How to Find a Skunk

Philosophy, Politics, Religion

Skunk

During the height of his steroids scandal, a reporter asked pitcher Roger Clemens about his opinion on those who accused him of juicing. His response was a quote from his mother.

“Never get into a pissing contest with a skunk.”

This is pretty good advice, especially when it comes to social media. In the past couple days I’ve found myself soaked quite a bit in skunk urine thanks to the discussions surrounding duck caller Phil Robertson. In case you haven’t heard he made some ill-advised comments about the lives of African Americans prior to the Civil Rights movement and the sexual effect of a woman’s vagina vs. a man’s anus. Like many of the great debates in our time, the intellectual back and forth has been aired out on Twitter and Facebook.

Most of the time when there’s a controversial news topic, I shy away from the online bickering. I once lost a friend (well on Facebook anyway) about the Trayvon Martin shooting. When I do venture into a hyped discussion, I try to keep my opinions on topic and usually I stick to it.

Couple of things I’ve learned about social media squabbles 1) you never change anyone’s opinion about the subject matter and 2) you never feel better after unleashing your view on said subject matter.

My  latest foray into online debate centered on Robertson’s incendiary comments and how 1) he was entitled to make them, 2) A&E was entitled to kick him off the air, 3) Biblical edicts are sometimes relative (i.e. slavery, bacon, gays, etc.) and 4) I have a poor habit of “selective reading” as one of my friend’s friends put it.

I had a long night answering comments from people who claim 1) that Christianity is under attack,  2) that my education is inadequate, 3) that Muslims have free speech which Christians don’t, 4) that my remarks really miss the point, etc. etc. etc. etc. Luckily I think I survived the night with most of my friends and followers lists intact.

I knew what I was getting into but I just couldn’t help myself. Why do I, and others for that matter, feel the need to argue even when they know they can’t win? For me, I guess there’s this hope that maybe I can at least get others to see a different point of view. Their personal stance may not change but they’ll broaden their perspective. Hopefully.

This never happens. Ever.

I think that social media and the Internet in general fuels people’s sense of self-importance. Maybe because we feel that we can broadcast our opinions to the entire world in an instant it somehow gives those opinions some sort of credence. It’s particularly enticing when you know that your message is concentrated to people you know. (Only egomaniacs spout their opinions for everyone on a blog.)

Unfortunately though, online “debates” usually become nothing but a bunch of people sharing opinions that everyone already knows. No one becomes educated or enlightened. It just turns into a digital yelling match and the volume of your voice does not make you right. (Except for me. I’m always right.)

Word of advice though, when you see a skunk, turn around. Walking away doesn’t mean the skunk is right about gay marriage.

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Real Reality

Philosophy

I recently watched a video on the perception people have about wealth distribution in this country. Essentially they believe the richest 20 percent has more than their share of the wealth which they find acceptable.

In reality, according to the video, the richest 1 percent actually have the majority of the wealth. Ninety percent of Americans are not aware of that.

I don’t consider myself much of a class warrior. I accept the fact that America is a Capitalist system that is very much tilted towards the rich. And as CEO salaries rise exponentially and the dwindling middle class continues to lose wages, I’ve given up trying to explain to people that the system is rigged against them.

My focus is mainly on what the video deems is reality and the perception that people have. I’ve always said that reality doesn’t really exist. This is because no matter how much you relate to someone else, everything that we feel, touch, taste, smell or hear in this world is processed by our brain, ergo perception. Regardless of how much research scientists do on brain function we are not wired together. Even if we have evolved such that our survival depends on us banding together, when it comes to interpreting our senses, we are utterly alone. We all have our own reality.

There’s collective reality, whereby people share their perceptions and agree that said perceptions match up. But in the end that is all they are, shared perceptions. So collective reality is really collective perceptions. So much of our life rides on that. Juries have to agree to the facts of a case. Doctors have to agree on the results of medical research. Survival, justice, life and all action is based on comparing each other’s perceptions and moving forward.

It’s scary to think that we cannot truly know what’s really going on around us. We never know what to believe. We have to rely on our own perceptions, because it is all we have. Descartes would say that we know we exist because we know that we think. My assumption is that we can’t know anything beyond that because that thinking and personal beliefs is confined to the individual. We don’t share the same neurons.

The only thing we know with certainty is our perceptions.

Politicians, business folk and the media rely on it. Their professions are based on preying upon people’s ideology and developed perceptions. People should be aware of that but they are not. Too many of us, I believe, are on autopilot and that seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling is what’s actually going on. The senses can deceive and we need to learn to think deeper about how we perceive our environments in order to fully understand them rather than accept them at face value.

