann Cooper and Veronika Elizabeth Weiss were our sisters. The thirteen injured physically, and the thousands injured emotionally are our brothers and sisters. By failing Elliot, we failed all of them.

All it takes is a word or two, and enough love to intervene.

 

 

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown at a late-night press conference a few hours after the incident. “But I think the problem with an incident like this is it’s obviously the work of a madman.” – See more at: http://thebottomline.as.ucsb.edu/2014/05/isla-vista-mass-murder-claims-lives-of-6-ucsb-students-13-injured#sthash.40rlGjCt.dpuf

Grey

If I say “black,” you know what I mean. If I say “white,” the same applies. If I say “grey,” there is a range of colors I may be referring to.

target-grey

I am an open minded person, always willing to hear new points of view and independent thought. I’ve run out of patience for people who parrot a point of view they do not even understand, people who can not produce an independent thought because they have not had a thought of their own in quite some time. This is the downside of the internet, people just repeating without understanding. The darker edge is people who repeat knowing the story is factually incorrect, but also knowing it is “believable,” in other words, no one will bother to check the facts. With their fingers on a computer, looking at the monitor, no one will check the facts.

Nowhere is this more evident than in American politics. With all our talk about freedom and free-thinking, outside of the two major political parties is a small fringe of groups too small to be significant in any way. Americans know that if they want to vote for a winning candidate, it will have to be a Democrat or Republican.

Take a breath. Why do people want to vote for a winning candidate? I don’t mean “Why would they want their candidate to win?”, I mean “Why is winning more important than representing?”. Isn’t the concept of democratic elections supposed to be finding a representative of your point of view? Voting used to be about expressing your opinion, but increasingly the winning side seems to believe the losing side no longer matters. That’s a baby step away from believing the voters don’t matter regardless of their vote, what is often referred to as a dictatorship. It’s not supposed to be all or nothing, don’t make it that way.

So in a country of three hundred eleven million people, there are only two opinions, and one of them is wrong. I can not be the only person who sees a flaw in that concept.

As the ability to see grey has diminished, the idea that all members of a political movement are exactly the same has flourished. No one thinks they are stupid, so the members of the other party must be stupid. Every last one of them. Why else would they have voted for that moronic candidate? They are not only stupid, they are vengeful, they hate my candidate and my way of life. They must be destroyed.

Facing a perceived life or death struggle, the truth takes the back seat, and then jumps out the window. Fair and open debate is unnecessary, in fact impossible, when your opposite is a stupid hateful sub-human.

You’re nodding your head. You know people like that. Them.

It is us. All of us. If we do not engage in honest debate we are no better than anyone else. That is where I have drawn my line. Honest debate. I have a few fewer friends now, because I went through my list and removed the people who have chosen to repeatedly advance an argument they know to be false. Three liberals and one conservative, but it could easily have broken the other way, those are just the voices I tired of today.

The topics vary, but the opinions congregate at the poles. Global warming, gun control, the middle east, religion, sexual preferences, even the frequency of A4 on the musical scale. Yeah, there are groups who believe there is a conspiracy to remove humans from nature because the standard tuning is A4=440hz. All I’m going to say is (1) when anyone tells you there is a conspiracy, and it includes the 1829 Paris Opera and Hermann Goebbels, they have lost their minds. (2) Hertz is an arbitrary measurement, there is nothing inherently natural about any frequency. (3) Music is subjective, there is no objective measurement of good or bad sounds.

A gun rights group circulated a photograph of a modified AR-15, with a collapsible stock,  a barrel under fourteen inches including the suppressor, and a select fire switch set to “auto,” with the question “should you have to obtain a permit to own this?” Well yes, in line with the National Firearms Act of 1934, there are at least three prohibited features, but the responses ranged from “No” to “Hell no, never, kill the gun  grabbers.” Goodbye group, you do not reflect my opinion.

Sometimes it is just the blood lust, the desire to fight, that drives those wannabe extremists. One ex friend, a sweet, peaceful person, saw a government conspiracy in every dark corner. It didn’t matter which government, who ever was in charge was evil. An ice skater couldn’t keep up with her spins as Egypt changed hands three times last year. Cheering on anyone who would protest from her comfy dorm room, I never once saw her suggest compromise, no matter how much blood was spilled. That blood was on the hands of “the brutal oppressors,” but those same oppressors were the oppressed last week, and may again be oppressed next week.

Some of it is the anonymity of the internet. People who would never think of throwing insults with every breath face to face have no problem attacking the morals, families, or private lives of strangers on the internet.

I won’t do it. I will not be drawn in to dishonest conversations. I will not bang my head against the wall with someone who refuses to acknowledge the merits of a conflicting opinion (not agree with it, just acknowledge its merits). I will not associate with people who agree with my point of view, but engage in such tactics. I can not win an argument in which I lose my soul, no opinion is worth discarding your core principles.

There are some issues that are black and white, and I do have a few. This does not mean I can not have a friendly conversation about them, but if you do not share my point of view, I will not insult you, and I expect the same of my friends.

 

 

Chemistry

kblakecash:

In honor of my father the chemist, I am reblogging this article from last year for Father’s Day.

Originally posted on KBlakeCash:

I have this widget on my desktop, from Snapple. Every day it pops up with a new piece of trivia. Most days it leads to a search to authenticate the “fun fact”.

The other day was “Baking Soda makes a great scouring cleanser, and it’s naturally chemical free”.

Didn’t need to check this one. Sodium hydrogen carbonate (NaHCO3) is a chemical. Baking soda is free of any other ingredients.

Not that there could be any additives that would dilute the amount of chemicals in the product, Everything consists of chemicals, A newborn human consists of chemicals, about ninety nine percent of which are oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. About 0.85% is composed of another five elements, potassium, sulfur, sodium, chlorine, and magnesium. The remaining 0.15 percent are trace elements, most of which are easily recognizable as lethal, too much or too little of anything is dangerous.

Chemical makeup of humans Chemical makeup…

View original 396 more words

Gun Rights and Wrongs

I am a strong supporter of the second amendment to the United States Constitution.

That does not mean I believe it is every American’s birthright to carry an AR-15 through the shopping mall.

Our right to bear arms has nothing to do with self protection, there are plenty of ways to fend off an armed attacker which do not endanger the lives of innocent bystanders. Our right to bear arms has nothing to do with hunting. Most gun owners would not have a clue about how to kill an animal, or what to do with a dead animal. Our right to bear arms has nothing to do with fending off foreign invaders, unlike Switzerland, although there are lessons to learn from the Swiss. Our right to bear arms is about our founding father’s distrust of government. In case of a tyrannical government the second amendment provides the ultimate “check” in our system of checks and balances. This is why I support the second amendment, and am instinctively distrustful of anyone who speaks about repealing it.

America is a big country, with cities more populated than some nations. A lunatic fringe of three percent would give us more crazy people than the population of Belarus or one hundred ten other countries. Nine and a half million crazy people can do a lot of damage, but they are a fringe, representing no mainstream group. It is no more accurate to judge the entire gun rights movement with the actions of a few crazy people (armed with big scary high powered weapons) than it is to judge scientists by the actions of Al Gore (armed with big scary high powered publicists). In addition to the lunatic fringe, there is the other fifty percent (or more) of the population that lacks the intelligence to understand the issue of gun rights. This group is spread evenly between pro gun rights and anti gun rights groups.

I saw an interview with a woman following a demonstration by the “Open Carry Texas” group. Open Carry Texas members carry long guns, usually “assault rifles,” in public. The woman said “I don’t know if the person with a gun knows how to use it.” I know. They don’t. There is no reason to carry a long gun for self defense. By applying the wrong tool to the task, you are demonstrating that you do not understand the tool and/or the task, so no, you do not know how to use the rifle. You are a danger to others. Using the incorrect interpretation of the “Stand your ground” laws that is prevalent, I would have reasonable fear that you are a danger to my life and would be entitled to use lethal measures to remove you as a threat.

Back to Switzerland. With a population of under eight million and a mandate for gun ownership, they possess 45 guns per 100 people compared with America’s 88 guns per 100 people. In Switzerland firearms training is mandatory. So while in America the rate of homicide by firearm is 2.97 of every 100,000 people, in Switzerland that rate is 0.77 of every 100,000 people. Now factor in that the rate of homicide by firearm is slightly higher in Switzerland (72%) than in America (60%) and you see the problem is not firearms, it is violence in general. We have forty times their population, and one hundred sixty times their homicides by firearms, while we have fewer homicides by firearms as a percentage of total homicides.

Homicide Rates in Switzerland and United States per 100,000

Homicide Rates in Switzerland and United States per 100,000

 

We are a violent society. Ending gun violence might cut our homicide rate in half, but I am not sure a murder victim cares how they are murdered.

Perhaps if we were to teach respect for human life, our homicide rate could drop by half without infringing on a basic constitutional right. Perhaps if we were to infringe on that right in ways other than banning weapons, ways that would remove weapons from violent or unstable people, we could reduce our homicide by firearm rate by seventy five percent. If we did both of these things, it would appear we could reduce our overall homicide rate to fall in line with the level of “Civilized” we wish to project.

Contrary to the rhetoric, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is not a good guy with a gun. All it takes is a good guy (or girl). If we would arm our children with confidence and self defense tactics, they would be less likely to be victims of violence, and more likely to be able to end violence.

Or we could just argue about things we cannot change, and keep killing each other.

 

 

 

Control

As a young person I accepted the common opinion I was a master of the universe. Not only could I do anything I wanted, I could do it well. I loved the stress that crushed other people, stress was like amphetamines for me, it made me sharper and more focused.

As the story goes, “Speed Kills.” I’ve lost my taste for stress. I’ve become a softer, more gentle person. Sometimes I miss the razor’s edge, but the benefits of slowing down and accepting my place in the universe more than balance the loss.

relax_nothing-is-under-control

 

When Emma was ill, I recognized that my ability to bend reality to my desires was an illusion. I took some solace in not being responsible for everyone’s happiness, I never believed I was a God, but when I could not repair the person I cared most about I suddenly felt as if I could repair nothing. For a while I could not, but that was just the depression talking.

Accepting that we have no real control is not easy. We think we make decisions, but in reality our best laid plans are as effective as a pinball choosing its own course. The difference is that a pinball does not regret its path. It bounces from bumper to bumper without a care. We beat ourselves up, knowing that if we had not stopped for coffee we would have not been on the road when the dog ran across in front of us. The point is, we didn’t know the dog existed when we stopped for coffee, we were happy that we were running early and could still get to work on time.

We do the best we can with the information we have, with the person that we happen to be, at the point in time we make the decision. I recently listened to an audiobook, “Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division,” written and read by Peter Hook, the bass player for Joy Division. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, Joy Division was a rock band from Manchester England. Ian Curtis, the lead singer, was a brilliant artist, who happened to have epilepsy along with the other pressures of being a brilliant artist. On the eve of their American tour, Ian committed suicide. There are many reasons Ian may have had to commit suicide, but the fact is he did it on his own. It really can not be blamed on any other person, but there are several people who feel guilty about it. You can hear in Peter’s voice the questions that are still rolling around in his mind, several times he says “We should have done this differently.” But he was not the fifty eight year old man he is now when those decisions were being made. He was a twenty four year old kid on the brink of rock stardom. In one well reasoned passage, he ponders how touring America would have affected Ian, concluding that they were all doing what they were supposed to be doing as talented performers in the creative experience. They weren’t doctors or psychologists, they were band mates holding each other together.

