To My Son: Year 3

Dear Son,

1470670647167It’s such a cliché to say, “I can’t believe you are already 3 years old”.  It’s amazing to me how life can be boring and routine and pass so quickly, and that alternatively life can also feel full and eventful and do the same thing.   As I look back on this year with you the beautiful moments you have brought to my life seem innumerable and in that sea of amazingness I struggle to think of memories that really stand out.  Somehow it’s the totality of the change that strikes me this year.   Maybe it’s because there doesn’t seem to be as many “firsts”.  Well that’s not strictly true, but they seem different than ones in your first couple years.  It’s more like this year is about things you could already sort of do, but now you can do infinitely better.  It has been still a joy, of course, to watch you get so much stronger and agile, but it doesn’t stand out as strong in my heart.  However, maybe the problem is that your firsts this year are much more related to your cognitive abilities and it’s hard to pick out the exact moment it happened, because it seems to get stronger so incrementally, yet the moment when I really become cognitively aware of your development seems sudden.  For instance, this year you started making connections between objects and shapes and likened them to things you already knew.  Like seeing 4 upside-down plastic cups next to each other reminded you of Lego, a song that wasn’t Indian but had Indian drums made you connect it to Indian music, having intention in what you draw beyond just the fascination of making marks on paper.  The best part of this year is how your imagination has taken off.  The scenes you play out with your toys, doing different voices and scenarios.  I think I could listen to you play like that all day.  You also became completely bilingual this year.  Your English was first and we were worried about how much Polish you would be able to speak.  But eventually we could tell that you were recognizing the differences between the languages and who spoke them.  Then, what seemed out of the blue, you started speaking Polish while your great grandmother was here, and now I think you speak Polish better than an English.  It is truly a marvel for me to see because I find the grammar rules so hard to learn, and you simply show why children are superior at learning languages.  This past year has in many ways been the story of your voice, and your talking fills the air like music.

img-20160612-wa0000Ultimately what stands out the most is how much you’ve become a person.  Gone is this little human I loved on what just felt like a biological level, but I feel like I actually know you as a person now.  Your personality shines, and I can begin to define you as having certain personality traits.  And I think you can do the same for me.  You also know me, and what I’m like.  We are father and son, sure, but we are also people learning about each other and growing together, and I love that.  So what is that personality that you are developing?  Well you are sweet and loving.  You are kind and you like to share.  You show concern for others including the cats.  You don’t throw tantrums, and you don’t get mad when other kids take your toys.  You just sort of stand there a bit stunned and wonder what is wrong with them. What’s most amazing about you is the humor you’ve developed.  You love to make people laugh, and you do a pretty good job of jokes for a kid your age.   A large part of you seems to be built on silliness.  Almost too much sometimes, because you can get unfocused from the task at hand.  It’s hard for us to not laugh sometimes, even though you are misbehaving, because we know a laugh from us only encourages you to carry on with your silliness!  But if being too silly is the worst trait you have as a toddler than I think we are pretty lucky.

To share with you an example of your silliness you decided one day to call my lips, pimples.  You touch my lips and say “I likes your pimples”, and then I touch your lips back or tickle your ribs and say “I like your pimples”.  You respond back saying, “No, I like yours pimples!”  This goes on for far longer than it should.  It’s complete nonsense. But it’s also sweet because you started playing it I think just because you liked touching my lips.  You often just put your fingers on my lips when you come into our bed and are still sleepy, or just before you fall asleep at night.  As a father we generally don’t get those kind of attachments with a breastfeeding mother to choose from.  I don’t know, there is just something deeply personal when there is just some simple thing about you that brings such comfort to another human being.