At least that’s what I think.

Parental Evil

Philosophy

Face

I was 8. It was my turn at the plate. I was a scrawny right fielder who only got to play two innings a game, which was the minimum required by Little League rules at the time.

But here it was, the bottom of the fifth inning, the last inning. The game was tied, there’s a runner on third and I’m batting.

The pitcher released the ball. It’s been 25 years but what I can still remember the ball coming towards me and then seeing it rocket towards the fence off of my bat. I’d hit it, hard.

I ran nervously to first then rounded second. I saw the left fielder running to the fence to fetch the ball. I kept running until I finally crossed third base. I looked up at one of the umpires and all he said was “game.”

It was a great moment for an 8-year-old bench warmer. I had the game-winning hit. As I ran to the dugout, my coach lifted me up off the ground and into the air. The other players slapped me on the back congratulating me.

Then out of nowhere, I hear a man screaming at the umpire.

“He didn’t touch the plate!”

Apparently the opposing coach thought the runner on third didn’t step on home plate and he was therefore out, making it a tie game again. The umpire told him the runner did touch home and that he needed to go coach to pack it in. But the coach was not letting it go.

“HE DIDN’T TOUCH THE PLATE!”

It was a shocking moment for me because in my sheltered youth, I’d never heard or seen an adult act like that. And he had to do it in what was then the only shining moment of my life.

This incident was a cornerstone of what I would see in parents as I grew up. Ordinary, good people can immediately shift to ridiculous, selfish tendencies when it comes to their children. They’ll lie on scholarship applications. They’ll cheat at kids’ sports. They’ll harass teachers to get their child a second chance at a test. They’ll call in every favor they have to get their kid into the right college.

I don’t remember my parents acting like that for the most part. Maybe they skirted the rules here and there for me but I didn’t know about it.

It raises an important question though. Why do adults advocate honesty, integrity and morality then turn right around and go against that code to protect, promote and gain advantages for their children? Here’s a good piece on the subject that got me thinking.

The yelling coach really colored my view about parents’ behavior with regards to their children’s lives. It makes you wonder that if they’re willing to bend their morality for their kids, do they bend the rules for themselves too? Are they really doing these unethical acts for their kids or for their own egos?

My guess is that most parents don’t realize they do it. Some may think that they’re doing the right thing and rationalize it because they feel their kid shouldn’t have to suffer from any type of setback. Some do realize it and they just don’t care.

Quite frankly, to me, it’s disgusting. I find it especially repugnant when they do it at the expense of another child who did nothing to deserve their destructive intervention. Acting selfish on your child’s behalf is no excuse. It’s still just as wrong as if you did it for yourself. Loving your child and wanting them to get ahead in life can’t justify abject unethical behavior.

Stand up for your kid when you need to. Confront a teacher when there’s a genuine problem. Call out a coach when they’re too hard on the team. My yelling coach? At least he got mad about the enforcement of a rule to the game. Maybe he went too far and served a bad example about how to behave but his protest was coming from the right place.

But for God’s sakes, don’t cheat, lie, steal, yell or hurt other people when you know your child is: a) in the wrong b) at fault or c) lost fairly.

Eventually my daughter will grow up and will join dance, play sports, take AP classes and the like. If she fails or if she doesn’t make varsity or if she doesn’t get a scholarship, I hope I have what it takes to let it happen and not flex my ethics to save her. She may not like it and she may hate me for it but hopefully she’ll see it’s the right thing to do.

Hopefully I will see it’s the right thing too.

Birth Right

Philosophy

You already know how I feel about vaccines and the trend of parents who feel they cause autism. (I will never fail to follow this up with the fact that it does NOT cause autism and there is no evidence that it does.)

Lately, I’ve come across two stories about home births here and here.

I know that I’m not a woman and there are things about pregnancy and birth I will never get. But, honestly, why does any woman think it’s a good thing to give birth to a child in a home?

I keep hearing that it’s about the “birthing experience.” Some women feel that hospitals are too impersonal and the staff is too much on auto pilot.

Not having ever been pregnant or in the throes of birth, I will still venture to say that there’s nothing pleasant about pushing a child out of your body, no matter where you do it. I will also stick my neck out there and say that given all of the pushing, tearing and such, it creates quite a medical situation that needs addressing by a professional.