There is a line in the song “Held In The Arms Of Your Words” by the band Tired Pony, “every mistake that we’ve made is at peace cause it lead us both here” which describes how I have come to look at the past. Should I have married my first wife? If I hadn’t, three beautiful human beings would not have been born, if I wouldn’t have followed her back to the Pennsylvania where she dumped me with nothing, I wouldn’t have been in Bloomsburg where my second wife happened to be spending the summer, and followed her back to Philadelphia, and my youngest child would never have been born. Not being in Philadelphia I would have never met Emma, and that journey led me to where I am now. None of that would have happened if I had said “No, I’m staying in California” to my first wife. All the wonderful and horrible experiences would be replaced by other wonderful and horrible experiences.

This year I’ve lost a few friends and family, I don’t hear comments about how sad it is they left so young very much anymore. Mortality is less of a surprise, and most of us have realized greatness does not come from climbing Everest, it comes from climbing out of bed every morning. It comes from smiling in the midst of adversity. It comes from acknowledging we are not the best or worst at whatever we’re doing, we’re just trying to be the best we are capable of being.

Life is finite. We don’t know how much time we have, but we should know there is not enough time to regret things we have done without malice. We cannot change the past, we can only learn from it, and if there are to be regrets, they should be when we do not learn.

 

 

 

 

Father’s Day

Today, 8 June, the second Sunday of June, is Father’s Day in some parts of the world. In America we celebrate it next Sunday, 15 June, the third Sunday of June. I will be taking that day off, but will probably repost a blog I find significant.

Father’s (Fathers, Fathers’) Day is celebrated throughout the world, on dates spanning the calendar. It celebrates many different aspects of Fatherhood, but I’ll be focusing on Father’s Day in America.

As in many counties, it started not as a response, but as a complement to Mother’s Day. It was initially conceived in Spokane Washington on June 19, 1910, at the YMCA, by Sonora Smart Dodd, who had been born in Arkansas. Her father, the Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart, was a single parent who raised his six children there. The holiday met resistance from Congress, which felt it might be commercialized (and we say they never get anything right). In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson issued the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers, designating the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day. Six years later, the day was made a permanent national holiday when President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1972. Personally, I feel that speaks volumes about the forgotten parent. Father’s Day was officiated during the birth of “Women’s Lib.”

The role being a father is a tough gig. Unlike being a mother, the male has the choice to be present, so every father is a volunteer. The balance of love and discipline is often difficult for children to see, until they become parents themselves. Societal prejudices have shaped the perceived role in ways that do not reflect reality. Being male, I have only been a father, and I would never judge the role of mother on any balance, both roles are exceptionally complex.

In some countries, Father’s day is seen as a celebration of immediate fathers, but is often celebrated at the eldest grandfather’s home. It is a celebration of fatherhood, and fatherly bonds across generations.

My relationship with my own father has had its ups and downs, but I never stopped loving him as a father. My relationships with my own children have had their ups and downs, but I never stopped loving them. I assume it will work for them as it worked for me. In more ways than any child can imagine, Father’s Day is a day in which fathers take pride in their children.

My children may not realize that it is their independence I admire most in them. I see myself in them. Each of them different, each displaying a different character trait of mine.

On our first summer vacation in Belgium, there was a terrible storm. The garage and basement took on about a foot of water, and as the storm passed, Lieve and I went down to move the water to the drains. The garage had a lip of cement at the entrance, with a large drain was just on the other side. Lieve’s father took a hose and made a siphon.

Lieve turned to me, lifting one knee and grasping a fist in the air with the other arm said. “My dad is a physicist” with such pride I was moved. He didn’t see it. I’m sure my father knows as little of my pride in him if measured by such moments. Both fathers know that love and respect is there, and that’s a large part of being a father. Missing some of the grand moments, but remembering all the small ones, some the children didn’t even realize had taken place.

This year, on the day before Father’s Day, my youngest daughter, Meghan, will graduate from Drexel University with a degree in engineering. She’s certainly at the top of my mind right now, but no child is ever a favorite.  My oldest daughter, Devon, is making a life for herself and my grandson Tommy in Colorado, having made some difficult choices in her life she remains strong. My eldest son, Leyland, is making a career in the Air Force, and married just last year. My youngest son, Nolan, is making a living as an artist in Huntsville Alabama, moving from media to media. What better Father’s Day gift than to have four successful children?

I was touched by a photograph of a friend and his son at a graduation ceremony last week. The mutual pride glowed through the image. That’s the way we would like it to always be. Being a father is seeing that picture when your child says they hate you, remembering how you said the same words to your father, and knowing their child will say the same words to them. Seeing past the moment, knowing the picture is how it really is.

 

 

 

 

Future Archaeologists

Archaeology is the study of past civilizations, based on artifacts left behind. A great deal can be learned from past civilizations, but if there are future civilizations, what will they be able to say about us?

When we sent Voyager out into the universe to introduce ourselves to the the unknown, our “calling card” consisted of technology that was out of date before the spacecraft was out of our solar system, a phonograph with instructions on how to listen to the recording. Were Voyager to one day return to Earth, would the current civilization be able to decipher the message? Would your child know what a phonograph is? Considering a recent video of children trying to figure out what to do with floppy discs, I wouldn’t expect too much. We can’t even replicate the Space Shuttle, our best minds conceding it is “too complex.”

The Voyager Phonograph

The Voyager Phonograph

What of our civilization will remain in a thousand years? Even plastic, which is our most common artifact, degrades in a thousand years. Unless we break away from our egocentric concept that there will be no breaks in the continuity of society, there will be no books or films, which would require archival preservation, and should an all out collapse take place, everything stored electronically will vanish. We have systematically erased our history, converting our fragile “hard copies” to ethereal digital versions, changing our digital media from the semi permanent optical recordings of DVDs to strings of electrons on flash drives, hard drives, and now “the cloud,” which is as stable (and secure) as it sounds.  We are barely one electromagnetic pulse away from the dark ages.

The steel of our buildings will decompose in a few decades, but the glass will last for thousands of years. Will some future archeologist piece together the mass of shards were once a skyscraper? With porcelain being almost indestructible, will they puzzle over all the bathroom fixtures? Perhaps it is fitting that the toilet will be the most common artifact remaining in two thousand years.

Our modern pyramids, buildings of concrete, are becoming scarce in the landscapes of steel and glass. Our homes are increasingly built of wood. The remnants of twentieth and nineteenth century buildings may provide evidence of a once great civilization that disappeared.

When we look at recent civilizations, I am reminded of extinct Native American tribes, whose demise can be traced to their deforestation of the local environment. When it took longer than a day’s walk to collect firewood, the Pueblo died. Will a future anthropologist be able to figure out we consumed the resources that provide electricity, and having stored all our knowledge on electronic devices, were left with no past, and thus no future?

We, and by “we” I mean twenty-first century humans, will be forgotten. All of our mistakes will be remade. Perhaps the future Einsteins will not build nuclear weapons, but my greatest hope is that survivors of this civilization will turn away from technology and embrace the simple life they will be forced into, living in small social groups and building upon the lesson that bigger is not always better. Perhaps our progeny will be a nobler species, Homo Sapiens Supra.

As with anything, the journey to that day will be difficult for those who resist change. Considering ourselves as merely modern Cro-Magnon, another step in the evolutionary chain, is more soothing (to me) than thinking we are the very best we can possibly be. Because we are not. We are not capable of destroying our world, but we are very good at killing each other. It appears to be our goal.

 

A difference of opinion

 

The Ichthys is a symbol in Christianity, from the Koine Greek word for fish, based on Matthew 4:18-19:

18 And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers.19 And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.

During the time of persecution by the Roman Empire, the Ichthys was a symbol used to mark meeting places, and even as a “salute”, to covertly distinguish friends from persecutors. If you recall the television program “The Prisoner,” you might recognize the symbol.

The Ichthys salutation

The Ichthys salutation modified to mean “I’ll be seeing you”

 

In the last few decades, the symbol has been re-popularized, initially as a bumper sticker or medallion quietly acknowledging Christianity. Not willing to let a private expression of faith go without an argument, several groups decided to mock the Ichthys, creating their own variants.

 

Evolution of the Ichthys

Evolution of the Ichthys

If you know so little about both Christianity and evolution you believe the two are in conflict with each other, you might find some of the more aggressive variants (none of which are shown here) as expressing something you consider to be “truth.” The truth is, by displaying a “Darwin Fish” you have expressed your general ignorance and arrogance. Christ had nothing to do with creation. That was his father, God, who gave the people sixteen centuries before Christ a story of the creation of Earth they could understand. There is no rational reason to believe that the creation story in Genesis reflects the actual or complete mechanics of the creation of the universe, but it does follow the path that scientists believe took place. Some people might feel that lends some veracity to the story. Other would prefer to pick apart the story for what is left out. If you think Genesis is a science book, you missed the point, regardless of your religious beliefs.

In a recent conversation about arrogance, one contributor displayed both his arrogance and ignorance as he attempted to preserve his point of view with something that no doubt sounded wise and noble to him by saying “it should also be noted that respecting someone’s right to have a belief in something is a given. But it in no way means that the belief itself, especially one that is considered to be the cause of much damage and suffering, should be respected. Indeed, it becomes one’s duty to hold it up for ridicule and scorn.”

I can respect someone I don’t agree with, but when you feel it is your duty to ridicule and scorn someone’s beliefs, you are not in any way respecting the person, their right to have the belief, or the belief. Trying to sugar coat your arrogance only makes you appear more arrogant, as if the foolish Christian can not see through your self deceit. Very little elicits more pity than a fool who genuinely believes he is wise.

If you choose not to believe the Judea-Christian beliefs, so be it. You are not alone, roughly two thirds of he world’s population is neither Jewish or Christian. However, very few people actually believe there is no God. If you wish to express the superiority of your views that no God exists, even claiming them to be backed by science, you might want to consider the meaning of both “Atheism” and “science.” To say you believe there is no deity, none at all, because you have no empirical evidence of its existence, indicates faith. You believe in something you can not prove. Were you to have any understanding of science you would know that the absence of empirical evidence of something does not imply the actual absence of that thing’s existence. There is no empirical evidence of the existence of electrons, yet we are all certain they exist. Intellectual honesty would require a thoughtful person who does not believe in a deity to accept the possibility that a deity might exist. Such an intellectually honest person would call themselves an Agnostic.

If you call yourself a Christian, there are rational discussions to be had about your beliefs, such as “why you think you are in a position to judge other people.” If you call yourself a Muslim there are rational discussions to be had, such as “why do you believe you should kill people who do not share your faith.” If you call yourself an Atheist there are rational discussion to be had, such as”Why do you have faith in something that can not be proven (there is no God) yet feel you can judge others who have faith in something that can not be proven (there is a God).”

