I don’t want to know

My last wife had the most annoying habit. We had different political backgrounds, and she would make statements about mine that were false. When I would try to provide her with correct information, she would say “I don’t want to hear it,” and put her fingers in her ears. In a sense, I suspect this was the reason we divorced. She couldn’t handle constant reminders that the world did not revolve around her. I could not fathom a refusal of information, learning was part of why I loved her; she routinely presented ideas I had never considered, a few of them made sense.

Recently I found myself in something resembling her position. A person presented a thoughtful collection of data and studies that I refuse to entertain. The data was too well recorded and interpreted to throw it away out of hand, it may very well be true, or it could be false, I don’t wish to investigate. It is knowledge I refuse to possess.

The young (42) man who presented the information did so in a sincere manner. Having been inundated with claims of institutional racism being the cause of poor test scores among people of color, he sought out and collected data indicating that differences in intelligence are genetic, racial by nature, and not caused by environment. Were I to entertain this train of thought, it would tarnish my relationships with people of color (by the way, when did white stop being a color?). Certainly anecdotal evidence refutes the claim, I have known white people who were barely in possession of survival skills, and people of color who were brilliant, but I know anecdotal evidence is meaningless in the larger sense.

We discussed my refusal at length. I defended my thought process, which perhaps is a bit esoteric. He did not understand my position, and I realized I could not offer an argument he would understand. He rightfully sees himself as a victim, and seeks defense. For him, the facts are important, because they refute the false claim he (and all other people of his color) are racists. I am older, and simply don’t care what names I am called, because I know who I am.

In contrast, someone else said to me “Do you know that scientists have discovered a traumatic marker in mostly all African descendants in the U.S. that started in slavery in our DNA?” As preposterous as that concept is, I was curious. Was it possible that some incredible leap in genetics happened that I had not heard about? I asked for a reference to the data, but folks don’t really understand how to provide references so he sent some screen shots of the headlines of articles making the claim. From those I was able to find the name of the scientist who published the study which had been twisted into the claim. Rachel Yehuda, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, had done a study in 2015 of thirty two holocaust survivors and their offspring, coming to the conclusion that trauma can be passed on genetically. The idea was briefly popular, and then soundly debunked.

I wanted to believe this was possible. I looked farther than the initial claim, even without references. I could see the flaws in her initial study, but continued to look for supporting research. It just isn’t true, like many other ideas that are accepted because they sound like something that could make sense, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Another friend, reflecting on Matthew 26:11 ( For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.), brought up reasons for fighting an unwinnable war. We cannot eliminate poverty, but we can provide comfort for its victims. There are many fights worth fighting, as long as we don’t lose sight of the goal. When the goal becomes impossible, we are fighting the wrong fight and need to reevaluate the goal. By providing comfort to victims of poverty, we are fighting poverty.

I see these unwinnable wars overtaking civil society. For starters, can we de-escalate the rhetoric and stop calling them “wars”? As war like as many people wish to appear, they just don’t make good soldiers. Good soldiers fight to restore peace, most folks today fight for an opportunity to keep fighting. There was the war on drugs, the war on crime and the war on poverty; then suddenly everything was a war. Women, Blacks, Truth, Science, you name it, any difference was framed as a war. The main enemy being “people who don’t think like me.” The civilian, having been assigned the role of warrior, responds in the way he imagines a warrior would respond. The fights never end.

“What about” has become such a popular argument ruse that it has its own new word, whataboutisms. The idea that misdeeds can be mitigated when preceded by misdeeds of someone else. Two wrongs still do not make a right, and it is off putting to have to inform adults of this fact. This image trades on whataboutisms, but instead of continuing an argument it attempts to soften one.

 

I don’t think many people respond well to attacks. They become defensive and any exchange of ideas comes to a halt. We can disagree without insulting each other. No solutions are reached through snarling, one has to respect the person they disagree with in order for anyone to change their mind.

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A day of firearms in America

Yesterday, 24 March 2018, was a day of firearms. Groups of children marched in the “March for our lives,” the latest anti-gun movement. I went to a gun show, and saw families shopping together. My cousin in law in Texas taught his five year old grandson gun safety.

Earlier in the week, the police in Princeton NJ murdered a man at the local Panera, which is now covered with signs blaming everyone except the Princeton Police Department. Apparently the NRA is responsible for the lack of negotiation skills in the upscale sanctuary city.

I do not believe it is correct to say “everyone is passionate about their position on guns.” The anti-gun nuts lose their passion a week or so after each tragedy. They dig the spotlight, but the actual work of overturning the Constitution is of little interest. Personally, I find it difficult to argue with people who are arguing based on emotion, they rarely bother to learn anything about the subject and lack civility. Their self awarded moral superiority tarnishes rapidly under the light of reality.

Remington Model 12 pump action .22 caliber

So while the kids were marching to ban guns, I went to a gun show. I’ve been to many, they are common. The rifles I would like seem to be overpriced, but I did pick up some cases and ammunition. I had a nice conversation with a young man who was choosing a shotgun for his daughter. She’s eleven years old, and very slight of build, but from what her father says she is very good at Trap shooting. It brought back pleasant memories of shooting with my daughter, who was a natural marksman. I spoke with a couple of young men who were selling Remington Model 12 rifles (one I am interested in). This was the first rifle I owned, at about twelve years old, but today they sell for as much as twenty two hundred dollars. We agreed it is a dependable small caliber rifle, but they had no intention of lowering the price, which was about average among the dealers present. I had a couple of conversations with dealers and other customers about the other rifle I was looking for, the Lee-Enfield model 4 in .303 British.

Lee-Enfield model 4 .303 British

It is difficult to find the Enfield with it’s original stock, and it just doesn’t feel right with modern wood. My last one had seen service in Korea, I sold it when money was tight after my second divorce, they go for between six hundred and seventeen hundred dollars now.  I still have cartridges in .303 British, and it is the most battle proven military rifle in existence, having seen service since WWI; the Afghani’s used it to repel the Russians in the 80s. My oldest daughter could put five rounds into the ten ring at one hundred yards with it when she was twelve.

There was a nice couple selling home made soap, they had some molded into the shape of a pistol which they said they sold out of in December, and plenty of other friendly people selling gun related objects.

My cousin’s husband used the day to teach his grandson gun safety. Because that is what responsible gun owners do. Even though his guns are safely locked away, little Noah may come across other firearms as he grows up, and needs to understand how to handle them safely. Intelligent people teach their offspring to respond to potential dangers with knowledge rather than fear. There is always the possibility Noah will grow up to be anti gun (although in this family it is unlikely), but he will always be safe.

Noah learns to handle a rifle

Meanwhile, in this wonderful Democratic Republic, crowds of children were encouraged to march in protest against gun ownership. Even the Pope got involved, maybe because he realized that America is not a theocracy and wanted someone who might be listened to speaking. Fear of guns is not far from fear of the dark. The unknown is scary, and to children, responsibility is scary. Congress, who only weeks earlier were calling on soap manufacturer’s to make their products less appetizing to children, is now being asked to listen to the wisdom of children.

As the logic twists further, the goal of this movement is to tell congress to listen to children because they have not listened to adults. They have listened, just not to people proposing violations of the Constitution they swore to uphold. The path to an amendment modifying the second amendment has not changed in two hundred and thirty years. It has not been approached, rather laws infringing on the right to bear arms have faced challenges in court, and routinely failed. All that has to happen is to pass an amendment and have it ratified by two thirds of the states, then the laws can change. Unfortunately, those wishing to ban guns pass laws which criminals do not (by definition) obey. Changing the Constitution would at least keep guns out of the hands of honest citizens, but that approach has not been tried.

Panera Bread in Princeton

Following the murder of Scott Mielentz by Princeton police, locals protested bread. Had Scott been a member of a minority, the town would have burned, but because he had financial troubles he was cast as an outsider, and the police exonerated by the locals. I have no sympathy for the Princeton police, they have the money and time to be properly trained.

The facts of the event are fairly straight forward. Mielentz was suffering from PTSD, which put him beyond the understanding of a police force that has never been exposed to trauma. He walked into Panera with a handgun, which some reports have referred to as “brandishing a gun.” Everyone in the store left, leaving Mielentz alone. Police blocked the streets for blocks around the store, and schools, some miles away, were placed on “lockdown.” For five hours, the police claim to have “negotiated” with Mielentz, with his only expressed statement that he be left alone. As shift change neared, Mielentz was killed by a single shot through the window, the only shot fired during the event. Mielentz posed no immediate threat, so the circumstances of the incident must be presented to a grand jury composed of 23 civilians for independent review by state law. If there is Justice in the state of New Jersey, the officer responsible will be tried for manslaughter at the very least. But expecting justice in New Jersey is foolish.

The signs outside Panera spoke directly to the children’s march, but I don’t suspect anyone was paying attention. “NRA there is blood on your hands” could have been crafted by my ex-wife, who ranted incessantly on Facebook after the Stone Douglas incident with the same words (with the opportunity  to respond turned off because that’s how you show how passionate you are, making statements that no one can respond to). There are a couple with AR-15s on them, which is most likely the weapon the police used. There is a sign which reads “Guns kill, not save” in which they misspelled “Police” as “Guns.” Lots of calls to end violence following a largely non-violent event. Oddly, there were no signs at the Police department.

America is a wonderful country, with a government restrained from tyranny by a perfect Constitution. I say perfect because built into the Constitution is a format for revising it. We realized people should not be property and enacted the thirteenth amendment. We realized that our former slaves were not equal until they could vote and enacted the fifteenth amendment. Fifty years later we realized that women were equal in rights and enacted the nineteenth amendment. If the populous was truly interested in banning guns, an amendment could be proposed nullifying the second amendment. So far, nothing.

In the meantime, we may react to the “gun problem” in many ways. Some will fight to ban guns, others will fight to protect the right to bear arms. I cannot think of a single instance in which a solution was reached by shouting, so civil discussions would be the best path to pursue, which requires education. Banning guns which do not exist helps no one. Banning guns based on how they look works the same. If gun owners are so stupid, how is it they understand the features of guns and the anti-gun nuts do not?

All of us need to treat our opponents with respect. Of course, if we really respected each other, guns wouldn’t seem nearly as scary, because the people owning them wouldn’t be as scary.

 

Assault

Some funny things have come out of the #MeToo campaign. Okay, I use the word “funny” to describe things which have no humor about them.

The stated intent was to show victims of sexual assault they are not alone. This result may or may not have been achieved. We are certainly aware a large percentage of people, both women and men, have been comfortable enough to say “Me too.” This is enormous. Although the campaign was originally supposed to be about women, many men have come forward as well, uncovering the secret that any discussion about sex includes all sexes. Unfortunately, even with the barrier lowered from “experienced sexual assault” to “experienced sexual harassment,” the experiences have been exposed as, and this should come as no surprise, personal. One person’s assault is another person’s compliment. This has been difficult to digest for a digital world unaccustomed to nuance.

Society requires sensationalism. It is no longer satisfactory to say Susan doesn’t like Charlotte (who happens to be black), Susan is a racist.  If Andy is uncomfortable with homosexuals he must be a homophobe.  If Henry lets everyone in the room know he’s available he’s a sexual predator. If Cindy voted for a conservative she’s a NAZI.

One of the reasons a large number of victims of sexual assault did not come forward in the past is because they did not feel they would be believed. There are two parts to the reason they felt so. The first is because the primary defense to such accusations was to blame the victim, and in cases of sexual assault the psyche of the victim had already been crushed once. The second is that a fair number of accusations were false, because even the accusation is enough to destroy some lives; one false accusation can be used by countless defenders of the genuinely guilty.

I do not like to denigrate anyone’s pain. We all have different tolerances, and while in many of the experiences described as “sexual assault” no assault took place, the victim was damaged in some way. The important thing to remember is that damage does not refer to the act, only the result. If Charlie walks into the office and says “How is everyone today?” and Norma is having the very worst day of her life, Charlie did nothing wrong. Neither did Norma, until she claims Charlie harassed her by asking. Making claims of abuse when none has taken place is abusive in itself.

Some of the more abusive claims I have heard in the last few weeks have included a woman who claimed her assault took the form of a man referring to her as “honey.” One word, one time, no other context. Another woman claims to have been sexually assaulted by former President George H. W. Bush, four years ago when he was eighty nine and confined to a wheelchair. Mind you, in both these instances the word “assault” rather than “harassed” was used.

My own most frightening instance of sexual assault was only intimidation, there was no physical contact. I was twenty, driving an ice cream truck through the projects in California when I was surrounded by a gang of Chicanos. One reached through the window and removed the keys, a couple other ones started rocking the truck, tipping it enough the wheels would come off the ground, and the leader hung on the window telling me how they were going to “bone” me. As it was, I had another key and was able to escape, but I was terrified as I lived across the street from the projects and parked my truck out front, it was altogether possible they would see me at some point. I quit that job and moved across town about a month later. So I understand that no physical contact is required to create fear, but I maintain the threat of violence (in any form) is a requirement in order to designate assault.

I have been party to other conversations in which I was told that a difference of opinion threatened the person’s very existence. Fear is present, with no threat. Fear is beyond understanding, it is irrational, which is why it holds little legal standing.

This is why words are important. Assault is a crime, claiming you were assaulted implies someone committed a crime. Falsely accusing someone of a crime is a crime by itself. The lesson we should all learn from the #MeToo campaign is communication is crucial, and without words that have common meanings communication is impossible, often at the time it is needed the most.

It is fairly normal to be uncomfortable from time to time (sorry millennials). The level of that discomfort is the measure of trauma involved. I feel safe in saying everyone has at some point in their lives been uncomfortable in a sexual situation. This does not mean everyone has been sexually assaulted, what it means is that we all deal with life differently. Each and every one of us. My first “sexual assault” (different event, heterosexual) might be described as someone else’s fantasy; I was just unprepared that time and it was outside my desires. It was however an assault, I had no interest and the woman forced herself on me. I would never consider the millions of times I have been referred to with “terms of endearment” as sexual assaults, anyone who does is in need of psychological counseling as they are incapable of social interaction.

My hope is that the #MeToo campaign encourages conversations (dialogues rather than monologues), and those conversations create understandings. Some of those understandings are going to result in trust, some of them may result in discovering over sensitivity, most will result in growth. That would be a good thing, and the world needs some good things.

 

Polyamory

As much as I loathe Wikipedia, I want to start with their definition, because it indicates the complexity.

polyamory (from Greek πολύ poly, “many, several”, and Latin amor, “love”) is the practice of or desire for intimate relationships with more than one partner, with the knowledge of all partners. It has been described as “consensual, ethical, and responsible non-monogamy”.


Both Greek and Latin roots? No wonder people have such difficulty understanding. Most people define polyamory by what it is not, an inefficient way to convey meaning, but polyamorists tend to over explain, part of trying relentlessly to make sure everyone is on the same page. I like Merriam Webster’s definition better

 

polyamory

plural

polyamories

  1. :  the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time

This removes “intimacy” and replaces it with “romantic,” there are always misunderstandings around intimacy, which I have discussed recently. My opinion is that many people repress their sexuality, in most cases understanding very little about their own bodies. When faced with the subject of other people’s bodies the imagination runs wild, unfettered by common sense. H.L Mencken defined Puritanism as “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy,” I might add, “and being not, the ensuing envy.”
My interest in polyamory came on the heels of three emotionally devastating relationships. I had been happily monogamous, in some instances fiercely so. I was jealous of the young men Emma allowed to flirt with her, which prompted her to toy with my emotional responses even more. When she died I tried to move forward in monogamy, recognizing the importance of communication. Next wife had little interest in communication (she was the one who would literally put her fingers in her ears to avoid hearing things she did not agree with), but she did say something as she was leaving that resonated. She commented about how difficult it was to love me. Her statement made no sense on its own, but was similar to something a woman between my second and third wives had said. The next relationship I had went much the same way, with Nancy saying “Loving you is hard” and then blaming me for her seizures because she was “too stressed out from lying to me.” It was all starting to make sense, so when the next girlfriend took $2,000 and went to Japan to see her grandson, I didn’t find it as disturbing as I should have. I didn’t even mind when she contacted me out of the blue about a year later, acting as if nothing had happened, I just told her I couldn’t see her anymore. I no longer expected honest communication.

I had decided the best way to reduce stress was to stop expecting fidelity, no one could ever blame me for causing them seizures again. I certainly did not expect what I found. When I met Samantha I knew she had other men in her life. There was nothing to hide. A month later I fell, suffering Traumatic Brain Injury as well as several other injuries. Samantha took a month off work to care for me, showing more devotion and care than most of my monogamous partners had ever shown. She has encouraged me to go out with other women, and I have, I just don’t have the desire for multiple partners. I’ve had drinks with one of her suitors, he invited us to come over for New Years Eve last year.

Most explanations of polyamory are centered on what polyamory is not. Part of that is because there are so many ways to be poly. There is no one right way, but there are several wrong ways. As I said earlier, poly people tend to over explain, often creating new terms so rapidly it is difficult to keep up. Sometimes they try so hard to be all-inclusive they can’t be followed, which is why Sam and I created a group for mature poly people. I think we’ve kicked four people out of the group, three for inappropriate advances, another for trying to tell everyone the right way to be poly, implying they were wrong. Our defining blurb includes “My poly may not be your poly, but part of the exercise is accepting that however we choose to live, we are all still poly. No shaming or denouncing the formats we have chosen. We all have opinions, display the level of respect with which you wish to be treated.” Our group presently has over three hundred members, several whom have told me our group is the only place they feel comfortable being themselves.

