Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category.

Why I Collect Ancient Roman Coins

In the picture above I’m holding within my hand a silver denarius minted in Ancient Rome during the reign of Marcus Aurelius between 161 and 180 AD. Emperor Marcus Aurelius was considered one of the better Roman emperors, the last of a string of decent leaders known as the “adoptive emperors” beginning with Nerva and ending with Aurelius’s choice of his biological son Commodus to succeed him. At that point it was all down hill for the empire.

I have begun a modest collection of ancient Roman coins, focusing on pre-Diocletian post-Republic silver coins known as denarii. As seen in the picture above they are quite small, roughly the size of a dime, and usually weigh around 3 grams. As with any hobby the key one can spend too much money. This site specializes in the high end where one can spend thousands on a single coin. Some of these are works of art (for truly beautiful ancient coins check out these Greeks). I stick to a $50 per coin limit.

There’s something sublime about holding a coin that was minted by hands long dead. I find the honest wear of these coins more appealing than the sterile beauty of their high end cousins. This wear is the result of being touched and carried by countless people, and each coin sets one’s imagination alight. Was this a day’s wage for a Roman on a Parthian campaign? Or was it an offering to the numerous gods the Romans worshiped? Then there are the hands of those who kept it over the millennia, first as a store of wealth after the collapse of the empire, then as a curiosity and finally, a reminder of a time long before. I sometimes reflect on Life and see the threads of generations that tie us to our distant past. The strands are clear for the most recent generations, but it doesn’t take long for them to trail into darkness after only a handful of generations. Yet what amazes me is although the strands are in the darkness and we don’t know to whom they tie us, we still feel their pull on us in our daily lives.

The foundation of the calendar that manages our time lay in the reforms made by Julius Caesar in 46 BC. The names and duration of all the months are courtesy of Caesar (except Quintilis and Sextilis which were named July and August after Caesar and his successor Augustus). Our political system, our philosophy, even the languages we speak are all tied to the Romans and their idolized yet disrespected  forebears, the ancient Greeks. Everything we do is shaped by the threads which stretch into the darkness and lead back to Rome and the hands that touched that coin, yet these threads remain invisible to us.

But the coins aren’t just about the past, and the threads don’t end with us. They pass through us and it has nothing to do with whether you have children or not.

We are participants in History and we shape its future in ways that are impossible for us to imagine. Dramatic gestures like voting mean much less than the low-level interactions we have with one another. One of the most important decisions I made in my life, to appeal my rejection from college,  was suggested by a co-worker at a video store I worked at. I forget her name, but her words led me to challenge the decision successfully which in turn placed me at a location where I met my Wife. I didn’t know that moment was so important, and neither did she, but her kindness and my humility to accept her advice came at a critical moment. The importance of that interactionhas tempered my interactions with others and made me more positive and helpful with those I meet because I never know if and when I will have a similar impact on them the way that bouncy little college girl at the video store in 1988 had on me.

Just as the hands shaped the Marcus Aurelius denarius, our hands will shape the world of those far into the future who will touch the things we touch, and feel the same tug of threads in the darkness that we feel. We of course will be long dead but our influence will live on just as the Romans does today. Let us hope they will think of kindly and not judge us too harshly, or worst of all, forget us.

2000 Years Ago Today

In Rome Augustus Caesar was in the final days of his rule. August 19 will be the 2000th anniversary of his death. Augustus was the first Roman emperor, the adopted son of Julius Caesar who pretty much had stuck a fork in the Roman Republic and paid for it with his life. Augustus would establish a peace throughout the Empire, Pax Romana, that would last for 200 years.  He also spread the empire from Egypt to Spain and across the continent to Germany.

Augustus Caesar died at age 75 – either of natural causes or by poison figs given to him by his wife Livia depending on who you believe. While the histories and writings of dead white men have fallen from popularity, Augustus Caesar’s legacy lives on in modern Europe and from that continent to ours today. It’s woven into the very fabric of our identities.

Billionaire Bloomberg Makes Sense

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke to Harvard students yesterday morning and warned the university body of the dangers of intolerance towards non-liberal viewpoints.

 

In the 1950s, the right wing was attempting to repress left wing ideas. Today, on many college campuses, it is liberals trying to repress conservative ideas even as conservative faculty members are at risk of becoming an endangered species. And that is probably nowhere more true than it is here in the Ivy League. In the 2012 presidential race, according to Federal Election Commission data, 96% of all campaign contributions from Ivy League faculty and employees went to Barack Obama. 96%. There was more disagreement among the old Soviet politburo than there is among Ivy League donors

 

What boring places universities must be. When I attended I enjoyed the rhetoric and arguments of all sides and changed my opinion as often as Madonna changed her look. But even back then in the 80’s the shift was towards the hard Left and the right was withering. Eventually by the time I graduated the only challenges to the ruling liberal orthodoxy were found in the campus humor newspaper, and after attempts to ban it failed it was often “disappeared” from newspaper boxes.

That was 25 years ago. I can only imagine what it’s like there today.

Man Goes on Killing Spree – No One Surprised Except His Victims

Yet another psychopathic murderous rampage becomes a Rorschach Test for the Left or a chance to score cheap political points depending on your point of view as a 22 year old hyphenated American male goes on a rampage. This time a Washington Post film critic is under fire from white males in Hollywood for blaming white male culture in Hollywood for Elliot Rodger’s rampage. A victim’s father has already criticized the NRA, and even an aunt of Rodger living in France told the Daily Telegraph, “He was always a disturbed child. I don’t know how he was allowed to get a gun. Something has to be done about gun laws in America.” No word from aunty on how the 2nd Amendment is to blame for the three men he stabbed to death.

In therapy since the age of 8, Elliot Rodger was a broken human being. In that respect he is no different from any other run-of-the-mill psychopaths who’ve killed their way into the newspaper headlines. But instead of blaming guns, or “white male culture” in Hollywood, or video games, how about blaming Elliot Rodger?