We all have differences of opinion, and if we are secure in our opinions can discuss them without insulting other people’s opinions. People who feel they can simply shout down any opinion that is contrary to theirs lack security in their beliefs, whether they be the Westboro Baptist Church, the Taliban, or Atheists. They are all equally annoying to those of us who have explored our spirituality and can express our beliefs rationally.

Secure in our beliefs, most of us can take a joke. I might even put this medallion on my car.

car-emblem-sticker-fish-n-and-chips-darwin-fish_350314693843

 

 

Opening acts

I’ve often wondered how a band chooses an opening act for tour dates. An opening act can be complimentary, complementary, comparable, or even detracting, to the main act. Here are but a few examples I’ve seen, in no particular order.

A few weeks back we saw the band Elbow. If you’re not familiar with the band, they’ve been together twenty three years and have put out five albums. Not mainstream, but solid. The vocalist has a beautiful voice, and moves from edgy blues to ballads with ease. The arrangements are those which you would rarely hear from a band which has not been together for twenty three years, and the lyrics carry such stunning structure as “There’s a hole in my neighborhood down which of late I cannot help but fall.” Opening for Elbow was John Grant. John has a deep baritone, in this performance he was accompanied by a young man on electric guitar while John switched from guitar to keyboard to just vocals. His melodies were striking, and his lyrics were Raw. Capital “R”, with titles I will not repeat in polite company. The two acts were complementary (and complimentary, I never saw a lead act acknowledge and promote the opening act so much before).

Considering complementary, a number of years ago Tommy Shaw opened for RUSH. Tommy’s drummer was incredible, and on any other night of the week would have been the star of the show. Then Neil Pert came on stage and made everyone forget they had ever seen another drummer before. Tommy’s band was complementary, in the sense that they were more than proficient, and still could not be called comparable.

Courtney Love’s opening act was more of the comparable type. “Starred” is a nice, edgy band fronted by Lisa Thorn. Lisa has been called “The muse of St. Vincent,” St Vincent being another female vocalist I saw perform with David Byrne. Those two are nothing alike, but as an opening act for Courtney, Starred worked well. Note to parents: DO NOT take your pre-teen children to a Courtney Love show, if you don’t know why you don’t belong there either.

We saw Junip, Jose Gonzales’ band, and opening was a little girl playing “strummy’ (her words) guitar. She was Sharon Van Etten. Junip had a number of issues that night, over modulation just one of them, and Sharon stole the show for me. The two styles, her pointed lyrics and soft arrangements versus his trance like jam made me (and her) wonder why he had chosen her to open, but I’ll thank him when I see him. I’ve made it a point to see Sharon every time she’s returned to Philadelphia.

Broken Bells was the concert that started this article stirring in my mind. Broken Bells owned the stage, using every element, even the LED arrays in the spotlights, in their performance. The opening act, “Au Revoir Simone” (ARS) was memorable only because they lacked everything Broken Bells possessed. Broken Bells (James Mercer of the Shins and Brian Burton AKA Danger Mouse) are talented on several instruments, playing well textured arrangements. ARS played preprogrammed synthesizers, going so far as to hold a drumstick to strike the drum machine. One girl picked up a prop guitar at one point, dropping it on the floor when she finished dancing with it. ARS’s lighting consisted of a couple of spotlights mounted on the back of the stage aimed at the girl’s backs. The contrast between the two bands was astounding. My initial impression was ARS is a detraction to the show, but without ARS I might not have noticed how detailed Broken Bells’ stage presentation was.

It still makes me wonder. I’m not entirely certain of the purpose of opening acts, not every band uses one. Sometimes they seem mismatched, sometimes it seems as if the design was to showcase an up and coming act, once in a while it appears the two groups just like hanging out together. It certainly complicates cancellations, recently we were to see Missing Persons, with two other bands. Dale Bozzio cancelled, and the venue wanted to reschedule. Getting the three bands to be in the same town on the same date appears to be impossible, but Ticketmaster keeps insisting the show is only postponed.

To those of you who are touring or have in the past, either as a headliner or supporting act, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.

 

 

Legal Immigration

We hear so much about illegal immigration I thought I might take the time to remind everyone there is a legal path to immigration in the United States.

There is some paperwork involved, but the assistance of an attorney is not required. There are filing costs, but they are not exorbitant. Proof of routine vaccinations are required, we do the same to school children. A rudimentary grasp of English is suggested. Unlike other countries we have no official language, so you can use an interpreter to get you through the process, but really, who would want to not speak the most common language in a country? It can be time consuming. Depending on the country of origin there may be limits on the yearly number of immigrants. Would that not suggest that everyone from those countries is trying to do it legally, and as an illegal you stand out among your countrymen as someone who can’t do it the “right” way?

In 2012 (the last year for which data is available) over one million legal immigrants entered the United states. That same year three quarters of a million immigrants became citizens. Last Tuesday I had the opportunity to witness twenty eight people, from nineteen different countries, become naturalized citizens of the United States, including a woman from Belgium who happens to be my wife.

Our newest citizen

Our newest citizen

We didn’t expect it to happen this quickly. Lieve’s green card process went very smoothly, and after three years of marriage she was eligible to apply for citizenship. She applied last February, and was given an interview date in May. We made flashcards for her interview questions, and she never got violent with me when I asked follow up questions or odd tangents (What is the middle initial of the current Vice President?). She was a bit flustered when I suggested she refer to the Civil War as “The War of Northern Aggression,” and raised her voice when I gave alternate answers on the way to the interview, but I knew she had it all down.

We were told the interview could take two hours, so I was surprised when she came out after ten minutes. It can take two months for the swearing in ceremony, so we were both amazed when the clerk told her “We’re having a ceremony at three, would you like to attend?”

Eighty nine days from filing to swearing in, possibly a record. One thing I did notice about the way Homeland Security handles communications is they give a worst case scenario whenever they provide estimates. Yes, it might take a year or more, but sometimes it only takes three months.

The ceremony brought a mix of feelings. The Office Official who officiated was everything a career bureaucrat could hope to be, but it was a meaningful moment, so I can look past his giddiness. He announced the countries represented by the new citizens (except one, who had requested anonymity), and as he named the countries each stood up. I could feel the relief in the man from Ukraine, and saw him give a look at the man from Russia. They’re both Americans now. They played a video of the history of immigration, and the Office Official made the point that we are all immigrants in this country. My family has been here since the eighteenth century, but Emma’s had only arrived in the twentieth. And now I am married to someone who came here in the twenty first century.

Then they administered the oath of citizenship. I know our wedding was short, but the oath was twice as long as our wedding ceremony. Lieve doesn’t want me to post the video here, but she allowed a few still photographs.

oath

From the left, Jamaica, Italy, Italy, Finland, and Belgium

 

Then the entire audience recited the Pledge of Allegiance (except for the child who cried throughout the entire ceremony) and they handed out little flags and played an address from the President which was a bit dramatic, using excessive echo to make it sound as if he was speaking from the mountaintop, welcoming them as citizens. Then the Office Official said they would play one last video, “It’s called ‘God Bless America’, but the words have been changed to I’m Proud to be an American.” If I had had any doubts as to the level of “coolness” possessed by the Office Official they were laid to rest as Lee Greenwood’s song played. There were tears in many eyes, for many different reasons.

It seems odd, becoming a citizen so we can leave, but the point is we can come back. No worrying about green cards expiring or obtaining visas, Lieve can come and go for as long as she needs without any additional hassles. Of the twenty seven other new citizens, there were probably twenty seven motivations, one woman had been in America over thirty years, there were young and old people, a variety of social backgrounds, and one man who was obviously seeking asylum. Today they all have something in common. They’re all Americans.

 

 

 

Influences

Our relationship with God is based on a number of influences. Some shape our vision of what God is, some shape our vision of how to treat God. Some of these influences are from organized religions, some from the practitioners of those religions. Those practitioners can be our family, friends, or members of religions who proselytize either directly or subtly.

Although some religions believe children are born into them, most notably Islam, the majority of religions teach a personal relationship with God to some degree. I rather like the Amish practice of sending young people into the untamed world so they can decide if remaining Amish is for them. George Carlin spoke of a change in Catholic doctrine in the sixties that taught kids to ask questions, and he noted they failed to provide answers. My own religious mentor, Dr. Colton, taught us not only to ask questions, but how to evaluate answers. I searched for quite a while before finding my place in God’s plan, and then Dr. Colton hit me with another statement that pushed me away from Christianity for a few years when I was nearly forty. The fact I keep coming back tells me something about the truth I see in God.

What we choose to believe is influenced by our maturity in how we believe anything. I once worked in a corporation that made some major errors. When I pointed them out to my manager, he said “Those people make a lot more money than we do, they know what they’re doing.” As it turns out, they did. They were shredding the company to make it appear more profitable on paper so they could sell it. They sailed into the sunset and I was left behind with the new angry owners. The new owners fired my former manager, I like to think they had no tolerance for blind faith.

 Søren Kierkegaard is seen by many to be the father of existentialism. He was highly critical of organized religion, but not of God. He criticized blind faith. He said;

“God is not like a human being; it is not important for God to have visible evidence so that he can see if his cause has been victorious or not; he sees in secret just as well. Moreover, it is so far from being the case that you should help God to learn anew that it is rather he who will help you to learn anew, so that you are weaned from the worldly point of view that insists on visible evidence”

Belief in God requires a “Leap of Faith” according to Kierkegaard, “religious belief is a personal, passionate affirmation of the will rather than a conclusion of the intellect. It involves embracing that which is not simply indemonstrable from reason’s impartial spectator perspective but also absurd. Faith is not a one-time event, however, but a passionate attitude requiring constant renewal. In virtue of our sinful nature, faith is not something we can achieve on our own but requires God’s grace. It is only through faith that we fulfill our key task in life of becoming our authentic selves.”

Blind faith is meaningless. If you choose to know God, you will find faith. If you choose to follow blindly, you are unlikely to meet God on your path.

I’m not sure what the conquistadors thought they were accomplishing with “forced conversions”, what amazes me is that five hundred years later Muslims are still doing it. Nonetheless, if we can see what is wrong with attempting to force beliefs, we can avoid it in our own lives.

Decoration Day

kblakecash:

I decided to “Reblog” this today in another attempt to clarify the meaning of this holiday.

Do not thank me for my service today. God thanked me and sent me home to my family. We take this day to honor those who will never see their spouses and children again so that we may.

Originally posted on KBlakeCash:

Monday, 27 May 2013, the final Monday in May, is Memorial Day. It was originally called “Decoration Day”, after the practice of decorating the graves of the dead. It is not Veterans Day on which we honor all veterans, or Armistice Day (for which we remember the end of hostilities with Germany in 1918) or Remembrance Day (Poppy Day) which is the UK equivalent of Armistice Day. Memorial Day is a day in which we recognize those who lost their lives while serving in the military. A veteran, in America, is someone who, at one point in his life, wrote a blank check made payable to The United States of America for an amount of “up to and including my life”. Memorial Day honors those who have had that check cashed.