My wife went through 23 hours of labor before the doctor finally decided that the baby was not turned properly. An emergency C-section was ordered. An hour later my daughter was born. Two hours after that, a doctor told us that my wife’s kidneys were not functioning properly. A few more hours after that, they said her liver was starting to shut down.

She had developed postpartum preeclampsia. Luckily, thanks to medicine, my wife recovered. Had she been at home, she may not have been so fortunate.

I understand wanting to be in a place that’s comfortable, but I’m sorry, there’s no reason to have a child in a home. It’s certainly not good enough to have it at your house because it makes it a more pleasant experience. A child’s well-being is more important than a mother’s ambience.

Is that a little sexist? Yeah. I’m sorry but it’s true. There’s a reason why births are done at hospitals, because it’s safer and when things go wrong, there’s a whole army of surgeons waiting to take over. What happens if you hemorrhage? What if you need an emergency C-section? There are too many scenarios where a midwife won’t cut it, no pun intended.

Do things go wrong at hospitals? Yes they do. People are imperfect and things get missed. But the odds are with the hospitals here. There’s not enough anecdotal evidence that proves home births are anywhere near safer than a hospital.

My underlying reason for talking about this is the reason for choosing a home birth. Why do people choose to do something because it’s “natural?” I think it’s a form of selfishness. It’s one thing to go against conventional wisdom but it’s another to refute sound medical science on the grounds that it makes you uncomfortable.

There’s also those who choose the “natural” way of doing things simply because society implores them to do what everyone else does.

But natural does not imply safer or better for that matter. Antibiotics, antiseptics and surgical tools are not natural, but they’ve saved millions of lives.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with doing research and making your own decision. In fact, I applaud that. But when you jeopardize your life and your child’s life because you want a more satisfying “experience,” then you’re being selfish.

And your child doesn’t deserve that.

Walter White: Republican

Philosophy

walt

Breaking Bad fans are eating up the last episodes of their beloved show and its Nietzschean protagonist Walter White.

Walt has taken us on a wild ride through his transformation as a beleaguered, terminally-ill chemistry teacher to a hell-on-wheels drug kingpin.

Despite the fact he runs his operation in the politically blue state of New Mexico, I personally feel Walt would back the Red candidates in the ballot box.

Now I don’t mean he’s from the new breed of Tea Party Republicans. I’m saying he’s one of the old-school, establishment, Capitalist with a capitol ‘C’ Republicans. Here’s my argument.

 

1. Imperialist-minded

“I’m in the empire business,” Walt tells Jesse.

Long before he tried to dominate the meth market and taught chemistry, Walt had a stake in a biotech firm called Grey Matter. When his back was against the wall financially, he was bought out by his partners for a paltry sum. After that, Grey Matter took off and Walt missed out on millions.

The meth path gave Walt a second chance at creating his own personal empire. The only difference is now he doesn’t have partners, only alliances.

 

2. Expects others to save themselves and allows the weak to die

When he faced his own mortality with lung cancer, his pals at Grey Matter offered to help him by paying for his chemotherapy. Repulsed, Walt rejected their charity and chose to come up with funds in his own way, whether it was illegal or not.

When he saw Jane Margolis violently throwing up in bed next to his partner Jesse Pinkman, he let her drown in her own vomit. He justified his act of omission because he felt Jane was dragging Jesse down with their mutual addiction.

Then when Victor and Mike Ehrmantraut had Walt cornered near the meth lab to kill him, Walt urged Jesse to kill Gale Boetticher. Eliminating the timid Gale would leave Gus Fring without a blue meth copycat and Gus would therefore need Walt to continue the operation.

 

3. Makes uneasy alliances

There are several examples of this throughout the show where Walt needed others’ help either to stay alive or build his empire. Much like a neocon who props up a dictator like Saddam Hussein or funds a rebellion like the Sandinistas, Walt will partner with people who serve his best interests.

His first major partnership is with Jesse Pinkman, a former student in Walt’s chemistry classes. Walt needed Jesse to learn about meth and guide him through the business.

Walt then pairs with Tuco Salamanca in order to get a foothold in the meth market. Once he builds his reputation, Walt works with Gus Fring to mass-produce his blue meth. He would later convince Tuco’s uncle Hector to kill Gus when the reserved kingpin pushes Walt out of the lab. Once Gus is dead, Walt starts his own relationship with cop-turned-criminal Mike Ehrmantraut.

In his latest alliance, Walt employs the help of white supremacists to silence Mike’s men in jail.