The universal rules of polyamory are centered in honesty. You do not get involved in a new relationship without talking with your partners about it. My relationship naturally carried that to “No secrets.” Polyamory is not to be confused with “Swinging,” or meaningless one night stands; sexuality is rarely confused with intimacy; having multiple partners does not mean having them simultaneously. One of the most common, and least appreciated, aspects of polyamory are “Unicorn Hunters,” people looking to add a third partner (usually female) to an existing relationship, for any number of reasons. People are not objects you take from a shelf to use until you tire of them, they are not a spice with which you can spice up your marriage. There are plenty of multi-partner households, but actively looking to “add a person” is unseemly.

Some polyamorous relationships are asexual, simply warm romantic relationships. The focus is on communication, not sexual activity (can I say that enough?). Of course, if you want to produce a television show about polyamory, sex still sells. It just doesn’t tell the story. Or it tells the wrong story. There are enough false stories about polyamory that we become a bit defensive, but the fact is, there are many ways to be polyamorous, so we don’t have a comprehensive argument. One difficulty is dating, the phrase “I’m in an open relationship” has been used by adulterers so many times that OKCupid, a large dating web site, has an accommodation for people who are polyamorous. You can link your profile to your partners profiles, there is no question that your partner(s) knows what is going on. Cheating is just as distasteful to poly folk as mono folk, because polyamory is about loving, not conquering.

I have been surprised by the people who show up at poly events, but then, I’m there. Polyamorous people come from every walk of life, every income bracket, and every political leaning. You may be surprised I am poly. It is a part of my life, not all of it.

Genders

There has been a great deal of discussion about gender lately, yet no information. By that I mean many people are speaking about gender, but actual pertinent facts are rare. I typically prefer to start with a dictionary.

gen·der
/jendər/
noun
noun: gender; plural noun: genders

1.
the state of being male or female (typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones).
“traditional concepts of gender”
synonyms: sex
“variables included age, income, and gender”

Okay, the first problem exists within the definition. Gender is synonymous with sex. Back to the dictionary. Synonymous means “a word having the same or nearly the same meaning as another,” and if more people could comprehend the difference in “nearly” and “the same” more issues would be resolved on this planet than I can imagine. Even the text of the definition, “(typically used with reference to social and cultural differences rather than biological ones)” waffles on a solid definition, and “the state pf being male or female” assumes there are only two genders to match the two sexes. So misunderstandings are understandable.

Within that problem is the key to several others, so many issues are considered synonymous with sex. In addition to being the term we use to differentiate egg and sperm carriers, it is also the term for combining sperm with eggs. How it is that Inuits have fifty words for snow while we have just one word for the most essential act of life is relatively easy to understand. People don’t talk about sex, so they don’t use many words. In the “sex-positive” community there are occasionally more words than I can keep track of.

Gender refers to the cultural differences between the sexes. So the parents of a baby girl with short hair hears “Is is a boy or a girl” because one of the few markers of sex at that age (hair length) is ambiguous. I have been called a girl many times because I have kept my hair long most of my life, sometimes it’s an honest mistake, sometimes it has been meant as an insult. Little girls who climb trees are often called Tomboy, society is demanding we conform to gender roles. My youngest son played with dolls, my youngest daughter played with trucks, and today they both display the depth resulting from being “allowed” to play outside their sex-roles.

 

Sex refers to genetic makeup, males have a Y chromosome where females have an X chromosome, resulting in what are often referred to as “secondary sex characteristics,” breasts, uteruses, and slighter builds for women; body hair, testicles, and greater upper body strength in men. If anyone believes those are the only differences between the sexes, discussions about the difference between sex and gender are pointless.

People who identify as transgender feel they are the sex opposite their biology. While that position was renamed “gender dysphoria” rather than “gender identity disorder” in 1973, thus removing the language of mental or sexual disorders; the fact we are taking about sex caused many to stop paying attention. Yes, we have all heard “Sex Sells,” but most folks would rather not talk or hear about it. A few years back when all the fuss was made about bathroom laws, the greatest fear expressed was that men would be allowed in women’s bathrooms. From a rational point of view this is ridiculous at even the basest level. If surgery has taken place the transsexual woman appears to be a woman. A “man” does not identify as a “woman,” so they would have no desire to use a women’s bathroom. In actuality this was an expression of distaste for transsexuals,  most people do not dance about the bathroom displaying their genitals, certainly not transsexuals, and a transsexual would receive no gratification from seeing the genitals which they identify with their own. The pretend issue was it would open the door to predators, that door has always been open. Fears about other people enjoying looking at something demonstrate the veil around sexuality.

As with anything involving humans, the discussion went from accepting the idea of three (male, female, intersex) genders to identifying every possible variant. This confuses people who confuse sex and gender, there are obviously only two sexes (generally, although I have known a couple of XXY people), so how can there be thirty one genders? For the same reason there are only four Cardinal points and thirty one flavors of ice cream at Baskin Robbins. The two words apply to different objects. There can be as many genders as there are people, it is the state of their social differences.

There is little that is binary in our world, with some investigation deviations can always be found. When it comes to sexuality, how could there possibly be only two choices? I doubt every straight monogamous couple approach sexuality in exactly the same way, so “normal” is only a range within the spectrum, not a specific act. When do you decide that someone’s behavior is deviant? When you want to be intimate with them and they don’t do it your way, you might call them deviant, but they might say the same of you. I manage a group of polyamorists, which we organized for mature adults, as most groups are filled with judgemental young people. Our central rule is acceptance, your poly might not be my poly, but you are free from condemnation in our space, hard to believe this is necessary in a lifestyle based on understanding. We have grown to about three hundred members in just over a year, and have only had to kick a handful of people out. There are a few strict rules in ethical non-monogamy, primary is ethical behavior.

Your gender is whatever you want it to be. If you want to be the opposite sex through surgery you spend a good deal of time in psychological counseling, the surgery is impossible to reverse, parts removed cannot be replaced, so it cannot be a whim. In reality, you can never truly change your sex, your forty sixth chromosome you received from your father is either X or Y, that cannot be changed. I have a few transgender friends, running the spectrum from simply being more comfortable in roles opposite their biological sex to undergoing surgery. In the same way I don’t stay up at night wondering if my cis friends are male or female enough, I give no thought to the sexuality of my trans friends. They are all people first.

 

Bigotry

I’ve noticed an increase in the use of the word “bigot” lately. I prefer this word to the misapplied term “racist” or the suffix “phobe.” It tends to be accurate in its application.

“Bigot” is defined by the OED as “A person who is intolerant towards those holding different opinions,” and “Bigotry” as “Intolerance towards those who hold different opinions from oneself.” Are these words not perfect for today’s society? “Racist” has been applied in situations that have nothing to do with “Race,” or even a twisted definition of “Race.” “Homophobe,””Islamaphobe,” and “Transphobe” rarely describe a phobia.

For instance, what would you call California’s recent decision to restrict official travel to states with LGBT laws they disagree with? It is clearly intolerant toward entire states due to differing opinions of the governments of those states. We created a United States rather than a single state to allow freedoms and differing laws. California has decided to ban travel to certain states, but still allows travel to China and other countries with active aggressive anti-gay laws. Like a death penalty for being gay rather than no protection from discrimination. I believe the design promotes tolerance, however the California decision is analogous to covering ones eyes and ears. Do not misunderstand, I certainly have no opposition to various sexualities, but denying commerce and communication is wrong on too many levels to count. California has forfeited the ability to be ambassadors of tolerance in perhaps the most ironic fashion.

I had a friend, we attended school together. We reconnected on Facebook a few years ago, and worked on a couple of charitable events together. She, like many of my friends, is a Democrat. Following the election she went non-linear, to the point I had to “un-friend” her on Facebook. I explained why to her privately, explaining there was no place in my life for her “smiling bigotry,” as she would post absolutely hateful things prefaced with excuses. We ran across each other after the shooting in Alexandria of Congressman Scalise. We have mutual friends, so we end up in the same conversations. Still as bigoted as ever, she continued to spew hate, and when she saw I was there attacked me because I had “called her a bigot.” Well, I guess I was right. She’s still smiling as she tells people that not enough Republicans were killed.

Collins Idehen, under the pseudonym Mr. Colion Noir, hosts a webcast for the NRA. He also writes about gun rights and responsibilities. In the aftermath of the Philando Castile verdict, he touched on bigotry, in this case comparing racism and gun control. “However, there is also a problem with some people in this country dismissing racism wholesale when it isn’t overt racial slurs or crosses burning on front lawns. Covert racism is a real thing and is very dangerous. Covert racism works the same way anti-gunners use coded language to push gun control. They say common sense gun measures, but we know what they really mean. We gun advocates spend our time trying to prove to the people that they don’t just want background checks they want to ban guns. The problem is, they don’t come right out and say,”give me all your guns” so no one believes us, but we know the effects are incredibly real. That’s what covert racism is and does.” What he calls covert racism (and anti-gunners) is best defined as bigotry. A decision on how to proceed based on the objects (Blacks, Guns) rather than the situation.

Another example of bigotry comes from a group that prides itself on inclusion. In fact they’ve appropriated the month of June as “Pride Month.” Three gay people who were also proud of their religious beliefs were not tolerated, and excluded from the “Dyke March” in Chicago for carrying a rainbow flag that also contained the Star of David. This time the bigotry is so strong it has overridden self preservation. Convinced by the “progressive” narrative that Judaism is equal to Zionism, and that Zionism is racist towards Arabs, they found the Star of David offensive. Never mind that the majority of Arab culture is Islamic, under which any deviation from heterosexuality is punishable by death, they found it unacceptable to not include Arabs, so they excluded Jews. Maybe the whole “No Hate” program has them thirsting for their natural drive to hate. I can’t really call this an example of bigotry, because I am not as quick to judge the parade organizers as they are to judge Jews, maybe they’re only jerks, and while most bigots are jerks, being a jerk on its own is not bigotry. Antisemitism often hides as pro-Palestinian or anti-Zionism, and each of those groups are bigots.

Bigotry is simply a negative prejudice, often played out as innocence or jokes. When I moved North, after living in Texas and California, I was shocked at the racism. Yes, there was racism in both previous states, but it was overt. You knew where you stood. In the North, it is covert, small bigoted actions which are less identifiable. Guess again folks, just because you’re smiling and claiming to care, you are still causing pain, and pain is easy to remember for most folks. The victims may not be able to identify the event, but they are aware of the pain, your shock when they respond just makes you appear even more false. Political Correctness is not a disguise for bigotry, it is a showcase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lethal Narcissism

My mail has been unreliable, apparently I missed the degrees in psychology everyone received. They’re being used irresponsibly, and the value of something that was freely dispensed to all humans can actually drop to a level beneath worthless. Nonetheless, I hear diagnoses and prognoses bandied about by folks who have had no contact with their target patient. Throw a few psychological terms about and people will think you know what you’re talking about; if they’re gullible, or you’re saying what they want to hear. In reality there are a large portion who will see through you, but there is still that seven percent who think chocolate milk comes from brown cows.

A little research reveals this to be a symptom of the narcissism which is running rampant in American society. Narcissists tend to be the first to judge, and the last to judge themselves.  Of course, recognizing there is a multi million dollar market for selfie sticks might lead you to the same conclusion. The problem with the uneducated psychologists is they do not realize you may display a symptom without having the full blown syndrome. Yes, we have taken a turn towards narcissism as a society, but everyone with a cubicle plastered with photos of themselves is not a clinically diagnosed narcissist. One diagnostic test that has worked for me is to present someone with a list of the symptoms of narcissism. If they do not recognize any of the traits within themselves, they are most likely a narcissist. A balanced individual will recognize their own faults.

We are not over run by people with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), but the number of people openly displaying aspects are unusually prevalent. They are:

  1. Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
  2. Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
  3. Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions
  4. Needing constant admiration from others
  5. Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
  6. Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
  7. Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs
  8. Intensely envious of others and the belief that others are equally envious of them
  9. Pompous and arrogant demeanor

You see this all around you, just not at pathological levels. You can certainly taste it in my writing. Unfortunately, as with any psychological disorder, behavior that is not addressed self validates and increases. I am troubled for society, the expressions are becoming lethal. When national personalities call for violence, someone will be listening. If that person is less than well balanced, violence of some sort will follow. It starts with rhetoric, and when that rhetoric is challenged the response is ad hominem. I was in a discussion last week about politics, and one person went non-linear, eventually saying “I can have my opinions without factually reporting why I have them…” As I recall, the purpose of exchanging opinions was to convince people of your opinion. This person was under the impression that all that was required for me to accept her opinion as fact was her saying it. If there is truly a New World Order, this is it, “It’s true because I want it to be true.”

My ex-wife was similar. We would be discussing a subject and she would say something which had no basis in reality. When I corrected her she would argue. When I presented evidence she would say “Well, you’ve obviously done more research than I, but I still have the right to my opinion.” One time she actually placed her fingers in her ears because she did not want to hear anything which disproved her point. We’re divorced now. I don’t mind people who disagree with me, I’ve often learned new views, but when someone chooses ignorance over information there is nothing left to talk about.

The issue is not limited to a single group, discussions are becoming more difficult in general, and it’s not just my brain injury. I used to belong to several pro second amendment groups, but a few of them became unstable, with the “gun-nuts” often feared by the anti-gun crowd taking over. They disturbed me as well, so I left those groups. I’ve stayed with a few groups who promote responsibility, finding that conversations with responsible people are more satisfying regardless of topic, there is less a sense of being in an echo chamber when people speak freely and back up their opinions.

This is where narcissism can become lethal. The narcissist, in his arrogance, has isolated himself from other ideas, living in an echo chamber. He believes he is smarter than everyone else, and empowered to apply his concept of justice. The echo chamber is appealing to the narcissist. There are no voices of dissent. In many cases I find they have no intention of making sense, they just want to make noise. Louder is truer.

This week a breaking point snapped, and a man who believed his opinion reflected reality opened fire on a baseball team. He was the typical slacktivist, after firing fifty rounds the only casualty was the shooter. He did manage to wound six people, one seriously, another with a round to the foot. The story has revealed few details as the FBI has taken over the investigation, the rifle has been described as an “AK style weapon” by people who have most likely never held a firearm, and it appears he had been living on the street for several weeks. How he managed to conceal a rifle while witnesses who knew of him said all his belongings were in a bag is a bit odd, as well as how someone could live on the streets when they were carrying a $500 asset.

James T. Hodgkinson had a variety of reasons for believing Republicans should die. In his pocket was found a list of other pro-life politicians he planned to assassinate, because people who wish to preserve life should die. The logic reveals a streak of narcissism. His lack of concern for human life can easily be blamed on the severity of his mental illness, it can also be blamed on media figures who have encouraged violence through their rhetoric. Oddly (?), the media doubled down, suggesting the shooting was not enough. One Democratic member of congress responded to the calls for unity following the attack by saying she thought the shooting was funny. Why we might expect a more solemn response from a party with a history of violent acts indicates we are far more gracious than they are, even as we are portrayed as the bullies in life. This is narcissism showing, the belief they are superior, they have been wronged, no other opinion matters.

Where did this come from? One theory is that narcissists are born out of trauma, another that they are the result of “over-parenting.” I would like to think we can curb the progression from personality trait to personality disorder, but the nature of the process shields the narcissist from introspection. Contrary to popular opinion we are not all psychiatrists, and are ill equipped to counsel the mentally ill. Narcissists deny their own issues and accuse others of being narcissistic. In a defense of the shooting, Democratic Strategist James Devine said “We are in a war with selfish, foolish & narcissistic rich people. Why is it a shock when things turn violent?” Such a transparent statement, revealing his own narcissism.

Facing narcissists in my life for over fifty years, I eventually learned how to deal with them. Don’t. They either become more narcissistic or violent. They unwittingly isolate themselves, help give them what they want, complete isolation. As much as we may say “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” words do hurt. They can be an incitement to violence against a crowd, or against a single person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Synchronicity

As I approach Father’s Day, I am surrounded by synchronicity, a set of events which appear to have meaningful coincidences. I do not actually believe in the concept of coincidences in the first place, that they should be meaningful absent a cause is more a mind trying to make connections where they do not exist rather than a deep insight, it is, simply, a vibe. But I like the word “Synchronicity.”

My own father and I have had an unusual relationship. I say unusual because it does not seem to be the relationship my peers express experiencing. We’ve been close, distant, and close again for decades. From what people have told me, their relationships have been stable and unchanging. My father and I have both grown over the years, at some points we were on the same plane, others we were not.

Just last December, I was rather harsh with my father. I will make the excuse that I was exhausted from trying to explain the complexity of my brain injury when he popped in with an email of basically “Well what you should do…” after I had been struggling most of the year to do those very things, but I released fifty eight years of frustration on him. Regardless of what I perceived as aloofness, I went overboard. His response was precisely what I would desire, he didn’t make a big deal about it. Instead, when I told him about my surgery in April, he flew in to spend a few days.