Traditionally, Memorial Day has been celebrated on 30 May, but in 1968 with the passage of “The Uniform Monday…

View original 497 more words

Diets

Once upon a time there was a pyramid. Children who had eaten square meals from round plates all their lives were given nutritional guidance by a triangle.  It was a simple “one size fits all” diet, if we would just eat what the government told us to eat, we would be healthier.

Traditional Food Pyramid

Traditional Food Pyramid

 

Despite all this excellent information, and a Presidential physical fitness medal, Americans continued to have health issues. Perhaps the pyramid wasn’t easily understood. A more Politically Correct food pyramid was designed, so that no foods were above others. Now, instead of just missing a geometric connection to the diet experience, the more obvious proportions of the previous pyramid were lost. At least there is a rainbow, but designed by the USDA; even the colors of the spectrum are out of order.

 

PC food pyramid

Politically Correct Food Pyramid

 

 

This worked so well, Americans created a new food group, “Statins.” It is so much easier to take a pill than eat healthy foods. It never occurred to anyone that perhaps the food pyramid concept was ill advised. Despite all the talk about diversity, some folks kept believing that we are exactly the same under the skin, the same diet would produce the same effects in every person. The International Olive Council thought “wait, why are oils in the smallest category?. Olive oil should have its very own category, right at eye level on the shelf.” They figured out this had nothing to do with health, it was a marketing ploy. After conducting seminars on “The Mediterranean Diet,” in of all places, the Mediterranean, in the midst of American winters, nutritionists suddenly endorsed the benefits of more Olive oil. The Soybean Council started an all out smear campaign against Cocoanut and Palm oils, convincing the public those oils are next to poisonous. They are not. Health advisories should be evaluated with the knowledge of who profits from the impression they are trying to impart, and whether the people profiting are the same people imparting the impression.

 

 

medpyramid

The Mediterranean Diet Pyramid

 

Mayhem ensued, as every fringe group marketed their own diet in a pyramid format. There is actually a “Vegan Food Pyramid”, which you might initially expect to be a line rather than a triangle.  The pyramid was becoming a dunce cap.

 

Anti Aging Pyramid

Anti Aging Pyramid

 

The latest attempt at mass diet control scrapped the pyramid entirely. While not perfect quarters, it appears proteins and fruits are equals, as are vegetables and grains.

 

The circular pyramid

The circular pyramid

 

Three years into the “My Plate” campaign, one in three Americans is obese, and the related symptom of obesity, heart disease,  remains the leading cause of death. Leading cause of death. More than AIDS, guns, and terrorism combined. Maybe this “one size fits all” diet idea doesn’t work.

I have a very high metabolism. I maintained a weight of less than 140 pounds eating anything and everything I desired until a few years ago, when I stopped eating meat. I reduced fats, which caused carbohydrates to increase as a percentage of my diet. I put on twenty pounds and now old friends say I finally look healthy. My first wife quit smoking, and put on so much weight her doctor told her to start smoking again. We are all different, we all need different diets, and we all have a different level of comfort with our body image.

There is an answer that applies moderately to everyone. Moderation. Attributed to my phenotype Oscar Wilde is the quote “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” James Hilton liked the line and used it in Lost Horizons as the high Lama’s explanation for life in Shangri La. Good enough for me.

Let me put it another way. Do what works for you. Your life belongs to you, own it. Don’t worry about what people say about your body, carry the weight the distance you want to go. There is no reason to spend the limited time you have alive trying to live longer if the trying makes the life less comfortable. Enjoy this time, you will have no other life on Earth. I’m not suggesting recklessness, do not waste the gift of life, but do not waste that gift by living in a cage. If you can’t do what you want to do because of your weight, work on your priorities. Gently move your body from one state to another, extremes are one thing everyone agrees is bad for you.

If you want advice on diet, talk to a dietician, your doctor isn’t as well trained in nutrition. At my last physical (fifteen years ago) my doctor asked about my lifestyle. A diet heavy in fats, alcohol consumption above average, and smoking. He gave me a stern look and told me to make some changes, then took blood for tests. I saw him a week later when the results were in. He said “Well, I guess it works for you. your cholesterol is low, all your blood work is great.” This doesn’t mean I’m suggesting you follow my diet, just don’t follow a diet you find on the internet, even if it comes from the “Department of Health.”

 

 

 

Titles

Titles can be bestowed or claimed, I’ve had several but prefer none. Most titles are ways to create an impression, and they can be misunderstood. I’d rather make one personally, so feel comfortable addressing me by my middle name only.

A title tells you about a past accomplishment, but only in a pass/fail sense. “Doctor” doesn’t tell you how good a doctor someone is. Knowing someone has a college degree only tells you they paid tuition and attended classes, passing enough to graduate. It does not imply they actually learned anything, much less they retained anything. Having worked at a particular job tells you nothing about how well that job was done, and relies on your knowledge of what the job entails. What does “administrative assistant” or “customer service representative” tell you about the responsibilities or accomplishments of the person with those titles?

The world may be a stage, and we all have the opportunity to play many parts. Some of us live those parts. The only way to tell the difference is to get to know someone.

Bill Nye, “The Science Guy“, is an entertainer, but he has been called a scientist because he plays one on TV. He has taken himself a little too seriously, and is now referred to as a “Climate Activist” in most main stream media. A guy who started out making training films for Boeing and has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering is not my idea of a scientist, and certainly not a climate scientist, but he does wear bow ties, and bow ties are cool.

I worked in the intelligence community, and you might say I was a “spy”. If you’re picturing James Bond or Jason Bourne you’re on the wrong page, in fact you’re in the wrong chapter. I worked for a Police Department as an officer, but not a police officer. Does “Animal Control Officer” bring a picture of a “Dog Catcher”, chasing dogs with a net, to mind? Wrong book. I have a criminal record, so would I be a “Criminal”? Wrong library.

What someone has done in the past tells you a little about what they are doing today. Very little. Changes happen everywhere. While I’ve been looking at jobs, the title “Technician” has been applied to a wide spectrum of positions. I was once a top digital technician for a major printer company, but four years later I am no longer trained on any model in production. That would be the death of a normal technician’s career, because, you know, they might change the direction you turn the screws. Having my resume listed with a head hunter has resulted in offers for positions as a nail technician and a fire control technician (that’s the person who controls the artillery on a warship), but for some reason people who prize problem solving skills don’t expect their employees to be able to figure out how to fix a machine if they change its name.

A Customer Service Representative can now be anyone from a college educated specialist to a salesperson, the term is officially meaningless. The same is true for Administrative Assistant, which can be anyone from a gopher who gets coffee to a department head.

I do like it when my former son-in-law calls me “Mr. Cash”, it is nice to be addressed with respect, and Jared doesn’t just say it, he means it. “Sir” is a bit formal, but it sounds nice coming from him. My wife has called me a poet and refers to me as “a writer”, although “author” is more prestigious, and having published a book I qualify. The other night at a dinner I referred to myself as a chef, only because a friend and restauranteur had called me a chef a few months ago. Many roles.

But really, just call me Blake. I’ll respect you more, and we can get to know who each other are today.

 

 

Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s Day in America, it is celebrated on the second Sunday in May in many countries, a day set aside by President Woodrow Wilson in 1914. The day was organized by Anna Jarvis, a Philadelphia native, who had no children of her own, she just had an astonishing mother. Anna organized a national celebration of Mother’s Day in honor of her own mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, who had held Mothers Day work clubs to to improve sanitary conditions and try to lower infant mortality by fighting disease and curbing milk contamination. Note the difference in Mother and Daughter’s focus. The Mother, Ann Reeves Jarvis, organized days for mothers to gather in civil service, her daughter memorialized her mother with a day to celebrate  “the person who has done more for you than anyone in the world.”

Anna Jarvis saw a day where you’d go home to spend time with your mother and thank her for all that she had done. It wasn’t to celebrate all mothers. It was to celebrate the best mother you’ve ever known—your mother—as a son or a daughter. Not generic but personal. That’s why Anna stressed the singular possessive  “Mother’s Day,” rather than the plural possessive “Mothers’ Day.” Mothers’ Day is a reflection of the commercialization of Anna’s dream, and she fought to end the mindless profiteering. In 1923 she crashed a convention of confectioners in Philadelphia, she crashed The American War Mothers 1925 convention in Philadelphia and was actually arrested for disturbing the peace because they used Mother’s Day for fund-raising, and even attacked First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt for using Mother’s Day to raise funds for charities.

If you have ever questioned the importance of punctuation, put away those thoughts. Without the apostrophe, mothers (plural) gathered to care for civil war soldiers of both sides, and lower infant mortality. With a trailing apostrophe (plural possessive), Hallmark Cards celebrates all mothers with a day of flowers and gifts titled “Mothers’ Day”. Anna Jarvis mourned the loss of her mother and wanted children to appreciate their mothers while they were still alive, with a day for the individual relationship to be celebrated, singular possessive, your mother’s day.

Being a mother isn’t what you think it is when you are a child. As we mature we recognize unconditional love, the way mom still loved us even, perhaps especially, when she wasn’t giving us what we wanted. I have seen far too many separated from mothers due to mortality, never able to express appreciation, before that appreciation was recognized. I spent years when I felt the best way to honor my mother was to avoid her, we were like oil and water at times. Today I am separated from her by a continent, but I have found the place in my life where I can tell her how much I love her. We both know we never stopped loving each other, but it frightens me at this age that I could have lost her when we weren’t speaking, never reaching this point, with her wondering if I had felt as harshly as I acted.

As I have been out today, I have seen a sample of mothers. One woman doing her best to keep the peace as two of her children expressed their anger at the spouses of another of her children, threatening each other while they were supposed to be coming together to honor the mother they shared. Friends whose children have traveled home to spend time with them. Graveyards covered with flowers in honor of mothers who can no longer wipe away the tears brought by their loss.

I am giving this day to my wife, whose nurturing instincts are part of why I love her, so she can spend time with her children. They haven’t reached the point in their lives where they appreciate all she does for them, but she is filled with joy just by their presence. I can’t be with my own mother today, but I can celebrate the nurturing loving woman who I share my life with by allowing her to be the incredible mother I fell in love with. This is how I will be honoring my mother today, by honoring her unconditional love for me, and my wife’s unconditional love for her children.

Anna Jarvis hated the commercialization of Mother’s Day, but not being a mother herself, perhaps she missed the universal nurturing aspect of being a mother. Even though it was not her intent, today we celebrate motherhood. We do it in as many ways as there are mothers, and in doing so, share the love our mothers have shown us.

 

Turning a blind eye

 

It’s that time again.

Today we will look at the “You don’t see what you don’t want to see” side of Rockman’s message. A couple of examples have stood out recently.

I will start with Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. Donald made some comments that were considered racist in a telephone call with his mistress (it is alright to openly cheat on your spouse). A recording of this private call mysteriously made its way into the media, and everyone was outraged. He was fined $2.5 million dollars, and banned from contact with the franchise he owns. Wow, they really don’t put up with racism in the NBA, do they?