If we can’t do that, then perhaps we should consider other responsible parties. Face it we all know broken human beings of one sort or another. Chances are none of them have done anything even remotely threatening to another human being, and those that have we have a responsibility as a friend and loved one to make sure they receive the care they need. But our responsibility doesn’t stop there. We also have a responsibility to Society at large to protect innocents.

If Elliot Rodger was as screwed up as reports suggest, and given the creepy photography of his dad’s that alone is enough to cause issues, there is no reason why that man should have been allowed to walk free. Decades ago he would have been locked up for his – and Society’s – own good. Clearly no one, including his parents, his therapists and even his aunty in France, was surprised by his outburst. So why wasn’t he institutionalized?

Instead of blaming violent video games or guns, isn’t it time we refocus on the psychopath and the family that supported him? As a parent I sympathize with all the parents shattered by this man’s actions, but I also recognize my own responsibility to both my son and the Society I am part of to make sure the former doesn’t grow into a psychopath that wantonly murders. Roger’s family failed in both responsibilities, and while aunty blames others I hold her at least partly to blame for Roger’s actions.

And we as a society need to rethink our involuntary commitment laws. As a libertarian I am extremely hesitant to give the government this power, but would welcome it in the hands of family members and medical professionals. Current laws make it almost impossible for either to put someone into protective custody, and I’ve experienced this difficulty first hand as my family tried to commit a relative against her will. She’s dead now and luckily she didn’t take anyone out with her, but there’s a very good chance she would be alive today had we had the ability to keep her off the streets.

It seems that we’re passed the days of John Wayne Gacy or Jeffrey Dahmer types who surprised their neighbors with their depravity. Instead we have people we clearly recognize as threats to themselves and others, but current laws make it all but impossible to confine them to mental hospitals where they can get the care they need while protecting society from their demons. If we want to learn any lessons from Elliot Rodger’s killing spree, we can start with that.

Update: Police were evidently aware of Roger’s disturbing Youtube videos when they conducted a welfare check on him.

On Kirsten Powers

Recently a very good friend of mine asked me about some statements I’ve made about Kirsten Powers’s conversion to evangelical Christianity. I enjoyed her role as the lone lefty Special Report with Bret Baier on Fox News. I’ve always found that position to be a tough one and tend to respect the liberal who is willing to sit there (I’m also a fan of Juan Williams who has appeared there numerous times).

I do like Powers, particularly for her work on the Kermit Gosnell case. Although I am both pro-choice and pro-life (it’s not as untenable a position as either side thinks) I found the MSM’s avoidance of reporting on the case typical. Powers’s reporting was necessary and must have been tough for her, and I wonder if her experience sitting in the courtroom and seeing pictures and video of Gosnell’s atrocities played a role in her conversion.

As I’ve grown older I’ve tended to avoid images of brutality. When I was younger I could stomach the horrors of concentration camp movie reel footage, but now when I happen upon these images today I simply lack the stomach for it. I feel that because of my past exposure I don’t need to see such imagery again. I haven’t forgotten the suffering of the Holocaust, and it shows through my unwavering support of Israel and the Jewish people. Yesterday I caught Nazi newsreel footage of Jews being herded into cattle cars, then their processing upon arrival in the concentration camps, cans of zyklon B, a still smouldering skeleton in a crematorium. I cannot learn anything more from these images except to deeply despise idiots like Toure Neblet for suggesting the Jews survived the concentration camps and came to the US because of the  “power of whiteness.”

As for Christianity,  I’m still an agnostic on my best days, atheist on my worst. But I do not share the Left’s animus against Christianity, especially considering the latitude it gives Islam. Only the Left’s rejection of Christianity can explain its alliance with political Islam, a religion that has no divide between church and state, treats women poorly and executes homosexuals, though I am somewhat encouraged by the Left’s boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel.

But I am still what the Jesuits educated me to be: suspicious of organized religion of all types just some more than others. Boko Haram, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, Al-Qaeda. These are not Christian outfits, and the best the Left can come up with is Westboro Baptist Church – which hasn’t exploded any airplanes, thrown grenades in any markets, or fired any missiles. When evangelical Christians start kidnapping girls and firing rockets into Israel, perhaps I’ll reconsider my view that they are relatively harmless.

Recommended Life Skills From A Nobody

The following are what I consider to be life skills for everyone that you won’t see in the usual lists floating around the internet. Mastering just a few of these will improve your well-being as they have mine.

If you already know them, teach a friend or if you have kids, teach them. For specifics on how to do any of the following, Google and YouTube are your friends.

Now you might ask, “Why should I listen to an old fool like you? You aren’t famous. You aren’t rich. You’re really a nobody.”  I admit I’m old and often foolish and while I may not be rich I am comfortable. As for being a nobody, I’m somebody to the animals I’ve rescued and care for, to the Kid and to the Wife. Their opinions about me matter more to me than the number of  readers I have of this blog, Twitter followers or Facebook friends. Besides my advice won’t kill you, unlike Jenny McCarthy’s.

As MM catches in the comments there is no particular rank to these skills. They’re pretty much in the order they came to me, and this being an easily editable blog post, I’ll continue adding to the list. Enjoy!

1. Safely change a flat tire. Nothing screams “Moron!” like driving on the shoulder with a flat-tire, turning a $10 problem into a $200 one. And while I recommend AAA, there’s no reason to call them for a flat unless you are a woman. I’ve driven half a million road miles and have never seen a woman change a flat. Evidently it’s something that men can do that women can’t, like pee standing up (although I have seen women do that.) You’ll know we’ve achieved true equality of the sexes when you see women changing flat tires. Sexist? Yes, but you don’t need much upper body strength to fix a flat.

2. Learn how to do laundry. Hint: Like likes like. Oh, and read the label (if you haven’t cut it out already).

3. Be able to prepare and cook at least one breakfast, one lunch and one dinner. The key? The only time you use high heat is to boil water. Everything else cooks best with moderate heat. Always keep a jar of pasta sauce, box of spaghetti and a bag of frozen meatballs on hand. Within 20 minutes you will have dinner for two.