 

Dad as I came out of surgery

 

I contrast this with several other paternal relationships in my life.

I would like to believe my relationship with my children is similar to that with my father, in the sense I love them no matter how much they turn away from me. Just last week my youngest son turned thirty four, we haven’t spoken in a few years, but last I saw him he was holding onto a coat of mine which he had borrowed on a previous visit twelve years prior. He said it was the only piece of me he had. Nolan has not communicated with me in years, but he has not (as his siblings have) blocked me. He is honest, if he were angry he might block me, he just doesn’t want to get caught up in the drama of his siblings disapproval of me. I’m still holding out hope for the siblings as well, but it’s hard to reach out to them while I’m blocked. I just know how I grew in my relationships and hope they will do something similar. They have a few years to go, I was about the age my eldest is now when I found a way to understand my father, but then I wanted to understand my father, I was a bit more curious.

My son Nolan (in my coat)

My girlfriend has a difficult relationship with her father, and as I examine that relationship and attempt to assist in the repair of it, I appreciate my father even more. Where our differences often were the result of one of us growing in a dimension the other had not (at the moment), Sam’s and her father’s issues appear to spring from a lack of growth. From what I can see, their relationship has not changed over their lifetimes, both seeking the ideal relationship and accepting nothing less; Sam seeking her vision of a proper father and Saul seeking his vision of a proper daughter, neither accepting the other’s frailties. I hear actual expressions of compassion from each of them, but each wants the other to change. This is the problem my children have, they resist changing their point of view for fear of it being perceived as weakness, an acknowledgement of their previous point of view being “wrong.”

These relationships, and those of other people I have been close to, tell me there is no “normal” father/child relationship any more than there are normal interpersonal relationships of any kind. It is certainly common for children to love their parents and vice versa, but as in any relationship, one party’s love does not obligate reciprocation.

I believe my father is proud of me, he recognizes my strengths and even though I did not follow the path he had in mind, I have been a productive member of society. I am certainly proud of the good works he has accomplished. Go back forty years and we were both difficult and less mature.

Times change. Some of the things I did forty years ago are unacceptable now, others were odd then but normal now. As I have come to reconcile my brain injury, one of my primary concerns was that I am not who I was before the fall. My neuropsychologist reminded me that no one is who they were last year or ten years ago, we change, the world changes, and the healthy among us adapt.

Some people refuse to let go of their pain. Some people find themselves trapped in a relationship in which their opposite clings to their pain. The healthy thing to do would be to walk away, but parental relationships can be as painful to walk away from as to endure. Parents tend to understand the delicate balance, which is why I had hoped my own children would see our relationship more clearly once they became parents. One more lesson in “just because it worked for you doesn’t mean anyone else will see it.” That is a lesson I need to relearn often.

If there is a secret, that is it. Learn and relearn. As each participant changes, and the world they live in changes, accept and forgive; this project never ends. It would be nice if relationships were simple, but they are not; they are the connections of two unique individuals. You can blame the frustrations on Fitzgerald, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past” or you can change the way you look at it. Leave the past behind, and focus on now, accept and forgive.

 

 

 

 

Which gender is that water?

 

 

You’ve probably seen this ad on television. You probably didn’t pick up on the sexism it promotes.

It is allegedly an ad promoting clean water. It veers off that message when the actor says “Every day, women around the world spend millions of hours just collecting it” with the implication men do not gather water. I suggest this also reduces the urgency of the message, by providing no evidence gathering water takes a large amount of time. If millions (the ad purports 200 million) of hours are spent daily, worldwide, then of the three and a half billion women on the planet, the average time per woman would be less than three and a half minutes. This includes those of us in civilized countries with running water in the next room, so if water.org is being honest with their numbers, an exceptionally small percentage of women are spending a significant amount of time gathering water. The sexism of the message continues with “Stella Artois has partnered with us at water.org can help provide access to clean water to women and their families…” A quick scan of the small print reveals that the contribution of purchasing a glass will provide five years of water for one person, regardless of sex. The thrust of the statement is women, not water.

Not that I am a misogynist, I enjoy and appreciate women. I am also a big fan of honesty. I like Stella Artois, in fact it is my “go to” summer beer. Maybe not this summer. Back when “feminism” was about equality, I was a feminist. Today it is just a buzzword, often used in ways that have nothing to do with women. Everyone needs water, but Stella Artois and Water.org have managed to “gender” the water shortage, turning it into a women’s issue.

There is another group that no doubt sounds sexist to some people. Texas Baptist Men is a charitable organization, made up predominantly of men from Texas who are Baptists. For over twenty years they have been providing clean water to communities, with drilling and purification projects in over seventy countries. They don’t have commercials with celebrities, they just go out and help people. After the devastating hurricanes in 2008, they traveled to the Dominican Republic. When they left, there was more clean water available on a daily basis than there had been before the hurricanes. They didn’t seek recognition, they were just helping people, using their own funds. Attempts to help in Africa were often stymied by local politicians, yet they did make many attempts to demonstrate drilling techniques using simple local tools and techniques available to laymen. And laywomen, there was no discrimination.

“Gender politics” tend to be about discrediting a specific gender rather than empowering the other. Domestic violence is an example of an issue which has become gendered. Domestic violence is widely considered to be a women’s issue. Why? Women are twice as likely as men to report they are a victim of domestic violence; this does not mean twice as many women are victims, it just means they are twice as likely to report it. This may be due to the sensitivity accorded to female rape victims, society recognized that more rapists would be prosecuted if the victim wasn’t stigmatized. That the same might hold true for male victims was never publicized. Another factor often ignored is sexual orientation. Lesbians are far more likely to be victims than gay men. In those situations, lesbians are more likely to be the perpetrators than gay men. But ask anyone about domestic, intimate partner, or sexual violence, and you will hear how bad men are, we live in a “rape culture,” and perhaps the the most dissonant, “women are weaker.” What an incredibly sexist phrase to come from someone championing equality.

Last year an independent film, “The Red Pill,” was released. You probably haven’t seen it. It is the story of the film maker, a feminist, as she explored the world of Men’s Rights Activists. As happens with many artists, the project did not take her where she had expected. She had expected to show the evils of the Men’s Rights Movement, but as the project progressed, it was her fellow feminists who tried to get her to abandon the project. Once it became known that the film would not condemn the men’s rights movement, she was unable to find funding to cover the cost of the movie from traditional sources, leaving her to seek crowdfunding through Kickstarter. Showings of the film have resulted in protests and outright bans in some instances. The film is not anti-female, it is simply a balanced view of feminism and men’s rights. In a society that thrives on conflict, if you are not a misandrist you must be a misogynist.

I remain confused, as we seek diversity in all things, that the differences between the sexes are so contentious. It does appear, despite the reports in the media, the overwhelming majority of human beings tend to get along with each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moving on

Flowers between the cobblestones, Gloucester MA 2010

With everything which has taken place this year, from the initial accident, trying to diagnose the myriad of problems which arise from fracturing the various bones of my head and elbow, and having an exceptionally difficult tenant, I have been blessed.

Despite osteoporosis, my bones heal rapidly. Despite the traumatic brain injury, I’ve remained calm and dignified. Despite a constant spinning of my world, wonderful things keep happening. Despite a horrible display of human cruelty, I have seen compassion in unexpected places.

I have been forced from my home, in what can only be described as an insane sequence of events. I do not possess the capacity to understand why this is happening, and have no desire to demonize the parties responsible. I am disabled, a month from a major surgery on my cranium, penniless after a year unemployed, and people I thought were friends have tossed me to the curb; in some ways I am thankful. This crisis has revealed the kindness of others.

My ex-wife was kind enough to take some furniture I would be unable to move. Other friends, including people I only know on line have helped. One woman, who I had never met in person and who has differing political views (she attended the Women’s March in Washington) provided her mini-van for a morning, and not only provided transportation, she helped move things. I learned a good deal about her during this time, and am quite pleased to call her my friend. It took a bit to process what had happened, and I found myself shaking.

Liz is a Democrat, who distinguishes herself with her recognition of “limousine liberals.” She doesn’t talk about people in need as she drives by, she stops and helps. This Vassar educated mother of three (two on the autism spectrum) spent her morning helping a conservative punker. Okay, neither of us fit the expectations of those descriptions, which is in many ways the point. Labels are irrelevant, souls are what matters.

We spoke about our experiences, she has children in the Princeton Charter School, which the Princeton Public Schools have declared the competition; and in what I have come to believe is a typical Princeton response the Public School Board is more interested in destroying the Charter school than improving their own students. I saw this trait expressed in a variety of issues in Princeton, ad hominem attacks rather than displays of any measure of superiority. Liz continues to attempt to bridge the divide, hosting meetings of both sides, opening her home (and sledding run) to everyone. We mourned the death of civil discourse, and although we differ in our beliefs of the cause, we share the loss of meaningful debates, recognizing the next step is authoritarianism.

Liz is what I had expected Princetonians to to be when I arrived (shortly after the picture up top was taken). Intelligent, well spoken, and civil. It took six years to find a person fitting that description, and I met her on my way out of town. My experience of Princeton was elitists, posers, and hypocrites. It is very reassuring to know people such as Liz exist in the wasteland of Princeton, reviving my faith in humanity; in a world as torn as ours is, there are still flowers growing between the cobblestones.

This month I have seen some of the best in people, and some of the worst. Life is always about balance. There is something important in there, as I configure what is left of my brain and work through increasing vestibular issues. The rose coloured glasses present an illusion, however the world is not filled with assholes clinging to hatred. There are people like Liz and I, not many, but perhaps enough to turn the tide. Perhaps, although I will never know the outcome. We accept the future is not predestined, rather it is malleable, to be improved with actions rather than curses. The core of meaningful conversations is mutual respect, the absence of respect begets rage, which I believe we can all agree is our present position. The world needs meaningful conversations, which should lead to people who will take actions rather than consider themselves virtuous because they are aware of the issue and have appropriately rebuked those who are not wearing the right colour ribbon. Hope lies in lifting each other up, not in putting each other down. Humans need hope.

There will always be the trolls, and it is altogether possible they will be the majority of the population. I may have thrown away my rose coloured glasses, but I will always believe that love outweighs hate, that one good person is more significant than one hundred bad people. They can destroy a person, but ideas live forever.

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Review

I’ve been doing some cleaning, physically and metaphorically. Sam is moving in, so I am making space for her, and as I do so, I find myself making space in my mind.

Today, I started organizing the “cat room,” a large walk in closet in the hallway which holds Autumn’s food, water, and litter box. It has a great deal of storage space, which has never been wonderfully organized, and after I changed bedrooms last year it failed to miraculously arrange itself. So far I have combined the contents of two shelves into one full shelf, one empty shelf, and a full recycling bin. Three shelves and a four by six floor to go.

Some of the items that made it to the recycling bin were my collection of Belgian beer bottles, which I had already been feeling rather foolish about. It started a few years ago and spread to cover every windowsill in my bedroom, but was really the domain of a teenager. I wasn’t bothered at first, convincing myself it was a sign of rebellion, not acting my age, but in reality it was silly.

I threw out my retirement notebook with all my 401k statements, it was rather depressing to see how much money I had when I retired, and the memories of where it went. I’ve been shuffling off my memories of Lieve and her children over the last few months, forgiving them for their behavior, this was a good physical act to remove reminders. It has been an interesting exercise, and I am fairly certain I understand the events better than when I was living them.

Two large packages were paperwork from Emma. All sorts of things I shouldn’t have, she saved everything. I have her documents safe, in these packages were her previous marriage certificates, and Death certificates from her husbands and father. Pay stubs and IRS returns from before I met her, photographs of her father and mafia elite, a lithograph her father had purchased for his grandson which no one ever wanted to retrieve. There were some things I kept, pictures of her in grade school, cards I had given her, and the silliest picture of her on a tractor which her first husband had adored; it makes me happy to think of them together now.

I’ve been moving around a number of “feelings” lately. I have chosen to walk away from a few friendships with people with myopic views of the presidential election rather than argue. Some were so vehement in their passions I actually found it necessary to block them. Oddly, this space has allowed me to make new friends, they share the beliefs of my old friends but feel no need to bring it up in every conversation. This is not a unique situation, Lieve and I were visiting one of her friends back in 2013 and said “We brought you something you’ll like.” She responded “Dick Cheney’s head on a platter?” This was four years after Cheney had left office, but he was still on the top of her mind, probably dying of loneliness.

I settled my feelings about a woman I cared for deeply who had brain damage. It saddens me that I needed to experience it to understand it. I had known she was fragile and was exceptionally gentle with her, but my fortune was to know her during a remission of symptoms, I was not responsible for her relapse.

A friend called last week, in panic. She had overstepped her morality, and was filled with shame and embarrassment. I understand how that works, but I don’t truly understand the feeling. I was quite impressed she turned to me, I know I’m a warm and understanding person, but my morals have been questioned repeatedly. We share the experience of losing a spouse, so I suppose that is why she trusted me. My brother (yes, I am accepting that I have a male sibling) once told me I had no morals (I did, they just were not his), I could never tell if he was serious or jealous. Most likely he was just judgemental, which I increasingly am not. It is pleasing to know that I am seen as non-judgemental and egalitarian.

I am doing better with the analysis of my thoughts and motives, and although this gives me insights into the thoughts and motives of others, I dare not reveal what they show me. In a conversation about an article in Pravda about unrest in America, one person suggested the use of water cannons to disrupt protests. This sparked a discussion on why water cannons are not used in America, with someone insisting that water cannons and mace are still used in America, which turned into an argument about the difference between “mace brand” and “MACE.”  Yes, the conversation about a Pravda article claiming that Americans will argue about anything devolved into an argument about anything other than the subject of the article. I watched helplessly as any possibility to share information vanished. One person stepped in and made the point I was trying to reveal, they were ignored as the argument carried forward; the initial discussion completely forgotten. This is why I am shying away from discussion, most people only want to argue. I do not. I want to exchange ideas, which does not happen on one way streets.

I am finding peace in stepping away from disruption. This may result in life as a hermit, everything has a price. I still believe the tide is turning, I’m just in no condition to surf.

 

Poseurs

My first exposure to the word “Poseur” was from a friend (the Suicide Bomber) when he explained why he no longer wore earrings. “They used to mean you were a bit radical, now they mean you’re a poseur.” Other than my tragus piercing, I don’t wear earrings myself anymore, and poseurs have created an entire movement, going beyond trying to be “cool” by dressing like those of us who are, they tried to simply redefine “cool” by creating the ultimate poseur lifestyle, the “hipster.”

The scope has widened, and now poseurs infiltrate all walks of life. I’m sure this has always been true to some extent, but the definition “Poseur is a pejorative term, often used in the punk, heavy metal, hip hop, and goth subcultures, or the skateboarding, surfing and jazz communities, to refer to a person who copies the dress, speech, and/or mannerisms of a group or subculture, generally for attaining acceptability within the group or for popularity among various other groups, yet who is deemed not to share or understand the values or philosophy of the subculture.” no longer applies to a subculture phenomena, it is seen everywhere, as self identification has become popular. People simply say they are something, much like my old manager said his degree was in engineering in the days before the internet. He was an English major who had dropped out, but he got the job because no one checked.

My ex-wife, as the first example, continues to say she is a “good-person,” despite her self admitted anti social behavior and absolutely evil things she has done to me and other people who cared about her.  Lieve doesn’t remember having to repack the boxes for Belgium to remove my things, or that I learned Flemish and obtained the paperwork to become a Belgian citizen or that on our last visit we spoke to officials at the town hall in Leuven. She just says we never planned to move to Belgium together. She’s going with the “It doesn’t matter, I’m a good person because…I believe I’m a good person” line of reasoning. She poses as a “good person” rather well, until you have the opportunity to see behind the curtain.

My second example springs from that experience. Tired of being lied to I decided to look into an open relationship. Ethical non-monogamy or Polyamory. Not promiscuity or swinging, just open honesty between committed partners. My partner is free to do whatever she wants, and there is nothing to lie about so no need to lie. I’ve really come to detest lying, probably because I was blamed for causing my next girlfriend’s seizure, because he couldn’t handle the stress of lying to me. Polyamorists tend to over explain, and tell what some might consider too much. Polyamory is fairly popular in certain circles, and attracts the same predators as monogamy. There are a lot of guys who say “I’m polyamorous, my wife is okay with me dating” when in fact the wife thinks he’s out with the guys. Low lifes will use whatever tools are available. We started getting involved in discussion groups and found a large number of those kind of guys and girls, predominantly the younger ones. One person started a discussion aimed at people over forty, looking for more mature responses, and a fair number of people tried to join in with such statements as “I’m mature for my age.” They were not, having just “gotten engaged” to someone they met on line and would most likely never meet in person. Another said “I’m old, I’m twenty three.”  Well, we had said nothing about being “old,” and twenty three is far less than forty so the reading comprehension that comes with maturity was clearly missing. We eventually started a separate group, with Sam and I moderating, for people over forty and still had requests to join by people in relationships with partners who were over forty. I had to explain their partner was welcome, but they would have to wait. Who would have thought being older would be so fascinating? They have been posing as mature so long they believe it themselves.