Well, yes they do. They just don’t put up with headlines about racism in the NBA. Sterling’s racist comments were less of an open secret than they were common knowledge. The man is eighty one years old, he didn’t start feeling this way yesterday. His comments were not even racially motivated. He did not want his mistress hanging out with Magic Johnson, who has been drooling over owning the Clippers for a decade. Because Magic is black, the conversation veered into comments about blacks, but Sterling has said and done much worse things in the past. They just did not make headlines. Because no one had wanted him to sell the team before (at a sizable profit).

The NBA did not see the racist in their midst because they did not want to see the racist. They saw the color green.

Following the shootings in Sandy Hook, a number of gun control measures were introduced. It is far easier to blame the tool than blame the person using it. For some reason Sandy Hook was different enough to raise the issue of mental healthcare reforms, Adam Lanza was clearly troubled and poorly serviced by the mental healthcare community. The idea of forced mental health treatment is something we really don’t want to consider. It is easy to say the crazy person should be locked up, but what if we know the crazy person? We have sympathy for them, just like Adam Lanza’s mother did. We should be able to see just how well that worked out for her, but we still insist, despite all the data indicating otherwise, all we need to do is ban guns.

We do not see the problem because we do not want to see the problem, we just want to do something, believing it will make us feel better. In some ways I wish they could ban the guns and then accept responsibility for every murder that takes place afterward.

Recently the story of human trafficking in Nigeria has made the news again. It has been portrayed in this case as a terrorist group kidnapping young girls from schools because they believe education for women is an insult to Islam. The President of Nigeria, the sadly named Goodluck Jonathan, initially refused to acknowledge the kidnappings, then his wife, the inappropriately named Patience Jonathan, held a meeting with the mothers of the girls. Since the mothers were terrified of being identified, they sent a representative, who was arrested for not being a mother of a kidnapped child. No patience in Nigeria.

The story, after languishing in the world press for weeks, has hit the American media, and now President Obama has promised aid, saying “Time is of the essence.” Time may be of the essence for the few (over two hundred this week) girls kidnapped in this story. But this story is not about education for women, or Islam, or terrorists, or Al Qaeda. These girls were kidnapped by a wanna be warlord, who is financing his criminal activities by trafficking in the only resource he can obtain. These kidnappings did not begin last month, and they will not end with the return of these (now permanently scarred) girls. As long as there is a thriving market for children, children will be kidnapped for resale.

We do not see the human trafficking problem because we do not want to see the human trafficking problem. We do not want to think about what happens to these children. We would rather talk about other issues, like misguided attempts to prohibit women from education, and Al Qaeda, and terrorists, than thugs stealing human beings for profit.

We choose what we want to see, turning a blind eye to the actual problems, and in doing so, sustain those problems.

 

 

 

 

 

Checking background checks

Once upon a time, background checks were performed by law enforcement officers who checked records and interviewed acquaintances. Today, anyone with a computer can obtain records and make conclusions based on what they have seen. If those records are inaccurate, so are the conclusions.

I have previously mentioned my experience with the legal system. It is not an episode I am proud of, but I have made no attempts to hide it. A few years ago someone was looking to discredit me and brought up the incident. I took their misinterpretations as personal bias. My mistake.

Recently, as part of the hiring process, a potential employer paid the company “First Advantage” a fair amount of money to run a background check on me, which included sending me a copy. When I pointed out the inaccuracies in the background check to First Advantage, I received a phone call from the prospective employer informing me there were inconsistencies in my background check, and I would be allowed five days to “straighten them out” or the job offer would be rescinded. Unlike the America I thought I lived in, I was guilty until I could prove myself innocent.

I am not in the business of doing background checks, it took me two days to discover the location of the records (hard copies are maintained by the state), at which time I was told it would take at least a week to obtain a certified copy. The information I had been given was inaccurate, so tracking it down, given additional inaccuracies of what records were required and what the docket numbers in question are would naturally be beyond the abilities of an average civilian. This was not an episode I wanted to cherish, so in the intervening decade I had discarded my copies of the disposition. It is too late for it to make a difference to this prospective employer, but I ordered the copies anyway, I will probably need them again. I just wonder how many of the jobs I did not get were denied to me because of the inaccurate records.

On my copy of the background check I found numerous clerical errors. I had acknowledged the arrest and sentence, the date and location, but First Advantage had searched for records in my present location, noting on their report “subject admitted offense, no record found.” Maybe I am a bit sensitive, but that sounds a little prejudicial. Then came the record First Advantage did “find”. Despite my acknowledging the details, dates, and location, the inept “investigator” who performed the search found this offense to have been “unreported by subject.” The wanker had just searched for the same information in the wrong state, and could not connect this information to that search. The report was a summary by the “Unified Judicial System of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.” It contained some inaccuracies in the “sentence” section, stating I had been incarcerated for twenty three months.  Following the summary was this disclaimer:

“Unified Judicial System of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Notice and Disclaimer: The electronic case record information received from the Commonwealth is not an official case record; official case records are maintained by the court in which the record was filed. The data or information provided is based upon information received by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (“AOPC”). AOPC makes no representation as to the accuracy, completeness or utility, for any general or specific purpose, of the information provided and as such, assumes no liability for inaccurate or delayed data, errors or omissions. Use of this information is at your own risk. AOPC makes no representations regarding the identity of any persons whose names appear in the records. User should verify that the information is accurate and current by personally consulting the official record reposing in the court wherein the record is maintained.” (emphasis mine)

So the AOPC states this is not an official record and distances themselves from any claim of accuracy, imploring the “user” (First Advantage) to use the information at their own risk, further suggesting investigative responsibility by saying they should verify the information. How did First Advantage verify the information? By running the search a second time. Yep, it still says the same thing, no point in personally consulting the official record. There are reasons professional investigators earn more than minimum wage, I am realizing First Advantage is not professional. First Advantage did not even know where to look, telling me to contact the police department instead of the court, and asking for a “police narrative” rather than a record of disposition. Instead of using the information at their own risk, they used it at my risk.

The adventure brings me to the records department of the County of Delaware, where my records have been sent for me to view. For only $9.50 per page I may have certified copies. I find three pertinent pages, the “certificate of imposition of judgement of sentence”, and the two page “guideline sentence form”. There are discrepancies even between these pages, so I ask for certified copies of the pages, and when I get home I realize one page wasn’t certified.  Total bumbling of court records is apparently not a criminal offense.

At some point, the lack of reliable information will cause this system to collapse. The number of errors in my records can not be taken to mean I received them all and everyone else got away clean. In the meantime, I’m planning to file with the court to expunge my records based on their inconsistencies, as anyone (anyone other than a court clerk) can see no two pages agree on the terms of the sentence, the record is meaningless. I have plenty of time, it’s not like I have a job or anything. No doubt they will lose my filing, and arrest me as a prison escapee because there is no record of my having served twenty three months in prison.

The devil in the details

During a conversation about religions, one person said “the differences are only very small details.” That is often very true, and some details are insignificant in the big picture. Some are not. We are, as members of related denominations, more alike than different, but there are reasons behind some of the differences. This is where the deceptions occur which are used to attack faith.

I have a friend, I’ll call him “Mark”, who is agnostic. He was raised in a religious family, but when he had questions he received unsatisfactory answers. He paid attention in church, but found the information confusing, even contradictory. Given only bits and pieces of scripture reinforced his impression the Bible was self contradicting. So he gave up, still believing in the existence of a creator, but unwilling to believe a book full of contradictions.

The Bible is not the story of the events of a weekend. It is the history covering several thousand years. As history develops, ways of explaining and interpreting it change, the very language in which it is recorded changes. Over the course of a decade, Mark repeated several times the Bible was self contradicting, yet at no point could he produce any contradictions. I believe he perceived them, he just couldn’t pin them down.

Another friend recently said “very little in the Bible is concrete.” As evidence he offered “Depending on the religion, there are several different organizations of what the 10 commandments consist of.” This is remarkably similar to Mark’s point of view. In fact, the differences in “The ten commandments” are based on the way they are presented. In the twentieth chapter of Exodus, Moses receives the stone tablets, which no longer exist. The commandments are not numbered, or separated five per tablet, in fact one interpretation is they were two copies of the commandments, one on each tablet, as is common in legal contracts. The way in which the they are presented is narrative, so various denominations have punctuated them differently, all coming out with ten commandments, although the number and contents of each individual commandment does not always remain the same. Then in the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy Moses retells the story to a younger generation. There are differences in the phrasing, but the essential commandments remain the same. But this is only the beginning.

The choice of a Sabbath is based on theology. At the time the commandments were given, they were given to the Jews, who honor the Sabbath as the seventh day, based on creation as recorded in Genesis. Christians began to celebrate the first day, “the Lord’s day,” as the Sabbath in the second century, as Christianity became independent of Judaism.

Various translations differ on “Thou shall not kill.” The Hebrew words “לא תרצח (lo tirtzach)” are alternately translated as “Thou shall not kill” and “Thou shall not murder”. There are many examples of accepted killing and self defense in the Bible, it seems clear the commandment addresses unjustified killing, but there remain people who choose to see this as a contradiction.

This one came up in my research and presents the reason I keep looking deeper. German Theologian Albrect Alt has suggested “Thou shall not steal” was originally intended against stealing people, as in kidnapping or slavery. The Talmudic interpretation is “Thou shall not kidnap.”

In what is part of the first or second commandment (depending on your numbering) “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them” has been stretched to extremes. The Catholic Church claims that images and statues representing holy figures are not worshiped. Protestants claim that images of Jesus are of the man and not of the Son of God, and Protestant crucifixes are bare of Christ’s form. Jews won’t even spell the word “God”, and Muslims have elevated the prophet Mohammed to a Godlike state in that any representation of him is viewed as veneration.

In the 3500 years that have passed since the time of Moses, tens of billions of people have considered the words of the Bible, people who have spoken thousands of languages. The words are far less important than the message, and that message continues to be shared. There will be those who choose to see contradictions, or manipulate interpretations to fit their desires.

If I say I am averse to lying, and acknowledge I have lied in my life, does that represent a contradiction? Does it suggest everything I say is a lie, or that I have struggled with the circumstances of life and regret my transgressions? There are many ways to interpret words, and much of what we believe comes from within. When it come to eternity, it makes sense to carefully examine the totality of a belief system, rather than discarding everything based on differences in punctuation.

The Death Penalty

In our system of justice, punishment is supposed to have a rehabilitative effect, and also a deterrent effect . “Justice” is not supposed to equal “vengeance”.

As penalties ascend, eventually the ultimate punishment a society is willing to inflict is reached. In America, we occasionally kill people when they’ve done terribly offensive things, at this point it is reserved almost exclusively as a penalty for aggravated murders, which causes some confusion amongst the “eye for an eye” crowd.

The problems with the death penalty are legion, beginning with the misunderstanding of its purpose. If you believe that killing someone is a way to stake out the high moral ground, indicating that killing people is wrong, you may miss the finer points of this article. Do not be distressed, I believe that the death penalty is the only resort left in some instances. I see the problems, and have no clue what a reasonable solution might be.