Also I am really happy that you like Mr. Bean so much.  It will make me feel less guilty about indoctrinating you into British comedies.  Pretty much the only way I am freely willing to indoctrinate you. 🙂

1456361504503Part of the reason why I want to write you these letters is to also let you know who I am at this time in my life.  Of course as much I feel you are getting to know me, there is so much more to go.  This year has been a tough one for a lot of people, but mostly because of how it has ended. Poland has become extremely restrictive, full of prejudice, religious fervor, and heavy nationalism.  It is one of many countries that have and may go that direction yet.  But Poland is your mother’s country and where she still has friends and family.  So it’s personal.  And the country we live in has taken it’s turn in that direction as well.  As hard it is to let greed win, it is much harder to accept that the world seems like it’s about to get a lot unkinder.  And as a species, we haven’t been the kindest bunch even in the best of times.  This age of information and global activity, breeds a heightened level of awareness to all our species is capable of, and as a result quite a lot of fear.  As I said, we aren’t always the kindest.  I hope that this is all just a pull back on the elastic that propels us forward.  Of course change happens slowly, so it may be a long pull back before we go forward again.  As we are now able to look around this world even more than before, we are starting to realize that there is quite a bit of suffering and we haven’t been very good stewards of the planet that sustains us all.  It’s a heavy burden to bear.  People deal with it in different ways.  Some better than others.  I am not sure why this really is.  Maybe it’s just the willingness to admit mistakes and try something else.  Maybe ignorance really is just bliss.  But I’ve always felt that at some level reality slaps you in the face no matter what.   I’d always rather just address reality come to terms with it.  Perhaps I’ve just had a kinder reality than others, so what do I know?  The point is that your life may be a greater struggle than your parents had for most of their life.  What I can tell you though is that whatever the future holds, I will always show you the light that is in this universe, the wonder in your world, and what’s best about humanity.  I’m going to make sure that even when I’m not there, you will look out with your senses and know there is beauty there.  Even if it is small, hiding, muted, or repressed, you will find a way to bring it to others, and have good and pure moments of joy.  Even if they happen more sparsely than I have been fortunate enough to have in my life.

1475702319255I suppose that parents must often question themselves in how they are doing as a parent.  I know I certainly do.  The truth is that I still feel like I have trouble relating to you.  As you get older it is very aware how much you are watching, listening, and learning, and I feel like I should be teaching you more.  Maybe I’ve just spent too much of my life talking to college students, that trying to explain things to a toddler feels hard.  And often I just feel I’ve aged past the point of remembering how to access my own inner child.  Your mother does not have that problem and I am so thankful that you have that amazing woman in your life.  I just want you to know that I am trying and that at the very least I can say that you are getting no shortage of love and affection from me.  I love the hugs, the kisses, the holding you on my lap, and the cuddles when you crawl into our bed in the middle of the night.  By the way, maybe that’s the best part of you talking now is that you can say “I love you”.  I suppose one could say that you are bound to say such things after hearing it so many times.  But I can tell that you are also beginning to understand what love feels like and there is no dishonesty in your expression of love.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite. There is a purity in it that I think we adults lose sight of sometimes.  Not that the complexity of love isn’t wondrous as well, but sometimes I think we over think it, and let the fear of vulnerability override the freedom and joy our heart could be experiencing.  And while I still have no idea how I would manage if something were to happen to you, it is a fearless love I have for you, because I know that whatever turns life may have, there is no value in holding back the love I feel for you.

img_20160512_114307These past 3 years of your life have been amazing for me.  I wish I really had the words, but maybe there are just some things in life you have to experience and words simply hold no value.  My greatest hope for you is that you get to love someone as much as I love you.  Happy 3rd birthday my son.  Thank you for making me feel lucky, even in 2016.

Love,
Your Father

Climate Scientists Embarrassed but Thankful for People on Internet Telling Them About the Sun

In a surprise reversal of position, numerous climate scientists now say they could be all wrong about climate change, thanks to a plucky group of public skeptics who have spent numerous hours on the internet reading articles by people not associated with the climate research in any way.  For years climate researchers have failed to listen to these pleas for reason and understanding.  Much to the chagrin of the climate community, a major misstep has been brought to light, climate researchers have forgotten to take into account the sun in the now shaky theory about human-induced climate change.