4. Learn how to use a multimeter, specifically how to measure resistance. I’ll admit I’ve used multimeters for a long time but only figured out how to measure resistance last week. It’s like using a hammer for years to pry nails up and then realizing that gee, you can beat them into the wood too. Seriously it was a revelation. Once I learned this I was measuring conductivity of everything in the house. (Tip: Cats are NOT conductive, at least at the amperage contained in your average multimeter.) Bad fuse? You’ll know instantly. Short somewhere? Your multimeter will help you find it.

5. Balance a checkbook. Learn how to handle cash flow, especially when using checks and maintaining a small balance.

6. Floss. Your dental hygienist is right. Flossing makes a big difference. Not only does it keep your teeth clean, it helps maintain your health. And it makes kissing bearable.

7. Learn how to correctly iron a shirt. In today’s casual business environment of “wrinkle-free” shirts and slacks, you might think this is anachronistic. Think again. Even the so-called wrinkle-free shirts look positively frumpy compared to a well-ironed shirt. It’s a small detail that says a lot about you to your colleagues and will be noticed, even if you are a jeans/t-shirt type at heart. Every decent motel contains an ironing board and an iron. If you are traveling on business, use them.

8. Do your own taxes. Using software is okay, but before you go to H&R Block or let your brother who is studying accounting do them for you, do them yourself. Doing so will teach you your relationship to society. You will see learn that the rebate check you receive after you file isn’t a gift: it’s the money taken from you throughout the year that’s leftover after the government takes its cut.

9. Sew a basic stitch. Buttons pop off at inopportune times, and small tears can often be handled with a few stitches. Sewing kits tend to breed in drawers. Learn how to use them.

10. Never run out of gas. If you live in a hurricane prone area it’s a good idea to never fall below half a tank during hurricane season. If you can’t think far enough ahead to avoid running out of gas you probably shouldn’t be behind the wheel in the first place.

11. Learn how to say “No, thanks.” This is one of those general life rules that should be common sense but isn’t. Learning how to say “no” without causing offense or leading to intimidation is one of those skills that once learned can save you from a lot of grief. Is a guy hitting on you wanting to buy you a drink? Say it politely. Are your buddies offering you one for the road? Don’t take it. The boss offering you another project to take on to your overwhelming work load? Say, “Not until I get some bandwidth. As soon as I finish (X project) I’ll be happy to take it on.” No is one of the shortest yet most important words in the English language. Use it to avoid trouble.

12. Make being skeptical instinctive. Everyday we receive more marketing offers than ever before promising us endless opportunities and joy. None of them actually deliver. You are a target, a walking wallet to an assortment of sundry, often shady enterprises. Maintaining your skepticism will help you avoid being scammed.

13. Pay your bills on time. Preferably a couple of days before they are due. Get in the habit and you’ll avoid late fees, collection calls, dings to your credit rating.

14. Safely handle a firearm. Guns are not everyone’s cup of tea, but you’d be surprised at how tasty the tea is once you try a sip. There’s a  mystique about guns thanks to the anti-gun media, and it’s one that isn’t based on reality. The reality is that like any tool they have their uses. Knowing your way around a handgun or rifle de-mystifies them. They are tools with a purpose, and just as you wouldn’t think about playing with a running chain-saw (at least while you’re sober) if you treat guns with the same respect you will have nothing to fear from them. As an ex anti-gun person who is now a card-carrying member of the NRA, take my word for it. Even if you decide you do not want a firearm in your house, learning about them will help you make an informed decision.

15. Learn a poem by heart. I’m not sure why it’s important, but trust me, it is. In college I memorized Theodore Roethke’s I Knew a Woman, and every time I recite that poem something stirs deep within me.  It’s not meant to be explicable, just experienced. “She moved in circles, and those circles moved.” Delightful!

16. Avoid socializing with emotional vampires. I first saw that term used years ago in a Harlan Ellison book where he recommended this, and experience has taught me the wisdom in this statement. You have to recognize that there are people you can’t save. Often these people don’t want to be saved or merely exist by feeding on the kindness shown to them by their friends and family members. In the end they will suck you dry of your money, your love, or your mental well-being, leaving you a drained corpse while they move on to their next victim. Whether it’s a family member or friend, run don’t walk away from these people and cut them out of your life.

17. Memorize the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. Not only does it sound charlie-oscar-oscar-lima when you say it, it also helps people understand you when you’re talking on the phone. I find it ironic that while telephones have improved and become more mobile thanks to the invention of the cell phone and its evolution into the smartphone, call quality hasn’t improved. If anything it’s gotten worse, so knowing the phonetic alphabet will help you order the right item on a website, or help guarantee your name is spelled correctly on a form.

18. Learn how to ride a motorcycle. Yes they are dangerous. According to a UK study motorcycles have 16 times the rate of serious injuries compared to cars. According to most motorcyclists though, they are at least 16 times more fun to ride. There is nothing quite like the joy of riding a motorcycle on the open road.  A motorcycle makes you feel a part of a landscape instead of feeling apart from it, puts you in it instead of seeing it through panes of safety glass in a steel cocoon. While I wouldn’t dream about using a motorcycle to commute to work with on the Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia, I’m glad I own one for the occasional times when I just want to escape. Oh, and another thing: You can’t multi-task on a motorcycle. Being on a bike forces you to enjoy the moment in a way a car cannot.

19. Keep a pet. Keeping a pet forces you to think about something else besides yourself. If you’ve never had a pet before start with something small and easy like a goldfish and work your way up. Seriously. Don’t immediately adopt that cute Jack Russell you saw outside the Petsmart; you have to work your way up to high maintenance animals like that. Oh, and never pay for a dog or cat unless its to cover spay/neutering or other vet costs. There is no shortage of these animals, and while I recognize that most breeders are decent people who care about animals, the reality is that the shelters are full of animals needing homes.

20. Live in a foreign country. Nothing teaches you about your own country like living outside of it. Sure you’ll learn about your host country, but you will become a window through which others see yours. You’ll be surprised at what they say and think about your country and your people, and you’ll gain a new perspective on what being a citizen of your country means.