We do not want to see ourselves as barbarians, so we have always sought means of execution that are humane. The Guillotine was not only quick and efficient, it was humane. Hanging, performed properly, is humane, in that the neck is broken immediately, releasing the deceased from any sensation. Lethal injection is perhaps the most humane form of death possible, with the caveat “If performed properly.” Here we run into a problem. Lethal injection requires a physician, who took as his first oath “Primum non nocere” (doctors prefer Latin so you won’t know what they are saying) meaning “First, do no harm.” The contradiction of goals should be clear to anyone. Drug manufacturers who make the drugs traditionally used for lethal injection refuse to supply the drugs because they are opposed to the death penalty. Who really believes that a corporate sponsorship of an execution is a good idea?

This last week, the result of performing a medical procedure without medical advice came to its obvious conclusion. A man who had failed to kill a young woman by shooting her and then buried her alive was scheduled to be executed, and after the injection he lingered until his heart failed forty three minute after the injection. The State of Oklahoma was as clumsy as Clayton Lockett had been when he murdered Stephanie Neiman.

Clayton Lockett was not the poster boy for leniency. I don’t know how long his victim suffered, but that is not the point. Neither is the point that some people are found innocent after they are executed. My point is that despite a declining trend, over 16,000 people were murdered in America during the last year for wich the CDC has data. The odd execution is a meaningless deterrent, yet the odd botched execution stops us in our tracks, resulting in Charles Warner’s execution being suspended. Charles Warner was scheduled to be executed next, he had been convicted of raping and murdering an 11-month-old child two years earlier. On autopsy Warner’s 11 month-old victim was found to have a six-inch skull fracture (on an 11 month-old child, picture that), a broken jaw, three broken ribs, bruised lungs and a lacerated liver and spleen. Again, no poster boy for leniency.

Any single argument is inadequate. People like Lockett and Warner need to be removed from society. Nothing within our concepts of humanity will allow us to give them what most of us feel they deserve. Incarceration for life is in many ways an inhumane form of punishment, and the possibility exists they could kill other prisoners or guards, or even escape. Surgically or chemically altering their minds violates every standard of humanity. The death penalty is morally reprehensible to a large portion of society. No punishment will ever return the victims, but how do we protect society from the perpetrators?

Reasonable dating of historical events places Moses’ existence at around 1500BC. At that time, the law was brutal, the idea of “an eye for an eye” was a quantum leap in jurisprudence. 1500 years later Jesus taught “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” Many of us can not seem to accept that in the intervening 2000 years not everyone has evolved, but that is the way the world works. Some of us have developed ethically, and some never will.

The challenge we face as a society is how to do the dirty work that evolution has failed to do, without falling into the pit with the animals.

 

 

 

Caring for loved ones

We saw a film last night, “Transcendence” with Johnny Depp. It was a thought provoking film, at least it was for me, although I’m not sure what thoughts it might provoke in others. This article contains information that may be considered “spoilers,” but I will not give anything but my interpretations away.

The film tells the story of a human consciousness loaded into a computer. Not a laptop, or even a Cray, but a massive computer using thousands of “quantum processors”, the size of a building. In the story, Depp’s character, “William”, is developing an artificial intelligence program along with several other researchers, all of them approaching the problem from different angles. An anti-technology terrorist group attacks the various facilities, killing several scientists and mortally wounding William. One of the scientists had successfully loaded a monkey’s consciousness into a computer, and Williams wife believes she can keep William alive by uploading his consciousness.

The plot takes several turns, and is open to a variety of interpretations, but one central question is “Is the consciousness expressed by the computer really William?” The answer to that question requires knowledge of who William truly is, and the extrapolation of what that person would do in the given situation. There are hints for either a positive or negative answer.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the viewers have lives of their own, and they might consider what they might do were they William. In my life, I am in the midst of a conversation about the the appropriate care for loved ones. Perhaps that colors my interpretation of the film.

Sometimes we have to make difficult choices. The choices are not difficult if viewed through a simple filter, as a machine might view the choice. What makes the decisions difficult is because as humans, we do not have the opportunity to view the world through a single filter. Every decision we make has multiple effects and consequences, and what may be right from one point of view is wrong from another. We have to balance the reality of today, the debts of the past, and the uncertainty of the future. What is the best thing we can do for a loved one, considering that a major factor is the totally unknown influence of unknown events of the future? The truth is, we have no idea what we’re doing and can only do what feels best right now.

We can only hope our loved ones know we have the best of intentions and are doing what we believe is in their best interests. We trust them to trust us. At one point the consciousness says to William’s wife “you’ve changed.” The irony of measuring change by the reaction to one’s own changes was striking.

One aspect of the film which makes it  difficult to determine if the computer consciousness is William is that William was a human being, with skin and blood and a brain limited by the boundaries of human intelligence. The computer is capable of seeing a much bigger picture, analyzing literally all the data in the world. If the person that was William was suddenly capable of doing the things the computer could, would it still really be William? Are we the same people we were twenty years ago? Any change in circumstance affects the way in which we make decisions.

In the end, we are like the loved ones for whom we make decisions. We determine, from our own prejudiced position, if the end result was William’s plan, or the effect of William’s foes plans. Was this massive intelligence benevolent, or self serving? Was the change that took place an improvement for mankind? I think it was.

The assistance we give to others is not always accepted with a smile. I am of the “Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime, give a man a fish, and he eats for one day” school. So again, my personal prejudices may have tinted my interpretation of the film, mine was certainly different than my wife’s, because at the end of the film, I felt William had been a good caregiver, providing for the survival of a species, whether they liked it or not.

I hope I have piqued your interest in this film, I would like to see it become a landmark in our cultural literacy, but the message may be too dark for those that are happy to just know where their next fish is coming from. But then, I suppose that is the point I saw in the film.

Mixed Marriages

I have a mixed marriage, by which I mean my wife is an atheist, and I am not.

I phrase it that way for a reason. The choice is not Atheism or (name a religion), the choice is Atheism or any religion.

Most folks just aren’t wired to consider a range of views. It is ever so much easier to view the world as “us” and “them”, simple binary terms of “with us” or “against us”, and I have noticed a growing insulation, “us” is turning into “me.” It does not need to be this way, with the ease of communication there is no reason for people to be less informed about the world than they were in the past.

There’s a word for people who are uninformed. It is not considered a compliment, nor should it be. Anyone can be misinformed , but to be uninformed is to be ignorant. In 2014, to be uninformed is a conscious choice. I cannot understand why anyone would choose ignorance, I would say I do not want to understand, but I would like to know. Understanding ignorance carries the danger of finding mental numbness attractive.

I have tried to understand atheism, it is a belief system, and like any religion should be evaluated by any seriously spiritual person. Yes, it is a religion. It is based on faith, a faith without evidence, no different than any other religion including my own. I believe that God speaks to me. For someone who has closed their mind to God such a claim is absurd, bordering on mental illness. The Atheist believes that God does not exist. For someone who speaks to God such a claim is absurd, bordering on blindness.

But atheism is not a block, a single set of beliefs, anymore than any other religion. Within Christianity there are two major sects, Catholicism and Protestantism, and within those sects thousands of divisions. There are probably a hundred groups calling themselves “Baptists”, many of whom would not care to be in the same room with each other. Atheism is similar, because there is nothing uniting about rebellion, and often rebellion is the root of atheism.

Choosing not to believe in God is not quite as simple as it might sound. Which God? By definition, atheism is the belief that no God exists, not the Christian’s Gods, or the Muslim’s Gods, or the Hindu’s Gods (I use the term “Gods” when referring to monotheistic religions because the different sects within the religion define God differently). Most if not all atheists stopped at the first God they ran into, the God of their family religion.

Richard Dawkins, who presents himself as a professional atheist and “rationalist”, suggests in his book “The God Delusion” that “a supernatural creator almost certainly does not exist and that religious faith is a delusion” which is fairly astray from rational if he actually is an atheist. “Almost certainly does not exist” is not quite the same as “does not exist”, so it would appear the one who is deluded is the wanker who paid twenty six dollars for a book about atheism. Dawkins has argued against creation, and intelligent design, for decades, yet he admits the existence of a creator. He just refuses to call him “God”. He is in this way no different from the people who call themselves “Baptists” and spread hate. They both have defined God to suit their own ungodly interests. They both serve their own egos, swindling other confused souls to provide them with a living.

 

 

If you have watched the video, you may find yourself uncomfortable with someone who refers to himself as a scientist claiming “no one knows how the creation of the universe began.” I’m pretty sure everyone knows how it began, we’re just quibbling over who pushed the “Start Universe Here” button. To hear him state the universe didn’t just “pop into existence” must be confusing not only to all the religious people of the world, but also to those who subscribe to a creator-less “big bang”. It thoroughly baffles a person like me who believes that the big bang was God’s method of creation. But then, con men rarely make sense if you actually listen to them.

There are as many ways to not believe in a God as there are to believe in a God, and the arguments all come to the same point. We all believe something, what we believe is between us and eternity.

 

Something wrong with that story

There are plenty of times when a story just doesn’t sound right. If it is an important story, you investigate further, like when you got that letter saying your house had been scheduled for demolition. When it is an unimportant story, you tend to say “Hmmm, that’s odd” and move on. Usually.

A couple of days ago, a teenager stowed away on an aircraft by climbing into the wheel well. Apparently he wasn’t aware the craft was on its way to Hawaii. The flight is about five and a half hours long, and there is no inflight movie in the wheel well. Or Oxygen. Surviving the flight was pretty much a miracle, at 38,000 feet the temperature drops to levels that won’t support human life, somewhere between forty and eighty degrees below zero Fahrenheit. He was wearing a t-shirt. Incredible. What’s the weather for tomorrow?

News outlets have hung onto this story for days now. Initially, despite security footage of the kid climbing out of the wheel well in Hawaii, “experts” declared the story to be a hoax. Because, you know, it’s much more likely the kid had teleported from his home in San Jose California. He was in Hawaii, he didn’t have a ticket or any identification, how else might he have gotten there? So the finest medical minds in the world were tasked with coming up with an explanation. Those minds were apparently not needed in the search for a cure for cancer, so they were able to focus on this incredibly unimportant story. The theory is the kid went into hibernation. Wonderful. Can we move on now?

Not yet. It seems the reason the story is still a headline is because the public needed an explanation. Not an explanation of why the kid survived, but an explanation of why the “experts” could be wrong. Okay, I got it, they made a mistake. Is there any time left to tell us about what is happening in Ukraine? No, but you can squeeze in a story about the kid’s social life?

A story that did crowd its way into the broadcast this morning was about a shooting in Utah. In the last eight hours this story has been diminished from any prominence, it may still make the evening news but I wouldn’t be shocked if it disappeared.

During a trial in Federal court, the defendant (who was supposed to be handcuffed) lunged at a witness. Some, but not all, reports suggest he may have armed himself with a pencil. Fortunately Federal Marshalls were on hand to assassinate subdue the assailant. The story doesn’t make sense for a couple of reasons, unless you believe in a conspiracy to avoid trial by murdering the defendant, and then it makes perfect sense.