Next I want to discuss education. I know many highly educated people, some of whom attended prestigious universities and have advanced degrees, others who obtained their education through life experience. None of them speak about how educated they are, they simply use the education to prove it. Maybe it is because it is an election year, and so many people are questioning the intelligence of their opponents rather than debating the issues themselves, but I am hearing a lot of people talking about how educated they are. Someone talking about how educated they are is similar to someone driving a Prius shouting to a person driving a Ferrari about how fast they can drive; if your Prius is up to it step on the gas and show me.

Most recently, an old acquaintance picked up the habit of starting statements with “My education tells me…” I know about his education, and his character, neither of which are anything to be proud of, but like many acquaintances I’ve known a long time there are sentimental reasons to maintain the relationship. His field of study was hospitality services, and while he never learned about being hospitable, he still feels confident in posing as educated. What troubles me, more than having an arrogant and ignorant acquaintance, is the growing prevalence of considering an education as something derived from being in the proximity of famous buildings. Students at my neighborhood university (Princeton) are under the impression they are all knowing merely because they were accepted as students. Even the university itself leans on the reputation of Albert Einstein, despite the fact his only association was teaching a preceptorial course (he didn’t even give the lecture) while he was a professor at the nearby Institute for Advanced Study. In the real world, an education is a reflection of the individual, not the institution they attended. 

We presently have a couple of candidates for President of the United States, both posing as civilized human beings. If you so much as scratch either of their veneers, you can see they are only posing, but oddly, only the Democrats can see the Republican for what he is, and only Republicans can see the Democrat for what she is. Just because you can each fool some of the people doesn’t mean they are all the same people, but it will be enough people to elect one of these clowns, because personal responsibility has been so degraded the thought there might be someone else qualified for the position has not occurred to an adequate number of voters.

Brian Williams, who spoke about the helicopter he was in being hit over Afghanistan, only to be corrected by other passengers that the other helicopter with them was hit, then brushed off his bald faced lie characterizing it as “mis-remembering due to the fog of war.” Poseurs are accepted by society. Okay, Brian lost his job, but Hillary was made Secretary of State after “mis-remembering” taking sniper fire in Bosnia.

When we don’t stand up for the truth, the truth dies. Do not be an accessory to murder.

 

 

Sexuality

I was involved in a conversation the other day about sexuality, this one focused on the term “Sapiosexual.”

 The definition of sapiosexual is “a person who finds intelligence to be the most sexually attractive characteristic of another person.” Let me say “A” definition rather than “The” definition, as definitions themselves were a large and contentious part of the conversation. I did learn a new term, “SJW” or Social Justice Warrior, which I will define as “pretentious self-involved wanker with no experience, who tells others how to navigate society. No social skills, justice skills, or warrior skills required.” Apparently, my definitions are whatever I want them to be,  your definitions are whatever you want them to be, and as long as one of us is offended (how could we possibly avoid that?) the other is a racist.

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Without offense to anyone who identifies as a pussy

Without offense intended to anyone who identifies as a pussy

 .
 This conversation took place within a group of people who pride themselves on being intelligent and open-minded. Afterward it occurred to me, “who does not take pride in themselves as being intelligent and open-minded?” After all, we live in a world in which seventy six percent of people surveyed believe they are above average. I have actually heard that statement defended, based on the idea we all have an above average number of limbs. Most people have four, but some people do not, making average slightly less than four. That’s not how this works.
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Several years back, I overheard a conversation on the train into work. Two young ladies were discussing language, “what language do you dream in?” and such. One said “I do mathematics in German. I don’t know why, it just works for me.” I shared the experience with a coworker, who asked what the young ladies looked like. I said I didn’t know, I had not turned around to look, I just found the conversation attractive. He said, “Yeah, brains are sexy.”
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 A number of slow realizations have explained the labels I use to describe my sexuality, I now recognize this as the point I identified as a sapiosexual. It had always been there, this is when I embraced it, about fifteen years ago. Other aspects of my sexuality have been more, or less, obvious; certainly to look at my last three relationships you might doubt my attraction to intelligence, which is what makes discussions such as this so difficult.
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 There are many definitions and measurements of intelligence. There are probably more definitions of sexy, but we usually don’t cringe when someone says “She’s sexy,” even when the person being described is as far from sexy (to us) as we can imagine. We tend to recognize the subjective nature of attraction. The conversation I was having seemed to focus on the oppressive, and yes the adjective “racist” was used, nature of being sapiosexual. As a sapiosexual I have never felt so oppressed. This might be because this group is otherwise very sexually open and accepting, they might even find the word “tolerant” negatively prejudicial. There was no delay or shortage of the abuse placed on sapiosexuals, with “pretentious” being the very mildest insult.
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 I’ve dealt with this all my life. I can get along with anybody, but once I am “outed” as being what is now referred to as “gifted,” everything changes. I maintained a B average through school, so the only scorn I received was from parents and teachers who would say “You’re not performing at your potential,” and “I know you can do better than this so I’m dropping your grade.” I saw it in my eldest son, who was routinely beaten up at school, because not only was he intelligent, he told everyone about it. Being a child of the sixties it was easy to deny accomplishment and gravitate towards an earthier, grittier existence (not that the two are mutually exclusive). I recognized what other sapiosexuals recognize, intelligence isn’t about a number on an IQ test, it has more to do with understanding and wisdom. Funny how you can be respected as “wise” without being labeled “intelligent.” I want to believe this is because deep down folks can recognize intelligence has many presentations, even when they don’t admit it out loud.
 .
 I will agree that many who claim to be sapiosexual are pretentious, either seeking someone to compensate for their shortcomings, or attempting to compensate by the claim. In the arena of sexual preferences this is often the case, but this conversation went much farther than attacking pretensions, which although uncommon is not unheard of in this group. Portions of the conversation actually attacked intelligence itself, some were careful enough to attack the measures of intelligence as oppressively used by European males. Perhaps my judgement is off since the TBI, but I had absolutely no trouble seeing intentional offense. As disgusted as I felt, there was a certain sense of fraternity, humans tend to have the same frailty of hypocrisy, the most sensitive can still be aggressively offensive.
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There are many attitudes I do not have but can sympathize with, but I will never sympathize with the hatred for those who are different. I understand it, I know it takes place, but I have no sympathy. The only words I can come up with to describe the attitude are negative, there is no compassionate way to speak of it. Oddly, the majority of hatred for those who are different appears to originate from those who accuse others of prejudices, of disliking those who are different. The same people who are so very diligent about properly labeling everyone tend to use labels to segregate and negatively discriminate. I would say they must not be very smart, and some of them are not, but some are, which makes them evil.
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Our world is not binary, black or white. Being attracted to intelligence does not make the lack of intelligence disgusting. If you were to believe such, any statement of preference would also be a statement of prejudice against whatever would be opposite.
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I think we are all intelligent enough to see that.

Perception

Our perceptions, the way in which we understand things, shape the things we see. I see myself as a rock and roll type of guy with a punker edge, and carry the attitude through many aspects of my life. As the years have gone by and my hair has thinned I no longer have the beautiful flowing locks of my youth, but in my mind I still see the young man I was, and I have difficulty understanding why he is pushing a walker in his Doc Martens. I suspect most of us have delusions about ourselves to some degree, yet we tend to forget we have even more mistaken impressions about other people.

God is good to me, it shows me my faults by displaying them in other people. I see the behavior and realize it exists within myself, allowing me to forgive myself as human, forgiving the others while still correcting the behavior in myself.

Recently a friend died. I met her forty years ago, and the subtle lessons she taught me back then served me through my life. You know a lesson is valuable when you find yourself sharing it with others, I have shared Connie’s lessons repeatedly, and her most meaningful lesson she repeated from beyond.

Connie and I were seventeen years old, taking “Introduction to Psychology” at New Providence High School. The teacher was Coach Furey, a young teacher with longish hair and a beard. He wanted to be “the cool teacher” and allowed us to have a coffee pot in the room because first period was early even for him. The coffee debacle contained a lesson of its own, as a section of the class became “the coffee klatch;” there were others as the young teacher stumbled through the year, but my favorite was when we discussed dreams.

Connie didn’t walk, for many in the class she was the first experience with a peer in a wheelchair. Someone asked her how she saw herself in dreams, whether in a wheelchair or walking. A level of tension was evident, even forty years ago referring to someone’s abilities was considered taboo.

Connie displayed no discomfort at the questions, answering calmly and honestly. She had never walked, she did not miss walking or picture herself walking. The wheelchair was not part of her any more than our school desks were part of us. Her vision in dreams included the movement she was accustomed to, and on the occasions she saw herself in dreams she was floating, moving without making contact with the ground.

This was a powerful lesson in perception, one that has been borne out by research. People do not miss what they have not experienced, their life is all they know. Ask a twin what it is like to have a twin, and they might ask you what it is like to not have a twin. Some examples of our misconceptions about our own perceptions can be found in the wonderful book by Daniel Gilbert, “Stumbling on Happiness,” and throughout the writings of Oliver Sacks, whose book “Seeing Voices” details his experiences at Gallaudet.

One of the more demonstrative communities to address the issue of insulated perceptions is the Deaf. Suggesting a person suffers from deafness may result in an argument, as he tries to convince you that you suffer from hearing. A growing movement within the community sees deafness as a defining element of belonging to their culture. Other groups, born differently, follow the same logic. This is how God made you, it does not need to be “fixed.”

Reflect upon this. Consider the definition of “normal,” as Merriam Webster states “usual or ordinary : not strange,” and “according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle.” Now consider the definition found in Urban Dictionary, “A word made up by this corrupt society so they could single out and attack those who are different.” The Urban Dictionary definition is directly implied by the definition in Merriam Webster, “not strange.” I find some comfort in being called “weird,” which I suppose is weird in itself. Many people wish to be accepted by society, being told they are not normal sets them apart; human beings have a long history of xenophobia, parents have killed children with minor deformities. The stigma of being different can be a life or death matter.

A few weeks ago Connie made a generous donation to my own GoFundMe website, and had written a very touching response to the thank you note I sent to her. A few years ago she had participated in “The Ice Bucket Challenge,” using ice and not water so her power chair would not “short out and blow up” as she put it.

 

 

Connie developed a sore on her leg which became infected, she went to the hospital and had a fatal heart attack the next morning. I found the reactions to Connie’s death mildly disturbing, as people said things such as “Now she is walking” and “she will be perfect.”

Connie was always perfect. It is those of us who judge others by our own standards who are less than perfect. It takes a person like Connie to reveal my own imperfections, as she did so gently, with no malice.

 

 

Finding my way home

The last month has held some difficult lessons. Fortunately, my attention has been focused, many things I first saw as “new” were simply reminders, I had let myself forget things I already knew.

The year started off with a bang, at least I suppose there was a noise as my head hit the stone floor. I don’t  remember much from those early hours of 2016, Sam has filled me in on a few details, and some are too horrible for her to revisit. Apparently it was spectacular, bright lights and doctors everywhere. And screaming, and blood, those are the parts Sam has chosen not to discuss much.

I am still evaluating the damage, both to my body and to my financial well being. It took a while to be clear headed enough to recognize what path to follow in order to recover. Some things are obvious, some are time consuming, and some are just unpleasant.

I found my choice of insurance plans was inadequate, the one that might have been sufficient was not approved by the “Affordable Care Act,” and I had not thought I would be able to afford the fine which would be imposed without approved coverage. Unfortunately, the only care covered by my plan was “preventative,” I suppose it is my responsibility to investigate how to prevent falling down the steps. I’m not sure what my prescription plan covered, but it did not cover standard antibiotics or analgesics after I was released from the hospital, and of course my five day stay with surgeries and multiple specialists was not covered. That fine for being “uninsured” looks much more attractive today.

I found my employer, Staffmark, a temp agency supplying associates to L’Oreal, was contemptible enough to mention them here by name. I was asked to resign so I could “remain in good standing,” I chose not to because resigning would make me ineligible for many of the government benefits I would require. Staffmark provided nothing, not even short term disability, and when I applied to the State for disability payments and was given a form for my employer to fill out, I was told by the Staffmark manager “We don’t do that, they’ll have to call for the information.” Fortunately, I received that response via email, which by the request of two government agencies was printed and attached to my applications. I wish no one ill, but I do hope the prosecutions promised by the requesting officers do take place.

I found Social Services, the only refuge available, to be a web of agencies lacking intercommunication. Not that I am in a hurry to do something else, spending hours chasing recompense does not interfere with my schedule, and gives me the opportunity to visit a slice of society I would have otherwise avoided. I am there, am I saying I would have avoided myself? There are not too many “nice” people in the waiting rooms, but there is a reasonable excuse for this situation. Before being eligible for services you must be destitute, and the services themselves support a sub-poverty level of existence. Anyone “surviving” on welfare is either cheating the system so they may realistically survive, or not actually surviving in the sense a civilized society should allow. I am trusting my situation is temporary, I will pull myself back up, but the only way to receive housing assistance is to be evicted, that is not an easy place to come back from. To receive food stamps I needed to show I have less than $1oo in my checking account, in the world I used to live I was charged if my balance dipped below $100. And getting Medicaid is not all it’s cracked up to be, not many doctors accept it, almost no specialists do; I can forget about advanced care.

I found I can ask for help. This is not “me,” I am Superman, I can deal with anything, I don’t need people to help me, I help other people. A friend organized a GoFundMe campaign to help with expenses. The response has been heartwarming. Friends, acquaintances, and total strangers have donated to a small fund which should prevent me from becoming homeless. I should be able to put gas in my car to go to Doctor appointments, maybe buy some extra food. I’ve tried to spread word about the campaign, but as I said, this is not me. You can visit the page and read the nice things Beth has said about me by clicking here, and you can see the names of the (at this time) three dozen people who have donated. You can even add your name to the list, or be listed as anonymous, or just feel good knowing there are other good people out there. Another friend is investigating an auction of Belgian beers which might provide proceeds, another may bill one of his gigs as a benefit. I’ve even stepped beyond my comfort level and asked a few people to consider employing me in whatever capacity I am able to fulfill after I recover.

It took a few weeks before my brain was operating near its normal level, I know I missed most of the first week and can tell there are moments missing from the second. I can still tell my mind is not 100%, I lose focus, cry more often than I used to, and can feel a fog of depression. The hearing in my right ear is totally gone, I hope it can still be repaired once I am able to get off Medicaid. My vision is impaired, this may be due to damaged orbits or residual swelling. My right arm is getting better, the doctor eased the restrictions on the brace so I have thirty degrees of movement, I don’t expect I will ever be at 100% again (and for now I’m typing with my left hand). My balance is hit and miss, most days I can walk with my cane, others I can barely stand up. I have no idea how this will progress, and how much is augmented by my existing Multiple Sclerosis. At very best, this will be the kick in the pants I needed to apply for total disability through Social Security, I’ll be able to get by and continue writing. I’m not thinking about worst cases anymore.

I have found good things, I have found good people, and although I am not there yet, I am finding my way home.

 

 

My Last Political Article

There is little doubt I will write about the effects political decisions have on society, or that I will mention politicians, but my relationship with politics has evolved; I expect this to be my last article on American national politics, specifically the 2016 elections.

I write to encourage thought, despite which there appears to be a shortage of thought in the political theater of today. Politics have moved into the space once inhabited by bitter hate-filled arguments. Agreements are not reached, they are forced, during the process redefining “agreement.” The meaning of the word “consensus” has come to be “shouted the loudest.”

There does not appear to be much interest in “leading” as an elected official. “Leadership” is another of those words lacking a meaning, what we used to call “managing” has taken leadership’s place, although I would like to believe even that concept is due for redefinition, managers once were required to demonstrate positive results. The driving force among politicians appears to be “getting elected,” which may at first sound like a simplistic statement. Of course they want to get elected, my issue is that is all they want. At first. Then it changes to “getting re-elected.” The accomplishment most desired while holding an elected position appears to be “creating a legacy.”

A legacy. Something tangible by which to be remembered. Left by someone who spent their life trying to distort reality.

If you have been following this blog, you are aware I intended to leave America a few years ago. One of the many reasons for leaving was to miss the election. I could see a wave of conservatism growing that would overwhelm liberal candidates. I happen to lean towards the conservative point of view myself, but this was destined to be mean spirited, with an ugliness of revenge not seen since Clinton vacated the White House in 2001.

This year’s unpleasantness has not been created by a party unwilling to leave power (yet), but by the all but presumptive winning party. Consider that fact, along with one of the recent quotes from the clown leading in the Republican primary polls, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and not lose any voters.” The acknowledgement his words and actions are inconsequential to voters could not be more clear.

A bad joke never becomes funny

A bad joke never becomes funny

Perhaps this should have been “The Sign.” The omen which revealed the onset of the apocalypse. The moment the New York Daily News told a joke with a punchline of reality pointing its finger at us and laughing.

The field turned out to be as many as twelve candidates and one rabid dog. At a moment more sober minds looked forward to unity following eight years of blatant divisiveness, one candidate leapt to the lead due to a history of graffiti; writing his name on buildings provided name recognition, and to connect the name to a face he ran before the cameras and insulted everyone he could. He started by attacking our neighbors to the South, then when a respected former prisoner of war defended them against his tirade the prisoner found himself under attack, called a “dummy,” and accused, despite his years in the “Hanoi Hilton,” of not being a war hero because he had been captured.