21. Learn how to wait. Most of life isn’t exciting and the fact is you will spend a lot of time waiting. There are several kinds of waiting – waiting for the right man/woman to come into your life, waiting for better times… But the waiting I refer to here is of the more mundane variety such as what to do while waiting in line. The next time you are in line at the grocery store watch what others do while they wait. The majority fidget, checking their phones or the headlines on the tabloids. Hardly anyone relaxes or simply observes the world around them. I’ve been told that veteran soldiers become the masters of handling down times like waiting. They’ve been trained to use the free time to rest their minds, even sleep when possible, so that the next time things get exciting they will be mentally alert. When I’m feeling particularly Zen I like to practice mindful meditation, focus on my breathing and allow the world to happen around me as if I were a leaf on a pond. But since I suck at Zen I struggle just like everyone else. Like all of these items on this list I am learning to perfect this skill which isn’t easy to do since my monkey mind is rather gorilla sized.

22. Study a foreign language. As my friend PJ suggests in the comments, this is a life skill worth trying. I stress “trying” because I’ve never come close to speaking a foreign language fluently the way my friends like PJ or the Wife (who’s fluent in several) have done. Learning a foreign language has many benefits, some more obvious than others depending on circumstances. But regardless of what you study you will see the world from a different perspective, even if you never attain fluency. Take Japanese. I never came close to mastering it, but learning the basics of the language taught me some key assumptions. For example, in most cases “I” is never used and is implied. This ambiguity touches upon the cultural trait of the Japanese stressing the group over the individual. The language also relies upon honorofics,  for example the “-san”, “-chan” and “-sama” suffixes that portray the rank of the speaker and whom he or she is speaking to. Japanese conveys the social contexts of the speaker and the listener in ways that are impossible or at best archaic in other languages. Think Downton Abbey for a taste in English.

23. Listen to an old person. I know people who met people who had been born into slavery. Others I’ve talked to remember life without indoor plumbing. While waiting for a car repair to finish I once talked to a Vietnam vet who flew psyops over North Vietnam. What’s better than talking to someone about history who’s lived it? For most of our history as a species the only history books we had were our elderly. The only problem with these “books” is that often by the time we need them, they’re gone. It’s a cliche to attack our youth-centric culture, and there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the frivolity of youth as long as we keep the more important of life’s decisions in the hands of those who appreciate history and the sense of proportion such knowledge brings. Everyone has elders. Get them talking about a particular subject they are interested in, then listen to them. You might learn something.

 24. Patronize an unknown artist. Perhaps there’s a street musician you pass by on the way home who is playing music you like. Don’t just toss him a buck; buy his CD if he has one laying out. Visit art fairs and art shows that spring up locally and put some of your hard-earned cash into the hands of a skilled but unknown artist or craftsman. Instead of buying a poster of a dead artist, buy an actual print of a living one. We live in an age of mass production where few things are handcrafted. Even things that were once hand made like prints of the Masters are now mass produced. We are human beings, each crafted through evolution by genetics to be one of a kind. We should celebrate this not hide it  behind some cheap prints picked up at Ikea. There are artists in every community who are doing amazing, unique things in their preferred medium. Each piece purchased is guaranteed to be one of a kind and makes more of a personal statement than the same French Cat poster that everyone displays (I admit I used to display it too).

25. Challenge yourself. It might be to do something easy like take a different route home from work, or it can be more difficult like quitting smoking or starting the novel you’ve always wanted to write. The key point here is to force yourself out of your comfort zone and do something that will surprise your friends, your family and ultimately yourself.  It really doesn’t matter if you succeed or not, only that you tried. And once you’ve quit smoking, taken that out of the way route home or written that novel, try something else. I’m teaching myself the mathematics behind quantum physics because I’ve reached a point where I feel I need to understand the math in order to understand the physics better. My goal is to someday touch the math describing the collapse of the wave function. That will be enough for me.

26. (For IT professionals). Learn New Programs/Tools Quickly. Every program or software tool has a unique logic to it. The only way to discover that logic is to use the program as much as possible. You can start by reading the manual, a Dummies book or similar guide, or even reviewing YouTube videos but nothing beats actually using the tool or program as much as you can. What I like to do when I pick up a new program is where the dragons be. These are the places where you’re guaranteed to break something. Learn whee it is then avoid that area. The more intrepid make a beeline for those places and claim they can learn a program or tool much faster by working on the edge. In my view this is selfish when dealing with a distributed tool on a network, so keep to the safe areas unless you are working on your own copy on your own machine. Not only will this skill enhance your earnings potential, but each tool you learn makes others that much easier to learn and the more tools and experience you have, the more important you become in your realm.

 

Keep the Rainbow Flags Out of St. Patrick’s Day Parades

My support of gays has been pretty long-standing, but that isn’t to say the group, or more accurately strident members of a group, doesn’t annoy me at times. I get frustrated when the vision of gays becomes so narrow and they see everything through rainbow colored glasses as being all about their sexuality. Honestly as a straight guy I don’t see the world through the prism of my sexuality. I don’t walk around imagining bedding every female I meet or allowing my hormones to color my thinking at all times. In fact I don’t think much about my sexuality at all, and while I give them more leeway to define themselves more through their sexuality due to our culture’s historical antagonism towards homosexuality, it’s becoming time for gays to integrate more than bloviate about themselves. Freud believed homosexuality was an expression of narcissism, so actions like boycotting St. Patrick’s Day parades because gays can’t make the celebration of Irish heritage about them simply feeds negative stereotypes about them.

As an American of Irish ancestry who has been to Ireland and studied its rich history and culture, there is much for everyone to celebrate on St. Patrick’s Day. Here you have a people who struggled for most of their history to survive and were nearly wiped-out by the British government’s genocidal policies during the 19th century. I’ve poured over ships manifests from the mid 19th century and seen the names of those refugees alongside their listed occupation as “laborer”, “servant” or “laundress.”  Many never even made it, having died aboard the disease-infested coffin ships, their names crossed out in the manifest. Those who survived arrived on foreign shores destitute, despised and often forced into bondage while their culture at home was under attack, their language banned, their Catholic religion preventing them from holding high office or even decent jobs.