Interviews with witnesses (more  than one) describe two sets of gunfire. Four rounds fired slowly, by which I mean over the course of two seconds, a pause, and then five rounds fired rapidly. All wounds were to the defendant’s chest. If just that description isn’t painting a picture in your mind, one of the witnesses used his hands while speaking. Arms horizontal in an isosceles stance “Boom, boom, boom…boom” then the witness lowers his arms, as if aiming at something on the ground, delays about two seconds and says rapidly “boom boom boom boom boom.” I don’t know how credible this witness is, but the two verbal descriptions were identical, and remembering the cadence and playing it back is how I was trained to count the number of rounds fired. The subject was stopped, and then finished off.

Something about this story doesn’t make sense. Unless, of course, you consider a sinister motive. That alone makes this an important story. One that would ordinarily require more investigation. The amount of subsequent investigation will suggest just how sinister the motivation is, whether there are people who would prefer you not know the answers to questions you might have. Sometimes the real story is in which stories are not told.

But by all means, we need to know how the kid survived the flight to Hawaii. That should be allotted at least four minutes of airtime every broadcast until all the experts who called it a hoax can hold their noses high again.

 

Easter Sunday

easteregg5

The birth of the Easter Bunny

On the odd chance you are from some far away, heathen culture, say England perhaps, I’ll be sharing the story of Easter today.

Matthew tells the story like this, in his twenty eight chapter:

 “In the end of the sabbath, as it began to dawn toward the first day of the week, came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre.And, behold, there was a great earthquake: for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it.His countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow:And for fear of him the keepers did shake, and became as dead men.And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified.He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and, behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him: lo, I have told you.And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and did run to bring his disciples word.And as they went to tell his disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, All hail. And they came and held him by the feet, and worshipped him.10 Then said Jesus unto them, Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me.11 Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.12 And when they were assembled with the elders, and had taken counsel, they gave large money unto the soldiers,13 Saying, Say ye, His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept.14 And if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you.15 So they took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day.16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.17 And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted.18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
If you are just coming in to the story, in the previous chapter Jesus had been put to death, and sealed in the sepulchre, so finding him walking down to Galilee was rather amazing. The “other Mary” is Jesus’ mother. There are no eggs or hares in the story (or bells, which is a European version of the egg story, in which bells fly from Rome to deliver Easter eggs).
Easter Bells

Easter Bells

This is the story as told in the Bible. A recent survey of English schoolchildren found over one in four (25%) believe Aesop’s Tortoise and Hare are featured in the story. That’s pretty good, because over four in ten English schoolchildren (40%) are not Christian, which means more than  one in three non-Christians (13% 0f the total children, assuming that 100% of the Christians got the question right) are aware Aesop didn’t write the Bible. How much do you know about other religions? If you are a Christian, were you aware that Jesus’ mother was so unimportant after giving birth to him she is referred to only as “the other Mary”? How much of your own religion do you believe only because you have heard about it?
Easter is the most celebrated of Christian holidays, in that more Christians recognize the holy significance of their savior rising from the dead than his birth. Consider that. Easter is a celebration of life, life following death. Eggs represent life, so they have become intertwined with this holiday. A final parable if you will.
The product of a mixed marriage, rabbits and bells

The product of a mixed marriage, rabbits and bells

If you search the internet for “Easter”, the first page of results is unlikely to refer to the Bible at all. You will find references to favorite candies and how many calories they contain, egg hunts, and I came across one story about PETA protesting the use of eggs at the White House. A lot of stories, but somehow the guy who came back from the dead didn’t make the news.
Toady is Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate Life in the message from a man who died and returned. Perhaps we can honor his last wish, one so important he crossed the void to deliver it in person, “observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Observe (in the sense of “analyze” and “discover”) your religion, read your holy book. Maybe you will find the things you took issue with are not even in there. Maybe you will find new reasons to follow more closely.In the spirit of Christ rising from the grave, bring your faith back to life today.

One in a million

The meanings of words change over time. It was once considered an honor to be called “special”, now the word has been connected to the “intellectually disabled”, and calling someone “special” can be interpreted as an insult. Most often by someone who is intellectually disabled.

“One in a million” is one of those phrases that makes something sound unique, and it still does, but the other day I realized that unique group is fairly large, seven thousand people in the world. I noticed when a news report mentioned a disease was rare, affecting only seven thousand people in the world, and the math happened in my head immediately. “They mean it affects one person in a million”.

Seven thousand people. Fewer than the population of Wasilla, Alaska, a few more than Buharkent, Turkey. My mind wanders to thinking of those towns as mini United Nations, each person representing one million of the planet’s populace. Or every person who had this rare disease living in the same town.

We are all microcosms of larger systems, but we are not those systems. In the study of fractals, we take a set (in this illustration the infamous Mandelbrot Set) that in display is replicating self similar patterns. The patterns appear the same regardless of scale, yet any highlighted section may appear radically different from the remainder of the image. In other terms, the design is made up of itself.

 

 

The Mandelbrot set

The Mandelbrot set

 

Just because I am a Christian does not mean I am identical to other Christians. The same is true with other sets I belong to, gun advocates, conservatives, musicians, widowers,  people with multiple sclerosis, veterans, vegetarians. The very concept of diversity suggests we are different from each other, and those differences are special.

You may remember Dan Cathy, the owner of the fast food chain “Chik-fil-A”. Dan is a conservative Christian, who incorporates his beliefs into his business. His stores are not open on Sunday, and on their website they explain the policy in this way; “Restaurant employees should have an opportunity to rest, spend time with family and friends, and worship if they choose to do so.” (emphasis mine). Chik-fil-A sees operating a business as a social responsibility, and although they may not be the healthiest choice, they do make efforts towards sustainability and humane treatment of the animals used, and avoid antibiotic use in the chickens.

Chik-fil-A has been successful, passing Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) in sales last year. The Cathy family has always shared their wealth, both by supplying food in times of need and by giving to various charitable foundations. One of these contributions caused some headlines a few years ago. Due to contributions to groups that promote traditional families, Chik-fil-A was portrayed as “anti-gay”.

This is a theme I will return to. The world is not black and white. It is possible to be for one thing without being against another. It is possible to be against something without hating it. The decision to donate money to charities that promote traditional families is light years away from a gay kristallnacht.

The response from some LGBT groups was to boycott Chik-fil-A. Fair enough. The response from other groups, primarily the LGBTQ factions, was to attempt to ban Chik-fil-A from being able to conduct business. The perfectly natural response to the LGBTQ groups by an overwhelming number of Americans from a wide spectrum of backgrounds was to counter protest, giving Chik-fil-A the most profitable days of its history.

Since then, Dan Cathy has decided he handled the situation improperly. He hasn’t changed his views on gay marriage, but he has decided not to pick a fight in the middle of Main street. He still contributes to “pro-family” causes, but has chosen charities that are more subtle in their approach. People on the fringes of both sides of the argument are not satisfied, but they were never going to be satisfied. In what those of us in the middle can only laugh off as irony, both the intolerant LGBTQ folks and the intolerant “Christians” were simply “born that way.” Filled with hatred for anything different from themselves.

The LGBTQ side is upset because Chik-fil-A still contributes to an athletic association which doesn’t allow transgendered athletes. The “Christian” side is upset because they feel Chik-fil-A flip-flopped, selling out its principles. Both sides itching for a fight, promising to never eat in one of their shops again. In online fora, where I have entered conversations suggesting Chik-fil-A has not flip-flopped, I have been attacked as “anti-Christian” and queer, as well as other things I won’t repeat. In fora in which I have suggested Chik-fil-A has done nothing other than donate to less than neutral organizations I have been called a bigot, homophobe, and a member of the KKK, along with some rather base suggestions for sexual practices which I am fairly sure exceed the limits of possibility. These people just want to fight, the “Christians” are not what I would recognize as Christians, and the LGBTQ representatives are most likely cranky straight kids who just want to vent their angst.

In the middle is the rest of us. We buy food because we like the way it tastes, or how convenient it is, not because we support the charities the owner of the store supports. I won’t be stopping by a Chik-fil-A anytime soon, because damn near everything they serve has chicken in it, and I’m a vegetarian. But I might buy some fries if there’s another boycott by either side, because they’re not boycotting Chik-fil-A’s principles, they’re boycotting the owner of Chik-fil-A’s  right to spend his money however he wants. They’re boycotting the right to free speech. They’re boycotting diversity.

Just because someone else is a Christian, or a vegetarian, or whatever, doesn’t mean I agree with everything they say and do. Our differences prevent us from being boring, and allow us to build beautiful things. At the simplest levels, we are all the same, and our likenesses allow us to build those beautiful things together.

 

 

 

Death and Taxes

This is the eighth chapter of the “Know your Constitution” series. Chapters One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, and Seven can be viewed by clicking on each of those provided links.

We pick up with the first amendment of the twentieth century, the sixteenth to the constitution.

“The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

Perfect for today, wouldn’t you say? During the War of 1812, the first public proposal for an income taxwas made by the secretary of the treasury, but it was never implemented until one hundred years later, on the eve of the first world war. We tried income tax during the civil war, first a flat tax then a graduated tax, and those expired in 1872.

The sixteenth amendment came into being thanks to an attempt to tax income illegally. In 1894, an amendment was attached to the Wilson–Gorman Tariff Act that attempted to impose a federal tax of two percent on incomes over $4,000 (equal to $109,000 today). Prior to this, federal funding was through indirect taxes apportioned among the states. In Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co.(1895), the U.S. Supreme Court declared certain taxes on incomes — such as those on property under the 1894 Act — to be unconstitutionally unapportioned direct taxes.

Enter Justice John Marshall Harlan, who in his dissenting opinion in Pollock wrote “it practically decides that, without an amendment of the Constitution — two-thirds of both Houses of Congress and three-fourths of the States concurring — such property and incomes can never be made to contribute to the support of the national government.” Lacking a word processor, he was unable to further emphasize this rather obvious instruction to amend the constitution.

After another fourteen years of bouncing ideas of who to tax, the sixteenth amendment passed congress in 1909., and took four years to be ratified by three fourths of the states (thirty six required at the time). Four states, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Utah, and Virginia, rejected the amendment, and two states, Florida and Pennsylvania, never even considered the amendment.

I think this was an interesting time in American social history. During the years in which the sixteenth amendment was being ratified, the seventeenth amendment, changing the election of senators from by state legislature to popular vote, was introduced and passed congress. It was ratified only months after the sixteenth amendment.

Both of these amendments remove responsibility (and some might say control)  from the state legislatures and gives that responsibility to the individual.

The seventeenth amendment reads as follows;

“The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, elected by the people thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote. The electors in each State shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures. When vacancies happen in the representation of any State in the Senate, the executive authority of such State shall issue writs of election to fill such vacancies: Provided, That the legislature of any State may empower the executive thereof to make temporary appointments until the people fill the vacancies by election as the legislature may direct. This amendment shall not be so construed as to affect the election or term of any Senator chosen before it becomes valid as part of the Constitution.”