Typically, this type of behavior would draw a campaign to an end, but we do not live in typical times. With a wide and diverse field of candidates, the aberrant clown stood out from the sober, qualified contenders. Any threat to his name recognition lead was seen as a personal attack, to which he responded with vicious and vile ad hominem attacks.  His popularity grew as he attacked a debate moderator and eventually the entire debate process when his documented misogyny was questioned, then he demonstrated his misogyny by attacking a female candidate. He mocked a reporter with  physical disabilities. His personal attacks on other candidates intensified, but simply insulting his peers did not generate adequate press for this narcissistic ego.

Ignoring the first amendment of the constitution he was vying to uphold, Trump expressed a desire to ban an entire religion from America. In a nation living in fear of terrorism, he painted all Muslims as terrorists, be they refugees, immigrants, or native born citizens. Following terrorist attacks in other countries, he vilified the victim countries, not only France, but also the United Kingdom and Belgium. This is the man a majority of Americans feel should represent them in the theater of international diplomacy.

I am baffled. The same Americans who bemoaned Obama’s cult like following now abandon independent thought to join the Trump goose step.  I expected the worst the population had to offer, democracy is merely mob rule constrained by civility, and America has been proudly rejecting civilized behavior for decades, but the embrace of fascism shocks me. Some of my best friends support and defend Trump, refusing to see the hate he spreads like fertilizer for his campaign; so I have decided, in the same way I did in 2008, to step away from commenting.

Emma voted for Obama, and while I had found him interesting at first, I voted for McCain. We were able to discuss our differences without raised voices. Several other friends were incensed and insulting towards me because I didn’t vote for Obama, some of those friendships ended. A year after the election, Emma and a few of my friends found themselves regretting their votes and publicly renounced their former support. I do not believe there are the quantity of people capable of admitting they were wrong as there was back then.

There is no reason for anyone to suffer from hurt feelings because I don’t agree with their choice of candidate, we will all live with the consequences of the election.

 

 

 

 

Us and Them

 

Let me start with a simple question. After 9/11, when you all met Osama bin Laden, who said “I guess he’s right, let’s give him what he wants.”? Anyone? If anyone wants to contact me through the comments but does not want their name published, I will update this, but my thoughts are no one was convinced of his position by his ability to kill three thousand people.

So when we blow up a village chasing a terrorist, how many of the relatives of the dead or injured villagers do you think are going to congratulate us on a job well done? Far more likely, they will hate us and support further terrorism against us.

This is not a war with fronts and battle lines with soldiers lined up shooting at each other. This is a war where all those things we thought only happened to other people can happen to us, are happening to us. That is the lesson. We are all other people in the eyes of other people, if you see “us” as humanity, it was never happening to others, it has always been happening to us, we are doing it to ourselves. When we turn away refugees because they happen to be of the same religion professed by terrorists, we have have lost sight of that which makes us different from the terrorists.

I’m not saying I don’t want terrorists eliminated. As far as I am concerned they have violated their contract with humanity and invoked the most prejudicial Golden Rule, but killing innocent people has never won anyone any friends. This is a war of intelligence, and although as a former member of the intelligence community I made jokes about the oxymoron of military intelligence I can say in all seriousness we are woefully unarmed as a species. A terrorist is far less likely to spend two years being processed as a refugee in order to enter America than he would be to simply walk across the border with the other illegal immigrants.

If you are not familiar with the term “Daesh” please become so. It is a pejorative term in Arabic for those terrorists who no one can agree on a name for. IS, ISIL, ISIS, Those bloodthirsty motherfuckers, whatever, they don’t like Daesh. Kind of like when Bush 41 referred to Saddam Hussien as “Saddem” a word meaning “shoe shine boy.” This is one of your weapons, perhaps your only weapon, the ability to deny the terrorists access to your terror. Very much as when dealing with animals, show no fear. You should certainly take prudent precautions, but should the feces strike the oscillating rotary device, laugh in their faces.

 

Remember that stuff about turning the other cheek? Which part did you think was negotiable? Here is your biblical lesson for today. The punishment for any transgression was once death. There was no measure, only one response to bad behavior. God spoke to Moses, providing the concept of measure; an eye for an eye, then Jesus brought us to the next level, teaching that our Earthly existence was of little importance. As a species we are not moving in the right direction, death for any transgression seems to be returning to popularity, when we should be ready to move to a level beyond turning the other cheek. Look into your soul, are you prepared to evolve towards Homo Sapiens Supra, or are you among those left behind, as Homo Sapiens Sapiens left Homo sapiens neanderthalensis behind?

I do not make these statements based only on Daesh and the responses to their war on everyone. You had to realize they were just plain old crazy when even Al Qaeda rejected them as “too extreme,” they are not representative of any religion, or any thought process for that matter. Extreme is becoming normal, tolerance is increasingly vilified as weak or even subversive. Tolerance is not the goal of extremists, obliteration of opposing viewpoints is their goal. Turn that around as well, those who seek to obliterate opposing points of view are terrorists. This applies not only to Daesh and Al Qaeda, it applies to anyone who seeks to silence (and at its most severe, destroy) anyone in disagreement.

In the same sense all Muslims are not terrorists, all white people are not racists, and all racists are not white. You might think after a century and a half of racial awareness in America we would make some progress. We did, now we have slid back down from the mountaintop. “Students,” more appropriately “professional activists,” have started a wave of protests at universities across America, using the arguments of their grandparents against the reality their grandparents forged. Demanding, among other things, a return to segregation, a group of privileged students calling themselves the “Black Justice League” occupied offices at Princeton University. “Jim Crow” is invoked in some twisted argument for a “blacks only” space. In the Twilight Zone episode in my mind, these children are slapped into unconsciousness by their grandparents over Thanksgiving dinner, and wake up to face actual racism, so they might understand the words they are using.

We have seen tolerance and sensitivity turned upside down. Rather than seeking knowledge, the “prize” today appears to be offense. Free Yoga classes for disabled students have ended due to complaints of “cultural appropriation.”  Following this line of reasoning, it would be inappropriate to learn a language other than that of your nation of birth, listening to music from other cultures would be banned. How do these practices bring us together as a species?

They do not. They splinter us, until we are seven billion distinct cultures, churches of self, paranoid of the knowledge other churches even exist. A recent Pew Research poll found forty percent of Millennials support censorship under certain circumstances (no one seems to be in favor of censoring themselves, regardless of how offensive I might find them). Suppressing the expression of unpopular ideas does not make them go away, and as Larry Flynt said, “Freedom of speech doesn’t protect speech you like, it protects speech you don’t like.” More golden rule stuff here, give my thoughts the respect you seek for your own, you don’t need to agree or even listen, but allow my words to exist if you expect me to allow yours to exist.

The United States of America is an idea. An idea forged from the oppression of our founders. The rights specified in our constitution were not theories, they are rights which had been denied. Denying those rights today is anti-American and unpatriotic, regardless of the number of flags on your pick up truck. I don’t care if we lead the world or if we just follow along, but if we continue to move backwards, against our principles, we deserve to be left behind with the terrorists by people more civilized than us.

Socially unconscious

The Holidays are upon us. You know, the Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, and the biggest of all, Santa Claus Day. But something is wrong…

Imagine the horror of the orthodox consumer, sipping his five dollar cup of flavored hot water in the temple of bucks to the stars, out of a simple red cup!

star2015

 

This may be the greatest blow pseudo Christianity has ever suffered. In the midst of the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the most amazing suggestion was made to soothe the pseudo Christian who feels Santa Claus Day has been ignored by the Church of Consumerism. “Why not find the holiday spirit by buying a cup of Starbucks Coffee for a homeless person?”

“Let them eat cake” seemed so cliche.

These Holidays just cause so much stress, the decision of which offense to celebrate can be the hardest. One chain of shopping malls has eschewed traditional Christmas designs, hoping not to offend any consumers during the Santa Claus Day shopping season.

image (4)

Warm and cuddly memories Inc.

 

I actually prefer the idea of a photo of the grandchildren and Santa on the deck of the Starship Enterprise. Why confuse Christmas with Santa Claus Day? The celebration of consumerism can be enjoyed by members of any faith, particularly because those glaring symbols of Christianity like pine trees and snowflakes have been removed.

In other parts of the world, the two holidays are separate, Santa Claus Day being celebrated on 6 December, the Feast of Saint Nicholas. Even that holiday is having trouble not offending anyone. Somehow being tolerant of minorities implies to some people they should be intolerant of the majority, thus this week’s title.

Being socially unconscious has become a national pastime of sorts. People focus on an issue and nothing else matters, least of all any meaningful conversation on the topic. One friend, for whom I maintain a level of respect, is often reduced to sound bites in a discussion, responding with slogans rather than thoughts. I wonder if he feels the same frustration I do, he is clearly banging his head against a wall, expecting meaningless phrases to express his thoughts on complex issues. On the other hand, he is a Buddhist, and firmly believes in the power of chanting.

I was recently invited to take part in a drum circle. Images of a communal moment piqued my curiosity. It seemed a perfect way to spend the evening, I have always been a percussionist, drumming is the simplest form of communication, we still express pleasure with applause. With visions of Richard Feynman in my head I drove down to Maryland.

What a disappointment. It had escaped me that people celebrating the simplest form of communication might not be capable of any higher forms. They had replaced the communal spirituality with the ritual, there was no heart, just props. Although not included in the conversations of other participants, I did overhear them. The pettiness among these “free spirits” was astounding. How did they expect to experience any sense of community when they were so wrapped up in themselves? This was, of course, one experience, one circle, I’m sure there must be some folks who actually get the rhythm going. I’ll try again some day, somewhere else.

The entire experience left me feeling much as I did when a friend of my first wife spent an evening insulting our lifestyle back in the eighties. She was a vegan, a fairly new at the time offshoot of vegetarianism. Any interaction with animals was, to her, abuse. She went on for over an hour telling us how horrible we were for eating meat and cheese, in her thigh high leather boots. She knew what to say, but not what to do. It never occurred to her she was wearing nearly half a cow’s hide.

The most depressing thing lately, the thing which nags at me to leave this world behind, is the open, ignorant hypocrisy displayed by the majority of people, paired with the exhausted acceptance by the remainder. Does no one see this is the theme in several high profile issues?

Black Lives Matter. So much so the Black Lives Matter organization is comfortable calling for the deaths of Police Officers. And no one bats an eye.

Gay people should have the right to marry. And you should attend the wedding and bring a gift, regardless of your personal feelings. Unless you’re Muslim, in which case we do not want to offend you.

Abortion is Murder. Agreed, but if murder is a bad thing killing abortionists is not the answer. Perhaps you feel killing can be justified, which means you have something in common with the abortionist.

The puppets chanting the global warming mantra are perhaps the most disheartening. All the empirical evidence disproves every prediction they have made, yet they are so locked into their beliefs they can’t see they are being used. They make claims using disproven theories claiming to embrace science while working full force against science. They exist as puppets of an elite group attempting to manipulate the economy, and accuse their detractors of being puppets of an elite group attempting to manipulate the economy.

Don’t even get me started on the occupy crowd.

There have always been, and there should always be, fringe groups. But they’re supposed to be the fringe, not the main stream.

Recently I read an article with the title “Even Cities That Can’t Go Car Free Should Have To.” That about sums it up. Even if you can’t, you have to. Coexistence be damned, let’s just force people to do what we want. But who are “we?”

“We,” more often than not, are a group of spoiled children. Why do you think Donald Trump is doing so well in the polls? Have you watched an eight year old boy lately? “I’m the best, he’s the worst, I can do anything, he can’t do a thing.” This is the peak in America today, the finest example of what it means to be an American, the person who should represent us to the world.

I am tired. I truly wish to know what others are thinking, yet far too often it turns out they aren’t thinking at all.

 

 

 

 

 

Suicide notes

 

 

 

Suicide notes are the final statement, last words for someone who doesn’t believe anyone is listening. They are the message someone wants to share which sums up their life (as viewed through the depression which has led them to end that life). They can be filled with blame or despair, or they can simply be an explanation of a rational decision (Yes, it is my belief suicide can be a reasonable choice). I’ve read a few suicide notes, some celebrities, some acquaintances, and of them several have been quite rational.

When I say suicide can be a reasonable choice, I am not speaking about euthanasia for the terminally or chronically ill. I am speaking of circumstances in which the reasonable expectation of a satisfying and productive life have been removed. And no, I’m not suggesting a permanent solution for a temporary problem, I’m saying it is indeed possible to be trapped in a meaningless life, the problem is permanent.

As a chronically clinically depressed person, I can identify with the suicidal. I’ve certainly considered the act. I’ve been honest enough to admit it and been placed under observation. If there is a doctor out there who can explain how being incarcerated in a hospital room with no contact is supposed to return the will to live, I’m listening. It just teaches you to lie when asked if you’re going to hurt yourself. I did not, in fact, wish to kill myself, I just had no desire to live. I refer to it as “passively suicidal,” I still look both ways before crossing the street. My decisions about my life are no one’s concern, no one’s responsibility, until I decide I no longer wish to suffer. Then everyone has an opinion, usually an uninformed opinion. Speaking for myself, you do not know how I feel, you are not me. You have not survived over two dozen years with my case of Multiple Sclerosis, you have not watched my wife die, you have not watched the collapse of my dreams from my vantage point. I keep these things in mind about you when considering your choices, please extend the same courtesy to me.

A couple of noteworthy authors come to mind, and while they were active participants in ending their lives, they had given the act a good deal of thought and just ran out of reasons to stay alive. Ernest Hemingway’s note, written after months of illness, expresses many of my current feelings. He was disappointed with his legacy, and disgusted with the poseurs of the world.  His summation was (of course) classic Hemingway, “But here’s the beauty part. Forty, fifty years from now, when all the wanna-be Hemingways are old and fat and their chin-fuzz is fried to bristle and their huevos are dried up like figs in a dusty street… But they still want to do it all like Hemingway…They’ll have to eat a shotgun too.”

Hunter S. Thompson wrote a note I can identify with, even though I don’t care for football. Titled “Football Season is Over;” No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun – for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax – This won’t hurt.

It doesn’t have to hurt. It’s all a matter of removing the central nervous system from equation, understanding the life process and how to interrupt it.

So here I am, a birthday looming on the horizon (only seven years past fifty), glory days in the past, and a series of disappointments in everyday life. I had made every effort to be out of this country before the election cycle began, but here I am, faced with two absolutely scary prospects as presidential candidates, and a populace torn over which sociopath to rabidly support. I had really hoped to avoid this. There’s a television at work, and I have to concentrate on not laughing out loud at the news in front of my co-workers. They actually take this stuff seriously, which highlights just how out of touch with reality the majority of people are. I find myself unable to relate to people, lots of people, the overwhelming majority of people. There are so many more issues, but this is not my suicide note.

Suicide is ostracized, making life difficult for those left behind, if they care what other people think. The fact is, all life ends. It is random, you could be hit by a falling aircraft while eating dinner. Your friend was not going to live forever, so it doesn’t matter if it was suicide or cancer that took him. Actually it does. Suicide is an act of ownership, taking responsibility for ending a life no longer worth living. It is not cowardly or an escape, it is an act of control, a conscious choice of path.

All of my religious influences have been strongly opposed to suicide. “Life is a gift from God, suicide is throwing away that gift, an insult to God.” We each have our own vision of our judgement day (Emma’s was cartoonish), I see it as an acknowledgement of my life to my creator. You can visualize it as a straightforward exchange across a desk (or a child begging for mercy, depending upon your temperament), but the conversation is taking place every moment, at the end we just make contact and I find out if my beliefs are correct (or not). Perhaps such a responsible point of view is unusual. This could very well be why suicide is so misunderstood, people who live their lives never actually taking responsibility for anything, judging those who have taken responsibility and faced the consequences.

You don’t know how it feels. Even if you have walked along the edge, it was your edge, you don’t know this one. Carry that lesson forward, apply it to all of your judgements.

 

 

Implausible deniability

Many of you are aware I used to work for Amazon. While it was a fascinating experience, it is not one I would ever repeat.

Recently the New York Times published an article about the workplace culture at Amazon. For some reason, Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon took exception to the descriptions of the treatment of employees saying “The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know.” I am not surprised. Not because there is anything untrue in the New York Times article, but because Jeff Bezos is a lying asshole. I just wanted to get any inappropriate presumptions of my appraisal of Amazon out of the way as quickly as possible.

Bezos doesn’t particularly care for the press outside of advertising. He appears to have a disdain for the written word, and after a year of trying to figure out why so little is written down at Amazon (word of mouth being the preferred method of communication) it became apparent. Written documents create a chain of evidence. It becomes difficult to keep saying “I never heard that before” when there are a stack of memos alerting you to the situation. And this is what Bezos is doing with his statement. “I’ve never heard any complaints because anyone who complains is marginalized and shown the door” doesn’t make as good of a press release. His denial is implausible.