The moment of truth came Dec. 9th when an article that was reporting 2016 was shaping up to be the hottest year on record when a commenter who goes by the name “drillbaby” said the warming we are seeing is caused by the sun.  We were able to track down this commenter as internet climate expert and full-time real estate agent, Derek Laskin, to ask him how this revelation came to him.  “It really was the stuff of stories the way I was inspired,” exclaimed an excited and proud Laskin, “it was a cool morning, but the sun was out, and I noticed that throughout the day things started to get warmer.  That’s when I came upon this article about climate change and global warming, where the scientists are blaming on carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, but based on my experience on how the sun seemed to be working, I decided to comment on this article to suggest that maybe we shouldn’t be looking at carbon dioxide, and that the sun is responsible for the warming.”

This comment may have been missed by the climate science community if not for a bit a random luck.  Climate researcher, Dr. Mike Hulme, received a text message from his sister who happened in the article that simply read “Holy shit, some guy commented on an article and mentioned the sun!  I’ve never heard you talk about the sun before in telling me about your work.  WTF!?”  The word spread at the speed of light in the scientific community, and while some resistance remains to this new development, the change has been visible and scientists are now contemplating a spectrum of new ideas in regards to the warming we are seeing.  We had a chance to go to King’s College in London to talk to Hulme.  “Needless to say I am shocked.,” said a shaken Hulme, ” All those years in school studying weather and climate, and nobody ever brought up this glowing orb in the sky called the sun.  I’ll admit it made the physics of climate somewhat implausible, but you know we tend to respect our teachers and believe what they tell us without every going through that process of discovery on our own.  I am just glad that we have internet commenters like drillbaby to clue us in to important things we have missed.”

When asked why some researchers are still resistant to this very pervasive idea of the sun causing warming, Hulme replied “Well I have no idea why they would prefer to remain in the dark as it were, but I guess most scientists care more about money, and it’s a tragedy really.  But I have no other explanation.  I will say that there really is a lot of confusion right now and so some scientists are reticent about changing their views yet until all the information comes out.  Currently we are still mining internet comments and finding out all sorts of things we previously did not know.  As it turns out there are many people who haven’t spent years studying atmospheric physics and research climate data who are writing some pretty in depth articles about how we got it all wrong.”  We then asked Hulme if there was anything else these internet comments were shedding important light on.  “Absolutely,” responded Hulme, “Quite a lot really, but one thing stands out.  As it turns out there are many people saying that the climate has actually changed naturally over the course of Earth’s history and there really is no need to worry.  Apparently if things change naturally any suggestion that changes may be enhanced or made more severe unnaturally is a pointless argument.  I’ve even changed my views about gun control.  People die naturally, thus homicide is irrelevant.  I’m just going to retire early and hang out with my Scottish Terrier”

Silence ensued for a few minutes as the exasperated Hulme simply shook his head in quiet contemplation.  I then asked him about the field of paleoclimatology that looks at how climate has changed in the past.  Hulme looked up at me wild-eyed and said, “Don’t you understand, it’s all been a lie? We missed the part about the sun and so you can’t trust any of our understanding about past climate either!  Honestly how can you trust us or anything we say ever again?!”

The Sun, featured here in the upper right.  The missing piece of the global warming puzzle, previously missed by scientists.
The Sun, featured here in the upper right. The missing piece of the global warming puzzle, previously missed by scientists.

We left the sobbing Hulme, but there still seemed to be some questions.  Previously computers models had demonstrated the warming could only be explained with the additional CO2 going into the atmosphere, and not by natural causes alone.  What then were those computer models even showing?  We sat down with a distraught Dr. Michael Mann at his office at Penn State University to ask him.  “We’ve all been taken aback by this sun thing, and it’s really made us look more carefully at the qualifications of the people involved in this research.  Models are really complex and most of us don’t really understand it.  As it turns out those who make these models don’t have years of experience studying computational fluid dynamics, but are rather out of work video game designers.  Apparently it’s quite common to randomize things in a video game, and this is apparently what the designers were doing – just randomly throwing in some false warming into the models.  Overall it’s pretty disappointing that we missed the sun in our models.  Right now I’m in the processing of going through my old syllabi that I have from my many years in college to make sure that there was no section called “the sun”.  If not, I think I have grounds to ask for a refund on my tuition.”