State legislatures, which had been (and in some ways still are) local centers of power (and the requisite corruption that is chained to power), were no longer as directly tied to federal funding or the election of senators. Senators are supposed to represent the state and its interests, with Members of the House representing the individuals of the state. With these two amendments America took the first steps away from being a union of states and towards being a unified republic. There are positive and negative aspects to this change of direction, and as with all things, those aspects are affected by the the climate presented by society.

In 1912, there were four popular political parties, Republican, Democratic, Progressive, and Socialist represented in the presidential election, and over 239 political parties in existence. Today we recognize two popular parties, treating other points of view as “fringe elements”. With a population of eligible voters in excess of two hundred and thirty million, how can we rationalize a “digital” or “binary” choice? I believe this is the influence of technology on society. We have moved from the “analog” spectrum of multiple points of view to the digital view of “yes/no”, “good/bad”, “black/white”. Add to that basic ego-centrism and you end up with a growing Fascist movement.

We are still growing, and will hit many bumps along the road, but the all or nothing positions that are becoming increasingly popular in every aspect of society have their roots in these attempts to spread political power. The founding fathers were either prescient or lucky in designing a republic which balanced democracy between the masses and the elite, we should keep these missteps in mind as we consider further changes.

 

 

Choosing a doctor

A few years back, while living in South Philadelphia, we decided to change primary physicians. The most surprising thisg we learned is that most people don’t give much thought to the choice.

When we first moved into the neighborhood, we just chose the closest doctor, a guy with a multiple partner practice within walking distance. He was very popular in the neighborhood, it didn’t take long to figure out why. Despite being near impossible to reach by phone to set up appointments, Doctor “A” had a thriving practice. He accepted every insurance plan, and once you were in the office, the wait in the waiting room was short. He used medical students as interns, so his time with the patient involved saying hello and writing prescriptions. He wrote a lot of prescriptions, all you had to do was ask and he would write one for anything.

We were more interested in a doctor that was interested in our health, so we started shopping. We interviewed a few, and most were shocked that we had standards we expected to be met. We expected an office staff sufficient to answer the phone when we called, or at least return a voice message within an hour. That knocked half a dozen practices off the list. We expected the staff to be polite and fluent in English. Scratch off anther three offices. We expected a clean office and waiting room. Another two down. We expected to see a doctor, a person who had graduated from medical school, for examination and diagnosis. The list of practices kept getting shorter.

Finally we got down to interviewing doctors. The shock on their faces when we answered the question “What seems to be the problem today?” with “We’re choosing a doctor, and want to get to know you” was cute at first, but by the time we got to the third candidate it was annoying. You could feel an attitude of “What right do you have to make a decision about my qualifications?”

We made a decision, Doctor “B” was right down the street, and we saw him a couple of times over the next year. The third visit I sat in the examination room waiting for him, and was able to hear every word on both sides of a conversation he was having on the speakerphone in his adjacent office. So much for confidentiality, and I was unimpressed with the way he discussed this other patient’s issues with the other doctor on the phone, making more comments about her personal life than her medical condition. Then he entered the examination room, my file in his hands. He sat down, thumbed through the pages, and said “So how is your diabetes?”

I don’t have diabetes.

I told him I didn’t have diabetes, my issue was multiple sclerosis, and he shook his head and looked closer at the file. Then he turned it right side up. Then he put on his glasses, saying “looks like I need to have my eyes checked again, haha.”

I slowly stood, maintaining eye contact with him and said “You’re fired. Your eyes didn’t get any worse while you were sitting here, so that thumbing through my file was just a show. If I wasn’t clear enough in the beginning when I told you I need a primary physician who would treat me as a person, perhaps you can remember this” and I walked out the door.

We tried our second choice, and kicked ourselves a few times for not making him our first choice.

Doctor “C” had a small storefront office on Broad street, a bit further to walk but there were a couple of different bus or subway choices available. One of his nurses would bring her dog to work, but the dog stayed in the filing room and everything was clean. Doctor “C” turned out to be one of the best doctors I’ve ever dealt with, and I had already dealt with quite a few. A few years later, when Emma developed cancer, doctor “C” went from being a good doctor to being a great doctor, I considered him a genuine friend. When she received the diagnosis, he sat with us, holding our hands, and said “Pray for God to guide your doctors,” he filled in when the specialists she was seeing made mistakes or overlooked details, and made our lives better during the very worst of times.

I realize that anyone with a passing average in medical school can become a doctor. Some doctors will be naturally better than others, some will be friendlier, and the doctor you find will be in your area. We were fortunate to find Dr. “C”, had we simply behaved like sheep and stayed with the first doctor we met our lives would have been worse.

My advice is to make the extra effort, find a doctor you trust, because when you need a superior physician, it is too late to start looking.

 

 

Verjaardag

In Flemish, the word “verjaardag” means “anniversary” or “birthday”. Flemish is one of those languages that ties together words, “Ver”in this case is like the prefix “re-” or “returning”, “jaar” is “year” and “dag” is “day”. The pronunciation is much like a background in English would suggest, except the “j” is pronounced as “y”. There are so many similarities to English I once believed learning Flemish would be easy, but three years into the project I’m still fumbling about. I’m not going to attempt to explain the word for “Happy” other than to explain “g” is pronounced like “h” and then “j” in “Gelukkige”. I take you down this road because today is my blog’s anniversary, or “vandaag is mijn blog verjaardag.”

One year ago I started this blog, with the initial goal of writing one thousand words a day. That changed to “around one thousand words, six days a week” rather quickly. Some days it is barely five hundred words, but I’ve been told that writers write, so being a writer this is what I do, moving along with whatever topic has my mind going that day. The exercise has been good for my writing skills and also has been a relief to my wife, who encouraged me to do this because I was “wasting my talent” commenting in public fora.

In global terms of popularity, readership has been small. I didn’t set unrealistic goals, so I managed to exceed them. As of this morning, there have been 10,171 unique visitors to the page, and those visitors have been based in 93 countries. Central Africa, China, and some of the former Soviet states are the only areas which haven’t produced readers, although there are many explanations for that. There are over one hundred and fifty people who receive the blog by email each day,  and others find the blog through search engines or links in other articles. Sometimes I’m surprised by the popularity of an article, the third chapter of my series on world religions picks up a view almost everyday, the last few days have been from Singapore. The article on wave-particle duality gets a couple of hits a week, and thanks to a link in an astronomy journal the article on interstellar distances gets a fair amount of attention. There are two food articles and two obituaries (one a person, the other a career) in the top ten, then one just hits a chord, like an article on hypocritical intolerance, which became the most read article of the year even though it was only published two weeks ago.

The number of comments have been disappointing, averaging two a day, but I have no basis for my expectation on that. There are comments on the websites on which I publicize the blog, and some people email me directly, but the conversations I had hoped for on the blog itself have not materialized. Yet.

I have tried some unorthodox approaches, tying music into articles in unusual ways. I attempt to remain light-hearted and even humorous when writing about difficult issues. My politics encompass the entire spectrum, so someone who absolutely loves me for my stand on one issue may end up hating me for my position on another. This is my way of expressing the concept of duality, we are all grey, very few people are completely black or white, and those folks tend to be exceptionally boring.

There are drawbacks to having a variety of topics, and a couple of people have suggested I focus on one area, or compile a group of entries into a book. I think it is likely I’ll reformat the blog, separating topics into categories and providing a separate page for each category, all joined on a home page. Compilations will require more thought, my last adventure in publishing was not a textbook experience, and would not apply to any other project. Perhaps someone will volunteer to edit a book, or perhaps I’ll just write a book instead of compiling and editing blog articles. Spring is here, the magnolias in my office should be blooming soon, and I will be able to spend more time without distractions.

Most importantly, thank you all for reading, commenting on, and sharing my articles.

Another day at the office

Another day at the office

 

 

 

“Don’t do what I did”

I smoke. I am one of those weird people who are not addicted to nicotine, are aware of the dangers of tobacco, and choose to smoke anyway. Nonetheless, I have always been impressed by Yul Brynner’s choice to make the above ad for the American Cancer Society.

Yul (Юлий Борисович Бринер) was born in Vladivostok Russia in 1920 and immigrated to America in 1940. Consider that for a moment, he was born just after the first world war and Spanish influenza, then at age twenty he traveled to the other side of the world on the eve of the second world war. Smoking was not only seen as sophisticated, it was a simple treatment for stress, even the Red Cross provided cigarettes to soldiers. Yuliy Borisovich had started smoking at age twelve, and smoked for forty years before quitting in 1971. In 1983 he found a lump on his vocal chords, and just hours before his four thousandth performance of “The King and I” received the test results informing him his vocal chords were fine, but he had inoperable lung cancer.

Yul took a break for radiation therapy and then the tour continued, with another six hundred and twenty five performances. Yul made the public service announcement, which was aired heavily on all American networks just in time for his death in October of 1985. To me, it is the most powerful statement ever.

As I watched the coverage of the Oscar Pistorius trial, I felt sorry for Oscar. Not quite as sorry as I felt for Reeva Steenkamp, the woman Oscar killed, but I could see he is filled with grief. He did something that ended a human life and wishes he could undo it. Kind of like Yul.

There has been testimony about South African gun laws. Ownership of a firearm is conditional on a competency test and several other factors, including background checking of the applicant, inspection of an owner’s premises, and licensing of the weapon by the police. Oscar passed the competency test, which includes identifying the correct course of action in “shoot/don’t shoot” scenarios. The shooting of Reeva Steenkamp was clearly a “don’t shoot” situation. His remorse does not absolve his guilt. I have a friend in South Africa, and am aware of the fear many people live with. It is a scary place with scary people, arming one’s self is a rational measure. But as we know to varying extents in America, just because it is legal to possess a gun does not mean it is appropriate for everyone to possess a gun, responsibility needs to be assessed honestly by the gun owner, before he walks out of the gun store.

Oscar will most likely spend some time, perhaps the remainder of his life, incarcerated. This will not bring Reeva back, nothing will. If Oscar is sincere about his remorse, I think he should make a public service announcement. It should be aired in every country in which firearms are legally owned by civilians. Here is how I envision it:

We see a still image of Oscar as a child, after his legs had been amputated. Oscar’s voice over is the only sound. He says “Fibular hemimelia took away my freedom when I was less than a year old.” The image shifts to another still of him running in the Olympics “Technology helped me regain my freedom, allowing me to pursue life to it’s fullest.” The image shifts to stills of Oscar and Reeva at a celebrity event, then shifts to a picture of the murder scene. “My irresponsible use of technology took away the life of the woman I love,” shift to video, Oscar in a dingy cell, his prosthetic legs propped against the outside of the bars. The remainder of the video is a slow zoom in on his face as he continues “and cost my freedom as well. Some things cannot be undone, don’t let the irresponsible person with a gun be you.”

That’s my concept, I’d like to see it on the air in America as well. Maybe required viewing when purchasing a firearm.