The article described the culture at the Seattle headquarters of Amazon, focusing on the white collar workers there. I have no experience at that facility, but the reporting came as no surprise. I left Amazon amid complaints about the “sociological snake pit” at the Robbinsville, New Jersey facility (EWR4). My complaints. I could see how the process was flawed and self perpetuating, I was at the time too naive to realize this was the design. For some reason I wanted to believe the hype, I wanted to believe Amazon treated its employees with twenty first century sensibilities, what I found was the Simon Legree school of management, with enough Orwellian overtones to bring a physical chill when considered. I was alarmed the management failures were creating a hostile work environment, without realizing it was business as usual. The fact that one manager had been successfully sued for sexual harassment three times, and rather than be fired (zero tolerance was allegedly the policy) he had been promoted should have told me everything I needed to know. Much like the Catholic Church, every time this guy was sued they just moved him to another location.

EWR4 is almost entirely blue collar, a new facility built to utilize Kiva technology, robot assisted inventory. Amazon purchased Kiva systems in 2012, an attempt to monopolize use of the warehouse robotics. Amazon isn’t really interested in free market principles, it prefers to own its competition and when that is not possible it blocks access to innovations that would allow competition. The facility opened in July of 2014, I was there the first day. As we developed into our roles, it was immediately apparent these Amazon folks had no idea what they were doing. There were teams from different facilities which were supposed to be training the new hires, but when your company doesn’t commit anything to writing (or bother to bring trainers who are familiar with the subject which they will be training), each “trainer” has his own way of doing things (We later found that being a trainer was a perk, an ability to go on “vacation,” and assignments were based on connections rather than skills). Some of the trainers had come from facilities that didn’t even have the Kiva robots, and tried to show us how to do things “their way.” Six months later we were still trying to figure out the processes, each new manager having his own idea of what the jobs we were trying to accomplish consisted of, and how to accomplish them. Among a shrinking group of associates who were actual critical thinkers, the joke was “Well, this startup wasn’t too bad, considering this is the very first time they have opened a fulfillment center.” There are one hundred and fifty one,  sarcasm was salvation.

Although there were a handful of managers who had transferred to the location for startup, none agreed on anything. A question could have six different answers, and any answer different from the one the manager speaking was giving you was wrong. Bob might tell you to do something one way, then Jim would discipline you the next day for not doing it the way he wanted (but had never actually told you about). Standards for discipline were elusive, a theoretical performance goal became the minimum accepted productivity. Associates were encouraged to apply for lower management positions, so of course the rabble of incompetents jumped for the openings. You no doubt have a job. You have worked with other people. You may have management skills. If you do, you know that “wanting to tell other people what to do” is not a management quality. Yet those were the people “promoted” first. I did not apply for management positions, it was made clear early on (the day our interview became our orientation) skills and experience were meaningless. A promotion to a managing position might take you to a department in which you had never worked, where you would have the opportunity to tell people who had actually been doing the job how to do it better, even though you had never done it at all. Oh, there’s this story about how every manager is exposed to all the facets of the facility. I once sat in the pilot’s seat of a jet fighter, but I would have no idea how to fly the thing and would never presume to correct a trained pilot.

There is a lot of talk about leadership at Amazon. I never saw any, but I heard the words and saw them written on the walls. The “Leadership principles” are printed throughout the building (often misspelled). All that was missing was a big “Big Brother Loves You.” The frustrating thing for those of us who opened the facility was the leadership principles are rarely followed. I speak of those of us who started last year, a cross section of the unemployed in Central New Jersey. We showed up for our interviews and found we were at orientation, this is presented as a big happy surprise to new hires. If you only hire simpletons it will be a big happy surprise, but when you hire blindly across the the pool of available talent a few intelligent people slip in. We found it rather off putting our first interaction with the company was basically a lie. Far from “hiring the best” as Amazon chants, it is “hire the available.” By Christmas it appeared the recruiters were scouring homeless shelters, and the work environment reflected such. I was called “gay” by one group of young ladies, it doesn’t bother me but seemed to get under the skin of my girlfriend, who couldn’t fathom the ignorance in the question “Where is your gay boyfriend?” She was attacked with racial slurs because she wasn’t black. That was the cumulative total of reasons to call her a “Cracker ass cracker.” When she complained to HR her complaint was shredded. Yep, months later when she referred to the complaint because the situation had only gotten worse, the manager in question admitted to shredding the complaint. The examples of improper and even illegal procedures administered by HR is a chapter of its own. This is the standard of leadership Amazon promotes. And this is just a tiny part of Bezos’ insulation from reality.

Most of the more productive workers burned out under the badgering method of management. The goal might be 400 units per hour, but realistically, doing the job the way it is supposed to be done, 300 units per hour would be sterling. Nonetheless, were you to be stowing cases of CDs you might hit 350 or even 390. The manager doesn’t say “good job,” she says “if you can do that you can do 450.” Then she rolls over a cart of large or single items with no available bins, and your rate drops to 100. Careful, you may not be working there tomorrow. Rates are calculated minute by minute, rather than average rates to compensate for the multitudes of variables in a day, the worker is judged by his lowest rate of the day. If you “cheated”, ignoring the quality and safety standards, you could make the numbers, and management only cared about numbers (I actually knew a person who, in the same conversation with a manager, received a perk for having the highest rate in her section that morning, and a write up for falling below this manager’s standard at another point the same day). Morale among the honest people working there was the lowest.  When I left, just a year after starting, there were less than two dozen people still there who had started with me, out of a population of about one thousand employees. When I had mentioned the turnover rate to management I was met with dismay. Now I realize they were not surprised by the rate, they were surprised I took issue with it.

I was fortunate. I had an “indirect task,” so I wasn’t measured by piecemeal rates. I had the opportunity to work with other facilities across the country. Perhaps my managers felt this would soften my view of their performance, giving me the knowledge it wasn’t just them, it was this bad or worse everywhere else. I suspect my managers were not intelligent enough to plan such a strategic move, just about every positive event at Amazon happens by accident. When I found one facility was habitually misstating the contents of their internal shipments, I mentioned it to my manager. He shrugged it off. After a few months, conversations with other facilities who were having the same issue with this one facility, and what is most likely to amount to millions of dollars in “lost” merchandise each year, I found the root of the symptom. Without going into too much detail, they were doing it wrong, using a system no shipper on the planet uses. When I explained it to my manager I got “Well, someone is going to have to go out there and show them how to do it right, and it isn’t going to be me.” In my mind this problem is solved with a single phone call, firing the shipping manager and replacing him with someone who has worked in the industry someplace on the planet Earth, but at Amazon everything is face to face. When I suggested the only logical reason to do things the way they were being done at this facility was to cover enormous routine theft, I was placed under investigation.

I could go on, but I don’t intend to write a book about it. Speaking of books, Amazon started as a book seller, and books continue to be a large portion of its business. Being the only game in town they treat authors much as they do their other employees. Big surprise there.

I was disappointed by Amazon. They came in with a good reputation and talked a good game. Most successful cons work that way. The environment was worse than a sandbox, I would say High School but I actually had a good time in High School. I mentioned to one manager in training there are many examples of successful companies that do not bully their employees, he smiled and said “but this way is more fun.” I’m sure he’s on his way to a career of new facilities, as he stays one step ahead of the harassment lawsuits. His comment had the tacit approval of the HR manager, she didn’t bat an eye when I mentioned it to her.

Amazon is a corporation. It is just another store, and you can buy almost anything through them. Or you can choose not to contribute to their profits and market share. At an all hands meeting last Spring, the General Manager of EWR4 said in a statement to the gathered employees, “You are not people, you are only numbers to me.” This is the general manager of Amazon’s largest facility (he has since been promoted and oversees two plantations facilities). Yet this isn’t the Amazon Jeff Bezos sees.

That would suggest Jeff is either incompetent, blind, or lying. I don’t really care which. I won’t patronize companies that abuse their workers, so Amazon is off my list of preferred vendors.

 

Choosing a wolf

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It’s getting to be that time again, the presidential election season. I have a love/hate relationship with the event. I love the idea of an informed electorate choosing the best leader. I hate the reality of an ignorant and uneducated electorate being herded like sheep.

It gets worse than that of course, civil discourse having fallen out of favor, most political “discussions” consist of two uninformed people on different sides of an issue telling each other how stupid they are. Neither actually understands the topic, they just repeat unverified statements, calling them “the truth” or “the facts,” because the statements reflect their opinion.  Mastery of this form of debate is judged by memorizing the best sound bites. I particularly like “you are not entitled to your own facts,” a partial quote of Danial Patrick Moynihan, recently co-opted by the sitting president. Mr. Moynihan was pointing out the difference between opinion and fact, his actual statement being “You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.”

I had someone say “you are not entitled to your own facts” to me the other day. This was in response to my providing references for my side of the discussion. He did not care for reality, so he chose to deny it. So yes, I guess I am entitled to my own facts, the facts, as no one else is using them. This is the root of my frustration, beliefs trump reality these days.

I noticed this a few cycles ago, maybe 2004, when “Factcheck” became popular. It didn’t appear to matter that many of these verification services were merely political fronts, the word “fact” was in the title. Republicans had their facts, and Democrats had their facts. How long would it be before the word “fact” became meaningless? Depends on who you are. If you think critically and are capable of objectively evaluating your own research, you cringe when some bozo shouts out his set of facts, which have already been dis-proven so widely the cat knows the truth (“Maak dat de kat wijs just fit perfectly there), on the other hand, if you believe scientific truths are determined by consensus, “fact” is already beyond your capacity for comprehension.

This last week in a discussion of homosexuality, one person said “There are no moral consequences to homosexuality, it is activity between two consenting adults.” It was immediately obvious this person did not understand the difference between legal consequences and moral consequences. Moral consequences depend on your own particular set of morals, legal consequences are derived from law. If you are homosexual, you may believe you are morally free to practice your desires, or you may be crushed by a lifetime of believing homosexuality is wrong. Take note I am aligning with neither position. I suffer no moral consequences if you decide to marry a goat, even if the goat is not in full agreement with the situation. I deal with the moral consequences of my own decisions, your decisions are yours to deal with. Nonetheless, there are indeed moral consequences to every decision we make, but if you do not understand what morals or moral consequences are, there is no point in discussing them with you. The discussion raged on without me, people who were morally outraged trying to explain to a person with a radically different set of morals what their consequences would be.

I do not use the phrase “no morals.” I was accused of having no morals at one point in time, when the truth was I had different morals than the accuser. His God will determine if he was in any position to judge my choices, I certainly have no respect for his judgement, my God told me he (God) is the only judge I need to face.

More and more words are being left to the definition of the speaker. “Facts,” truth,” “morals,” were easy ones to join “right” and “wrong.” Bill Clinton is famous for redefining two words, his definition of “having sex” has done a great deal towards propagating sexually transmitted diseases, but it was his parsing of the word “is” which has had a greater impact on society. In a country in which only thirteen percent of the adult population is considered “proficiently literate,” he hinged a defense on the tense of a copula (keep this issue in mind, his wife is taking an identical defense in the Department of Justice criminal probe into her mishandling of classified material).

Words mean whatever the speaker wants them to mean, which is just perfect if the speaker is only speaking to himself. The point of election campaigns is to inform the electorate, yet more and more the point appears to be to mislead the electorate. You know this is true when you look at the popularity of Donald Trump. “He tells it like it is!” say his supporters. Well, in a sense that is true. He has yet to say anything of substance, instead engaging in personal attacks, so yes, that is how Donald Trump is. I don’t see it as even remotely presidential, although the screaming match between him and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei might be fascinating to watch from the safe distance of another planet.

In one discussion thread about Carly Fiorina, it was mentioned she had stated “Islamic civilization is the greatest in the world.” No, she didn’t say that. She said Islam had created what was once the greatest civilization in the world, which is true. Some folks just have no interest in the truth, usually people with limited capacity for imagination (or limited reading skills). They pick up a hook and run with it. The rumor she is “an Islamist” will likely hold on for a while. She had also made a fairly thoughtful statement on child vaccinations which received some questions. She said it is ultimately the parents decision whether or not to vaccinate, and it is the public schools responsibility to deny admittance to unvaccinated children. Wowie, she’s not going anywhere with this personal responsibility theme. Either you force people to protect their children against communicable and deadly diseases, or you allow preventable diseases to be spread through required contact, none of this taking responsibility for your actions stuff among the “Conservatives,” thank you very much. The sheep need to be told what to do, they will tell you they are thinking for themselves, but minor observation reveals thinking is not an event on the agenda.

I was married once to a woman who genuinely considers herself to be “a good person.” I willingly recuse myself from that debate, my evidence suggests otherwise, but my bias is obvious. Her “evidence?” Because she believes so. Such is the state of discussion in America, or perhaps the entire world, today. Actual evidence, objects that may be touched, events that have been recorded, are unimportant. All that carries any weight is that which is believed. Perversely, a solid segment of people who subscribe to this philosophy routinely belittle those who posses religious faith, yet there is far more physical evidence Jesus is the Son of God than there is evidence of Anthropomorphic Global Warming. But as I said, facts no longer matter. In fact, this ex wife said “I don’t want to hear it” (actually putting her hands over her ears more than once) when presented with evidence contrary to her beliefs. Several times in our relationship she said “well, I haven’t done the research you have, but I still believe this” and would continue repeating her “point” despite the knowledge it was not true (or at very least, questionable).

As you approach the elections, oh for crying out loud as you go through your daily life, defend your beliefs. Look deeper than the press releases and buzz. Know what you are talking about and if it turns out you were wrong, adjust. I had argued abortions contribute to cancer rates for years, then one day I was challenged on the statement and researched it. I was wrong, it is only a cancer of the soul that is caused by abortion. I don’t use that argument anymore. You become a better person when you can acknowledge your mistakes.

This can be a wonderful experience. We have the opportunity to evaluate the beliefs and positions of the people who wish to be our next president. It’s a fairly important job, conduct your interview thoughtfully. Arm yourself with the facts, and convince a majority to elect your desired candidate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What matters

Life.

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These cells happen to contain all the information required to build a human being. From these few cells will grow all the facilities required, blood, bones, intellect. Can you see that person in your mind? What sex is it? What color is it? Because even though such information exists within these cells, right now they look exactly the same as eight cells from a chicken embryo. Don’t get me wrong, chicken lives matter too.

All life matters. I am unable to connect my world to that of the Snail Darter, but I hate to say goodbye, even though I am fully aware species come and go, our own debut just a few hundred thousand years past. Homo Sapiens Sapiens will pass, perhaps evolving towards another species, perhaps simply disappearing. The rock we inhabit will last longer than we will, rocks don’t die, despite all the pleas to save the Earth, the Earth doesn’t need you. The Earth doesn’t care any more than Mars or Pluto cares, rocks lack consciousness.

You may frame your compassion for life with a variety of points of view. The Hindu philosophy, Ahimsa, is “do no harm” to any living creature. This quality of compassion is reserved for humans, who may decide in which ways to provide stewardship for the Earth. The overwhelming majority of living creatures are not allowed such choices, to survive requires ending the life of whatever is available to provide nutrition.

This is “The Break.” The separation of “Man” from “Nature.” Nature simply is. Man has the ability to be what he wishes. Man has the ability to dream of a better world, to step beyond immediate personal needs and act as a member of a society.

Those eight cells up top, will they become a world leader or a serial killer? As grand as the capacity to hold up his fellow man may be, Man also has the capacity to hold down his peers. He is a complex organism, intellect, compassion, and survival, all wrestling for dominance. Each of us maintaining our own balance, holding to faith we all pursue the same goals. We do not.

Are there “essential human values” shared by all humans? Just one; self preservation. We may hold up construction of our monuments to progress for decades as we argue the impact to the environment, then spread depleted uranium throughout our battlefields. In the name of “the Right to Life,” we may murder physicians. We may choose to kill in the name of an all powerful God who we believe does not have the power to inflict his will on our neighbors. All that is just the work of individuals, put us in a crowd and we can really get rowdy.

An unruly mob chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “Death to Cops” burns its own neighborhood. It has never occurred there may be Black Cops? Much of our view of the world is formed by our immediate environment, those we routinely defer to as “enlightened” are thought to have a broader view. The people in the mob either know no black cops, or they see the black cops they know as either “not black” because they are cops or “not cops” because they are black.

Such myopia is not limited to some “lesser” segment of society. A friend, who holds a couple of Ph.D.s, several Master’s degrees, and lives in Arizona, stated this morning “English is already the official national language so that is moot and frankly stupid.” Other than remind her America has no official language I did not engage in conversation. Intellect is measured in many ways, an outright denial of the reality existing just a few meters outside the gates of your ivory tower puts you in the category of people my mother told me not to argue with. It certainly damages the credibility of anything else you have to say. This is the problem of dealing with the myopic. They did not reach their point of view by being open minded, they reached it through isolation. Logic other than their own is “frankly stupid.” A sense of elitism is unavoidable.

That elitism runs through all segments of society, the idea “I know better than you.”  It runs through the terrorist who destroys the infidels for their own good, it runs through the politicians who manipulate society to their own ends.