Finally, we asked Mann when the climate research community would have an official statement to make to the public they lied to all these years.  Mann, like Hulme, said there are many more internet comments to troll through, but he did say this “Right now I’d just like to say thank you to all those who persevered through perhaps 6 or 7 articles from right wing media outlets and were still able to find time to post their well-defended comments underneath articles with our nonsensical babbling which represents, to be honest, some of the shoddiest science mankind has ever seen.”

My Ode to Winter

In silence you approach, slowly darkening days,
Autumn arrays of color fade to deathly brown,
Precious skies of blue are replaced by grays,
Sharp winds blow across frozen ground.

And then one day you bring all to standing still,
I watch as my breath, eager to show it’s alive,
Disappears hopelessly into air it can’t fill,
Icy touch on the shoulder of all that thrived.

And what more can we do who wait?
Where night comes early, but feels so late.
Hope for snow to settle on barren limbs?
A touch of white when all seems grim.
Snowy blanket covers the harvest’s reaping,
Lets us pretend the Earth is happily sleeping.

Each slippery step on landscape so bleak,
As we drudge through our lives week after week,
You take no pleasure as you tally the score,
We see what you’ve taken and you hunger for more,
And just when you drain our heat to burn our skin,
Though you love your endings, in the end you won’t win.

For when the sun hides for its longest hours,
We gather with friend and kin to warm with love,
With charitable hearts gloomy Death does cower,
Mocked by hopeful songs of the mourning dove.

New Year’s rejoicing as the sun climbs higher,
Dreams of future gains and not what we lack,
You snap and bite at us, even as you tire,
As snow melts into thawing soil, life bites back.

A Ramble About Capitalism and Socialism and Whether it all Really Matters

Discussions about politics always lead to many arguments over capitalism and socialism.  I don’t really have principles with capitalism in theory.  I think a lot of good can come out of it.  Through that spirit of competition, things that companies compete at can lead to many improvements in technology, and the development of things that people want to help them solve problems and make their lives better.  It’s been difficult to really verbalize what I don’t like about capitalism other than a gut feeling that it misses the mark, so I wanted to explore the topic a bit, and also talk about socialism as well.  Both words sort of don’t do us justice as humans.

*Spoiler alert*

If you haven’t seen the movie Gattaca, which everyone should, then you might not want to read this, although the part of the story I am going to tell isn’t really central to the plot.  The main character Vincent had a younger brother, Anton, who was genetically superior in this sci-movie, Vincent had a heart defect.  They would compete with each other as children by swimming out to the ocean to see who could swim the farthest without getting worried and needing to swim back.  Anton would always win, until one day Vincent won and left home never looking back.  In the future, their paths cross again by circumstance.  Anton is a cop.  Vincent is someone who could be turned in by his brother in this future where genetics is everything.  So Anton and Vincent have a moment of truth, and Anton challenges Vincent once again to their swimming competition, never understanding how it was that he lost to his brother who had a defective heart.  Their initial competition was important for Vincent to realize his dreams and have the courage to follow them.  So as they compete once again and swim out to sea, a determined Vincent is going strong, and his brother Anton falters, is exhausted and starts to drown.  Vincent stops and rescues him, and swims him back to shore.

This is humanity, or what humanity should be.  We may compete as a means of helping ourselves improve, but in the end we are brothers and sisters and when another is suffering, we forget about the competition and we help each other.  This is not capitalism, at least it is generally practiced today.  In capitalism today, you compete to get ahead and whatever the damage in your wake, whatever suffering that might be happening outside the realm of your drive for growth is not your problem.  Can capitalism be separated from selfishness?  In theory the answer is yes, but this doesn’t often seem to be the case.  Does capitalism promote greed, promote the corruption of our better nature? Ultimately it seems to me to promote capitalism as a system to live by that is truly beneficial to all, that promotes liberty, and happiness is a mistake.  Capitalism at best much a sub-system under a larger framework that is focused on the well-being of the planet and its inhabitants. Capitalism is a system designed by humans, it was never meant to be a system to design humans.   On the surface it seems to maximize freedom, but I would say that it’s very enslaving.  We are slaves to consumerism, slaves to the constant making of money, slaves to the clock, with no real thought to our happiness which supposedly we are so free to make happen.

amp-quot-capitalism-rewards-hard-work-amp-quot-yeah-right_o_2033411So is socialism better? First let me explain how I define socialism, the word has come to mean so many things:

“A political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.”