Yet they endured. Today a quarter of Americans can claim these poor Micks as their ancestors and their struggle to survive, thrive and eventually succeed can be celebrated by members of all ethnic groups, even gay members of those groups.

St. Patrick’s Day is more than wearing green and drinking crappy American beer died green, neither things an Irishman would ever do. It is a remembrance and celebration of a unique voice in the chorus of our society, one that offers hope to today’s destitute and despised arrivals on foreign shores. By comparison, the rainbow flags and GLAAD signs pale in significance and make gays appear petty and self-centered.

Gays need to leave the rainbow flags at home, don the green and hoist a pint to the Irish who made our country, and this world, a better place. There will be other times, other parades, for gays to celebrate their sexuality, but the St. Patrick’s Day parade is not one of them.

 

The Painful Implications of Invertebrates Feeling Pain

Do invertebrates feel pain? Evidently some, like crustaceans do. “Brown crabs rubbed and picked at their wound when a claw was removed, as it is in fisheries. At times the prawns and crabs would contort their limbs into awkward positions to reach the injury…”

But the same article says we don’t have to feel guilty when we smash a stink bug. “Even in extreme cases, insects show no evidence of pain. Imagine a praying mantis eating a locust, [Wageningen University professor Hans] Smid says. With its abdomen opened up, the locust will still feed even while being eaten.” Good to know because I’ve become a regular American Psycho when it comes to stink bugs.

So Science has decided that animals as simple as hermit crabs feel pain. Yet we are led to believe that human embryos and fetuses prior to birth do not, and the research that states otherwise remains controversial. This isn’t a philosophical problem for me since I eat animals and oppose laws outlawing abortion in the first trimester. I accept both are murder. But it strikes me as a bit of a conflict when my liberal friends support abortion without restriction yet won’t touch an egg because of the suffering the hen went through making it.

I’ll start taking vegans seriously when I meet one who opposes abortion for the same reason they oppose consuming animal products.

Colorado Attempts to Legislate a Change of Heart

Let me state flat out that I like gay people. I’ve grown up with gay people, and a good chunk of my friends are gay. Having lived a rather unconventional and at times Bohemian life embedded in “gay culture” homosexuals don’t scare me a wit. They are first and foremost people, and like people most are decent human beings while others are less so. But the ones who are complete jerks aren’t that way because they’re gay/bisexual or what have you. They’re that way because they’re just asshats.

Until the State gets out of the marriage business, as far as I’m concerned they should be able to marry or not marry whomever they want. The Law is a blunt and crude instrument which is why I would prefer our society limited it – something it has never done. Laws stay on the books long past the time when people remember why they were made in the first place. So until that time comes and we cut back the thicket of laws that threaten to choke our society, I don’t see what harm gay marriage does to our Society that heterosexual marriage hasn’t already accomplished. I grew up in the 197o’s when divorce became common, and witnessed second-hand the devastation of my friend’s lives. Sorry, no-fault divorce ruined Marriage and the American family. Gays can’t possibly harm them any worse.

But a recent debate among my liberal friends sparked by the discovery of a dissenter in their midst, got me thinking. The issue involved the Colorado case where a bakery refused to do a wedding cake for a gay couple. One of them had posted their idea of a cake done to placate the suing couple and abide by the law. Needless to say, it wasn’t something edible.

Living in Asia taught me a thing or two about people. First, whites aren’t the only group on the planet that are racist. It’s a human thing; people seem programmed to trust someone that looks and acts like them versus someone who looks or acts differently. In Korea I was refused service by cabbies and kicked out of restaurants. In Japan the Wife and I had trouble finding a landlord willing to rent to us because we were gaijin on top of the day to day stares, epithets and other rude behavior that’s visited on foreigners there. But some of the Japanese were terribly nice. I had complete strangers help me out of many jams, including a salaryman who was willing to hand me a phone card so that I could call an airline to notify them I was late for a flight. In the end while they were in the minority, the kindness shown to me by the Japanese made up for the majority of those who ignored me or treated me disrespectfully.

I didn’t patronize the restaurants where foreigners weren’t wanted. There were plenty of places that enjoyed the traffic of foreigners, so there was no reason for me to stamp my feet and insist one particular restaurant serve me. I simply too my business elsewhere. I understood that there was no way I was going to change their minds about foreigners or Americans, so I just left them alone. There were others to choose from.

And that’s what bothers me about the ruling. You can’t legislate a change of heart. There is no way you are going to make that baker respect homosexuals by threatening him with fines. Today a black man can walk into any bar he wants and the law backs him up. But there are still bars in this country where a black man would not want to go because he’s not going to be shown common courtesy. It can go the other way too; Spike Lee is getting heat for his racist attitude toward white people who are moving into his old neighborhood and changing its character, and there are hip-hop clubs where white people aren’t welcome. How would suing a red-neck bar or a hip-hop club change attitudes?

One could argue that by forcing bigots to change their actions they will over time make them see the error of their ways. To me it’s a variation of the “they don’t like us because they don’t understand us” idea, a myth that originates 500 years ago in the writings of Erasmus. Erasmus saw ignorance as the root of all evil, and knowledge as its opposite. Education held the power to enlighten the ignorant and Erasmus assumed that even the most illiterate and ignorant savage would be transformed into a humanist given the right education. History since Erasmus has been pocked with well-educated savages and bigots including Pol Pot, who attended a French electrical engineering school, Josef Stalin who attended seminary, and most recently jihadi leaders such as Osama Bin-Laden, who received a civil engineering degree in 1979,  and Ayman Zawahiri who finished medical school in Cairo. The assumption that people hate out of ignorance is itself an assumption based on the feelings of cultural superiority of the group being hated.