Some people have a genuine desire to improve the world, such as Margaret Sangar, a nurse in the early twentieth century who sought to heal the social and economic problems of the world. She saw a solution in reducing the birthrate, and founded Planned Parenthood, reducing the numbers of poor and uneducated by simply not allowing them to reproduce. A tough sell, but it was after all for our own good. The sales pitch has been modified through the years, “empowering women” was not her aim when she wrote “No woman shall have the legal right to bear a child” or “Birth control clinics shall be permitted to function as services of city, county, or state health departments.” Her idea of birth control was control by the state. She aligned herself with the eugenics movement, Adolf Hitler’s pursuit of a “Master Race,” and the KKK. An uninformed person would not be aware of this, as she knew as far back as 1922. “We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities.  The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.” As of 2010, seventy nine percent of Planned Parenthood’s abortion clinics are in minority neighborhoods. Because black lives matter to Planned Parenthood.

A person in the spotlight who has been called the “Smartest Woman on the Planet” has heaped praise on Margaret Sangar, saying she is “in awe” of her. I would presume she knows what she is talking about and is not uninformed. Perhaps she is testing her audience, probing to see just how uninformed and pliable they are. The reaction might have been different had she said “I’m in awe of Adolf Hitler” because most people know who he was. I understand you can tell a great deal about a person by the people they admire.

About two thousand years ago, Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis (Juvenal) wrote “Two things only the people anxiously desirebread and circuses.” Over the years we have chosen to forget the meaning of “circuses” in this context, back then the wild animals ate the slaves for our entertainment. Not terribly different from MSNBC or FOX news, our present day circuses. Not much has changed at all. An observant alien race might not notice the passage of time.

When we choose to say “Life Matters,” we separate ourselves from the animals. When we qualify the statement, “Black Lives Matter,” “My Friend’s Lives Matter,” or even “Human Lives Matter,” we dilute our commitment to life.

 

 

 

 

The diversion of diversity

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Hi there. There’s been quite a bit going on lately, I’ve been taking notes, there is a lot to write about, but I will start with this week.

The Supreme Court of the United States revised the meaning of the word “Judicial” to include “Legislative.” In a five to four ruling, the court removed the right of the states to determine who may be married. There is nothing in the Constitution addressing marriage, nonetheless the narrowest of majorities decided the fourteenth amendment’s equal protection clause applied to sexual orientation.

What this means is even if your state decided through the democratic process to not allow same sex marriage, your state must not only recognize marriages performed in another state, it must allow such marriages to be performed within the state. While I have no issue with same sex marriage, I am strongly opposed to the way it has been forced on the states.

I was last married in a Quaker ceremony. Only two states, Ohio and Pennsylvania, allow Quaker weddings, but they are recognized throughout the world. Would it be appropriate for the Supreme Court to force every state to allow Quaker ceremonies? The Quaker church does not have the political clout (nor would it accept such) of the LBGT community, and is not interested in forcing its practices on others. Following the tactics of the LGBT community of late, will Catholic priests be forced to perform same sex marriages, in the manner bakers and photographers have been forced to participate in an event which runs against their personal moral code?

Human rights means respecting each other as individuals. It goes against human nature, xenophobia is an evolutionary advantage. The mature Homo Sapiens should be capable of supporting rights different from its own, xenophobia is the primal fear acceptance equals assimilation. It appears such a primal fear is warranted lately, lack of support for a cause is labeled fear of that cause. Socially, we are regressing. Forcing people to participate in something they are morally opposed to creates much more resentment than asking them to simply accept its existence. Texas is suggesting they will allow a balance of individual rights and Supreme Court activism, this is the petri dish to keep an eye on.

The other big story this week is a tangled mess of propaganda, misinformation, and intolerance. A young man opened fire in a church in South Carolina, killing nine people. Cue the politicians. Interestingly enough, gun control wasn’t immediately mentioned, there was a much more appealing subject. Photographs surfaced of the shooter holding a confederate flag, and the church was described as a “Black Church” (Actually it is an African Methodist Episcopal Church or A.M.E.). During all the conversations about racism no one mentioned churches have no color.

The racism angle was used to reinforce the concept the Confederate flag is a symbol of racism. It is not. No more than the rainbow is a symbol homosexuality (remember the Rainbow Coalition?). Coexistence is no longer the desire, we must all be the same. The Confederate flag has never had more meaning, representing rebellion by the states over a tyrannical federal government. So of course, the Federal government supports banishing the flag, applying Orwellian tactics to deny rebellion. Democracy is again denied, as activists remove the flag wherever they can, justified by the belief they just cannot wait for the flag to be banned. The next flag in line? Ask Louis Farrakhan, who wants the American flag to come down. Taking down the flag isn’t sufficient for the Black Panther Party, which has made several appeals to “Kill all White people.” Racial harmony anyone?

The trend is alarming. I suspect I am like most Americans, I can get along with anyone who wants to get along. I cannot, however, get along with people who want to tell me how to feel or think. In the same sense I don’t see all Muslims as members of Al Qaeda, I don’t see all black people as members of the Black Panther party. I don’t think all people with alternative lifestyles are pushing an agenda on me. I don’t think all Southerners are racists, and know that many Northerners are. As a White man, I am more likely to have a Black neighbor in the South than in the North.

One year from now, we will be listening to the dozen or so people who would like to be our next president. Listen closely. Are they speaking about equality and fairness, or legislating their beliefs upon everyone? Are they appealing to fear or hope? Please do not waste your vote confirming the winner, vote your conscience. Demonstrate your personal beliefs. Be an American, while we still have an America.

 

 

 

Why I no longer support Anonymous

Maybe I don’t need any words of explanation at all, just the following image.

 

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This is what makes having friends of various political slants so challenging. I was exceptionally offended by this image, comparing those who gave their lives for their country to a group of criminals, in fact in the accompanying text the hackers of Anonymous were lionized as “true heroes,” the men and women who died in Vietnam were described as being “duped into going,” and lacking “the courage to stand against it.”

I knew people whose names are on that wall. I knew people whose names are on other walls. There is no comparison to people whose pictures are on the Post Office wall, although I’ve known a few of them as well.

 

250px-EdwardleehowardWantedPoster

 

I even have a copy of Lee’s poster, which at one time I had dreamed of getting autographed. Unfortunately he outlived his usefulness and was “retired” by the SVR. No one trusts a traitor. Except “Anonymous,” a misguided group of clueless idealists who believe anything that contradicts authority represents “truth.” One truth is “loose lips sink ships,” ships containing human beings. Another truth is “In order to be an idealist, you must have an idea.”

I suppose the big picture, the reason behind no longer supporting Anonymous or many of the plethora of anarchist groups out there, is because they are not anarchists. The definition “absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal” has been discarded (maybe because it was written by those in authority?), replaced by an ultra authoritarian philosophy. “Defy the current authority and do precisely what I say” has become the anarchists creed.

If one truly believes in personal freedom, how can they take this view? If one truly believes in freedom of expression, allowing the existence of other points of view would appear to be the the very first commandment. As it is, I face routine discrimination from my anarchist friends, racial slurs and negative stereotypes are applied to me daily. “Racial slurs?” Yep, hate to tell you this folks, but if you truly believed in ending racism you could start by not calling me a “middle aged white guy” in the same tone of voice the people you rail against say “nigger.” Don’t imply I have anything in common with my classmate Andy Fastow while complaining that all police officers judge all black people in the same way. Has it never occurred to you that in making such statements you are revealing you judge people based on a single characteristic, which is what you are complaining police officers and people such as myself do? Am I not your friend because I am different from others of my caste? I’m like these people because I am a middle aged white guy (and of course we are all precisely the same), but we should never judge the black kid hiding in the shadows as being like the other criminals hiding in the shadows? Doesn’t your brain hurt from shifting between forward and reverse without a clutch?

The hypocrisies of Anonymous and 0ther anarchist groups who attempt to align themselves with “The Left” appears to me more egregious than the hypocrisies of alleged “Religious” and “Patriotic” groups that attempt to align themselves with “The Right.” Don’t get me wrong, they all are extremists calling for individuals to participate in a nonexistent “main stream.” The far right groups just don’t camouflage their intents with a false garb of freedom. The extreme right comes right out and says “You should not be allowed to do this,” the extreme left says “You should not be allowed to think this (and I know you already do think this)” while holding banners reading “Freedom” and “Tolerance.”

One person said looters are not protestors, and should be shot on sight. I said I was in partial agreement (still hanging onto the trial by jury concept). The anarchist pops into the conversation with “blah blah blah and so should you idiots!” Thank you, I will take your comment as seriously as you have expressed it.

Freedom requires more than lip service. It requires action, and sometimes blood. Nathan Hale understood this, Edward Snowden does not. Ed, you might want to consider why you feel a country with one of the worst human rights records is a good choice in which to take asylum. You have successfully leapt from the frying pan to the fire. Brilliant display of your superior insights.

As we have seen repeatedly, some people jump on the protest band wagon because they want to raise hell. In doing so, they degrade the effect of a protest movement. It takes time, Watts was in ’65, Boston in 76, and a new generation has allowed peaceful protests to be subverted in Ferguson MO and Baltimore MD in the last year. One lesson I learned fairly early is “The conversation is over when the shooting begins.” The same holds true for burning your neighborhood. If we are going to have a conversation that improves society, we can start as soon as you stop hurting people to get my attention. You have my attention, and all I can see is a rowdy mob bent on destruction. Which ideals are you standing for?

 

Passion is not a substitute for intelligence, neither are the two mutually exclusive. Struggles can only be resolved by integrating the two.

 

 

 

 

 

A Rape

A gang rape has taken place, it was widely reported but the victims will not receive closure and the rapists will not be punished.

I’ll be releasing the name of the victim, I know that does not keep with current practice, but her sister, The Truth, happens to be a fellow victim and feels some sunlight needs to shine on this crime. The victim’s name is Journalism, and the rapists are Sabrina Rubin Erdely (AKA Sabrina Rubin), Will Dana, Jann Wenner, and everyone who spread the lies of “Jackie.” For some reason, “Jackie’s” true identity is still being protected, even though in one of the most bizarre cognitive twists her fellow rapists are now blaming her for their crimes.

I haven’t much cared for Rolling Stone magazine since they started stapling the pages together, a few years back a friend gave me a gift subscription of which I read one issue. Rolling Stone lost its soul at some point, moving its headquarters from San Francisco to New York City. No longer even publishing on newspaper, the glossy ad packed mutant is indistinguishable from the other gossip and fashion magazines.

Even in these days of cut and paste journalism, Erdely’s story raised eyebrows. Other publications did not pick up an otherwise attractive (in the sensationalistic sense) story. Within a week of publication, Richard Bradley published an essay questioning the story, followed by Reason.com’s Robby Soave’s piece calling the initial story a “gigantic hoax.” Jonah Goldberg of The Los Angeles Times said in his op-ed column, “when I say the story is incredible, I mean that in the literal, largely abandoned sense of the word. It is not credible — I don’t believe it.”

If these people could see from the polished, published story enormous holes and leaps of logic, how is it writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely and editor Will Dana missed them? Jann Wenner, who displayed his idea of sensitivity by moving the magazine away from the “cultural backwater” of San Francisco, apparently feels the story fits his masthead of “All the news that fits” as he has no intention of firing either Erdely of Dana.

Rolling Stone has retracted the story, five months after publication. They said they were sorry, even though a simple apology has never been adequate when they have been offended by others. In point of fact Rolling Stone first made the statement “In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.” just two weeks after publication, blaming what at that time was believed to be a rape victim for their shoddy reporting. Three more apologies were issued before the article was retracted (On Easter Sunday), but most of us know that once a story is out there it develops a life of its own, five months later it has grandchildren.

Still treating “Jackie” as a rape victim, both Rolling Stone and Erdely refuse to identify her, although Erdely continues to blame “Jackie” for Erdely’s failure to do any investigation or even analysis of the raw story. “Jackie” has retained legal counsel, weeks after the story was published, a good move as the fraternity her lies dragged through the mud is now threatening legal action against Rolling Stone, and Rolling Stone has shown no hesitancy in throwing “Jackie” under the bus.

The University of Virginia has made no comment, they lose whatever happens. Option one, a rape culture in fraternities damages enrollment. Option two, a false rape story damages the credibility of actual victims, parents cautious about enrolling daughters. Option three, the university overreacts to a blatantly false rape accusation, parent cautious about enrolling sons. Maybe better to just stay quiet for now.

The absolute and continuing lack of journalistic integrity has even Rolling Stone alumni Hunter S. Thompson spinning in his grave. Those who agree with Jann Wenner’s appraisal of Manhattan’s cultural superiority will continue to purchase the magazine, the opinions of such people are largely unimportant anyway.

As Wenner has refused to take responsibility, it becomes our responsibility to hold him and his magazine to journalistic standards. I begin by calling for a boycott of Rolling Stone, although most of us already have for other reasons. To my colleagues I beg you to never employ Sabrina Rubin Erdely in any capacity other than housekeeping.

We all have a basic responsibility to journalism. As writers we must uphold the standards, as consumers we must demand those standards are met. Anything less results in a meaningless media.

 

Sex

Just in case you had not guessed, there will be “frank” speech is this article

 

Just checking, I knew the title would grab your attention.

A recent article in The Telegraph about Debbie Harry was titled “Debbie Harry on punk, refusing to retire and sex at 69.”  Brilliant. A great article about a punk icon, and feminism in music, but the headline hook of “Sex at 69” drew the most attention, at least the most comments. You cannot look at those words and not imagine Debbie Harry rolling about in your bed.

Outside the author of the article fawning over her, Debbie is quoted once about sex, she speaks of Victorian realities.

The comments, nastiest in misogynistic Britain but repeated in other fora, focus not on her music, but on sex with the elderly, one person stating it’s all over for women once they pass thirty two. I’m guessing the commenter was far from reaching thirty two. I am far more attracted to women my age and older than young women, would it be fair for me to suggest women do not become attractive until they are in their forties? Attraction derives from many factors, probably why there are so many different people. There were a few younger women in my life when I was in my thirties, but I’m pretty sure it has been at least twenty years since I have been with a women younger than thirty two. Okay, on edit, I remembered a few, but not many, and twenty sounds better than seventeen in the phrase.

Young people. So sure they are the only ones who have ever been alive.

Perhaps Star Trek influenced my outlook. Exotic is always alluring. I have known women who turned out to be vapid self-absorbed androids. They remained alluring. In the end, they made excellent examples in the “What to look for if you will never be in this town again” manual. But they are still nice to look at.

 

 

Apparently the fascination with differences is not rare. The subject has enough interest to show up routinely in fiction (and life), which gives me the opportunity to share an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, filmed twenty five years later. This because it has this scene with Bebe Neuwirth, who happens to be from Princeton and is only two weeks younger than me. The bit at 2:15 is elegant in its unspoken acknowledgement.

 

 

The attraction to those who are different is pervasive, as obvious as guys with beer bellies thinking the latest supermodel might be interested in them. So why is it some impenetrable barrier exists at the border of our comfort zones?

A few weeks ago during the “Fifty Shades” buzz (glad that passed quickly), I wrote a simple and straightforward explanation/defense of bondage and domination. A friend was exceptionally offended, and suggested (in public) I seek help. I have no desire to know the details of his love life, but I cannot imagine I would be offended by them. I would never suggest someone seek help unless they were a danger to themselves or others. I have been told the truth is dangerous.

The age thing doesn’t cross all barriers, but it remains a taboo subject. Each generation seems surprised their ancestors procreated. The thought of their parents involved in the act stops most people in their tracks. Why? Did they think they were delivered by storks? Did they think the age would arrive at which they would lose all interest? I pity their partners.

I spent a few years with a woman fifteen years my senior. I did not know until our second date her age, and I was surprised. All of our friends assumed we were the same (my) age. Bodies vary, and age differently. Isn’t this the exotic that we should find alluring?

I don’t know what happens in these peoples lives. If your partner is no longer attractive, what does that say about you? Is this not the person you loved last week? Is there a mirror handy? If you were only attracted to a set combination of features, why not buy a doll?

There is a person in there. It is the person, not the body (but yeah, usually also), you should find attractive. Yes, I know, I said there is a way you should feel. Twice. I could give a couple of dozen other examples but I believe I have conveyed my sentiment.

We are given this universe to experience. Every sense we have is designed to attune to a variety of stimuli. Any logic would bring you to “every stimuli is to be expected.”

There is so much tearing us all apart, do we need to worry about how each of us give and receive pleasure? The fact we do indeed give and receive pleasure should be the emphasis.

Sex should be about rejoicing in another. That joy is tainted if one is distracted by the joy others are experiencing.

 

 

 

 

 

What if?

John Greenleaf Whittier, in his poem Maud Miller, gave us this simple lesson;

 

God pity them both! and pity us all,

Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,

The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

The poem is a study in irony; the dreams, based on false impressions, incited by a chance meeting and lamented for a lifetime. I know the perils of this story, yet I still embrace my dreams.

For me, “What if?” is a lovely place. “What if she is the one to open her heart to me?” is not answered by sitting in the dark. The possibilities must be explored. Risks must be taken. Finding the answer to be “no” is not a failure. Never knowing is the failure, the answer might have been yes had only the question been asked.

I was speaking with a friend the other day and commented “You don’t hear ‘yes’ as many times as I have without hearing ‘no’ quite a few times.”