Of course there’s a deadly trend with all of those who choose to work with Walt. Eventually they all become his enemies. Thus far, only Jesse has survived.

 

4. Locked and Loaded

One of the first scenes of the pilot is Walter holding a handgun waiting for danger to come after him. Even before he can see who he’s aiming at, he’s cocked and ready to fire.

Then when things between him and Gus Fring turn south, the first thing Walt did was to buy a revolver and plan to take Gus out. When he runs over the two drug dealers about to kill Jesse, Walt picks up one of their guns and finishes off a dealer who survived the collision. Walt also killed the guard keeping Jesse hostage inside the meth lab at the end of season four.

The opening of the first show in season five shows Walt buying a run-down car with a machine gun in the trunk. We can only imagine what he’s going to do with it at the end of the series.

But we do know that he’s not afraid to arm himself which definitely makes him a proponent of the Second Amendment.

 

5. He isn’t big on regulation

While there is no direct evidence of this but I’m pretty sure if he had a say in industry regulations, he’d back the less-is-more perspective. No self-respecting Republican would do something to help the drug trade but the Laissez-faire theory still applies, Walt would not want the government in his business.

 

6. Walt is enamored on the idea of family

Republicans hold dear “family values.” The main reason Walt kicked off his meth career was to ensure his family’s future once he’s gone. Since that time, his imperialistic nature has emerged, which has been nothing but destructive both for his family and his protege Jesse. After finally earning a storage room full of cash, he decides to back out because he’s secured their future.

There’s also been several times where he’s saved Jesse from reckless decisions. He allowed Jane to die (because she exacerbated Jesse’s drug use), Walt used his relationship with Gus to help stop a war between street-level drug dealers and Jesse. When he couldn’t prevent the fight, he outright killed the drug dealers when it looked like they were going to off Jesse.

Jesse has returned the favor including killing Gale and standing up to Gus when Gus wanted to end his affiliation with Walt.

As Mike once said, “What is it with you two?”

 

7. He supports illegal immigrants

When he had a hard time cleaning up Gus’s meth lab after a solo cook, Walt enticed a group of undocumented workers to help him. After they whipped the lab up spic and span, Gus deported them in revenge.

 

So there you go. While Walt’s meth is as blue as New Mexico politics, he’s red at the polls— with a straight ticket.

Waking Kid

Philosophy

If you want to see a good movie on philosophy and its intersection with science, you should check out Waking Life. I’m about 12 years behind on this movie but I recently saw it.

It inspired me to do the same kind of thing with videos of my daughter. Enjoy.

First Steps

Philosophy, Politics

Lion

Today I saw my daughter take her first, unassisted step. I was holding one of her favorite stuffed animals, a yellow lion, she reached up to grab it and when she couldn’t reach it, she inched forward.

One step. Then she fell on her butt.

Not bad for an 11-month old.

I didn’t notice it when it first happened but I later realized something. While I was marveling at her first step I missed something pretty important. Why did she take the first step?

When we look at life’s basic milestones, walking, talking, riding a bike, driving, etc. we think that we learn those skills just to learn them. As I watched my daughter take her first step, it dawned on me that she wasn’t thinking “I need to learn to walk.” Her thought was “I want my freakin’ lion.”

Extrapolate on this. Why do we do anything first? It’s to help us attain something else. This can be further applied to other human achievements whether it’s the wheel, the light bulb, the cotton gin, nuclear technology or the space shuttles. They were derived from a need. Even art, which many consider entertainment, was born not out of ego to please others or to entertain but to serve as an outlet of expression. The same goes with athletics. A pitcher learns to throw a curve ball not because he wants the skill but because he wants to use it against opposing hitters.

My daughter’s first step demonstrated something basic about human nature. Most all of our basic life developments are predicated on a need or a desire, not necessarily to obtain the skill.

It boils down to motivation I guess. To me this is most applicable to education, especially higher education. We spend a lot of time getting students to understand a particular skill whether it’s writing, math or research. We shouldn’t always be absorbed into developing just an ability and sometimes I feel students fall into that mode of thinking. I don’t think we spend enough time trying to explain to students that they need to find something applicable to the working world.

It’s no surprise that the most in-demand jobs these days are those that require specific abilities: accounting, nursing, information technology, engineering, etc. If we spent as much time trying to teach students how to apply their abilities beyond the education realm, it would be easier to lay the foundation for the skills they need to learn.

That process starts with one step… and maybe a stuffed lion.

New Age

Philosophy

candle

Today I turn 34.