Members of the group cannot accept that a bigot may know and understand them plenty yet still hate them, but I doubt blacks and Jews have this problem. Many of the most die-hard racists in the American South grew up with black people and were very familiar with black culture and personally knew black people, but that didn’t stop them from opposing Civil Rights or the end of Jim Crow laws. Jews lived throughout central and eastern Europe almost completely integrated into the fabric of these societies yet that did nothing to stop their neighbors from turning them over to the Nazis during the Holocaust. Perhaps it’s an expectation held only by those of privilege who find themselves suddenly in a new minority such as white men who come out gay.

Even Andrew Sullivan has come out against the ruling. “Leave the fundamentalists and bigots alone. In any marketplace in a diverse society, they will suffer economically by refusing and alienating some customers, their families and their friends.”  I doubt I’ve agreed with him once since his neo-con days.

Look, I’m not saying being gay in America is easy. Having lived in gay neighborhoods and seen my gay friends suffer everything from being shunned by their families to wilding attacks, I don’t buy the common right-wing arguments that people “choose” the “gay lifestyle.” Gay people in America still suffer.

But guess what? So do women. So do Jews. So do black people. And yes,  so do white men. No group holds a lock on the “victim” label, but the ones who have held it the longest succeed without employing it. The Stonewall Riots weren’t that long ago in cultural terms. What has been achieved in less than half a century is cause for gay pride, but whining to the government over a wedding cake at a time when gays are being jailed in Africa,  attacked in Russia, and even areas of formerly safe cities such as London’s East End should gave American gays pause. It’s a very dangerous world out there, and becoming more so as Islam replaces liberal Christianity and Judaism in Europe. Perhaps some perspective is needed.

As Andrew Sullivan notes, gay people can make the bigots suffer simply by avoiding their businesses. Gays tend to have smaller families and often have two incomes, meaning that they have higher disposable incomes. Gays also tend to be loyal with their business, supporting those that treat them respectfully while avoiding those which don’t. Few businesses have the balance sheets that can afford cutting off an entire segment of customers, but in my view it a baker doesn’t want a gay couple’s cash, then he or she shouldn’t be forced by the government to take it.

The Chill of Self-Censorship

Over the years I’ve written on many topics in this journal, but some things never appear here. I don’t write about my private life because it’s no one’s business, nor do I write about my job. I have strict boundaries over what appears in print here and what doesn’t. By refusing to write about certain topics I avoid trouble. I’ve seen people’s personal lives unravel online as they crossed these boundaries. I’ve also heard of people being fired for what they’ve written about their employer. These are what I feel to be sensible restrictions in the modern age.

Then there are certain topics topics and statements that I avoid because they have repercussions. At first I worried about being targeted for my attitude towards Islam and in particularly the jihadis. But as the years past I became less fearful of such topics because there was already a cacophony of voices out there saying the same thing.

As I’ve learned more about the NSA spying, and the abuse of personal information by the IRS, including the release of former senate candidate Christine O’Donnell’s tax information to the press by the Delaware tax authorities, information that was factually baseless yet did irreparable damage to her candidacy, I take pause. Over the past five years I have found myself censoring my writing in ways that I had not done the 7 years before that. I have spoken to other writers who have done the same. We are clearly moving towards a more restrictive, less free society, and self-censorship is the start.

I am too unimportant and unnoticed to attract much attention by powerful entities, but because I cannot predict the future I must act with caution even when my audience is small. Once something is written and makes it onto the Internet it is all but impossible to erase. So I act conservatively. I write carefully and I think about what I write both before and after I write it.

I find it ironic that I live in what bills itself to be the most free society on earth yet I am increasingly careful of what I write. I am also careful of what I say. For the past generation we have reverted to a more restrictive culture where everyone is supposed to avoid offending everyone else. Given the diversity in thought, opinion, talent and race, such a task is impossible. Nearly anything said or written has the potential to offend someone. The only truly inoffensive action is silence, and that’s what many want – to silence opposing opinions, as the attempt to silence Charles Krauthammer for his comments questioning the science behind anthropogenic global warming gathers steam. Krauthammer has achieved a position where he’s pretty much immune to such threats of censorship, but the mere fact that there is an active attempt to silence him says much about our society and far we’ve strayed from our core values including freedom of expression.

A few years back I watched a movie from the early 1970s. I was stunned by the dialog, which sounds racist and sexist today yet back then was considered open and free, said with the assumption that the listener was free to give as good as get, and that being offensive was less offensive than being unable to speak one’s mind. I used to despise the 1970s for the ugly design, the crappy pop music and the insipid TV shows. Now I can’t help but look back fondly at an era where we were free to express ourselves in ways that we cannot anymore.

As under any restrictive regime there are still considered “safe” ways of self-expression. Today one can express one’s sexuality in ways that once were limited to pornographic magazines back in the day, yet everyone is expected to not be offended by such actions or displays. But stray too far away from that subject, and the confines return.

Dissent was once considered to be the highest form of patriotism. At least that’s what the leftist bumper stickers said during the Bush administration. Today dissent gets you a visit by the IRS, an indictment by the feds, or protests outside the offices of the Washington Post as in the case of Krauthammer. A writer ignores this at her peril, and so keeps the thoughts and ideas locked away in her head. Multiply that self-censorship by hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of writers, thinkers and intellectuals and the landscape of political and social thought of our society is completely changed.  That is the intent of the powerful and in that they have succeeded.

America land of the less-free, home of the not-so brave.

 

The Importance of Right Livelihood in Modern Life

One of the tenets of Buddhism is “Right Livelihood.” In a nutshell it means working at a job that doesn’t contribute to the pain and suffering in the world. This isn’t a problem for most jobs, although a few do come to mind. One that does is performing and assisting with abortions.

I am pro-Life as is my family. We live with and bear the cost of our ethics. Dr. Wife may be a liberal but she won’t work for an institution that performs abortions, and we have made decisions and helped others in tight spots when it would have been much easier for us to walk away. I wrap my pro-Life attitude in a pro-Choice mantel because I do not believe the Government has a right to tell a woman what to do with her body, and that ceding that right to the Government makes it much easier for it to grab other rights.  But the cloth of that mantel is thin; scratch it and you will find someone who values innocent life.