“What if?” is often faced with fear, the antithesis of my hopeful outlook. The question is usually completed with a negative outcome, “What if the plane crashes?” “What if I spill wine on the white carpet?” “What if my family doesn’t accept my choices?”. “What if?” is a toss of the coin, an admission the future is unknown, so why not envision a positive outcome? If the bad thing happens, it will happen. There will be no choice other than to deal with it. Worrying about it now will not alter the outcome, why throw good moments away in anticipation of bad moments?

In his poem My Psalm Whittier writes;

No longer forward nor behind

I look in hope or fear;

But, grateful, take the good I find,

the best of now and here

My usual response to negative “What if?”s is “What if the cat turns into a dragon and eats your family?” in an attempt to point out the futility of anticipating negative outcomes. Don’t tell me anything can happen if you’re not willing to accept the fact anything can happen. A positive outcome is just as likely as a negative outcome.

Far too many phrases have become meaningless from overuse. “What if?”, a useful consideration when preparing a course of action, has become the impediment of action, the “You’ll shoot your eye out” of the emotional realm.

Meaningless phrases was actually my idea for this article, the degradation of meaning and its impact on communication. You know me, I get sidetracked from time to time.

I was struck earlier this week by the false bravado of “I’ve got your six,” often expressed as “I’ve got your back.” As someone who has covered others six and depended on those covering my six I find the misuse of this term offensive. Sure, there was that time in Dallas I had to remind an officer he was covering my back and I would appreciate him allowing me to handle what stood before us, nothing is more discomforting than turning to your backup and seeing the muzzle of his weapon aimed through you, but what I am referring to is the thoughtless, careless misuse of “I’ve got your back,” using the phrase with the sincerity of “Have a nice day.” Don’t suggest I can depend on you unless I can actually depend on you, coming up short on backup is far more serious than finding you left your wallet at home.

Taking a break from “military” jargon, “I’ll think about it” is not supposed to mean “I would prefer to keep your hopes up, but the answer is no.” I’m not certain why so very many people believe deception is healthy in a relationship. The little white lie is in no way synonymous with la petite mort. True communication requires honesty, so few people are capable of accepting negative responses that it has become preferential to avoid the truth. I lived with a woman who repeatedly lied to me because she “didn’t want to hurt my feelings.” I never figured out how she thought I would feel when I eventually discovered not only the truth, but that she had been lying to me. As might have been expected, she was long gone by the time the truth came out. This has happened too many times for it to be an aberration, unless I just seek out women like her. I can blame myself for being forgiving, she continued to toy with my affections for months.

One more military phrase. “Copy” means “I acknowledge your transmission.” It does not mean “yes.” It is not a response to a question outside “Did you hear me?” Another non response is “I don’t know.” When did this become an acceptable answer? Saying “I’m sorry, you mispronounced ‘I’ll find out and get back to you ASAP,’ that is what you meant isn’t it?” doesn’t seem to help.

Presently I am faced with some major decisions, and without a clear view of the possibilities before me I am faced with simply throwing my fate to the wind. I’m okay with this.

What if I live happily ever after?

There’s at least one Golden Ticket still laying about, maybe I should just keep it.

Let it snow

SNOWFLAKE

My first memory of snow is from, of all places, Texas. I was younger than four, living in Trinidad Texas. I had done something which was going to result in a spanking, so I ran out the back door, and was unable to move. Must have been a drift, there was snow up to my waist. I recall the confusion, the unexpected barrier was both scary and fascinating. After the inevitable spanking, my mother made ice cream with the snow.

I can look back on the experience (which is rather amazing in itself, I have about a dozen distinct memories from Trinidad) and see it as a formative moment. An entirely new substance, which fell from the sky, which could turn into ice cream. What an incredible planet I found myself on! As I got older and examined the incident it became even more interesting. Living on an island in Texas named for a Caribbean nation, hydrogen bonds creating hexagon based crystals which lock together turning an inch of rain into a foot of snow. Memories of a three year old that remain strong fifty years later. A lifetime of incongruity.

It snowed a few more times while I lived in Texas, once in Dallas we built an igloo. Twenty years later I found myself back in Dallas as an adult, four inches (10cm) of snow causing panic, without snow removal equipment the city was a catastrophe, tire chains were placed on the Police cars to handle the “treacherous” road conditions. In the interim I had been skiing in the mountains of several states, and lived in New Jersey and Pennsylvania through some heavy Winters. The biggest road hazard was not the snow, it was the other drivers.

The severity of a snowstorm is best measured by the affected area’s ability to adjust. Snow in the Northeastern States is routine, they are better prepared for snow removal than areas in which snow is rare. As a young man in North New Jersey I drove a car with a four inch ground clearance (and a pointed nose) through drifts higher than my bumpers, driving in snow was an excellent exercise in inertial navigation. My Subaru makes it far too easy.

Imagine my dismay upon returning to the Northeast a few years later. I might retain memories for a lifetime, but my neighbors could not recall how to deal with snow from one year to the next. The first snowstorm each year is a disaster, even a dusting is more than some people can handle. There is another “tradition of ignorance” that amazes me even more, which I refer to as “French toast syndrome.” Rooted in the days before commercial bakeries and dairies, the days before a forecasted storm there is a rush on the grocery stores as families stock up on bread, milk, and eggs. The supermarket I frequented in South Philadelphia placed those items near the door in winter so people could grab everything and get out quickly. People who don’t even use these staples anymore go out and buy them before a storm.

Which brings me to today.

We’ve had a few inches of accumulation, and the forecasts suggest there may be a foot (30cm) of snow tomorrow night. I probably won’t go to Gallucio’s, my typical Monday night of music and dancing will most likely take place at home (If anyone would care to join me, the couch folds out to a bed). Most annoying, it is time for my weekly shopping trip, and crowded grocery stores remove the joy (yes, I love shopping for food) from the excursion.

The cold still paralyses me, shutting down my motor control and causing immense pain from direct exposure, but I do love the snow. I can bundle up, looking rather healthy in heavy clothes, and adapt to the environment. A warmer climate would probably be better for me, but then I couldn’t dress like this.

1531727_10151873223641587_667217877_o

If you live in this part of the country, relax. Snow is an above ground reservoir, allowing moisture to slowly melt into the ground for next Spring’s seeds. It absorbs sound, muffling humanity’s noise allowing an undisturbed view of nature’s beauty. With any luck it will knock out the power, forcing you to actually talk with your loved ones. Get out and make snow angels, make a snow Al Gore, make ice cream.

 

 

Beauty

Plato said “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” meaning beauty is subjective. We each find different things attractive, but there are some societal standards. Being obese was once a sign of wealth and surplus, today the preferred image is, in Tom Wolfe’s words, “starved to perfection.” One thing I find beautiful is a person who is comfortable with themselves. Confidence is wonderfully sexy.

Men in general find women attractive, the standards are still based in evolutionary values, good mates will make babies. Wider hips for easy birthing and larger breasts implying ample nursing (untrue if you didn’t know, breastmilk quantity is not dependent on the size of the breast). Breast size is almost universally seen as the measure of a woman, even my beloved Emma (who had rather large breasts), would make disparaging remarks about flat chested women.

My own taste in women seeks a different beauty, even though each successive wife has had larger breasts than the last, it was mere coincidence. When I met Lieve on line (without seeing her) she described herself as “ample.” I thought she meant she was heavy. I see a beauty that is not skin deep, in fact having nothing to do with skin. It is the soul which shines through and captures my attention, which is why I have been involved with women of every body type and ethnicity. My “type” is “real.” I may prefer certain noses and shoulders, but the sparkle of a gentle soul is what attracts me.

Two stories captured my attention the other day. A stunning contrast just inches apart on my Facebook page. I will start with the story of a beautiful woman.

I attended High School with Gail Chovan, who survived breast cancer the year before Emma had pancreatic cancer. Photographs of Gail, proudly bald from chemotherapy, helped Emma approach chemo. That is not all of Gail’s story, she carries the soul of a warrior in the body of a ballerina. Her children, the twins Zelda and Creed, were born with congenital toxoplasmosis, and have severe medical issues. Had these children been born in a different home they could not have the resilience growing up with a Mother such as Gail imparts. Last year Zelda was in the hospital again, for about six weeks. When the nurse came into the room and said Zelda would be released that day, Zelda pulled the intubation from her nose and said “Let’s go!”

Recently Gail participated in Lily Mandelbaum and her mother Elisa Goodkind’s “The What’s Underneath Project,” a series of videos focusing on self image. If you are disturbed by mastectomy scars you may want to close your eyes near the end of the video, but you should listen to Gail’s story.

Beauty, strength, and talent all in one body. Precisely what you would expect from Gail. She doesn’t need to meet anyone’s standards, because her standards exceed them.

The other story is about Mayra Hills, who goes by the name “Beshine.” I might find Mayra beautiful, if all I saw was her face. She has a nice nose, deep eyes and pleasant lips. Most people probably don’t notice those features due to her “enhanced” breasts. By enhanced I mean ten litres of saline each, a bra size of 32Y, and she’s planning to increase the size again this year. The only thing of which I am certain is she will be spending more on back surgery than breast implants as she ages. Her first impression fades fast, as she claims in recent interviews to be 27, yet she was born in 1983. I’m not sure why she would choose to lie about her age at 32, it appears she is not happy with who she is. I can’t imagine going through such crippling surgery (she can’t tie her own shoes) for any reason other than she thinks this is beautiful. She certainly elicits a second glance, but usually it is so people can see what they’re laughing about. She says she loves her breasts, but she obviously has some difficulty with reality. I wonder where her real breasts are? Did she start out large and just obsess? There are few career openings for someone with her disability, and the revenue from porn will certainly drop beneath the level of her medical expenses as she continues to remodel herself.

What we find to be beautiful says more about ourselves than the objects of our desire. What a person does to appear beautiful says more about them than the final product.  Gail is beautiful with or without her breasts. Mayra would be vacuous with or without her breasts.

Attraction, were it logical, would be based on characteristics that will last as long as the relationship. Having written that, I can see it is. Gail and Evan are a life match. Mayra’s fans will disappear as she ages, because beauty may not be skin deep, but attraction to that type of beauty is.

 

 

On Pens and Machine guns

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I am Charlie

As most of my readers are American, they have probably never heard of Charlie Hebdo prior to the mass murder that took place on 7 January at the magazine’s Paris office. It is not the type of publication that would be popular with most Americans, or for that matter, most people. I am not Charlie, nonetheless Je me tiens avec Charlie. Free expression is an alleged cornerstone of American and other free societies, I often find myself defending the rights of people I would never shake hands with. My heroes have been the Marquis de Sade and Larry Flynt, not for what they published, but for their ability to be published at all. One of my favorite quotes of Larry is “If the First Amendment will protect a scumbag like me, it will protect all of you.” We owe a debt of gratitude to those who have suffered to insure our rights.

Charlie Hebdo is a rather adolescent publication, perhaps satirical, perhaps simply another incarnation of the insult humor of Don Rickels. The humor often is more of a “I can’t believe you said that” reaction, or “That’s really going to piss off the X,” where X equals any group. Charlie Hebdo didn’t single out Islam, they poked everyone, Islam just rose to the top of the list of favorite targets by lacking any sense of humor. In America we give the same honor to North Korea.

The Charlie Hebdo attack contains some interesting points many will miss. The first Police officer on the scene, Ahmed Merabet, was from an Algerian family (Algeria being a formerly French territory). He happened to be Muslim. After being wounded by the terrorists he begged for his life and was then shot to death. Obviously not all Muslims are terrorists, but Ahmed’s brother makes the point that terrorists are not Muslims at all. Al-Qaeda and ISIS may wrap themselves in Islam, but if you truly believe in an all powerful God, what use does your God have with your machine gun? Can’t God take care of its issues without assistance?

This is not a religion

This is not a religion

This may be the catalyst for separating terrorists from Muslims, even though Magritte’s surrealism was lost on this artist. My prayers continue.

Another point to consider is the response to the murders. One French newspaper ran the headline “12 morts, 66 millions blessés,” as this was an attack on France. The terrorists were hunted down and killed in days. This was also an attack on the arts community, which has come out strongly supporting freedom of expression (no real surprise) with the pencil versus the machine gun theme.

“Artist” is a vague description, after years of being described as an artist I have accepted the title, but I still maintain everyone is an artist in their own media. Many of my fellow artists take the title more seriously than I take them, one illustrator commenting “Are there ideals worth dying for? Certainly. But does blood need to be shed? I think not,” demonstrating why his chosen media is pictures rather than words. This is a tough one for my generally mild mannered colleagues, dying involves spilling blood. We can celebrate the brave martyrs who stand up to the terrorists, but please do not claim to be willing to die for your beliefs if you are going to whine about scraping your knees. Do me a favor, stand behind me, not beside me. Just because the pen is mightier than the sword we are not guaranteed to survive every battle.

Free expression is the essence of free society. Each and every one of us has the right to say whatever we feel. The celebration of that right is allowing it to those who offend us. It is not an expression of free speech to tell someone to shut up, free speech is the recognition you can respond to any statement with a statement of your own. You don’t need to kill them, nor they you, due to a disagreement. This is often referred to as civilized behavior.

This is where we draw yet another lesson from the Charlie Hebdo massacre. The attack on free expression is an attack on free society, and the attack is not just being waged by radical Muslims. One of the beauties of free speech is its ability to highlight the sensitive and the obscene. Every time one group speaks of the annihilation of their opponents they expose themselves as intolerant to the degree of being uncivilized. Certain elements attempt to shut down speech they find offensive, which in itself is the greatest offense. Charlie Hebdo probably could not have been published in America, where tolerance is defined as being intolerant of offensive views. Maybe it is because I am a writer, a musician, a communicator, an educator, one of my strongest beliefs has always been “silence is death.” By surrendering our basic rights in the name of “political correctness” we have failed to nourish the practice of critical thought and debate, leaving violence as the only response for the simple minded.

Remember the words of Larry Flynt, and apply them to the poem by Martin Niemöller.

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the free thinkers
and I did not speak out
because I was not a free thinker.
Then they came for the Cartoonists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Cartoonist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

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Review

It is that time, the week between Christmas and the New Year, a week designed for introspection.

That is not to say I do not spend time examining every aspect of my own life through the year, in order to understand the universe you must understand yourself, adjusting your measurements for your own biases. This week, balanced between a celebration of life and an acknowledgement of death, is designed to cause even the most narcissistic wanker to examine his path.

The courage to act on such an examination comes from an unexpected place, which may be why such action tends to be rare. In the same way we fill this week with events designed to distract us from introspection, we fill our minds with concepts designed to distract us from taking action.

We call the distraction “maturity.” We believe the child is inferior, and actually exalt “synaptic pruning” as a path to clearer thinking. Machiavelli was a clear thinker, is his the mind you would emulate? It is the child who acts, believing in change, “maturity” is often code for “not making waves.”

In a previous chapter of my life, I was a digital technician. As new products were introduced, I would attend technical classes to learn the intricacies of the product. One year my Senior Technician (Dennis) and I were returning from a class in Maryland, and stopped for lunch at Burger King, which was selling goblets promoting the “Lord of the Rings” film along with children’s meals. The goblets contained an LED and batteries in the base, and lit up with a lovely rose hue. I bought two. Emma and I often drank wine in bed, the light would make the goblet easy to find in the dark.

Dennis was an excellent technician, when he approached a problem he wanted as little information as possible, in order to avoid any preconceptions. He saw the two “toys” and said “Isn’t that just a bit…childish?”

I was surprised, and responded “No Dennis, not childish. Childlike.”

Maybe it is just my brain, my particular collection of synapses, that prefers the wild growth of neural connections; they serve me well. As Multiple Sclerosis does its best to block my neural paths, the ability to reroute the data is invaluable. I am certainly capable of reducing a problem to its simplest elements, but grand, complex solutions require seeing every aspect of the situation. There may be several correct answers, but there is only one best answer. Such an answer is rooted in the balance of every issue involved, such a balance cannot be recognized if those issues have been eliminated in the name of reaching the answer more quickly.

You may think me simple. Perhaps I am. I am a man who has repeatedly accomplished that which was deemed impossible by others, although there have also been a few colossal failures. It remains ever so rare for success to result from a lack of trying.

As I review 2014, I recall hundreds of beautiful moments. I was married to a woman I loved with all my heart. I attended a number of great concerts. I met some wonderful new people, and reconnected with some others from my past. I created a couple of fabulous new recipes. I visited a couple of museums, feeding my mind with visions of beauty created by other artists. I learned a number of things, most notably the lesson Lu Ann tried to give me thirty years ago, love is a second hand emotion, giving love to someone does not create a debt they must repay.

I have seen many of the horrors of inferior intellects, yet I choose to judge humanity by its high points. Individuals reserve the right to prove themselves unworthy, but I still require that proof. I do not mind being slapped on the head and called foolish for believing in the power of love, even when such beliefs fail to achieve the desired results. Being a good person is its own, and sometimes the only, reward.

I enter 2015 with my mind as open as ever. The Dalai Lama is credited with saying “There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.” A friend reminded me the situation is more immediate. All we have is this very moment, there is absolutely no amount of time budgeted for waste.

Be kind, you may never have time to make amends for being less.