Like most of my birthdays I’m not entirely sure what to make of it.

A lot happened in the last year, most of which was the birth of my daughter. She was born a month after my 33rd birthday last year.

No doubt life has changed. It’s changed a lot actually. Every day is a routine from the moment she has her first bottle to the time she eats breakfast, then she eats lunch, then she naps, then she eats dinner, then she takes a bath and then she gets her night bottle before going to bed. We’ve developed a pretty well-oiled machine.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s much more magical than that. Watching her grow up and learn new things every day like crawling, laughing, making noises or giggling at feeling a dog’s whiskers on her cheeks, has been fun and of course for me, enlightening.

Every day I come home, she looks toward the door at me and grins. Then I pretty much can’t do anything else until I pick her up or get on the floor with her to play.

The whole thing has hit me on a gut level. I can’t even explain it. A new facet of my being has been created and every day is becoming a discovery.

So now it’s my birthday and I look at this shift in my life. I am still John but at the same time my identity has expanded to my daughter. While she has part of my DNA, she still is influenced by me and her mother through our behavior and mannerisms, all of which she absorbs.

Why do I think about this on my birthday? Maybe it’s because for so long I looked at my birthday as a milestone in my life. Now I know it’s not just my life that my actions affect anymore.

I wonder if I’m a good father and if I’m doing enough to enrich her life. As a philosophy-driven person, I am always looking at who I am as a person and what I can do differently to be fulfilled. Now I look at both our lives and how far we’ve come in just a year.

I can’t even imagine what I’m going to be like on her first birthday.

God Threshold II

Philosophy, Religion

galaxy cutout

Regarding the God Threshold.

Can something exist that we don’t have the physiological ability to experience? If it does exist, do we have the ability to comprehend and/or identify it? Can we ever fully understand that unknowable unknown?

I am not talking about something like a far-flung galaxy, a parallel universe or string theory. Those are things that we don’t yet have the capability to understand; we have the ability. I am referring to an ultimate unknown. We are all endowed with reason and the ability to process our experiences. How do we put our thumb on something that’s beyond both?

Heisenberg states that we cannot know the exact location and velocity of a given particle at the same time. It lends to not being able to know two things about one thing at the same time. How do we know something when we know nothing, and can experience nothing about it?

It’s an important question I think. If we think that everything is within reach or could become within reach, then to me, we make ourselves the center of the universe. If  nothing exists beyond our ability to experience, then we feel that nothing is beyond our grasp. It is then our universe; everything else is just a part of it.

To be continued…

Packaged Deal

Philosophy, Politics

 

box

You go to McDonalds. You don’t order a Royale with Cheese and then fries and then a Coke anymore. You order a number one. Apparently we don’t like to think about putting together an order of food. Listing three separate items is just too much for us to handle these days. We need it packaged into a neat, ideological box.

This mentality is beginning to spread to everything. College course plans. Vacation travel deals. Cell phone contracts. Boxed meals at the grocery store. We buy everything prefab now.

Like many things in marketing and commerce, it’s derived from convenience. It keeps us from having to sort out what specific items we want and/or need. It’s much easier for us to select from a list of pre-installed plans than to make the plan ourselves.

Of course when we do that, we sometimes get a few features that we don’t really like or that don’t fit with what we need. We’re willing to put up with those annoyances because it’s nothing compared to the time saved from not having to creating our own order.

While this isn’t much of an issue with food (because you can always sub fries for onion rings) it is when it comes to things like education. There’s a huge push to get students as young as eighth grade to begin plotting out their careers. When I was in eighth grade, I was more concerned about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than I was about my future profession.

Educators and business leaders want these students to choose early so they can be prepared to enter the workforce once they get out of school. And they want them out of school earlier too.

While it’s always a good thing to know your way before you take the first step, that isn’t always the best option. When I was in eighth grade, I wanted to be a marine biologist. Had I chosen some predetermined course, where would it have left me once I discovered that organic chemistry was a hurdle I couldn’t jump?

Doors have to be left open. Like a fast food menu, we need to be able to make substitutions or to scrap our order all together.

My biggest fear is that we will get so entrenched in boxed thinking that we won’t consider that there are alternatives. We’ll forget the benefit, or necessity, of creating our own unique path.

The pitfall is that in the long run, we become incapable of thinking outside the prepared list of options. It not only becomes difficult to make changes to these plans but we get out of the practice of doing so and we stop considering alternatives.

It limits thinking. We all know how I feel about thinking.