When I read about a Planned Parenthood employee who quit because she just couldn’t stomach it any more, I think about how important Right Livelihood is. Now I’ve read interviews with abortionists who claim they have no difficulty sleeping at night, which doesn’t surprise me in the least. I doubt any leaders of the Nazi Regime laid awake at night pondering their guilt, nor do those plotting the next terrorist attack. A Buddhist would say that such men and women have a long ways to go before they understand the error of their choices, but they will eventually. I am not a Buddhist. I don’t doubt Evil exists in the world and have no problem seeing these people for what they are.

It’s not just abortionists. There are those working at kill animal shelters who enjoy killing puppies and kittens, and there are those who lie to themselves until they reach a point where they can’t stomach it any more and have to find their own Right Livelihood. Ditto those who work in slaughterhouses. I’m sure some workers get off on killing cows and chickens just as Sadists fed the ranks of the Serbs who ethnically cleansed Bosnia and Croatia. For others its just a job, and they do their best to ignore it. Others get sickened by it and have to quit, and often do so after providing PETA or the ASPCA with videos depicting the horrors of the slaughterhouse.

At the end of the day with our consciousness about to fade we are left alone in darkness with our deeds and our conscience.  2,500 years ago the Buddha understood this which is why He taught the importance of Right Livelihood. It’s a lesson that is timeless.

The Entitlement Mindset

I normally ignore any headline with a number in it, but the following article is an exception. 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You a Better Person should be required reading for everyone, especially those new to the workforce. Alec Baldwin is a world-class @sshat, and while I disagree with the article writer that it’s the greatest scene in movie history (better than Roy Batty’s speech in Blade Runner? The Wagnerian assault on the VietCong outpost in Apocalypse Now? Any scene from Casablanca?) it’s an amazing scene. Now I want to close some real estate…

Everyday my wife deals with extremely poor people on medicaid who feel entitled to everything. They’ve got thousands of dollars in tattoos covering their torsos but they can’t afford the $3 office visit copay. The local free clinic has gone bust, and the local non-profit hospital is circling the drain because people won’t pay their bills. Oh but they are poor, right?

I’ve seen poor. I’ve walked the streets of Dar es Salaam and seen beggar children missing limbs, victims of the civil war in Mozambique, who are moved around the city by their pimps. I’ve been in smoky mud huts that people have lived in their entire lives who scratch out just enough from the soil outside to survive. Medical care was a fantasy for them because they couldn’t make it to the towns where it was offered by the NGOs or government. Trust me on this: compared to what you’ll see in sub-Saharan African, there is no poverty in America.

When I came back to America from living abroad for 5 years I remember riding the train into Philadelphia through Chester PA and being shocked by the rubble that passed for the city. That’s not poverty, at least as defined by the lack of money. The citizens in Chester were rich compared to the street families in Dar, what they were suffering from was a poverty of ambition. They were stuck in a hell all right, but not the one that progressives and liberals believe. It’s one that money can’t solve – as proven by the trillions spent on the War on Poverty that has led only to a complete surrender. Money can’t fix attitude nor can it light a fire within that compels one to better one’s situation.

I currently live in one of the poorest areas of the country. We moved here at least partly due to a noble cause. We wanted to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate, and I figured that we would do what we had done in Africa. Not only would the Wife treat the sick, but we’d plow our incomes back into the community. While conducting research in the Bush we expanded the research payroll with our personal funds, knowing that each person we hired would then be able to support their families. We hired anyone who could do anything. If you could wield a panga you could cut trails. If you could walk you could earn money simply by walking around the forest listening for the chimps. We paid young men to dig trenches around the research camp. For a year the people of the Kasiha village in the Mahale Mountains had some security in their lives, and they appreciated it. They were hard workers and protective of idiot Americans stumbling around in the Bush like myself. We left with $20 and no regrets.

Here in North Carolina I have had trouble finding people willing to cut my hay fields. I bought a hardwood stove but then had to take it back because I couldn’t find anyone willing to install it. After one of my dogs was killed along the road I asked a local carpenter to extend the fencing, a $3,000 job. He blew me off and never showed. Other property owners have the same trouble finding anyone willing to work. One said, “No one wants to work when the government pays them to sit at home.” Some have taken to hiring illegals, but I refuse to do that because I have a moral issue with it.

Yet these same people traipse into the Wife’s office and demand MRIs and expensive tests and procedures without knowing what they are asking for. When she refuses they question her judgment, as if they had gone through 4 years of undergraduate studies, 2 years of pre-med prep, 4 years of medical school, 3 years of residency and internship and 4 years of practicing as an attending. She brings 17 years of training into the exam room, yet these people disrespect her and her staff.

Disrespect. Dis as the verb. As the article above points out, respect is something earned by what you can do, not your intrinsic qualities. My Wife earns respect because she knows how to tell the difference between a harmless common cold and life-threatening pneumonia. 17 years of training has honed her clinical skills to the point where she now has instincts that have saved people’s lives. Seriously saved lives. I know of a handful of incidents including one where she had to battle an insurance company for a test that proved a cancer diagnosis. What have her patients made besides children, and it takes two of them to do that?

Anyone who demands respect doesn’t deserve it. If you are feeling dis’d it’s because you’ve done nothing worthy of respect. If you want to be respect, do something deserving of it.

PBS Frontline: League of Denial Seals The Deal For This NFL Fan

I love American football. As a kid I loved playing pick-up games of it in our suburban backyards and touch versions in the street. Our city was cursed with the St. Louis Football Cardinals who eventually took their stinking-on-ice team to Arizona where they still suck, and most of my friends were from outside the area so I took to supporting their teams. My friend Ron H. was from Philadelphia, so I started rooting for the Eagles. But this was the era of the Steel Curtain, so I found myself cheering for the Pittsburgh Steelers as well. In fact I liked almost all the football teams except for my hometown disappointments.

After my bohemian period during which I thought American football was jejune and bourgeois, I had fallen in love with a woman who rekindled my interest in the Philadelphia Eagles after we moved into the area. I’ve rarely written about the sport because I have nothing to say beyond the usual “Go Birds” and the attendant “Cowboys Suck!” that comes with being a Philly fan. After moving south of the Mason Dixon, I have paid hundreds of dollars to watch the Eagles and other NFL teams play on DirecTV every season.