I will start out by saying that any ideology can be corrupted by greed and if there is a governing body the chance is there.  Socialism is something that seems to be an antithesis to freedom, and in some ways this is correct.  But maybe the better question is, how free are we really meant to be?  We evolved in tribes of about several hundred.  We were mobile out of necessity, and not sedentary.  Resources were uncertain as the environment changed, and as we most likely made occasional mistakes with damaging an ecosystem which we depended on.  But it was like a small town.  Everybody knew each other and took care of each other.  Taking care of children was communal, the idea of ownership was non-existent.  You passed down skills, and I am sure there was competition to help improve skills, but in the end success for the tribe was about cooperation.  Some people had lesser skills, some people were likely injured from time to time, some might have been too old or too young to be very effective, but that was life.  Everybody did what they were able, and for those that weren’t able, you took care of them.  You didn’t work for yourself.  As the best hunter you didn’t say, I’m taking all the meat today, good luck suckers!  At our core, our brains are wired for this idea of the collective, and the empowerment of the collective is an important tenet of socialism.  We are after all a social species.

So why do we see so many flaws in socialism?  The difference between that tribe of several hundred, and cities, or states, or countries, or the entire globe is that we don’t all know each other.  While we may be built for empathy, the fact remains that empathy is much easier to have when you’ve known someone personally (the longer the better), and in a tribe everybody knows everybody and you depend on each other.

In many ways, I feel that capitalism vs socialism boils down to a similar debate between individualism and collectivism.  Two things I’ve blogged about before.  When I frame capitalism as a sub-system in a larger framework I guess I now see individualism sort of similarly.  I am sure individuality played an important role in the tribe.  Someone having creative ideas was surely encouraged, having a diversity of expertise (even if everybody had to have similar skills), would have also been beneficial.  But if someone came up with a better way to catch more fish, it certainly wasn’t profited from.  They wouldn’t have just kept storing fish for themselves and sold them to their hungry tribe members, they would have taught this method to others and shared their haul while others learned.

In the end I just don’t see capitalism as the ideology that saves us all.  It is always going to produce winners and losers, and winners can keep rigging the game to make sure they keep winning.  And even if they intentionally don’t rig the game the privileges they and their offspring gain, compared to those with less makes sure that the deck gets continually stacked in their favor.

But if socialism is a better mirror of our tribal life that our brains are wired for, how do we get around the disconnect between the people we know and those we don’t?  Of course we could look at science and say, hey genetically we are pretty much the same and despite the fact that we are brought up in different environments, fundamentally the same things keep us happy and prosperous.  We could remain curious and continue to learn about other cultures and other problems people face, and see how similar their struggles are to our own, or what we might have gone through in the past.  We could believe in that Greek concept of “agape” a love of mankind, or a higher love that transcends our day to day to lives.  Can these things ever replace truly knowing each other, and develop empathy in the same way?  But they seem like good things to embrace even if in a lot of ways, we have to take them on faith.  We take so many religious myths on faith, so why not something that increases empathy for our fellow human?

I mean the truth is that capitalism can work, but it doesn’t mean you can get away from sharing, helping each other, and working for the rest of your tribe which is quite large in the present day given how much our population has grown and how global the economy has become.  Civilization is such a large departure from how we are wired, but for as many wonders it has created, it has spawned deeply disparate class structures and large populations in which a wealth of resources floats beneath the noses of those who have the most power to help people, and temptation to take over give becomes too great for our fragile minds who evolved in a far more uncertain world than we live in now.  Our fears and uncertainties can also be exploited by others, trapping us into a never ending cycle of divisiveness eroding the empathy which made us the successful species we are.  We are better when we cooperate.  At the end of the day I don’t really care to argue about capitalism vs. socialism, but whatever system we decide as best has to do away with greed.  I hope that one day we can find a path back to that communal culture from whence we came.