But every season the game seems to lose some of its appeal. Maybe there are too many penalties in an attempt to make the game safe. Maybe it’s because I’m growing older and have seen some pretty bad things happen to people. Maybe it’s because I’m just turning into a big pussy. But there’s only so many times I can see a player get hit and lay motionless on the ground while holding my breath before I begin to think something is wrong both with the sport and my enjoyment of it.

I love the sheer athleticism on display. I revel in the impossible plays just like any other fan. And yes these men are paid millions to destroy their bodies, but does the lucre they are paid free us fans from guilt? We are being entertained by men damaging their bodies in ways we would not do ourselves, or allow our children to do. I didn’t let my son play football even when he expressed interest in the sport. At the time I was more worried about a broken neck or ruined knees. That was before CTE, Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a disease that destroys the brain and is specific to the sports boxing and football. Soccer players don’t exhibit it, nor do baseball players or lacrosse players. CTE does not wait until players are in their 70s or 80s to exhibit signs; it has been found in the brain of an 18 year old football player.

I am no nanny. If you want to kill yourself with drugs or whatever, fine – do so just not in front of me because I have a conscience and I will intervene to stop you. That is the way I was raised. For the past few years my conscience has been stirring when I watch American football, and seeing this program on PBS pretty much seals the deal. The NFL has denied the existence of CTE the exact same way the tobacco companies denied cancer caused by smoking. Recently the league has pushed the problem into the future by calling for “more study” just as the cigarette companies called for further research on lung cancer when the Science behind the causative link between smoking and lung cancer was unequivocal. What they’ve done is criminal but not surprising given the amount of money league owners have invested in the game.

Many of my friends have turned to European football known as soccer here in the States, and while watching the game seems about as exciting as watching a cat lick itself, at least I can watch it without my conscience stirring.

Perhaps technology can someday come to the rescue. Imagine: no penalties, no guilt, and as violent as we can make it. We could watch a true Steel Curtain descend on the opposing robot team and pulverize them, sending bits of plastic, steel and oil flying. Then, and only then will I be ready for some football.

The Tide Has Changed – Men’s Portrayals in Commercials

While waiting for a video to start at YouTube I was subjected to an ad that I couldn’t escape. Normally when forced in such a situation I open another browser window and minimize the window running the advertisement until it’s over, but something immediately caught my eye in this commercial so I kept watching it. I quickly realized I was watching History being made. Here’s the ad:

 

For decades Madison Avenue has treated men as buffoons in the laundry room and the kitchen, barely able to put two words together in a sentence without their wive’s condescending help. It’s as if advertising agencies are stuck in the 1970s while the rest of America has moved on.

In my household I do all of the cooking and most of the housework. I also did most of the laundry until I passed the task onto my teenage son when I got tired of doing midweek loads so that he could wear his favorite shirt twice in one week. And I happen to be extremely brand loyal to only a handful of products, and Tide happens to be one of those brands. I don’t think I’ve used another laundry detergent since returning to the States from abroad 16 years ago.

I’ve spoken to other men who have taken on what has been traditionally considered “woman’s work” for a variety of reasons. Some like me have done so because their wives work longer hours. Others do it because they like the independence that comes with keeping a household functioning. Still others, including myself, view it as yet another expression of a man’s mastery of his world. If I can replace the heating element of the clothes dryer, why shouldn’t I be able to properly launder the clothes that go into the appliance?

In the YouTube comments a commentator sees this advertisement as the continued feminization of men, but I don’t see it that way at all. I see a father sharing the joy of raising a child and building a bond with her that will last a lifetime and embodying the qualities of fatherhood. I see a man showing the masculine trait of being comfortable within his own skin and not worrying about what others think. I see a man who by extending the definition of manly to include what was once considered the domain of women underscores the independent spirit laying at the heart of what it means to be a man.

Being a man doesn’t mean taking on a role which has traditionally defined the sex; it means extending that role into new areas of living that prove the creative and positive nature of masculinity to women and to the boys who look up to them asking themselves what being a man in the 21st century means. It’s not switching gender roles with women but moving our identity to encompass new ground, and doing so quietly, with humility and confidence.

Yes it’s just a commercial, but its presentation was so different that not only did it keep me watching it in amazement, but served to give me hope that while men have been devalued and derided so often and for so long, perhaps attitudes are beginning to change. I’m cynical enough to not hold my breath, and in the meantime I’ve got to move a load of laundry into the dryer.

“Multiculturalism turns out to be a disguised form of white supremacy.”

James Taranto writing in the online Wall Street Journal:

A more abstract form of this parochialism is the multiculturalists’ frequent insistence that “only white people can be racist.” In this view, racism is perhaps the greatest moral failing of which human beings are capable—but nonwhites are absolved of moral responsibility for their racial prejudices.

But moral responsibility is the essence of humanity. It is what sets Homo sapiens apart from other animals. Assigning moral responsibility to whites while denying it to nonwhites is therefore a way of dehumanizing the latter. Multiculturalism turns out to be a disguised form of white supremacy.

I’ve personally found multiculturalists to be incredibly intolerant while rural Southerners, pilloried by the media and intellectual elite, as much more laid back and accepting of all kinds of differences. I think it’s because the poorer rural people are forced by necessity to get along with those of different ethnic, religious and ideological backgrounds because they can’t afford to live in like-minded, monocultural enclaves like Cambridge MA where NPR reigns (Speaking of which: I would bet that NPR employs more minorities than actually listen to it. Ever catch the names during a public radio pledge drive? Not a Jackson, Patel or Dominguez among those donating cash for coffee mugs and tote bags.)

This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson who said ““The wise man shows his wisdom in separation, in gradation, and his scale of creatures and of merits is as wide as nature. The foolish have no range in their scale, but suppose every man is as every other man,” except in this case, the multiculturalist prides him/herself as being more equal than others.